Tag Archives: grandpa

They became spacemen: a science fictional story of a small gas station in the Bronx

Sometime last week, I had a dream that I was explaining to someone where my grandfather’s service station was in the Bronx. My grandpa, along with four of his brothers, owned and operated a gas station in the Bronx for somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 years. They finally sold the business in 1985. The last location they were at was along the Grand Concourse, south of the courthouse and just across the street from the park on the other side of the old Yankee stadium. In my dream, I was trying to explain the location of the gas station by explaining the location of the old Yankee stadium in relation to the park and the courthouse. You know, your typical convoluted dream instructions. If it wasn’t a dream, I might have said something like, Grand Concourse, just north of 153rd street. Or I could have pointed them to a Google Map of the place. But the dream got me thinking about that gas station, and about its unique location. And how at one time, my grandfather and uncles were considered “spacemen”. So I went digging for the evidence.

What I found in my papers were two news articles about the construction of that particular service station. It was built on a ledge and in order to have more room for cars and service space, it was actually constructed out over the ledge, something that was pretty unusual at the time:


Continue reading They became spacemen: a science fictional story of a small gas station in the Bronx


Although it hardly seems possible, it was three years ago today that Grandpa passed away. I remembered this about a week ago and then forgot about it until about 10 minutes ago. I just went back and read the eulogy I gave for him five months later, wondering if I did him justice. I think that I did.

The George and Gracie Dream

I has a strange dream last night. First the setting: my parents, it seemed, owned a beach house of some kind (parts of which were being redone). I remember standing on the beach in the back yard while holding one of Mom’s golf clubs. A wave came by and pulled me into the ocean and for a few minutes, I lost the club (much to Mom’s consternation). Eventually, however, we found it, and all was well.

The strange part of the dream, if that wasn’t strange enough, was that George Burns and Gracie Allen were neighbors, and they frequently came over, though I had never personally met them. Well, this time, I was there when they came over and we sat around a table, and they proceeded to tell me a story about my grandparents that I simply wouldn’t have believed, if it wasn’t for the fact that it was George Burns and Gracie Allen telling me the story.

Apparently, what I’d heard about my Grandma was not entirely true. Growing up, she was actually a Vaudeville actress. She was a not a terribly famous actress, but she did well enough to make a living out of it. My Grandparents traveled quite a bit and would come out to L.A. to visit us, or go to Utah, or go to Florida on various cruises, etc., and apparently (according to Mr. Burns and Ms. Allen) all that traveling was due to my Grandpa’s acting schedule for shows that she would appear in. In a way it was disconcerting. I always thought they were traveling to visit us, but I guess if the acting allowed them to travel, then good for them. But still, my Grandma an actress?

Turns out that George and Gracie knew my grandparents pretty well and told all kinds of funny stories about them–George Burns funny–which nearly had me in tears. In fact, when I finally woke up from the dream, it was because I woke myself up laughing. This has happened to me from time-to-time, but never has it been quite as memorable as this.

The Grandpa Dream #4

The other day I was thinking to myself that I hadn’t had a dream about Grandpa in a long time. In fact, the last time I dreamed about Grandpa was on April 21 of last year. So it really has been a while.

Well, last night I had a dream about Grandpa, but he played only a supporting role. In the dream, I met Grandpa, and my cousins, Mitch and Jon at a community swimming pool in order to go swimming. Though it is cold here in Maryland, it was a hot summer day at the pool. In fact, while waiting to use the diving board, I can clearly remember the feel of hot cement on my feet. There was to be some kind of swimming contest and Grandpa was there to supply an audience. For some reason, however, the contest never happened. I waited in line for my chance to dive into the pool, but it never came. Eventually my alarm went off.

Grandma’s birthday

My diary reminded me that today would have been my Grandma’s 85th birthday. It’s been nearly ten years since she died. I’m not the only one who forgets from time-to-time. It happened to Grandpa too. Probably more than once. But the last time on record was January 17, 1997:

I called Grandma to wish her a happy birthday. Grandpa answered the phone and said, “Oh she’s not home for another half our or so.” Then he paused and said, “Oh boy! Is today the 17th? I’ve got to go and–uh oh–get her something!” Needless to say, I spoke to Grandma later and wished her a happy birthday.

(In that same diary entry, I mentioned the fact that Doug came over along with his new 1997 green Nissan truck. He also had his tongue pierced only a month earlier. Just wait until Ruby and Carson are old enough to read that.)


It was two years ago today that my Grandpa, Paul Friedlander, passed away. I mentioned a few days ago how I found a tape of him, when I interviewed him for a profile I was doing back in college for my journalism minor. I only listened to a short snippet of the tape, but maybe this evening, I’ll go back and listen to the whole thing.

The interview

Back in my senior year in college, I had to do a “profile” as part of my journalism minor. I decided to do a profile on an lifelong New Yorker, my Grandpa, Paul Friendlander. The resulting profile was called “A Big Apple A Day” and it was great. I even thought about submitting it somewhere, and in my innocence, submitted it to The New Yorker where it was rejected several months later with a form letter.

In writing the profile, I had to interview my Grandpa and to do so, I used the record feature on my answering machine to record the phone call to tape.

Today, when going through some boxes in a closet, I came across the tape, which I thought had been lost. I put it in a tape player and listened to a few minutes of it. It was the first time I heard my Grandpa’s voice since he passed away almost two years ago. I’m going to see if I can convert the tape recording to MP3 format and get it uploaded somewhere. It’s pretty cool to hear my Grandpa talking back before my Grandma died and before my Grandpa’s memory started failing.

Good mail day

I left the office half an hour later than usual and had to stop at the grocery store on the way home to pick up a few things. I was trying to figure out what to do tonight (Wednesday evening is the one week night evening where there is nothing good on TV). I arrived home to find that today was a good mail day.

First, my autographed copy of Visions arrived, personally signed by strausmouse right beneath the article he wrote on his recent skydiving experience. Believe it or not, I have a small collection on my bookshelves, of items signed by my friends. I have a Master’s thesis signed by Tawnya. I have a signed copy of Healthy Pet magazine, which Lisa edits. I have a signed copy of an article in the San Luis Obispo Tribune featuring Dan. I have a signed copy from an Oxnard newspaper mentioned Grandpa. I have a signed copy of an article from the UCLA Law Review, “On Regulating the Internet: Usenet, A Case Study” by Paul. I have a guest editorial in the Rockland County Journal written by none other than Doug many years ago. (That one, alas, is not signed. I’ll have to bring it to Seattle with me next time I go.) And now, I can add Eric’s article to my collection. I swear, the day I finally publish something, I’m going to sign 50 copies of it, personalize each one of them (“To Jamie, a really swell guy!”) and stuff my shelves with them!

Second, I received a letter from Trevor and Andrea (aka, thepopeswife). Actually, it was two-and-a-half letters, as Trevor wrote one letter, Andrea wrote another letter, and then she included an addendum to tell me that she agrees with my spelling thoughts! And so our mutual snail-mail, letter-writing pen-palism continues.

I now know what I am going to do tonight. I am going to compose a letter back to Trevor and Andrea. I may even autograph it for them so that they can start a collection on their bookshelf (if Trevor clears away some of the Lord of the Rings DVDs to make some room). Those autographs will be worth something, someday!

A walk in the park

After the disappointing Oktoberfest, Jason headed off to a photoshoot and Jen and I headed over to Central Park. We entered the park at 84th and Park Avenue and made our way around in almost random fashion until we reached the North Meadow. On the north end of the north meadow, we climbed a rock and sat down to watch little kids and their adult counterparts play soccor and a variety of other activities. It was very pleasant.

From there, we made our way out of the park, ending up on 100th and Park, just a block shy of the Museum of the City of New York, where we visited earlier this year. It was at this point that I realized that we were not far away from where Grandpa had been born and I suggested we make our way over there. At first I thought it was 102nd and 2nd Avenue, but it turned out to be 105th and 2nd Avenue.

The Pinske hardware store that used to occupy the bottom floor of the building had been bought out about a year ago, we discovered, by Garcia & Garcia hardware. The letter and color of the sign had changed, but the hardware store that has been in the building for at least the last 86 years has remained.

I couldn’t remember on which floor Grandpa was born but I took a picture of the front of the building so that I could post it here. Every now and then your mind plays tricks on your. As I said to Jen as we were walking to the location, I had the irresistable urge, upon arriving, to call Grandpa and tell him where we were. Of course, nowadays, dialing 914-352-1149 will not get you Grandpa. It’s strange to think that Grandpa has come and gone but that the building he was born in still stands, aloof as ever, to his passing.

The meaning of [a] life

My Grandpa would have been 86 years old today. I have written about him before, but figured that his birthday is a good time to write about him some more.

Television melodrama often has one character passing away before another character can say “I love you,” or before they can tell the person how much they meant to them. I always found those TV-land situations supremely silly. While there are circumstances where this can happen, it can almost always be avoided. I was going to be sure to avoid it if I could. About a year and a half after my Grandma died, I wrote Grandpa a letter in which I told him in no uncertain terms exactly what he meant to me. The letter is dated November 12, 1997.

Read some excerts from the Letter

Haunted Bathroom

It is, by now, a well-known fact that I don’t beleive in the supernatural at all. I don’t believe in ghosts because I don’ t believe in life after death. I am, I suppose, a Jewish atheist, which means I get to feel guilty about being an atheist.

In any event, if I did believe in the supernatural, I would suspect that my Grandpa’s ghost was occasionally checking in on me. Case in point:

A little while ago, I was in the bathroom, and as a matter of course, I took my book with me. (When I say that I read in ever spare moment I get, I wasn’t kidding.) As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m reading George Burns’ The Third Time Around. It’s not quite as funny as Living It Up, but it has its moments. In any event, there I was reading, when I came across a passage that made me just crack up laughing, and I swear I could hear my Grandpa’s hilarious laugh echoing throughout the bathroom. Naturally, this freaked me out a little, not because I don’t believe in ghosts, but because the last place you want the ghost of your dead Grandfather looking over your shoulder is when you’re in the can.

The funny thing is, I know for a fact that this is something that would have caused in my Grandpa one of his famous laughs, and there are probably one one or two other people alive today, who, along with me, know why. In this particular passage, George is talking about a vacation he and Gracie took to Paris in the early 1930s…

We stayed in Paris for five days and we really had a wonderful time. Of course, the girls did some shopping, and then we went to all the places the tourist books tell you to go. We saw the Left Bank, the Right Bank, we went to the top of the Eiffel tower, took a trip down the Seine, we visited the Notre Dame cathedral (naturally, I looked around for Lon Chaney)…

Now that won’t seem funny to most people but it was funny to me and Grandpa would have cracked up if he read it. The reason is that I always used to tease him about Lon Chaney. You see, when he was a small boy, five or six years old, he went to an movie theater to see Phantom of the Opera starring, you guessed it, Lon Chaney. My Grandpa was up in the balcony and was sitting on the top of his seat so that he could see. This was a silent movie, but in one scene, the Phantom swings out on the chandelier, and it looks as though he’s coming right toward the screen. This was the first movie my Grandpa ever saw, and he didn’t know what to expect. He thought the phantom was going to burst right through the screen and so he tumbled backward off his perch in fright.

Once he told me that story, any time that either Lon Chaney, or the Phantom of the Opera was mentioned, I would turn quickly to my Grandpa and say, in mock-serious tones, “Don’t fall off your chair!” It would always break him up.

Well, sitting there, in the bathroom, I read that passage and laughed, imagined my Grandpa laughing… and then darn it if I didn’t imagine him say to me, “Don’t fall off your chair!”

I was laughing so hard at that point I think I blacked out.

The Grandpa Dream #3

Last night, I had yet another in the series of “Grandpa” dreams. The dream itself was pretty vague, but there was one part that I definitely remember. At one point in the dream, my Grandpa was having trouble communicating with me and clearly wanted to tell me something. He took a pen and paper, and proceeded to write me a note. When I looked at the note, it was gibberish, and I couldn’t make out what he was trying to say.

I am not one who believes in the symbolic significance of dreams. Frankly, I think Freud was full of crap, and I have read very little credible scientific justification for his theories. Instead, I believe that the purpose of dreams is to help to commit short-term memories to long-term memories. When synapsis fire, they trigger random images in our short term memory–which explains why we often dream about recent events. Any other relationship between dreams and reality, in my mind, is pure coincidence.

And yet, if I were to believe in the Freudian theory of dreams, I might be tempted to read into this dream more than was actually there. I might, for instance, wonder to myself if my Grandpa was not trying to tell me something, warn me of something from beyond the grave, remind me of something. Frankly, I don’t believe any of this and I am certain that my Grandpa would think of me as foolish for even considering it.

But let’s suppose he was trying to remind me of something. What would it be? I wracked my brain on the way into work this morning, considering this. When I got into work, I went through my normal routine, glancing at my email, and then updating my outgoing voicemail with the current date. And as I said the date, I instantly realized what it was that my Grandpa may have been trying to remind me:

Nine years ago today, April 21, 1997, my Grandma died at about 11 AM.

This is a bit of an eerie coincidence, and one in which I am sure many people would fill with all sorts of supernatural nonsense. However, there is a rational explanation for it. First of all, I am very good at keeping dates in my head and I am certain that in the last couple of days, I realized that April 21 was soon approaching and what significnce it held. This thought, kept in short-term memory, would need to be committed to long term memory or done away with. This is the very purpose that the dream function serves. When this memory was triggered, a dream was formed around it–one in which my Grandpa was trying to remind me of my Grandma on this day. Add to this the pure coincidence that the dream took place last night, and you have yourself a complete and rational explanation for something which far too much significance is often attributed.

I suppose that many people don’t question these types of experiences because they provide some kind of reasuring comfort, but they provide no such comfort to me. My comfort comes from understanding, as much as possible, the observable and explainable universe that surrounds me. If I were to search for deeper meaning in the ambigious “message” that my dream-Grandpa scribbled out for me in his chicken scratch it would be his approval of my rational approach to understanding this universe.