Every now and then, I get in this mood to call people to see how they are doing. Tonight, for instance, I called Dan to wish him a happy birthday, and then I called Jen to tell her about my own birthday celebration arrangements at the Rainbow Room in New York late in March.
For the first time since he died back in November 2004, I had the urge to call my Grandpa tonight, to see how he was doing.
I have this picture of him on the wall of my office; it was taken by my cousin and won first place in a photography contest and has always been my favorite picture of him.
My grandfather didn’t believe in an afterlife, and neither do I, but as a writer, and in particular, a science fiction writer, I can speculate, I can certainly imagine calling my grandpa.
I pick up my cell phone and dial the ancient number: 914-352-1149. It’s the only phone number I’ve ever known him to have.
The phone rings three times. Always three times. And then:
HELL-o, he would say, always with the stress on the first syllable, always sounding as though he was somewhat startled by the phone.
“Hey, Grandpa,” I say. There’s no need to identify myself.
Jamie! he says. I was just talking about you. You’re ears must be burning.
“How are you doing?” I ask.
Not too bad for an A-K, he says. “A-K” is Yiddish for alta-kocher, which roughly translated, means “old fart”.
“I haven’t called in a while,” I say, “I just wanted to see how you were doing, hear your voice, you know.” It’s been 471 days since I last spoke to him. “How are things?” I add.
Very well, he says. We’ve got a whole bunch of company this weekend. My brothers are visiting.
I thought I could hear voices in the background, muffled, unclear, but definitely voices. “Oh yeah? Whose there?”
Bill and Pat, he says. Then, as if remembering he’s talking to his grandson, he adds, and your Uncle Meyer. Grandma is making hard farts and snowballs. Hard farts and snowballs is a secret recipe for layers of baked ham and potatoes. I don’t really know how it got its name, but it’s delicious and I’m envious. How are you doing he asks.
“Oh you, know, the same. I’m good. I miss you,” I say.
There is an awkward silence.
“You know,” I say, “I’ve got this great song that I’m going to send you. You’d love it. Bing Crosby and Jimmy Durante doing this bit, followed by Jimmy and Bing singing , ‘You’ve Gotta Start Off Each Day With a Song’. You’d love it. It’s hilarious.”
Oh, yeah? he says.
“Yeah. Just imagine, Bing playing the straight man for Durante. ‘I’m giving verse lessons,’ says Durante. ‘Who are some of your pupils?’ Bing asks. ‘John-Charles-Thomas to name a few,’ Durante says. ‘And that eniment crooner Frank Sinatra.’ ‘Frank Sinatra,’ says Crosby, ‘What did you do for him?’ And Durante replies: ‘Nothing, he came too late. The damage was already done!'”
I can hear Grandpa laughing his unique laugh on the phone. It’s infectious. “It’s good to hear you laughing,” I say. “It’s been a while since I’ve heard it.”
I’m sorry about those last couple of years, he says. I just wasn’t myself. It was like I was in some kind of funk that I couldn’t get myself out of. I wanted to laugh, but it was just so hard.
“Don’t even worry about it,” I say.
In the background, I can hear Grandpa saying, Pat, will you pour me two-fingers?
“I should probably let you get back to the festivities,” I say.
Dinner’s almost ready and your Grandpa is setting the table.
“Well, I just wanted to say hello. Will you say hello to everyone there for me?”
I will, he says. And then, after a slight pause, It’ll probably be a while before I talk to you again. But I think about you all the time.
“Me too,” I say.
Mwwwwwaaaaah! Grandpa says. I can hear Uncle Max laughing in the background just before the line goes dead.
It’s a typical phone call. Grandpa was never all that comfortable on the phone. He liked to get off the phone as soon as he could. Our conversations were never long.
But they were always good.
Nice talking to ya–until next time…