Hot Dad by David E.J. Berger

“Tomorrow’s fucked anyway! So why give a shit if you die tonight!” I growl into the mic. “I never liked you anyway, that’s why I fucked your dad in the pale moonlight!”

It’s the chorus to our song “Hot Dad,” which was inspired by our ex-friend Shelley. She broke up our friend Daria’s family by fucking Daria’s genuinely hot dad, Carlos. He’s an ex-Ford model who did shoots with Cindy Crawford in the 90s before he met Daria’s mom and became Orange County pod people like the rest of our parents. But at least, unlike my own father, he was actually cool at some point.

At first, we felt kind of bad writing a song about our friend fucking our other friend’s Dad. But art takes a life of its own, and it’s quickly become the highlight of our set. Clair, our lead guitarist slash personal bestie, says it’s because of her “cunt busting” (her words) guitar riff the song was based around. And yes, she slays on it. But let’s be real, people like me screaming about fucking dads.

“That’s right, I fucked your dad!” I scream. “And I’m the best he’s ever had!”

While Clair solos, I look out at the crowd. It’s the Redwood’s usual mix of grizzly bearded, wayward souls draped in leather biker jackets. Punk purists. The type of guys that would go anywhere for fast guitars and cheap drinks, even this rundown pirate bar. So, if I can muster any reaction from them that might help with word of mouth about us, I’ll consider it a win. Stage left, there’s a few slacker kids from our high school days. While I appreciate the support, if there is a God, she knows the truth: I’d rather lie down on the 101 than associate myself with these people. They’re getting their poser stink on me and making it that much harder for me. Most of them are friends with Clair’s cousin, Sarah, who is wearing a stupid papier-mâché crown and dancing her heart out like she’s never heard music before.

I throw my mic into the air, catch it, and reprise the chorus. The crowd’s tepid reaction spurs me on. I do it again. A few screams this time. I throw it up a third time, a good ten feet above me. As it comes down, one of the stage lights bursts. I turn my head for a split second and the mic smacks straight onto my mouth. I drop to my knees. For this, these pricks come alive with cheers.

First, all I feel is the searing pain. It takes a moment or two before I feel the blood. I hear the guitars stop. Our bassist Monie’s eyes, which are as big as a Margaret Keane painting to begin with, are somehow even wider, her face flush with concern.

“Keep fucking playing, bitch!” I say, my mouth dripping.

The guitars wail on. Adrenaline pumping, my pain boils down to a throbbing. My right hand, covering my mouth, is soaked with blood. My eyes dance around looking for the mic. It’s rolled over by Tony, our drummer, whose skinny Italian arms never stopped flailing. I love him for not stopping the beat. Next to the mic is my tooth, all jagged and pulpy. Fucking rad. Back to the audience, I pick it up with the mic.

“I. FUCKED. YOUR. DAD!”

The song crescendos to the end. I hold my tooth up in the air. A sacrifice. The crowd is raucous. They’re thirsty for more. I spit blood like projectile vomit. It covers my vintage floral dress and most things in front of me including a couple biker guys who don’t seem real pleased about it. I look around and there really is so much blood, like, everywhere. I can’t help but laugh. This is the most punk I’ve ever felt.

*****

The bummer thing about that night at the Redwood is not so much the pain and soreness or that I can’t eat anything solid. It’s that even though my tooth was an epic sacrifice to the rock gods, I’m not post-fem enough to give the middle finger to the notion that sex sells. And unless I do something about it, I’m walking around looking like Cletus the slackjawed yokel from the “Simpsons” for the foreseeable future. But since I quit school to pursue the band full time, my insurance company dropped me like a bad habit. Corporate bullshit, if you ask me.

Worse yet, my funds aren’t exactly at “unexpected oral surgery” level right now, either. Truth be told, I barely make enough to cover rent and coffee from the pittance we make as a band from the few gigs that pay and the hours I manage to squeeze in driving PostMates. So, here I am, once again, about to break down and call the parental units to save the day.

Part of me thinks it’d be worth remaining toothless to avoid this call. A small price to pay to avoid calling your parents in general, let alone to ask for money. Also. Think about women like Janis Joplin, Madonna, Amy Winehouse, or Jewel. They didn’t need perfect smiles to become queens. But then again, they did have all their teeth.

I’d call my mother, but at the moment I’m going to avoid that bitch like the plague. My father is the perfect candidate anyway since he knocked out a tooth playing basketball when I was in middle school and carried on about the pain for days, weeks, years. I’m pretty sure he brought it up last Thanksgiving, which is why I remember. He’ll have sympathy. I haven’t spoken with him in a while anyway, so I give him a call while standing outside our friend Ari’s loft downtown in the Arts District after band practice a few days later.

“Katherine, my dear, what a surprise,” my father says. It’s the same greeting almost every time I call. I don’t know what’s so fucking surprising. He’s my father. I’m not a monster and, like, never call.

“Hey dad, how’s it hanging?” I say.

“Oh, you know, a little to the left right now.” He laughs.

“Gross, dad.” I hate when he tries to be funny because he’s so assuredly not and the only thing he’s relating to is the fact that his humor makes me wish we were unrelated.

“Hey, you asked.”

Clair and Monie walk past me with equipment. They are both glaring at me because they know I timed this phone call to avoid lugging gear. But fuck them. They know I’m in pain.

“Listen, dad, I need to tell you something.”

“Actually, I need to talk to you too.”

“Yeah?”

“I saw an odd charge on the credit card, which I know can’t be true. It was fifteen hundred or so at Guitar Center.”

Tony walks past me with the beautiful Les Paul that’s the culprit of the charge my father is speaking of and loads it into the van.

“That’s weird. I don’t know anything about it.”

“Okay, good. That’s what I figured. Well,” he sighs deeply. “Hoped you’d say that. When I saw it was from Guitar Center. I was sure it wasn’t a mistake.”

“I mean, I do shop there. So, someone probably stole my card number.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll call the credit card company to have it removed after we speak.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

“So what are you ringing me about?”

“Well, you’re never going to believe this, but I had a band-related injury last night.”

“Oh, my! Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine. But unfortunately, one of my front teeth didn’t survive the encore.”

“You lost a tooth! Your mother and I spent so much money making sure that smile turned out perfect.”

This is true. Those masochists kept me in braces until I was fourteen.

“Yeah, and it really hurts.”

“Do you remember when I knocked a tooth out once playing basketball at the gym? Oh, the pain was horrible. I can still feel it. I’m sure you’re in a helluva lot of pain too.”

He’s right. Physically and mentally — from his predictability.

“I’m miserable, Dad.” Laying it on thick.

“They did a terrible job with my implant too. I had to go back three times. I’m still not happy with it.”

“I’m sure with all the advances in modern dentistry, they’ll be able to patch me up like new.”

“What kind of dental plan does your band offer that you can afford advanced dentistry?”

“Funny, Dad. Ha ha.” I wait to see if he will just offer to pay so I can avoid asking. The line goes silent on both ends.

“Hey, before I forget, I had this phenomenal shot off the eighth tee at the club the other day. Par three, nearly landed in the cup.” Jeez, why do I always forget that if you give this guy an opening, he fills it with golf talk.

“Dad, let’s stay focused on the matter at hand here. Can you help me out or are you going to let your daughter walk around looking like a homeless person?”

He sighs. “I can help you out, of course. But it’s going to cost you.”

“Dad, you know one day I’ll pay you back everything and then some.”

“Yes, yes, with all the hits, I know. But that’s not what I mean. When I got my implant, I had to have your mother drive me to and from the dentist’s office because I couldn’t drive myself afterward.”

“Where are we going with this, Dad?”

“Katherine, even though I know you’re a hardcore punk rocker now, a daddy-daughter day is long overdue. Especially when he’s footing the bill.”

A fire that burns deep inside me erupts at the mention of “a daddy-daughter day” for which I’m way too old, and they never worked out that well even when I was younger. I consider verbally biting his ear off. But I notice over by Tony’s van, my band has finished loading the gear and are sparking the joint we’d been saving for after practice. Those pricks aren’t waiting for me.

“Okay, whatever, Dad.”

“Wow, that’s it. No fight back. You are maturing.”

Tony passes the joint to Monie who usually bogarts the fucking thing until its damn near gone. This situation is growing dire.

“Guess so. Gotta go.”
“Okay. Call me to conf-” I hang up before he can finish and bust it over to my band mates.

*****

Turns out replacing a tooth isn’t a quick fix and requires four painstaking trips to the dentist. I negotiate my father into taking me to my first appointment only. So, on Wednesday, I come out of my studio apartment in Silver Lake to find my dad’s Lexus parked outside. I climb in.

“Hello, Henry,” I say.

“I hate when you call me that,” Dad says. He’s wearing his signature khakis and Old Navy polo look. Today’s color is not so much purple — mauve?

“Which is why I do.” I smile wide, revealing the gaping hole in my teeth.

“Oh, she’s a monster! Oh the horror!” He lifts his arms up in mock terror. So lame.

“Dad, let’s just go.”

On the drive over to the dentist’s office on the Atwater side of Los Feliz Blvd, he tries to pump me for information about the band slash my life, but I shut him down saying it’s too painful to talk. We sit in silence as my dad’s book on tape plays. It’s a by-the- numbers murder mystery. He’s obsessed with mystery genre fiction. I assume this is because he’s a corporate accountant for a defense weapons company, and he needs at least a shred of intrigue in his life. I mean, being an accountant has to be the most mind-numbing gig on the planet. It’s adding numbers. And not in cool life-shifting ways like advanced physics, but by figuring out the bottom line of blowing people up. I don’t want to call myself a “conflict baby.” But I do know Dad married my Mom with a bonus he got from the Gulf War, and I came along shortly after. I try not to think about it because it gives me identity issues.

“Spoiler alert, Mr. Mustard did it with the candelabra in the library,” I say.

“What?” Dad says.

“Mr. Mustard. The candelabra. The library. You’re welcome.”

“What am I missing?”

“Like the game Clue, Dad.”

“Huh.”

We finish the ride in silence.

For being in a rather cool part of LA, the dentist’s office is not unlike something I’d find back in Irvine. I don’t know what I expected it to look like but it’s pretty banal. Generic PSAs with dated 90s graphics about the importance of brushing and flossing hang on faded floral patterned walls. It’s filled with moms and their kids in pedestrian garb who all shot me a look when I walked in wearing torn jeans, a crop top, choker, dark sunglasses, and Doc Martins. I re-dyed my hair punky pink last night too. I’m so used to blending in with the other East side freaks that sometimes I forget how my look can affect civilians. I know my father is also not a fan of how I dress, but he’s so beaten down by my Mom that he’s unable to share his true opinion to a female.

I check in with the receptionist who smiles patronizingly at me and we sit down next to a blonde mother and her son who is playing with a colored abacus on the floor. We both notice the myriad of publications on the end table on the other side of us. There’s news, music, entertainment, sports, and golf magazines on it. I know it’s only a matter of seconds until Dad reaches over and grabs a golf magazine and when he does, I shake my head.

“Jesus, Dad,” I say.

“What?”

I pull out my headphones and put them in my ears. The Replacements’ “Let It Bleed” helps me tune out not just this waiting room, but the entire world.

I’m deep into the record, into “Unsatisfied,” when a young woman marches out who I guess is Filipino because she looks like a young version of my nanny, who was originally from Panay.

“I’m sorry everyone, but the doctor has a family emergency and has to cancel all appointments today. He’s very sorry and we can work to re-schedule everyone right now.”

This is horrible news, but the uprising from the crowd of mothers is almost worth it. They start screaming in Spanish, English, and Russian. It’s a symphony of multicultural complaints. It’s almost enough to distract me from the fact I’m going to look like Cletus until further notice.

“Sorry, kiddo,” Dad says.

“This sucks, Dad.”

“We’ll get you a new appointment and then we can do whatever you want. My treat.”

“I’m in so much pain all I want to do is drink. Can we have a daddy-daughter drinking day?”

Booze has been the only thing getting me through the past five days, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. We all need our crutches. The only problem is my father, despite the country club membership and deep seated conservatism, is not much of a drinker. But by adding “daddy-daughter” to it, I’ve taken back the brutish phrasing unfurled upon me in our phone conversation and used it against him.

“Okay,” Dad says. He smiles at me, big and wide like a crazy person. How my Mom has lasted multiple decades with this person is astonishing. Instead of commenting, I bite my tongue because I don’t want to bite the hand that’s going to feed me drinks.

“I’ll lead the way.”

*****

I take my dad to the Drawing Room on Hillhurst. It’s bright and sunny outside, but inside here it’s the color of night. We sit in a corner booth with the perfect amount of dingy despair. I have a whiskey and ginger. Dad orders a Stella.

“Have you talked to your mother recently?” Dad asks.

This question is weird because he sees the woman of which he speaks every day. Do they not discuss me? What do they talk about if not me?

“A few weeks ago, I think. Why? Something I should know about?”

He sips his beer and then says, “Oh, no. She’s wrapping up the semester is all. She had some challenging classes. More her stories to tell than mine…I’m sure she’d love to talk to you about it.”

“I’m sure she would too.”

“So, dear, talk to me about this band. I’m not here to judge. I know you’re thinking I’m looking to shoot down your dream by pushing school on you but let’s put that aside for today. Today, I just want to drink and shoot the shit with my daughter.”

This feels like a trap or some sort of midlife crisis. Pushing education on me is almost like a Tourette’s tic for him. I don’t say anything and sip my drink.

“Everything okay, Dad?”

“I’m here with you. I’m better than okay.” He raises his glass to cheers me. I hesitantly clank it in return. “The band, tell me.”

“Well, in a nutshell, the band is going great. I mean, Clair is kind of unreliable in terms of performance, but Monie and Tony are both solid and a good rhythm section is hard to come by. I see other bands and I want to vom. I feel like my songwriting is getting sharper and my voice richer. We are doing all the right things to get tighter as a unit. Really the main challenge is breaking through by living and breathing punk.”

“Is there something I did to you as a child that forced this life of punk on you?”

“What? Dad, no! Jesus, you sound like I’m hooked on crack or something.”

“I just worry.”

“God, I thought this was daddy-daughter drinking day? You ask one question then switch back to maudlin.”

“You’re right. How about shots? Want to do some shots?”

“Yes, Dad. Of course, I want to do shots.”

We do shots. Being a whisky girl, it’s two rounds of Jameson. I’ve only had toast and a little goat cheese to eat today so they quickly go to my head. My father’s face is still cringed from the second shot, his crow’s feet prominent through his leathery tan. My mother always attacked him for not wearing sunscreen on the golf course. But aside from the skunk marks above his sideburns, he looks more or less the same as he did when I was a kid. It’s funny watching him now. It’s not like I’ve never seen him drink, but I’ve never seen him so game.

“What’s going on with you, dad? Tell me about the life of Henry.”

“If I’m being honest, Katherine, the most exciting thing to happen to me recently was my near hole in one last week in Palos Verdes.”

“Was that the shot you were telling me about?”

He pulls out his phone from his khakis and reveals a shot of a golf ball mere feet from the hole. He’s beaming like he’s showing someone a picture of his newborn.

“Damn, dad! That is close!”

“I know! It was a par three, but there was a stiff wind so I clubbed up to my five iron. Helluva shot. Helluva shot.”

I could internalize the fact that the most exciting thing to happen to my father recently is a meaningless golf shot, but it’s “daddy-daughter drinking day” so I’ll let it pass.

“What else? Dad, tell me something. Something random. Something wild. Something that even mom doesn’t know about.”

“Oh, geez. What do I have that I haven’t already told you?”

I really threw him for a loop with that one because we sit in silence. I can see he’s racking his brain, but he’s probably just thinking about his swing. The jukebox kicks on Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon,” which is my sixth favorite, well, maybe fifth favorite song of theirs.

“Actually, there is something I’ve never brought it up to your mother.”

“ It meets the parameters then. Perhaps … a dark revelation from the past?”

“Sort of. More like something that came to light recently and put things in a different perspective.” He sips his beer. “Do you remember my buddy from college, Jimmy?”

“The guy that always calls when The Two Jakes is on TV?”

“Yes.”

“And he had the big lizard tank?”

“Yes.”

“Yeah, I remember him.”

“Okay, well, in the early ‘80s, Jimmy used to sling drinks in Hollywood. Pretty much everywhere. Troubadour, Rainbow Room, the Troc. Jimmy, always the hustler, somehow started to run around with some of these guys. He knew Tommy Lee, Don Simpson, Erik Estrada, shot pool with Clint Eastwood once, and he actually became pretty good friends with Bill Cosby.”

“Yeeeahhh,” I say.

“Something about a cheesesteak place. That’s how it happened. They became weekend warriors. So much so, a few times, I actually got to go out with him and Bill, you know, chasing women. We can talk about this kind of stuff now, right? You’re not all offended by a story about your dad and other women besides your mom?”

“I’m not sure that’s what’s offensive right now, Dad.” I look around to make sure nobody else heard that my father used to go chasing women with Bill Cosby. At the bar, an old woman in a denim jacket slams almost an entire beer, and I totally relate.

“I know you won’t find this hard to believe, but I didn’t always have the best luck. I struck out a lot actually. Jimmy did okay. Definitely more consistent than me. But Bill. Oh man. Bill would clean up. Every time we crashed at his place there would be a woman stumbling out of his room. Jimmy and I always thought it was just because he was famous. But then, you know… all this stuff came out.” He sips his beer. “I don’t know. Kind of makes me wonder.”

I sit back in the booth and take a long drink to make sure I process this correctly.

“Dad, are you saying that you might’ve been an unknowing witness to Bill Cosby raping a bunch of women in the early ‘80s?”

“What? No. I’m, I’m, I’m, you know, just making conversation. I thought you might find it funny is all. Not funny but odd, maybe. You like odd things.”

“What the fuck, dad? How could you be so dense?”

“It was the ‘80s. We were partying. Bill was larger than life then. You have to understand.”

Oh, how I’d love to be impressed right now. An image of my father, young and hip and not buried in his calculator like the big nerd that’s always been portrayed in tales prior to my birth. This version of himself, partying in the 80s with celebrities could’ve been so punk. Like someone I could be proud to be the descendant of. But instead, he’s a big dumb dolt snoring away while Bill Cosby has his way with unconscious women. What in the literal fuck, Henry?

“Dad, that’s no excuse.”

“Katherine, it’s not like I know for sure what happened.”

“You’re culpable by proximity.” I sip my drink. “You were right to not tell Mom about this, by the way.”

Dad sulks in his chair, assuming the defeated look he’s accustomed to wearing. I put on my sunglasses and finish my drink in silent protest. Dad pulls the entire label off his second Stella as he finishes it.

“This has been fun,” he finally offers. “But I should hit the road if I want to beat traffic.”

*****

At band practice later, the energy of the loft and the band is stagnant. Tony is eating black licorice. Clair sits on her amp, scrolling through her phone. Monie is wiping down her bass like she always does before we play even though there’s no one else in this dark, echo-y space for it to shine for but us. I might burst from boredom so I tell them about my dad and Bill Cosby.

“That’s so rad,” Tony says, laughing.

“Fucking men,” I say, shaking my head.

“Well, he doesn’t know what happened, though, right?” Monie offers. “It’d be another thing if he, like, knew knew.”

“Don’t you think on some level he knew knew, Mon?” I snap back.

“You’re too hard on your dad, Kat,” Clair says. “Always have been.”

Easy for her to say. Her dad is an art dealer who helped bring Basquiat to LA. That makes him both punk and legend and her by proximity, in some way. My father makes me want to puke and is a joke in every way.

“At least he didn’t fuck one of your friends like Daria’s dad,” says Monie. She turns to Tony. “Hot Dad on three.”

Tony snaps his drumsticks together and yells “One. Two. Three!”

Clair and Monie jump in with their riffs.

“Stop, stop,” I say. The music crashes to a halt. While I’m thrilled my band actually wants to play, I just can’t do this song.

“Let’s figure out something new.” I pull my hair back into a pink ponytail. “Something that’ll knock men’s teeth out.”

*****

That night, I sit on the cold, wood floor of my studio apartment with a pen and my lyric book in hand, jotting down ideas for the melody we managed to churn out in the waning moments of practice. They say that most hit songs are written in minutes, which is not a good sign for this one because I’ve mostly been drawing sketches of broken teeth and playing on my phone. I follow this Italian model on Instagram and she’s on the Amalfi coast wearing a bikini I could never pull off and I keep scrolling through the photos both loathing her and loving her so much I kind of understand the psychos out there that want to wear people’s skin.

It’s all kept me distracted from what’s really going on, which is the pain that still resides where a lateral incisor used to reside. That’s another thing I’ve been doing: looking up the names of my teeth. I couldn’t remember them. When I was a kid and a tooth would fall out, Dad always said the names of the teeth as if the tooth fairy worked on some sort of value system.

“That’s a cuspid. She pays double for those!” he told me once.

One thing I’ve always appreciated about the old man is straight forward-ness. When I caught on to the con that is the tooth fairy and asked him if she was real, he didn’t bullshit me. Not like my mom who would’ve kept me in the dark about the tooth fairy, Santa, Easter Bunny, and the whole lot of them until well after my first menstrual cycle. Maybe Clair is right. I am too hard on him. I decide to give him a call to apologize and commend him for his efforts today.

With the first ring, I’m smiling. Riiiiingggg. But for some reason, riiiiingggg, a panic grows inside mewith each passing riiiiingggg. By the sixth riiiiingggg, sweat trickles down the thick brows I’ve spent the last sixth months growing out. My heart’s about to explode inside my chest. Riiinngggg. When the phone goes to voicemail, a wave of relief washes over me equivalent to the way taking a quaalude has been described. I hang up the phone. Take a deep breath. And write, “exploding heart in chest” in my lyric book. It pairs nicely with my sketches of broken teeth. I hit play on the recorder. The melody plays back. I hop to my feet, using the pen as my mic.

“I’ll knock your teeth out, but I’ll love you to the eeeennnddd!” I sing. “I’ll make your heart explode, but you’ll never be alone aggggaaaiinnn!!!”

Not bad. Not bad at all.

As much as I needed this creative breakthrough, I lament. The Greeks had goddesses for muses. I’ve apparently been cursed with Orange County dads. Which hammers home something I’ve known for awhile, but have been avoiding. I really need to get laid.

David E.J. Berger
David E.J. Berger is a writer and television producer in Los Angeles. His television work includes CNN’s United Shades of America, Spike’s Bar Rescue, and Fuse TV’s Fluffy Breaks Even. He has been previously published in Section 8, Fiction on the Web, Beautiful Losers, Dime Show Review, and Hapax. You can find more writings at: https://medium.com/@davidejberger