The Sweet Shoppe

“Take off this stuff about writing poetry, and add in something about church,” he said, handing me my résumé across his desk.

I had graduated with an English degree and was spiritually curious but decidedly agnostic, despite the president’s popular far-right stances and his wife’s naïve “Just Say No” campaign, both wrapped in an understanding of religion like an assassin in a monk’s habit.

“That doesn’t matter,” he retorted, referring to my spiritual state. “They’ll look for some kind of church involvement.”

ice cream - Peggy CollinsHe was a fellow surfer, whom I’d known for a few years during high school and then college, and now I was turning to him for job-seeking advice. He later suggested to several of us one Saturday afternoon—all much younger than he—that we consider sinking a few old boats offshore from our shared beach community in order to create a reef, which would trap and build up the sand and result in year-round waves. As a 20-something party boy, I didn’t bother to wonder whether this was legal. I cared only if he had enough money to do it.

It never happened.

To my knowledge.

There in his office, floor to ceiling glass behind me but still feeling like a cage, he told me to lie while not one hair of his slicked-back sandy blonde hair moved. His midnight blue shirt had thin white stripes; his yellow tie was fastened tight up to a starched white collar, and a silver collar bar restrained the knot.

Years later, having had a spiritual conversion to Christianity, I and my wife decided we wanted to purchase pew Bibles for the beach community’s quaint church, which had worship services from the last Sunday in June through Labor Day. Visiting ministers would preach one, two or even three Sundays, as in the case of the well-known former Episcopal Bishop of Newark, John Shelby Spong, who always packed the house. Later these ministers might be seen on the cocktail party circuit, or in Bermuda shorts at the club, which perpetually was threatened or washed away in hurricanes and nor’easters over the decades of this century-old community.

One minister would perform baptisms in the ocean; he had a handlebar mustache and an infectious smile. Another looked like Santa Claus. I asked him prior to my senior year of college, “Why don’t you tell everyone what you really believe?”

“Because,” he answered slowly, “if I did, they wouldn’t invite me back, and I want to be able to minister to them over the long haul.”

I sang in the children’s choir at this summer community, and the organist and choir director taught all twenty or so of us kids to have all forty or so eyes trained on her at all times. We sang “Dona Nobis Pacem” and other anthems, and after Friday afternoon rehearsals we’d each get a ticket for a free ice cream at the Candy Store—or the “sweet shoppe,” as my friend’s British nanny would call it. Mary—“Mother Mary,” as those of us who went on to sing in the adult choir would call her—taught us to hear our singing from where the congregation sat. From the pews.

Annunciate the “t” at the end of words. Soften or drop the “s” at the end, so that we don’t have mass hissing. Drop our jaws when singing “slumbers” (“not, nor sleeps”) and gloss over the “l.”

Thursday night rehearsal was worship in itself.

And in those pews there were hymnals but no Bibles. So it seemed fitting that a useful gift to the church would be enough copies of that tool, so that people hearing the sermon, and especially those preached by Mary’s husband, now deceased, but who came closest to telling me those truths I needed to hear but didn’t want to hear, could follow along. These were, after all, highly educated and literate folk. You’d imagine that the corporate attorneys in the room—there were not a few—would want to cross-reference the source if they heard something they might object to.

To discuss the gift, I called the Church Committee Chairperson, who at the time was the wife of the fellow surfer in the slick-backed hair, the man in the glass cage, the man with the restrained yellow tie who wanted to sink ships to get consistent waves and who told me to lie about my salvation. I told her over the phone about the gift, and that we wanted to memorialize the man who told me Truth.

There was a pause on her end.

“Now… ‘pew bibles,’” she started. “Are these associated with some kind of denomination?”

I told her that they were not, and described that they could be any one of a number of modern translations. That they typically sat in shelves behind the pews or could be stacked at the ends of the pews.

She needed time to figure out how this could work.

A week later she called and said that, unfortunately, it would cost too much money to retrofit the shelves to hold the Bibles. As to my alternate suggestion for stowage, neither was there enough room at the end of each pew to stack them.

The man who told me the truth that crushed me to life had died, and others who had sprinkled it on my tongue to make me thirsty had retired, but others—including Bishop Spong for at least a few more years—continued to come and offer their messages, which were ravenously consumed week after week. Hurricanes and nor’easters continued to ravage the beach and reclaim the dunes and toy with the houses as though they were made of Lego, and the men continued to come and preach their messages to the smiling women and men who packed the pews.

The service would end promptly at eleven.

Many would shake hands quickly on their way out, because they were due at the courts and needed time to bike home first and change into tennis whites.

photo: Peggy Collins


The most

‘Dad?’ my 8-year-old asked me.


‘What did you like most about being a child?’ He tends to say ‘child’ instead of ‘kid.’

I thought. ‘Well. I guess I enjoyed the beach the most. Point O’ Woods. My parents had a place at the beach and we’d go there every summer. That’s what I liked the most.’

‘No. I meant something that was different about childhood. Something that anyone could do.’

‘Oh.’ I thought again, longer than before. ‘I suppose…being able to be more open with my friends.’

‘Huh? What does that mean?’

‘It means letting them know what’s going on with you. Being honest. Honesty.’

Long pause from him. Then, ‘Laaaaame.’

photo: weremakingit

Doing ‘The Worm’ to a Polka

“Have a magical day,” was what you hear from cashiers in the hotel gift shop, ticket booth clerks at the various parks, and ride monitors as they check children’s height. It’s difficult not to at least lean toward obedience after 72 hours or so.

My family’s six magical days at Disney World were indeed so, but in the end I was drawn to the magic that has always been free, what has been internal or intra-personal, and what is to come, rather than what is costly, external and visible, and what is rapidly passing away.

In the days leading up to the boys’ spring break from 5th, 3rd, and 1st grades, I was a bit restless—selfishly and snobbily—that we had not planned a more…refined, or cultured, getaway. If not refined, then at least one where we would experience Life Unscripted together. Yet, with Teak at 7, he could enjoy most of what this small world had to offer, and at 11, Carter is in the child-bubble a little longer before his current exposure in middle school will render him too cool to wave at Mickey and Cinderella, which he in fact did on our penultimate night. Bennett, 9, would do what Carter liked to do, and there is a hidden innocence beneath his rugged exterior anyway that adheres to a world in which boats with shellacked benches take you from lodge to Magic Kingdom dock, streets are free of garbage, and even ice cream stains from diurnal pressure-washing, and in which fireworks close each night. If we were going to do Disney, scripted days or not, this was the year.

At first, there was an “It” I wanted to pass along to the kids. Getting past my cynicism—for it was Karen’s first visit as well and for her it was magical in an adult way—there was a normal parental urge to have my kids experience what I did in 1975, when younger brother Jim and I went for a day to the Magic Kingdom, the only one of the four current parks then open, and we rode everything from the Pirates of the Caribbean to Space Mountain, from the Haunted House to Splash Mountain. Our kids rode all of these and more, yet inadvertently and perhaps providentially, we spared them of “It’s a Small World,” so that they—at 46—will not be thinking of those lyrics and melody as they type out the attraction name in a blog. There was content that I wanted to not just pass along, so that we’d have shared memories. It did not, however, extend to something more fundamental, and even insidious, like allowing them to consider Disney World in any way preferable, normative, future-looking.

For as my father once told me about our summer beach community of Point O’ Woods, Fire Island—an exclusive and precious-to-me home-away-from-home where crime was not, and non-WASPs were not—that it was “not the real world,” so is Disney not, nor what it stands for. I was angry with Dad. I argued that I had made friends for life at Point O’ Woods, and “wasn’t that real life?!” That was not his point and, in fact, it is the very point I am less succinctly and eloquently making here. The point was that the place itself, its underlying assumptions, its pace and culture, and even its long-term effects on a person, did not enable one to live in the real world. I did not want the boys to think that “if you wish upon a star” that this resulted in your heart’s desires being realized. There is a difference between manufactured magic and ineffability, and I want my sons to know it. I didn’t want the kids to fall in love with Disney World. I found, on about the third day, that I wanted our family to fall deeper in love with each other and with the God who would make the world more like a magical kingdom than Walt Disney ever could dream.

This happened from a combination of an exchange with a Disney employee and, later, seeing another family on a Disney inter-park/lodge bus that we took multiple times each day.

She stood before me outside the “Fantasmic” show at the Hollywood Studios park, which—for the uninitiated—is the one show to see at Disney if you see no other, like “Wicked” in NYC. Here was this woman, only five feet tall, if that, but dominant. I had walked Teak in by the hand to join Karen, where she was saving seats in between the aisles marked by headshots of Scar and Buzz. (Nobody is allowed to save seats at any Disney attraction, and apparently there is a place in Dante’s 5th circle of hell for those who do, in between those who were greedy in life and those who were ungodly landowners.) Meanwhile, Carter and Bennett waited outside the entrance at the adjacent “Tower of Terror” free-fall ride. Moments earlier I had had all three boys, and we were approaching the entrance to the attraction.

Teak mumbled, “This looks boring,” as he bent his neck backward to gaze up at the 13 story-ride edifice, whose neon “Hollywood Hotel” sign’s first “O” letter flickered on and off like a Norman Bates-owned property. His mouth was ajar in his “You’re-wasting-my-time” look.

I took Teak aside and asked privately, “Is it that this looks a little scary?” He stuck his right thumb in his mouth and I could see his blonde bangs bobbing slightly as he stared past me at waist level. This was of course not discernible to his two older brothers, who were distracted by the increasing “Stand By” line that was for those, like us, without the Fast Pass that allows you to skip most of the wait by showing up within an hourly “appointment” you are given. I told the older boys to stay put while I brought Teak to Karen.

Having situated the 7-year-old in the large amphitheater, which gets to capacity at least 30 minutes prior to each show, I started to walk quickly back to the other boys, but first came to a Disney monitor, who handed me a 2×4-inch blue card that would allow me re-entry once the theater was full.

“I have two sons coming back with me, so that we can join my wife and other son who are inside.” Failing to mention the saving-seats-5th-circle-of-Disney-hell thing.

She was, as I said, five foot tall, if. Chinese. Authoritative. Not taking crap from a white boy who once thought an exclusive beach enclave without her race was the City of God.

“I see one person. I give one ticket,” she said in a practiced way. [Disney Employee Handbook, Page 352: Insert adjectival number before each noun. Remember to wish guest a “magical day” at end of concluding sentence.]

“But there are five of us, and we’ll be back just after this ride. Couldn’t you give me two more tickets so the three of us can get in?”

“If I see your one ticket, I let you in. Nobody else.”

She turned to deal with another anarchist, while I decided to take my chances later and moved past her. She did not wish me a magical day, a nice day, or even a “good day to you, Sir.” She will likely one day run Disney as CEO and produce fat dividends. I considered buying 1000 shares of the company before reporting her name to her supervisor. (I did neither.)

And yet, a little while later, I recalled the exchange as curiously refreshing. She reminded me of New Yorkers, and I got homesick.

Two days later, I watched another family of five seated across from us on a Disney Transport bus, which operate between the resorts, one of which we stayed at, and the four parks plus Downtown Disney, Blizzard Beach, and Typhoon Lagoon. At the end of any given day, one would always see multiple children in a family with their heads on parents’ laps and their sandaled feet drawn up onto the seat next to them. Their Midwest-pale faces and flamingo pink legs contrasted against the ubiquitous purple seats. Their eyes might be closed or they might be open slightly, staring across the bus aisle at you but not focusing. Likely letting the days’ events slowly recede into their expanding memories, where one day at Disney equals four-score the adventures of a day around the neighborhood and where—if you don your First Time Visitor button at a park—you are told, “Well, anything can happen at Disney.”

This couple had three girls, about the ages of our three boys, and while I don’t recall the conversation as vividly as that with Disney’s next CEO, it struck me at the time that all week I had been seeing families having a great time together. Sure, there were fights and there was discipline to be done and I saw not a few parents hauling off little ones by the triceps, no doubt leaving white marks on the tikes’ sunburns, to give them a talking-to. But I saw families from North America, the UK, France, Italy, and others, who were simply enjoying having fun together. Long lines afforded everyone a chance to talk about the ride one had just gone on, or wanted to go on next, or to plan a route around the park and which Fast Pass to get when in order to maximize the time spent on rides together. Perhaps that was it: it was hard not to be together at Disney. The evidence was brimming over. And that’s what, in fact, made it magical to me.

I had planned two date nights with Karen, thinking that six nights and seven days with the kids would surely require that we have two evenings of 2.5 hours each alone. Bare minimum.

Though we spent roughly 15 to 17 waking hours together every day, we never tired of being with each other. Were this time spent in our apartment, it surely would have turned to cannibalism. Yet it was Disney, so at 11 p.m., I would lift Teak onto my shoulders and we’d walk past sleeping Korean pre-schoolers on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom who’d stayed awake long enough to see the fireworks and then collapsed with their heads on the copious bags of Disney paraphernalia that we parents all reluctantly yet laughingly acquired each day. Karen and I agreed to cancel our date nights and instead have all five of us do something together. One of the nights entailed a Concierge at our hotel—a blonde woman based out of the University of Michigan—to cancel our reservation at the hotel’s “Cub’s Den” (their child care area, which I never named aloud around our children for fear that they would dig in their heels and not go) claiming a “serious family illness.” (This was her call, not mine, and I was surprised to find a Disney employee dissembling this way. The Disney Handbook surely has a red-letter section on dissembling and there also might be another hell circle for that kind of warped thinking.)

I arrived at Disney and expected to be assaulted with appeals to look at the “It”—at the content of the place—all week long. Certainly, those appeals were there. Yet, I found that we all looked at each other much more than we ever had.

On Friday, our travel day home, and because our flight didn’t leave until 9 p.m., it afforded essentially an extra day at the parks. Bennett and I decided to go to Typhoon Lagoon, while Karen and the other boys spent one last morning at the Magic Kingdom. Later, through photos and retelling, I learned that Carter, my rapidly maturing Middle Schooler, went on a “mission” with an 8-inch white plastic Mickey Mouse doll, to get autographs from as many Disney characters as he could. Pinocchio, Minnie, Mickey, Donald Duck, Buzz Lightyear and a couple others each signed the doll, which Carter carried around the 107-acre park by himself with little to no parental supervision. Crime at Disney is virtually non-existent. We had a Free-Range Child.

On the other side of the vast Disney real estate southwest of downtown Orlando, Bennett and I bobbed in 4-foot waves crashing in the wave pool at Typhoon Lagoon. He grabbed onto my neck from behind and I felt his cheek against mine. He braced himself with his knees against my rib cage, not unlike some of the primate offspring did at Animal Kingdom but doing so from their mothers’ bellies. Four nights earlier, Bennett and his brothers had danced at the Biergarten, one of the restaurants at Epcot Center’s Germany area. A four-piece brass blasorchester played while Karen and I ate and watched from our table one level up from the floor. The boys formed their own troupe among some dozen other children, all dancing in pairs and threes and fours. Bennett decided that German polkas did not restrict him from doing his one serious dance move, The Worm, which he promptly performed across the wooden dance floor, much to the astonishment of two women who shared a ringside table and one of whom nearly spit out her würst laughing. My Bennett, the boy who never looked like a baby but rather always looked like a handsome little man when he was born and likewise as an infant and toddler, who at 5 years old at church would pretend to trot on a horse on his way up the aisle to receive the Eucharist—this boy now bobbed in clear blue water and smiled at me when I looked back, our faces inches apart, and as his foggy goggles allowed enough of his sparkly eyes to show through, I knew that his time at Typhoon Lagoon, though replete with body and raft slides, would be remembered perhaps primarily as the first time either of us had spent six hours alone together.

As I write, it is Easter. I couldn’t sleep and started writing this post at 4:15. I had planned to write it since before returning and knew basically what I was going to say but not how or to what ultimate conclusion. I find myself considering several facts and feeling several emotions.

First, thank you, Mr. Disney, for creating a clean perfection with realistic storefronts that from behind reveal corrugated metal and guy wires and which points us to a perfection that is yet to come. This temporary perfection affords families from all over the world to experience togetherness while excusing ourselves beforehand and even during that it’s about roller coasters, water parks, and life-sized Disney characters dancing on immaculate streets. It’s not about discovering Disney; we find it’s about discovering who we are to each other.

Second, I am truly astounded that our family shared 119 hours or so together and left Florida wanting more. Yesterday, there was no sense that we had “had enough” of each other and needed our space. Had it been a trip anywhere for longer, say a month, even to someplace that was in my own dreams, it might have been another story. It may have become too familiar, too all-the-same, too much “like home.” We might have turned on each other in our new comfort, our shortcomings having become all the more obvious as the surroundings became commonplace and less distracting.

But third, thank you, Jesus. You showed the apostle John and us a kingdom in which the streets are cleaner than any Disney street. You showed us a world that—at 1400 miles by 1400 miles by 1400 miles—is actually a fairly “small, small world after all.” You showed us a world in which peace and prosperity are everywhere and enjoyed by people of every tribe, tongue and nation. A place where our true home can actually be more inviting and desirable that any vacation we can possibly imagine. You showed us this after leaving it for a time, setting up a tent among us in what my father called “the real world,” which in fact is a world that is passing away, and letting your very servants command your fate. Instead of presenting perfection in human terms and coming first in strength, you lived perfection on your own perfect terms and presented weakness in human terms, being executed like a common criminal. We esteemed you not. Hanging on the cross, you were the epitome of ugliness and disfigurement. We turned our eyes from you.

But today you live. The only reason the Magic Kingdom appears to have any magic at all is because it hints at Who you are. Were this not so, those who leave Disney would soon become depressed, realizing that the world as we know it would never be like Disney. Yet many who aren’t conscious of this must feel it gnaw at them, beckon them, entreat them. Thank you for the family on the bus, who pointed me more toward my family. Thank you for the Chinese ticket taker, who reminded me how much I love my own city, with all its foibles and imperfect people, people who don’t always follow the rulebook but do so endearingly. Thank you for causing me to value my true home as where my family is. The magic was not what we saw while in Florida. It was what was happening inside of us and which we left with. You made this happen. This trip was a gift; thank you, Lord.

You are making all things new.

Come, Lord Jesus.

photo: Phillipp Klinger

sketch: steelforest

Leaving Herald Square

“Hey! Is that a pearl snap shirt?”


“No,” my coworker answered after coming to a stop in the hallway.  We blocked the entrance to his office.  Moments before, I ostensibly had something to do that was more important than admire what I thought was a pearl snap shirt.

052309.ellecer“Oh.” I said.

“But I used to have one. I lost it.”

“I’m sorry.” Awkward pause. “Was it white, like that one?”

“No, blue.”

The conversation went on, in this tantalizing fashion, until he referred me to H&M Clothing, on 34th Street and Broadway, steps away from the office.  Ostensibly, he had something to do that was more important than discuss pearl snap shirts.

I exited 1359 Broadway and walked the two blocks south, my mind anticipating finding pearl snap shirts in New York that were not the $100+ kind sold by Billy Martin’s Western Wear. At said establishment, on Third Avenue at around 62nd Street where — I can attest from having grown up just a mile north — there are no cowboys loitering or yodeling, the purveyors have outfitted with “upscale…Western-inspired” clothing the likes of Madonna and Mikhail Gorbachev. Need I tell you the horror of picturing in my mind Gorbachev riding along the prairie in pearl snap shirts, a tree branch catches the material, the shirt breaks open at the snaps the way the cowboys intended it to (so that they wouldn’t have to sew the button back on), and out pops… Mikhail. This is a scene that Remington did not envision, nor shall I.

And yet, my search for pearl snap shirts in NYC has been as fruitless as has been the search for authentic Tex-Mex cuisine, the most recent outing (twice) to Tequila Chito’s on West 23rd producing somewhat favorable results for me and my dining partners, but I anticipate would not be up to snuff for my wife, whose loving contempt for my last choice has not yet been lived down.

Having ascended the escalator to the third floor Menswear department at H&M, my suspicions were stirred when there was more chrome and black lacquer on the fixtures and racks than oak and pine. In Kerrville, Texas, where I buy all my snap shirts (at the Cowboy Store, where Jason Aldean shops), the guy at the front has a Jesse James-like pointed beard and dons a Stetson. He says, “Howdy!” which is in fact my childhood nickname, and so I feel right at home. Here, in NYC, sales tax is 8.375% and increasing to something like 8.625% (as if they need the five-thousands’ worth); in Texas, while there is sales tax, there is no income tax. I plan — in the future, sometime after retirement, maybe when I’m 90 — to show the statistical correlation between taxation and authentic pearl snap shirt offerings. I know it’s not scientific to come to a study with a conclusion in mind — I am supposed to follow the data — but in this case, there seems to be a preponderance of evidence proving that the overhead for stores like Billy Martin must certainly require the sale of shirts so outlandishly priced that only a rock star or former Soviet leader can afford them. (After all, we know that ommunist leaders are absolutely loaded, because everyone else in their countries is dirt poor.)

I did two laps around the floor, spying only some flat-fronted khakis that the Lovely K would have approved of (but which I didn’t need…I needed a pearl snap shirt) and a couple of dress shirts that were suitable for a meeting of which I have yet to conceive. No snap shirts. On one rack, partially blocked by two large 20-something males whose pants some stranger obviously had rudely and just moments before yanked down to within inches of their knees, I saw a short-sleeved collared shirt made of grey brushed cotton that had a matching thin tie around it. I recalled how my mother made my father a tie of green and white checkered gingham to match a sport coat he had bought at the St. George thrift store on Second Avenue. Yet he wore this set to cocktail parties at Point O’ Woods, Fire Island, where the object was to get drunk while discussing Woody Allen movies and stumble down sidewalks with no fear of powered vehicles running you over. What H&M was selling was clothes that you would have to wear sober enough not to fall onto subway tracks coming home from a rave.  This seemed an inordinate expectation.

The search continues, as it does also for Tex-Mex in New York. But don’t tell Karen.

photo:  ellecer

Bones for soup

My father told me many years ago that when he was a boy he often dreamed of being trapped overnight in a Manhattan delicatessen rather than, like most children, in a candy store.  This somewhat explains the other night at dinner, when my 5-year-old son said, “Dad, for dessert I want pickles.”


The other theory might be that Teak’s choice of the wrinkled gherkin over Double Chocolate Milanos – on which his two brothers were more than willing to take up the slack – could have been more about drama than Epicureanism.  The more exotic he can act, the more attention he garners, the more delight he creates, the better in his mind.  This, too, points, back to Dad.  For his 76th birthday, my wife Karen and I bought him a smoked eel from the Lower East Side, and my artistic bride proceeded to tie a red bow around its dried head, its eyes fixed ahead unblinkingly despite its gauche appearance, so that when Dad opened up the present, out popped an Anguilliforme whose expression was as startled as octogenarian watching Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock.  I don’t doubt that Dad enjoyed telling the story of the eel more than he savored eating it, and he did so love eel.


My brother, Jim, two years my younger, was the Fickle One growing up.  His main food stuff was carrot strips with ketchup, and my older cousin Berta had to tell him every new food “tasted like potato chips” for him to give it a try.  Now, he is a victuals virtuoso, living down the block from Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue, where he is a regular at Sahadi’s.


Our family’s eating idiosyncrasies affected our dining-out behavior, insofar as generally acceptable social etiquette goes.  The unwritten rule was that none of us could order the same thing.  (Perhaps this is more common than I’m given to understand, but it was especially frowned upon in my family, almost to the point of audible tsk’s from Mom.)  So when Karen and I, Jim and his wife Rachel, and my parents would go to a restaurant and open the menus, there was secretly a pole position jockeying that would ensue.  Who’s ordering the bouillabaisse first, several of us might have thought.  The stuffed sole sounds good.  But is the waitress going to start on my left and go around the other way, or on my right with Howard, who I think I can convince to order the chicken fingers, and then come to me?  Karen, deep from the heart of Texas, would often order the beef, and was safe from Order Elimination, as most others went more unconventional.


When the meal was finishing, Freeman clan behavior was no less aberrant.  At a Murray Hill Greek restaurant, where many of us had seafood, my father once collected all the fish bones from everyone’s plates to take home and make into soup.  The waiter had to assist in the en masse effort.  At the summer lobster party at Point O’ Woods on Fire Island, where people were scattered across a dozen and a half picnic tables in front of the yacht club, Dad would often hunt for crustacean carcasses, his family’s or others’ – perhaps those even of houseguests of neighbors… “Hello, my name is Frank Freeman.  And you are?…  I’d like your lobster shell.” – to take home and make, yes, soup.  Soup was always a good excuse for foraging among the discarded.  And growing up during the Depression in Babylon, Long Island, with oily, hollowed-out men knocking on the kitchen door looking for a piece of bread and cup of coffee was also a good reason.


Recently, my cousin Berkley sent me a photo album with pictures of my dad and his dad taken eighty years ago.  There was my dad playing dress up, posing for the camera at age…nine?  A pirate, a clown, a prince.  There was also a shot of him at age three.  This would have been in 1924.  He wore what looked like a sailor suit.  White shirt with wide, dark lapels.  Blonde curls, shaped like those of a Hassidic Jew, sprouted from his temples and hung past his ears like harvest-ready vines.  His eyes invited the camera, but behind them there seemed to be sadness.  Or maybe it wasn’t behind them; maybe it was in front:  an unaware and foreboding look into the future that ended one May 1998 afternoon, or evening, or morning, or whatever time of day it was when he made it end.


Teak leans over to me as I eat my Caesar salad.  He opens his mouth as a prompt.  I fork a manageable piece of romaine lettuce with dressing and a morsel of grilled chicken and put the bite into his mouth.  I wait.  He chews and smiles at me.  He hums approval.


I look into his eyes, and he looks into mine.




photo:  cava_cavien

One woman’s dream is another man’s nightmare

I woke up quite upset on Thursday morning while in London.  I had had a bad dream.


Waiting for the five hours’ difference between there and New York to pass, so that I could call the Lovely K once she dropped off the boys at school, I dialed her at 8:30 a.m. Eastern.


“I had a bad dream last night, honey.”




“Yeah.  I dreamed that you had…you know, passed away.  I was biking down the path from the store to the ferry boat in Point O’ Woods and realized this – that you had died – and I was devastated.”


“Oh.”  There was a pause.  Then she laughed.  “I dreamed that I was riding around in California all night long with Brad Pitt.”


This is a true story.

Floating next to Dad

Trust has been on my mind lately.  I had to trust Dad once during a segment of my sailing test out at Point O’ Woods, Fire Island.  To avoid wearing a life preserver during sailing class – and wearing one of these during the summer when you are 12 and around girls in bikinis is essentially like wearing an adult diaper…same result and social-life-ending event – part of the swim test was to tread water for 30 minutes.


I failed the first time.


Then Dad, who must have spoken with the Yacht Club captain, offered to do the test alongside me – nay, coaxed me, goading me perhaps in my adolescent vanity, but achieving the desired effect.


We jumped off the end of the berm inside the boat basin, a rectangle that jutted north about one hundred yards into the Great South Bay and about 75 wide, with a 12-foot opening for the blue and white ferry that left from Bay Shore to bring us to this idyllic Atlantic setting.


Dad had always been a good floater, which was somewhat extraordinary for his body type:  essentially a thin man in the arms and legs, neck and chest, with a pot belly borne of years of hors d’oeuvres and no formal exercise regimen.  He told me more than once that as a child he often dreamed of being locked not in a candy store at night, but a delicatessen.  Simply loved pickles from a barrel.  Odd guy.


He reminded me to do the dead man float – on your stomach, lifting your head to the side for breath at regular intervals – and tried to get me to float on my back.  Alas, I had not had the stuffed mushroom caps he had had over the years, and I was quite the wrestler, skateboarder and ocean lover, so floating on my back was a bit like placing a paperclip on the surface of the water.


You weren’t allowed to swim, as I recall, just float.  But we talked, or rather he talked and I mainly listened and, I’m sure, complained, if I remember being a 12-year-old at all.  Through it, he encouraged me, didn’t let me quit.  He checked his watch for me every five minutes.  I wanted to quit constantly.  He didn’t let me.


It was not the biggest test or grandest victory I have had in my life.  But it was one of the few that my father actually participated in that I still recall today.  It was one of the longest activities that we did together.  Other than walking me to pre-school when I was five, when I remember mainly taking two steps to his one, down the 12 blocks from 96th and Madison to 84th and Park, family dinners, and his lectures, which seemed to extend into a measurement of hours or perhaps weeks, I cannot recall any activities – any one-on-one events – that took 30 minutes or longer.


What stands out in my memory is not so much that I passed the test – for I ultimately did not marry any of the girls I was trying not to let see me in an adult diaper, and I am still friends to this day with the guys among my group who might have laughed at a life preserver – but rather that Dad was with me.


He went through exactly what I did, though it was probably not all fun for him, and though as a self-conscious and self-absorbed boy I probably did not heap praise and thanks on him that day or in any day to come.  No, he did it out of love, expecting nothing in return from me.  He did it for me and with me.


He gained little to nothing.



photo:  (nz)dave