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Capt'm Dad and the big envelope reveal

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My daddy, Capt’m Dad, knew, just KNEW, in his bones, that I was on that precarious 18-year-old teenager tightrope, weaving and bobbing to not lose balance and vanish into a bottomless pit of  trouble.

Nothing he could put on paper. Just a sequence of suspicious things that didn’t add up in Capt’m Dad’s organized, disciplined, Navy-trained brain. 

Eighteen years old is a pivotal time for a red-blooded, howling-at-the-moon Wolf Man on the prowl. A wrong turn can be long-term disastrous. 

Capt’m Dad wanted to keep me out of the ditches and make sure I was  aware of the consequences of actions. He had been 18 himself once upon a time, and, as the saying goes, it takes one to know one.

Who has time for worrying about consequences when you are 18 and into all kinds of challenging and exciting things with all kinds of exciting and fearless people? 

Consequences were for wusses.

So I didn’t see it coming when I was called to lunch one Saturday after maybe four hours of coma sleep having slipped at dawn through the back door into my basement bedroom.

I dressed, labored up the stairs into the kitchen. A table was readied with sandwich stuff. 

It was a small oval table. I sat on one side. Capt’m Dad across. Capt’m was wearing his Saturday going-to-the-office clothes: Khakis, polo shirt, blazer, and loafers..

“Got any, ah, coffee?” I said.

“Late night?” Capt’m Dad said.

“No, no,” I said. “I got in—-”

“I heard you get in,” Capt’m Dad said. “And now I know who the Allman Brothers are.”

“What? Who are, ... what?”

“Your mother and I hear pretty much everything that goes on down there,” he said.

“Everythi—” I said.

“---So when you turned on the stereo at, what, 5:30 this morning, and that guy yelled to the crowd, ‘And now, the Allman Brothers Band’. We heard all that,” Capt’m Dad said.

“Which brings me to…,” he said. He reached into the inside blazer pocket and whooshed out a legal-sized envelope. 

“…This,” he said, eyeballing me. 

He placed the thing on the table between us. It was addressed to me, ℅ him, at our home address, and covered with official, government-looking stamps and stickers conveying Great Importance and requiring Immediate Attention.

It oozed Big Trouble. 

“You need to tell me what this is all about,” Capt’m Dad said, and he snatched up the envelope and swooshed it back into the inside pocket. “I can’t help you unless I know the details, because THEY know the details (he patted his blazer pocket) and we need to respond immediately.”

“Look, ah, Dad, I, ah, look…,” I said. “I have no idea what the hell that is, or who it is from, or what it is about, but that, whatever that was, or is, can’t be right, you know, because—-”

“That’s not what THIS says,” Capt’m Dad said as he whooshed the letter back out of his pocket and waved it in front of me.

And he swooshed it right back. “So I can help you ONLY IF you tell me what really happened,” he said.

I felt sweat popping. The ticker skipped, and the DANGER DANGER DANGER antenna quivered. 

“How do you even know it’s ABOUT me?” I said. “Could be about—-”

“BECAUSE,” Capt’m Dad roared as he whooshed the envelope back out of his pocket and just DROPPED it on my plate, “it’s ABOUT YOU! Look!” He jabbed the address.

He snatched it and swooshed back. “I can’t help you navigate this unless—-”

I felt the fear sap rise. It could be ANY NUMBER of things:

  • It could be the time me and (name withheld) got caught with…

  • It could be when we outran the …

  • It might even be when we (all the names stricken) … No. Couldn’t possibly be… 

  • Surely not THAT. Hardly anyone was even there, then. Shootfire, we were hardly there.

“Okay,” I said. “Give me an hour or so to confirm a couple of things and we’ll regroup.”

“You do that,” Capt’m Dad said. “You CONFIRM whatever you have to confirm and we will, indeed, REGROUP and settle this matter.” 

He didn’t believe me for a minute. I knew it. He knew I knew it. I knew he knew I knew it. But what are you going to do? There was no dodging this one.

I retreated to the basement bedroom. I paced. The ticker thumped away. It could be this. Maybe it was that. I wondered if (name withheld) is mentioned. 

Most likely it was the other thing. That thing. Sure, just a few people could have known about THAT. The other things, well, they were covert. NOBODY knew (except us).

Capt’m Dad and I regrouped. I told him that, okay, I thought it through, and, “Look, it didn’t happen the way the letter said it happened. Hell, me and (name withheld) were only—-” and I told him the deal.

“That’s very interesting,” Capt’m Dad said. “But that has nothing to do with…,” and he whooshed the envelope out of his pocket, waved it around, said, “…this,” and swooshed it right back.

The fear sap climbed. If it wasn’t that, it had to be…

“Okay, Dad, look,” I said. “It’s not as bad as that. We were—-” and I confessed that deed.

Capt’m Dad suddenly whooshed the envelope out of his pocket and roared, “according to THIS, it IS AS BAD AS THAT. But it is NOT about that.”

He swooshed the envelope back.

This cycle repeated itself three more times. After the last confession, Capt’m Dad, slipped out of his pocket the worn envelope, bedecked with stickers and stamps signifying danger, danger, danger, and tossed it to me.

“Thank you,” he said. “Now we are getting somewhere”

“What’s the letter say,” I said. "Which one does it talk about?”

“See for yourself,” Capt’m Dad said. “Open it. It’s addressed to you.”

I opened it. It was….

…. EMPTY. 

It was a ruse. A scam! Capt’m Dad had gone to the ol’ post office to get into cahoots with his ol’ buddy the Postmaster and pull a fast one.

He got five World Class confessions out of me. Damning accounts of who, where, when and what. Especially the what. And the who. Not so much the where.

What a play! You have to admire it. 

Fast forward decades to when I was a father of 24/7 teenagers. I was determined to learn some Who’s and What’s. 

I deployed the same strategy on my oldest daughter. Same set-up speech. Got the envelope and everything. 

We sat at a table. I said something about wanting to help and then whooshed out a marked-up envelope.

Oldest Daughter looks at it, looks at me, her eyes reaching into mine, pauses cool as a cucumber, and says, “Nice try, Dad.” 

And she  got up and left the room.

Allen VanNoppen is the publisher of The Paper. He may be reached at 828-445-8595 or via email at allen@thepaper.media.