Tuesday, August 30, 2011
My wife’s parents lived in San Francisco, and her dad, like many of his coworkers, commuted across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County across the Bay. The new fellow, who’d just moved to the area, wanted to join my father-in-law’s car pool.
“There isn’t room,” he was told, “but you can follow behind us in your car.”
New guy did.
When they approached the toll booth on the Golden Gate Bridge, my father-in-law paid for his car and told the toll booth operator, “I’m also paying for the car behind me.”
The new guy was surprised when the operator waved him through without payment.
Later at the office, new guy said to my father-in-law, “That was weird. They wouldn’t take money from me on the bridge.”
“Of course they wouldn’t. It’s Blue Car Tuesday.”
“Blue Car Tuesday?”
“Yeah. Blue cars get to cross the bridge for free on Tuesday.”
A week later both cars crossed the bridge and again my wife’s dad paid for the car behind him. Again the new guy was spared from paying.
On the third Tuesday, my father-in-law only paid for his car. When new guy sped through without paying he was startled to find motorcycle cops chasing him as if he were Pretty Boy Floyd. He quickly pulled over.
I still laugh when I imagine the poor fellow rolling down his window and explaining, “But officers, I don’t need to pay! It’s Blue Car Tuesday.”
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Our last exchange went something like this:
“Mom, how many ‘T’s are there in pizza?”
“Dammit! I hate it when you ask me that. Let’s see—last time I got this wrong. There’s one ‘T.’ No wait a minute; that’s what I said last time and I think I got it wrong. There are two ‘T’s. No, wait just one minute; you’re trying to fool me and there’s only one. Heck, there’s probably two. Stop annoying me with such a stupid question!”
“Your final answer…?”
She sighed. “There’s only one ‘T’ in pitza.”
The same answer that she gave last year.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
“Sorry.” I hadn’t realized I’d been yelling.
It was 1977 and I’d only been out of teller school a few months. This was my first week working in a real bank.
The manager came up to my window several minutes later and said, “Our customers are complaining about your yelling. You need to get your ears checked.”
I took the next day off and went to the doctor. He told me I had an inner ear infection. The infection would work its way through both ears and eventually I’d be totally deaf—for a week. I wouldn’t be able to work at the bank, and took the week off. Sue, my wife of three years, also took it off to keep me company.
We were living in San Francisco and this was like a second honeymoon, at first. We’d explore Chinatown and Ghirardelli Square, Fisherman’s Wharf and Golden Gate Park, and at some point during our wanderings I’d turn toward Sue and see an angry face. She’d been talking to me, forgetting I was stone deaf and couldn’t hear a word she was saying. Then she’d get angry with herself for treating me and my affliction so callously. Back in our little apartment on Union Street, Sue stopped asking me to do chores because it was too complicated writing down what needed to be done.
I don’t want to make light of those afflicted with deafness—a permanent loss of
hearing would undoubtedly be devastating—but my experience in a world without sound was…glorious. Of course I had the benefit of knowing my hearing would return completely. But while it was gone I never felt more relaxed, more invigorated and in sync with my other senses. I touched things as if for the first time. Food never tasted so good. San Francisco couldn’t have looked more beautiful. Neither could Sue. When my hearing finally returned it felt like I’d lost something precious. This had been my best vacation ever!
I tried to keep the fact that I could again hear a secret, but Sue wasn’t easily fooled. She snuck behind the chair where I was reading and whispered, “Why don’t we go into the bedroom and you can enjoy my new see-through nightie?”
When I whipped around she was grinning at me. She was dressed in street clothes.
“Nice try,” she said. “Now take out the garbage.”
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Was it Rembrandt’s puckish sense of humor, or was there something other than tobacco in his pipe when he created his etching The French Bed? The young lady looks like she’s enjoying the moment, but the young man’s in for a big surprise when he starts counting hands in the bed. Either she’s about to pleasure him in ways normal women can’t, or there’s more than one woman in the bed. Zoom in on the picture below and check it out.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
When Sue and I decided to visit Stonehenge we were told by friends and fellow travelers to lower our expectations. “It’s just a circle of stones,” they said, “and it’s smaller than you think.”
So I did lower my expectations. Standing in front of Stonehenge, I leaned against a protective fence holding back the crowd and did my best to soak up the experience. Wind swept over the Salisbury Plain and the sky was gray and stormy, a perfect moment for lightning, although there wasn’t any.
I was prepared for disappointment, but instead I felt a shiver of excitement, a sense that I was looking at more than a curious circle of stones. It was hard to deny the anticipation that something remarkable was about to happen. I was so caught up in the moment that I wasn’t paying attention to the people around me, certainly not the young woman wrapped in a full-length coat, standing beside me.
But I did become aware of her when she climbed over the rail, flung off her coat and ran up to the massive stones, where she proceeded to dance with wanton abandon. Aside from the blue paint covering her, she was totally naked. I watched her dance and gyrate until the police hauled her away.
Like I said, some things exceed your expectations.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
On our way home from the barbershop, Dad would take a moment to tell me what a great haircut I’d gotten, adding, “It’s because you have such a nicely shaped head.”
Dad was an extremely upbeat guy, always finding something positive to say, which couldn’t have been easy when it came to his chubby, non-athletic younger son. Still, it always made me feel good when he said it, and there’d be starch in my walk the rest of the day. Dad is gone now, and nobody ever compliments me on the shape of my head, although my wife sometimes tells me not to let it get too big.
A short time ago I was traveling on the light rail when a young man sat down opposite me. He was dressed in leather and covered in tattoos. His numerous piercings made me wince inside. But his hair! His stylist must have been having a seizure at the time. There were bald areas, bristly patches, and lengthy strands dyed in colors I associate with a bruise. His rough appearance seemed to match his personality when he growled at me, “What the f#@k are you looking at?”
I flashed on my dad, how he could always find something positive to say. I leveled my gaze at him and smiled. “You certainly have a nicely shaped head.”
He didn’t pull a shiv out of his boot. He surprised me by returning the smile. When he exited several stops later he said, “Have a nice day.”
I miss my dad.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
When our son CJ turned twenty-one his mother and I wanted to do something special for him. We didn’t want him to drink and drive, so we flew him and a buddy who’d already turned twenty-one to Las Vegas where they could celebrate without the need for wheels.
After checking into their hotel, our son’s buddy went to the concierge desk and said, “Today is my best friend’s twenty-first birthday. Can you suggest an interesting way for us to celebrate?”
The concierge said, “Dress in the best clothes you have and be in front of the hotel at ten p.m. I’ll send a limo to pick you up.”
So that’s what they did.
At ten p.m. they climbed into a limo that drove them out into the desert. Twenty minutes later they pulled up in front of a swank gentlemen’s club where a doorman in an Armani suit ushered them in.
I won’t bore you with CJ's vivid descriptions, but I will say that his mother didn’t look pleased when he related what went on inside. She listened patiently while he bubbled over with enthusiasm for the well-endowed ladies, and when he finished she said, “I’m glad you had a nice birthday, but bear in mind that the breasts on those women aren’t real.”
The look on my wife’s face was priceless when our son said, “They sure felt real!”
P.S. This week I'm participating in Dude Write Starting Lineup.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Need to make a quick buck? This has always worked for me; I bet someone they can’t properly assume the position of Rodin’s famous sculpture The Thinker. Give it a try, and then go check a photograph. Did you get it right? If you placed your elbow on the opposite knee, congratulations!
Pretty darn uncomfortable, especially if you’re chubby.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
It's always fun running into my work, although it happens all too often on the clearance aisle.
Monday, August 8, 2011
A few years back an acquaintance told me that, before retiring, she worked for the CIA. I was shocked; she hardly fit my mental profile for a covert operative, but what shocked me even more was what she said next: “I still get an agency discount, so if you want to buy anything at the CIA Gift Shop, let me know.”
The CIA had a gift shop?
She had to be pulling my leg. Wouldn’t a gift shop be out of character for a clandestine organization celebrated and defiled in movies and spy novels? It was hard to believe because Jason Bourne would have had an easier time figuring out who and what he was if he’d awaken wearing a CIA monogrammed polo shirt, with a CIA cap on his head and a CIA coffee mug in his hand. I went on line to check this out, and sure enough, there is a gift shop.
I decided to buy something, but what to choose? I was leaning in the direction of a CIA Christmas tree ornament but settled on a gold and burgundy-colored pen with the three letters prominently displayed. Unlike Maxwell Smart’s shoe, my pen served only one purpose—writing.
Several times I’ve absentmindedly walked away from it, but that pen has never been pocketed. Once when I was at a writing convention I left it with my notebook on the conference table while I took a restroom break. When I returned, everyone was staring at me. A gruff fellow seated nearby yelled out, “I suppose you want us all to think you’re a spy? That you work for the CIA?”
I shrugged, picked up the pen and clicked it. His eyes widened when I said, "Shhhhh! I want to hear what you guys said about me when I was gone.”
Sunday, August 7, 2011
When our son Colin went off to college, my wife and I, following in the footsteps of many empty-nesters, adopted a dog, a delightful corgi named Ellie. When our son came home for the holidays, he brought along his new girlfriend.
She was a sweet girl even if she didn't know much about dogs. She took one look at Ellie and said, "That's the biggest hamster I've ever seen!"
Most people dream of having a super power such as extraordinary strength or the ability to fly. My dad didn’t have super powers, but he did have the ability to vanish. Like a great magician, he executed his trick so skillfully that you didn’t notice how it was accomplished.
I’d learned in grade school that nature gives every creature the ability to survive: the snow bunny turns white in winter to blend with the snow, and the rock fish is camouflaged to match the ocean floor so predators can’t see it. Dad had similar protection…from my mother.
Dad was endlessly subjected to her diatribes—she had an opinion on everything. She spent hours answering questions nobody asked—why the country was going to ruin was a particular favorite. She alone knew how to make things right, and she described at length historical parallels to prove her points.
During many of these long, unwanted conversations Dad used what I came to think of as The Gift. Mom would be holding court, and at some point she would say, “Leroy, speak up. What are your views on this subject? Are you or are you not a person of your own mind?”
This was one of my mother’s favorite expressions. To my knowledge, only Frankenstein was not a person of his own mind. By the time my mother reluctantly asked his opinion, Dad had vanished like a poked soap bubble.
We would all be sitting around the table, my brother David with his nose buried in a sports magazine and Dad appearing to be interested in all that Mom was saying, and right at the moment when Dad would be required to say something—poof. He’d be gone.
Sometimes I’d ask David, “When did Dad leave?”
He’d look up. “Don’t know.”
“Did you see him leave?”
I’d feel Dad’s still-warm chair and ponder the wonder of it. How does someone simply vanish?
Saturday, August 6, 2011
Yesterday I drove into a traffic circle where three streets converged. I slowed down for the yield sign before entering and had just completed the curve onto another street when a traffic cop appeared from nowhere, lights blazing. Being pulled over was a new experience for me and I was curious to learn what I’d done to deserve it.
“What seems to be the problem, Officer?” I asked, sounding like a tweaker on Cops.
After requesting my driver’s license and proof of insurance he said, “You failed to yield before entering the traffic circle.”
“But I slowed down,” I explained.
“You didn’t yield.”
“Should I have stopped?”
“Don’t be a smart ass," he said. "The sign doesn’t say ‘stop.’ It says ‘yield.’”
True to the spirit of this blog, I couldn’t suppress my chatterbox nature. “Honestly, I’m not trying to be a smart ass, but this reminds me of that old chestnut: Does a falling tree in the forest make a sound it there’s no one there to hear it?”
He didn’t look amused.
I should have kept my mouth shut, but instead I asked, “Who am I yielding to if no one’s there?”
My court hearing is in two weeks.
Nanny Grace, my sister-in-law’s grandmother, remained sharp as a tack until the day she died. She raised several generations of children, but the time came when she decided she was ready for a retirement facility. Several weeks after she moved in, my wife and I went to visit her.
She walked us over to the bureau in her bedroom and said, “They make us play Bingo here every afternoon." She opened the top drawer; it was filled with bananas. “I’m a very good Bingo player, but just how much potassium does a ninety-five year old woman really need?”
Thursday, August 4, 2011
I know I speak for millions when I admit to struggling with today’s ever-changing technology; I wouldn’t have been able to create this blog without my son’s help. Years ago I attempted to write a spy novel and most of the gadgets I invented for my spooks are now in the hands of high schoolers. But I can recall a time before smart phones, iPads and laptops, when I was ten and thought the coolest gadget to own was a walkie talkie.
An ad in a ratty magazine I pinched from our barber shop offered a genuine wireless walkie talkie for only $1.39, a reasonable price for a device sure to make me the coolest kid in the neighborhood. I had 90 cents hidden in a cigar box under my bed. Not enough, so I hit up my older brother David for the rest.
“Hell no,” he said. “Real walkie talkies cost a bundle. If this thing costs less than two bucks it must be a piece of crap.”
“But look at the ad,” I said, handing it to him. “It says, ‘No Wires.’ C’mon, I promise I’ll pay you back.”
His answer was still, “N-O!”
Danny Holloway across the street financed the rest with a fifty cent piece his grandpa gave him for his birthday, after first extracting the promise that I’d let him keep one of the handsets at his house, which only seemed fair.
I filled out the tattered order form and dumped the $1.39 into an envelope, addressed it—which would have been easier before sealing all that lumpy change inside—and dropped the envelope in a nearby mailbox.
Then I waited.
Waited some more.
It felt like an eternity, but in just over three weeks a parcel arrived for me. I’d expected a hefty package, but this one was light as a box of Q-tips. I tore it open. Inside, I found a walkie talkie constructed from two tin cans connected, not by wire, but with stretchy string. David was right. What a rip off!
I slinked across the street to show it to Danny. He tried to put a positive spin on it. Examining one of the cans he admitted, “These sure don’t look like the walkie talkies in war movies, but they still might work.”
He held on to a can while I carried the other one back to my side of the street. With the string stretched tight between us, I yelled into mine, “Testing, one…two…three…” We were close enough to hear each other without listening devices.
Just as Danny was about to say something, the tin cans shot out of our hands. With a loud clattering sound, the cans and string wrapped around the bumper of the police car we hadn’t noticed cruising down our street. The cop inside must have though he was under fire. He hit the brakes and jumped out with his hand on his gun.
That day I learned that $1.39 isn’t enough to purchase coolness, but it is enough to teach you how to run like hell!
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
My wife and I recently dined at her favorite bistro in a fashionable part of town not far from where we live. After being seated, I placed my napkin on my lap. When it dropped to the floor, I bent down to retrieve it and noticed a dead cockroach under our table. I’m not particularly squeamish—little over the years has prompted me to lose my appetite—but the sight of that cockroach conjured up another incident in another restaurant years ago.
In 1976, Sue and I had only been married two years when we decided to backpack our way through Europe. We’d just landed in Athens. With a copy of Frommer’s Europe on Ten Dollars a Day in hand, we sought a place to sample the local cuisine. We gambled on a bistro that looked clean and was jammed with fellow tourists having a good time. Our table was at the back of the restaurant. Sue’s chair backed up to a wall with a black and white photograph of Colonel Popadopo#*%?—Greece’s former dictator/president.
We were enjoying wine and waiting for our meal when something caught my eye on the wall behind Sue. Inching down from behind the Colonel’s portrait was a cockroach. Sue has a sensitive stomach along with a terror of bugs, so I tactfully said nothing. I was hungry; if I’d told her she would have screamed and bolted for the door.
Before long, another cockroach appeared from behind the picture, and then another, followed by two more. I was amazed that no one else appeared to notice them. Everyone chattered and downed their licorice-flavored ouzo and grape leaf wrapped food without giving thought to the cluster of disgusting bugs that seemed to be participating in a cockroach gang-bang on a wall inches behind my wife’s head.
I’m no expert on bug mating habits, but foreplay must not carry much weight in the world of cockroaches. Their trysting was over almost as soon as it had begun. One by one, the bugs returned to their hiding place behind the Colonel’s portrait. I’d been doing my best to avoid staring at them, but just as the last hairy leg vanished behind the picture frame, Sue, who I hadn’t noticed turning blotchy with anger, snapped, “We come all this way to Greece and you ignore me?”
She’d been talking. I hadn’t heard a word.
She spun around in her chair to see what was drawing my attention. “You’ve got to be kidding! A faded photograph of some old tyrant?”
I shrugged, and when our meal arrived we ate in silence. Later, when we were ready to go, she pushed back her chair, bumping the wall behind her. I held my breath, but, thankfully, cockroaches didn’t rain down from behind the picture.
Years later I shared this incident with Sue, and I couldn’t believe how angry she got that I’d withheld it from her.
So on a warm evening thirty-five years later, while glancing at a dead cockroach in her favorite restaurant, I quickly weighed my options.
I decided not to tell her.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
When I was in junior high my art class took a field trip to a museum in Oakland, California. Our teacher, Mr. Mestemacher, told us we’d be seeing some interesting work by world-renown sculptor Henry Moore. I went to the school library and studied up on this Moore guy. His work was bold and only vaguely realistic, but I was intrigued by a quote I found in a book, where Moore stressed the tactile qualities of his sculptures and invited viewers to fondle and caress them to receive the fullest experience possible.
I piled into a school bus for the hour-long trip to Oakland along with other future artists from Jefferson Junior High. When the bus screeched to a halt in front of the museum, Mr. Mestemacher told us we were free to wander on our own. I proceeded to explore the various art-filled rooms until I happened across a stone sculpture of a reclining woman. She was massive. Had she been flesh and blood she wouldn’t have had the proper anatomy to stand or even sit up. Her features were indistinct. Her breasts were larger than my head but tiny in proportion to the rest of her. She appeared to have risen from the primal stuff of creation.
With Moore’s words echoing in my head, I ignored the Do Not Touch sign and hugged one of the sculpture’s colossal arms. I waited a few moments for the “full tactile experience” Moore had described to kick in, but my experience, while memorable, was not what I’d expected. A museum guard grabbed me by my shirt collar and pulled me off Moore’s behemoth female like a dog breeder yanking a randy mutt off a prize bitch.
“What the heck do you think you’re doing?” the angry-faced guard growled. “Didn’t you see the sign saying Do Not Touch?”
“Then why’d you do it?”
“Henry Moore said it was okay to touch.”
“I don’t know this Henry Moore character and couldn’t care less what he has to say, but in my museum we don’t allow touching.” He held me so high that my Keds no longer touched the ground. "You’re one of those kids bused in from Jefferson?”
“Go wait in your bus for the rest of your class.”
“But I haven’t seen hardly anything. This isn’t fair!”
He didn’t seem interested in fairness as he pushed me toward the exit.
Before leaving I spun around and caught a parting glimpse of Moore’s “Reclining Woman.” In spite of the fact that her features were indistinct, I swear I saw her wink at me.
Years later I’d remember that guard. I was again fondling a reclining female, but this time the subject of my attention was the woman I was destined to marry. In this instance the Do Not Touch sign was written in the eyes of her father.
Another sign I disregarded.
Monday, August 1, 2011
Some things in life just don’t live up to their hype. Every time I go to the grocery store, which my wife assures me is much too infrequently, I pause on one of the aisles and inhale deeply. I’m instantly born up on a magic carpet ride of intoxication that lifts me to exotic places and distant memories. I’m on the coffee aisle. And as usual I feel gypped.
I remember spending the night with my grandparents when I was a kid and waking up to the wonderful smell wafting beneath my bedroom door. My grandparents would have been up for hours, the little radio on their kitchen counter squawking funny-sounding words I couldn’t understand, words that nevertheless made me feel safe and loved—the language of the Old Country, which in our case was Portuguese. Grandma served up pancakes, sausages and scrambled eggs, but it’s the coffee I remember most. I wasn’t allowed to have any.
Waiting for me on the kitchen table was a big steamy cup of hot chocolate, and it tasted fabulous. But it had very little smell. The house was permeated with the mind-altering fragrance of coffee, and I’d ask Grandma or Grandpa, “Can I have coffee instead of chocolate?”
“Not until you’re older,” they’d say.
I had to settle for chocolate, which was hardly horrible, but I’d ask myself: if chocolate has no smell but tastes this good, how much better must coffee taste? A heck of a lot better, I supposed.
The day came when I was permitted my first cup of steaming joe, and I savored the moment. I sniffed the fragrant heat rising from my cup, blew on it for a few moments, and then curled my lips on the cup’s rim for the experience of a lifetime. My days of coffee virginity had come to an end. I took my first sip.
C’mon now, admit it? If you’re like me, you enjoy a good hit of coffee and you probably manage to do so without the cream and tablespoons of sugar it took for me to down my first cup, but if you’re honest you’ll admit that your reaction to that first swallow of bitterness was: What a gyp!
Same with caviar.
I’m constantly amazed that daily conversations with my eighty-six year old mother have not caused me to turn to drugs or alcohol, although I often seek shelter in tension eating. Surprisingly, I still have a good head of hair—no bald patches from when I try to pull it out. Our conversations range from her revisionist memories to discussions about dead-beats in the family. But our most divisive topic of conversation is politics. My petite gray-haired mother puffs up like a venom-spitting cobra when she discusses the government, which she hates even though she’s benefited from several so-called “entitlement” programs. Anyone attempting to change her mind about government, or anything else, ends up struggling like a dog trying to squeeze a mastodon bone through a doggie door.
I’m reminded of a particular discussion we had in the ‘70s during my first visit home from college. I was cocky and desirous of showing off my new-found knowledge, and it didn’t take long for me and my mother to dive into politics.
She started affixing blame for America becoming a “welfare” state. “Franklin Delano Roosevelt is responsible,” she said, sneering like Archie Bunker. “He was president too long—ran three times!”
I tried to correct her. “Actually, he ran four times.”
We argued about it for an hour, with her unwilling to consider the possibility that she was wrong.
“I should know,” she spouted. “After all, I was there and you weren’t.”
I left in a huff and drove to the public library, where my mother was well-known for her rapid consumption of bodice-ripper romances and her inability to lower her voice. The librarian was sympathetic when I explained why I was there, and permitted me to check out an unimpeachable reference source to prove my mother wrong—a volume of Encyclopedia Britannica.
When I returned home with the volume, I opened it to the section on FDR and pointed to the line: FDR died in 1945, only a few months into his fourth term.
My mother glanced at the sentence, slammed the encyclopedia shut and said, “Oh my God…”
She was about to admit she was wrong about something. Hard to believe! As it turned out, I didn’t have to.
“I’d never have thought it,” she said, “a misprint in Encyclopedia Britannica!”