January 29, 2010


I wrote a couple of blog posts about a computer store on the island where I live. I referred to the store as John Quincy Adams computers because their name sounds like (a different) United States President. The store consists of Mom, Dad, and Son. Son turned out to be “Son-in-Law.” I bought a laptop from them. Their service has turned out to be very good and I have turned into a loyal and appreciative customer.



One day Dad blurted out to me that Son-in-Law was ill, ill to the point of death with a heart ailment. Son-in was brought back from the brink of death and seems to be doing reasonably well. I see Mom and Dad (who are a little older than I am, I think) and Son-in-Law fairly frequently at the gym.

Today, in the locker room I said to Son-in-Law, “I have a personal question. Feel free not to answer, and feel free to tell me to go away. I have never heard of a daughter to Mom and Dad…?”

He replied, quite amiably, “My marriage to Robin [(I presume the daughter] ended about four years ago. She moved to the East Coast. When I answer the phone at the store, people say I sound just like Dad. [I have noticed this, but I can tell the difference.]

This answered my question, but leaves a lot of other questions, but I think I was given as much information as I can reasonably expect to get.

January 28, 2010

As I mentioned in a comment on David’s blog, I had a conversation with my Aunt Henriette a few days ago.. I learned from my cousin that she was in the hospital for two days because her heart is calcified. I suspect that she is close to dying, but she will not admit she is failing until five minutes after she expires, which is perhaps the best approach to take to the matter.

My aunts, like my grandmother, were/are all tough, narcissist broads, and about as difficult to knock off as Rasputin.

After the usual awkward conversation about diet with my Aunt Henriette, who considers herself an expert on health care and who wanted to go over what supplements I take and so on, I changed the subject (not sure I wanted to be prescribed to by a dying woman) and began to explore my roots.

As a child, I detested my grandparents and my parents, so I mostly avoided asking about or learning about my ancestry. Henriette is still alert and articulate.

I know that my mother’s parents were Ukranian Jews (though in those days everything in the area was considered “Russian,” I think), but I didn’t have much of a picture of my father’s roots. In passing, I got an interesting perspective on the toxic roots of my childhood and my parents.

In terms of ancestry, my paternal grandmother was born in Latvia (Jewish, of course) and arrived in the United States at the age of two. My paternal grandfather was born in the United States. His ancestors were Hungarian Jews, and made a living as musicians, often playing at weddings. So, in the unlikely event anyone is interested, I am a Ukrainian, Latvian, Hungarian Jewish radical agnostic.

The interesting information was about my grandmother, whom I remember (from her last years of life, when she lived with my Aunt Naomi in Southern California) as a dreadful narcissistic monster.

The information below is a combination of my recent conversation, and information I’ve received at other times (such as family reunions). As a young woman, around the turn the century, Grandma Agnes was an energetic feminist and career woman, working at several jobs, including as a secretary in a steel mill.

However, at one point she was a script writer for a movie studio. This was in New York City. Some of the movie studios operated in New York City as well as in California in the early days of the movie business.

At some point, Agnes married my grandfather Harry (who was a dentist who studied with John Harvey Kellogg in Battle Creek Michigan (and thus we enter the world of The Road to Wellness, which David recommended I read).

 However, Kellogg was notoriously phobic about sex, and Grandfather Harry didn’t get the memo, as my aunts told me that he was an enthusiastic horn dog, though as far as I know, faithful to Grandma Agnes. Anyway, Agnes became pregnant fairly quickly and had three daughters—Aunt Diana, Aunt Naomi, Aunt Henriette (the baby), and one son, my father. When Grandma Agnes found herself a mother, her budding career as a scriptwriter and who knows what else was destroyed and she became quite angry and embittered, and turned her fury on Diana, her oldest daughter.

On top of that, Grandfather Harry, as a big fan of Kellogg, administered enemas to all the members of his family. Diana became irate at both mom and dad, stormed out of her family, and eventually married a conventional medical doctor. In my alternative health care fanatic family, this was the ultimate insult.

To add further to the drama and commotion, Diana, much like her mother, a narcissistic monster, in the words of her children, “Destroyed her husband, the doctor.”

Diana got the worst treatment from Grandma Agnes, but all of my father’s family suffered quite a bit. My Aunt Naomi, who studied to be a ballet dancer, and was tall and beautiful as a young woman, fell in love with some pretentious “guru” who placed some spell over the entire family and ran off to California with him.

Eventually, Naomi tossed him aside and fell in love with my Uncle Donald, a cowboy from a California high desert ranching family, who became an engineer and eventually a chiropractor. As a tough cowboy, used to breaking wild horses, and about ten years younger, Donald was about equal to Naomi, and they had a fairly happy and successful marriage. As I’ve told elsewhere, their daughter, Joanna, became fluent in Chinese and co-founded with her Taiwanese husband the multi-national baby stroller/baby furniture company Graco and became a millionaire. She also became a bit of a heroine in Taiwan because after her youngest daughter was implanted with the first cochlear implant for a Chinese child, she set up a foundation to provide care for deaf children born in Taiwan.

 There’s more, some of which I’ve told at other times. I have two points I will close with. If I had writing talent like say T. Correghesan Boyle,, and had paid attention as a child, I could have used my family as a launching pad for a great memoir. I care not much.

 The other point is that toxic strains in families creep down through many generations. Grandmother Agnes getting pregnant had terrible effects on at least the families of three of her children, (Naomi and Donald did pretty well with my cousins Joanna and her sister Valerie) but the rest of her children and their families were fairly well ruined.

Except perhaps, in my case. I just turned 66 a few days ago. I am fairly content with my life. My wife and I both came from fairly toxic families. I am most proud that we were able to break free of noxious roots and stay on good terms with our daughter and her partner.

They, in turn, seem to be doing quite well with the illustrious Random Granddaughter, though as she is a notorious drama queen and the terror of her kindergarten (with her partner in crime the billionaire’s daughter) at the School for Very Bright Children,  the jury is still out.

This weekend we will visit the barely extended family and celebrate my birthday, my wife’s birthday, and little child genius’ birthday.

Though, of course, she may take advantage of her birthday party to tell us that she is disowning us.

When Random Granddaughter was a little tyke of three or so, she dreamed of being a train engineer, ferry captain, or a fire chief. Now that she is all grown up at five years old, she plans to be a teacher and an artist, though her behavior in kindergarten suggests she will likely be an outlaw.

At an early age, I thought I might be a humorous writer such as Dave Barry or Bill Bryson, or perhaps a comedian, such as Bob Newhart or Bill Cosby.

Although Dave Barry entertained millions of readers and Bob Newhart entertained millions of listeners and viewers, I entertained perhaps a few score readers of my blog and amused perhaps a few hundred captives to the computer classes I taught. Although I visited comedy clubs when I was in my 30s, I never had the courage to try the “open mike.” One reason was that I am not that funny. Another reason is that I don’t think that quickly on my feet. I knew if I were heckled (as comedians always are), I would not think of a comeback until 24 hours later.

Last week I taught my first AARP Senior Driver Safety Class, a course that spanned two 4.5 hours sessions, in a small city 30 miles away from my home. As I drove home after the first night, carefully scanning for dangers to the side and ahead, and carefully keeping a safe distance from the car ahead of me, as the safety course advises), a car pulled out to pass all the southbound traffic on the two lane highway. With fear and awe I watched as the vehicle passed—not one—not two—not three—not four—not five—but SIX cars. The driver then safely merged back into traffic without having a head on crash with oncoming traffic.

The next day, I described the experience to the class participants near the start of the second session. I then asked the participants (who had revealed on the first day that the main reason they take the Driver Safety Class is because they get a discount on their insurance from their automobile insurance company, as is true of almost everyone who signs up for these classes):

“Did you learn worthwhile in this class besides that you will get a discount on your insurance?”

One participant, named Janet, something of a smart-ass (as I am one I know one when I see one, being one myself), said, “I learned not to pass six cars on a two-lane highway.” The class cracked up. It was a perfect heckle.

I waited.

Just long enough.

The participants settled down. When I had their attention again, I said,

“Jan, that is important safe driving advice. However, there is an important qualification I should add as your instructor.
“While it is not safe to pass six cars on a two-lane highway at night, it probably is OK to pass five cars under those conditions.”

I guess you had to be there.

I am not quitting my day job. Which is being a retired 65-year-old person, though I will be promoted to retired 66-year-old person in a couple of weeks.

I took the truck to to the mainland for service. We have a brilliant garage. Why are they so good I wondered? Because almost everyone who works there belongs to the same family?

Perhaps, but if it answers one question, it leaves another? How can a family get along so well and work so well together? Well, I found out, they are Palestinians. They are Palestinian Christians. They told me about hiding under the  bed as bullets went through their house during one of the wars. Then things got interesting for them…

They told me the water pump on our truck was about to break, so I said, “Please fix it,” which they did and it cost a lot,  so I don’t have $5 to send anybody this month as my cheap good deed of the month, though actually I sent $25 to my aunt Henriette so she can get a new sofa bed as my cousin Julie said Henriette is doing much better and is less crazy. I am not sure how anyone in my family can be less crazy. It’s sort of an oath my great-great-grandparents took that we would all be crazy.

I visited one of the libraries where I used to work. When I worked there, the library system presented a polished and friendly face to the world, but behind the scenes everyone was at each other’s throats. I saw many people I knew and learned everyone is still at each other’s throats. I asked about my old boss, who treated me quite badly when I was still working so she (former boss, could be promoted. The person I talked to, who just got married at the age of 60 (how romantic!), said, “The Wicked Witch of the West is doing fine” (so I guess I will not email her and suggest we become friends again).

I visited Random Granddaughter and Mommy (her birth mother) and saw Mama (my daughter), who passed her first term of calculus/statistics, but is completely stressed out.

RG was apparently very excited about my visit and wanted to show me her latest dolly, but went into a meltdown because she couldn’t find it, but then found where it had fallen off the couch (so be careful where you put your dolly or your spouse as the case may be). She showed me her doll’s hair net, which is also its bridal veil. RG is really into weddings right now, which may mean that there is something she is not telling her mommies, though as precocious as she is, I doubt she will need a shotgun wedding at the age of five years old.

I asked why her best friend across the street (I should probably stop using friend’s real name, so I will call her BFAS) is not going to the private School for Very Bright Children (SVBC) and Mommy said BFAS’ mom thinks it is a very elitist school and decided to send BFAS to public school  (though SVBC seems ultra PC to me even though most of  parents are wealthy. However, BFAS like RG is very  bright, so Mommy doubts that my  that BFAS is being well  served by public school.

I will have to finish this later.