Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Summer 2009

This is a beautiful story.

My Dad and the Magazine in the Seatback

Chris Garcia

After my parents split, my Dad had troubles. Pops, as I always called him, was a nut, a fan, a sweetheart, a tough guy not to love. He was generous to a fault, often trusting those who had previously given him reasons not to trust them. Pops was that kind of guy. I loved the bastard, and oddly, his life from 1989 through to the day he died makes me think of the time I was flying back from Boston and found myself without a thing to read.

Mom tossed Dad out (or at least the way Dad put it) the day my half-sister was born. Mom couldn’t handle it, again according to Pops, and that ended their marriage. The Forty-Niners had just won the Super Bowl. These things happen. Dad didn’t have anything, he was still recovering from getting hit by a car about 6 months before, and he ended up staying at a shelter.

My Dad was, officially, homeless.

He had a car, the other car as far as Mom was concerned, but he didn’t much like staying in it. Pops stayed at the Julian Street Inn, a local shelter that was where a lot of guys down on their luck would stay. He was there for at least a month, but when they were full, and in the late ’80s and early ’90s, there were a lot less beds in this area for those without roofs over their head. Dad would park by a bridge, or in the parking lot of some store. He didn’t like staying in the truck, but he needed a place. That’s what he did. He had everything in his truck. A few boxes including his zines, his 8-tracks (the ones that Mom didn’t destroy when Mom was really angry one night) and all his clothes. At various times, Dad would lose all of it, get some back, lose them again. Pops would tell stories of times he’d fall asleep and wake up to a guy stealing whatever they could get their hands on, only to roll back over and call out “You can take whatever you want. Just let me sleep.” That’s what my Dad was like.

You see, he knew that the others had it harder than he did. He had a car. He had a son who would regularly talk to him. He had food and some money, at least enough to get some food and maybe see a movie once in a while. He had a newborn daughter. It was a life that wasn’t easy, but it was also full of family and love. Dad himself would say that he was the Poorest Rich Man he’d ever met. A lot of folks would argue that.

Dad pulled himself together. He got a job as a Limo Driver, a job he’d had years before. He managed to hold on to that for a year or so. That was his first job, but it was rough. He couldn’t walk or stand for too long, since he’d had his leg messed up when he was hit by the car. He would make sure that he could manage, but eventually, they had to let him go. This led him to the job I’d talk about for ages: carny.

That’s right, my Dad was a carny. He ran carnival games, always insisting that they be the clean ones, that ones that could actually be won. He was honorable, but I love the fact that when given the choice of not getting paid or pushing the crooked ones, he took the money. I will never say that he was a Saint, but he tried. He toured with the carnivals, which he hated since he had to either shack up with another carny-person or he’d stay in his car. Shared a room was not ideal. Dad, clean and sober himself at that juncture, would almost always find himself sharing with someone who had their demons that came in little plastic baggies or balloons. And that only made Dad want to help them more, which usually left him holding the bag for the room, losing whatever he may have brought. They’d scamper off, then they’d come back and he’d help them out, and the same thing’d happen all over again.

Dad got back on his feet. It took a couple of years, but he got himself a regular apartment. I’d come over to watch the wrestling PPVs with him. We’d chat, I’d give him new books to read, he’d give me back the ones I’d left him. He had a huge collection of VHS tapes, which would change. Sometimes there’d be someone crashing on Dad’s floor, and somehow after they’d left, half the stuff in the apartment would change.

Dad was always giving.

When Dad found out he had cancer, it was rough. He had his own place again, which was nice. He still had folks coming over, and a girlfriend who required a lot of help as she was an ex-hooker and a junkie, but he loved her and that was that.

In those times, he was often arrested. He helped out at various shelters and kitchens, but would do his protesting at times and they’d take him in, never charge him for anything (he knew all the cops) and they’d let him go. He’d get himself a gig, like Limo Driving or being a part of a moving team, but he was always helping people out. He’d find folks on the street and he’d get them into a shelter, or take them home, make them dinner, maybe give them a little money. He was that kind of guy. Pops never had much, but he always made sure that everyone had something, often at the expense of himself.

Pops died at the age of 50. There was a lovely memorial several months later. I’ve got his ashes on the bookshelf in my apartment. I’m looking at them right now. And right next to them is the February 1999 edition of Skymall.

I was flying back from Boston, finally returning to California after several months living in the cold climes of the North East. I was flying back and had almost forgotten my tickets. I did forget to grab anything to read. I took my seat, 21C, which was right behind the Exit Row, and went through the pocket. The In-Flight Magazine was crap. I mean real crap. The Crossword was challenging enough to take me from Pennsylvania to the Rockies, but there was well more than two hours to California. I was done with the magazine and the only thing left was the Skymall.

Skymall, the trap to get you to buy stuff while flying across the country, was full of all the stuff I expected, but there was the section on coins and such. While flipping through, I found a coin called The Widow’s Mite. There was a coin minted before the time of Jesus that was a big deal. In the Bible, there’s a story of Jesus watching the donations made at services. Most of the rich, and even the middle-class, gave a single silver piece, which was a fair bit of money. There was a copper version, but giving one gave a bad stigma as it was the lowest piece of currency. Well, not quite, as there was a smaller unit, 1/32 the value of a silver piece. Beggars and such would have these.

There was a widow with two children. She only had two of the small coins, both of which she gave. It was all she had in the world and basically that was her giving away all the security she had for her and her family. Jesus noted that she gave everything, she had nothing left, and that the rich were only giving a single silver piece, almost nothing to them. If I were them, I’d do the same thing.

My Pops was the widow. He just gave and gave, even if it cost him far more than what he had. I’ll never be like that, I’m too much of a worrier, too much of a coward, and maybe I’m just too smart for all of that. I don’t have it in me, but Dad did. 100%. That was Pops.

John Paul Garcia wasn’t the kind of guy who would say he was a giver, but everyone else would say that. He’d complain about being ripped off, but he’d let it happen again instead of letting someone suffer. He knew what would happen, there was no way he could have over-looked that it would happen again, but he would do it anyways. He was a mensch. A fine and deeply flawed human, but an absolute mensch.

So, I finally understood my dad largely because of something I found in the seatback of a TWA widebody aircraft. I always knew that Pops was something different, something flawed but something really special. And it only took a flight back and forth from frigid Massachusetts to make me understand him.

[ HOME ]     [ Current Issue ]     [ Archives ]

Challenger is (c) 2009 by Guy H. Lillian III.
All rights revert to contributors upon initial print and website publication.

Last Modified: