A Shocking Story in Four Parts

September 17, 2009


Sometimes one does not realize the significance of a situation until a long time afterward.

When I was about 14 years old, my father, a very intelligent (and very unpleasant) person who had never had a job worthy of his talents, finally was hired for a good job by a defense contractor to help usher in the computer age and to help protect the United States from nuclear attack by Soviet bombers. It took a while for his security clearance to be approved because two doctors had delivered him and each doctor thought the other doctor had signed his birth certificate.

When it came time for the FBI to approve his security clearance, the lack of a birth certificate and the fact that his ancestors came from countries behind the Iron Curtain caused the defenders of our national security some concern. Eventually, however, they decided he was not a Manchurian Candidate and he was assigned to a job in New York state. He moved to the East Coast by himself for a while for training, leaving us behind in California for a while.


Eventually, he summoned my mother to leave Orange County, California and join him, and bring the rest of us (my four younger siblings and I) along, though I suspect my father would not have wept if she had mislaid us before leaving.

Anyway, after a few weeks in Paterson, New Jersey (aka the armpit of America), we rented a house in Suffern, a town in Rockland County. Rockland County bears a relationship to New York City rather like Orange County, California bears to Los Angeles.


My father had a friend in Rockland, County. I don’t remember exactly the basis of the friendship (though most of my parents’ friends were very weird). Perhaps they played chess (as my father was a brilliant chess player), or bridge (which my father came to prefer to chess). As usual I don’t remember the gentleman’s name. I’ll call him Beelzebub for reasons that will eventually become apparent.

I’m not sure how old Beezy was. When I was 14, everyone over 21 seemed very old to me. I suspect now that he was in his 40s.

One day my father asked me to go to Beelzebub’s apartment for a bit. My dad explained that Beelzebub’s niece was visiting him and my dad thought she might like some company of a person her own age.

Beelzebub chatted with me for a few minutes before he introduced me to his niece. He explained that he worked independently doing title searches for real estate companies. “It is indeed fortunate that I have a way to make a living where I can work by myself. As I live a very unconventional lifestyle, it is a good thing I can make a living without having to work for anybody else, because most people would not understand,” he said to me.

His statement didn’t make much sense to me at the time, but just as my parents were obsessed with alternative health, organic food, and obscure mystical beliefs, most of their friends were rather strange as well, so I just attributed Beelzebub’s odd statement to the peculiar milieu in which my parents circulated.

In fact, my parents, apparently concerned that as a teenager I was a bookish introvert with no young lady friends, from time to time thrust me into the company of daughters and nieces of friends in the hope that I would come out of my shell and perhaps get a young lady into “trouble” (I guess).

This stratagem never succeeded. The young lady and I would stare awkwardly at each other, unable to think of anything to say. At the time, my conclusion was that she was thinking of me What a boring dork. Now, I suspect the young lady (perhaps as introverted as I) was thinking, He probably thinks I am a boring dorkette. It’s hard to know. It was a long time ago and the truth is lost in the mists of time.

In any case, my father dropped me off at Beelzebub’s apartment and Beezy introduced me to his niece. Even in comparison to my usual awkward encounters with young ladies of my own age, this meeting was especially awkward. I’ll call her Lucille. Lucille seemed tense and agitated. Naturally, I attributed her distressed manner to repulsion with me.

When my father eventually showed up to take me back home, I was glad to get out of there. On the drive home, my father asked me about how my conversation with Lucille went. I said something articulate such as, “Mumble, mumble.”

This all took place about fifty years ago.



4 Responses to “A Shocking Story in Four Parts”

  1. woo Says:

    Oh dear, I have a feeling this story is not going to end well, is it?…

  2. modestypress Says:


    Well, my brief reply to your comment is yes and no. More to come.

  3. The thing about the birth certificates … it’s like something out of a movie. I won’t even comment on the wonderfully ironic name of the town of Suffern.

  4. modestypress Says:


    The birth certificate story always struck me as peculiar it was inevitable it would happen in my family.

    My memories of Suffern are pretty dim, now, but as I recall, it wasn’t that bad a little town compared to the other little towns where I lived in that period of my life. But then, I lived for a while in Woodstock, NY. Years later, I thought about Woodstock…”Who knew?”

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