es, stories. It’s what connects us to entertainment, to meaning and memories.
Father’s Day is rolling around, made less-so by the fact my dad has passed away a few years back, but more-so for the same reason. Now it’s no longer just a card. Now it’s about a personal storytelling observance.
See, when I was a kid living on a base in the Philippines during the wind-down of the War in Vietnam, one night my dad invited me to stay up and watch a movie with him. I’d watched late-nighters with him in the past, generally being introduced to some of his favorites. And that night in a cinderblock duplex on a jungled hill overlooking Subic Bay, it was The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.
He wanted to teach me, in his words, a “life lesson”.
This being back in the Vietnam era when “body counts” were all the rage. Only a few years before he’d been on a cruise to ‘Nam on the Valley Forge and the story goes that in the wardroom showing of this movie they made midshipmen body-count the three title characters. Three stood along the back bulkhead with pens and notepads. Every dead gunslinger, farmer, farmer’s wife (and farmer’s eldest son), every death from the slug of Eastwood & Co earned a tic mark*. And Dad had me do the same, handling the roles of all three middies, keeping tabs. The results were very, very telling**.
But that was the story and the memory. And so for Father’s Day I sit down at 10pm on Saturday night (I used to do it Sunday but then I’m worthless at work on Monday) and watch that old flick again. And it’s funny – even though I’ve seen it three times since his passing, and I knew it pretty well, I always start thinking “Okay, let’s get this over” yet finding myself laughing and enjoying it. It’s just a fun movie with good lines, vast spectacles, western vistas, colt justice and long eye-balling showdowns. And I’ll think of Dad, his good points and his bad, and feel his presence as I share a laugh with his spirit (like when Tuco throws an empty water bottle at the sun-bleached, prone Blondie, and how it rolls down the long dune and clinks against Blondie’s head). It’s my own memorial to him, and one that I think would not have displeased him.
So that’s it – a story in a movie. And a story of a father and son watching it. And the story of me watching it in his memory, and the stories that raises. And the story I’m now sharing with you, how all this wraps up.
Our lives are defined by a weave of storytelling. And realizing that is seeing how the world we perceive all goes together. It’s the story of our lives, and beyond that.
Tuco: When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.
And now I’m smiling.
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* I’m not sure on the ruling of Shortie, who was supposed to have his noose shot away by Blondie but was denied this by Tuco. Shortie was dead, but did this count for Blondie not shooting, or Tuco causing the not-shooting? Well, body-counts didn’t work well in the Vietnam War, either.
** It turns out that The Good kills far more people (into the high teens) than the Bad and Ugly combined. In fact, outside of some character-defining deaths early on, the Bad is largely not-so-bad.