When our son, George, was in elementary school, he became friendly with a boy of Turkish descent, and after a while, Genna and I became friendly with his parents.
If you don't know, most Middle Eastern people and those of Mediterranean descent really like lamb. That covers George's little friend's parents, as well as Genna and I, both being Italian and German. Actually, it just covers me, who has an Italian gene when it comes to lamb, while Genna has a German one. It's been my experience that most Germans don't care for lamb, and Genna can't even stand the smell of it cooking.
Here's how much she doesn't like lamb. After we started dating steadily, and while discussing our likes and dislikes, her lamb issue came up. Well, shortly after, we got invited for dinner at my parents to meet Genna. My Italian mother is, to this day, at nearly 85, a great, intuitive cook, especially of her native dishes. She cooks a leg of lamb with her special spiced honey and mint sauce which is so good, I feel guilty telling you about it, but not able to offer you some.
Guess what I forgot to tell mom not to make for dinner? I realized the gaffe while driving with Genna to my parents house on Barnegat Bay at the Jersey shore. Not saying anything, just thinking to myself, oh, she'll probably make lasagna, or a roast beef, or... something everyone likes (hope a hope a hope a).
We got out of the car in the driveway, and I could smell the lamb from the kitchen exhaust, and so could Genna, who said, out of respect for my mother, "Don't you say a word!!"
Genna and my parents got off to a good start, and the meal was going very well under the circumstances. Genna was eating everything else on her plate, except the lamb, which she was gradually cutting in small pieces. Then I realized that she was also gradually feeding them to Jon Jon, my parents Chihuahua, whom I've already told you about (he has his own story). When her lamb was almost completely transferred to Jon Jon's gullet, my mother said, "Genna, have another piece of lamb," as she simultaneously plopped it on her plate.
I started to howl with laughter; the gig was up.
Back to our Turkish friends. Needless to say, Genna required assurances from George's friend's parents that there were plenty of other things on the menu at the Turkish restaurant that we were going to, besides their lamb specialty. The restaurant was in North Bergen, NJ, and I was glad it was the four of us, because from the looks of the outside, I alone would never gone into this place. Once inside, it was pretty charming, actually. We let them order for us, since they knew the cuisine, provided it was lamb for me, and beef for Genna. Throughout the different courses, we were all sipping a Turkish liquor, which was licorice based, similar to my Italian Zambuca. It certainly was a lubricant, because we became looser, happier, and certainly more painless as the night wore on.
Around 11 o'clock, with the mics and music getting louder, the Maitre 'D announced the arrival of Yasmine, the belly dancer. This girl was like a giant tube of toothpaste, squeezed in all the right places, and she could make all those baubles attached to her two piece costume move in every direction. She dervishly moved from table to table, and the Turkish men would stand up, dance with her, then fan a wad of one dollar bills over her head, letting them drop to the dance floor around her.
Yasmine eventually made her way over to our table, and bending down over the loud music yelled to me, "You're not Turkish, are you?" That was an easy assessment on her part, since I was the only guy there with light skin, and without a hook nose and moustache.
Yasmine laughed, and bent down close enough to my ear to whisper "Neither am I. I'm Jewish!"
We both laughed privately at each other for a few seconds.
Genna and I were in our first house a few years when our next door neighbors invited us over for drinks. We were very close to Lisa and Joe, having a lot in common, around the same age, married a few years, struggling to carve out our new lives, etc. After Joe served the first round ( drinking in those days was more like a boxing match, now its more of a one and done), he said they had an announcement. Genna and I glanced at each other, thinking the same thing. They already had a little girl, but we knew they planned to have a couple, or few more. Great, here comes number two.
"We're moving," Joe said.
Lisa chimed in, "Wait til you meet Barney and Flora. They both were recently widowed, and this is the second marriage for both. John, believe me, they are both just sooo nice!!"
Shit. What was she going to tell us? First of all, its tough to replace really nice neighbors, with another set of really nice new neighbors (this was proven to us when another neighbor moved out a few years later, but that's another not so funny story that I'll make into one anyway). They're a generation older. That usually doesn't make for alot in common. When we left to go home, we weren't sick from drinking, but were sick from the news.
Guess what? Lisa was right. They were both delightful, and we all hit it off from the get-go. This is how delightful. We've kept in touch and continued to visit each other, although the four of us have moved a couple of times each. Their company has been a constant joy, and we just had dinner with them last night, 31 years later!
All I really had to know about Barney's goodness was the way he related to children. When our son, George, was a toddler, Barney came home from work one afternoon and saw his good little buddy playing on our front lawn. George ran over to him, yelling, "Boinie's home!!" and jumped into his arms.
Before I could correct George's speech, Barney said, "You know, George, everyone calls me Barney, but you're the only one who pronounces it the right way!" We've called him Boinie ever since.
A few years after they moved from Bergen County in northern N.J. to East Hampton, Long Island, N.Y., we visited Boinie and Flora one mid week summer day. Boinie mentioned another encounter with a child while he was an usher at a local museum. The young boy was accompanied by his parents, but had obviously had too much sugar for lunch, or missed his dose of ADHD medication. Before he bounced off a priceless painting or sculpture, Boinie quietly called him over.
"Would you do me a favor? Please tell your parents to be very quiet, and not to touch any of the artwork on display. Would you do that for me now?" The child did just that, and his parents relievingly smiled at Boinie, knowing their trip to the museum would be more enjoyable.
Last night for dinner, we went to an excellent, reasonably priced, store-front Greek restaurant. After 31 years, Boinie and Flora live right down the street from us in South Florida. They're permanent residents, while we are still "snowflakes", but we see them every time we come down.
Looking at the menu, Boinie said to me, "I've never had octopus."
I summoned the waiter, and said," This man just told me he hasn't had octopus in 94 years. Please make him a special dish." We all laughed, Boinie the loudest.
As we left the restaurant, I looked at the both of them. Flora is 84, but doesn't look 65. Time has bent and bowed, but not broken Boinie.
"Boinie," I said, "You're still my gold standard."
After 31 years, I still hear Lisa saying, "They are sooo nice!!"
I met my wife, Genna, on a blind date, and I soon found out that her best excuse for her sense of direction would have been blindness.
Our first date didn't go that well. At the time, I was an undergrad at Rutgers in New Brunswick, NJ, working near full time hours to pay for my full time schooling. The date was for a Saturday, the busiest day at the Sears shoe department on Route 1. I was tired, cranky, and sorry I said 'yes' to her good mutual friend about the date. Well, when I picked her up, I saw that she was (and still is) gorgeous. In fact, she still has a friend who, to this day, calls her, truthfully, 'gorgeous'.
That didn't stop me from being a total boor the whole evening. From the wise cracks, unknowingly taking her to dinner at the same place she had lunch earlier, to the unsuccessful liberties I attempted before dropping her off past curfew at the dorm (curfew was still a big thing in those days, and I had to sweet talk the dateless girl on the other side of the locked door), I was not very nice to her.
The next day, the better side of my Gemini nature compelled me to call Genna and apologize. To this day, I don't know why she took my call, but she did, and now we're together 42 years later. Anyway, I told her back then I wanted to make it up to her, to show her I really was a gentleman, and also to unmortify our mutual friend whose idea it was to meet in the first place. I told Genna I had two tickets to "Romeo and Juliet" then the hit date movie of the day playing at the Paris Theatre in New York City. I also told her I had made reservations at Vesuvio, a great Italian restaurant in the late 1960's..
Genna said yes. I found out later that she said yes because I had mentioned Vesuvio, a favorite restaurant of her family, and her father knew the Maitre 'D. So unknowingly, I was back in Genna's good graces, and so far in her father's, whom I hadn't even met yet! Thank you, Vesuvio, in restaurant heaven!
Genna didn't have to give me directions to her house, just the address. Once she gave me that, I was familiar with the neighborhood, having grown up two towns away, but definitely on the other side of the tracks. When I arrived to pick her up, I thought, definitely other side. After some small talk meeting her mother (her father wasn't home yet), we were out the door and into my car. Genna said, " Make a left out of the driveway," which was the opposite way that I thought. We went several blocks, "turn right, turn left," along the way, until we came to a dead end. Lost in her own neighborhood!
I thought to myself, she doesn't get out of the house much. Four or five blocks from her house, and she's LOST!! Genna looked at me sheepishly and seemed to blush the thought "If you forget this, I'll forget the other night."
I was able to back track, and go the way we should have. The dinner and show were terrific, and we hit it off from then on. However, after 42 years, she still gets lost. Its better now with her GPS, but I still get "Where am I?" calls when she is out, and I'm at home.
I've tried to find an explanation why she always gets lost, and I can only come up with a theory. One time she told me her parents, when she was a toddler, would put her in the car and drive around the block, to help her fall asleep. To this day, she gets very sleepy in the car. and closes her eyes quite often. I was always awake in the car as a kid, taking in landmarks, and developing a sense of direction from a young age. She was asleep most of the time in the car, as a youngster, and as an adult, since I do most of the driving.
I've always been able to find her, because, of course, I never want to lose her.
In the early 1960's, when the Kennedy's and Camelot were in the White House, my parents got a male Chihuahua puppy. What to name him? Well, my father's name was John, I was John Jr., the First Family had a son called John John by his father, the President. Our new puppy's name on his kennel papers was "'something' (to this day, I can only remember) Little Bad John". The coinicidence was too much to pass up. However, out of a little respect, we changed the spelling to Jon Jon.
Having never had a large dog, I have to ask, are they as horny as little dogs? I already told you about Snowball. Jon Jon not only attacked your legs, or arms if you were sitting down, but any stuffed toy that was available. To make matters worse, he seemed to get more excited when we had company. Very embarrassing. When you tried to separate him from an object of his desires, he had a set of teeth like a machine gun, which he would fire away at your hand or arm. To save our fingers, we purchased a broom to sweep Jon Jon into a spare room which wasn't being used at the time.
With what you know so far, you may be asking, why keep this dog? He really was very cute, and very smart when his Mexican blood cooled. And fearless.
We had a small bungalow at the New Jersey shore during that time, and our neighbor purchased a Doberman Pinscher puppy. I said to myself, this has potential bad-ending all over it. Sure enough, one day a few months after, the now adolescent Pinscher strolled over to our property, seemingly wanting to play with Jon Jon, who instead, felt threatened. As we all held our breath, Jon Jon raced and growled toward the much larger Pinscher, who decided to wait until he grew up before confronting this little dynamo. Well, he wasn't able to get enough speed before Jon Jon leapt up and bit the poor dog's hind quarter, and held on!!
You have to picture Jon Jon hanging on and growling, the Pinscher running in a circle on three legs howling in pain, and shaking his fourth leg for 30 seconds before Jon Jon released his jaws. As far as Jon Jon was concerned, good fences did make good neighbors, and lucky for him, the Pinscher never got loose when he matured.
When I became engaged to my wife, Genna, I found out how jealous and possessive Jon Jon could be. I was talking to her on the phone (no cell phones in those days), when I had to get some information for her from the other room. I dropped the phone, went to the other room, and when I came back, I see Jon Jon hunched over the receiver and growling. Genna is saying "John?...John? (meaning me)." I started yelling into the phone, over his growls, " Gen, I'll call you back." Remembering the Pinscher, and not wanting to experience his shark- like grip, I swept him out of the room and shut the door before returning the call.
I still have a photo of Genna, with Jon Jon on her lap, both looking into to the camera at the same angle, with the same smirk on their faces, like "I don't like you, and you don't like me."
Jon Jon was probably one of the first to greet Snowball when he got to heaven, and I can just imagine what there idea of a good time is.
During the 80's, I had a neighbor next to my place of business, Ned, whom I was quite sure still had the first nickel he ever made. I always had coffee made in the morning, and I would usually bring some donuts or pastries. I don't remember if he first came to my shop asking for a cup and a donut, but he just got used to mooching every morning. Say thank you? No. Bring a bag of ground coffee once in a while? No. Donuts? No. There are two types of tickets, one way, or round trip. Ned always punched the former.
Except once. His reciprocation involved postage stamps. Ned was British, so to him, it was 'stomps', not stamps. More times than I can remember, he came into my office asking,
" John, would you happen to have a stomp for me?" Or, "A few stomps for me?" One time, I did step on his foot, and he quizzically asked why I did it. This stamp business went on for some time, as we 'givers' suffer the 'takers' on minor points like these. After what seemed like the better part of a role of stamps, Ned came in the office one morning (for coffee and donut, of course) waiving a one dollar bill, saying " John, this is for the stomps you've given me."
I didn't keel over, but did manage a 'thank you'. After he left, I pinned the one dollar bill out of reach on the wall over the doorway. Anyone that noticed asked its significance. When I'd say, " That's Ned's gift to me", the response was, "REALLY?!?"
There was a payback for all this cheapness, as Ned was the brunt of more than a few jokes. He couldn't stand any disparaging remarks about the monarchy. One day, I waited for the right moment to spring one on him. I said, "Ned, did you hear that the Queen of England was robbed on a road of her estate at Balmoral?"
He took the bait, frantically asking," I can't believe it! How could this happen? Was she hurt?"
I said that she was fine, that sometimes, she took the car by herself, and drove the back roads of the estate just to get some air and clear her head. Somehow, this man was able to evade security to get on the grounds. Her only comment afterward was something to the effect that she was able to save the diamond tiara that was on the front seat by sticking it between her legs as the highwayman approached the car.
"I only wish I had my sister, Princess Margaret, along, as she might have been able to save the Bentley," she said.
With steam about to escape from his blood red ears, Ned, using that other word for prostitute, said "Princess Margaret is nothing but an 'or', and a disgrace to the crown!", and, 'stomped' out of the office.
We didn't see Ned for a few days, but of course he came back, for his free coffee and donut.
Franky was an employee my father-in-law and I had for our business, and a very good one, when he showed up for work. He had some personal issues, which were sad, not funny, so I won't go into them. However, he did have a sense of humor above it all. I also employed my younger cousin while he tried to "find himself"just out of high school. He was my favorite aunt's son, and I felt an obligation to return some kindness. The problem is, he really seemed to complain more than actually work. He was always asking for a raise, which he didn't deserve, and I would do a verbal dance with him about the fringe benefits ( free coffee, snacks, lunch, etc) he enjoyed. This didn't stop him from asking one day, " Besides these fringe benefits I get, tell me what else I get around here for doing nothing?"
To which Franky yelled out from the other end of the shop, "Your pay!"
My father-in-law, Franky, and I laughed until just this side of hyperventilating. My cousin's face tinted between red and purple, and he quit after two more weeks. Probably just as well, I wasn't getting through to him the concept of hard work.
Getting back to Franky. He had a fear of good health. Doctors, dentists, and the like' he wanted no part of. He had a pirate's smile which not only looked awful, but wasn't healthy either. My father-in- law offered many times to pay to have Franky's teeth fixed; all he had to do was go... No go, for Franky.
There was a very good dental school in the area at which my father-in-law decided to get some work done,as he had been a bit negligent also. If you didn't mind being a guinea pig, the treatment was very thorough, scrutinized by actual dentists, and best of all, dirt cheap. So my father-in- law tells Franky again that he'll pay for him to go, but he will go first, and tell Franky everything that they do as the treatment progresses.
Everything was going well at first, the x-rays, the cleaning, etc. Franky seemed to be taking an interest, as well as mustering some courage. All very good to this point. The teaching clinic informed my father-in- law that he did need some minor oral surgery, but it was no big deal. This didn't throw Franky either; after all, it wasn't his mouth yet.
After having this minor surgery one morning, my father-in-law stopped by the shop that afternoon, looking chipper, as if he had canceled the appointment. Franky noticed that he had two very thin red lines on his cheeks, and asked what they were about.
"Oh, my jaw was slightly out of alignment, so they had to break it and reset it, and the lines were just a guide, and it really didn't hurt at all."
Good thing I was standing next to Franky, because he started to keel over. I caught him, then I started laughing, along with my father-in-law.
The laughter cleared Franky's head, and he said "Son of a bitch!" He knew he'd been had.
He never did go to the clinic.
Would he have gone if we didn't goof on him? I don't think so.
Not very long ago, Secaucus, NJ, was a very large area for hog farming in the Northeast. Pig farming, to say the least, was not the same as making perfume. In fact, when I was a kid in the 50s, traveling to the Jersey shore was often accompanied by the hope that the wind was blowing away from the town, not from it. Most often, the smell crossed the NJ Turnpike for several miles, too long to hold your breath. Not long after, enough of another "stink" was raised by the general public to convince the powers that were to think of other land uses more suitable for property so close to the NY metro area.
My father-in-law had a place of business before and after the hogs, and he recounted this funny story to me.
On a nice, sunny day, his men, and the men from the adjacent shop would have lunch outside if the air was fresh, that is, blowing in the right direction. The businesses were on a busy roadway, Route 3, which made what I'm about to tell you even more amazing.
On of the men looked across the highway and saw a piglet, which must have fallen off a truck, squealing, and zig-zagging across the roadway, dodging cars and trucks, running toward the men on the other side. You have to picture about 15 guys cheering, about to wince, and hoping for this little pig's success. Somehow, the piglet made it across the road, and into the field next to the men's lunch table. The poor little thing probably was more terrified of the 15 guys playing Rugby in the marsh mud trying to catch him than of the trucks and cars.
Well, he finally was caught ( everything about how slippery a little pig can be is true, said my father-in-law).
One of the men decided to raise the pig, then bring it to market.
He did just that. However, no one told him that a 400 pound pig that wasn't castrated as a piglet is not fit to eat.
Our son, George, is a very bright kid who currently is glacially pursuing college course work, which has been impeded by Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD, for the few readers who didn't know). Besides this disability, he is extremely bright. I am not; he takes after his mother. I'm not going to give too much credit to The New York Times which she read to him while still in his crib, but that, among many other nurturing devices, puzzles, etc, honed his intellect. Near 150 IQ.
When George was a toddler, my parents lived about two hours from us at the New Jersey shore, and he was always very excited to see them. We would be in the car, about a half hour from home, around Newark Airport, and he would ask (every time we made the trip) " When are we going to be there?"
"Soon, son, soon." was always our answer. We always traveled with an array of distracting puzzles and games, all which had an effective life of 15 to 20 minutes, before he would ask the same question. Thank God the trip was only 2 hours.
Well, thank God for only a while. My parents retired to North Carolina. Beautiful state, beaches, weather, people. Very long car trip, however. 11 hours.
Before our first road trip to visit Nani and Pop Pop, we tried to explain time and distance to George, and we thought he got it. He was doing very well, until we passed Newark Airport.
"When are we going to be there?"
After an eye roller, I said, "George, do you see the sun over here? When it gets over there, we should be arriving then."
ADD strikes again. About a half hour later, "When are...?"
My wife turned to me, " This is going to be a VERY long day."
We started with the assorted puzzles and games; "license plates" was the most effective. As we approached the Baltimore, MD area, I had an idea. I took the scenic route towards the Harbor Tunnel, which is a combination causeway over, tunnel under, water. When we were approaching the tunnel section, I said to George, " You'd better put the windows up before we get to the tunnel. We don't want any water getting in the car." He feverishly put the windows up in back, and was glancing from one side to the other while in the tunnel. I glanced over at my smirking wife who didn't want to give up the joke by laughing.
When we got out of the tunnel, George was very quiet for well over an hour and a half, before asking, again, "When...?"
We finally made it to North Carolina. My wife and I sure earned THAT martini. My fear that I created an aqua phobic kid was dispelled when George wanted to swim in the Atlantic Ocean across the street before sunset. As he got older, I would continue to play these little "goofs" on George, a game I affectionately call "Stump the genius."
We had a wonderful time once there, and have been down many times since, flying back and forth.
They are the best neighbors we could ever have, and I'm not just saying that because I'm about to make fun of them. Really. When we purchased our house, and after we finished picking our design studio "upgrades" (really should be called "cost mores"), the final question should have been, " Now, would you like to select your new neighbors?" Our answer would have been, " We'll take Mike and Donna."
We're very fortunate. You could spend millions on a dream house, have lousy neighbors, and want to move out.
This is a true story, although their names have been changed to protect their not so innocence.
We were leaving for Florida, and I asked Mike to keep an eye on the house, which he gladly agreed to do. We're down in Florida a few days and I get an email from Mike with a photo attachment. The picture was of Mike's car parked on our front lawn with the caption, "I can't watch your house any closer than this!"
I thanked him again, showed the picture to my wife and said, " Mike is really good with Photoshop.", and she agreed.
After we returned home about a week and a half later, I noticed the front lawn had a fairly large brownish area. I thought, well, looks like a webworm, or a fungus, but it also looked like it was starting to grow back.
Shortly thereafter, Donna came over, and at rate of about 500 words per minute, said something like this.
She kept going, but you get the picture.
I had to beg her to stop, I was laughing so hard. I said, " Donna please, I can't catch my breath, and I'm getting a stomach cramp. And here I was impressed with Mike's computer savvy."
"Are you kidding?" she said. "He can barely send an email with a photo attachment."
"Well, I think that was just enough for a good laugh." I said.