Friday, June 03, 2005

Recent conversations with friends reminded me of old conversations with my dad:

When he and my mom first moved, he told me he liked Vegas, that the new surroundings were a welcome change from the cold weather of New York. Not to mention that damn bumper-to-bumper Long Island Expressway… And can you believe what those bastards at LILCO were charging to light the house? Here, it was warm all year ‘round and there’s no state tax in Nevada…

Yeah, yeah. I waited ‘til we were away from my mom and asked him what he really thought. He sighed, checked no one was listening and said, “What the hell are we doing out in the desert? Jews don’t belong in the desert. The Negev, maybe. Maybe. Otherwise, Jews belong in a cold shtetl eating pastrami sandwiches and washing it down with a Dr. Brown’s cream soda.” Way to fight the stereotype, Pops. “Do you know,” he said, “most of these supermarkets don’t carry halvah?”

Somehow he adjusted though. Before long, the curmudgeon was notorious around town, leaving a wake of people stunned and often bemused by his in-your-face attitude. I’d go run an errand for him -- say to the car dealership or the pharmacy, wherever -- mention I was Harvey’s kid and their face would light up. “Oh, your father… what a character.” Then they’d relate their bizarre encounter with the old man.

I was there for one such interaction. We were going to visit one of his buddies from the sports book, a professional gambler who just moved into a gated community. We were going over so the two handicappers could bicker about the best method to bet the Pick Six at Pimlico.

Dad drove up to the gate and told the security guard his buddy’s name. The guard, who was maybe in his late 50s, didn’t hear him, so my father repeated himself. The guard said, oh, okay, sorry, and joked that he was getting hard of hearing.

“Yeah, you’re getting old!” Dad took a drag on his cigarette. “When you get old, the hearing goes, your eyes start to go… Tell me: How’s your dick?”

I was mortified. I just hoped my father’s seniority made this joke okay… But it was more in the way he said it. A real Bronx flippancy in the tone…

The guard laughed. He said, “Well, now, that’s working just fine.”

“And that’s all that’s important.” Dad exhaled smoke through his nose.

As we drove on, I peeked in the rear-view at the guard. He was still chuckling.

Then I turned back and looked at my dad. Somehow he just made yet another friend. The misplaced Jew in the desert did it again.


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