The big day was the morning of March 29th. Together with my supportive mother as his co-pilot (mom didn’t drive), the dynamic duo blasted off for Downtown Brooklyn, (the furthest point away from Canarsie but still in Brooklyn).
|EARLY 1940's, EVEN THOUGH TEENAGE DAD, (HE PREFERRED TO BE CALLED "HY"), WAS THRILLED TO GET OUT OF THE CITY FOR THAT WEEKEND, (above), HE WAS ALWAYS OPTIMISTIC AND WENT THROUGH LIFE WITH A SMILE ON HIS FACE.|
My easy-going father got little sleep the night before and was especially tense that morning. Even though he was armed with a manila folder full of completed government forms, bank statements, check stubs, old tax returns, a Xerox copy of his Honorable Discharge from the army, notarized letters confirming his character, aerial photos of our house plus a happy face pin in his lapel…dad went through a pack of Kents (cigarettes) between 7:00AM and 10:00AM.
|DAD WASN'T SUPERSTITIOUS BUT ON THAT DAY, IN ADDITION TO WEARING THE HAPPY FACE BUTTON, HE ALSO STASHED A RABBIT'S FOOT AND A PLASTIC THREE-LEAF CLOVER IN HIS POCKET.|
The accountant, Shifty of Ozone Park was adamant about dad getting to the tax office when they open, to avoid long lines. So getting stuck in the consistently awful Belt Parkway traffic shouldn’t have been a surprise. Dad was already running forty-five minutes behind schedule as he exited the highway, (between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges). To minimize his panic, he accepted the first parking space, (three blocks from the target, Cadman Plaza) and stuffed a shit load of dimes into the meter.
Dad never stopped puffing on cigarettes as he hurried mom along. At one point his anxiety skyrocketed when a canceled check slipped out of his folder, became wind blown and caused mom to chase it down.
Like the Keystone Kops, my parents accidentally wandered into the building next to their destination. Dad was befuddled.
|DAD LIKED TO REMIND ME THAT IN THE SILENT MOVIE-ERA, THE KEYSTONE KOPS WERE THE EPITOME OF BUMBLING CHAOS.|
My father infrequently used profanity but when the wall directory’s office number didn’t match-up with his, dad’s dormant fluency in obscenities echoed through the concourse. Luckily a stray passerby understood my father’s frustration, set him straight and sent them outside to the adjoining building.
My folks were physically and mentally exhausted when the elevator doors on the fourth floor opened. Down the long, murky and depressing corridor, dad was feeling beaten-down by the negativity of his circumstance. He cursed at the prospect of a long line only to be disqualified by a technicality. At a dead-end, they found the opaque glass door of their quest.
Inside was surprisingly bright and cheerful. My parents noticed two things immediately, the NO SMOKING sign and that up ahead only one of the four clerk stations, (resembling old-fashioned bank tellers… behind bars), was manned..
Dad's eyes were still getting used to the light as mom reminded him to crush-out his fresh cigarette. That's when dad noticed that only one man was on line. He led mom around the long, ever-winding serpentine rope that was designed to accommodate huge crowds. Dad said, “This still might take a while.” He suggested that mom sit on one of the hard, shiny, wooden benches that rimmed the perimeter of the waiting room. She smiled, patted his forearm and said, “No thanks.”
Mom and dad were next! They dropped anchor and marked their territory with glowing, yet guarded grins. Seconds later, their lot in life improved again as the man being served thanked the clerk and strode away with a look of satisfaction.
My folks sheepishly advanced to the window. Dad explained his purpose and the representative squawked, “Have you completed the amendment form?” Dad handed the single sheet over. The clerk’s bespectacled eyes scanned the page. Then rudely without explanation, he walked away with it, as dad defensively blithered the other items he brought to bolster his case. Dad’s distrusting eye followed this man through the bustle of other county office workers until he disappeared into a distant cubicle.
The clerk was out of sight for a minute but it must have have felt like an eternity for my father. A victim of his addicton, dad reflexively reached for the comfort of a Kent but mom waggled her denying index finger at him. In a huff, my pop returned the pack to his pocket as another couple ambled in, behind my folks.
The pressure of waiting got to my poor dad. He was so tortured that he couldn't stand still as he muttered more harsh language. Mom nudged him in the ribs to remind him that he wasn't alone so he continued his verbal lashings in Yiddish.
The representative reappeared. Dad was impatient as the clerk stopped once along the way to greet a coworker. When the rep returned to his window, he had several papers. Then like a jackhammer, the clerk slammed a rubber stamp a gazillion times all over the papers…before handing back dad’s original. The representative barked out the instructions on how to file the amendment and shouted out, “Next!” My dad said, “Wait! That’s it?” The rep said, “That’s it. No problem. You're good to go.” Dad’s face lit up like a Christmas tree as he thanked the clerk and turned towards mom.
Dad was giddy the whole three blocks back to the car. He joked about wasting so many dimes in the meter and said, “I suddenly feel like a wealthy man, how about brunch?” Mom nodded as dad continued, “Remember that restaurant we liked on Pineapple Street near the St. George Hotel? I wonder if it’s still there.” Mom said, “Good idea,” as a coughing fit came over my dad. He gurgled unintelligible words, grabbed at his chest and collapsed. Later, mom found out that he was dead before he hit the pavement.
Now nineteen years later, I’m still haunted by who to feel worse for. Think about it, dad was killed by a painful, massive (first time) heart attack and my shocked mother witnessed the carnage, was helpless to save him and was all alone to deal with it.
My father was a loving man. He was also kind, sensitive, generous and artistic. He always wanted to be funny but failed miserably at it. Indirectly, he got his wish because it was funny to hear him butcher jokes.
Mom was affected the most by the loss of dad. But the blossoming bond between he and my son Andrew (who had just turned one) was sadly never fully realized. It is safe to say, nobody outside of the mortuary business profited from my father dying so young, (67).
Dad was a small businessman. Despite being a slender man, his long dependency on tobacco, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle contributed to the heart disease that prematurely ended his life. When dad passed, I looked deep inside myself. While I was certain the smoking habit was the leading cause of his demise…I had to come to grips that I was heavyset and also led an inactive lifestyle.
It would be almost two years before I put two and two together.
|SPECIFICALLY ON OCTOBER 26, 1996 (above), OUR WAITER AT DENNY'S SUGGESTED AN EXCURSION TO BIRCH GROVE PARK, IN NORTHFELD, (NEW JERSEY).|
My lifestyle epiphany occurred a few communities away, in that park. By accident, my boy and I discovered hilly, picturesque trails in woods that outlined a series of canals. Andrew dubbed this wonderland, “The Jungle.” He likened the jungle to the “Hundred Acre Wood,” from Winnie the Pooh. Over the next few years, we made regular visits there, (somewhere in the house is a crude map I drew that identified points of interest that Andrew and I named along the trail).
|OUR RENDITION OF THE JUNGLE WAS INSPIRED BY A MORE DETAILED MAP OF "THE HUNDRED ACRE WOOD," FROM ONE OF ANDREW'S, "WINNIE THE POOH" BOOKS.|
At first, my boy was still in diapers when I realized that I couldn’t keep up with him as he toddled, at full speed, down such steep places as the, “Great Up-Down” and the “Virtual Vertical.” The alarm sounding in my brain demanded that I had to get into better shape, to protect my son in the present and assure myself that I’d be around to see his future. That’s when I initially got involved in the Atkins Diet. I used it to successfully lose enough weight…to give me the false impression that I’d be okay.
|BY THE TIME ANDREW WAS THREE, HE WAS SUCH A PRO ON THIS FANTASTY OBSTACLE COURSE, THAT EVEN THE "GREAT UP-DOWN," (above) WAS BARELY A CHALLENGE.|
In February 1999, I was driving through the next town (Absecon). I saw Doug, a coworker about my age, (and chunky like me), power-walking. When I asked him about it, he said that running (to lose weight) caused more harm than good. But in power-walking three times a week for an hour, he got better results without causing sports related injuries.
Doug lost a ton of weight. He looked so healthy and I wanted to congratulate him but he transferred to another shift. Soon there after, he got laid off. I never saw him again.
In honor of my father and inspired by Doug, on March 29th of that year, I started power-walking. So today is not only the 19th anniversary of my father’s death, it is also the 15th anniversary of me power-walking.
Ironically, about five years ago, I learned that Doug died, (apparently he had multiple health issues but I never found out the exact cause of death). Nevertheless, I doggedly stuck to my walking routine. Even this winter, as crazy cold, windy and snowy as it was, I never got too far behind in my schedule that I couldn’t correct in a week or so.
The bottom line is, diet and exercise is not enough. It might be hard to believe but I work hard to maintain my good looks. That's right, the sexy hunk of burning love you see comes at a price. Therefore, I make well-visits to my doctor twice a year and expose myself to all the age-appropriate preventative tests. Additionally, I adhere to her medicinal regimen that addresses (among other things), my high blood pressure, borderline cholesterol issues and I take a daily baby aspirin for my heart.
I doubt my dad was that careful. But like him, I’m sure the world is a better place with me in it than without.
|(FEBRUARY 27,1928-MARCH 29, 1995), SHORTLY BEFORE HIS DEATH, DAD DIDN'T LOOK LIKE HE WAS GOING ANYWHERE.|
Please…everyone…find the time to take care of yourselves because the world is a better place with you in it too.