Friday, October 30, 2015

How it might have been

Doctor Frank is preparing to draft "The Boys in the Boathouse" next month for NaNoWriMo, 50,000 words in 30 days. That's a lot of writing. Fiction or not, no great book of this era about Husky Crew may begin without acknowledging one man.


Truly this man made Dr. Frank who he is today. Along with who knows how many other men and women he influenced over his 65 years. Not long before Dik died, Dr. Frank speculated on a world without Dik. Doc wrote this in early 2000. Enjoy. Or laugh til you piss yourself like His Honor Mark "Devo" Roe. Really, he said that. And... if you don't get the jokes, you musta not been there.


Frank Emfbo Capra’s

It’s a helluva life, Dik

To Harry, Skip, Chris, Matt, Hope, Jane, and Marianne: Tonight, Roy’s calling one for you.

Cows. Shit, Dik thought, why do I hafta live amongst all these goddam cows? The eleven-year-old and his little cousin Dennis romped in the twilight outside Arlington with a couple of buddies, but the idyllic scene was lost on the skinny tough guy from this sleepy village. Living at the feet of the Cascades, his mind, as always, was elsewhere.

The night life in 1948 wasn’t much, especially for a bunch of kids too young to belly up to one of the fifteen loggers’ bars in town. 

Before long, Keith Gilbertson, a hulking lad and one of Dik’s best buddies, said, “Hey, let’s tip some cows!” Shit, thought Dik. Brilliant. Another lovely night in paradise. Before he could protest, Gilby was over the fence and sprinting for the nearest bovine beauty. Dropping his shoulder for a tremendous hit, with form that would one day earn him all-league honors as a linebacker, Gilby nailed the beast a foot behind the front shoulder and laid it out like a cheap rug. 

“C’mon, Lambo”, he giggled, ignoring the two-gallon cow pie decorating his face. 

“Duuhhhh, OK, Gilby, whatever you say”, said Big Jim Lambright, snapping off a couple sections of barbed wire as he lumbered for their next victim.
Aw, what the hell, thought Dik. Calmly approaching the biggest, baddest beef in the pasture, Dik paused mere inches from its nasty horns. Sensing danger, the doomed creature said “…moooo?” 

“You talkin’ to me, asshole?” said our hero, raising a huge right fist and coldcocking the giant with a lightning-quick blow. Enough of that crap, he thought, and headed for the road.

Out of nowhere came little Dennis, screaming like a banshee, “My turn! I’m not scared!” Of course, the noise startled his target, who leaped in the air just in time for his attacker to go sailing underneath her belly, latching an iron grip onto a teat as he passed. Screaming in agony from this invasion of her private parts, Bessie tumbled over—flattening Dennis underneath her.

“Uhhh, jeez, Dik, look, your cousin’s turning blue”, said Lambo, clueless as to how to handle an unexpected play by the other team. 

“No shit, bozo”, Dik said as he leaped to the rescue. He grabbed Bess by the ear and, risking his own life, twisted and pulled with every ounce of his strength. The enraged animal wobbled clumsily to her feet and swung a vicious cloven hoof into Dik’s pre-pubescent crotch. The blow dropped the kid in a gelatinous heap but his cousin, gasping for breath, was safe.

“Goddammit, somebody get us a coupla gin and tonics”, Dik screamed at Gilby and Lambo, who at that moment began a lifelong worship of their crazed pal.

Weeks later and minus his left nut, Dik returned to his job sweeping out Harry Swetnam’s bar. 

Arriving early one Sunday, he discovered the entire Arlington High football team lined up in the alley out back, and Harry handing out little baggies of pills in exchange for fistfuls of dollars.
Whoa – greenies! steroids! No wonder they’re six-time state champs, thought Dik. Harry’s beefy bald head turned crimson when he saw his young employee watching him. Shooing the buff studs down the alley, he put his arm around Dik and explained, “Old Man Lude has me over a barrel for back rent on this place, and I gotta supplement my honest revenue somehow to keep my doors open.” Dik replied, “Look, I’ll work for free to save you that money, but you gotta stop doing this. I swear to God, don’t worry, Harry, I’ll never tell”, thus creating a bond that would last a lifetime.

Watching from the doorway was an admiring little girl named Irma, who whispered, “Dik Erickson, I’ll love you til the day I die”, sticking out her tongue at little Kit Green before dashing back into the morning sunshine.

Lude, Dik thought. An appropriate name. Crooked to the core, the old man owned virtually every square inch of Arlington – except for the Ericksons’ family grocery. And every time he brought his slimy handshake over to give Dik’s dad a better offer on the place, the kid wanted to puke. Blond toupee, wide tie and a pair of stretch polyester high-rise pants struggling to contain an oversize gut. Even at age eleven, Dik knew his dad, honest and kind, was a bigger and richer man than the old miser, Lude, would ever be.

Dik spent his childhood learning everything there was to know about math and science, dreaming of going east to college, maybe even one day having his own TV program, or inventing something that would change the world. He couldn’t imagine anything better than that, but life would teach him differently…

By the time Dik finished High School, it was obvious that there would be no trip east. Lambo, Gilby and cousin Dennis, tough as nails from the constant beatings Dik laid on them over the years, were well on their way to football scholarships. But Dik was no ball player, and the grocery barely brought in enough cash to keep the family fed, much less pay tuitions to a college across the country. The night of his graduation found Dik in conversation with his dad about “Plan B” – the notion of going down the highway to the UW, going out for a sport he’d never heard of, and coaching some day.

“Aw, Dad, I could never be a crew coach…If I stuck around a sport like that, I’d bust! I can’t imagine crawling into a launch every morning, drinking spiked coffee at sunrise…well, OK, it has its attractions.”

Sure enough, Dik got on that bus for Seattle in September, and the next four years showed him what an incredible sport he had found. Developing expressions like “It’s a character builder”, “you’ll thank me for this”, “bet it can’t rain any harder – it’s a Husky day!” and “Thorsness, you lack basic athletic coordination”, Dik had discovered the motivator he could be. Capping off his rowing career with the historic victory over the Soviets on their own course, Dik returned home to pay a courting visit to Irma.

Irma gazed at Dik admiringly, but their conversation was awkward at first. The phone rang, and it was Lambo! Calling from some blockhead football camp, he was trying to impress Irma. Dik got on the line, and told his old chum to back off, goddammit. Irma melted lovingly into his arms while poor Lambo babbled on to nobody.

The years flew by, with Dik landing a job at his alma mater coaching crew, never appreciating the effect he had on his young athletes. His stress level mounted, as it seemed his old nemeses had followed him down the highway. Old man Lude, still bitter about that grocery store, bought his way into the top role in the athletic department, and Dik’s erstwhile admirer, Kit Green, showed up poised for revenge after he ignored her to marry Irma.

Believe it or not, Dik never left Huskyville. Day after day, he rode in the launch with a succession of philosophers with names like Corn Dog, Squeezedale, Bomar, Lucky, and Rollo. And watching the sunrise with his Folgers and brandy day after day, he missed the transcendent beauty right in front of him while he dreamed of his shattered vision of studying physics, calculus and engineering…

With Lude bearing down hard, before long Quinney’s house came down off the crewhouse roof. Then the guys were banned from sleeping on the deck, and worse, Stormin’ was told to stop shooting that damn .45 on school property. Mad Dog days ended, and football programs were given away for free. 

In the 80s, Dik was yanked from his office at his beloved Connie and stuck into a facilities job that was as easy as it was boring. He had to stand aside and watch when the Crewhouse was rid of live-in athletes like so many rats, and a horde of fat paper-pushers eagerly moved their offices into the Connie Country Club by the Lake. Starting to doubt his own worth, Dik began brooding as his kids all grew up, moved away and began their own lives. 

“Irm”, he said one evening at the turn of the century, “I’m going for a walk.” Trudging down the beach north of Everett, afraid he’d wasted his 65 years, he noticed a broken down ’73 Pinto on the side of the road.  Thinking it might be one of his buddies from the reservation, he stopped to see if he could help.

As he approached, an old man with a dead skunk on his head straightened up from working under the hood. “My name’s Roy Nordeen”, he said. “Can you hop in and ride with me to the nearest mechanic?” With his mind now far from his own troubles, Dik gladly agreed. Roy somehow looked familiar, but through the cloudy memories of the last forty years, Dik couldn’t place him.

 “You’re welcome”, said Roy as he put the car in gear. 

“For what?” 

“I just saved your life, Dik.” 

Sensing something pretty wild happening, Dik said, “What the hell are you talking about? All I did was get in your car. And how do you know my name?”

Roy said, “I know everything about you, Dik. I’ve been watching you for years. I’m your guardian angel. You were planning to take your own life, but I knew you’d rather help a stranger, so I got you to come with me.”

Dik was spooked. “Goddammit, stop this car and let me out!” 

“No, Dik, not until we talk about what’s going on in your life. After all, saving your life is my chance to get my wings.”

“All right Roy, let me tell you the real shit sandwich of this situation. First I gave up a beautiful dream I had for my life. I never got to do what I really wanted to do. But still, I had a job I loved, maybe a little too much, you know, the agony of victory and all that shit. Then that fat slimeball came back into my life and took it away from me. What’s worse, the little witch who’s jealous of Irma was making it miserable for me too. They’re both gone now, but the damage was done. Hope they’re happy. Shit, it’d be better if I was never born.”

Roy shot back, “Stop whining, Erickson. Do you have any idea what you’ve done for people over the years? You had more impact in your years as a crew coach than those two will dream of in their lives. Let me show you just what it would be like if you had never been born…”

Dik shifted in his seat. “Jeez, will ya check it out. Got my left nut back. A guy my age…the damnedest thing…and what’s with these clothes I’m wearing?”

“Dik, we had to do something about your clothes. No point leaving you in that junk you were wearing.”

“You”, Dik replied, “are a fine one to talk, mister. Look at that hat. Anyway, Roy, this is all too freakin’ strange. You want to talk, let’s get to a bar…NOW.” Ignoring him, Roy gunned the Pinto onto the freeway and headed South.

Twenty-five minutes later, they rolled along Montlake Boulevard and Dik saw it –
Milo “Mike” Lude Husky Stadium
Dik was incredulous. “How the hell…pull over! Roy! Right there!” Dik jumped out and ran past Tubby Graves. By the water, where he had been a part of forty years of Husky rowing history, was a neon sign:
Catherine “Kit” Green Husky Sailing Center
Dik grabbed Roy by the collar and shouted, “where’s the Connie? Where is the goddamn crewhouse?”

“There’s no crewhouse, Dik. There’s no Husky Crew. Without you on the team, the ’58 squad never made it to Henley or Moscow. When Coach Ulbrickson retired, the program just faded away, and by the time the old man and Kit got here, nobody remembered anything about the sport. All those years of tradition were lost because you weren’t here to keep them going.”

“You got a way of making a man feel like shit, you know that, Roy?  Look, let’s head for a bar before I lose my cookies.”

North on 25th Avenue they went, to a flashy place on the left called
Fisk’s Islander Football Bar
“Hey, this is where the Sea Galley used to be”, said Dik.

“Dik, you kept that place in business. Without you around, they went belly up years ago. This place is owned by a guy who can’t get over what a fantastic ball player he was in high school.”

“Hey”, said Dik as he walked in, “I know those guys over there. Hey Walker brothers! Hey, Dee and Bill!”

No reaction. “They don’t know you, Dik. They’re mortgage bankers just like their dad was. Without crew in their lives, nobody taught them to think for themselves.”

“Can I help you, sir?” said a handsome, square-jawed giant in his 40s. “My name’s Fisk, and I own this place”.

“Terry, am I glad to see you…look, you gotta help me. I’ve got inta some bad liquor or something, and – ”

“—and out you go then! And your friend too!” said Fisk, taking them both by the collar and throwing them out the door.

“Let’s go home to Arlington, Roy. There’s some strange crap happening here, but I bet I can get answers there.”

On the way, Dik finally asked Roy where he’d seen him before. “Dik, you must have been too, uh, distracted at all those crewhouse square dances. I called so many of those over the years, I can’t even remember. I died four years ago, y’know. Still working on those wings, and you’re going to help me get ‘em, right?”

Dik was nauseous again when they stopped the car in front of Harry Swetnam’s old bar. Dik knew Harry died, but his family had kept the place running without the pressure from Old Man Lude, who was too scared of Dik to keep living in town. But when Dik got out of the car, he looked up to see
Sheriff Pugel’s Discount Gun Shop and Tavern
“What the hell is this?” he said, rushing in the door. On the wall was a poster-sized picture of his old boss, Harry, handcuffed and being shoved into a police car by a fine-looking young officer Pugel of the Arlington PD. “Jim Pugel, now Snohomish County Sheriff, arrests Harry Swetnam in 1983 after 30 years of supplying illegal steroids to high school kids” read the caption. 

"No way! Harry was at Henley with me in 1977!"

“Dik, you weren’t here to help Harry out of his jam, so he kept dealing until he got caught. He died in prison, you know.”

Shaken, Dik spotted two guys at a corner table who looked pretty down. Stepping further into the darkness, he hollered, “Gilby! Lambo! …hey, where’s Dennis? You never drink without him!”

“Duhhhh, who the hell are you?” said the bald guy. 

“Yeah, and who’s Dennis?” said Gilby.

“Dennis Erickson, my cousin!”

“The only Dennis Erickson I ever knew has been dead for fifty years," said Gilby.

“Listen, you dipshit…” Dik started to go after the two drunks but Roy pulled him away. 

“Dennis is dead. Here, look…” he said, handing over a copy of the day’s sports section.

“What’s this Pac-11 football standings crap? Why isn’t Wazzu in here? My cousin saved that entire football program!”

“No, Dik, that program died. Dennis Erickson was crushed under a cow when he was eight years old. Dennis wasn’t around to save Wazzu football because you weren’t around to save Dennis.”

As they emerged from the bar onto the dark sidewalk, six shadowy figures – three young women and three men – turned a far corner and disappeared. “They looked familiar”, said Dik. “Who were they?”

“Dik, those six kids could have rowed for the Husky program when you were there, and God how they would have loved you. But they’re gone now.”

“I knew it! Wells! Come back here, you peckerhead! I never finished yelling at you goddammit!”

“Dik, I mean it – they’re gone. But they’ve been watching you, and it’s not time to join them yet. See, Dik, you really have had a helluva life.”

Tears started running down the tough guy’s face. “Roy”, he pleaded, “Where’s Irma?”  

 “Oooh, I’m not supposed to tell you, Dik!” 

“Don’t give me that shit, where is she?” 

“She’s an old maid!” 

Grabbing Roy by the collar, Dik screamed, “Goddammit, Roy, where is she?” 

“She’s just finishing her shift at the hospital!”

Roy and his old skunk hat went flying as Dik sprinted the four blocks down Main Street to the hospital. 

Chugging breathlessly (goddammit, I gotta quit smoking that pipe) into the employees’ entrance, he stopped in his tracks at the most beautiful sight he’d ever seen. “Irma!” – she backed away – “Irma, it’s me, Dik. Don’t you know me? Irma, you’re my wife!”

Screaming, the terrified nurse ran down the hallway to the emergency room, with Dik in pursuit until a stocky gynecologist with a New Jersey accent blocked his path. Dik managed one wild right hook before being dropped like a stone by a pair of forceps.

When he awoke, a face was leaning over him saying, “Dik? You OK?” 

“Back off Mitch, or I’ll hit you again!” Then he realized he was in his easy chair at home, and Irma was talking to him. He groped for his missing left nut, and noticed his old ratty mismatched clothes.

“Irma, I love you!” he exclaimed.

“Well I love you too – what’s this all about?”  

“Irma, get your coat on, we’re going to the Duchess.”

Arriving at their destination, Dik and Irma spent hours hearing from rower after rower about how much he meant to their lives. It was nearly closing time when a commotion by the door announced the arrival of Dik’s little cousin, Dennis Erickson. 

“He heard you were having an identity crisis and the crazy fool flew all the way up from Corvallis”, someone said. [Dennis, aside to narrator – “Corvallish? What the hell was I doing in Corvallish?]

Grabbing a beer, Dennis shouted, “To my old cousin Dik – the biggest man in town!”

And when the bartender rang up another pitcher, cha-ching, Dik held Irma tight and looked up, whispering “Atta boy, Roy”.

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