Scribbles from R Scott Jones
May 17th, 2024

My dad died this week


My dad Norman passed away this week at age 89.

I've started putting together a remembrance site for him, and it's hard not to consider how crazy of a life he lived. I'll write more about this in the coming weeks.

Some of the highlights:

Norman was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1935, just in time for WWII. Their house was firebombed by the Germans during the Belfast Blitz, though they had already retreated to the country when it happened.

Norman rebelled against the fundamentalist religious upbringing he had, and was eventually shipped out of the country to America when he turned 18.

He struggled in America too, and was fired as a dishwasher—likely because he couldn't understand what items to collect from the refrigerator when asked to retrieve something. He had no idea what most of the fruits and vegetables were, since he had never seen them before. He tried to sound out the words on the boxes, but the American accent made that hard for him. So he'd take a long time, and his boss thought that he was just goofing off.

He ended up joining the US Marines—during the Korean War, no less—because he had mistakenly believed he needed to complete two years of mandatory military service, but the US had no such law at the time. He remained stateside for his entire enlistment, however, as he was still a British citizen. His commanders tried to get him to naturalize so they could get him to the battlefield, but he resisted—at least until the war was over. He then used his military service to naturalize.

That made him eligible for the GI Bill, which he used to attend Marshall University in West Virginia. This was a pretty big deal for a guy who hadn't finished high school. He worked several jobs while in school, most notably a strategically-chosen gig as a janitor in the girl's dormitories. He graduated with a degree in Psychology and a minor in Sociology, with an eye towards a career in law enforcement.

After college, he moved to San Francisco, met my mom, and got married. Not long afterwards, he was hired by US Customs in the Department of Treasury. He soon transferred to the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), which was later rolled into Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) in the Department of Justice, which eventually became the modern Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

A funny story here is that Norman is color blind and couldn't pass the eye exam for special agents. He did his best to memorize the Ishihara color plate test (those circle images with numbers "hidden" in a sea of colored dots), but just couldn't do it. He'd have to find another way to get a passing grade. So he found out when the optometrist was going on vacation and secured the very last appointment of the day before the guy's flight. He then socially engineered his way thru the exam. He took his time using the restroom at the start of the exam, then acted angrily insulted and frustrated that he had to even go through something as stupid as saying numbers that were clearly obvious to everyone who looked at them. He successfully talked his way thru the exam, drawing it out to create more time pressure, and eventually the doc just skipped the test and passed him so he could race to catch his flight.

Being able to "cheat" his way into being an undercover special agent is, well, a damn good attribute and skill for that particular job. There's another fun story about how he managed to transfer himself—without anyone's approval—from the San Francisco to Tucson office, ridding himself of a boss that had it out for him. Yes, he successfully managed to fake his own transfer in the federal government. My mom (his wife at the time) just learned the truth last November, almost fifty years later. The dude had skills.

His career as an undercover DEA agent is what most people know of him. He primarily worked against the mafia, and a bit with the cartels. And boy, he had some absolutely crazy stories—the types of things you see in the movies (in fact, one of his cases was sold as a movie script). Too many to list here.

It was a tough and stressful and very dangerous job, and that took its toll on him.

He eventually had a major heart attack, which allowed him to retire from DEA. By this point, he was a dad to me and we were living in Detroit. He moved the family to a suburb of Phoenix and lived a quieter life as I grew up. He became an investigator for the county public defender's office. Even though he was on the side of the defense now, he said it didn't change much—you investigate the same way, no matter what side you're on.

He and my mom divorced, and he moved into a new home across town in Phoenix. He developed a love for golf and became a regular at the local pub, The Dubliner. He retired from the county on St Patrick's Day, which meant he had a lot more time to golf and hang out at the Dub.

In 2020, he had heart failure and a string of associated issues. We took over managing all aspects of his life and moved him into an assisted living facility not far from where I live—on the day that covid shut down the country. It was about as rough of a transition as you could imagine; he was suddenly isolated in a room without any social contact. I could only see him through a window. Within a couple months, he was wheelchair bound and requiring substantial assistance. Later that year, he contracted covid and he was placed on at-home hospice.

Since he was on hospice, I decided to sneak him out for happy hour—perhaps our last. I couldn't transfer him between his wheelchair and the car by myself, so I just wheeled him down the sidewalk to a local bar called Cold Beers and Cheeseburgers, which conveniently had designed a small section of the bar at wheelchair height. It was great, and I did it again a few days later.

Eventually, it became our regular thing; I'd bring him over to Cold Beers 2-3 times each week. We got some quality time, he got some change of scenery and felt a bit more "normal," and other regulars and bartenders would greet humans chat each time they saw him. A few months later as he continued improved and improved, hospice called and said that he no longer qualified. He had beaten hospice by going to the bar! His various doctors now "ordered" us to the bar after every appointment.

We continued this happy hour tradition for more years. Last week, he contracted covid again and, along with all the other ailments he suffered from during a rough life, he passed away. I miss him terribly already, though I'm glad we got to spend so much time together these last few years.

[10/31] for #WeblogPoMo2024
[12/100] for #100DaystoOffload