David Diebold - 'The day I thought one of my bosses might be my missing father...'
Published 26/02/2016 | 08:21
THE backstreet print shop where I found myself working once, sifting through freshly minted Elvis cards every day, was run by an eccentric associate of the 'Merry Pranksters' of Tom Wolfe fame. Dr Brilliant had famously helped deliver a baby during the Native American occupation of Alcatraz in the late 60s.
It seemed fortuitous that I should find myself in this weird set-up after arriving to California from Ireland 25 years ago in a bid to track down my real father. Dr Brilliant had connections to the hippy-era music industry of the 60s and I hoped he might know something about Three Dog Night, the band my father had worked with on the road before disappearing into jail.
I approached Larry in his office one day and told him my story. "I think you'd better talk to Buzz," he said, after some thought. "I wasn't much in touch with the LA scene back then. He was."
A Dennis Hopper lookalike, Buzz was 'vice president' of our strange company and had once been in a band called the Naked Lady Wrestlers. Whenever he spoke, he seemed to choose his words carefully from the air in front of him, opening his mouth to catch them.
I sat down beside his desk and told my story again. He spent a long time with his mouth poised afterwards, reading the air. "You know," he said finally, "I'm listening to you telling this story about this guy; someone who maybe got into a little trouble and, well, who knows where he is now, right?" He stopped and looked at his hands, frozen in the act of measuring a small fish, then he grinned.
"I'm listening to this story and, knowing you for the short time I have, the age you are, how you look, and where you come from, I can't help thinking… Hey, I could be that guy."
The blood drained from my face. Stranger things had happened. Buzz sat back and told me his story.
"When I was 16," he said, "I lived in the San Fernando Valley. I had a girlfriend and we were definitely in love, but it stopped short of the physical, until one Saturday night when I guess love found a way.
"Maybe she felt sorry for me because my leg was in a cast - I'd sprained my ankle playing basketball, or maybe her parents thought the cast would somehow act as a deterrent because, for the first time ever, they were okay leaving us alone when they went out for the night.
"Anyway, in December that year, she gave birth to a boy. Her family moved soon after. I tried to keep seeing her, but her father made things difficult. I wasn't able to locate her or the baby."
We both sat there. I didn't know what to say. Part of me wanted to get up, turn around and run; part wanted to dive over and give this man a hug. But I wasn't seeing straight, I wasn't doing the math. Of course Buzz couldn't be my father. What would be the chances? I'd sooner win the lottery.
"So yeah," he sighed. "I could be him, and you know what? I'd kind of like that. I really would. I mean that would be great, right? But much as I'd like it to be true, it just isn't. It's not. But I want to wish you luck finding your real father and I hope you don't think it strange if I say, he'd be a lucky guy."
I shook his hand. We would remain these odd, distant friends, opposite ends of a remarkably similar story, to this day. But all those years ago, I shuffled out, a little dejected, mind made up to find the cash to hire a private investigator and finally track down my real father once and for all.
My time working with the strange and colourful Dr Brilliant would see me marrying my girlfriend and having our first son, then our second. Brilliant would go on to become CEO for Google.Org, the search giant's charitable wing. His autobiography will be out in September, published by Harper Collins.
I found my real dad in the end, of course, and was lucky enough to share some extraordinary times with him until his death, on a record night for lightning strikes in 2009… but that's another story.
Sometime after that, I heard from Buzz again. He wrote: "I got a letter from Kansas City a while back. I guess my son decided to find me after seeing Ray Liotta on Letterman. Ray was looking for his birth father. I wrote, we talked by phone, I flew out.
"Turns out we have a lot in common. One of his favourite bands is Wilco. He was a catcher in baseball, as was I. We both watch the Tour de France every year (he wanted to ride professionally).
"We talked regularly, but I think my novelty wore off. He kind of lost interest. He has four young kids, a full-time job coaching and, well, a full life to which I contributed little other than one Saturday night in the San Fernando Valley in 1965.
"So David, he really is the son you could have been. Hell, you're both good boys."