We are finally through with the holidays, which in spite of my vow to slow down and enjoy every minute, flew by in a flash. (By the way, I really do not like those dark blue holiday lights, especially when they flash.) And now we, like the bears, enter into our long season of hibernation. Business between now and the spring slows way down, but to keep myself out of trouble, I’ll be here as usual. PLEASE stop by to break up the long stretches of tedium. I’ll give you a cookie.
My sister lives on Long Island, has a bunch of kids, and a ton of adorable grandkids, and they keep her busy. As a result our contact is minimal, although we keep each other in our hearts. Yesterday we talked on the phone for a nice long time and I remembered how much I enjoy chatting with her. We have a shared dysfunctional childhood and we laugh like crazy at the same things. Yesterday we were reminiscing about our father and she said, “You should write about him.”
It’s hard to know where to start when talking about my father. I told my sister that stories about him are so outlandish that people have a hard time believing them. You know what they say about truth being stranger than fiction, well that is certainly the case with Harry
Harry, like all other Sociopaths, could be very charming. He was extremely attractive, and that added to the charisma. (My mother told me that when they entered a room or a restaurant, all heads would turn to look at him. He thought he looked like Montgomery Cliff.) His parents were Galitzianer Jews from Eastern Europe who came through Ellis Island around the turn of the century. His father opened a small butcher shop, and they fed their four children liver and told them it was steak. It wasn’t until he was in the Marines that he discovered the difference. They lived in poverty in Flatbush, but every morning, my grandfather would get up early to polish Harry’s riding boots so he could ride in Prospect Park. There was just something special about Harry. From then on he had the impression that he was an aristocrat, too regal to follow the same mores as lesser folk. Much later in an autobiography he wrote he was descended from the Rothschilds.
My sister and I found him irresistible. He would stretch out on the floor beside us as we watched Kukla, Fran, and Ollie on our microscopic television in the refrigerator-sized cabinet. Then when he called the house he would make us laugh like crazy by saying only, “Toy, toy, toy, toy,” like one of the puppets. At night he would entertain us with stories of Chuckie, who could take off and fly around like Pegasus on the back of a merry-go-round pony. All the neighborhood kids would flock to him to be spun around when he walked down the sidewalk after work.
My sister was born when I was four and my mother forced Harry to take me off her hands one afternoon a week. I really loved him, as all little girls do, and so I never told my mother that our days would start off at the Cottage Shop in Englewood where I would eat ice cream for lunch, and then we would spend the rest of the afternoon at his favorite neighborhood tavern. I would sit at the bar beside him as he smoked and drank beer with his buddies. He would buy me a beer, but I really didn’t care for the bitter taste.
He hated work and was certain he’d find a way to get rich quick without much effort and through the machinations of his superior mind. He had a million genius ideas: a mica mine in North Carolina, a country club on his friend’s estate, and many others that didn’t pan out.
Harry was the master of the scam. and was the only person I know he admired Bernie Madoff.
By the time the internet was a thing, he had lost his eyesight to Macular Degeneration and was unable to try out some cool scams, so he called me to be his surrogate. One such idea was for me to go out in the yard and clip some cuttings from the lawn and then offer the bags of grass for sale at $5 a bag. “They can’t touch you for that! You are only giving people what they asked for!”
Another idea was for me to invest in a uniform making me look like a mold inspector. I could then go into suckers’ homes, sniff around, and tell them the bad news. “Yup! You have mold.”
He approved of an idea I had to open a nonprofit dedicated to training at-risk kids for kitchen work because he said I could make a fortune bilking the government of money for an infrastructure (dorms, etc) that I wasn’t planning to build. Then he told me that I was an idiot.
When I refused any of his bright ideas, he reminded me of what a failure I was. He asked me how much I was getting paid annually as a teacher. I doubled the sum, and he still scoffed, “Chrissy (his stepdaughter) spends more than that each month for her household help!”
“You are a fucking do-gooder! Where did I go wrong?”
I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had had a reliable, honest father. When I see a movie with a father who cares for his daughters, protects them, and helps them out, I get a little teary. Because our mom died when we were young, he taught us the hard lessons of self-reliance out of necessity. He never gave me a dime for college and worse yet, he tossed my sister out in the street when she was 16. More about him at a later date, though. We haven’t even scratched the surface