Traditions

When I was a kid, I’m not even sure if I was in school yet, an uncle grabbed me off the street and took me to a bar. Now don’t worry, I wasn’t being auctioned off to the highest bidder or made to wash dishes because he was short on his bar tab. He wanted me to shake somebody’s hand.

At the time it was just a crazy uncle doing crazy uncle things. But this time, even at that young age, I knew there was a purpose. It wasn’t that he wanted to show off whatever pool trick he’d taught me. I could tell there was something behind the urgency. He practically dragged me up to this guy. A guy even older than my uncle, if you can believe that.

He was your average ruddy faced Irish guy. Well, average for the area we lived in. He didn’t seem like anyone special. I didn’t recognize him from my baseball cards or the post offices wanted posters. Like I said, an old, average guy.

“Shake his hand.” My uncle said in a manner that wasn’t demanding but I knew it’d be better to do what he said. So I held out my tiny hand. The man laconically turned as he took the beer mug from his face. He looked at me with eyes that held many truths. And probably more lies.

He put his beer mug down in a gesture that told of the seriousness of this event. He wiped his right hand on the weathered work shirt and glanced down on me. It was a proud look. I found that odd. I’m just shaking some old guys hand, after all.

“Go on,” my uncle said. “Shake it.”

I don’t know how big he was nor accurately remember how small I was. But I clearly remember that he took my hand forcefully and engulfed it. In my minds eye he swallowed it. A hand shark. And he pumped my hand three, maybe four, but it was surely no more, times. And just as quickly released it.

In a flash he had his right hand back around his beer mug as my uncle pounded me on the back and shoulders.

“There ya go.” He said. “You’ve just shaken the hand of a man who’s shaken the hand of John L. Sullivan.” He turned me away from the bar. “You’ll remember this day forever.”

He ushers me out of the bar and deposits me back in the street. I stand there for a few seconds. Mostly spent looking at my hand. Although I don’t clearly remember it I have to assume I was thinking,

‘What the hell just happened back there?’

It turns out, in some circles, shaking the hand of a man who shook the hand of John L. Sullivan is a big deal. When I actually learned who John L. Sullivan was and heard many times after how monumental what happened that day was I was still a little fuzzy on the historical significance.

But my uncle was right about one thing, I have remembered it forever.

The true significance of it didn’t hit me until years later. I got a call asking if I’d play tennis with a guy who was preparing for a tournament. I was often called as a sparring partner so we settled on a price, I was told where I was to be and when.

Arriving at the club I was amazed. This was a big money establishment. I’d been in some pretty fancy tennis clubs by then but this was beyond anything I’d seen up to that date. To say my friend and I were in the crappiest car in the parking lot was an understatement. We actually parked as far away from everyone as possible. Between us we knew we couldn’t afford to scratch any other car.

Bring up your idea of the most sumptuous club. Now add hot and cold running gold and serifs floating around passing out aperitifs. Yeah, sort of spectacular. The courts themselves were very well maintained. They were clay courts that looked as if they were swept between points. I go to the court I was told to go to and I wait.

I’m sitting there looking around and the most striking thing to me was the animals. Not in squirrels and chipmunks and robins. I’m talking cows and goats and shit. All perfectly quiet but all roaming around the grounds freely. At first it was sort of odd to have a cow stop by to check out your game. But after awhile I had to admit it was rather cool.

About five minutes later this old guy showed up. I figured he was the guy’s grandfather or something. But he nods to me and gets on the court. I slowly get up wondering what kind of tournament he’s getting ready for. The Methuselah and over?

He tells me what he wants me to do and I do it. He tells me he wants to work on drop shots.

“Run those old bastards into the ground.” He says.

He chips most every shot but they’re too high. We talk for a second and I give him a piece of advice. He takes right to it and he starts to execute flawless low chips.

“Just like when I was young.” He says. And he seems to really believe it.

When our time is over we sit courtside. Out of nowhere some guy arrives and takes our food and drink order. I could get used to this. We start talking about tennis. I let him do most of the talking. Mainly because he kept talking but the things he said fascinated me.

It turns out he’s been a rather accomplished amateur player all his life. Traveled the world. Played with everyone you’ve only seen in black and white. Then he told me some stories about Bill Tilden. You can argue who the greatest tennis player of all time is (and unless you say Rod Laver you’re wrong) but, no matter what, Tilden’s up there. And the ‘legends’ I’d heard about him this gentleman confirmed.

All in all it was a magical day.

He’s walking me back to the car when something hit me. I told him the shaking hands story and he laughed.

“Now you’ve also played tennis with a man who played tennis with Bill Tilden. Together that’s an even more exclusive club I bet.”

It’s when I realized how important keeping a little piece of the past is.

“What did you get for Mother’s Day?”

I innocently ask a friend.

“A postcard from my daughter from where she’s on vacation.”

Came back the withering reply.

Happy Mother’s Day to those who have kids who actually care.

Proposal

As you may have expected, for most of my life I’ve pretty much said any damn thing I’ve wanted. I don’t go out of my way to hurt people’s feelings (more than necessary) but much of the time I’m time constrained or just don’t want to be having this conversation so I don’t mince words. I’m not saying that’s always worked out the best for me but it’s how I handle things.

Then there’s the point where things just come out of my mouth. I’ve got to say I’ve said some things that have made me wonder where it came from. And, truthfully, questioned my thought process. But it’s not like I blurt things out at inopportune times. Like I wouldn’t yell, “Sir! Cover that! There are ladies here!” at a bris.

But I might think it.

I know the difference between my indoor voice, my outdoor voice and my keep that one in your head voice.

I was in a store when someone called my name. I didn’t recognize the woman. I’m good with faces but if I haven’t seen you for a long time you’ve got to cut me some slack. Me, on the other hand, people seem to recognize. Which only leads me to believe I was one old looking fucking kid.

She reminds me who she was and I remembered. Sort of. Slowly a few things started coming back. She was, and from the looks of it still is, a very Irish woman. I’ve known many Irish people but this one tops them all. She even worked in an Irish store. Really? I’m part Irish but, really? There’s a need for that? How come we don’t have a German Superstore? A New Zealand Land? Seriously, how many shamrock appliques does one need?

She’s telling me about her life and I’m listening. To the song on in the store. I know I should be paying attention to the details of life but unless she says, “Oh yeah, and little Seamus looks just like you.” How interesting is it going to be for me?

Then she asked if I remembered what I said when she asked if I was ever going to be interested in marrying her. Truthfully, I didn’t. I don’t remember having a combative relationship with her so I would have guessed I left town for work and when I came back just didn’t call. I traveled back then so was gone for long periods of time. I’d often find a girl I was seeing would be seeing someone else by the time I got back.

But she reminded me and told me she alternated between crying and laughing for a couple weeks afterwards.

We’d been seeing each other for six months or so. I was always going away so it may have seemed longer to her. We’re at the tennis club and she asked if I was ever going to settle down. She was older than me so maybe it was more urgent for her. I probably gave her some flippant response and ended the conversation. From my standpoint. She wasn’t willing to change subjects as quickly.

Slowly bits of it came back. We were in the car and she was agitated. I told her we hadn’t been dating for that long and that I wasn’t willing to put anything ahead of my career. I guess she was feeling bad so there was a heavy silence in the car. Finally I broke the ice and said,

“Look at us. Look how pale we are? We could never get married. Our kids would be invisible.”

And that’s why we hadn’t seen each other in all those years.

As you may assume. . .

. . .many of my friends are wise mouthed assholes.

No, really, they are. And to prove it here’s a situation.

I’m sitting there talking to a woman who suffers fools but only for the money. If you come at her with a stupid stick when shes not getting paid someone is going to get rabies.

This guy who fancies himself quite a catch. That’s why the fact that he’s rarely caught shows just how deluded he is about his general countenance.

“Hey,” he opens to crickets. “Who’s your friend?”

“No one who wants to talk to you.” I say trying to save his life. At least it seems like that. But he doesn’t believe me and continues.

“So, what do you do?”

She stares at him. Then she looks at me and rolls her eyes. I could make him go away. I could end this. But why should I have all the fun?

He chuckles as he forges forward.

“Where’d you go to school?”

Now she looks at me as if I invented this dolt. I know she’s thinking, ‘The last time someone asked me what school I went to was when I was in school.’ For some reason she answers him. It wasn’t a ‘I loved my college days!’ tone. It was a snarling ‘I can’t believe we’re breathing the same air.’ tone.

“USC.”

“USC!” He says with too much enthusiasm. At least for my friend and I. “The University of Southern California!” I could see a light in her eye flicker. Never a good sign.

“No, the university of sucking cock.”

At least he was smart enough to realize that he’d worn out his welcome.

I don’t know why. . .

. . .parents let me talk to their children but they do.

I’m at a friends house and his little kid is talking to me. He’s asking me questions, I’m asking him questions and it’s all going well until, let’s be honest here, I became me.

“Do you know how lakes and rivers and oceans get their water?” The kid shakes his head no. Ha! He’s fallen into my trap! Now I have to think of a trap.

“Fish tears.”

The kid looks at me with that patented kid, ‘I’m not sure I’m buying this but he is an adult so must know things.’ so I continue.

“Really. I’m not kidding. They tell you it’s rain and stuff but that’s just so you won’t get scared. Have you ever been in an ocean?” He nods. “Have you ever tasted a tear?” Nods again. “They’re both salty, right?” Now I’ve got him! I’m proving a five year old is no match for my mental prowess.

“Why are they crying?”

“Because they know one day a hook is going to come down and yank them out of the water never to be seen again.” The kids eyes widen. “They see their friends and family get hooked all the time. If you saw that wouldn’t you be scared and cry all the time.”

The kid looks at me for a second. I’m nodding my head yes to show him I’m telling the truth. After a few beats he jumps off the couch and runs out of the room.

“Mommmmmm! Chris said fish tears fill the ocean. He said they cry all the time. Are our fish crying all the time?”

I’m sitting there pleased with myself because I’m a extra giant sized jerk when the kids mother sticks her head around the door. She’s laughing and shaking her head disapprovingly at me.

“Why do you do these things?”

“Because I don’t know the password to your wifi and got bored.”

Nah, I’m a jerk!

PS The kids mother sent me an email. He checks the water level of the aquarium in his house every day to see if his fish are crying too much. See? I help people become concerned about others!

Is it just me. . .

. . .or does every day feel like this?

Every Time

A guy I know asks me when I’m going to get a tattoo every time I see him. It wouldn’t be bad if I only saw him once in a lifetime but I’m not that lucky. I see him often and it’s quite annoying. I’ve told him that as well as other bon motts such as,

“When you have an intelligent thought.”

“When your mother admits you were a mistake.”

“The day you get plastic surgery so you stop looking like Deputy Dawg on a bender.”

But it’s his go to move. I don’t know if he works on commission or has a tattooed dude organization he’s dying for me to join or what. I usually just stare at him until he goes away. But one day I must have been feeling, I don’t know, less like my normal self, so I said,

“I did.”

It took him a second for those two words to sink it. After they did his eyes got wide and he got all excited. He told me he wanted to see it. It was like seeing a kid on his first Christmas home after being kidnapped for eight years. I slowly take my coat off. The anticipation fills his eyes. I slowly roll up the sleeve of my shirt. He’s shaking with excitement. I turn for the reveal, the full force of his anticapition is palpable. He looks. His expression quickly falls into one of utter confusion.

“I don’t see anything.”

“It’s in invisible ink.”

You can see the betrayal in his expression. “Why do I bother?”

“I’ve been asking myself that since the day we met.”

He turns and walks away muttering to himself. I smile putting my coat back on. He leaves me alone for the rest of the day. A week later he sees me. But this time he looks at me and for the first time since I’ve known him he doesn’t approach me.

Ah, if all bothersome twits could be vanquished so easily.