Sunday, January 18, 2009
My parent's home was a standard four bedroom, two bath ranch style that was extremely popular in the late 1960's and early 1970's. The neighborhood was situated on rolling slopes that had once been an olive orchard. Each home in the development had it's own olive tree in the front yard. During the Spring the branches of these trees would explode with blossoms laden with enough pollen to put the average person into an allergy induced coma. If you were cursed with any type of hay fever allergies like my brother is just the sight of that tree covered in a blanket of off-white blossoms, and the choking heavy smell of the pollen in the late afternoon heat of the San Joaquin valley would cause your eyes to water and your throat to start to constrict. Our tree was located directly out the front door of the house causing a daily dilemma for my brother. From Spring until mid Summer when the blossoms on the tree were replaced by tiny green olives my brother would have to enter and exit through the garage door located at the other end of the house. Our front lawn was basically a thirty foot slope from the front door to the sidewalk that bordered the street. When we were kids we would try to play football , a game normally played on a vast flat surface, on that treacherous slope to no avail. Someone would always end up on the sidewalk rolling around in pain. You might be compelled to ask why then didn't we play on someone else's yard better suited for the game ? The answer is very simple; my dad was the only one in the neighborhood who didn't care what his lawn looked like. It was always a source of frustration to have the only yard that nobody wanted to play on, yet the only one that we didn't get chased off of by some one's dad. The irony of it was that our yard was probably tougher than most of the other yards in the neighborhood due to the fact that ours was ninety percent crabgrass. While all the other dads in the neighborhood were out every weekend busily grooming, fertilizing and watering their yards my dad would be reclining on the couch watching the Major League game of the week with Joe Gargiola and Tony Kuebeck on the TV. My dads theory was that if he kept it mowed short and watered every so often that from a distance you couldn't tell the difference between Kentucky Bluegrass and Northern California Crabgrass. So every other weekend dad would go out with his thirty-five dollar Kmart special push mower and give the yard a cut so short it would have made a Marine Corps barber envious. Then he would turn on the sprinkler and go back inside to watch the baseball game until one of the neighbors would knock on the door and tell him his water was running across the sidewalk and into the gutter. Of course it was running across the sidewalk we lived on the side of the Matterhorn for Gods sake it had no other place to run but across the sidewalk ! Most of the other dads in our neighborhood had expensive self propelled, rear bag mowers made by Snapper or Torro, but not my dad. Every Spring dad would go out and attempt to start his Kmart special that had been sitting in the garage since last Fall. The mower never started on the first try, or the second try, or on any of the subsequent attempts that my dad stretched out over most of a Saturday. The mower still had the old spark plug, the same gas, and a dirty air filter from last Summer when he had mowed the yards for the last time and parked it in the corner of the garage. I don't think we ever owned a mower that had the air filter, or the oil changed as a matter of fact I'm pretty sure my dad didn't even know that the mower had oil in it. When one of the neighbors would eventually come over after watching him struggle in vain in the garage, and ask him the basic questions concerning the maintenance of a gasoline combustion engine dad would just stand there and nod his head confirming that he had followed all the proper Spring tune up proceedures. They might as well have been talking about the inter workings of the space shuttle. Since the level of my fathers mechanical ineptness was never a point of debate around our house we all new it was only a matter of time before he would declare that all mowers were poorly built and thus not designed to last more than one season. That was why he just couldn't see paying two or three hundred dollars for one.This speech was usually given as he was putting his wallet in his pocket, grabbing the keys, and heading for good old Kmart and another thirty-five dollar mower. The only question that has never been answered to this day is what happened to all the old mowers ? Did he bury them somewhere in the yard ? Did he just put them out by he curb and wait to see if someone would take it ? Was there a place like a car junkyard for mowers ? By the end of football season all those other yards that had been so painstakingly manicured all Summer long looked like a herd of cattle had stampeded through them as the one by one capitulated and let us play one game on their yard. There sat our sloping hill of a yard not looking any different than it did at the height of the Summer lawn care season. You couldn't tear that crabgass with a John Deer tractor. Little did I know that on this Christmas Eve all the pain and scars that being rolled off that slope and onto the sidewalk had caused would be erased in just a matter of moments.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Not knowing Jerry that well at this point in our strange relationship I didn't realize how deep of an effect the holiday season had on him. Jerry's level of sentimentality was quite out of character for a man who normally had such a hard time expressing his emotions. The depth of his sentimentality did seem to increase in direct proportion with the amount of alcohol he had consumed. On this Christmas Eve as Jerry strolled through the front doors of his restaurant his level of sentimentality could be measured at about a fifth. A fifth of what you may ask, what type of device could possibly measure someones sentiment. Well there is no device that I know of that is capable of measuring emotion. The fifth I'm talking about is a measurement of liquid, it comes in a bottle and I'm guessing the bottle was once full of brandy. Jerry had consumed so much sentiment on this particular evening that he felt he could not properly convey his feelings without donning a full Santa suit complete with beard, hat, and jingle bells on the boots. Just as I was slipping out the backdoor of the restaurant Jerry was staggering through the bar doors and breaking into his best Santa routine. He had arrived with cheer in his heart, and an empty glass in his hand to wish all his employee's, and patrons a merry Christmas. Once Jerry had worked his way through the dining area and back to the kitchen, his glass once again full, he eventually realized that his favorite neighbor was not in attendance. The night shift manager told Jerry that I was part of the crew that he had let go early since business was so slow that night. Jerry just assumed that I would be heading home, not knowing anything about my personal life. Jerry didn't dress up as Santa just for the benefit of his employee's and patrons of the restaurant, he was planning to head home to treat his children to a visit from old Kris Kringle. I did find this somewhat odd being that Jerry's three kids were all in their early to late teens. I guess Christmas is all about believing no matter what shape it comes in even if it's in a rented Santa suit that smells of brandy. After making one more stop in the bar to wish the bartenders happy holidays as they hit him with one more quick shot of holiday spirit it was into the car and off to the ole homestead. Somewhere between the restaurant and Stollwood Dr. Jerry realized he could kill two birds with one stone by stopping over across the street to to wish his favorite neighbors a Merry Christmas. That was pretty clear thinking considering how much "Santa" had consumed in the spirit of the season. Jerry wasn't the quickest whip in the corral and just this one time it might have been in Jerry's best interest to have stayed at the bar a bit longer and forgot who lived across the street from him.................
Sunday, January 11, 2009
It was about this same time that my relationship with my girlfriend, whom would later become my wife, started getting serious. I found myself spending more time at her house than I did at my own. Quite often I would go over to her house after work to see her and end up spending a good portion of the evening there. This left my parents home alone at the mercy of Samson for the evening. By this time Samson was pretty much a full grown male Chow weighing about sixty-five to seventy pounds. He had a full set of adult teeth now all of those little pin sharp puppy teeth were gone, and when he clamped down on your forearm now you were not going to get away without a serious tussle. Samson's canine teeth were at least an inch and a half long and the force that his jaws produced was immense. I would have loved to have had one of those devices that scientists use to measure the foot pounds of pressure a shark produces when it bites something and had Samson bite down on it. I don't know how much pressure his jaws produced, but once he had you you weren't going anywhere until he decided to let you. The strange part of the evening ritual with Samson was that he never ever tried to do anything to my mom. She would look at him from her rocking chair and give him a stern,"No Samson !", and that would be it. Samson would follow my mom around the house but not in a aggressive way. I think he was just doing what Chows do best, protecting his family. Many times I would come home and find him sleeping at her feet while she sat and sewed, or knitted in her rocking chair. Years later she would comment that once Samson was full grown she never felt unsafe in her house ever again. A comment like that from my mom was in my opinion about the highest praise that any dog could ever receive. My mom was not a person who handed out praise unless it was deserved. The funny part of Samson's evening routine was that he just loved to attack my dad. Samson would wait for my dad to settle in on the couch after dinner preparing for his pre bedtime nap, a nap that usually started about seven P.M. and ended right before he got up and went to bed about nine P.M. Samson would start out in the backyard running around chasing anything he thought he could catch and kill. Once he had a full head of steam up he would gallop for the living room through the sliding door. Even though he was a good sized dog he had incredible speed and acceleration, very few things rarely escaped Samson when he was on the hunt. He would come flying up the two patio steps, through the open sliding door, and run the full length of our long rectangle shaped living room / dining room area ending up in the kitchen at the far end of the house for a drink of water. Once Samson's thirst was quenched he would stand at the edge of the kitchen and stare down my dad, who by that point knew exactly what was coming but never got up to stop him. Dad would sit at the far end of our living room couch, which was about eight feet long, propped up in the corner against the arm in pre nap position trying to ignore the impending attack that was now charging at him full speed from the kitchen, nothing more than a red blur before he became airborne just past the the arm at the close end of the couch. Samson would land one cushion away from dad on the couch and let his momentum carry him right up on top of dad who was now flailing about and screaming at the top of his lungs trying to ward off the red beast. During the summer when all the windows in the house were open our next door neighbor Bob Gibbs said it sounded like World War Three was being waged between dad and Samson. My mom who would be sitting across the room in her rocking chair trying half heartily not to laugh all the while telling Samson to stop, but she would be laughing so hard she couldn't get the words out. She said it was one of the funniest things she had ever seen. Samson, for all his growling fury, was very careful never to hurt dad though, never any puncture wounds, stitches, or trips to the hospital. That is how you can tell if a Chow is playing with you or if he means business, there would be other people that Samson wasn't playing with and when he was done they knew it. Dad would eventually dig his way out of the corner of the couch that Samson had stuffed him down into and start whacking him with a rolled up newspaper or magazine, whatever was closest. That was like trying to stop a charging Rhino with a fly swatter. A note to any future Chow owners; beating on a Chow does not usually deliver the desired effect. Samson thought dad was playing with him and instead of backing down he would attack whatever dad was trying to hit him with. There was many a night I would come home from work to find a newspaper section or what was left of Time magazine on the living room floor shredded to pieces. There would stand Samson waiting outside on the patio steps, the sliding door locked, exiled to the backyard for the rest of the evening. A sort of canine time out if you will, my dads last line of defense. Dad would wait until Samson locked down on his makeshift magazine baton and drag him towards the sliding door, not an easy feat through shag carpet, when Samson's grip would lessen dad would yank the magazine from his mouth and either throw it or pretend to throw it out the sliding door with Samson in hot pursuit. The sliding door would slam behind Samson and lock before he could turn around and head back for the house. This was my parents typical evening entertainment for about six to nine months when my dad finally decreed that Samson either went to obedience school or he went to the pound. Well there was no way that Samson was ever going to leave my side, it had taken me a year of bugging my parents to let me have him and he wasn't going anywhere not as long as I had a say in the matter.
Sunday, January 4, 2009
I had been working at the restaurant for a few months successfully maintaining a healthy level of anonymity which was just fine with me. I don't know who told Jerry about our neighborly relationship. I knew I had never mentioned it to Jerry, or anyone else for that matter. If I had to make an educated guess on just who had spilled the beans my money would have been on my best friend Chuck. I am sure Chuck derived endless pleasure from the sight of Jerry and I having one awkward conversation after another while the dirty dishes piled up at my dish washing station. In all actuality the majority of the awkwardness fell upon Jerry's shoulders much more than it did on mine. Once Jerry found out that I had grown up in our neighborhood he felt compelled to ask questions about all of the other neighbors in hopes of getting to know them without ever having to talk to any of them. Somewhere about this time my parents came in to the restaurant to have dinner and were introduced to Jerry, probably by Chuck once again. This just complicated my situation with Jerry even more because now when Jerry passed through the kitchen every night he must have felt some kind of obligation to stop by the dish washing station and make small talk about the neighborhood. The only problem was there was little conversation to be made since Jerry was rarely around the neighborhood and didn't really know any of his neighbors. This did lead to moments of tremendously awkward silence, a circumstance that I would later find out was common place when trying to carry on a conversation with Jerry. The other kitchen workers were now all aware of the new found relationship between Jerry and I. They all loved this new dynamic in the kitchen and how uncomfortable it made Jerry feel. Up until this point Jerry had hardly ever acknowledged any of the kitchen workers, other than the kitchen manager, much less attempted to engage in conversation with them. To me it didn't matter either way if Jerry stopped and talked to me or passed right by. When you're washing two to three hundred dishes of half eaten food a night it wouldn't make a difference if Moses himself came down from Mt. Sinai just to stop in and say hello. Jerry was there night after night stumbling through what could only be described as an exercise in verbal futility, all the while out of the corner of my eye I could see all the prep cooks holding back their laughter as they chopped vegetables for the next days soup. I ended up with the last laugh though because Jerry would have to walk by those same prep cooks ever night and eventually he must have felt obligated to speak to them as well. The only difference was that they weren't Jerry's neighbors so they had even less to converse about, and most of them had worked there long enough to acquire a healthy dislike for him. So up until this point they were all happy to have no interaction with Jerry at all. It was then my turn to stand at the dish washing station and watch with bemusement as Jerry and his other employees tried in vain to become a little bit more human.