There will be no apologies for this entry. Instead, there is only an extension from me to you about a truthful space in my heart. Therefore, without any further hesitation, I would like you to put your imagination caps on and do your best to visualize the concepts of what I am about to share with you.
So . . .
Here’s a question: if you could have lunch (or dinner) with anyone in the world and at any place in the world, who would you have lunch (or dinner) with and where?
If it’s lunch, I suppose I’d go with Katz Delicatessen on Houston St. I think I’d choose this place because of the stories my Old Man told me about New York City when he was young.
Not to mention the fact that somewhere near that area was a jewelry shop that was owned by my Grandfather. Now, to be clear, I have to explain that I never met my Grandfather. I was named after him. I’ve heard stories about my Grandfather Ben which were both good and so good.
I know that he was stern. I know that he was tough to play games with. I know that my Grandfather was not a person to let you win. As a matter of fact, he’d beat you and if asked, I was told my Grandfather would say “No one lets you win.”
He’d say, “This is life. If you want to win then you have to earn it.”
My Grandfather came from a different time. He came from a different place as well which was somewhere in Austria. I don’t know much about him.
I only know that he was somewhat tough on my Father. I know that my Father never believed he was the son that my Grandfather or my Grandmother wanted. In fact, my Mother once told me that on the night of my Grandmother’s funeral, my Old Man wept and said, “My mother never loved me.”
I wasn’t around to know what he said when my Grandfather died. But, in retrospect, I can understand more about my Father and our relationship because of moments like this.
But wait – That’s not what this is about.
Let’s first explore the cultural and generational differences here. My Father was born in 1929 to Ben and Lena Kimmel. They lived a humble life on the ground floor of an apartment building in the Bronx.
I know the stories that I heard about my Father’s history and his youth which, of course, I am sure that I have sensationalized and amplified with my imagination. However, the idea of sitting together with my Father and his Father before him at a place like Katz Deli is my wish among wishes.
I wonder what they would order. I wonder if they would order soup before their sandwiches came. I wonder what I would do or what I would say. Or more to the point, would I be like a child while sitting with my childhood hero and the hero whom I never met before.
I have this idea of sitting with these two men who have a history with each other. I wonder what a hug would be like from my Grandfather or what his accent sounded like.
I wonder if my Father would be somewhat quiet or almost subservient while sitting at the table. It’s not like we would have to drive there together. We could meet there, outside, and then walk in at the same time.
I wonder what the room would smell like.
I wonder if my Grandfather would tell me stories about the way he came over to America and how he left Europe before the racial tensions grew out of control.
I say this because while I’m not exactly sure of my family’s European history; I know that some of my family was exterminated in places like Auschwitz and Mauthausen. I never knew much about the earlier lives of my Grandparents. I know that my Grandmother lost her brothers and by the time I came into the world, my Grandmother was the only one left.
There’s so much history that I would like to ask about. There’s more questions than I could possibly fit in one lunch; but still, since this is a wish list, then let me wish for it.
Then again, as I write to you – I can think of other lunches just like this one. I can think of other places and people who, if I could have it my way, I would sit with them and have a meal just to catch up.
I can recall back when my cousin Robbie was sick with cancer. We knew it was close to the end for him. Robbie was in a lot of pain. He was frightened. He was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired yet the cancer was beyond his control. All he had was the comfort of “us,” his family.
I recall sitting with Robbie on an afternoon when one of the interns came in. Robbie was uncomfortable. He was unhappy. He knew he was dying however, the intern thought he could talk his way through Robbie’s questions.
I was much younger than Robbie and in all fairness, Robbie was used to me being a little kid. However, by this time – I was not a little kid anymore – and also by this time, my history and life choices were no longer a secret.
I was clean at this time. But I was certainly not an angel by any means. At the same time, I was working an honest job (for the most part) and mainly out of trouble.
But still, Robbie was my family and Robbie was uncomfortable. There he was, this so-called intern who claimed to be a professional, thinking he could speak to Robbie in any fashion he chose.
I am not an exceptionally big man. But I am not little either. I am certainly not soft spoken nor was I an eloquent speaker at the time. In full disclosure and in fairness to the story: Yes, if Robbie were to have said “punish him” or commanded me in any way; in fact, I would have wholeheartedly and physically punished that man for hurting or worsening my cousin’s condition. No questions asked.
Instead of allowing for a momentary explosion, I interrupted the intern from his little speech. Rather than watch silently as my cousin visibly worsened or grew more emotional, I offered a chance for the intern to correct his mannerism. I stood up and explained myself as clearly as possible.
Pointing towards Robbie, I explained, “You see that man? That man is uncomfortable. The fact that you are making him more uncomfortable is starting to make me uncomfortable. Trust me when I tell you – you don’t want me to be uncomfortable! Now pretty please with sugar on top. Answer his fucking questions.
I would have opened up and been as terrorizing as I could; if for no other reason than to right the wrong or to beat back the bully which was killing my cousin; with no pride in this narrative nor approval of my old behaviors, I would have done anything I had to do to silence and correct this man in the speed of a few seconds flat.
Now, before I digress again, I want to explain myself. See, when I was leaving the realms of addiction and getting cleaned up, Robbie was a person who understood me. He was there for me.
When my Father passed away back in December of 1989, Robbie came through the doors. He hugged me in a way that I have never forgotten and for that moment, I was okay.
Hence, this was important enough to me that when it was Robbie who was unhappy and uncomfortable – it was my turn to return the love and kindness which he showed me. And I did.
Robbie’s eyes lit up too. I say this because it is important to understand that to Robbie, I was always this little kid. There was certainly nothing intimidating about me. Robbie never saw the adult version of me. At least, not until that day to which Robbie replied, “Fuckin Benjy grew up!”
(Benjy was my kid name. For the record, it took me years to escape it.)
The smile on Robbie’s face was worth everything to me. Plus, I saw this as a minute of redemption. I say this because to me, any illness is a bully but cancer is a bully of a different kind. For that moment, I was not aiming to be an advocate; I was stepping in to be Robbie’s protector.
Now, why do I say this?
Later that week, Robbie told me that he had a dream about my Father. He said that my Father and both my Grandmother and Grandfather came to see him. He said my Father was driving a bus and that he told Robbie not to worry.
My Father explained to Robbie that everything is going to be okay and that when Robbie was ready, my Father and my Grandparents would come back to get him and then he would simply get on the bus.
My vision of this is a bus station, say like, somewhere down near The Keys in Florida. I envision my Father in all white and the bus is antique as if to be something from the 50’s in perfect and pristine condition – glimmering beneath the bright Florida sun at a bus station that leaves from this port into paradise.
I know that Robbie told my Uncle about this dream. Then I heard Robbie say, “I think I’m gonna get on that bus, Pop.”
Robbie died shortly after.
Now, wait –
I know this sounds sad to you but please believe me; this is not sad. No, this is the redemption of hope. This is the belief that at some point; we will see each other again – and when we do, what a lunch that will be.
At this point in my life, I understand that I am closer to the end than I am to my beginning. I know that I have to pay attention because time is limited and always ticking.
I know that while I spend time wishing I could have take-backs and do-overs, all I have is this moment. All I have is now and the ability to live, love, laugh and learn.
There is something to this. There is a purpose here which is why I convey this message to you. Food is love. Our ability to live, love, laugh and learn is limited to a finite space which we call “of the flesh.”
And verily, as I say this to you; my next wish is to convey this idea with hopes that somehow; we can make this work.
I am not a cook or a chef or perhaps I am not a typical narrator. I am only me the same as you are only you.
However, these people in the story above are part of my history and since a large part of my history has passed – it’s time for me to create my own history.
It’s time for me to build, create, generate and construct my own path here on Project Earth. I want to leave behind a legacy like my Father did and his Father before him.
I assume there are missing pieces to everyone’s life. There are questions which we all have and ideas like, say, sitting with people who we never met or asking questions that we’ve never had answered to.
All I know is I don’t want to miss anything else.
Oh, and by the way – if I was to have that lunch at Katz’s, I’d probably go for a brisket sandwich. I’d have to add a little horseradish sauce too – and definitely a few pickles or a few sour tomatoes if they still have any. I’m a big eater, so I’m sure the list can go on but hey, there are no carbs or calories in wishes like this so, add a few potato blintzes and some potato pancakes while we’re at it
Come to think of it, if you were there with me – or should I say, with us,
What would you order? Just asking.
There’s a menu online if you’re interested.
Just saying – just in case my wish comes true.