Posts Tagged ‘Sacramento News & Review’

Jewish Jokes Redux

Monday, October 14th, 2019

Goody, Red, and William

my grandmother Goody at a Hollywood party with Red Skelton and William Bendix

Author’s Note: Here we are nearing the end of 2019 and a few days away from my 70th birthday, and I’m happy to report that my last blog entry Telling Jokes brought several positive emails from readers. Inspired by this deluge (more than two and less than eight) of good reviews and requests for more jokes, I’ve decided to resurrect for your reading pleasure an article I posted on my blog in 2008 that was subsequently published in the Anderson Valley Advertiser and the Sacramento News & Review. I wrote Jewish Jokes while in the throes of self-publishing my collection of contemporary dharma tales Buddha In A Teacup, which has subsequently been published in paperback by Soft Skull Press (2016) and is currently available from bookstores and online as an actual book, an e-book, and an audio book.

“The truth is not ashamed of appearing contrived.” Isaac Bashevis Singer

I recently self-published a new book, and with its publication a press release was loosed upon the nation. There were several responses, one from a Jewish publication in Detroit. “Is the author Jewish? If so, we would like a review copy.”

“Funny you should mention it,” is the punch line to a well-known Jewish joke, and that’s what popped into my head when I considered this question about my racial background. Clearly, the inquiry was about ethnicity, not religion.

Jewish jokes are always funnier when told rather than written because how the joke is told is paramount. I should also note that if one is not Jewish, Jewish jokes (as opposed to anti-Jewish jokes) often make little sense and are not particularly funny. This is because Jewish jokes refer to things that non-Jews rarely know anything about.

For instance: On the first day of school, a teacher asks her Second Graders to tell about what they did over the summer. A boy stands up and says, “My name is Mike Jones. My dad and I went snorkeling and I found a really cool bird’s nest.” He sits down and a girl stands up and says, “My name is Fiona Parker. We went to Yosemite and I saw a bear, and my mom taught me how to bake cookies.” She sits down and a boy stands up and says, “My name is Jaime Goldberg and I pledge ten dollars.”

That’s the joke. It refers to the phenomenon of Jewish gatherings frequently turning into fundraisers. When my mother’s mother told me this joke, and whenever she told jokes, she began to laugh midway through the telling but without disrupting the flow of the narrative. No easy feat.

So… two Jewish guys, old friends, meet up after some years apart and reveal that they gave their respective sons the same college graduation present—a trip to Israel to get in touch with their Jewish roots. And lo and behold, while traveling in Israel, both sons became Christians. Perplexed by this double outrage, the two Jewish guys rush to the synagogue and demand an explanation from God. Thunder rumbles and God’s voice intones, “Funny you should mention it.”

That’s the joke. I will risk insulting your intelligence by explaining that God’s response implies that his Jewish son, Jesus, also became a Christian while traveling in Israel.

My grandmother Goody was born in the Detroit ghetto, the Jewish one, in 1900. Her father, an orthodox Jew, was from Poland. A cantor with a golden voice, he earned a pittance from singing in the synagogue and preparing boys for bar mitzvah, while Goody’s mother, also an orthodox Jew from Poland, kept a grocery store and was the family’s breadwinner. Goody was more formally known as Gertrude, which was an anglicized version of Golda.

Most people knew my Jewish grandfather by his nickname Casey, and more formally as Myron. Whenever I pressed him to tell me his “real” name, he would rattle off a burst of Yiddish that never failed to send Goody into gales of laughter.

I did not know of Goody and Casey’s Jewishness—or my own—until I was twelve years old. My mother, born Avis Gloria Weinstein, was, as far as my siblings and I knew, a Winton who married a Walton. I would find out much later in life that her parents changed their name from Weinstein to Winton during the depths of the Great Depression so, as Casey put it, “I could get a job and we could get a place to live.”

Twice in her childhood—in Los Angeles, no less—my mother was stoned by gangs of children when they discovered she was Jewish. Following Goody’s advice, my mother tried to hide all traces of her Jewishness and married my father, a non-Jew, who was then disowned by his parents for marrying a Jew. Oy vey.

So there I was, twelve years old, at a party at Goody and Casey’s house in Los Angeles. Goody deposited me in front of a quartet of Jewish matrons and said, “Girls, I’d like you to meet my grandson Todd,” and then she hurried away.

One of the matrons pinched my cheek and said, “What a good looking Jewish boy you are.”

Another of the matrons nodded in agreement, said something in Yiddish, and seeing my bewilderment translated, “You’ll break a thousand hearts.”

“But I’m not Jewish,” I replied. “I’m a Unitarian.”

Two of the matrons frowned, two laughed.

“You’re Avis’s boy,” said the eldest. “You’re Jewish, sweetie pie. Through and through.”

“No,” I said, emphatically. “I’m not Jewish.”

To which she replied, “They would have burned you.”

I did not get an explanation of this frightening remark from my mother, but from my father. He explained to me that in Hitler’s Germany, in accordance with Jewish matrilineal law, anyone born to a Jewish mother was considered Jewish, and thus I would have been considered a Jew and sent to a concentration camp where I would have died.

“Mom is Jewish?” I asked, stunned by the news.

“No,” said my father. “She is of Jewish origin. There’s a difference.”

For the next twenty-eight years, when asked if I was Jewish (and for some reason I was often asked) I would reply, “I am of Jewish origin on my mother’s side.”

So there’s this Catholic priest sitting in the booth, a slow day in the confession business, when in comes an old guy who puts his face up to the little window and says, “Bless me father for I have sinned. I’m eighty-years-old. I’ve been married for sixty years and never once cheated on my wife. Yesterday I met a gorgeous young woman. We went to her apartment and had fantastic sex.”

The priest considers the gravity of this sin and asks, “How long has it been since your last confession?”

The old guy says, “Oh, I’ve never confessed.”

“You’re a Catholic and you’ve never confessed?”

“I’m not Catholic. I’m Jewish.”

“You’re Jewish? So why are you telling me?”

“Telling you?” says the old guy. “I’m telling everybody.”

But seriously, folks, when I was forty, my life in shambles, I began therapy with a woman who literally saved my life. One day, a few months into the therapeutic process, I found myself face down on the floor of the consulting room, my body shaking uncontrollably. I had no conscious understanding of why I was so terrified, but I was absolutely scared to death. My therapist deftly touched the center of my back and said, “Right there. What’s that?”

I shouted, “I’m Jewish!”

And I knew with every fiber of my being that storm troopers were going to kick the door down and drag me away to be killed. I didn’t imagine this might happen. I didn’t think it. I knew they were coming to kill me because I had violated the great taboo and revealed I was Jewish. This taboo was implanted in me in my mother’s womb and amplified day and night through my entire childhood, though it was never spoken aloud and never known to my conscious mind.

To insure that I would never reveal this awful truth, I was also commanded from day one (through emotional osmosis) to never stand out, never succeed in a big way, and never become well-known, else questions would be asked, inquiries made, and misery and death would inevitably follow. This was how my innocent psyche was programmed.

“Is the author Jewish. If so, we would like a review copy.”

And now for a few mohel jokes.

Pronounced moil, a mohel is a person (traditionally a man) trained and anointed to perform the physical and religious procedures of circumcision that Jewish boys undergo eight days after they are born. Now please imagine a tiny woman with a sparkle in her eye, laughing until she cries, telling the following jokes.

Mohel Joke #1: So there’s this mohel with a shop in the village. In the front window he’s got a big grandfather clock. Along comes a man from out of town. He’s been wanting to get his watch fixed, and seeing the big clock in the window he enters the shop and says to the mohel, “I vant you should fix my vatch.”

“I don’t fix vatches,” says the mohel. “I’m a mohel.”

“You’re a mohel?” says the man. “So vuts vid the clock in the front vindow?”

“If you vas a mohel, vut would you have in the front vindow?”

Mohel Joke #2: So the mohel dies and leaves his widow a big box of all the foreskins he ever snipped. His bereaved wife goes to a leather shop and says to the leather smith, “I vant you should make for me a keepsake of my late husband, the mohel. I don’t care what you make, only that you should use all the skins. Understand? All of them.”

“Soitanly,” says the leather smith. “My condolences. Come beck in a veek.”

So she comes back a week later and the leather smith presents her with an elegantly crafted change purse.

“This is very nice,” she says, frowning at the little thing, “but I specifically said you should use all the skins.”

“I did,” says the leather smith. “Rub that thing a few times and it toins into a steamer trunk.”

Mohel Joke #3: Thirteen baby boys are born in the village on the same day, and eight days later, the mohel—with his operating room on the second floor of an old building—is working fast, tossing the foreskins into a box by the window. In his haste, he tosses one of the little skin rings too hard and it flies out the window and flutters down into a passing convertible, right onto the lap of a young Jewish gal on a date with her boyfriend. She picks up the foreskin and says to her suitor, “Vut is dis?”

“Try it,” he says, winking at her. “If you like it, I’ll give you a whole one.”

fin

 

Weekly Offerings

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

signed & numbered

Twelve by Todd

“The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.” Allan K. Chalmers

I was nearly forty when it first occurred to me to write anything other than fiction and poetry and plays. At thirty-nine, I still thought of myself as a moderately successful novelist and short story writer. Furthermore, I rarely read non-fiction; and so in 1989, when Melinda Welsh, the editor of the brand new Sacramento News & Review invited me to write essays for her paper, I accepted her invitation with little understanding of what such reportage entails. Now, thirty years later, writing essays is my most persistent writing habit.

When my fiction and screenwriting ceased to bring home the bacon, so to speak, writing essays became a source of much-needed income, and I have no doubt that without such financial incentive, I would never have become habituated to writing non-fiction. Which is not to say I ever earned vast sums writing essays. Melinda paid me one hundred and fifty dollars per essay for the Sacramento News & Review; and for the entirety of my eight-year tenure writing a weekly piece for the Anderson Valley Advertiser, I was paid twenty-five dollars per. Nowadays I am paid by the knowledge that at least a handful of people look forward to my weekly offerings.

Melinda Welsh was a wonderful editor. She generally liked my take on things, appreciated my senses of humor and irony, edited my lines with a light hand, and rewarded me for my non-fiction efforts by paying me relatively large sums to write the News & Review’s annual Christmas story (fiction!) for several years running. One of those Christmas stories, The Dreidel in Rudolph’s Manger, was syndicated after appearing in the News & Review, and appeared in dozens of weeklies and dailies across America. Eureka!

In those pre-internet days, I belonged to a lucky little population of writers in America who made actual money writing original works for actual three-dimensional publications. Then seemingly overnight (but really in a few shocking years) our numbers were reduced to virtually zero by the advent of the worldwide web and the simultaneous and astounding (to me) discovery by magazine and newspaper editors that most people cannot distinguish good writing from bad. Therefore, why should those editors pay good money to good writers when, for little money or no money, they can avail themselves of quasi-readable chunks of verbiage yanked from the internet?

When I moved to Berkeley in 1995, I submitted essays and stories to four different Bay Area weeklies, but found no editorial champions and so ceased writing essays for the next eleven years. Instead, I wrote hundreds of short stories, forty-two of which became my book Buddha In A Teacup (recently issued in a lovely paperback edition by Counterpoint Press), and another hundred of which became my novel of stories Under the Table Books, winner of the 2009 American Indie Award for Best Fiction.

In 2007, the year after I moved to Mendocino from Berkeley, I sent an essay entitled Sister to Bruce Anderson at the Anderson Valley Advertiser, and Bruce published the piece. He then invited me to become a regular contributor to the AVA, a regularity that produced four hundred essays and gave me the ongoing pleasure of hearing from readers who enjoyed my work, as well as the ongoing displeasure of hearing from readers who were adamant my essays were a blight on the AVA.

As of mid-May 2017, my AVA career a memory now, I continue to write a weekly essay and post it with an accompanying photo on my blog at Underthetablebooks.com. Shortly thereafter, Dave Smith does me the honor of presenting my article and photo on his admirable web site Ukiah Blog Live.

And today I am pleased to announce the birth of Sources of Wonder, a handsome coil-bound collection of eighty-three of my favorite essays culled from the aforementioned four hundred, available exclusively from Under the Table Books. Among the stories in Sources of Wonder are Sister, Of Onyx and Guinea Pigs, The Double, Three Presidents (and a First Lady), What’s In A Name, Her Children, and My Butt (The Musical)—all the essays in the collection having elicited heartfelt responses from readers.

“The artist spends the first part of his life with the dead, the second with the living, and the third with himself.” Pablo Picasso

Speaking of heartfelt, as I was putting the finishing touches on Sources of Wonder, I was given a book of essays by the Scottish poet and nature writer Kathleen Jamie, and I was thrilled to discover an excellent living writer, writing in English, who is not even close to being old or dead—an experience for me akin to coming upon a living and breathing unicorn who allows me a good long look at her before she winks slyly and saunters away into the mystic. I highly recommend Jamie’s books Sightlines and Findings.

If you have never purchased any of my coil-bound self-published works, I hasten to tell you that each copy of Sources of Wonder is signed and dated and numbered, the whimsical numerals sketched and lavishly colored by the author to make each volume a collector’s item and an ideal gift for friends who love to read and enjoy pondering the divine and mysterious and hilarious and fascinating interconnectedness of everything.

As Mr. Laskin says to Derek at the end of Under the Table Books, “I refer to it as chumming for synergy. There is nothing the universe appreciates more than action. Do you know why that is? Because action is the mother of the whole kit and caboodle.”

Tenuous Grip

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Desert Dance Nolan WInkler mix med

Desert Dance by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser April 2013)

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.” Lewis Carroll

Have you ever had a day when you heard the same out-of-the-ordinary word or phrase over and over again from a variety of seemingly unconnected sources? Long ago when I lived in Sacramento, I wrote a piece for the Sacramento News & Review entitled Recurrence of Ninja, a true story of a single day in which I encountered the word ninja several times in a variety of contexts, spoken and written. Why ninja so many times on that particular day? I came to no conclusions, but I felt certain the unfathomable universe was trying to tell me something.

I was reminded of that day of many ninjas by what happened yesterday. I woke early (for me), had toast slathered with sesame butter accompanied by a banana-kale-flax seed-chia seed-apple juice-rice milk smoothie with Marcia, she the smoothie engineer, I the toaster, my bread free of gluten, her bread infested with the stuff. Then I answered a few emails, posted my Anderson Valley Advertiser article on my blog (I like to wait until the piece is in newsprint before I send the words into the ethers, silly me), worked for two hours on my new novel, and then set out on my walk to town—the day windy and cool.

Not far from home, I came upon a man in a bathrobe standing in front of his house and frowning at the sky. I said hello as I walked by and he replied, “I have a tenuous grip on reality today.”

I might have taken his self-assessment as an invitation to engage in conversation, but I did not. In the past, more often than not, I would have inquired further, but of late I am less drawn to strangers professing emotional fragility than I used to be. So I walked on and did not look back.

“Madness is to think of too many things in succession too fast, or of one thing too exclusively.” Voltaire

The wind off the ocean was fierce and the air was full of smoke from a number of burn piles unwisely lit on such a blustery day. I crossed Highway One, the road blanketed with smoke, and said hello to a tall bearded man standing on the corner gazing into a cell phone.

He frowned at me and proclaimed, “They chose a very bad day to burn.”

“Yes,” I said. “Ill-advised.”

“Because they have a tenuous grip on reality,” he said, lighting a large hand-rolled cigarette and taking a prodigious drag.

“Indeed,” I said, so amazed by his choice of words that I almost told him I had just heard someone else use the very same expression. But because I had seen this tall bearded man on previous occasions lecturing loudly to companions invisible to me, I was not greatly tempted to enter into a lengthy discussion with him.

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” Albert Einstein

At the post office, I mailed two small packages and was heartened to find a few actual letters in our post office box along with the latest AVA. As I was sorting out our real mail from the junk, I overheard two women talking on the front porch of the post office, one of them saying, “So I said, ‘Rick, you gotta get a grip,’ and he said he was hanging by a thread and…”

There it was again, not the exact phrase, but the word grip and the implication that Rick’s grip was tenuous.

“Reality is wrong. Dreams are for real.” Tupac Shakur

In Corners, buying several fundamental comestibles, the lovely woman at the cash register made a few unforced errors (as they call them in tennis), laughingly corrected her mistakes and explained, “I’m still kind of…not all here today. Stayed up way too late last night. Haven’t had my coffee yet.”

“A somewhat tenuous grip on reality?” I ventured.

“Exactly,” she said, nodding. “Life is but a dream.”

 “For me, insanity is super sanity. The normal is psychotic. Normal means lack of imagination, lack of creativity.” Jean Dubuffet

Walking home from town, the recurrence of the phrase tenuous grip on reality put me in mind of my eleven years in Berkeley where I enjoyed life without a car and patched together a minimalist living as a writer, editor, ghost writer, arborist, and babysitter. I was single for many of those eleven years and on the few occasions I found myself mixing it up, so to speak, with women more affluent than I, there always came a time, usually around the fourth date, when the question of my economic viability became the focal point of conversation and I was recurrently judged to fall far short of what was minimally acceptable to these attractive pragmatists.

One of the women, bless her heart, who I had theretofore thought to be a wild and crazy gal in the best sense of those words, interviewed me as if I was applying for a house loan. At the end of the interview, she opined, “The only difference between you and a homeless person is that you currently rent a house and don’t walk around pushing a shopping cart.”

“I beg to differ,” I replied. “I am gainfully employed, I…”

“You’re very nice,” she said, rising to go, “and we get along wonderfully well, if you know what I mean, but you’re poor and I’m not about to jeopardize my life savings by hooking up with some medical crisis waiting to happen. Better to end things now before I like you too much.”

The last of the women I dated who was more affluent than I, a successful psychotherapist who sure seemed to like me, terminated our connection after the recurrent financial disclosure date by telling me that my lifestyle choices were, well, indicative of someone with a tenuous grip on reality, though she didn’t use those exact words. She said that someone as intelligent and personable as I, with so many marketable skills, who chose to live without a car or health insurance or a viable retirement strategy, must be at least somewhat delusional and possibly a borderline personality. Ouch.

I remember replying that as far as I was concerned anyone who judged other people solely on the basis of their economic status was either insane or a member of Congress, which I knew was redundant, but I was trying for a bit of levity as she ran out the door.

Thereafter the few women I did get involved with beyond the fourth date were as financially deficient as I and didn’t worry about their nest eggs because they didn’t have nest eggs. And, yes, those sweet paupers did at times seem to have a somewhat tenuous grip on reality, but who doesn’t now and then?

Yesterday’s just a memory, tomorrow is never what it’s supposed to be.” Bob Dylan

As I thought about the recurrence of the expression tenuous grip on reality I found myself wondering: is the universe asking me to examine the current state of my grip on reality? And what came to mind was a night when I was thirteen and attending a ballroom dancing class with forty other boys and forty girls, an ordeal my mother insisted I undergo once a month for the two years preceding high school. To attend the class we were forced to wear a suit and tie, which meant I had to learn to tie a tie, which I did, and I had to wear shoes that required polishing, which I also did.

Upon our arrival at the country club where the ordeal took place, the boys would stay away from the girls, who were wearing long frilly dresses, and the girls would stay away from the boys. Then our instructors, a champion ballroom dancing couple, would somehow get the boys paired up with the girls and try to teach us how to fox trot, waltz, cha-cha, and swing. After an hour or so of rigorous practice with a variety of assigned partners, the ordeal would conclude with a half-hour of dancing without instruction. Boys were supposed to ask girls to dance, not the other way around, unless one of the champions announced that the next dance was a Sadie Hawkins (role reversal) dance. For those boys too fearful to ask girls to dance, our adult overseers would arbitrarily pair such boys with those unlucky girls remaining to be asked.

And one night, when the four or five girls I knew from school (so they were not terrifying to me) were paired up with other boys, and I was just about to make a break for the bathroom where I hoped to remain undetected for several minutes, a gorgeous young woman (as opposed to a girl) named Luisa Hernandez asked me to dance with her, though it was not a Sadie Hawkins dance! Luisa was by far the best female dancer in our mob and was often called upon to dance with one of the better male dancers to demonstrate a fox trot variation or a cha-cha turn or whatever those things are called that our champion instructors wanted us to see done well.

“I have two left feet,” I said, anxiously. “I’m no Fred Astaire.”

“You move beautifully,” said Luisa, looking deep into my eyes. “You just need a good partner.”

So we danced the next several dances together, and I can truly say that until I danced with Luisa I had never really danced with someone. I had gone through the motions with others and simulated dancing, and even had a little fun going through those motions, but with Luisa I danced, and our dancing was divine. And what I learned from her was that dancing with someone didn’t have to be about gripping the other person or being gripped by them, but was a way for two people to move together in harmonious time. Holding each other facilitated fueling off each other while enjoying the synchronous flow—the dancing never about trying to control the other—and so our physical connection was light and sure and flexible and tender.

Occupy Christmas

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

(This story first appeared in the Sacramento News & Review December 2011.)

Two mornings before Christmas on a brilliantly sunny day in Sacramento, Max wakes to his phone ringing and smiles in honor of his wife Celia who was always the one to answer the phone when she was alive.

“Ahlo,” he says, enjoying how deliciously warm he feels under his pile of blankets.

“Daddy?” says Carla, fifty-four, Max’s only child. “Did I wake you?”

“A lucky thing,” he says, sighing contentedly. “Today’s the day we go cut the tree.”

“Why not wait for us?” she asks with little enthusiasm. “Save your back.”

“I’m going with the Riveras,” he says, happy to think of Juan riding up front with him while Rosa and Hermedia and the kids enjoy the spacious backseat. “Placerville here we come.”

“Listen, Daddy, about tomorrow. We’ll just get a cab from the airport. Save you a trip in that horrible traffic.”

“But I like picking you up,” he says, disappointed. “The weather is gorgeous and we can take the river road. Dylan loves riding in the Rolls with the top down.”

“Well, but…Daddy, I don’t think that would be such a good idea. Not this year.”

Max frowns. “Why not this year? Could be raining next year.”

“Well…” She sighs. “Dylan is quite caught up in the whole Occupy Wall Street thing, and…”

“So now he doesn’t want to ride in his grandfather’s Rolls Royce?” Max chuckles. “I hope you assured him I am not among the evil one per cent, but well entrenched among the blessed ninety-nine.”

“Daddy, it’s…he’s eighteen and he’s in college now, and…”

“What about my mansion in the Fab Forties?” asks Max, gazing out his window at the bright blue sky. “Are you two gonna stay in a motel and meet me for meals at Denny’s?”

“Daddy, don’t. Dylan knows you and Mommy bought the house long before the Ponzi scheme bankers took over the country. And the Rolls…it’s just what that represents now.”

“Whatever you say, sweetie,” says Max, closing his eyes. “I’ll see you when you get here.”

***

Max is proud of his old car, a mahogany brown 1958 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud he rescued from the wrecking yard in 1997, the year he retired from the Post Office. Max is seventy-eight, a widower for five years now, and a most independent soul. He delivered mail for twenty-seven years before ascending to a managerial position, after which he was promoted seven times in thirteen years. A happy husband and father, Max’s consuming passions were restoring old cars, brewing beer, fishing, and playing the accordion. In his old age, Max no longer drinks beer and rarely goes fishing, but he still tinkers with his Rolls and plays his accordion; and since Celia’s death he has become a cover-to-cover reader of The New Yorker, his wife’s favorite magazine.

Truth be told, Max’s home really is a mansion, a two-story hacienda with a red tile roof on a huge lot on Forty-Third Street between J and M Streets, the front yard a vast moth-eaten lawn lorded over by a gargantuan oak, the crumbling old driveway terminating at a three-car garage, one unit housing the Rolls Royce, the other two units remodeled into studios for artists. Of the house, we will speak more later.

***

Dylan (named after both Bob Dylan and Dylan Thomas) is a lanky young man with an impressive mop of brown curls. All his T-shirts and pants and sweaters and sweatshirts are black, but he possesses many colored scarves for which he is admired in Tucson where he lives with his mother Carla, a social worker, and where he recently matriculated at the University of Arizona with a double major in Design and Film. He has over two hundred subscribers to his YouTube channel whereon he posts videos of himself talking about his life. He loves watching himself talk and one day he hopes to make 3-D blockbusters featuring A-list actors portraying him talking about his life.

However, his dreams of a career in cinematic autobiography are currently on hold because Dylan has, for the first time, fully awakened to the unjustness of American society. He was already awake to the unjustness of being an only child with an up-to-the-minute politically correct mother and no father, but he was oblivious to the “one per cent versus ninety-nine per cent” phenomenon until the Occupy happenings began. Then just two months into his first year of college, he flew to New York with Maureen, his first real girlfriend (they have since broken up) and spent parts of two days hanging out with the Wall Street occupiers, a deeply moving experience for Dylan, one beautifully echoed and amplified by the revival of Hair he saw just hours before he flew back to Tucson.

Dylan removes his headphones on which he has been listening to impromptu speeches and discussions he taped in the park where the Wall Street occupiers were camping. He looks out the jet window at the snow capped Sierras, turns to his mother—she reading Mother Jones—and says, “This is so decadent. Flying to Sacramento in a gas guzzling ozone layer destroying jet to spend three days in a mansion when so many have so little.”

“Yes, honey, it is decadent,” says Carla, nodding sympathetically. “Certainly compared to the lives people lead in Africa and Iraq and India, but we didn’t want to spend two days driving each way, did we?”

“Why are we even going?” says Dylan, shaking his head. “Why can’t he come to us?”

“He does, honey, twice a year. He’s seventy-eight years old. And our spending Christmas with him is the high point of his life. I think we owe him that much, don’t you?”

“Why do we owe him anything?” asks Dylan, previously a huge fan of his grandfather, the subject of dozens of Dylan’s videos. “He drives a Rolls Royce and lives in a mansion. He’s the one per cent.”

“Don’t be simplistic,” says Carla, feeling a headache coming on. “Your grandfather…”

“He should be ashamed to have so much,” says Dylan, putting his headphones back on. “When so many have so little.”

***

When Dylan and Carla arrive at Max’s mansion in a taxi driven by a black man, Dylan is horrified to see a Mexican boy mowing Max’s front lawn, and a Mexican man waxing Max’s Rolls Royce.

“Wow,” says the cab driver, pulling up in front of the magnificent house. “Nice digs. Hey, didn’t Ronald Reagan live just a couple doors down here when he was governor before he was president?”

“I think it was one street over,” murmurs Carla. “Or two.”

“I can’t believe this,” says Dylan, shuddering with embarrassment. “Grandpa has servants now? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Honey, let’s not jump to conclusions. Your grandfather sometimes hires people to help him with household chores. That’s all.”

At which moment, Max comes out the front door wearing a Santa Claus hat, overjoyed to see his daughter and grandson.

***

“Wow,” repeats the taxi driver as he opens the trunk to unload Carla and Dylan’s suitcases, “that is some beautiful house.”

“Thank you,” says Max, coming to help. “We just gave it a fresh coat of paint. You want a tour?”

“Seriously?” says the driver, grinning at Max. “Love one.”

“I’m Max,” says Max, shaking the driver’s hand.

“Ruben,” says Ruben, delighted. “That’s a Silver Cloud, isn’t it?”

“1958,” says Max, turning to the recalcitrant Dylan. “My God, you’ve grown another three inches.”

“Not,” says Dylan, stiff and unresponsive as Max hugs him.

“Hi, Daddy,” says Carla, melting in her father’s arms. “The place looks fabulous.”

“Well,” says Max, holding her tight, “that’s because of what I haven’t told you yet, which is that the Rivera’s are living with me now, so there’s no shortage of manpower.”

And before Dylan and Carla can react to the stunning news, Rosa Rivera and her two lovely daughters, Maria, twelve, and Carmen, seventeen, emerge from the house, followed by Hermedia, Rosa’s mother.

“Not to mention woman power,” says Max, winking at Dylan. “And believe me, these are some powerful women.”

***

There are five upstairs bedrooms in Max’s house, four of which are currently occupied by the Rivera family—Juan, Rosa, their three children, and Hermedia—one of which is occupied by Max. There are also two bedrooms downstairs, both reserved for guests or for Max when he wants a change of scenery. The kitchen is huge and beautifully appointed, the living room gargantuan; and the magnificent library contains thousands of books and a most excellent pool table.

As Dylan unpacks his suitcase in one of the downstairs guest rooms, he is occupied by a host of conflicting emotions. On the one hand, he has fallen madly in love with Carmen Rivera. On another hand, he feels incredibly nostalgic about the upstairs bedroom he has considered his room for as long as he can remember; a room now occupied by Diego Rivera, the boy who was mowing the lawn. And clouding all his feelings are anger and chagrin with his grandfather for having live-in servants, a Rolls Royce, and a mansion.

Dylan frowns at himself in the mirror on the wall above the dresser wherein he deposited his black clothing and four colored scarves; and he is quietly rehearsing an indignant lecture on social inequity and injustice that he plans to deliver to his grandfather, when Max suddenly appears in the bedroom doorway.

“Dylan,” says Max, frowning gravely at his frowning grandson, “I need to talk to you. I need your advice.”

“About what?” asks Dylan, completely caught off guard.

“Several things,” says Max, nodding gravely. “Big changes afoot.”

So Dylan follows Max to the kitchen where Rosa, Hermedia, Carmen, Maria, and Carla are preparing a lavish Christmas Eve supper of Chile Verde, arroz y frijoles, a fabulous ensalada, guacamole, and pumpkin pie.

“Dylan and I are venturing forth,” says Max, inhaling the divine scents of simmering green sauce and roasting pork. “Any last minute requests?”

“Maybe more cerveza,” says Carmen, smiling boldly at Dylan. “Are you a beer drinker, Dylan?”

“I…um…yeah,” he says, dizzy with desire. “What kind? I mean…what’s your favorite?”

“Whatever you like,” she says in such a way that all the women smile the same knowing smile.

***

“We’ll take the Radio Flyer,” says Max, leading the way to the garage where a shiny red wagon with a long black handle awaits them. “Remember this? In which I used to drag you all over town when you were little? Going on our expotitions to Corti Brothers?”

This subtle reference to Winnie-the-Pooh does bring sudden tears to Dylan’s eyes, for Max is not only his grandfather, Max is the only father he has ever known.

“And while we’re standing here beside the Rolls,” says Max, pleased to see he’s gotten through to Dylan’s sweeter self, “I wanted your advice about what to do with this old car. I restored it to perfection, but now I don’t want it anymore.”

“Must be worth a fortune,” says Dylan, shocked to realize he had hoped to inherit the Rolls when Max died.

“So I’m told,” says Max, nodding. “I suppose I could just sell it for the cash, but I was hoping to do something more creative with the old thing, something…transformative.”

“You could give it to the engineering department at Sac State or UC Davis,” says Dylan, grinning at the huge old car, “on the condition they turn it into a solar electric vehicle.”

“Brilliant,” says Max, pulling the little red wagon down the drive. “Problem number one solved.”
“Seriously?” says Dylan, catching up to his grandfather. “You’d just… give it to them?”

“Unless you want it,” says Max, nodding. “I’ll give you first dibs.”

“No, no,” says Dylan, imagining tooling around Tucson in the magnificent old car, shooting videos and giving rides to beautiful women. “I don’t want it.”

“Problem number two,” says Max, as they emerge onto J Street and turn left en route to the liquor store. “Juan and Rosa insist on paying rent now that Juan is working again, and I have no idea how much to charge them.”

“Oh…um…” says Dylan, aghast that his grandfather would consider charging his servants rent, “what’s the situation? I mean…I need a little more background.”

“Juan is a very fine mechanic,” says Max, nodding to affirm this. “That’s how we met. He worked on the Rolls for years and on your grandmother’s cars, too, and we’ve gotten to be very good friends. Rosa cooks at Quatro Hermanas. Her chile rellenos are to die for. Your grandmother used to hire Rosa and Hermedia to help when we threw big parties. Your grandmother loved throwing big parties, especially when you and your mother came to visit. Remember? Anyway…when Juan seriously injured his back and couldn’t work for several months, and they fell behind on their house payments, and the bank foreclosed, and they were scrambling around for a place to live, I insisted they move in with me until he got back on his feet.” Max laughs. “Now I don’t ever want them to leave. I was so lonely until they came to live with me.”

“Well, then…I think you should let them pay you whatever they feel is right,” says Dylan, feeling rather stupid for having cast his grandfather as a villain. “And if they give you too much, you can always give some back.”

“They’re very proud people,” says Max, pulling the wagon into the liquor store with them. “And isn’t Carmen the most beautiful young woman you’ve ever seen?”

“Yes,” says Dylan, nodding emphatically. “Yes, she is.”

“Wait until you hear her sing,” says Max, waving to the clerk. “Miraculous.”

***

Following a sumptuous Christmas Eve meal, a party ensues in the living room, with Max playing his accordion to accompany the decorating of the tree. Dylan films the party, with much of his focus on whatever Carmen happens to be doing. Juan ascends the ladder and drapes the lights on the tree as Rosa and Hermedia direct him, while Carla and Maria and Diego and Carmen hang ornaments and tinsel on the boughs.

When the tree is fully adorned, eggnog is drunk, See’s chocolates are passed around and devoured, and everyone opens one gift. As a capper to the evening’s festivities, Max accompanies Carmen on a soulful version of Silent Night in front of the tree, a performance beautifully filmed by Dylan and uploaded on YouTube moments thereafter.

ªWhen everyone else has gone to bed, Max and Carla sit at the kitchen table, the room lit by a single candle.

“Do you remember when you were a very little girl,” says Max, gazing fondly at his daughter, “all the people who lived here with us?”

“Not really,” she says, thinking back. “I know you had a commune here, but only because you and Mommy told me about it, not because I really remember.”

“We wanted to create a new way of living on the earth,” says Max, remembering himself with long curly black hair and a mustache. “We wanted to grow our own food and pool our money and live simply and make love and not war.” He sighs. “I watch the videos of the Occupy Wall Street people, and I even spent a day down at the park with Occupy Sacramento, and you know, Sweetie, it’s exactly the same thing we were trying to do, only we didn’t know how. We had no wise elders, no role models. And when we started having babies, necessity trumped experimentation and we soon reverted to the ways of our parents.”

“But you tried,” says Carla, taking her father’s hand. “You tried to do something different and better.”

“Your mother never stopped trying,” he says, ever aware of his wife’s spirit. “That’s why we always had two or three foreign students living here and artists using the garage. And you know, it feels like a commune again with the Riveras living here. They know how to do it. They know how to share.”

“I think you should leave the house to them, Daddy,” says Carla, surprising herself with the idea. “I already have the house you bought me in Tucson.”

“Well,” says Max, closing his eyes and seeing his dear Celia standing in her rose garden, the bushes ablaze with color, “you would always be welcome here. Of that I have no doubt.”

fin