The number of women who have been related to me and willing to spoil me beyond belief is probably what makes me the fantastic failure that I am today. I’ve both been well loved and well coddled.
I lived with my Grandparents for a while – It was during my blue period (28-31) where I was making a ton of money and still wanted to jump off a building at the same time – so in an act of utter blind optimistic heartbroken resiliency I quit it all and paid some nuns to give me a Master’s Degree in teaching. It ended badly.
I was called out for showing up sleepily every single day of my student teaching assignment. “You come in late and miss most of the assembly. You don’t have your tie on. You immediately go and buy a diet Coke and a Snickers bar, and you often fall asleep in the corner of the Library.”
I got high marks for the passion of my essays, but really once someone busts you as completely as that going back to your high paying job where you could stay home and sleep whenever you wanted to doesn’t seem quite so bad after all. Eventually, I stopped making money too, which for better or worse, gave me even more time to sleep.
“Yeah, but the kids dig me!”
It was like a beatnik had decided to crash in their library and tutor math. I was this fabulous offbeat figure, and there were great rumors as to my previous trading wealth. Hey, let’s go hang with the depressed dude in the library – he’s liable to say anything!
One thing I think people forget about kids is that they value honesty. All you need to be a hero to a kid is to walk into his school and tell him that you understand exactly how much it sometimes sucks to be in school. Actually, all you need to do is let on that you used and didn’t mind profanity. After you do that they’ll read anything you tell them is hip.
Profanity is a teen’s secret language. Most people who will swear in front of a student are either really cool or really dangerous. I’m sure many cults have been started by youth counselors, who drew their victims in with their hip profane vocabulary.
I wasn’t trying to lead them down any bad roads, I was just trying to get through the day and go home too.
One night during parent teacher meetings, a woman wanted to hire me to tutor her son.
Wait just one second there. You can see taking classes and staying awake in the library has been kicking my ass. Let’s not get crazy now.
But what I really want to talk about is how crazy fun my Grandmother Doris was. That’s a picture of her being in the circus for a weekend as Apple Annie. For some reason, I never really asked her how she wound up in the circus for a weekend, but she had a mounted metal plated picture of a newspaper article from the Cleveland Press about it.
My grandparents had money and my grandmother bought pretty much everything she ever wanted to. I heard rumors that she had some sad manic episodes where she would call in to Home Shopping Network and ask how much it would cost to become customer of the day, but I never really saw it. She always seemed more than happy to gossip the day away and be as goofy and as fun as she wanted to be.
As curt, cranky and forceful as my grandfather was, my grandmother was gentile, loving and full of humor. I remember her dancing around singing “Alley Cat” and “Ain’t Nobody Here but us Chickens.” I’m not sure she knew more lyrics than the titles themselves, but that never seemed to get her down.
She used to take me to her Country Club. Nothing made my grandmother happier than to introduce me or, if we’d already met, show my great progress to every person she knew the first name of at that place. “This is my Grandson, he’s the really smart one.”
I’ve had literally thousands of old women tell me “If I was only your age?” No one my age has ever really said anything similar to me, which either means that they were lying or that when you get old you drop your standards measurably.
My grandmother putted standing straight up with her whole body facing the flag and not the line of the ball. It was quite weird to look at, but strangely effective for her. She could hit the ball about 50 yards or so, but it was always a straight 50 yards, so she’d inevitably beat me by ten strokes a side. It’s hard to lose your ball when you only hit it 50 yards. I’d play with 15 balls she’d usually use 2 or three. The first hole of the course required you to clear about thirty yards of creek and I was always more than likely to donate a couple Titleists a visit, which was ok because my grandparents had at least 40,000 golf balls strewn about their large home. You could open almost any drawer in their house and find a golf ball.
They had a lot of cool stuff. After holiday meals, the women would all discuss, which of my grandmother’s shit they wanted when she kicked, which oddly enough didn’t seem to bother my grandmother so much. I suppose she felt lucky enough to have a whole bunch of cool stuff that people wanted. After all they could have been saying, “It’s going to be a huge hassle to get rid of your player piano and all this other crap when you die! Where are we going to get rid of all these ash trays?”
She came from an era where not having an ash tray available for a smoking guest would have been a huge faux pas. Times have changed. I never really saw them drink, but they always had liquor available. My grandmother prided herself on being a good host.
Their house had a little bar closet with a sink, where she kept lots of candy for everyone. Mostly, I remember M&M’s. I used to take two M&M’s and battle them against each other. The one that cracked first I’d eat and the winner would go on to fight an immediate rematch. My M&M commercials would have been like snuff films.
She always had black licorice in the bar closet. Grandma, why do you always buy this nasty black licorice? It was because her second son Barry loved it, and sure enough whenever he visited he would be in there looking for it as if this were the only place in the world you could still get it – even when I was almost 30 and he probably over 50.
That was the beauty of their house and it being there. She was the ultimate host. Someone in the world was buying black licorice for you just in case you might want to stop by.
My grandmother had lots of Jewels and Silver and China and Royal Hummel figurines. She even had dining trays for you to eat off of when you wanted to watch television and well, dine at the same time, which for me and other’s like me was – well, always.
The only thing I wanted to inherit from my Grandparents (so I suppose I was doing it too) – was their set of original ‘50’s Hardy Boys books. Going to my grandparents house was never horrible, if only because it was so big and so full of things to do and eat and read, that no matter how much the grow- ups were arguing about business or watching endless televised golf matches there was always somewhere to get lost in that huge house.
Upstairs were two huge bedrooms and a study with these neat couches that were built into the wall. The bookshelf held at least 50 Hardy adventures to read. The other bookshelf had what appeared to be 20 years of Readers’ Digests and National Geographic’s. I was never really that interested in the nature photos or any of the real articles, but I made my way through almost all of the joke sections of the digest. It was a very Norman Rockwell, humor from the armed forces sort of place.
One of the bedrooms had a bed with a bright toy blue canopy that had little blue balls of yarn hanging down from it.
The bathroom had a wonderfully huge stall shower that had a bench in it and about six different faucets for the water to flow out of. You know, mellow spigots that just littered your legs with gentle flows of slow water. I’d just lie down on the ground of that thing and let it all rain down upon me.
There was also a fantastic attic in the back filled with books and other antiquated treasure — army uniforms and other costumes to sort through. When I was older I’d go back into the attic and smoke and read. That attic was nicer than most of the apartments I’ve lived in.
The house had two pianos, one a player piano, which would play corny ditties like “How much is that doggie in the window?” or “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth,” and occasionally something cool like “Someone to Watch over Me” or “In a Sentimental Mood.” They had about a hundred songs, which were all on paper rolls that had the lyrics printed on the side of the seemingly random holes in the scroll that told the piano what to play.
Here’s the truth though, that Player Piano was fucking dangerous. It had a roller that you could make spin forward or back in super rapid fashion with a huge rotating hook! It had exposed wires which endangered your life when you went to turn it on or off, which if you think about it was pretty damn unforgivable given that the family was made up almost entirely of electricians.
In truth, they were fearless when it came to electricity. I’ve seen sparks fly that would have had me fearing for my life that barely merited notice by my grandfather or his sons. Zeus could have hit my grandfather with a lightning bolt and he’d probably just slap the Greek God back in his usual ornery fashion.
“Bob, I’ve told you for month to stop Zeus from throwing lightning bolts around the house!”
“You lived! Didn’t you!?”
That was triage at their place. It wasn’t that my grandfather was too lazy to repair things. He was instantly upon every problem. Unfortunately, what he felt was the cheapest easiest way to fix something would have kept most fire inspectors up nights.”
Here is a fun meaningful fable thatI remember my Grandfather telling me about when my Uncle Barry worked for him. “Barry was right out of school, and he’d tell me that I did something that wasn’t up to code. I’d yell back at him, ‘where in the goddamn code does it say that I can’t do it that way!’ ” This according to my grandfather always left Barry stumped, if perhaps only in a well they never considered doing something so insane long enough to have banned it yet, which nevertheless meant that it was legal. My grandfather fixed lots of stuff with literally nickels and pennies, with the pennies being at least five times more convenient than the nickels.
Their basement was immense. Right away you’d see the player piano. Across from it sat the ugilest most uncomfortable looking baby blue metallic exercise bike that has ever existed in the world. It had a speedometer, which made it a cool toy. You could pedal it as fast as you could for a while and then pull your legs out to your side and look down as the pedals whirred angrily below you.
The basement was long and eventually turned into a little quaint nite spot with a fireplace and a couple of couches that looked out the sliding back door that led up to their big back yard. It was a croquet sized yard. On the wall was a huge marlin or some other kind of sport fish that my larger than life grandfather had caught on safari somewhere. They traveled a lot, they knew how to live.
Behind the player piano was my grandfather’s office. One night when I was maybe 17 my grandparents were out of town and I slept over their house alone and decided to search for my grandfather’s porn stash. I just assumed that he’d have to have some. I looked for hours in endless drawers and cabinets – nothing.
When I was living there full time a decade later, I finally noticed that there was a huge thin empty drawer space in my grandfather’s desk that you could wind your hand up into and find 1! One! Thirty year old sex manual featuring about twenty color figures of a large breasted hot Swedish blond demonstrating sexual moves with some dude that was hairier than Burt Reynolds in his prime.
It was there. Getting it out of that drawer was nearly as difficult as reaching up into a vending machine to steal a candy bar, but it was there!
The office had numerous antiquated forms of calculators. It was like a history of the adding machine down there. There was one that added number manually, an electric one with a little rolling pad to print your operations out with. It was like my grandfather upgraded every couple of years, but never threw anything out. There were two electric typewriters and a loud and menacing machine that would time stamp checks if it didn’t take your fingers off first.
Behind the main basement was sort of like the utility basement which was twice as big. One long room had a shuffleboard tiled floor. All the kids in my family would chuck those clay discs as far and as fast as they could. I still have no idea how you actually play shuffleboard. We were too busy trying to hit each others’ pucks back through the heating system and into my grandfathers’ immense work area which was filled with a few electric drills and saws and vises and any type of electrical component you could possibly imagine. My grandfather’s idea of a good job for a kid was to pile him underneath thousands of bits of stale wire, screws, washer’s, nuts, plugs, sockets, scrap metal and tubes and ask you to organize them into piles. You could get dirty just looking at all that crap – each piece just different enough to merit its own unique pile. Maddening is what that chore was.
We all sucked at work. We were obviously spoiled and my grandfather looked as if he could hardly stand to see what a weak generation he’d spawned. My mother spoiled us at home and when we went to my grandmother’s my great aunt Rose would race my grandmother for the right to provide everything that a man could possibly need from an older woman. Food? Drink? Money? Leisure. These were all there for the taking.
Which is a log way of saying that hanging out at my grandparents during that half year of graduate school was about the easiest home life I’ve ever had.
One night my Aunt Sharon was in town for a visit and yelled at my grandmother for buttering my bread for me. I looked at my aunt in not unreal anger “Hey, why are you fucking up my shit here?”
After that my grandmother would do anything else I wanted. She’d make me dinner, she’d bring me dinner, she’d get me a drink, she’d pour me a drink, but she would no longer would butter my bread.
She’d bring me the bread. She’d bring me the butter, but I had to butter it, which sucked because if you think about it – having had my bread buttered for me for years and years – I was pretty bad at buttering bread. Damn meddling relatives!
My grandmother was the type of woman who would stay up with you until midnight and let you watch whatever you wanted on television. She’d either knit or crochet or fuss over you, she couldn’t care less what you were watching. She was oblivious to most of it, happy to just fawn over you for as long as she could stay awake.
Every night I’d watch Beavis and Butthead and this pop culture trivia show called Idiot Savants on MTV. A few years later I met Greg Fitzsimmons the comedian that hosted Savants and told him that I watched it every night with my grandmother.
The show was filled with ultra hip modern questions about television shows teens (and I) liked. They even had a category about Beverly Hills 90210 called (Aaron) “Spelling spelling.”
Fitzsimmons asked me if my grandmother had any idea what she was watching.
“Not a clue,” I said, but she handled it better than what she could only refer to as Beavis and Buckhead. I don’t think she could handle the fact that a character on TV was actually named Butthead.
When she died, the only thing besides the books that I wanted was the metal plated article about her circus performance and this really tacky, but friendly porcelain toy horse that proudly greeted you whenever you entered the little lounge next to dining room. I miss lounging with her.