Archive for June, 2013

Happy Father’s Day, Dad

I’m sitting here listening to a song written and sung by Mark Kozelak, a prominent performer who I’d never heard of until I found the essay he wrote about his eighty year old father for the NY Times.

It includes that song. Not very complex, it recounts his relationship with his father and some of his dad’s siblings. And it ends somberly, musing about what will be when his dad is gone.

Since tomorrow is Father’s Day, the essay and song took on some additional meaning and I silently reminisced about my own children and their relationships with me. And then I suddenly realized that I should really be thinking about my own father. So I did.

I thought about how my remembrances of him don’t pop into my head nearly as frequently as thoughts about my mother.

About how he left early for work, sometimes came home after dinner and usually worked at least one day on weekends. And never complained.

How when he was at home on Sundays, we’d lie down together on the couch in the dining room and listen to radio shows…The Shadow, Nick Carter and Gangbusters. Maybe I’ve screwed up the time slots, but so what.

The used toys he once brought home in an old cardboard box. An electric train (just the engine) and a two foot diameter track. It ran around the track in three seconds. A telegraph set made of sheet metal with only one unit. But it had the Morse Code on it and it clicked when you punched the key.

The times he took me to a synagogue to hear very special Cantors on Yom Kippur. It was the only times he went to Temple. Maybe he wasn’t religious but he never stopped being Jewish.

How he coughed seemingly without end. Until the doctor said he might try giving up the two packs of unfiltered Luckies that he smoked every day. He did when I was a little kid, cold turkey, and never touched them again.

When the landlord raised our apartment rent by fifteen dollars a month in 1954. He refused to pay it and bought a two-flat with my Uncle Max. Dad became a homeowner for the first time and loved cutting the small patch of lawn in the back.

The time I dented the fender of his new car the first time I soloed in it. And how I woke him from a nap to tell him. Stupid me.

When he refused to pay my college tuition until I promised to study something that I could make a living at. And I did.

He loved to play cards. Any kind. At home with friends. And won most of the time.

They loved company. Any excuse to feed people, share stories, and laugh.

How he lost most of his sight in his seventies to macular degeneration. He’s sit sidewise up against the TV and watch the baseball game. It was the only sporting event he could watch because it seemed the players never moved.

He’d drink one shot glass of Canadian Club before dinner. That was it. Never drank more. Maybe one drink at a party, maybe none.

I know he loved my mother. I never heard him raise his voice to her. But he was the boss. And she loved him very much.

How I learned more about him when he was dying of cancer than I did in all the years before.

I missed by flight home to Los Angeles the last time I saw him in the hospital. It was 1986 and he was eighty-four. I remember the year because it was the last time the Bears won the Super Bowl.

I can’t remember ever saying “I love you, Dad.” But I did.

Happy Birthday, Steven

Jon and Linda invited us to their home to hear their friend, David Roth, play the guitar.

I have great admiration for people who open their homes to large numbers of people, risking red wine carpet stains, backed-up toilets and conflicting requests about the thermostatically controlled temperature. The purveyors of such hospitality are usually adventurous, gregarious and welcoming. The Lamberts fit the mold perfectly.

Sweetie and I arrived unfashionably early, said hello to those we knew and a few we didn’t. Most were in the vicinity of our age group but with a smattering of the very young who, as the evening progressed, may have thought longingly of their idle smart-phones.

A couch at the absolute rear of the bridge-chair festooned room beckoned to us and we plopped ourselves into its welcoming softness, fully expecting to have our vision blocked by anyone who might choose to occupy the two taller chairs in front of us. No one did.

David Roth, a personable man with a name that abbreviated our own, and who you would be pleased to have to dinner, introduced himself and made us laugh. A folk singer and composer of some renown, he seemed quite at home in the cozy surroundings. My first inkling of what was to be a memorable evening came when David told us about his Chicago roots. Hmmm. A fellow landsman, I thought. Not a bad start.

David’s mother sat, appropriately, in the front row. He took genuine pride in talking about her, including her accomplishments as a theatrical performer. I’m sure Mrs. Roth must have thought, more than once, what a good boy.

David’s father also figured prominently in the Chicago scene having toiled at the long defunct Chez Paree, a restaurant cum nightclub that featured the likes of Jack Teagarden, Morey Amsterdam, Louis Armstrong, Woody Herman, Frances Langford and a cast of now almost forgotten names. I spent Von Steuben High School prom night there in 1956 with Brenda Dobbs. Another connection.

My mind wandered a bit and, maybe as a result of the connections, I realized that tomorrow, June 12, was Steven’s birthday. Our son who left us much too early in life. He too, like David, was a singer, guitarist and composer. I tried to remember the words to some of Steven’s songs and failed miserably.

It seemed to get softly warmer in the room, more relaxed, more at home.

David reminisced about his bar mitzvah and the mischief he got into as a very young boy who reveled in running about the Chez Paree, no doubt pursued relentlessly by his father. Displaying a photo of Jimmy Durante, he pointed out his own angelic face alongside that of his sister, both sitting on Durante’s lap.

He shared that time when, not so long ago, he was confronted with thyroid cancer and saw his singing career flash before his eyes. Another connection.

Sloan Wainwright spelled David and shared her own brand of music. And the loss of her husband to leukemia four years ago. Her house that he had built for her and that now provided only warm memories. Another connection.

I began to wonder if this evening had been carefully choreographed to remind us of Steven’s birthday. Whether some wizard had conjured up David Roth and instilled memories in him that were just close enough to raise our own. You’ve been there, I’m sure you have.

David finished and a few people wandered to the front of the room, telling him how much they enjoyed his concert. I shared my Steven story with him. At first he seemed just polite, nodding and listening to me. And then his eyes told me that it meant something more to him.

Happy birthday, Steven. Wish you were here.

DuranteDavid

I Missed the Photo Show

One of my favorite old movies is Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. It was shot in Australia and starred two of my favorite actors, Hugo Weaving and Terrence Stamp (who, by the way, I spied in our own Ojai Community Hospital about a year ago…how thrilling can that be…huh, huh.)

So you can imagine my excitement about six months ago when our daughter bought us tickets to the musical of the same name. Damn, by-golly and doody-face, our tickets turned out to be on the same day as Ojai’s most anticipated, star-spangled event of the year, the Art Center Photo Branch show. But we couldn’t disappoint our only daughter who, in her genetically supercharged anal persona, had asked us twice before purchasing the stratospherically expensive tickets, Dad, are you sure you have nothing else to do that day? So Sweetie and I went to Priscilla with Nancy and missed, some would say, the greatest show in Ojai.

We drove to the Pantages, installed the car in a twenty-dollar, paint blistering, door denting parking lot, and strolled over the names of long-forgotten movie stars embedded in the Hollywood Boulevard sidewalk. We had our purses searched by Pantages ushers for contraband as lethal as an eight ounce water bottle, then reluctantly purchased two four-dollar water bottles, found our seats and huddled together for warmth as the air conditioning was arcticly adjusted to suit the lithe, sweaty bodies of young chorus line dancers performing at the speed of light. We nervously shifted in our seats and held our breath as we awaited the arrival of what was sure to be the two tallest persons within a twenty-mile radius who would likely occupy the presently vacant seats in front of us. That’s show biz.

The first act was filled with ear-shattering disco music that my faux son-in-law insisted was offered up solely in an attempt to enrage his rock and roll deprived musical senses. But then, unless Kevin is in front of his 42″ computer monitor playing gory war games against other maniacs on a magnum opus, water-cooled PC, he’s at best a reluctant participant in the fine arts.

Intermission time and, owing to what I insist was the fault of the icy conditions in the theater, I got in line with three hundred and fifty, shuffling, mostly aging men in the hopes that I might empty my throbbing bladder in one of the six available urinals before the eighteen minute intermission ended, as had been announced by two young female ushers who appeared to have never even heard of a bladder and who undoubtedly rejoiced in watching deteriorating old letches get their just desserts.

Given the estimated time it takes to empty the bladder of one old prostate challenged senior, I felt I could afford to day-dream about the Art Center Photo show. Even with my eyes closed, I simply would be pushed along in the Bataan Death March line, held erect by those octogenarians who surrounded me, until I would awake to the dulcet sounds of flushing. And so I day-dreamed.

I found a Montgomery Street parking space with my name painted on it directly in front of the Art Center, then floated through the pearly gated front door and held my breath as I anticipated the picture perfect awards that would surely be heaped upon me while I was being regaled with plaudits normally reserved for the likes of Ansel Adams, Alfred Eisenstaedt or Annie Liebovitz.

All eyes turned in my direction, the crowd hushed, parted like the Red Sea, and in a rising crescendo, broke into thunderous applause. Our master of ceremonies, Roger, asked for silence, reviewed my glorious fifteen minute biography and handed me the winner’s check. I immediately endorsed it and gifted it to the Art Center so that they could retire the mortgage, refinish the doors, get the cobwebs off the ceiling and install much-needed, blazingly lit, neon sign directions to the rest rooms.

I nodded my head in acknowledgement of everyone’s gratitude, waved my hand to the assembled, and floated slowly over to the fabulous, mouth-watering repast laid on a table covered with the nectar of the gods. There to greet me was Myrna. She had outdone herself by assembling all of my favorite dishes including chitlins con carne with bone marrow dressing, displayed magnificently as only Myrna can do. I ate my fill, sat on the plush cushions of the somehow magically re-upholstered couch, digested my food and…

I woke up at the seventeen minute mark, unceremoniously nudged into semi-consciousness by the old guy behind me. Are you gonna pee or what? he said with more than a touch of annoyance. So I did. And I found my way back, not to the Art Center but to the second act of Priscilla. It was good, but maybe not as good as winning an award at the photo show. Certainly not as good as sharing years of good times with wonderful people like Roger, Myrna and the rest of those dedicated folks who made the show work.

Oh, and I didn’t win a photo prize at the show. But I will donate some money to the Art Center so folks like me can find the rest rooms without a roadmap.

Priscilla


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