Today’s post is about my father, George, who would have been 83 today had he not passed away suddenly in 1991. I was still a very young girl in many ways, though if you had asked me, I would have told you I was all grown up at 21, with college graduation only a few months away. That’s also the year I got sick, and stayed sick for 5 years, so yeah, it was kind of a tough time.
A lot of people I went to school with probably didn’t even know my Dad. He was a little bit Michael Corleone (ok a lot), and in many ways like a character in a book or a noir film. He boxed at the Friendly House, our neighborhood “Y” type gym, and I recently connected with an elderly man who remembered my Dad teaching his younger brother to box through lessons there, and he was a tough guy, known to threaten people in road rage incidents with an icepick or whatever else he had on hand in the car. He told me to carry a roll of quarters in my pocket in case I ever needed to fend someone off, that the quarters could make your punch pack a lot of weight. Once, we were driving the wrong way down a one-way street and as we passed another car, the driver angrily waved him down and rolled his window down and shouted, “One way!” George replied, “Only going one way, thanks!” and flipped him off.
He was a semi-pro photographer, and contracted with the local paper to shoot stuff like the races at Mid-Ohio and local parades. He won a big photography contest once, it was a picture of an upright piano he saw sitting out in the middle of a deserted field. He titled it “After the Ball.” I still have a print of it. He loved to watch open wheel racing (*never* NASCAR) (I grew up watching Mario Andretti and AJ Foyt) the Celtics (the Larry Bird, Kevin McHale days), tennis (McEnroe, Conners and Borg) and a lot of science/sci-fi programs like Cosmos and In Search Of with Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek and the Twilight Zone. He also loved British humor and brought us up watching Monty Python and Fawlty Towers.
My Dad only had a 10th grade education. He got kicked out of Mansfield Senior High in the 10th grade for punching his gym coach in the face, and he never went back. He went on to have dozens of different jobs, one of the longest being selling used cars. My Dad taught me everything about buying and selling cars, all the salesman’s tricks and tips and to this day, I help all my family and close friends with their car purchases as it’s road I comfortably navigate and is an arena most people have no clue about, particularly women, which is a shame. Everyone who walks off a car lot with a new car feels as if they may have gotten ripped off somehow, but they don’t know how. Or they feel things went exceedingly easy-breezy and they got a great deal because they got a couple hundred off the sticker price, while the salesperson chuckles all the way to the bank. Daddy taught me better than that.
He taught me not to take anyone’s shit. Perhaps over almost anything else in life, which has both served me well and stood in the way of my progress at the same time. “There’s always another job,” he used to say, “You don’t have to stick around and be a bug under someone’s shoe. There’s always another boyfriend, another place to live. Don’t be a doormat.” While I’ve never been a doormat, there is a certain amount of shit in life that you do, in fact, have to eat, and it took me a long time to learn that lesson, and it wasn’t always comfortable.
Dad settled into the burgeoning field of data entry and telecom. He worked on an archaic, prehistoric-man version of a help desk, with a watts line that people would call him from in the company’s offices in Denver and Kansas City, saying their computer didn’t work and he’d have to try to help fix it over the phone. We had boxes of used IBM punch cards at my house growing up. For you youngin’s, punch cards were the original way to “run” a program like a word processing application; you had to feed this huge stack of cards through the machine and it would read the code on the machine based on tiny holes punched into the paper. I remember my Dad’s office, it looked like something from the movie 2001 to me, with the rooms with big, giant, fridge sized servers, row after row of them, and the phone you could pick up and dial any number in the country for free. He had the “THIMK” poster on his wall, as well as a poster of an embroidery sampler that said “Away Sweet Away” (instead of Home Sweet Home).
Dad taught me all about jazz music. He played the trumpet in school, well, until he wasn’t there any longer, and he tried hard to educate me about the importance of learning the roots of music, how it informed everything I heard. When I played Led Zeppelin for him, he would go to his record collection, search around, pull out a record and play me the original number they were covering and my eyes would bug out. The thing I wanted to get from his house when he died more than anything were his jazz records, but it didn’t happen. I didn’t get anything, in fact, but that’s for another blog post. Families can be cruel, especially when someone dies.
Dad smelled of Old Spice and occasionally Hai Karate, loved diners and driving around aimlessly listening to jazz, maybe finding an open truck stop in the middle of the night and striking up a conversation with a driver or the cute waitress. He was Jack Daniels whiskey and swore in Macedonian sometimes. He taught us commands for our dogs in Macedonian, so nobody else would be able to give the dogs a command they would obey. He was rough around the edges to be sure, but he loved me fiercely and we were tight. We both loved the sun and in middle school, took our own vacation to Canada just to lay on the beach and eat ice cream and play in the water and maybe get some pizza later. He would have killed anyone who hurt me without blinking an eye and I ached for a long time that he never saw me graduate from college, take to the stage, get married, or to meet my beautiful, funny son, who he would have loved fiercely.
Miss you Dad, still. Happy birthday, old man.