My father is a storyteller. In case you’re wondering where I get it from.
I never tire of his retelling of little gems from celebrity sightings to vacation mishaps to clients from hell. (He’s also in advertising, in case you’re wondering where I get that from too.) An active life spent in and around New York City makes him like our family’s very own Metropolitan Diary. Our very own Overheard in New York. Only better. He’s got camp stories that make me howl with laughter, fraternity stories that make me blush, National Guard stories that make me realize that it’s a damn good thing the US Army never had the honor of his, um…service.
Yeah, my dad used to make up Jewish holidays so he could get out of latrine duty. Ever heard of T’Shibov? Well, neither had his captain.
My father is not like that cliché old grandpa character, the one who says, “Did I ever tell you about that guy with the thing…” but only because he knows very well that he’s told us about that guy with the thing. Hundreds of times.
But he also knows it doesn’t stop us from wanting to hear about that guy with the thing.
“You know my story about…” he begins with a grin. Then he inhales deeply, leans back as he stretches out his arms out, then relaces his fingers behind his head and begins.
“You know the LCD story, Liz…you were 5, in the Mexico airport on our way home from vacation. You wanted a piece of candy and we wouldn’t let you have it. So you walked right up to the counter and stared and stared at that candy and made these sad puppy dog eyes at the lady behind the counter until she just handed it to you.
That’s when we started calling you LCD: Little Convincing Daughter.”
I’ve derived plenty of my life lessons and values from his stories. I learned to be nice to people on the way up the ladder. I learned that what goes around comes around. I learned what a parent can be at his best.
“You know my line, right….I told your stepmother on our first date: I don’t live with my kids full time. But I’m still a full-time dad.”
His travel stories are some of the best. My father is an intrepid Lonely Planet kind of a traveler, exploring Thailand, Egypt, Costa Rica, the Galapagos, the way the locals do. Which isn’t to say he isn’t particular about things.
Hey, this time we only had to switch rooms at the hotel twice! Next time we’re going to ask for our third room, first.
His most riveting travel stories take place during long lunches at hidden restaurants where the proprietors speak not a word of English. Or on day trips with native tour guides who can get him access to places tourists wouldn’t even know to ask about.
“Your wife, she is beautiful,” the old Egyptian man said at the cafe.
“Two camels! I’ll sell her to you for two camels,” I joked. Amye giggled.
“But no! That would be an insult,” he said in all seriousness. “I give you 20,000.”
The celebrity stories are irresistible, of course. There was Jerry Lewis (douchebag!) making an appearance at my dad’s fraternity then refusing to pose for a single picture with the brothers. I believe his line was, “You think a star like me would pose with a pipsqueak like you?” There was Joe DiMaggio (awesome!) who my father worked with for a while, and who would discuss anything besides Marilyn Monroe. And then there was the time a super hot 1970s Hollywood icon and infamous womanizer, at the height of his celebrity, walked into a high-end restaurant with a date, stoned and holding a joint–and my father just so happened to be at a large table near the front door.
“Joint,” I said mouthing the words quietly when he caught my eye. I pointed towards his fingers. “Joint.”
Realizing his faux pas, he nodded, then quickly tucked the joint into his pocket.
Moments later he came by our table to say hi and whisper a word of thanks in my ear. “Good to see you!” he said shaking my hand, then waving to everyone else at the table. “Enjoy your dinners.”
“Oh my goodness! How do you know him?” you grandfather asked, impressed.
“Oh…I just know him,” I said.
This is like so many of my father’s anecdotes–fortuitous intersections between his life and pop culture or history. In some ways, my father is like Zelig, often in the right place–or wrong place–at just the right time. These are the kinds of stories that give me more perspective on the world and how sometimes our tiny lives fit into the puzzle.
So it’s the summer of 1964 and those two civil rights activists are missing in Mississippi. My National Guard troop is all sitting around discussing it, and this one guy from that very town pipes in quietly, “Sheriff did it.”
We all waved him off, thinking yeah, right. We chalked him up as some yokel. What did he know?
Again, still softly, “Sheriff did it. Everyone knows it.”
With that he walked away
Nate gives me a hard time when I start to retell a story for the fourth or fifth or the thirtieth time, like my father does. I don’t apologize for it. These tales are our family’s legacies. Telling them over and over is one way to assure that they don’t die with the storyteller.
Tonight I’m going to have a new story: The night we took my father out for his 65th birthday.
Happy birthday dad, I love you.
And if you don’t mind, I’m going to tell you that more than once.