Friday, March 27, 2015

Pink Underpants

Fifteen years ago, on March 27th my dad died. Two years ago I wrote a book. I had it professionally edited and tried to get it published, but nobody was interested. I was going through it again this week and the book does not read as good as I thought it did two years ago. So I guess the book publishers had a point. My book was inspired by many incidents in my childhood and teen years, but was not about me or my family. It was also inspired by stories Mark told me about his family moving to a nearly all white suburb when he was nine years old. Anyway, here is one small excerpt that was definitely inspired by my dad. It is based on something that happened on one of our family vacations. This incident is narrated by the fictional seventeen year old girl in my book, Maggie Ryan.

August, 1968, Chicago. 
Vacations with my dad were always an adventure in getting the most from the least. Some of my friends would come back to school in the fall, bragging about how their family had gone to Disneyland, New York, or even Europe. When somebody would ask me where we had gone, I would make up some fabulous story about our week at an exclusive resort. The truth was that every year we would stay in a cheap rented cottage, on some tiny muddy lake full of weeds and mosquitoes. The worst part about it was that every time we went on vacation something would go horribly wrong. Last year dad carefully loaded all of our luggage in a rented carrier that was strapped to the roof of the car. Unfortunately dad was not one to read instructions, and I remember looking at that carrier with dread.
“I’m not putting my things on top of the car.” I insisted.
“Why not?”
“I don’t think you put that carrier thing on top of the car correctly. It’s kind of off center, and that bottom thingy looks loose.”
“Thingy? See you don’t even know what you’re looking at, you don’t even know what it’s called.”
I don’t think dad knew what it was called either, but it was a convenient way for him to dismiss my misgivings.
“Now throw that suitcase up here, and then toss that duffel bag behind you on up to me.”
I obediently handed said objects up to dad, but not before I took my most valued possessions out of my suitcase.

Fifty miles outside of Chicago, on Interstate route 94, just east of Chesterton Indiana, a rattle developed. It seemed to be coming from the top of the car. Dad ignored it.
“I think something’s wrong with that thing on top of the car.” I opined.
Nothing, dad ignored his first born daughter.  After a few miles the rattle developed into a clatter.
“Now do you hear it?”
“That’s just the tarp I put over it flapping around up there. Don’t worry about it.” dad exclaimed, dismissing me as if I were just a girl who couldn’t possibly understand how things worked.
And then all the noise stopped.
“See, it stopped. I put that carrier on damn good. It’ll take anything.” Dad said proudly.
Except that my dad hadn’t put it on "damn good". Out of the rear window of the station wagon I could see all of our suitcases bouncing, and exploding along the interstate. The noise had stopped because the thing wasn’t there anymore. It had instead become a traffic hazard, causing the cars behind us to veer off into the median, and onto the shoulder. I screamed as I saw my pink suitcase hit the front of a semi and burst into a multi-colored cloud of socks, shorts, blouses, and to my horror, pink underpants.
“Jesus, don’t do that! Don’t ever scream into my ear while I’m driving.”
“The bags, the…everything... everything, it’s…” and again I screamed into my dad’s ear.
“Holy shit!” my dad exclaimed.
Finally, after dozens of cars, and trucks had pummeled our stuff, dad looked into the rear view mirror.
“Son of a bitch, goddamn, mother….” a string of profanities spewed from his mouth. As he pulled off onto the shoulder and stopped, the giant inner tube that we had tied on top of the suitcases came bouncing past us.
“I told you that thing wasn’t on there right.” I cried as I clutched my diary and toiletry bag, the two things I had retrieved from my suitcase before leaving.


  1. I think it's an excellent piece, Alan. I'm going to see David Sedaris next month and your story goes right along with some of his escapades. I just read that a lot of first time short story writers send pieces to The New Yorker. I think you should sent an excerpt to them and see what happens. Your stories are very entertaining and I think people like reading them very much.

    1. I adore David Sedaris and his sister Amy. Two totally different media, but they both make me laugh. I am a very bad judge of my own writing. I need somebody to pick out the good crap from the crappy crap.