Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Rod Carew's 3000th Hit


Day in sports: MLB legend Rod Carew records his 3,000th hit - Los Angeles  Times


The other day, Im at my dentists office, same dentist I’ve been going to since 1988, and he’s showing me an X-ray of my mouth. He points out three crowns. I have two crowns,” I tell him. You have three,” he says, counting them out like I’m five, “One, two, three.” He even checks my chart, which because of the length of our relationship is as fat as the erstwhile GTE Yellow Pages. 


Yep, I put three crowns in,” he says. 


I can remember my first appointment with him in 1988, back when we both looked like extras from Pretty in Pink. But I dont remember him numbing me up, drilling into my tooth, and fitting it with what would be my third crown.


Memory is very important to me... and he’s pointing to a memory cavity in my brain. I cant even recall having a problem with that tooth, which apparently, Ive been brushing and flossing now for a decade since thinking it was me, when it was a really a crown. 


I’m in a panic about not being able to remember getting a crown.


Which makes me think about the All-Star baseball first-baseman Rod Carew.


Not that Rod Carew had crowns… he might have... I have zero information on that, but Rod Carew got a 3,000th hit, which helped elevate him to being one of the best players in the history of baseball. 


And I cant remember if I saw it. And that’s an even bigger cavity in my brain that no amount of Anbesol is going to relieve.


It’s been bothering me longer than forgetting about the crown. Did I actually see Rod Carew get his 3000th hit? I can’t remember. And that means I’ve already lost a piece of me. 


Let me tell you a secret. 


I fear death. 


I know… pretty uncommon. 


But one of the reasons I fear death is that at the moment that my life ends my memories will be erased, like a catastrophic hard drive failure or the Alexandria Library burning to the ground. And Rod Carews 3000th hit may have been on that hard drive, and it may be starting to fail.


You may not remember Rod Carews 3000th hit. Im guessing thats not all that disturbing to you. But for me, not remembering is an emergency claxon that tragedy is coming. Honestly, it seems like something I should remember…


like losing my virginity… 


or getting my first credit card.


Going to games back in those days was always a last-minute decision… predicated on if my friends and I had recovered from our hangovers. We drove along muggy, hazy, white-light, blinding tangles of freeway to long lines of cars at the stadium entrance. We bought the cheapest seats, had a breakfast/lunch/dinner of beer and dogs and more beer and more dogs, and constructed new hangovers.


I remember knowing that Rod Carews 3000th hit would be a history-making moment that I could say I had witnessed. I thought I would be a more interesting person if I saw it. My grandfather saw Charles Lindbergh land in Paris. He was there, among the cheering Parisians, a college dropout who had recently sailed from New York, and just happened to be there when it happened. 


That was pretty interesting. This was going to be my Lindbergh landing to tell my grandchildren about. 


At the time when Rod Carew played for the Angels, I worked for KCBS-TV Channel 2 scheduling commercials, and one thing I do actually remember is looking out from my seat into the stadium, at fifty thousand fans, and thinking, I decide what commercials you see and when you see them.”


But the memory stops there, like when the film breaks in the projector and you hear flap, flap, flap, flap,” as the reel spins fecklessly.


I mention to my friend Malcom that I’m losing my memory and that I don’t know if I saw Rod Carew gets his 3000th hit. Malcom went to a couple baseball games with me back in the day. He says, “If you saw Rod Carews 3000th hit, I promise that you would remember it.”


Maybe I just wanted to see it.” I tell him, Maybe thats what Im remembering. There were so many things I wanted to do that I didnt do. I wanted to live in Paris for two years. I wanted to live in Boston and write for The Atlantic. I wanted to buy a house, not just a house, but that big colonial in Pacific Palisades above PCH and Entrada. I wanted to hang out with girls, but they never wanted to hang out with me.  


You mean the one that fell onto PCH during the Northridge Earthquake?” he asks. 


Yeah.  That was some house,” I respond.


Youre being mawkish” he says.


I failed to do anything I wanted to do in my 20s. If I just saw Carew’s 3000th hit, that would have been one success…,” I say.


If youd seen Carews 3,000th hit, youd remember it,” he assures me. Anyone would remember that.”


And so I let it go…


Until I find an Angels ticket stub from 1986 among some old papers. I type the date and Angels into Google, and… 


It was not the game when Carew got his 3,000th. But that leads to search some more and find that it was in 1985. I had convinced myself it was 1986 because I remember the thing about scheduling everyones commercials and all the power that gave me, and I had that job in 1986. But it turns out that the hit was in 1985 and the thing about 1985 is… I kept a journal that year.


It was once the most important thing to me, a place to record all of my memories so that I never lost them. 


I dig out the journal and pages drop from the failing binding. I gather them and I read about my life in 1985. Theres a girl in a black dress who dances with me all night at the Improv, and there are two girls from grad school who show up at my apartment, on my birthday, when Im sick in bed. They bring a cake with my name on it. And theres a girl at work, not KCBS, but the job before that, at the Robinsons in Santa Monica, who looks up at me timidly and whispers into my cheek that I can have a girlfriend if I want. I forgot these things.


Finally, I find the entry… August 4, when I wrote, I convinced Malcom to go to the Angel game with me. We drove down the 101 to the 5 and hit a terrible traffic jam before getting to the Big A in Anaheim. We had to stand in line and the only tickets left were in centerfield. It was John Candelarias first start as an Angel and he gave up five runs to the Minnesota Twins, but the Angels scored six. Rod Carew got his 3,000th hit and the entire stadium erupted. He hit it with Rich Dauer on second. They gave Carew the first base bag and the ball. Then the right field stands started screaming Tastes Great,” and the left field stands screamed back, Less Filling,” like a giant Miller Lite commercial.


And suddenly, I am able to fill one of my brain cavities. I am able to reconstruct a picture, be it hazy and low contrast. I can remember the hot seats in the monolith of concrete up above centerfield. I can remember the view of the Angels on the diamond. I can remember Malcom holding a beer. Its not much, but I have these images back… they’re mine again. 


And Malcom is with me in them. I call to tell him that not only did I see Rod Carew get his 3000th hit, but he saw it too. He laughs. He has absolutely zero memory of it, isn’t even sure he’s ever been to the Big A in Anaheim.


I didnt ever live in Paris, but I did go there twice in the 80s and have been back since. I didnt ever live in Boston, but I went there many times. And I didnt buy the house in Pacific Palisades, but if I had, I might have been in it when it fell onto PCH. 


And I did see Rod Carews 3,000th hit, which is something I can tell my grandchildren… if I remember.






Wednesday, March 30, 2022

The Cashier at Emil's Foodtown

I knew her. We’d laughed in Ninth-Grade photography class. She’d always had a smile and would say hello. Once she said I was an excellent photographer. We'd stood close to each other in the darkroom over the vinegar-smell of the stop bath. We'd stood close to each other and watched the photographic paper develop into greys and blacks and shapes of images. 


But my crush crushed our friendship. Two years had gone by since I’d said a word to her or her to me. 


I’d seen her. One year earlier I’d joined the yearbook so I could photograph the gymnastics and capture her on film. She saw me in the gym at the meet. She saw me shooting her… recording her on two precious frames of Tri-X Pan. Film was expensive.


She didn’t acknowledge me. I didn’t acknowledge her. My crush was overwhelming and muting. My crush Crazy-Glued my lips and dropped a Peterbilt truck on my stomach with the tires spinning at 60-miles-an-hour.


The photos came out lousy and I quit the yearbook.


I wasn’t the only boy with a crush on her. I couldn’t decide if this made me jealous or proud. 


Twelve months later I was at the Emil’s Foodtown buying the things on a list my mother had given me. I had no idea my crush was working there, but there she was, the cashier wearing a crisp white lab-coat that said Emil’s Foodtown and held her name tag over the breast. No other Emil’s uniform was as white and starched as hers. 


I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what I would do if she said, “Hello.”


But we knew each other. People who know each other say, “Hello.” 


She looked at me blankly. I looked at her blankly, meaninglessly, emptily. I looked down for fear she would think I was looking at her. I put my groceries on the counter and peeked up as she picked them up, one by one, the bananas, the American cheese, the Burry’s Fudge Town cookies. 


Why was I buying cookies that came with a puppet prize in the box?


She was silent. I was silent. The store was silent. The mass of my crush was silent.


She rang each item on the mechanical cash register, printing out prices, making a loud cash-register racket, over and over and over, until she punched in the cost of the cookies.


I felt love and desire’s skeletal fingers grasp and then crush my viscera.


She put the Burry’s Fudge Town cookies in the paper bag already full of the other items. It was the kind of bag we all used as book covers.


She breathed in… realizing I wasn’t going to say anything… or maybe just breathing in.


I paid. I took the receipt and my change, letting her hand fall into mine for a moment, really a fraction of a moment, maybe not even a fraction, less… yes… less… the culmination of two years of a long-distance, local, hometown relationship.


I pocketed the receipt and the money. I didn’t say a word.


She didn’t say a word.


We knew each other.


She was my dream.


She turned away. 


I still remember this, forty-five years later. I still remember needing to exit the store, needing to escape the overwhelming littleness of my life not happening.


I still remember my joy in now knowing where she worked. I could go back and the next time I could talk to her. It was like getting my bank passbook back after depositing a check and staring at the new balance. 


I was rich. I owned vital information. She worked at Emil’s. She worked near my house. She wore a crisp white lab coat. 


The next time I went there I would come with courage. The next time I went there I would change the course of my life.


I never did go back to Emil’s Foodtown… not once… not ever.



Saturday, December 17, 2016

All of My Life at 55-Years Old Turned into a Metaphor of this Morning's Bike Ride

It was supposed to be this morning’s bike ride actually, but I didn’t get started until a little after noon. My goal was a 30-mile round trip. I was ready to go but the tires were low and so I lost some time finding the air pump and getting the tires back to where they had been when I last left the bike under the house. I put on my helmet and it didn’t fit. I thought, “could I have gained that much in two weeks since my last ride that the straps on my helmet won’t click closed? I pressed hard and forced them together and got them to click despite how tight they felt.

At first the ride went well. It was colder than I thought and the road wasn’t as smooth, but I hit the big hill a block from us and got up to 20 MPH. I was sailing. Two red lights cut into my time and forced me to get started again, but I was feeling good. Okay, that’s a lie, I was feeling anxious because I really just wanted to be sitting at the computer, not setting on a 30-mile round trip with my own muscles as my only form of propulsion.

When I got to the bike path my plans to turn right were immediately thwarted. There was an American flag there and it was blowing towards the right, which meant headwinds coming back if I stuck with my intent and went right. I went left and immediately determined in my head how far 15 miles out would be to give myself an end point. Within a half a mile I started to hit piles of beach sand on the bike path. I plowed through three of them with the third one being deeper than I had gauged and nearly taking me down.

I stopped for a second and looked down the rest of the bike path. People were walking their bikes through piles of beach sand as far as the eye could see. I didn’t even really ponder my options, I just turned back up the slight hill to the side street that parallels the bike path and began riding down that.

My helmet felt uncomfortable. I had to lose weight.

I found myself gliding again, not peddling at all and yet going nearly my fastest speed yet. I was getting there faster, but with the final destination actually being home, in the other direction, it also occurred to me that I was setting myself up for an unexpected hill to climb on the way back, when I would be more tired, and less able.

The street flattened out and filled with potholes and even with the buildings there was filled with its own piles of beach sand. I skirted these obstacles as best I could, plowing through most of the sand and only having two piles be deep enough to stop the bike underneath me.

Miles later, I reached the turn where I could rejoin the bikepath and make my 15 miles out, but some switch in my head clicked and I simply went straight instead, continuing down the road despite my knowing that it dead ends in about 2 miles, cutting my best possible trip down from 30 to 12.

Twelve miles seemed like a good enough number, a number I could be proud of, a number that most people in the world were not going to bicycle that day, some ever. There was nothing to sneeze about at 12 miles, and so I kept going through more potholes and more piles of sand.

When I reached the dead end I hit the deepest pile of sand yet and almost went over the handlebars. But I didn’t. I caught myself and I got the bike through and I stopped and looked around and it was beautiful, with a body of water and boats scudding here and there. It was not a place I ever intended to go but it was not a bad place to wind up in the middle of my trip. I was proud of myself.

I caught my breath and turned back around. The ride home was mostly smoother. I think my muscles, while tired, had also stretched out and were prepared for the road ahead. Sure there were obstacles, slow moving cars, an old lady with her dogs on leashes stretched across the narrow road, a bunch of teens walking in a pack leaving no room to pass, the potholes, the piles of sand, but I made it through them all. Just as I reached the hill I knew I’d have to climb, another pack of kids walked by the other way. One of them yelled at me, “Your helmet is on backwards.”

I looked at him to scoff, but he was already gone. “Idiot,” I muttered. I’d ridden a good 9 of my 12 miles. I knew what I was doing. What business does some snot-nosed hipster have telling me my helmet is on backwards?

Just in case, I reached up and touched my helmet. It was on backwards.

I stopped and put it on correctly. The straps snapped together with ease. I hadn’t gained weight since my last ride. At least not that much weight. But now I was 9 miles into a 12-mile trip and only had 3 miles to go with my helmet on properly.

I rode those miles back ignoring that I had done it wrong up until then. Proud that I was doing it right now. I reached my home, 12 miles from my first peddle and put my bike away, having not accomplished the 30 miles I started out to accomplish, but having put a hard 12 miles under my belt.

Except it wasn’t 12 miles. I’ve been lying to you. I actually only did about 10 miles total (maybe a tad less). But that didn’t sound as good as 12. And that's who I am.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Michael Kennedy, Sonny Bono, and Me

“Pizza, pizza, pizza… pizza to stop” I thought and tried, but I wasn’t stopping. I kept going faster and faster down the slope while snow slapped like frozen cotton balls into my face and a large tree came closer and closer and the premature deaths of Michael Kennedy and Sonny Bono within a week of each other flashed through my head.

I probably shouldn’t have tried skiing… I’m not athletic and racing down a snow-covered mountain at 80 miles per hour requires a certain level of physical ability. Besides, if I was going to try skiing I should have done it when I was younger and didn’t have a family… along with me… on the top of a snow blanketed Rocky. But there I was, 42, six foot three, 225 pounds, more likely to cause an avalanche then perform a downhill, wrapped in wicking underwear, two layers of sweaters, ski pants and a ten-pound ski parka. I had the full mobility of Hannibal Lector strapped to a hand truck.

Oddly, I wasn’t scared. Okay, I was pretty scared.

I probably shouldn’t have tried skiing but at the time I was making good money and skiing is one of those expensive things that people who make good money do.  Luckily I’m no longer doing that well and am much less inclined to do it again.

Anyway, having never skied before I was aware that this could be the only time I ever did. I decided I would do it right and that meant Colorado. That way when friends talked about their ski vacations I could join in and not be some kind of Big-Bear Bunny-Run failure. I’d be able say, “I’ve skied Colorado,” carrying the gravitas of Bogart’s “We’ll always have Paris,” which was so much more romantic than “We’ll always have San Bernardino.” And right now, standing here, I can say that I’ve skied Colorado and leave it at that.

Unfortunately, that’s not all there is. It never is. There were winds and deep snow and steep mountains and frigid air and trees. There were trees.

We were scheduled to fly out early on the morning of December 26. The night before, after a long Jewish Christmas, we cleaned up the house, threw away the wrappings and boxes, and dragged the tree out to our front yard where it would be picked up by a tree service. When you’re doing well you pay for weird things like having your old Christmas tree picked up by a service.

My wife lit some candles on our ersatz fireplace mantle. My daughter read to herself from a picture book and my son played with a brand new hand-held video game arcade he’d been given.  I lay awake in bed the way one does when one knows he is waking early, marking away the passing of each hour by convincing myself that I’d be fine with four decent hours of sleep, that I’d be fine with a solid three hours of sleep, that I’d be fine with a power two hours of sleep.  Luckily I was still awake when it was time to leave for LAX.

I booked us into a hotel in downtown Denver. I figured we’d spend a day on the slopes and the rest exploring a great American city that none of us had ever seen before. Denver’s the capital of Colorado and we could see the capitol dome from our hotel room. As I was looking at the dome my wife asked me, “Did you blow out the candles on the mantle?” I had no memory of doing so and neither did she.

While we had cell phones, this was in the days of the flip phone when you didn’t have an entire Rolodex on your phone like you do now. In fact you still knew what a Rolodex was. A panicked call to information followed with an even more panicked message being left on our landlord’s answering machine. About thirty minutes later, our landlord called to say she was in our living room and the candles had not only been blown out, but also had apparently been put away too. She wanted to know why we’d left our Christmas tree in the front yard. “We went skiing,” my wife explained.

“In Colorado,” I added.

The next morning we had Denver omelets for breakfast; when in Rome right? I looked at my two cherubs and imagined that they would shine on the slopes having inherited some previously undiscovered athletic ability from my wife’s side. As we went to our room to get our stuff for the day, my son tripped over my daughter’s foot and smashed his one-day old hand-held video arcade into the wall, shattering it.

“Did I break it?” he asked. “I’m not sure,” I lied, wanting him to believe he owned it for more than a day. I hid it in my suitcase with a plan to buy an exact replacement when were back in LA, a plan that never came to fruition.

Soon we set out to explore Denver. My Santa-Monica-raised children had never experienced sub-freezing weather, let alone the single- digit day Denver was having. They began to sob, causing us to buy additional gloves, scarves and knitted hats to get us back to the hotel, where we watched Nickelodeon, ate snacks, and looked through the window at the capitol dome.

One day I would still like to see Denver.

The next morning we got up at five to have breakfast, put together our ski outfits, and get to the railroad station. We had reservations on the seven AM ski train to Winter Park. It was colder and darker than the day before and the wind felt like an ice-covered sledgehammer. Still, bundled in our ski clothes, it wasn’t that bad.

The train however was heated to what felt like 100 degrees and we had to peel and peel and peel. I got down to jeans and long underwear just not to collapse.

As the sun rose the train began our trek. Industrial Denver rushed by the windows only to turn into the slope of the Rockies. We climbed above the city. We were cocooned in the train’s dizzying heat as winds and flurries danced over the barren ground around us.

My son danced too so I asked if he needed the bathroom. He looked at me like this was the most brilliant suggestion anyone had ever made ever and nodded furiously. I pointed it out to him and watched him head down the aisle. I realized he had never used a bathroom on a train before, which had me a bit nervous, but I figured, he’s a smart kid, he’ll figure it out. He came back much calmer and happier. He explained that it was hard to pee in the toilet with the train rocking.

I went off to the bathroom myself only to discover the floor soaked with my child’s urine, sloshing to perfect rhythm with the song of the steels wheels on the steel rails.

We neared Moffatt Tunnel, which we were told is the longest railroad tunnel in North America, spanning the Continental Divide. The conductor announced that vestibules had to be sealed to keep the train from filling with diesel exhaust. I was starting to question the whole idea of a Colorado ski trip when the assistant conductor came on the PA and told everyone that we had to have all our ski clothes on and all of our personal property packed because the moment we came out of the tunnel we would detrain very rapidly.

It seems that the train had to stop on the mainline and there were monster coal trains waiting to get through so we were only allowed a few moments. Okay, I can do this, I thought, dressing my son while my wife dressed my daughter. We were all bundled, Jews in bubble wrap, ready to go, when the conductor came back and said, “Ladies and Gentleman, put the long underwear on if you have it. It’s ten degrees with a wind-chill factor of negative five.”

It was ten degrees out with wind chill factor of negative five and there was a colossal coal train waiting to use the tracks so we all had to scamper like vermin facing a can of Raid?

The words that ran through my brain at that moment were, “I’ve killed my family.”

Somehow we detrained, got into the lodge, rented skis, put on the skis, and found our way to the ski teacher. “This is going to be a good story to tell,” my wife said. Little did she realize that was the only reason I was doing it. “Yeah, I’ve skied Colorado. How’s the rock shrimp and endive salad?”

The ski teacher was an Australian Olympian (at least he seemed like one). I’m sure Jim Lampley interviewed him once on Wide World of Sports. He had zero body fat, a Crocodile Dundee accent, and the kind of charisma that only a good-looking foreigner in an expensive ski parka can have. I felt very important and wealthy having an Australian ski teacher.

He took us to something called the magic carpet, which was basically a moving walkway like you see at the airport, only shorter, running up a very gentle hill. Think of a front lawn in New Jersey, in a nice neighborhood with hills, add some snow and the moving walkway from the airport and you get the idea of where we were most of our ski day. I flew my family to Colorado to ski on a hill that I could probably have pushed a stalled Cadillac up… by myself.

The four of us rode the magic carpet up the gentle hill while our wallaby shusser skied up. As a kraken-sized coal train trundled below us, we were taught that you point your skis like French fries to go and like pizza to stop. He taught us how to get up from a fall with skis on, which I felt was sort of like the driving teacher teaching you how to install a new airbag after a crash.

Over the next hour or so each of us skied five feet here, seven feet there, monumental runs that thrilled us and had us all dehydrated and desperate for cup after cup of the icy cold water from a cooler perched near the top of the magic carpet.

It’s amazing how willing one is to move in sub-zero weather and with the equivalent of a couple steel-belted truck tires’ worth of clothing around them for a cup of water. I cross country skied my way back to the magic carpet, carefully placing each ski on it with all the agility of a moose… that was wearing skis. Once on top, I sucked a cup of water down the way one does in the desert and then made my next run down the mountain, which was more like the slope of a dog’s back… not when it’s sitting, but when it’s standing on all four legs. French fry was effective. Pizza on the other hand, not so much.

Soon my five-year old was done for the day and my wife took her into the ski lodge while my seven-year old, our astonishingly patient and kind Aussie ski instructor, and I shared a ski-lift seat up the mountain to take what we learned and perform a downhill run.

Did I mention this was in the days before smart phones? Because I think of all the times in my life that I didn’t have a camera, besides the first time I got naked with a girlfriend, there are few others I regret not having at camera with me anything like riding up the ski lift in Winter Park, Colorado, over the pure-white slope with thousands of hundred-foot-tall pine trees all around us, each holding foot-high layers of snowy powder upon each and every branch, extending as far as I could see.  It was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen, ranking just below, once again, the first time I ever got naked with a girlfriend.

I turned to my Vegemite-loving teacher and asked him if this was a smart thing for us to do. He assured me that we were just taking the easy hill.  Besides, I was doing well and would be okay going down the mountain myself. He added that this was why people came to Colorado.

I was doing well. I had a sudden boost of confidence, very similar to the time I got an “A” in Geometry despite having had no idea whatsoever what the teacher had been talking about all semester.

As the ski lift reached its zenith our instructor told us how to jump off and come up standing. I fell on my face. But he reminded me how to get up with skis on and I got up and brushed myself off and I followed him to the course. Meanwhile, on what seemed a couple miles lower than us another coal train decimated everything in its path, while on what seemed a couples miles higher than us, skiers raced down an absolute vertical, shussing through the trees like they were negative magnets and the trees were positives.

Then, with a flick of the poles, my son and our instructor began the run. I followed, trying to go as slowly as I possibly could, but it was really just a few seconds before I was out of control. I crashed into a pile of snow to stop. I took a deep breath and discovered that standing with skis on wasn’t quite as simple without instruction. I looked down the run and saw the kangaroo man and my son gently French frying and pizza-ing while faster skiers passed them. I was happy to have given my son a Rocky Mountain high.

I took a deep breath and tried again. I was going well… too well… I was up to what I estimate to be 80 miles an hour within five seconds, which is pretty good when you consider a Porsche needs about seven seconds to reach that speed.

This was the easy hill.

I passed my son and our ski instructor. I’d like to say I saw a look of concern on their faces, but I’m going to be honest, I was passing at too high a rate of speed for light to catch up with me, so I probably was looking at what their faces had been seconds earlier.

“Pizza, pizza, pizza… pizza to stop” I thought and tried, but I wasn’t stopping. I kept going faster and faster down the slope while snow slapped like frozen cotton balls into my face and a large tree came closer and closer and the premature deaths of Michael Kennedy and Sonny Bono within a week of each other flashed through my head.

I hit the side of the tree, hard enough that it hurt, but not hard enough to break anything. I fell into a mound of snow and rocks and twigs however that did hurt. I lay there for a bit, delighted beyond delight to no longer be moving. Man being stationary felt great. But I also realized I was only about a quarter of the way down. My son and the teacher pizzad perfectly to where I was. He told me once again how to get up with skis on and all three of us made our way back to the run.

The only additional instruction I heard was, “lean back.”

By this point snow had gotten into my son’s boot and he began to wail in pain. Our instructor was now left with the job of getting both of us off the mountain. He warmed my son’s foot with his bare hand, which stopped the crying. Then he picked my son up, skis and all, and put him on his back. He skied gently and slowly right by my side, speaking Australian, as a leaned back and pizzad the entire way down. All I could think was, “it’s so cold, I’m so thirsty, there’s so much more mountain left.”

When we finally reached the bottom I knew that this man had saved both my and my son’s lives (all right I’m being a bit of a drama queen, but seriously, if not for him, we’d both still be on that mountain trying to figure out how we were getting down). I reached into my wallet and pulled out a few bills. They weren’t ones or fives. I tipped him a happy-ending level gratuity, not that I have any idea what a happy ending tip should be, but rather… honestly, I’m just guessing here.

As we found my wife and daughter and all shared hot chocolate, as one does when one skies in Colorado, I felt good… and not just because I’d taken my ski boots off, which is possibly the greatest non-erotic orgasm known to man. I was proud of myself. I had skied… not just that, but I had skied Colorado.

And now, I could say that and would never have to do it again.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Roof Was Torn Away

As my father took his last mortal breath, I ate dinner with a girl who had been in the The Waltons. Unaware that my father was exiting his life, I said to her, “I know it’s strange, but in school, I was jealous of the kids who lost a parent. They got special attention. Everyone was nice to them.” It was a revelation of something I’d long been embarrassed of to someone I wanted to kiss.

I had fettuccine Alfredo, which was brave on a date. Well, I’m not certain if it was a date or not. She’d been giving me mixed signals for a year of meals and movies, but we were still going out, be it as a pre-physical or a non-physical couple not yet determined. I didn't know at that moment that she would be the last girl I went out who would meet my father.

A few months earlier we had flown east together on my Continental frequent flyer miles, on a red-eye, changing planes in Denver in the middle of the night and landing in Newark at six in the morning, where my father picked us up before work.

I’d called him a couple days before and asked,

“Dad, when you pick us up, can you come in Mom’s Skylark? The Regal is in pretty bad shape.”

“Okay,” he said in a resigned voice.

“And would you clean it first?” I requested to impress the girl from The Waltons, to impress the girl who I may or may not be taking on a cross country date to New Jersey. He didn't push back. He understood. He understood that his car was rusted and filthy. He understood that I was scared of the girl I was flying with. He understood his role in my social theater.

I am in some ways like my father. If you gave me one adjective to describe him it would be afraid. If I got another, I’d add responsible. Some more that come to mind are smart, teaser, loving, joker, and uncomfortable. 

On second thought, maybe uncomfortable should be first.

I don’t know if he bought his shirts with too short an arm length on purpose or not, but seeing him in a dress shirt with the sleeve buttoned up tight against his arm two inches or more above his wrist was as uncomfortable to witness as it must have been to wear.

I couldn’t see his shirtsleeves when he met us at the airport. He wore a sports coat and tie despite the fact that he didn’t normally wear them to work. He drove us from the airport to his office in the Academy Building, playing tour guide on the trip through the blackened brick husks of mill buildings and factories, telling my maybe date how all the patent leather in the world had once come from right here in Newark, New Jersey.

His voice was subdued – low, maybe out of shyness, maybe just a lack of breath. I interrupted him to get him to stop boring the girl. I pointed out that we could see the skyline of New York if we looked to the right, beyond the black Pulaski Skyway viaduct.

“Don’t forget, your mom needs her car back by noon,” my father said, revealing unintentionally that this was our family’s ‘good’ car, that we had much to hide, and that we weren’t very good at hiding.

We dropped him at his stained white office, the Academy Building near Broad and Raymond.  I quickly steered the Skylark out of Newark, into the Holland Tunnel, and to the City, to the Village, where I deposited my travelling companion at her friend’s apartment, not seeing her again until we met in Midtown a week later for our ride back to the airport.

At the time, I was having dreams that my father had passed. Every dream was different, but in every one he was there, then he wasn't and I knew he was dead. Only I’d wake up and realize that he was alive and everything was okay.

The dreams started on a trip to Berkeley with another girl who I was seeing but not dating. We’d met up with my parents to visit my brother at Cal. As my father, my mother, my non-girlfriend, and I began walking one of Berkeley’s steeper sidewalks, my father stopped and whispered, “I have trouble with hills.  Let’s take the bus.”

He said this matter-of-factly, as if saying, “it’s raining, let’s take the bus,” but he was telling me that the sidewalk was too steep for him. There were dozens of other people of all ages walking up the hill at the time. My father was fifty. He may as well have said to me, “Take me to a doctor,” but he didn’t, or I didn’t listen, and I let him die.

I was writing a play about my father’s death before he died. It was the story of a middle-aged Christian Scientist who took his last breath at home suddenly. I was halfway through the first draft when fiction became reality.

I am 53-years old as I write these words; the age my father was when I had fettuccine Alfredo with the girl who was in The Waltons. I live in an apartment that I share with my wife and two teenagers. Our stove is an old Wedgewood range that we have been told once belonged to Mary Pickford the actress and, like my father, the Christian Scientist.

For years the stove would conk out, sometimes at inappropriate times, as if cooking was too steep a hill. Despite our not having it fixed, it would start again. We didn’t have the stove repaired until one day it died. A repairman came to the house, looked at it for ten minutes, got a new part from his truck, and fixed it. In the seven years since the stove has never conked out again. 

In the years between 1985 and 1989 my father conked out and perked up a lot. There’d be days he couldn’t climb a hill and then there would be days that he was fine. He was a human claxon with an unfortunate mute button.

The night after my fettuccine Alfredo date with the girl, who I may have been seeing or may have not been seeing, I had another dream about my father. In this one, he was alive, in bed across the hall from my childhood room. I was also in bed, kicking the wall like I used to when I was ten.

In real life he would yell at me, “Chuck, stop kicking the wall and go to sleep.”

In my dream he changed it to, “Chuck, wake up so I can go to sleep.”

At that moment that I understood what he was asking of me the phone rang and woke me. I got my wish to be special, to have everyone be nice to me.

Weeks later, one friend, being nice to me, got me a meeting with the Broadway director Ulu Grossbard. I sat in his office in shock that I was meeting someone of his stature. He said, “I am sorry for your loss. I hear you wrote a play about it?”

“It’s not finished,” I explained.

“But you were writing about it before?”

I nodded yes.

“I want to read it when it’s done,” he said.

I never sent it to him. I was afraid. I was uncomfortable.

I still dream of my father. Whenever he appears in a dream, alive and well, I ask anyone else in the dream not to tell my father that he is dead, because if they do he will disappear. Still someone, often me, lets it slip and he vanishes. While he is still there, I’m always inside a safe place (the house I grew up in, my grandmother’s apartment, or somewhere else I feel sheltered) but once he disappears I am outside.

There is no roof. There is just sky, the world and me.

The roof has been torn away.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Man and Woman at the Train Station

It was a big white Toyota pickup truck, a beefy looking and tall Tundra. It missed the entrance to the main parking lot and swung around the auxiliary one to get back to the drop-off area.

A man and a woman, both blonde, both lost somewhere in that crevice between youth and middle age, alit. She was in a hurry, tense; frumpy and sexy in a black dress. He was slow, with the gait of a former high school football player who had gone on to a career in gutter repair. She bought a ticket at the Metrolink machine while he pulled her bags from the truck bed: four pieces of cheap luggage, enough for a long trip, or all of someone’s personal belongings.

“There are no trains on Sunday,” I told them.

“What?” she asked, as if she had understood what I said but hadn’t been able to process its implication. At the same time, he looked at me with the gaze of a dim-witted dog wondering if it was going to get a scratch behind the ears.

“Where can I get a train?”

“Downtown Los Angeles,” I said. "Where do you want to go?"

“I don’t care. I just don’t want to be here anymore,” she said.

Neither of them was crying. Neither of them was sad. He stared lazily. She looked around as if maybe something on the platform would give her different information than I had.

“You can get a train anywhere from downtown,” I assured her while pointing to where Los Angeles was via the tracks.

Frantic and yet calm, she looked back at the vacant man and the big truck, then turned to me and asked, “What about a bus? Does the bus stop here on Sundays? Doesn’t matter where it goes.”

“There’s no bus,” I explained.

One by one the bags went back into the truck, softly – without malice. The man got behind the steering wheel as if it was any other day. The woman climbed into the passenger seat as if she had not expected to ever sit there again.

The truck took off in the direction that I had pointed. They were quickly too far for me to tell them that wasn't how to get to Los Angeles. I had no way to explain that road they were speeding down was just a very long dead end.

But then again, I’m not certain it would have mattered.