Thursday, December 22, 2016

Taking Coffee with Dad

I'm a tea person, for many reasons, but as a child I thought I would grow up to be a coffee person.  After all, that's what adults drank.  Nobody ever said, "you wanna go get a tea?" when they wanted to see you.  No, this was New York, it was cawfee.

Both my parents were coffee drinkers, though Mom tended towards Sanka, at least at home.  I never thought to ask if she had coffee at work.   My office has k-cups, and you just assume nowadays that either people wake themselves up with something convenient at or on the way to their jobs.  Starbucks has lines every morning, without fail, even when there's two on one block.  But even if that had been the case in the 1980s, I doubt Dad would have been a regular Starbucks visitor - he was thrifty, and he had a stove top percolator.

It was one of the things my nose looked forward to the most.  Dad would sometimes make his coffee the night before, and sometimes he'd wait until the morning.  Either way, it was a little show, watching the coffee bouncing up top, with Dad's famous tall Tupperware cup waiting patiently on the counter beside the big yellow stove, the green sugar bowl full of his favorite Sweet and Low (I broke the top of that sugar bowl a couple of years ago and promptly burst into tears.)

The smell was intoxicating.  It wasn't gourmet coffee by any means - which at that time probably meant Gevalia - it was either Maxwell House, or Chock Full o'Nuts, but it was homey.  That aroma and Old Spice most likely meant Grammie's house, which I always looked forward to.

However, it wasn't a party when it was my turn to do the dishes (or as Dad would say "do these few dishes"...way to soften the blow!)  That contraption had so many parts, with nooks and crannies and holes jammed with grinds (no filters here).  It was not a simple task to clean, but at least it wasn't gross.  Unless coffee grinds gross you out?  I haven't met anyone with this pathology.

I suppose the nostalgic appeal of the percolator derives from the fact that the percolator meant things were status quo - Dad had steady work, everything was taken care of, life was going on.

In time, the percolator ceased to exist - I assume - and rather than replace it, Dad turned to instant coffee.  Taster's Choice, anyone? Do you remember those commercials?  In his last years, he also upped his Earl Grey tea intake.  Now we had a house full of tea and coffee tins, only the coffee tins were full of coins.

Dad died the same year as my Grandma (on my Mom's side), and I now have her Mr. Coffee, which still works great.  I keep it for company.  Sometimes I consider getting a percolator, but it seems kind of a waste without Dad around.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

No Pointing

Everyone has a pet peeve or two.  I have about twenty, but this isn't about me.

Dad had one thing that really bothered him: you didn't point your fingers at him.  It was like calling Marty McFly chicken: there was bound to be a reaction.  I guess he just processed it as an act of aggression. 

This issue only caused him serious problems once.  At a place of employment, he got in trouble for something: whatever it was, it didn't really matter if it was his fault or not.  When his boss got ticked off about it, he got up in Dad's face, pointers flying.  I don't think he even got as far as physically poking Dad, but he may as well have.  The final catalyst, of course, was that at some point (no pun intended) he'd knocked back a few, so he did something he'd never do in a normal setting: he slammed his boss into some lockers (it could have been the wall, but I'm when I visualize the story I see lockers so let's keep it that way - it'd be noisier,) and hurled violent verbiage at him along the way.  Well, thankfully the boss didn't press charges, but he did have to fire Dad.  He was very nice about it, because previously they'd had a decent working relationship, and also he may have been a little scared of Dad.  Either way, Dad was out of a job because he'd been pointed at.

The other time he was set off was with a guy that he hung out with for a time.  He had other problems with this guy, like the fact that the guy would take his handkerchief and shake it out , letting germs fly everywhere.  I didn't like this either, because Dad, who had an excellent immune system, actually got sick following a post-hanky-shake, and guess who caught the bug from Dad?  But the final straw was when the guy started replaying confrontational conversations he'd had with other people, but in such replaying made it look like he was yelling at Dad.  You know how that works: someone says to you 'and I says, BLAH BLAH BLAH!' and passerby look at the two of you in trepidation.  Not cool, man.  Of course, it was only exacerbated by the fact that the guy would say these things while pointing at my Dad, getting all up in his face.  I remember Dad showing me what it looked like while we were standing on the subway platform together, and I agreed that it would have been a bit much to handle.  Well, in my Dad's case, it drove him to 'break up' with this guy, which had to have been an awkward situation...remember that Seinfeld episode when he had to break up with his male friend? What do you say to cushion the blow?  Dad didn't mince words; even so, it had to have hurt him to cause pain to his erstwhile buddy.

We should all come with a sign, or a set of instructions.  Dad should have had an octagonal 'No Pointing' sign, or Pointing slashed out in the Ghostbusters signal. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Freak Show

Dad didn't go overboard with tricks.  He didn't steal my nose, and he found a coin behind my ear only once.  Perhaps more tricks would've come out of the box if he'd lived to be a grampa, but maybe not.  It wasn't his thing.  Except for:

The Creepy Eye Thing
Dad had piercing blue eyes that were also really strong.  He'd been a sharpshooter in the Marines, and you could see why.  Until later on when he had to wear reading glasses, he had excellent vision.  (I did not inherit his eyes' strength or color, dag nabbit.)  One day he explained that the secret behind his vision was the eye exercises he did:  He'd cross his eyes, then leaving one eyeball in the center, he'd let the other one go the far opposite direction, then bring it back to the middle.  Next he'd do the reverse.  It looked freakier with blue eyes, and he was the only person know who was able to do this 'exercise' perfectly.  If you want to imagine what it looked like, picture Marty Feldman and you'll be close.

The Fogmaker
If you live in Queens you probably ride the subway a lot.  Though we always had something to talk about, sometimes Dad would decide to be entertaining instead.  So on one ride he demonstrated a way to breathe fog out of your mouth in a non-freezing environment.  He pursed his lips tight and did some kind of pressure breathing inside of his mouth.  Then he exhaled.  It looked like he was blowing smoke!  None of us kids could really replicate the effect.  He could've been a science teacher.

Helium Guy
Okay, a lot of people do the helium voice.  It's funny every time, I don't who you are you're gonna laugh.  The first time I remember Dad doing the helium voice was when I had some balloons that were slowing losing their oomph.  He undid one, took a breath and became one of the munchkins from the Wizard of Oz.

What was better than hearing him do the voice was hearing about the story of his helium adventures while in the 'service' as he called his four years in the Marines.  At one point he was on a ship in the Pacific Ocean, and most of the crew members that were not Marines were Filipino.  His description of them in letters home deemed them "the finest people you can meet in all of Asia & if it wasn't for the fact that I have such a wonderful family to go home to I'd probably spend the rest of my life here [Manila]".  He must have started getting this impression from their reaction to the little joke he and some of the other guys played.  Dad was pretty tall, about 6'2, and most of the Filipino men on the ship were substantially shorter.  So he and some other big buddies inhaled a load of helium, charged up to the Filipinos and gave them the laugh of their life.  It was also one of the few stories of the 'service' that gave Dad joy to recount.  One of the best things about Dad was that he didn't play practical jokes that intended to humiliate others; he really liked getting a good laugh out of people. I hope to continue his legacy, at least in this respect.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Doggie Downers

My Dad loved dogs.  That needs to be said before I get into the story.  Though in later years we had cats, and he learned to bond with them, he had a dog growing up, got along with all the family dogs, and they just adored him too.  My sister's dog Cookie was friendly, but after years of my cringing around her, ( I loved her but I was easily winded by her gymnastics,) she stopped jumping on me and sort of turned to the side tactfully when I approached her.  Not so with Dad.  She'd be airborne, practically jumping over fences as soon as she caught sight of him. 

That being said, like so many, Dad was a light sleeper.  This was fine when he wasn't working: he could sleep in, and none of us would bother him.  On a work night, sleep was crucial.  If he had trouble sleeping, he'd take sleep tablets from Genovese Drugs - those over the counter deals that had similar properties to Benadryl.  They were blue pills, nicknamed "bloops" by Dad, who had to find a name for everything.

He slept not too far from the window facing the backyard.  An old super of our building kept dogs out there, and personally I didn't like that arrangement.  He'd train them in hunting, and there's an incident involving him, a rabbit, and two dogs that still haunts me.  Most of the dogs were pretty docile, though, but they could not keep quiet at night.

A few nights in a row, one dog was particularly vocal, and Dad lost a lot of sleep.  One trait my family shares is the inability to be pleasant on only a few hours of sleep. He was wretched.  The only thing Dad could do was scream at it to shut up.  That only bothered the neighbors.  He had to do something.  Then he had an idea.  He took a hot dog from the fridge and loaded it with a "bloop".  Then he tossed it out the window. 

What do you know?  Silence.  A blissful night sleep for both doggie and Daddy.

---I don't recommend you try this at home - some dogs' systems will not be able to tolerate pills.  This was a big guy, though, and he was still of the living and by the next day, no worse for wear.---

Now, Dad did not make it a practice to drug the backyard dogs, but I believe it gave him peace of mind to know that a solution was possible.  He even had an idea to market dosed hot dogs as "Doggie Downers", with a picture of an unconscious dog on the package, tongue lolling off to the side of  its face.  Somehow I don't think the FDA would have approved.

Even better than the story itself was the pride Dad took in recounting it.  He was not a fan of cameras, particularly video cameras, but one of the few times he was completely relaxed while I was filming was when he was telling this story to some family members and friends at my sister's house.  Cookie didn't seem to mind hearing it either.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Intro to Daddy George

Why am I dedicating an entire blog to my father?  Why not?  He was one of the most interesting people I've ever met - which might have spoiled me for other personalities.  He led an interesting life, at least in his early years, and had a way of making mundane things sound hilarious. 

He was more of a storyteller than a writer.  I urged him to write, whether it was a few notes resembling a memoir, even a fictionalized version of his life.  Something to hold on to.  He didn't care to, and that was that.

When he died, five years ago now, I had to balance genuine mourning with holding on to the past.  I made some hard decisions regarding which of his belongings to keep.  Of course I kept an album my aunt had made, full of pictures of him growing up, some schoolwork, and letters home from the service.  I avoiding talking about him on my main blog, because I try not to be too personal there.  And I won't be here either.  I have friends and family I could talk to for that. 

Here I will relate memories, mostly the fun ones.  I hope to think my sense of humor was inherited from him, and I hope some of it will come through here.