Love

#54 The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (1990): Summer of Love II or The Summer of Acronyms – SCOTUS and USWNT Let Love (and Equality) Rule

[Editor’s Note: Pulitzer Schmulitzer! is where we count down our favorite Pulitzer Prize winning novels for fiction according to the unpredictable and arbitrary whims of yours truly. To learn how Pulitzer Schmulitzer! started and read about the methodology or complete lack thereof behind the rankings, look no further than right here. If you want to see what we’ve covered so far, here you go. Now, on to the countdown.]

Could the summer of 2015 be the Summer of Love II?

There are a couple of indicators leading me to the conclusion that this might be the case. First, back during New York Fashion Week last fall, several top designers such as Tommy Hilfiger, Zimmerman and Vera Wang all paid homage to the 1960s and the Summer of Love. Turns out they may have been on to something more than just an affection of floral patterns, ruffles and maxi dresses.

Then, on June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, guaranteeing a right to same-sex marriage. I could try to summarize the majority opinion, but Justice Kennedy’s final paragraph is one of the most beautiful you will ever read in a court case so I’ll defer:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

Or, as distilled into Haiku by McSweeney’s:

Hark! Love is love, and
love is love is love is love.
It is so ordered.

That day of elation was based on decades of awareness, activism and perseverance, and as soon as the decision was announced, Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets quickly began to fill with rainbow-themed images. And one of those was a precursor to the third indicator that the summer of 2015 may indeed be the Summer of Love II.

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You see, on that very same June 26th in Ottawa, Canada, the U.S. Women’s National Team was preparing to face China in the quarterfinal matchup of the Women’s World Cup. This was already a special World Cup for me as I had taken my daughter Lily up to Vancouver a week prior to watch the U.S. play Nigeria in the group play round. When Lily was eight, we diligently watched the USWNT play in the 2011 World Cup in Germany, and were heartbroken when they lost in the final to Japan on penalty kicks. But Lily knew then that the next World Cup was going to be closer to home in Canada, and asked if we could go. I can think of few better role models for my daughter – and also I figured she’d forget over the next four years – so I said yes. She never forgot.

Women's World Cup

By June 26th, however, the women of the USWNT had become not only solid role models for girls, but also had become the most prominent sporting symbol of the United States during 2015. This, I might add, occurred without a ton of support. First, all the stadiums hosting World Cup games had artificial turf, a feature that many complained about loudly. Putting aside the arguments in favor of turf fields, there is no disputing that FIFA would have never ever in a million years forced the men to play on anything other than grass. Why? Maybe it’s because sometimes artificial turf gets so hot that it melts shoes. There’s that.

But it wasn’t just the turf issue. Sports Illustrated writer Andy Benoit tweeted that women’s sports in general – not just soccer – are not worth watching. It was such a stupid tweet that you would have thought he was being sarcastic if he tried to defend his statement by pointing at TV ratings.

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The reaction to this tweet was fast and furious from both men and women with my favorite being Amy Poeler and Seth Meyers reuniting for a segment of Really.

Unfortunately, his opinion, although not usually expressed so publicly, is more widespread than is should be. For winning the World Cup, for example, the USWNT received $2 million. Seems like a fine sum until you realize that the US Men’s Team got $8 million just for reaching the round of 16. How much did the winning German team get? I’m glad you asked. That would be $35 million.

So it was great to watch the naysayers proved wrong as the World Cup progressed. The popularity of the team – of women – swelled in unison with their victories, culminating in a 5-2 victory over Japan in which we scored a ridiculous four goals in 16 minutes.

The final game averaged a stunning 25.4 million viewers, making it the most-viewed soccer game ever in the United States–men’s or women’s–by a giant margin. How does that compare to men’s sports Andy Benoit? Game 7 of the San Francisco Giants/Kansas City World Series game drew 23.5 million viewers. Game 6 of the Golden State Warriors/Cleveland Cavaliers NBA Finals – a Finals series that drew more viewers than any series since the Michael Jordan era – had only 13.9 million viewers. And don’t even try to compare to the Stanley Cup Final. That came in at 7.6 million.

Everyone watched the USWNT finals match! Everyone loves women’s soccer! Everyone can get married! Which made me wonder, can you have too much love? I assumed that since the Beatles said “All You Need Is Love” the answer was no, until I read The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos, the 1990 winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

The first novel by a United-States born Hispanic to win, Mambo Kings is the story of two Cuban brothers and musicians, Cesar and Nestor Castillo, who immigrate to the United States from Cuba and settle in New York City in the early 1950s. Like The Tinkers and The Stone Diaries, the story takes place at the very end of the protagonist’s life. Told from the perspective of the older brother Cesar, it chronicles his last hours as he sits in a seedy hotel room, drinking and listening to recordings made by his band, the Mambo Kings.

Cesar, the Mambo King himself, is an old man, and the book describes his memories of his life (and loves) in Cuba and New York. Cesar and Nestor arrive in New York full of ambition and desire to be musicians. Other than their love of music and shared DNA, however, the brothers are complete opposites. Nestor is an incredibly talented trumpet player and songwriter, but he forever mourns the loss of his first love, a woman named Maria. His demeanor is sad, soulful and tormented. Cesar, on the other hand, is a handsome, macho, player. For Cesar, everything in his life is indulgence: playing music, dancing, eating, drinking, and having sex. In fact, as we’ll get to shortly, Cesar measures his life by his many sexual escapades.

The brothers are talented and willing to work hard, and with some luck put together an orchestra they call The Mambo Kings. The mambo craze of the late 1940s is still in full swing, and the band grows in popularity. They even get a guest appearance on I Love Lucy after Desi Arnaz catches their nightclub act one evening. This appearance gives them a measure of celebrity and helps them to sell some records, but true fame remains just beyond their reach.

As the mambo craze begins to fade, the fortunes of Cesar, Nestor, and the The Mambo Kings decline as well. Although Nestor marries a lovely woman and starts a family, he still pines for Maria and spends his life constantly re-writing one song about his lost love, “Beautiful Maria of My Soul.” His deep melancholy ends only when the car he is driving skids off the road in a snowstorm, killing him.

Cesar has always been the driving force for the Mambo Kings, and, as alluded to above, is a favorite with the ladies. He’s a handsome, suave, baritone who naturally charms the audience and spreads his love among many women. But not in a totally dickish way (there’s a pun here, but you’re not going to get it until later). He’s generous to a fault, freely bestowing gifts and money on those he befriends, as well as supporting his family members still in Cuba. But after Nestor dies, he simply cannot continue to be the leader he once was. He descends into a depression that begins slowly to eat at him, fueled by drinking and excess. Pretty much, the end.

For me, The Mambo Kings is a tale of two books. Sixty percent of this book is really great. It is a melancholy story for sure, but lyrically told and in a style that evokes the rhythms of Cuban music. Does that last sentence sound too pretentious? Lets just say I like the writing style. I also like the general theme of immigrants coming to the U.S. and how they see themselves in relation to their new culture in contrast to the culture of their birth. It’s like Scarface without the blow and chainsaws.

And compared to some of the other novels that sit in this area of the countdown because their stories are rather dull (e.g., The Stone Diaries and Breathing Lessons), the subject matter of The Mambo Kings is inherently interesting, at least for me. It’s an immigrant story set in 1950s and 60s New York with Spanish music, a Fidel Castro-led revolution, dancing, and unexpected cameos from real-life mambo dudes Desi Arnaz and Tito Puente. It also has a ton of sex. And that, I can’t believe I’m going to say this, may actually be the problem.

You see, the other 40% of this is really, really bad. Thirty percent of the book is comprised of sex scenes. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good soft-porn novel as much as the next guy, but these were more monotonous than provocative. But it was the final 10% that really got me because that part contains Hijuelos’ weird and disturbing fixation on Cesar’s penis. Seriously, if you’re the kind of reader who really likes to know how the protagonist’s dick is doing, this book will be great for you because there’s a dick status update on just about every page. If that isn’t your cup of tea, then this is a tough 10% to get through.

So it turns out you actually can have too much love. At least in Pulitzer Prize winning novels. But the good news is that won’t affect the summer of 2015 (possibly) going down in history as the Summer of Love II. My four year wait to attend a Women’s World Cup match with Lily seems insignificant when compared to length of time same-sex couples have waited for the right to get married, but on a personal level are both are hugely meaningful. Lily will always remember this as the summer the rainbows took over Instagram as she watched the USWNT advance in the World Cup. She turned 13 this summer, and her entire adult life will be in a world where love is love is love is love. And after watching the USWNT kick ass in the finals, her love for soccer is now cemented. You want proof, and another dick status update? Well here is what Lily re-tweeted the other morning while watching the opening weekend of the English Premier League:

Lily's Tweet

I love her.

#58 – “Breathing Lessons” by Anne Tyler (1989): Stop Me if You Think You’ve Heard This One Before, but nothing says the 80s like Journey, Anne Tyler, and bad marriages

[Editor’s Note: Pulitzer Schmulitzer! is where we count down our favorite Pulitzer Prize winning novels for fiction according to the unpredictable and arbitrary whims of yours truly. To learn how Pulitzer Schmulitzer! started and read about the methodology or complete lack thereof behind the rankings, look no further than right here. If you want to see what we’ve covered so far, here you go. Now, on to the countdown.]

Nothing’s changed
I still love you, oh, I still love you
Only slightly, only slightly less
Than I used to, my love
 

-The Smiths, “Stop Me if You Think You’ve Heard This One Before”

There was article a few weeks back in the “Modern Love” column of the Sunday New York Times called “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This” that seems to have struck a chord with many readers. In the piece, the author talks about going to a bar with a man who would later become her boyfriend and asking each other 36 questions, followed by four minutes of uninterrupted eye contact. According to the Times (and these stats are now a little dated), the article generated more than 5.2 million visits to the website, and over 365,000 shares of Facebook and has even spawned some parodies. Clearly, Tinder hasn’t solved all of our love problems.

The questions, proposed by Dr. Arthur Aron, were originally designed to measure closeness in strangers, but have since been used to try to form romantic bonds between people. They are divided into three sets, with each set intended to be more probing than the previous one. The theory is that mutual vulnerability fosters closeness, and because people have trouble allowing themselves to show vulnerability, this exercise forces the issue.

For example, you start off sharing who you would want as a dinner guest, whether you would like to be famous (and in what way), and when was the last time you sang to yourself or someone else. Then it moves into in more personal territory such as what is you most treasured memory? Your most terrible? It forces you to talk about what roles love and affection play in your life, and your feelings about your relationship with your mother. And woven throughout are maybe the most difficult questions that force you to say things about the other person such as this one: “Tell your partner something that you like about them already.”

What would I have said if I could go back in time and do this with Gigi? I find all 36 questions interesting, and I’m sure I would’ve been fascinated and smitten with Gigi’s childhood memories and simultaneously mortified by her relationship with her mother, but all of that fades away to leave the spotlight on the one question that really matters: What do I like about you? Would I have said I like that she’s obsessed with the Giants or that she can line dance or that she’s really good at word games? And how can I answer that now, knowing that she actually watches or listens to all 162 Giants games every single season, or that she can beat me 47 straight times in Scramble? Maybe we would have connected over music but I would have been disappointed that she hates Tom Waits. How could I have known that despite her hatred, she is open-minded enough to one day add “I Hope that I Don’t Fall in Love with You” to her not-yet-existing Spotify favorites playlist because she decided that one was pretty good, and that I would love that about her. As we stared into each other’s eyes for four minutes, would I have realized that she would become a successful lawyer, would be an even better mother, or that we’ll argue for years over whether Jimi Hendrix was overrated? I have no idea but I wish I had the chance to find out.

And regardless of whether you think asking each other these 36 questions would actually work, you have to agree with me that it certainly isn’t a horrible idea. What percentage of now-divorced couples would have never made it past question 4 (“What would constitute a ‘perfect’ day for you?”) before realizing their nascent relationship was doomed and went their separate ways? Again, I have no idea but I know the percentage is greater than zero.

Speaking of separate ways, immediately after writing that sentence I looked up the video for Journey’s “Separate Ways” and watched it three consecutive times. How could you not? Take arguably the biggest band of 1983 and throw them in an empty shipyard, have them play invisible instruments and lip sync while a hot girl with bad hair in a leather mini-skirt walks around for no reason whatsoever and what do you have? Pure gold (or Solid Gold for those of us that remember the decade). We just had an 80s party for work and the cover band – albeit awesome – inexplicably failed to play this gem. We should have just looped a video of this song all night long.

So while we’re on the subject of couples who could have benefited from asking each other at least 4 of the 36 questions, and the 1980s, we might as well tackle Anne Tyler’s Breathing Lessons, the 1989 Pulitzer winner. Breathing Lessons tells the story of Maggie and Ira, a middle-aged couple who both believe that their lives have failed to live up to their expectations. Maggie, who gave up going to college because she got pregnant, is someone who now doesn’t hesitate to reach across from the passenger seat and honk while her husband is driving. She’s buggy, for sure, but at least she does shit. Or at least tries to.

Ira is the opposite. Uncommunicative to start with, he has reached the point where Maggie can divine his moods only from the pop songs of the 1950’s that he whistles. Besides whistling, his pleasure is playing solitaire. He had dreamed of working on the frontiers of medicine, but after he graduated from high school his father, complaining of a heart problem, dumped the family business on him, as well as the duty of supporting two unmarriageable, unemployable sisters. As Ms. Tyler writes: ”Ira had been noticing the human race’s wastefulness. People were squandering their lives, it seemed to him. They were splurging their energies on petty jealousies or vain ambitions or long-standing, bitter grudges…He was fifty years old and had never accomplished one single act of consequence.” You totally want to hang with this guy.

Their son, Jesse, is a high school dropout that wants to be a rock star to escape the drudging anonymity he sees as his father’s fate. ”I refuse to believe that I will die unknown,” he tells Ira. But like many budding rock stars Jesse made his fair share of mistakes, including knocking up Fiona, a fellow dropout, when she was 17. Those relationships rarely turn out well, and after the inevitable blow up, Fiona moved away to her mother’s and neither Ira nor Maggie have seen her for 7 years.

In contrast to Jesse, their daughter, Daisy, is actually an overachiever. At 13 months she had undertaken her own toilet training and by first grade was setting her alarm an hour early in order to iron and color-coordinate her outfit for school. At this point, Ira and Maggie can only watch as she grows away from them and heads off for college knowing there is nothing they can do to stop it. Not long ago Daisy had said to Maggie, “Mom? Was there a certain conscious point in your life when you decided to settle for being ordinary?”

The book’s principal event is a 90-mile trip that Maggie and Ira make to attend a funeral for the husband of a high school classmate. Serena, the widow, wants the funeral service to be a reenactment of their wedding, which included Maggie and Ira singing ”Love Is a Many Splendored Thing.” For whatever reason, this messed-up situation works Maggie into such a state that she convinces Ira to have sex with her in Serena’s bedroom during the reception, until Serena catches them and kicks them out.

So on the way home, Maggie decides that this would be a good time to go visit Fiona and the granddaughter they haven’t seen in 7 years. Convincing herself that she can get Jesse and Fiona to reconcile, Maggie then persuades Fiona to come back to Baltimore with them. It seems that everyone except Maggie is both indifferent and skeptical about this plan, but, nonetheless, everyone goes along with her suggestions. And, of course, it all goes nowhere.

Ms. Tyler loves writing about marriages and families. But not happy marriages or families or even super unhappy marriages or families. She’s not that interested in divorce or infidelity. Instead, she focuses on people whose dreams and ambitions have vanished to the point where they’ve lost hope but aren’t actually self-aware enough to realize it. Clinging to a low rung of the middle class, these folks have long given up on promotions or success and instead simply try not to slide into bankruptcy, booze or prison. All anyone ever does is react, and then usually wrongly. But mostly they remain totally bewildered by most major ”decisions” in their own lives, particularly by how they came to marry their spouse. They never grasp how a month or two of headlong, blind activity can lead to years and years of inertia. They are desperately in need of the 36 question test.

As a general rule, I like these types of stories and I like Anne Tyler. But Breathing Lessons sits at #55 for two reasons: One, like Fay in The Optimist’s Daughter, Maggie is just not that believable. She’s constantly meddling in everyone else’s problems but is singularly unable to organize her own existence. She’s full of self-justification, but seems to have developed absolutely no powers of self-analysis or reflection. And her horribly inept driving skills border on slapstick.

Two, I liked Breathing Lessons. I just didn’t love it. It’s hard not to like Anne Tyler. Like Journey, she ruled the 80s, with three novels in a row nominated for the Pulitzer Prize: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1983) and The Accidental Tourist (1985) in addition to Breathing Lessons. And If you’ve read any other Anne Tyler books, I can safely say that Breathing Lessons is a super Anne Tyler-ly Anne Tyler book, but not the best one. If I’d never read any of her other works, I might have rated this one higher. But alas, it wasn’t my first and for me, this book had that “been there done that” feel to it. Giving her the Pulitzer for Breathing Lessons was, to me, a little like giving Martin Scorsese the Best Director nod for The Departed after not giving it to him for Raging Bull or Goodfellas. Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before, but although I love Anne Tyler’s works, I love this one only slightly less than her others. We probably would’ve discovered that by question 4.

Thanks for everything, Dad. Especially listening to AC/DC.

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[NOTE: The Pulitzer Schmulitzer! countdown is taking a pause to honor a man who was better than me in many ways. OK, all ways.]

Joe Horton, my dad, passed away early Saturday morning in his sleep. It was expected and it was peaceful and it was painless and I was there. In other words, he died in the easiest way possible for everyone else, which was certainly consistent with the rest of his life. (If you want to know why he’s a “Horton” and I’m an “Orta,” buy me a drink and I’ll tell you the story. I promise it will be worth your while.)

A little bit about my dad. He was selfless. Certainly more selfless than I am, albeit a low bar. I’m sure part of this had to do with the fact that he grew up poor in Los Angeles during the Depression, which is like being really super über poor during any other time during the last century. He once told me a story about how he and his twin brother Sam cried one Christmas morning when they didn’t get a new bicycle they were expecting. His father, my grandfather, went out and sold the one piece of jewelry he owned of any value, his watch, and bought the bicycle. My dad never stopped feeling bad about that, and never asked for much after that. I, on the other hand, once pouted because I had to share a birthday cake on my birthday. I was 35, and the other person on my cake was my 1-year-old daughter. Selflessness counter: +1 to Joe; -1 to John.

But it wasn’t just that he didn’t need at lot. It was that he also gave a lot. My mother died when I was 12 and my brother was 10. A single father, he got us to school, doctor appointments, sports practices, piano lessons, play dates and birthday parties, all the while somehow feeding us and working full-time. But it was more than his ability to complete parental mechanics. On top of the driving/cleaning/cooking/everything-else-kids-need, he always made time to pay attention to us whenever we asked.

For example, when I was 12 or 13, I loved music and felt that certain songs were SO BRILLIANT that I needed to share these wise words with my dad. So nearly every day, I would make him come to my room to listen to Zeppelin, Hendrix, Floyd, the Stones, Bowie, Queen, or whatever else I happened to think was SO BRILLIANT at that very second. And he would. He’d stop what he was doing, come and stand in the doorway of my room, nodding his head to the beat. He’d stay until the end of the song, say “that’s great,” and go back to whatever task was at hand (which in all likelihood was something for my brother or me). Knowing his musical tastes now, and knowing how hard it is to get everything done in a day, I’m pretty sure he didn’t love the songs I played for him, and I’m positive he didn’t have the time to stop what he was doing to listen to them. And yet, I remember hearing him, on Sunday mornings in particular, while making French toast, singing AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap).” I can’t even make French toast. Selflessness counter: +1 to Joe.

It wasn’t just selflessness that he bested me at. He was also nicer, braver, and more handsome. He fought in a war. Listening to his stories about going out in LA in the mid-1940s, I’m pretty sure he was also a better dancer. And I’m absolutely sure he was a better athlete. Despite throwing me endless grounders and tight spirals, there was no way I could match his natural ability. My dad played football for UCLA under Harry “Red” Saunders. I regularly smoked cigarettes while playing rec basketball in high school. Like during the games. Another +1 to Joe.

Although playing football was his passion, my dad was a true fan of all sports so even though I never excelled at sports, I do excel at watching sports on TV. He let me, at 7-years-old, stay up to watch Gar Heard in the famous triple OT Suns-Celtics game in the NBA finals. We watched Nadia Comanici get a perfect 10 at the Montreal Olympics. We witnessed the Immaculate Reception, Reggie Jackson hit three home runs in three swings in the ’77 World Series, Leon Spinks upset Ali for the heavyweight crown, Bird’s Indiana State v. Magic’s Michigan State NCAA Championship Game, the Miracle on Ice, Borg-McEnroe, The Catch and the last two Triple Crown winners Seattle Slew and Affirmed. I’d give Joe a point for this, but allowing me to watch this much television, mostly past my bedtime, was questionable parenting.

As kids are prone to do, I grew up, moved to San Francisco, became a lawyer and started a family. We spoke less, not because anything came between us, but because life is busy. Then, a few years ago, he was diagnosed with colon cancer.

He battled the cancer – and battled it well – for a long time. True to form, he didn’t talk about it much, didn’t ask for much, choosing to battle it on his own. But cancer plays the long con and last summer, I got a call in the middle of the night from my brother. “Dad’s not doing well. You should come home.” I told him I was in London. “Am I going to make it?” “Not sure,” was his response.

So I got on the first flight I could get the next day and flew from London to San Francisco, took a cab home, unpacked and repacked (there isn’t a ton of overlap in summer UK and summer Phoenix wardrobes), went back to the airport and flew to Phoenix, the entire time wondering if I was going to make it on time and trying to figure out the last conversation we had and whether I told him I loved him. I needed to tell him what a great dad he was. When I arrived in Phoenix, I grabbed my rental car and drove straight to the hospital, raced up to his room and found….

…him sitting in a chair watching the Diamondbacks game and having lunch. “What the fuck?” That may have either been thought or spoken but in either case my brother gave me the “dude-sorry-but-seriously-he-was-on-his-death-bed-last-night” look. It wasn’t his fault. Turns out the cancer had shut down one of his kidneys and was wreaking havoc on the other. The doctors said that despite his recovery from the brink, the end was near and sent us home with hospice and a hospital bed.

Now I had the chance to give something back to him: I could be with him at the end. I flew my wife and kids in to say goodbye. We told stories and went through photo albums and laughed a lot (most significantly about my apparently very poor grades in Religious Studies, which my kids discovered in reading my old report cards that my dad had saved). At the end of the weekend, my wife and the kids said goodbye and headed back home. I stayed to wait for the end. Selflessness counter: +1 to John.

But it turns out the end wasn’t near. After about a week of watching my dad watch the Diamondbacks and eat lunch, I finally had to address the elephant in the room. “Dad,” I said. “I don’t think you’re going to die anytime soon.” “How long is this going to take do you think?” he asked. “I have no idea. How do you feel?” “I feel pretty good.” I said, “Pops, I love you, but I need to get back home. Call me if you think you’re dying and I’ll come back.” Selflessness counter: -1 to John

But THAT call never came. Instead, I got a call that they kicked him out of hospice, which is like getting kicked out of the Hotel California. And we took advantage of it. We met in San Luis Obispo for a weekend. He threw himself an 86th birthday party, and we went to it. My daughter Lily and I met him in LA when he went to his UCLA football reunion in November. My son Sam and I flew to Phoenix over MLK weekend. Six weeks ago my dad went to Barcelona because he had never been. I’m not kidding. +1 to Joe.

But the doctors had said that at some point he would begin to feel bad. And eventually they were right. About a week after coming back from Barcelona he went to the hospital and the doctors told him that the cancer had spread. It was a matter of weeks, not months.

So for the last five weeks I’ve been flying back and forth to Phoenix on the weekends and we did what we’ve always done best: watch sports. I rooted for the Warriors and he rooted for the Clippers (he won). I rooted for the Diamondbacks and he rooted for the Dodgers (I won). We watched Seung-yul Noh win the Zurich Classic, J.B. Holmes win the Wells Fargo, and Brendan Todd win the Byron Nelson. We even watched old guys play tennis on the ATP Champions Tour.

But by far the most fun the last few weeks has been watching California Chrome win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. My dad loved this horse. He loved him because he cost $8,000. He loved him because his owners were first time horse owners and called themselves Dumb Ass Partners. He loved him because his 77-year-old trainer had never had a horse in the Kentucky Derby. And he loved him most of all because he was from California, and a California horse hadn’t won the Derby since 1962.

Thursday night I got a call from my brother that was very similar to the one I received 10 months before when I was in London. “You need to come home.” So I took the first flight home in the morning, again wondering if I had told my dad I loved him when I left the weekend before.

My brother had warned me that he really wasn’t responding, but when I arrived early the next morning, he recognized me immediately. We hugged and I quickly told him that I loved him and that he was a great father. He told me I was a great son. I told him he was a better dad than I was a son and thanked him for listening to all the songs I made him listen to.

Then I asked, “Dad, do you remember the AC/DC song you used to sing when making French toast?” And without missing a beat, he busted into his best Bon Scott imitation and started singing the chorus: “Dirty deeds and they’re done dirt cheap.” “Yes!” I said, and together we sang a few verses. +1 to Joe.

It turned out to be his final point. When our singing stopped, he closed his eyes and fell asleep. That was really the last actual conversation we had. By the end of day, I’m not sure he recognized me anymore and he passed that night.

And if I was looking for some sort of sign, which I wasn’t, I was given one by 97.9 KUPD, the classic rock station that existed when I was a boy and continues to this day. On my way to the airport as I left Phoenix, they played, back to back, “Hey Joe” by Jimi Hendrix and “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult. The only thing weirder would have been if they’d played “Stairway to Heaven” next, and although tempted, I didn’t wait for the commercial break to end and gave the keys back to Thrifty Rental Cars. I had a year to say goodbye to the most selfless man I’ll ever know, and I think I did it well. And if you’re still keeping score (and I am, but remember I’m not that selfless), I’ll take this as my final +1.

Saying goodbye was a dirty deed, but it was done dirt cheap. So don’t fear the reaper, Joe. Climb the stairway to heaven. And if California Chrome wins the Belmont Stakes, I’ll know you made it.