Monday, July 29, 2019

Speaking of Friends

Speaking of Friends

Have I ever told you about the guy who used to be my best friend when I lived in downstate Illinois?

He was an English teacher at the local community college — before he lost his job.

Why did he lose his job?  Well, besides being a failed novelist, he was an alcoholic and a pill popper and a slob. He lost his driver’s license because he had too many DUIs, and then he lost his job because he kept drinking booze and popping pills and writing novels no one — even his friends — wanted to read.

But he was also a really lovely guy with a great heart.

I went to his house one day after he lost his job.  He wanted me to come over because he had a gift for me.  I had helped him run errands, that kind of stuff, because he couldn’t drive.  So he felt he wanted to give me something.  I was okay with that.  I understand the need to be thankful.

First, we had lunch, a great lunch of Tequila Sunrises and homemade Mexican burritos, and we talked about novelists we both loved.  Most of his favorites were Russians, most of mine were Americans.  But that’s okay too.

And then he gave me the gift.  I wasn’t expecting anything. I was just there at his place to have lunch and talk about books and authors, but suddenly my friend got up and went to his desk and came back with a beautiful, golden, narrow wooden box. And inside of it was a $100 fountain pen. It was brand new, with the price tag still on it.

I was stunned. The thing was gorgeous, but what do you do with a gift like that? I write all the time, but I never write with a pen. This is the age of computers and iPads. When I write, I write with my fingers tapping on a keyboard. You know what that’s like.

But like I said, the pen was gorgeous, so I took it and thanked my friend. And so now this pen sits on my desk, and every time I see it I think of him and our friendship — even though finally he decided I was a jerk and a terrible person and he didn’t want to have anything to do with me because I wouldn’t lie to the judge when he was brought up on even more Driving Under the Influence charges.


This is my latest column for the Dziennik Zwiazkowy, the oldest Polish paper in America.  

Please consider leaving a comment on the website linked below.

Friday, July 12, 2019

A Funny Story

My Dziennik Zwiazkowy column. Please consider leaving a comment at the newspaper’s website, linked below.


Our ten-year old granddaughter Lulu was over this morning, and Linda and I were sitting around the dining room table drinking coffee and finishing breakfast when Lulu suddenly looked up from her bowl of cereal and asked, „You want to see my animal ballet?”
We weren’t sure what an animal ballet was, but we said, “Sure, let’s see it.”
So she started doing her animal ballet.  First, she did the giraffe ballet dancing slowing and gracefully with the longest neck she could manage, and then she did the elephant ballet full of wagging ears and a trunk that wouldn’t stay still, and then a queenly lion ballet and an incredibly cute panda ballet.  And each one was perfect.  She hummed a tune and danced like each of the animals would dance a ballet if it could.
It was great, and we applauded and applauded, and Lulu bowed the way a panda would bow.
Then she turned to me and said, „Now, it’s your turn.”
I can’t dance.  I’m an old man with a bum knee and two feet that are still both recovering from getting broken in a fall about a dozen years ago, so I said, „Can I tell you a story instead?”
She seemed a little disappointed at first, but then she nodded yes, and I start ad-libbing.
I do this all kind of story telling all the time, just some kind of goofy stuff, one silly plot point after another.  This time I’m telling her a story about a panda and a horse and how the horse gets lost in the panda’s jungle and how the panda doesn’t want to help the horse get out of the jungle no matter what so the horse starts eating all the panda’s bamboo.
And then I suddenly stop.  The story was just some dumb ad-libbing that ended as soon as it began, and I said to my granddaughter, „That’s it, Lulu.”
And she paused for a moment and didn’t say anything. She was clearly thinking, thinking harder than I was thinking when I was making up the silly story about the panda and the horse, and then suddenly her eyes shone all bright and bubbly and she said, „Oh I get it.  It’s like Aesop’s Fables.  The panda first refuses to help the horse and so at the end the horse sort of punishes the panda by eating its bamboo.  The panda should have been nicer.”
And I sat there and marveled.