Derrin and his father stood in the living room of his father’s vacation house in Pebble Beach. They were looking out the large, floor-length window that gave onto the Pacific Ocean.
His father said, “You know that money isn’t important, if you’ve got it. But if you don’t, it’s the only thing that matters.”
Derrin’s father was 63 years old, tanned and thin and had a crop of white hair on his well-shaped head. His hair had thinned only slightly. His tan had come from playing golf which had been avocation when he was still working but now was a passion. His sun-drenched days of selling cars in Los Angeles ended many years before, after he had bought out his boss and had taken over the company when he was only 34 years old. From then on, his British Auto Sales company had flourished and he had become the principle Rolls Royce dealer in Los Angeles. Derrin was his only child from his second marriage. He had two daughters from his first marriage and two from his third marriage and after his third divorce, he had sworn off marriage. His girlfriend was a 39 year old beauty who accompanied him on his world wide hunt for the best golf courses. Currently they were in California playing at Pebble Beach. The children from his several marriages knew each other only slightly.
“I’m an idealist dad. It’s something that you’ll never understand. Until you find the perfect golf course. But that will never happen.”
“I have the money to indulge my hobbies but you don’t. You’re a first class, certified Rolls Royce mechanic but you’ve got to work or you’ll start to lose your skills.”
“I’m still restoring the Austin Healy. But I’m in the process of beginning the Commune so it’s going to have to wait.”
Derrin looked a great deal like his father. When they were together Derrin often seemed older than his father and certainly more serious. Derrin was as dedicated to his commune as his father had been to his car business. But Derrin lacked his father’s skill in dealing with people. In personality, he was like his mother who was still a nurse. Because they both had worked when Derrin was a boy they had thought it best to send him to a boarding school. His mother worked and went to college at the same time and obtained a master’s degree in nursing. She became a head nurse in oncology at the UCLA medical school. As a result, neither Derrin nor Alex saw much of her. Temperamentally, however, Derrin resembled her while, physically, he was like his father.
His father said, “You know what I think of communes and hippies. Your job at British is still waiting for you.”
“This is about as far south as I have any desire to travel dad. Marin County is where everything is happening.”
“Hot tubs, group sex.”
“You weren’t exactly monogamous when you were young.”
His father blushed slightly and looked out the window at the ocean. He said, “My father used to say ‘do what I say, not what I do.’ I hated that. He was a drunk. Always out drinking with his buddies. At least I didn’t do that.”
“You were always with your buddies though.” He looked at his father significantly.
“I had to work too hard when you were a kid. I’ve apologized for that. Many times. But don’t forget what it’s got us.”
He always used the word ‘us’ when he was apologizing for making so much money. But he didn’t believe in spoiling children by giving them money without strings. He had paid for Derrin’s college expenses but he wasn’t going to pay for a commune and that meant that he wouldn’t give Derrin an allowance. At bottom, even with all his women, fast cars and houses, Derrin’s father was a Puritan. Derrin had no idea how much he was worth, but he had sold the business for many millions of dollars and his investments, he said, brought in even more money than the business had. Derrin could only guess that he was worth more than 10 million dollars.
Derrin had never felt comfortable with his father or mother. He had spent most of his growing years in child care centers and then later in boarding schools. He was made to feel lucky that he could spend summers working with his father and getting to know the business. But his father prided himself on treating all of his workers the same, including Derrin.
His father said, “The weather’s beautiful. I can get us on the back nine this afternoon at Pebble.”
“Dad. You know what I think about golf.”
“What did George Bernard Shaw say, ‘golf is a good way to spoil a walk.’ Not too original though.”
“Golf is a waste of time.”
“When you get to be my age, you waste time. You begin to learn to live in the present. It’s what I’ve been trying to do for the last 5 years.”
“Why don’t you stay here and live in the present instead of traveling all over the world?”
“I like to travel. I get bored. Besides, the Pebble Beach golf course is impossible to get on.”
“There are several good public courses around here.”
“Derrin. After you’ve played in Scotland or in the private clubs in France or in Japan or in New Zealand, you can’t be content with the Carmel Municipal golf course.”
“You’re always searching for something better. Never happy with what’s in front of you. Not even this.” He waved his arm, indicating the Pacific ocean and a sail against the blue sky.
They had argued about the house in Pebble Beach many times. His father only spent a few months a year in Pebble Beach and Derrin had wanted it for the commune. But his father hated the idea of a commune.
His father drew in a breath, waiting for him to talk about the commune. Instead, Derrin asked, “How’s Jane?”
“She’s fine. She asks about you. If you stay until this afternoon, you can see her. She’s shopping for clothes in Carmel.”
“Say hello to her for me. Tell her I’ve got to get back to Marin county. If I leave too late, I wont miss the commute traffic.”
“Stay the night. They won’t miss you. It’s been awhile.”
“It’s not my fault. You’re never around.”
“For at least half the year I’m either here or in LA or Mexico. You’re always welcome.”
“Give me the plane fare.”
“That’s never been a problem.”
“Look, I’ve told you I’m not giving you an allowance. If you want to come to Mexico whenever you feel like, I can’t ...”
“I don’t want to have you wiring me money every time I want to see you. Can’t you understand that? And pay five times the normal fare just so I can leave within the next four hours.”
Neither of them wanted to start the allowance argument. His father would yell at him and they would argue about communes for awhile and Derrin would slam the front door.
His father said, “Let’s have lunch.”
“Just as long as it’s not at the Hogshead Inn. You’ll spend all your time talking to your so-called friends.”
“Would you stop taking whacks at me? It’s my life. I enjoy my friends.”
“Dad, I’d like to spend the time talking to you. That’s all.”
“Fine. Sorry. Give me a break. Someday, when you get to be my age, you’ll understand.”
“I hope not.”
“I’m not such a bad guy Derrin. Really.”
“I didn’t say you were. It’s just what you’ve done to yourself. I mean Dad...”
Derrin stopped himself. He was thinking of Jane, his father’s latest girlfriend, who had told him that she was becoming bored with the life they were leading. She had fallen into bed with Derrin one afternoon and poured her heart out to him.
His father said, “All my friends are envious. They think I’m doing pretty well.”
“Do you ever see mom anymore?”
“Let’s not bring that up. I know it isn’t good. If I could live that part of my life over again, I would do it differently.”
“I know.” Derrin waved his hand in the air impatiently. “And if you’d lived your life differently, then I wouldn’t be here.”
“Life is a mystery. I was an idiot. I couldn’t stop chasing skirts. Anyway, your mother worked in the shop and I didn’t have a lot of time with Claire, she was at home taking care of the kids. Claire was his first wife. I found out she was having an affair anyway. I don’t know what she was up to really, but we were apart so much that she ... Then, your mother was supposed to be the love of my life. Sure. Before nursing school started. That was the end of everything. But she was already pregnant with you. We didn’t have any more kids because we never saw each other. And that’s when I started to work like a dog. In those five years, I made enough dough to buy out the business, send your mother to nursing school and pay alimony and child support to Claire. How much time do you think I had?”
He said, glumly, “Not much.”
“Not much. And I admit it. I wanted a woman. You get tired of picking up with any tramp that happens to be sitting at the next bar stool. That lasts about twice. Martha promised she would be the last.. No matter what. Your mother wasn’t there. I’m sorry.”
“Dad. You don’t have to apologize for her. I know my own mother.” He hung his head. “If anyone does. She’s had less time for me than you do.”
“Well, maybe it’s too late now. I see her now and then but we’ve never been close. I can’t forget all those years where all I got was letters. I hardly even saw her in the summer. She was always taking those courses at night.”
“Well you were always working at the shop in the summer.”
“And I hardly got to see you then either. I was usually under a car. And you weren’t around much at night.”
“I was around. And don’t forget the important things. You are a damned good mechanic. Not very many people know how to keep a Rolls Royce going. And they need people down there. You could save enough money after five years to retire or open your own shop.”
“I believe in the commune Dad. We’re a new generation. This is a revolution.”
His father was silent. It was another argument whose script they had both memorized.
Derrin said, “I’ve still got time.”
“Time runs out. You can spend it one way or another.”
“I don’t want to spend it the way you did.”
“I don’t regret the way I spent my life.”
“I didn’t say you did. I’m just saying that I want to have time to get to know people. I want to have a big family. I want to help create a place where people can love each other and feel safe. They can raise children together and create people who are happy. Yes, money is important. We have to pay the rent. But I think five or six adults living together and sharing can live far cheaper than five or six adults living separately. I think the human race has to unlearn so many things. We need to return to a simpler, more rational way of living. I have nothing against what you’re doing, but it seems odd that after all that money and five children, you don’t know any of your wives and you aren’t close to any of your children. I don’t want that. I suppose I want the opposite of that.”
“Look. Why can’t you correct my mistake by finding a nice wife and settling down. Just don’t get divorced or marry your work and money the way I did. You don’t have to. For one thing, you’re set up already as a master mechanic. You can make at least 25 thousand a year. You could start your own shop.”
“I want to step out of the mold. We all do. It’s the new generation. We’re not all hippies. We just want something new. We want to break lose from the obsession with money and middle class life. The house in the suburbs. We want to try to live the real American dream for just a little while. The dream of Thoreau, Whitman, hell, even of Thomas Jefferson. We think it can work. We think we can marry a black woman or a Chicano woman or any woman of any class and we can marry them all at the same time, if we love them. And that will be enough. And we will tell the government that we refuse to fight their self-serving imperialistic war in Vietnam. And we’ll stop the war.”
His father looked at him with concern. “How’s your draft status?”
“Dad. It doesn’t matter. I’m going to be 4F.”
“4F. You. The fastest sprinter in the history of Lowell high school.”
“I’m going to convince them that I’m crazy.”
“That shouldn’t be too hard.” He shook his head in disgust. “But seriously. I thought about a hundred thousand other guys were doing that. What’s your angle going to be?”
“I’ve got a good one.” His eyes lighted up. He liked to impress his father with his ingenuity. “I’m going to smear my body with real beef blood and ashes the day of my induction. They’ll send me home with a 4F. I’ll sing Hari Krishna or whatever it takes. They’ll send me home. I guarantee it.”
His father had not attempted to control his son. He had always taken a hands off attitude. And now the only controlling thing he did was to refuse his son an allowance. He gave him money sometimes, but it would be for things he approved of. He wanted to tell Derrin that playing crazy was a stupid and unnecessary thing to do but he didn’t want his son to go to Vietnam either. He too thought the war was wrong. However he thought it might hurt his son more not to go than to be declared unfit for service. And there were many ways to avoid combat such as joining the navy or coast guard.
He took in a deep breath and said, “Whatever’s right.”
They were silent. He asked Derrin, “How’s Beatrice?”
Derrin looked away evasively. After a silence he said, irritated. “She had to go. She wasn’t right for the commune and she realized it early, so she left. It was the right thing for her to do. I don’t want anyone there who doesn’t feel strongly about us. It is a kind of mission. If you don’t believe in the people, deeply, you shouldn’t be there.”
“She was a very sweet kid. A
little young maybe. How old was she? Twenty?”
“She was twenty but she knew what she wanted. She wasn’t going to college and she decided that she wanted a conventional marriage after all. Even though her parents lived in a commune she decided against it. She said that Brad convinced her of it. You didn’t meet him did you?”
His father said, “Brad? No. It sounds like he has a good head on his shoulders.”
Derrin was silent for a moment. He looked into his father’s eyes. “I guess I don’t want him to meet you. I suppose I’m trying to keep my complicated life out of the commune. I don’t want them to know that I have a rich father, for example.” He paused and then added, “Not that you give me anything.”
“Hey. I’ve given you a lot. I just want you to make it on your own. I’ll help you buy a business. You can’t expect me to give you money for something I don’t approve of. I don’t approve of communes.”
“I didn’t want Beatrice to come down here because I didn’t want her to know that we have money. That’s why I made you come to San Francisco. As far as they know, I am like them. Lower middle class. I’ve told them that my mother was a nurse and my father was an mechanic. That’s good enough.”
“Who’s this Brad fellow?”
“I need someone who can pay rent for awhile to get us off the ground. I thought he would pair off with one of the women but he is a loner. I figure he’ll move out in a couple of months. Unless he decides to go to bed with the new woman who’s moving in, Anne. The country and western singer with the three year old daughter. They would make a good couple but it doesn’t look too likely.”
“You can’t push things like that. You’ll have a sex house if you expect people to go to bed with each other just because they live in the same house.”
Derrin lashed out at his father, “You don’t understand anything. It’s a new world. Values are changing. We can fall in bed for a few months and love each other and move on to another, more rewarding relationship. And besides, people aren’t that different. You can love anyone if you try hard enough. It isn’t about what we can get from each other, it’s about what we can give. Love can make the difference.”
“Don’t take my head off. I’m not an expert at love. In fact I’m a failure and a rank amateur. I don’t believe in marriage anymore either, but for my own reasons. It’s not right for me. But I don’t condemn it as an institution.”
“We don’t either. But we want alternatives. We want to get to know each other and have many trial marriages. When we find the right one we will know it.” He stopped and said in a quiet voice, “Or ones.” His father’s mouth fell open and then formed a quick, disapproving smirk. “Look dad. It’s the same thing that goes on in the middle class world but you’re a bunch of hypocrites. And it’s usually a man trying to get as much as he can without paying for it. We want to pay with love and work. By living communally and raising children together and loving each other and supporting each other.”
“Well. It’s easy to say idealistic things that sound good. Peace, love and do your own thing. It has never been easy to accomplish those good things. But you know all about it. What can I say?” He had a sudden impulse to hug his son. Derrin felt it and in spite of their animosity, Derrin turned to his father and they hugged in the middle of the room.
His father said, “Look, I’ll be in Pebble Beach for three weeks before heading off for New Zealand. Get down here every weekend if you can.”
“Ill try dad. But I’m going to start working at the airport again for a few months to get ahead on the rent for the commune. I might not have much time. I’ve got to give my weekends to the commune.”
It was at times like this that his father felt like writing a check for ten thousand dollars. But he never did and Derrin knew that he never would. In fact, Derrin had internalized his father’s values and would not have accepted the money. He wanted to feel as if he had made it himself. Just like his father. No one had ever helped father and yet he had amassed a fortune. Derrin wanted to build his commune the same way. Without any help from anyone. What he really wanted, more than anything else, was his father’s love and approval, and the only way he could get it was to make something of himself in his own way.