My father passed when I was 29 years old in a manner that is probably a bit too familiar for some readers. He was diagnosed with his first bout of lung cancer a few years prior, only to beat it with chemotherapy and radiation. But like the career of Nick Cannon, as bad as we wanted it to disappear, it didn’t. I watched as he tirelessly attempted to fight a second diagnosis, but when the tumors multiplied, he became a shell of his former self. Once a fast-talking car salesman who never took “no” for an answer, my father knew defeat when he saw it. You only know the feeling if you’ve experienced it firsthand, and I hope most of you don’t, but it’s extremely painful to witness your parent just disintegrate.
In between some moments of incoherency, we still cleared the air on many subjects, including our past squabbles and what to do moving forward. We talked about his funeral, but he didn’t want anything planned in advance. He joked about hiring a magician for the service who’d keep promising to raise him from the dead, only to admit magic isn’t real and leave crying. And as we planned the funeral, we meticulously went through every bank account, every credit card, every outstanding debt, every dollar and every loose end he may have left behind. When he passed, I knew he did everything he could to make it easy for me, and for that, and our conversations, I will always be grateful. We had taken care of absolutely everything in advance, or so we thought.
Two years later, I received a call from a bank in Las Vegas alerting me of my “expiring safe deposit box.” They explained that I was a few months behind in payments, and that if I didn’t catch up in the next few weeks, they would have to break open the box and I’d lose whatever was inside. I understood the dilemma, but had only one problem—I’ve never opened a safe deposit box, let alone one in Las Vegas. I told them there must be some sort of mistake, and he assured me he was speaking to the real owner—Jensen Karp. He said the rent was pre-paid for about four years, and it just expired. He also revealed that my father’s name was listed as a secondary contact. I quickly jarred my brain for memories of a drunken night gambling, one where I ran off to a nearby bank and hid the winnings from the government, but could only muster memories of sadly eating a Nathan’s hot dog alone after losing money at the New York, New York hotel. Right before my father’s first run-in with cancer, he lived for a short time in Las Vegas, a period of his life I usually liked to forget, but now couldn’t stop thinking about.
Did he buy a safe deposit box in my name, understanding that one day, if he were to die, the bank would alert me of these hidden assets? Why didn’t he tell me about this? Am I in a Nic Cage movie? I thanked the bank associate and started planning my pilgrimage to Vegas to learn what this was all about.
My mom was most excited about the prospects. She explained that my dad frequently would hide cash outside of the house, knowing that it wasn’t safe to leave just lying around inside. She theorized that during his Las Vegas period, many things happened that he didn’t remember and this must have just slipped his mind. She basically told me to rent an armored truck just in case I couldn’t fit all the jewels in my suitcase. But I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I obviously wouldn’t reject money, but I also kind of hoped for meaningful results. Not to sound like a Nicholas Sparks’ movie, but I still struggle with losing my father every day. A hand-written letter from him—words from beyond the grave detailing his love and support for me years later—would be more helpful than any money. Also, it sounded like something JJ Abrams would do to promote LOST, and I can back that. I decided to face this alone, so I bought a solo plane ticket and coordinated my arrival with the bank. Since I wasn’t left a key to the box, I had to hire a local locksmith to crack it. At the end of the day, with airfare, hotel, car rental and bank fees, I was in for around $650. Las Vegas, here I come.