Friday, December 14, 2018

What Do We Lie About?

     B had cataract surgery the other day. She's fine. But I think she's still suffering a little bit from the sedative they gave her. And I have a cold, so I'm a little disoriented not only from the bugs running around in my body, but also from the DayQuil, NyQuil, cough drops, vitamin C, echinacea and other pills and potions I'm consuming.

     So we're both a little loopy. Other than that, I don't know how the topic came up, but over dinner we were trying to list the things that people lie about the most.

     My top three were:

     How much sex you have (and how good it was). Well, you can lie to your friends, but you can't lie to your spouse, at least not about the quantity.

     How much money you win at gambling. More on that in a minute.

     And how long your commute really is. I had several different jobs during my career, but the one I held the longest involved an eight-minute commute. I didn't have to lie about my commute. But when I took the train to the city, involving a 39-minute ride on the express train, everyone in town said their commute was, oh, 40 or 45 minutes. But you have to get to the train, wait for the train, and then get to the office after you get off the train. Believe me, it took at least an hour. And that doesn't count the times you missed the express and had to take the local, or the train was late due to weather, mechanical problems or just plain incompetency in the ranks of conductors, engineers or paper pushers. And don't even get me started on people who drive to work and the traffic problems they encounter but fail to account for. Everyone believes that their commute to work is shorter than it really is.

     Now I remember how the topic came up. We were at a wedding and meeting up with a lot of old friends, catching up on what they are doing. But we didn't find out what her son's friend Robbie is doing. Later, however, B talked to her son, and found out that what he is doing is ... day trading.

     Trying to make a living day trading? Otherwise known as gambling? Was he kidding?

     But my brother-in-law also does some day trading. He's been doing it for years. According to him, he just does small-time stuff. Acts on a tip now and then. And he makes, "Oh, I dunno, maybe a few thousand dollars a year."

     I once asked his wife, my sister, about this. Her response? Yeah, he loses about five thousand dollars a year. But I don't let it worry me. It gives him something to do, keeps him out of trouble, and it costs less than taking a two-week vacation, which we hardly ever do anymore.

     Which reminded me of the time I went to the track with some friends. One of the guys professed to be an expert in betting at the track. He knew the horses, he knew the odds, he knew how the whole thing worked.

     So everyone in our party gave him $50. He would be in charge of the betting. We saw maybe four or five races, I forget exactly. I believe one of our horses came in, but most of them were in the back of the pack. At the end of the day our friend gave us each $28. "See," he said. "We each won twenty eight dollars!"

     I don't know if he was lying to us, or if he was lying to himself. Or if he was just kidding. But see what I mean about the lying?

     Meanwhile, B's top three lies were:

     How much money you spent at the mall. This may be lying to your spouse to avoid an argument. Or, it could be lying to yourself, so you don't feel so bad.

     How great a time you had on vacation. Especially with facebook, nobody will admit, even to themselves, that they've just spent a fortune going to Europe or Hawaii or the beach or the mountains and didn't have good time. They remember the sunny days and the gorgeous sights, but not the delays at the airport, the overheated hotel room, the strange stomach bug they picked up, or the time they got ripped off by a vendor.

     How cute your grandchildren are. Every grandparent thinks their grandchild is the cutest. They can't all be right, can they?

     Although I remember when I had my own daughter. The nurse brought me to the nursery to show me my little girl -- this was back in the days when they did it that way. There were eight or ten babies in the nursery. But the nurse didn't have to tell me which one was mine -- because I could see that my little girl was the cutest baby in the nursery.

     Later, I saw my wife, and she asked me if I'd seen the baby. And I told her, yes, I'd seen her and she was the cutest, the prettiest baby in the nursery, and probably the smartest too. There was a different nurse in the room at the time, and I heard her chuckle and mumble under her breath, "Yeah, all the dads say that."

     I heard her, and so I looked over at the nurse and then at my wife, lying there in bed with a big grin on her face, and I said to the woman, "You're correct. All the dads do say that. But, you know, one of those dads is right. And I'm the dad who is right -- our daughter is the cutest baby in the nursery."

     Lies? What lies?

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Christmas Lights

     We went over to Peddler's Village the other night to have dinner and see the lights.

     Peddler's Village is a collection of shops and restaurants housed in charming old-style colonial buildings.

     It's an outdoor mall, really, but the shops are arranged around a kind of village green, with a brook running through it, and they are connected by a series of winding brick paths.

     The shops feature clothes, household goods, arts and crafts, kick knacks, tchotchkes, Christmas ornaments and decorations of all sorts.

     Yes, it appeals to tourists, from all over. Well, all over this area. People come from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, a few from New York. You always see a few buses in the parking lot, bringing people in from senior-living facilities, women's clubs, community centers.

     My favorite store is Knobs 'n Knockers which focuses almost exclusively on cabinet hardware, doorknobs, towel racks, weathervanes, mailboxes -- and yes, door knockers, some costing as much as $200. They're nice, but would you pay $200 for a door knocker?

     I wouldn't. But, hey, it's free to walk around and enjoy the lights and soak up the Christmas spirit.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Fist Fight

     My dad grew up in an immigrant family. His mother and father came from Austria-Hungary in the 1890s. I never met my grandfather -- he died before I was born -- but my grandmother was a fierce woman who only ever spoke broken English, but was bound and determined that her children would grow up and succeed in this new country.

     We called her Grammy, and I only knew her as a fat old lady. But in her day she must have been a proud woman. She and my grandfather bought a house sometime around 1910. It was a two-family rowhouse, in the ethnic neighborhood of an old industrial city in New England, but still, it was a house. And she was proud that she was heavy -- it meant she could afford to eat!

     She had seven children altogether. Uncle Johnny was the oldest surviving boy (her first son died in the 1918 flu epidemic), and he must have been smart, although I remember him as being more pugnacious and aggressive, and determined to get his way. My dad was the next son. He was more quiet and reserved, and he was studious. Grammy used to tease him that he was ranked 2nd in his high school class . . . and he was beaten by a girl!

     But somehow, through luck or persistence, or maybe a kind of early affirmative action, my Uncle Johnny got a scholarship at the nearby Ivy League college, and went on to become a lawyer. My father followed in his footsteps. They both bought big houses in the suburbs, had healthy families, and went on to send their children to good colleges.

      But the third son had a rougher time of it. He had diabetes, he had polio, and maybe some other ailments as well. He did make it to college -- not an Ivy League school, but a much more modest institution someplace in New Jersey. He became a teacher, back in the days when teachers made no money, and he and his wife had a side business buying and selling antiques to help make ends meet. Uncle Fred walked with a limp, sometimes with the help of a cane, and he suffered long, deep furrows that creased his face.

     Uncle Fred had one son, a few years older than I was. And, I remember, they lived on a dirt road, and when we went to visit them in the summer the kids would go swimming in a nearby creek, with an old tire on a rope so we could swing out into the water. It was a lot of fun.

     Fun for me. But clearly, Uncle Fred held some resentments. The whole family used to get together at my aunt's house in rural Connecticut a couple of times a year -- for Easter or Thanksgiving or Grammy's birthday.

     So this was sometime in the early-to-mid 1960s. I was in high school, just beginning to get tired of going to the family get-together. And a little embarrassed, too. After all, I lived a suburban white kid's life where everyone lived in nice houses with green patches of lawn. The men donned suits to go to work, the women wore dresses, and everyone was polite and proper.

     But my father's family still had some rough edges. They drank and got loud and all talked the strange mixed language of my grandmother.

Uncle Johnny (left) and my dad, c. 1940
     My grandmother was the roughest of them all, ordering her sons around, telling them what to do, scoffing at whatever failures she perceived they had suffered. My own mother did not like Grammy. "She never thought any woman was good enough for her precious sons," she said with some bitterness.

     But it so happened that this year Uncle Johnny's son, his oldest and most precious child, had just flunked out of his precious Ivy League college. What was he going to do? Uncle Johnny was trying to do the best he could for his son -- just like his mother did for him -- but his son was rebelling against his father and maybe his whole family, and maybe Uncle Johnny was just a little embarrassed that his son had flunked out of school.

     So I remember, we were all sitting on the stoop outside my aunt's house. Uncle Johnny looked over at his younger brother, Uncle Fred. Maybe Fred could help out, maybe get his son into his no-name college in New Jersey for a semester or two, before he got back in good graces with his Ivy League school. And at least his son would be somewhere in college, not hanging around home causing more trouble.

     Uncle Fred scowled. "Are you kidding me?" he snarled. "Where I work, where I went to school ... it was never good enough for you. But now as soon as your kid gets in trouble, you come crawling to me for help? Where were you when I needed a little help?"

     "Oh, you're full of crap. I helped you for years. Gave you money to get that house of yours built. Now I'm asking for a little favor. Just put in a good word, so he can get into a school, any school. No skin off your back."

     Uncle Fred put down his drink and stood up. "You got a lot of nerve..."

     Uncle Johnny stood up and faced him. Looked him hard in the eyes, challenging him. Uncle Fred took a step forward and pushed Uncle Johnny back, so he stumbled on the step. Johnny turned and bent over, thrusting his arms out to catch himself on the step. Then he whipped around and lunged at Uncle Fred, throwing punches to his body and tackling him to the ground.

     Uncle Fred got on top and was landing some blows -- even though he was somewhat handicapped he was still ten years younger. But then Grammy banged out of the front door. She stood imperiously on the front porch, looking down at them and yelling to stop.

     My two uncles obeyed immediately. They got up and dusted themselves off. Uncle Fred labored up the steps and went into the house. Uncle Johnny's hand was bleeding, scraped on the stairs when he fell on the porch. He laughed it off, sneering, "Oh, gripes, he'll never learn." He picked up his drink, took a swig and looked around at four or five of us kids, sitting slack-jawed on side of the driveway. We thought only kids fought; we didn't know that adults could fight as well.

     "Come on, let's throw a football around," Uncle Johnny said.

     By the end of the day everything was back to normal. My uncles were slapping each other on the back, laughing and apologizing. "Nevermind." "Don't worry about it." "Hey, no hard feelings." We then herded into our cars and started on the trip home, which for me was back to the suburbs.

     As you might have guessed, Uncle Johnny's son never went to school in New Jersey. Instead, he went into the military. He learned to fly airplanes and eventually went back to college, got his degree and became an engineer and then a computer analyst. Now he's retired in upstate New York
and likes to ride motorcycles. Me? I still live in the suburbs.