Some years ago, I made a few pieces all with different kinds of “Ace of Spades” motifs. I had planned a big series about my Father, whose nick-name was “Ace.” I stopped after making six of them. The ones I made were terrific, but emotionally brutal to get through.
My Father loved games of chance–blackjack, poker, and the Lotto. He often bought 15-20 “Quick Picks” a day. He was a child of the Depression, the Irish Sweepstakes, and “Policy,” a game more known by its other name, “Numbers.” He had a gambler’s optimism to the point of being delusional about the Lotto. I once tried to explain the math to him, since the State of Illinois basically made the numbers racket legal and called it Lotto in 1973. I surmised that my Dad had spent, conservatively, a couple of hundred grand on Lotto Tickets between 1973 and 1997. He wouldn’t hear of it being a sucker-bet, noting that in the mid-’80s he’d once won five grand. When I tried to explain the long-term calculus of this, he told me to mind my own fucking business.
The Irish are superstitious this way–raffles, pools, games of chance– we’re suckers for it. It’s not an accident that bookmaking is legal in Ireland. We believe in the vagaries of luck.
My father and I had a complicated relationship; I put many gray hairs on his head. I got in an immense amount of trouble; the only one of my siblings to do so. I rejected the Catholic faith that he and my mother held dear. I hated school and authority, and thought my teachers were mostly dip-shits (with a few exceptions, I wasn’t wrong). I only wanted to draw pictures and be left the fuck alone.
My father and I often battled at the dinner table. He would tell me that at my age he was off fighting a war and I didn’t know a goddamn thing about the world. My father invaded Okinawa in WWII; a bloody, bestial engagement in which Americans took the islands inch-by-bloody-inch in some of the ugliest warfare ever engaged. I never knew. My father did not discuss the war other than to say I had no idea. He was right.
At the end of my dad’s life, when he was in hospice, I would visit him every day and try to have conversations. It was difficult given that he was on a morphine drip. He would often tell me there was a Japanese soldier in the hallway. I thought maybe my father was mistaking one of the doctors for the soldier, but he said no. He kept insisting there was a Japanese soldier lurking in the hall. I asked him why he thought he was out there and my father replied, “To forgive me.”
The day my father’s ship, The U.S.S. Noble, approached Okinawa, he saw a number of black swans lolling on the waves miles off of Okinawa. He remembered this is when he started to be afraid.