It has been almost thirty years since my mother’s father finally succumbed to the cancer that invaded his body. I remember visiting him in the hospital before he died. I remember how the pain and the circumstances conspired to strip him of his dignity. And I remember how he fought back.
When I look at my children, Phillip and Jennifer, I think of my grandparents. Both kids have the beautiful red hair of my mother’s mother. There is no other red hair in any of our families. And Phillip was named in fond memory of Phillip Davis, my papa, who died when I was eight years old.
Phillip Davis had been born in Wales. He came to this country as a young man, but he retained throughout his life the poise and stature of a proper Englishman. He was tall (6’3”) and handsome and well aware that he stood out in any crowd, but especially in the Jewish neighborhoods of the turn of the century where he towered over the newly arrived immigrants from Eastern Europe. That confidence was displayed when he called upon a beautiful redhead for the first time. Her mother came to the door and he addressed her as Shviger, the Yiddish word for Mother-in Law.
I watched him come home from the Tip Top Bakery plant that he managed in Columbus, Ohio. He was so tall. So erect. And my parents would tell me that the way I was growing that I, too, would be tall like Papa one day.
Early on I noticed his reserve. It wasn’t a lack of warmth. It was more an internal switch that he controlled. Oh, when he was really provoked, he didn’t keep it a secret. But most of the time he kept himself in check.
When I was four, I asked to take Papa his tea. He had been an American citizen for over thirty years, but he still drank tea like an Englishman. Just as I was about to hand him the cup and saucer, I tripped on the Oriental rug and poured hot liquid right on his lap. He leaped from the chair and my mother and grandmother ran into the room. I stood there in shock. Before I could apologize and tell him how badly I felt, I heard them screaming. “Tell Papa you’re sorry. Well, tell Him!”
I couldn’t speak. As my ears rang with the voices of my mother and grandmother imploring, then ordering me to apologize; as I watched the person I loved more than anyone else in my world dry himself off; as I felt all of the guilt in the world land on my little shoulders. I stood there silently. I could not say that I was sorry because now that they had ordered it, my apology wouldn’t have appeared to have been from me. It would have simply been me following orders. I stood there, holding my ground, hoping that I would one day have the opportunity to explain all of this to the man staring at me.
I don’t know if my grandfather ever understood. But I learned something very important. If I want to eliminate any misunderstanding, I have to communicate my thoughts and feelings to everyone involved. My writing has become my vehicle for expressing myself. Not just this column, but everything I write is in memory of that afternoon many years ago and in honor of Phillip Davis, my grandfather. May he rest in peace.
The quality of patriotism, like sex, should not be measured by the size of one’s flagpole. This is a monthly publication. God only knows what the world will be like six weeks from today when you read this. But today is January 24, 1991, and the United States has entered the second week of Operation Desert Storm. Please permit me a few observations as the war drags on.
ALL TIED UP. . . As my friend Gary noticed, the country is ribbon crazy. It all started in 1979 during the Iran Hostage Crisis. Americans tied yellow ribbons everywhere. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MAADD) is responsible for the proliferation of red ribbons that decorate car antennas. One wonders how many drunks rushed to place the ribbons on their cars in hopes of escaping detection.
Now, in support of our servicemen and women overseas, people are wearing orange ribbons. Plans are underway for green and orange ribbons for people who support the troops and vote Democratic, purple and orange for Republican voters, and black and orange for the vast majority of Americans who don’t bother to vote at all.
WRAPPED IN GLORY . . . Many Americans have decided that the only things more valuable than ribbons are flags. AMERICAN FLAGS. Tie tacks. Collar Pins. On houses, businesses, and cars. Old Glory is everywhere. In 1988 we had a candidate wrap himself in the flag. Today the entire country is wrapped in red, white and blue bunting.
And Bush. . . it seems that every time I hear a Republican say, “Support our boys overseas,” they also add “and our President George Bush.” Are Bush’s handlers counting on today’s flag wavers to fuel 1992’s re-election? I hope not. Support of our soldiers and patriotism in general are not synonymous with either party or any candidate. There is a difference between being wrapped in the flag and being choked by it.
SHAW TO HOLLIMAN TO ARNETT. . . Was CNN’s coverage from ground zero a milestone in journalism? I don’t know about that, but it was damned good T.V. As the bombs fell that night and the security people pounded on the door to their hotel room/broadcast center, three men overcame their fears and gave the reports of their lives.
My son, Phillip, and I were glued to the set. We wondered if they were going to see the light of day as the ani-aircraft fire and tracer bullets lit the sky. It was morbidly exciting. American aircraft were overhead bombing specific (?) targets. The pilots didn’t seem to be nearly as vulnerable as the three reporters. Holliman, unable to control his curiosity, kept looking out the window to see for himself and to tell us what was happening over Baghdad that night.
When Phillip awoke the next morning, his first question was about the fate of Shaw, Holliman and Arnett.
Television has had a tremendous effect on this war. A Pilot boards his plane in Saudi Arabia a stone’s throw away from a reporter. He flies to Baghdad and drops his bombs on the Presidential Palace. The press runs out and take a picture of the damage, and you and I and the pilot’s commander see the results before the pilot can get back to the base.
PILOT: “Two direct hits, Sir!”
COMMANDER: “Wrong Soldier”. Saw your sortie on CNN. One hit on the side of the target, major damage. Your second hit the glass factory next door!”
Could you imagine having your boss know that precisely how well you’re doing? This is the first war in history fought both on and with T.V.
It is just about midnight. I turned on the news eighteen hours ago when I awoke and I’m catching the evening wrap-up before I go to sleep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga), the legendary warrior (verbal only), is standing on the steps of the Capitol describing how we are to “. . . kick Saddam’s butt”.
Congress has, for the moment, lined up behind the President. The weapons manufacturers are thrilled that all this expensive hardware seems to be working. And our troops are in a strange place, far away from home, counting on their equipment, their peers and their leaders to get them back safely.
As Thursday becomes Friday I wonder if, by the time you read this, the war will be over. Will most of our soldiers be on their way home? Will governments more to our liking be installed in both Baghdad and Kuwait City? Will Israel again be safe? That would be nice, but I think unlikely. No, this one’s just starting. I wonder if anyone today really knows how and when this war will end.
Ideal Macaroni Company
6001 Richmond Road
Bedford Hts., Ohio 44146
January 4, 1991
I purchased a package of your “Choo Choo Wheel” pasta several months ago at my local Acme grocery store. It was on sale. Sometimes I buy your product. Sometimes I buy the store brand. As I placed the box in the cart, I noticed a coloring contest on the back of the package. It occurred to me that one of my children might color the picture.
My daughter Jennifer noticed the picture while I was cooking dinner. I had forgotten about it. She read the instructions and asked if she could color the picture and enter it in the contest. I said “why not” and she excitedly began. She got a little done that night and I figured that by the next day it would be forgotten, but I was wrong. As she had time that week, after school, that Saturday, Jenny completed your picture. She agonized over the color selection. She cleared the final colors with her older brother and sisters. “There’s not too much brown is there? Could this be blue, too?” She was very serious, the way only a nine year old can really be. And when it was done, it was excellent. She is not the neatest of children. She is not the neatest of my children. But there it was. One super picture. I wanted to save it, but she wouldn’t hear of it. This was for the Ideal Macaroni Company. This was HER entry. We prepared the envelope together. And I mailed it the next day.
The UPS man arrived at my house today at 4:45. I wasn’t expecting anything. I looked at the label and told my son to have Jenny come into the living room. She dragged herself away from Mario 3 and came upstairs. I told her the box was for her. She didn’t understand until she saw that it had come from the Ideal Macaroni Company. We removed the packing tape together and then she opened the box. “I WON. I WON. I FINALLY WON SOMETHING!” She was so excited. She knew that a trip for four to Washington D.C. wasn’t packed in this box, but… Inside the box was a little brown bear. A stuffed animal with soft huggable fur. No notes. No letters. A bear. It was perfect.
I don’t know if my daughter has won first prize for December’s entries or a consolation prize, or what. It really doesn’t matter today. What’s important is how good my Jenny feels tonight. We all try as parents to give our children all of the love and support they will ever need, and yet it’s not enough. Sometimes it is the outside validation and recognition that means the most. Whether it is their peers, their teachers, or some contest judge in Bedford Heights doesn’t matter. What is important is that someone has found their work to be good and wants to reward their effort.
Long after her picture becomes frayed and faded, my daughter will remember the day she opened the brown box and removed her bear. The kids are still trying to determine whether she’s still in the running for the Grand Prize. I think she already got it. Thank you.
I bumped into John at the bagel store Saturday morning. He was there with Stupid. His kids refer to the dog as Sam, but John knows him as Stupid. I understood because I knew Brain Dead was waiting for me at home.
With apologies to Hilde, animal rights activist and former OFS pet columnist, pet ownership sucks. Of course this is simply a male view – mine. I’ve talked to many of my friends. The findings of my unscientific survey are:
(a) Men who have never had children own pets willingly.
(b) Men whose children have grown up and left the home or are divorced and don’t have their kids don’t mind pets.
(c) Hunters and outdoorsmen own pets whether or not they have children.
(d) All other men only have pets under duress.
I’m sure there are exceptions, but I’ll hold to my findings.
Pet ownership begins with a series of lies. Every spouse, parent, or roommate remembers those fateful words “Ill take care of the dog. I promise. You won’t have to do anything.” They Lied! The burden of care and the expense of maintenance always falls upon the individual least concerned with the animal. When the dog (or in the worst case scenario, the cat) throws up at 2:00 a.m., we know who is going to clean it up.
I remember when I got my dog. I got the dog the way most of us get dogs or measles; it was a gift from someone similarly afflicted. In this case my parents said that the children needed a dog. They (the kids) would care for him. We got a redheaded beagle, pedigree name Red Tomahawk that answers to Tommy or Brain Dead. As the leash hit my hand, I knew what my parents were thinking. “That dog will listen to him almost as much as he listened to us.” They were right.
Tommy made himself at home immediately. There isn’t an inch of carpet in my house that he hasn’t autographed. Doors and walls have been damaged, and the fence around the back yard has been dog-proofed twice and still can’t contain him. The enclosed porch, where Tommy was kept when no one was home, now needs extensive work.
Dog ownership can’t be kept a secret. Walk in my door, you can smell Tommy. Those of us with allergies sense his presence. His shedded hair decorates my clothes. And my ankles can attest to the fact that he’s had fleas. His gnawed basket sits in the living room and his barking reminds the neighbors that I have trouble saying no.
I will follow my parents’ example. My children will one day have children and they will need a dog. I think I’ll get them a mixed breed, perhaps half Llasso Apso, half basset hound.
That would be a great dog. He’d be short, yappy kind of dog that would shed everywhere. The kids will love him.
I wonder how the last dinosaurs died. Did they sense that their era was over and mindlessly, like ten ton lemmings, march directly to the tar pits?
Did the last dinosaurs see the advancing glacier and bravely attack in hope of saving their doomed world? Or was the last brontosaurus peacefully sleeping while the world around him came to a sudden end (sort of a prehistoric Ronald Reagan)? We may never know.
We do know, however, that if the last dinosaur was alive today, he would write a book and spend his last moments of life plugging it on Geraldo and Donahue. I know this because I saw a distant cousin of his on TV this morning.
On the TODAY show, Bryant Gumble interviewed Ralph Nader. Now before you get mad at me, I loved Ralph Nader in the sixties. Everyone, well almost everyone, did. I was very fond of him in the seventies. But by the early eighties I grew weary of Ralph and his inability to move forward. Today is October 1, 1990 and Ralph is pushing his newest book, Winning The Insurance Game. This book is supposed to be the final word for the general public about insurance. You can almost hear Ed McMahon say: “Everything you need to know about insurance is in THIS BOOK. Everything.
The interview began with Ralph earnestly telling Bryant how his new book will protect consumers from insurance companies and their agents. Some people will read the book cover to cover and become insurance experts, trained and prepared to educate the masses. Some people will simply check the book when they are about to make a purchase. When asked about those consumers who might not want to tackle Mr. Nader’s newest tome, Ralph advised that smart consumers would do well by simply placing the book on the table when discussing insurance with an agent. Like garlic and a cross, Ralph’s book might protect you from vampire insurance agents. Oh come on, Ralph.
Bryant managed to keep a straight face and asked Mr. Nader for some specifics. Could Ralph quickly name some super savers? Trap set! The last dinosaur reached deep inside himself and came up empty. “If you own a car that is seven years old, you might not need collision insurance anymore.” Gee Ralph, my twelve year old knows that. What other nugget can we recover from your empty mine?
Should we spend $25.95 to be advised to read contracts before we sign and to look both ways before we cross the street? When pressed about life insurance, Ralph endorsed both cash value and term policies. In five minutes, Ralph Nader exhausted a lifetime supply of common sense and, flogging the obvious, common knowledge. The pioneering author of Unsafe At Any Speed had become just one more guy with a word processor for a palette but no ribbon left in the printer.
The interview ended and as the TODAY show faded into commercial, I knew that Mr. Nader had a busy day ahead. Sally, Oprah, Phil and Geraldo would all squeeze him in between the daily mix of Siamese sextuplets and “men who kick their dogs and the women who love them”.
I wonder if Ralph can hear the tar pits calling.
I was feeling used. Once again I was forced to stand on principle, a polite way to say that I was absolutely, positively, alone. Oh, theoretically I was right but “couldn’t we make an exception just this time?” How many times had I heard those words? I’d lost count. I knew that no matter how I answered, it would be wrong and that I would be in this same position again sometime soon.
You are never truly divorced until your youngest child marries. At that time you can finally sever contact from someone with whom you couldn’t wait to share your life and later couldn’t escape from soon enough. It is more that genetics that binds us. School plays. Bar Mitzvahs, Communions, Saturday morning soccer games….every activity has the potential to grate and frustrate like ten long fingernails upon a classroom chalkboard. Moments of rest and peace are but the natural retrenching of vast armies. R&R for the troops. But the war is far from over.
Wart hogs find other wart hogs desirable. Divorced parents tend to attract other single parents. Wonderful. Now you have you, your kids, your ex, your new friend, more children and another ex all simmering in the same stew.
As the emotions boil over and spill onto all of the rest of your life, you are comforted by the free advice of your parents. “This would all be fine if you all acted like adults, especially your ex that lousy Bitch (or SOB)! Just don’t screw up the children.”
Thanks. I needed a little guilt to go with the pain.
Of course there are alternatives.
(1) THE DOOR-MAT APPROACH….Under this solution you simply give your ex everything he/she wants. No conflict (inner conflict doesn’t count). No fighting.
Count the days till the kids become adults and resign yourself that you will have a life, dignity, and self-respect before Willard Scott announces your name on the Today Show.
(2) THE ATTORNEY FROM HELL APPROACH….Essentially this is the other side of option (1). Someone is going to wipe their feet on the doormat. Why not you? Shouldn’t it be your lawyer demanding child support, vacation time and clothing allowance for the family dachshund? Certainly! You deserve it. This option works well as long as the children don’t decide as adults that you abused their mother/father when they were kids.
(3) THE BLACK AND WHITE METHOD….As A.T. & T. says, “Get it in writing.” With this option, every contingency is clearly spelled out after extensive negotiation. Who has the kids for Valentine’s Day 1996? No sweat. The answer is on page 47 of the last agreement. Of course, you, your ex and each of the children are required to have a copy of the agreement with them at all times. This could be a real problem at the beach.
(4) THE LINE IN THE SAND OPTION….In this system you determine what’s really important to you. There you draw the line. Your ex and the kids can pretty much do whatever they want as long as they don’t cross the line. This plan only works if you have the guts to “blast them out of the water” if they cross the line. Dan Quayle need not apply.
There are probably plenty of other options and all of them have an equal chance of success or failure. But in those dark hours when you wonder what else could happen to you, just remember, it could be worse. You could still be married to that lousy….
Don called me on Monday morning with two extra tickets for Friday night’s McCartney concert. $60! Oh well. When would I get a chance to see a Beatle again?
Friday was my last day of work before two weeks of much needed vacation. I had been hoping for a quiet day of paper shuffling. Instead the day exploded with undelivered mail, lost checks, and problems that would need six days to solve when I had but six hours to offer.
By 5:30 I was wired. I had convinced Don of the need to get downtown early for the concert. Six of us settled for dinner at the food court in the Galleria. Now I admit that the Chinese restaurant there is very good, but if I’m going to spend big bucks for concert tickets, I want to eat dinner in a place that takes reservations and serves your dinner on China not styrofoam.
By the time we got to our seats, box seats with a view partially obstructed by a bank of speakers, I had enough. I was in no mood to be there and the fact that I couldn’t see half the stage wasn’t helping.
I was settling into a well-deserved funk as the sun set and the concert began with an eleven minute montage of the last twenty-seven (yes twenty-seven) years of McCartney’s musical career and the world events his music reflected. There were huge screens on each side of the stage as well as one behind the performers. By the second song of the clip, I was calmed and ready to be entertained.
Paul McCartney bounded onto the stage with that same boyish grin that won over a world so long ago. Here was a man who loved to perform. It is no secret that he doesn’t need the cash. He feasted on the adulation. He mugged. He bowed. One could even say that at certain points in the concert he milked it. But he returned an equal measure to his fans. This was a live, sweat poring off the bodies, performance. Two and a half hours of music played by a tight band that was an equal to the material. When Paul’s microphone failed during the Long and Winding road, he joked that we should “talk amongst ourselves.” After the mike was replaced, they picked the song up in the middle and finished it without a hitch. You won’t see that at one of those tape/lip synched affairs.
The audience sang without inhibition throughout most of the concert. Before one song Paul talked for a moment and ended his remarks saying that we might want to join him at the end of the song. Don’s twenty-four year old future brother-in-law turned to me and asked what McCartney had just said. I told him that “Hey Jude” would be the next song. He asked how I knew.
As the song started I found myself sitting in Taft Junior High School, eighth grade, Canton, Ohio. Mr. Spitz was teaching art. Spitz was a free-spirit who once got on stage during a school sock hop and sang “I’ve Got A Line On You” with the band. He had shoulder-length brown hair and an attitude. As we drew our balloon lettered posters and abstract pictures, Mr. Spitz played “Hey Jude” over and over and over again. Everyday for weeks on end we absorbed “Hey Jude”. At first it was a novelty. Then it became tiresome. Finally the message sunk in and we realized what both McCartney and Spitz were trying to say.
Na Na Na Nananana Nananana, Hey Jude
A stadium filled to capacity joined in the chorus. The tears streamed from my eyes as I found myself back at the concert swaying in time to the music. It had been years since I had thought about Spitz or eighth grade. The experience was wonderful.
The balance of the concert had a potential to be anticlimactic, but it wasn’t. For some the lasers and special effects of “Live and Let Die” was the highlight. Other may have found the touching tribute to John Lennon as the most special moment of the show. I’m sure that everyone loved the encore. Paul played “Yesterday” on acoustic guitar and finished with the last cuts from Abbey Road the Beatles final album. He even proved that he could play a mean lead guitar. Me? I danced. I sang. And mostly I just stood there basking in the afterglow like a couple sleeping in each other’s arms after passionately making love.
A banner hanging from the upper deck read “John Is Here”. He was. I saw him sitting next to Mr. Spitz in the front row.
The red Ford Pick-up came around the curve at about 40 miles per hour. As soon as I was sure he could see me, I flicked my brights on and off. He waved as he went by and I could see him tap his brakes in my rear view mirror.
“Why did you do that,” my companion asked with obvious disgust.
“Didn’t you see the cop with the radar gun back there?”
“You shouldn’t do that” she said as if I had just been caught shoplifting. “It’s wrong. It’s against the law.”
Oh here we go again. Black and white. Heaven and hell. Good vs. evil. Right and wrong. The world as seen by an absolutist. The next ten minutes will be filled with the cultural differences between us. It could be her religious background. Who knows?
My views are different. I believe that locked doors keep honest people honest. Trust everyone, but count your change. These are words to live by. I always flick my lights to advise other drivers of an upcoming speed trap. To me, it makes sense.
First of all, I believe that the policeman’s function is to keep us safe, not to dispense speeding tickets. I drive through a section of the Metroparks everyday on the way to my office. On a sunny weekday morning in April the road is empty, dry and a wonderful challenge. I’ve been known to run my Mazda through the park like Paul Newman through Le Mans.
The summer is different. Only dogs and joggers run in front of more cars than eight year olds. And the park is full of all of them. Driving through the park is a series of starts and stops with occasional stretches of open road perfect for sightseeing. The ever-present Metropark patrolman sets up shop at one of three spots. Having never talked with him, I don’t know how he views his mission, but, if he’s busy ticketing someone going 34 in a 30 zone, he’s not going to slow the driver buzzing by at 45. That’s the way it works. Properly warned, most drivers will maintain the speed limit through the park. Safety achieved, even if no ticket is written.
I flicked my lights at the upcoming cars. The old man in the beige skylark stared at me blankly. The lady driving the station wagon filled with little leaguers smiled and waved. And Heaven and Hell moved just a smidgeon closer together.
It’s Tuesday. Tomorrow morning the big blue truck will stop in front of my house again. Every week the trash man comes. Usually on Wednesday. Sometimes, when there is a holiday, Thursday. As I dragged the heavy plastic cans to the curb, I realized that I had just done this last week. I was not pleased.
Some people like the way life falls into predictable patterns. Monday you do this. Tuesday you do that. I don’t. I want to do something. Do it well. And be done.
I remember when I bought my house in South Euclid. I went to the store and bought a lawnmower. I bought a good lawnmower. I mowed the lawn. I did a great job. Who knew six days later the grass would need cutting again? I had done a good job. That should have been it. But no, I have a new hobby. Once a week, from May 1 to September 30, my lawn demands my attention. I mow, but it keeps growing back.
I am a big believer in the precept “Work smarter not harder.” That of course, does not apply to mowing your lawn. Even if through practice and training you become the world’s greatest mower, you will still be out there a week later pushing the Toro. And ignoring it doesn’t work, either. I’ve left town for a couple of weeks, not once thinking about my yard while I was gone, and the grass still grew in my absence.
One day my children will drag the cans to the curb and mow the lawn. They know this. That is why were all counting on modern technology to come to our rescue. One Tuesday, hopefully not too many years from now, I will carry my trash cans to the curb for the last time. And if I’m really lucky, I’ll push the mower there, too.
Thirtysomething update: Since last we looked in on Hollywood’s version of us, much has happened. Melissa has realized that even though she dresses like an eighteen year old, she really can’t live like one. Elliot continues his rapid maturity. One wonders if some TV researcher has determined the “EL” needed to be reworked. Hope, apparently ready to deliver triplets and suffering mood swings Sam Kenison would be proud of, came perilously close to having an affair. Speaking of affairs, Ellen is still pretty messed up. Gary might get tenure. And Michael has great shot at sainthood if he would only convert. Don’t worry. If anything unusual occurs, I’ll keep you posted.
I love to cook. I’ve even gotten to the point where I don’t mind cleaning up. Still, some things leave me baffled.
I’ve yet to come to terms with “seasoning” your pots. I can’t help it. I always wash the pots and pans after I use them. I grew up in a home where you washed your hands if you thought about taking out the garbage. I could see trying to tell my mother about this.
Dave: See Mom. The eggs are enhanced by the flavor of the salami I fried
Mom: You’ve got a job? You’ve got money? Today’s eggs should be flavored with
today’s salami. What kind of germs are growing in this pot, anyhow?
I bought my first wok about thirteen years ago. I read the instructions twice. I thought they were kidding. I called a couple of friends and asked them about “seasoning”. They had no idea what I was talking about. Totally frustrated, I called Higbee’s house wares department and asked for the woman who had sold me the wok. She explained the concept but then assured me that if I chose I could still wash the wok normally. Praise the Lord.
In the years since, I’ve seen my fair share of cast iron pots, perhaps as much as ½ inch of something lining the cooking surface, sitting atop the stoves of otherwise clean kitchens. I admit that I don’t rush to eat in these homes. Oh these people appear healthy. But who really knows for sure?
I have three books from Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet. One of them is autographed. He clearly advises to wash your pans in soapy water when you first bring them home and then to properly season them. “Never put soap in your frying pan again”, he writes. One more house to avoid at dinner time.
One day I’ll adjust. I’ll come to terms with seasoning pots. Of course with my luck, that will be the day they begin seasoning forks and plates.