I knew my father only as a father. In the last years of his life I would call home and he would tell me about the garden out back, how tomatoes were growing up the side of the garage. That’s wonderful, Dad, I would say, even as it grew more and more difficult for me to picture the yard I left twelve years ago. Soon my mother would come on the phone and save us. She filled the blank space, worrying over his health. Dad would grumble and hang up.
Two years ago today, my father died and it fell to me to return to St. Louis and exorcise the house of his less valuable possessions. The yard, the garage: all came back to me in a sudden flash. It was the same as it has always been. But when I entered the garage and began to pick through the refuse of his life—an old SCUBA mask, a cracked terrarium, a clarinet case without a clarinet—I came upon an old Rolodex, which contained meticulously typed accounts of what I could only describe as Happenings.
I discovered that from 1960 to 1972, my father and his friends had imitated the spontaneous, public performances that Allan Kaprow pioneered at the end of the previous decade, while my father recorded them on Rolodex cards. The entries describe not only moments of play and odd joy but instances of sexual awakening, jealousy, and personal fear. They thin out toward the end of the ‘60s, when my parents’ courtship began to “get serious,” as my mother puts it. By the time I was born, the Rolodex was little more than a precursor to a new, firmer life.
But that previous life took place. In its honor, I include here several entries I found in the Rolodex. I have come to know my father as more than a father, although it is too late; in his absence, as if to remind me of my failure, the tomatoes quickly declined and neither my mother nor I managed to revive them.
—Guy Sutter, Jr.
Los Angeles, 2017