|1991's "CITY SLICKERS," WAS COMEDY THAT I RELATED TO BECAUSE IT CONCERNED A MID-LIFE CRISIS AND CROSSROAD REGARDING NEW CAREER PATHS, (I'M HAPPY TO SAY, IN MY CASE...ALBEIT IN HIND-SIGHT, I CHOSE THE RIGHT DIRECTION).|
Unlike most celebrities I have met, Crystal impressed me with his patience as he allowed me, to say my complimentary peace. So it pleased me the other day, (after Father’s Day), when I heard him on the radio talking about his dad.
Specifically, Crystal was advertising the limited 54-performance, return engagement to Broadway, of his one-man stage show, “700 SUNDAYS.” I'm ashamed to admit, before last week, I had never heard of this smash hit.
In a humorous way, Crystal's memoir spoke of family, fate, loving and loss. After its success on the Great White Way, Crystal’s touring company hit many US cities before going international. Additionally, in April of this year, a made for HBO movie premiered, (now availble “On Demand).”
The movie is on my “to do” list but before I see it, I was so touched by the "700 Sundays" concept that I was inspired to honor my dad (below) with a wonderful rememberance of him that I never shared.
My father owned a high mantainence small business. I estimate that before I was in kindergarten and extending into the early stages of elementary school, he labored through a fifty-eight-hour week, (four, eight-hour days plus Mondays and Thursdays at thirteen hours each).
On his long days, mom took advantage of the situation to feed us things dad didn’t like (primarily chicken). Also on those days, mom got creative and did experimental cuisine, (with my sister and I as guinea pigs).
|MOM WAS FAMOUS (INFAMOUS) BECAUSE OF THE LAMB STEW DEBACLE OF 1960 AND THE EVERY-THURSDAY NIGHT TREAT, TWICE BOILED CHICKEN. BESIDES, WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO EAT SOMETHING AS CUTE AS A LAMB?|
Although the actual "twice boiled chicken" recipe was never written down, I believe the first step was to boil all the flavor out of the chicken! Then spill the flavorful liquid down the drain. Next, refill the pot with fresh water and repeat step one. If that tasteless delight wasn’t bad enough, mom’s culinary reputation was forever tarnished when her lamb stew experiment went awry.
I was five when mom's first (and only) attempt at this lamb-packed bounty didn't include one crucial preparation point...cutting away the fat before cooking. The result was, through the process of osmosis, the fat got absorbed into the meat. It tasted and smelled awful. Even worse, fifty-five years later, I still recall its disgusting slimy texture in my mouth. If it wasn’t for the cleverness of my seven-year old sister who suggested that mom try it, we might STILL be screaming and crying at the kitchen table. But today’s, “MORE GLIB ThAN PROFOUND,” entry is not about my mom, it is about dad…actually, all dads...and family in general.
In the mid-1950’s, many parts of my hometown, (Canarsie, Brooklyn, New York) burgeoned with new home construction. Landfill operations produced solid ground in outlying swampy areas which became the foundation for a modern/model community, (such as my part of town, Seaview Village).
The clean, new image that contrasted most of the city, attracted young families, (including former servicemen who took advantage of low-interest G.I. Bill loans to buy homes). Therefore nearly every house on my street had children. But because many of these family’s were living beyond their means, a lot of dads (like mine) were work-a-holics, (overwhelmingly, the moms were housewives and didn’t work).
From a kid’s (my) standpoint, everyone I knew grew-up in a mother dominated household. I never gave it much thought but now I understand why the dads weren’t around much. Plus I also realize that because other fathers weren’t around, I had no personal relationship with any of them. The more I think about it, it’s rare (even today) that I know the specific occupation of my best friends’ fathers, (HJ’s dad’s profession is the only one I’m absolutely sure of. I’m still close with my next door neighbor MPW but all I know is that her father worked in some kind of office).
In this period (which would continue into my early teens), my dad’s only day off was Friday. This situation put a serious crimp into seeing him because I was in school most of those days. We did occasionally go to movies on school nights (there was almost no kid-friendly films back then, so we saw mostly romantic comedies for mom or the dramas for dad...which all went over my head). But between the candy in the theater and pizza or stopping at a Chock-Full-O'Nuts restaurant on the way home, these were cherished occasions.
I was eight-years old when dad took the whole family to a New York Mets baseball game at the Polo Grounds. It was so exciting to be there…not so much for the game but to wander around the ballpark on my own, (times were different, I was given a ticket stub and told if I got lost, to show it to an usher).
In the next few years, this twice a year tradition continued after the Mets moved to Shea Stadium. I’m certain my sister was bored. But my mom was thrilled just to get out of the house. As for me, by this time, I was totally engrossed by every pitch. It was so cool when dad would fill me in on the inside information…so when he said a base runner would try to steal a base, I thought he was a genius when it came true. So with that Svengali hold on me, I never wanted to leave his side. But mom unintentionally blocked my fascination.
I’m positive she wasn’t competing with me for dad’s attention. Instead, she probably was pandering to my independent nature and need to explore by sending me (like an errand boy) on Magellan-like missions to find oddball treats that weren’t available at all concession stands, (like coffee or knishes).
My exhaustive and sometimes futile attempts to cater to mom's non-beer and hot dog needs were incredibly annoying. For an eleven-year old, it was like being buried alive with the sounds of normal activity beyond my reach, as I lay hidden (wandering) within the purgatory-like bowels of the never-ending (multi-leveled) ballpark promenade.
While searching for the one refreshment stand in the whole stadium that sold what she wanted, I was devastated by awful self-doubt as I envisioned being ridiculed and/or sent back if I returned empty handed. My dire situation only got worse when my ears perked up and my heart fluttered as each crack of the bat and roar of the crowd made me feel like I was missing something important.
I was fourteen when I crossed an imaginary line that put dad on the spot and really pissed-off my mom. That’s when I suggested that dad and I go to the ballpark sans females. It made sense to me but my timing could NOT have possibly been worse because later that season (1969), I alienated my parents by eliminating them both and going to games with SLW, SKIP and other friends.
In my teenage years to come, I worked a lot of weekends, (against my will, for/with my dad…and mom). This dynamic was rarely fun. Sometimes in the morning, I’d pretend to be asleep and hope dad wouldn’t stir me. When he didn’t, mom’s scornful earful easily resonated up to my bedroom and was loud enough to have wakened astronauts orbiting planet Xenon. The truth was, if dad really needed me, he wouldn’t have hesitated to wake me up. So, in taking on mom’s wrath, I knew he was hooking me up.
I would be in college before I realized how stupid I was to give up hanging out with my father. He was still working crazy hours and was dedicating a lot of his personal time to rehearsing or playing gigs with his big band, "MURRAY LUBOVICH AND THE TONE-DEAFS." (Not the actual name but something like it)?
|MY FATHER WAS HEAVLY INTO THE ARTS. HE WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED MUSICIAN AND AN ARTIST. THAT TRAIT WAS ENDOWED ON MY SON ANDREW...I GUESS IT SKIPPED A GENERATION ON ME.|
I was about eighteen when I came up with the idea of spontaneous outings with dad. Whether it was going to the golf driving range or taking him to play racquetball at Brooklyn College, his enthusiasm to be with me and his ability at things I never saw him do were amazing.
|DAD KEPT HIS ATHLETIC PROWESS A SECRET. I HAD NEVER SEEN HIM PLAY GOLF (OTHER THAN MINIATURE) OR ANY WALL SPORT. YET HE WAS BETTER THAN ME.|
My success in spontaneity then gave birth to buying my own tickets for us, (to New York Islander hockey games). I understood dad’s basic schedule so I’d give him a month notice before taking him out. On the way home, we’d stop for bite. Those times were so simple yet so great.
Dad, throughout my life sacrificed a lot to keep our family afloat. Together with my mother, they did well, within narrow limitations that we went on yearly vacations and managed the occasional taste of the finer things in life. To prove how well they did, I appreciated what I had back while it was happening, (like our 1968 Europe vacation). Others kids might have had more or as much (material things) but so many more had less. More importantly, nobody received more love than me… I had a fantastic childhood. So the burning hunk of well-adjusted behavior you come to expect from me, can be traced to top-notch genetics and well-nurtured guidance.
|DAD ALWAYS LOOKED GREAT BUT EVEN A TUXEDO COULDN'T HELP ME. AT ELEVEN MY AWKWARD ADOLESCENT STAGE WAS IN FULL GEAR..HARD TO BELIEVE BUT TRUE, FORTY-EIGHT YEARS LATER, I'M STILL A BULL IN A CHINA SHOP.|
Like the relationship I had with my mother, my dad and I really connected when it was just us. He was sweet-natured, uncomplicated and probably never knew how fun it was to around him. So my stolen one-on-one moments with him were never enough. That means, that the one’s I engineered were the best I ideas I ever had! When dad shockingly died at sixty-seven, my family and I were devastated. It’s a small consolation to say that at least he and I had no unresolved issues.
Billy Crystal’s story is interesting too. Similar to my Fridays with my father, Crystal’s direct exposure to his work-a-holic dad were limited to Sundays. Billy Crystal was fifteen when his dad tragically died. The poignant title of his show refers to fifteen years of once a week time to his dad, (700 Sundays).
In addition to the terrible loss itself, Crystal had deep regrets due to ongoing negativity and guilt at the possibily that their differences had something to do with his dad's premature death. Through it all, Crystal makes his message of life’s fleeting and unpredictable nature, funny. We can (or should) relate to him because you never know how long you have with someone…so savor those precious times while they last.