Father’s Day Part II

I meant to add this as a follow up to Part I.  Like for Rose Tyler, it is certainly an unexamined subject for me.  I never had a father.  Well, strictly, it is not true.  He has always existed in the ether, and walks the Earth today. 

Here is how we first met.  Back in the pre-Afghan invasion days, before the Soviet Union reinstituted the draft, young men were only conscripted if they were not in college.  Those pursuing a higher education were exempt from the brute service.  My father failed out of college and was immediately snapped up.    One fine day during my fifth summer, I was told that my father was coming home.  I was made to wear a hideous sleeveless blue dress with pink trim, and have not forgiven my mother for it to this day.  It was made in Egypt, and had a head of Nefertiti on the inside tag.  It freaked me out, and I hated the dress because of it.  I also hated how my bangs were pulled back in a bow.  It seemed a lousy first impression to make on my father.

He arrived with a bouquet of flowers for my mother, and I recall turning away from a hug.  He was a stranger, and it was all completely embarrassing.  I lived with my grandparents, and young men were scarce in my world.  He was probably about 25 at the time.

I think my parents were only together for that one summer.  Several memories I have of that time are as follows:

Living with my other grandparents.  They had a two bedroom apartment. It was a standard and familiar layout of the times. I remember they had a vase on the floor with cattails. I must have had the urge to pick at them.  I probably did.  My other grandmother, who, as my father later confirmed, disliked my mother and her family (and me, I certainly felt so), was ironing a beige dress with white lace that I had and ironed out a crease on the front.  It was the design of the dress, and I protested, because “my” grandmother would not do such a thing.  She responded that she was also a grandmother of mine.  Whatevs, lady.  I never believed her, and she never really was.  I addressed her with the polite “vy” instead of the familiar “ty”, which irritated her.  I do not even have a photo of her. I would not know her in this life or the next.  She died just a few years ago. 

Toys. My other grandparents presented me with some cool toys.  There was a set of amazing dollhouse furniture, which I regrettably did not treasure.  Of course, it would have never made it to America anyway.  What did was an old Viewmaster which my father must have had as a child when his parents lived in India.  It had some amazing Western shows, such as a three-disk set of “Bambi”, “Three Little Pigs”, “Little Black Sambo” (it was a long time ago…), coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, lots of brightly colored parrots and one monkey (there is always one monkey), and incredible views of faraway Asian lands, particularly Mount Fuji and the Taj Mahal.  I brought it frequently to show and tell in my Russian school.  The collection made it to America but not past high school. When I went away to college, I neglected to supervise, and my mother, predictably, lost it.  It is a damn shame.  Damn shame.

Aunt.  My mother is an only child.  My father has a younger sister.  They seems to have retained a close relationship to this day.  She was a college student at the time, and he encouraged me to shake a fist at her and yell, “We will show you, students!”  Only recently did I learn that this was because of the famous Shurik the Student movie, “Operation Y”.  My father must have been a fan.  My aunt Tanya seemed a benign, but nondescript, presence.  I remember almost nothing about her.  My father was allowed to name his newborn baby sister Tatiana, which is apparently his favorite name.  He suggested it as a name for me, but of course my mother had to step in without something less “common”.  It appears that my father did not get a vote.  He managed to prevail with my sister, who has a different mother. 

Car.  My other grandfather had a car.  It was huge and green and white, but maybe it wasn’t either.  My father must have known how to drive, because I recall sitting in the front, which is quite illegal for very young children, Soviet Union being no exception, and he admonished me to slide under the dashboard if we saw the road patrol out in the country.  Great parenting right there! 

Not my other grandparents’ actual dacha

Dacha.  My family never had a dacha, a “beyond the Volga” country home, because my grandfather worked all the time.  It was not that my grandparents could not afford it, but more that they did not want to be bothered with working the land.  Besides, pretty much everyone we knew had a dacha.  My other grandparents’ dacha was a two story construction, which was very exciting.  The second story was some kind of a loft where my parents slept.  I wonder if that is what caused my affinity and longing for lofts.  I have never lived in one.  My father’s paternal grandmother was still alive at the time.  She seemed ancient.  She was dressed all in black and sat on the steps of the dacha and yelled at me whenever I ran in or out of the house.  I have no recollection of her being elsewhere, just on the steps of the dacha. 

And then there were the pranks.  Tall, handsome, fair, young, my father was not really a parent, but a fun older brother type.  One time we came to pick my mother up from work (he was not working—not then, not later).  My mother worked at the Synthetic Rubber Plant.  There was a mean old Soviet woman guarding the exit.  It was a secure facility, and those without authorization could not enter.  I saw my mother walk toward us down a long hallway.  Father urged me to run to her, past the mean woman—and I did.  It was, of course, unimaginable, but it was fun!

Another time we were waiting for my mother to come home.  My father came up with a basic, but ballsy, plan of cutting out eyes in a sheet, putting me on his shoulders, and scaring my mother as soon as she entered the apartment.  It was hilarious.  He was so much fun!

I never had any grievances against my father.  He was—and, I am afraid, remains—a stranger, but the memories are mine and lovely…

Three Worst Fears

Three of my worst fears came true this week.  This is a true story, and one I did not ever expect to recount, but it’s just so unlikely that I cannot leave it untold.  I had a bad day.  I think the only way to look at it is that I am due for some fantastic great luck very soon!

  1.  First, I got stuck in an elevator at work.  The weird thing is that it was not even my first time.  The first time was in Italy, in the little seacoast town of Ladispoli where my mom, my grandparents, and I were living as refugees.  There is more to that story, but not today.  Today, it’s about how my mom and I were visiting some other refugee friends in a building with an elevator, and I decided to open the elevator door to see what would happen. It was one of those old cage elevators, and it was coin operated.  I do not think my mom even noticed that I was the culprit, because the alarm immediately went off and there was a lot of commotion.  Of course, we had no more coins to get the elevator going again, being refugees (I did not think that through).  Luckily, the friends we were visiting had a coin, and were able to slide it into the cage for us to get moving again. So when I say I got stuck in an elevator in Italy, what I really should say is, I was an idiot child and stopped the elevator due to my own naughty curiosity.
NOT the actual elevator in which I got stuck in Italy

This week’s experience was not quite the same.  My work partner was going to look at the new office space in the building next door.  He had four women with him—the landlord’s rep, the furniture rep, the interior design rep, and someone else whose name and function I did not catch—and I felt that I needed to tag along to be sure that I did not get saddled with a windowless office, or no office, or far from the kitchen, or other similar debacle.  Serves me right.  We were going to the fifth floor, and barely made it past the fourth when the elevator shuddered to a stop.  Well, it did not really shudder, it just stopped moving, and it actually took us a few seconds to clue in to what happened.  All buttons were pushed, and 911 was called.  It took over an hour and a half, because in this day and age (and litigious society), hopping out of an elevator between floors, from about waist-height, is apparently frowned upon.  My partner was ready to spring into action and out of the elevator, and had a rather funny chest-pounding (figuratively) altercation with the elevator guy.  The four women, clad in short tight dresses and high heels, took selfies and fretted.  I, mentally kicking myself for not visiting the bathroom before going off with them and for not grabbing my cell phone, tried to calm everyone down by telling my Italian elevator story (omitting the part about my part in it) and the story of how a neighbor back home, Aunt Vera’s son, had his legs crushed when an elevator car fell with him in it, but survived.  He even drove a special “invalid car”, as they were called in those non-PC days, meaning all the controls were hand-operated.  Surprisingly, neither story was received in the spirit it was told.  Eventually we were rescued, and the landlord sent us bagels and coffee next day.  I expected a month of free rent. 

Mickey. What a monster he was!
  • Second, I was bitten by a dog.  This was truly my worst fear for many years.  I had a nemesis dog in my childhood, Mickey, who belonged to another neighbor, Aunt Rimma.  He roamed the neighborhood off leash, as dogs did in those days, terrorizing children.  I remember an occasion when my friend Tanya and I were desperately holding closed the outside door to the apartment building where she lived (Mickey lived right above Tanya), because he was barking madly on the street and we were afraid that he will barge in and tear our throats out.  For reasons that are passing understanding, I have a photo of this monster beast—pretending to be friendly and peaceful.  This must have been after he fell off the second floor balcony.  He broke his leg and was never as ferocious after that.

So, living for decades with the fear of being mauled by a dog, I finally was—and lived to tell the tale.  I was walking with my spouse and my two dogs (yes, I have two, two dogs—another story for another time), and my baby dog, Vanya, picked up this huge crust of bread off the sidewalk two doors from our house.  Of course, I tried to pry her teeth apart and get the bread out, and of course she was desperate to keep her teeth clamped shut while chewing as fast as she possibly could.  Next thing I knew, sharp pain, blood everywhere.  I fell onto the grass, crying.  I am not proud of this.  I was a little overly dramatic, because the pain was not the worst I ever felt.  It was more the shock of seeing my bloody middle finger with a missing nail.  But the joke is on Vanya, because my nails are fake. 

  • Finally, when I came home, with my finger wrapped in paper towel offered by a kind neighbor, I decided to enjoy a calming mug of beer.  And here is the worst thing—I spilled the beer all over myself and my couch.  I can’t even blame the shock of the dog bite.  I have all these cords from my phone, my Kindle, and my laptop on the couch, and the beer mug tangled up in them and fell.  Mad dog Vanya immediately started licking the couch.  I drank YooHoo instead (also good).  Now my couch (#100 on the list of my favorite things) smells like beer.  So maybe it was not a waste after all.

A Few of [Whose] Favorite Things

I used to read self-help books.  I am not entirely sure if they really did help, but there is no real way to know, is there?  We never stop learning and growing, and all that.  Even as I write this, I am waiting for the library to deliver to me a copy of “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck”.  I am #110 on 6 EBook copies, and #223 on 20 audiobook copies, with wait time of at least six months, according to the library website.  I am expecting that half a year from today (at least), I will be so much cooler and calmer and more collected.  Until then, I have to keep relying on old coping skills. 

One of those is a list of 100 things that bring me joy.  I made this list almost a quarter of a century ago, and I still have it.  I have never revised it.  Looking at it now, I am generally in agreement with my younger self.  However, there are some items that are genuinely puzzling:

#15:     Playing badminton.  Not that it is not fun, but seriously—when did I play so much badminton in this lifetime that it merited its own entry on the list?  I mean, badminton got into Top 100, and even Top 15?  OK, the list is not in order of priority, but to have thought of badminton so early on?  A head-scratcher…

#19:     Lilliput Lane houses.  Again, Top 20 in the Spirit of Acquisition?  I have a few of those cute miniatures, but since I have been focused more on unloading than acquiring crap, I mean, stuff, in recent years, I have to say that this one is decidedly off the list.

#41:     Trivial Pursuit.  Is it even a thing these days?  I think it might have been replaced by Cards Against Humanity in my life.  Maybe less intellectual, but a lot more laughs!

#51.     Jelly Bellies.  Whoa, really?  I used to love Jelly Bellies, but that much?  Glad they are not in the Top 50—that would be embarrassing.  Bottom 50 is OK.

#61.     TV Guide.  That’s a heartbreaking one. I used to love TV Guide so much, when it was in that little compact format.  In high school, I used to trek to Meijer’s Thrifty Acres weekly to buy TV Guide as soon as it was out on the stands.  It was so important in the pre-internet days, my main source of information that counted (don’t judge!).  Then they changed the format, which made me super-mad, because then it looked like any other magazine.  And I just could not keep up with the thousands of new channels anyway.  And then technology got so ahead of me that these days I can only turn the TV on with express instructions from my spouse and children. Oh, but I still miss TV Guide!  I wish I had kept that issue with Richard Chamberlain as Father Ralph from “The Thorn Birds” on the cover…

#89.  Fashion magazines.  I have no idea who actually made this entry, although the handwriting seems to be mine.  It must have been a minor case of possession, as I do not recollect ever purchasing or even looking through a fashion magazine.  I must have been running out of things that brought me joy…

Then there is a handful of items that are largely gone from the world:

#17.  Bookstores.  Oh, what a joy it was to browse at Borders or even Barnes & Noble (but Borders was the ultimate)!  But who am I to complain, when I so utterly and completely, albeit somewhat belatedly, jumped on the Kindle/Audible/OverDrive wagon and have not physically set foot in a bookstore in years?  If Borders was still around, I would still be buying books there.  I can safely tell myself this.

And finally, something that was not on the list decades ago, but would be #1 today:

Dogs.  I love dogs.  But I did not even like them when the list was initially written. Which just goes to show how much things can change in one lifetime, as I write this while wearing my “Home is where the dog is” T-shirt, given to me by my mom. [Who also did not make the Top 100 list then, but definitely would now!]