Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009 | 10:30 a.m.
SAN DIEGO – A son-in-law helped Jerry Tarkanian inch toward a couch, where he gingerly took a seat. The neck brace did not allow for much turning of his head, so he mostly looked straight ahead.
At a wall.
Had he been turned 90 degrees to his left, Tark the Shark would have had the benefit of a beautiful blue sight – the Pacific Ocean.
Sunday afternoon, capping a desert-escape weekend in the glorious San Diego climate, I popped in on Tarkanian a day after he turned 79. If you’re in town, he said, you had better call and you had better come by.
We have become kinda close. For the past year, I’m the ghost writer who has assembled his Shark Bytes, the regular column we feature on his thoughts about, well, everything.
We talk anywhere from one to several times a week. I have known him for nearly two decades, but the regular chats have taken the link a bit deeper. A few times, I figured I was bugging him.
Then I received some calls from him. I saved one priceless message. “Rob, how about we talk and do some of them blogs?”
I didn’t want to bother him Sunday. A month after spine surgery, to remove a pesky bone spur, Tark has been in rehab mode. He hadn’t even been out of Scripps Memorial Hospital, in La Jolla, a week.
I wanted to let him convalesce, with family, in peace. I figured he wouldn’t want to see anyone, or have anyone see him. It hasn’t been a good stretch for Tark.
He broke two ribs, in the Jacuzzi, on the right side. A few days later, he fractured his right shoulder. Then he took a terrible tumble, right on his face on a Pacific Beach sidewalk.
His face ballooned up, his wife Lois said. All black and blue. But she immobilized him by lying across his shoulders. Doctors told her that might have saved his life or kept him from paralysis.
Then I figured, if I were in San Diego and I didn’t stop in to see him, and he heard I had been in town, then I wouldn’t be in very good shape.
Just joking, kind of. Tark knows everyone. Had I failed to pop in just to say hello, he somehow would have found out and I would have heard disappointment laced in his voice.
His 10th-floor condo, in Capri by the Sea in Pacific Beach, bustled with grandkids. One zipped down the elevator to escort me to the pad.
Two son-in-laws scrambled around, either cleaning or prepping a late lunch. Two-liter sodas and snacks were scattered across the kitchen cabinets. Lois, in the back, tended to one of the bedrooms that seemed to sleep half a dozen bodies or more.
The view is stunning. The entire west wall of the place is sliding glass doors. They were open, and the refreshing breeze blew the thin white curtains wildly.
We seemed to be atop a 150-foot mast, in a duel with the sun to the horizon.
“Thirty days,” Tark slowly said of his stretch in the hospital. He doesn’t remember much, which is a good thing. The pain of his entire ordeal was etched in his tired eyes.
But he’s been making progress with his exercises, he said, and he hopes to get back to his friends and watch the horses at Del Mar soon. They want to throw a party for him.
He’ll go even if it means being transported in that dreaded wheelchair.
Whoa, Lois said. We’ll see.
Tark’s son, Danny, announced last week that he’ll run for the Senate. He’s competitive, Tark said. Which is tougher, basketball or politics? Not even close.
“Politics,” he said as he rolled his eyes.
He’s getting many calls and a few visitors, and he wants everyone to know that he appreciates all of their thoughts and prayers as he gets back on his feet.
After four or five minutes, I wished him well and departed. Descending in the elevator, those Basset Hound eyes stuck with me. They were more sullen than usual, as if he hates to see visitors leave.
So don’t hesitate to drop by the Capri by the Sea if you’re in San Diego. The 10th-floor condo is hectic, just the way Jerry Tarkanian likes it, and there’s always room for more.