Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tales From The Lebowskis - Diane Thirty: Unscripted

I've been blessed with two terrific parents. It's a corny thing to say, yes, but true nonetheless. There is much I've learned from each of them, and much I could say about each of them as well. Today though, I'd like to take a moment to talk about one of the traits that runs on the Lebowski side of the family: a quick wit. All of the children of the Lebowski-Jerboa union share this trait to a greater or lesser degree, and most of the grandchildren as well (I flatter myself amongst the grandchildren of wit). While she may not be as much of a natural spotlight-magnet as her younger siblings Hulka and Patty, my mother possesses the gift of a quick wit in spades. She is less of a storyteller, her gift is in her ability to play along with a situation or mutter a quick retort. Here are a collection of some of my favorite Diane Thirty off-the-cuff witticisms.

At a birthday dinner for Holly Lebowski (Hulka's beloved wife), we were all seated around a table in a restaurant. My mother is very particular about certain foods, and insists on only ever using REAL butter for her bread/rolls, not margarine. So when the basket of rolls arrived to the table with a mix of butter and margarine packets, she was nervous. The basket was going the wrong way around the table from her, and she was carefully watching as the stock of real butters gradually depleted. Eventually, the basket reached the diner directly to her right, her brother David "Blaze" Lebowski, with only 1 real butter left. Now, David is a scheming sort of guy, always up to do something to get a rise out of someone (another trait that runs in the family), so I can't say I blame my mother 100% for the preemptive strike she was about to launch, but it seemed harsh nonetheless.

As soon as the basket of rolls reached David's hands, it was slapped out of them, onto the table as my mother warned him, without a hint of warmth in her voice, "Don't even think about it, fuckhead." [alternative heard as "don't even think about it, dickhead."] She quickly snatched the last butter out of the basket and turned back to her conversation with my father, leaving David with his jaw on the table and only margarine for his roll. Now, I realize that wasn't a particularly "witty" comment to lead the tales of wit, but it was hilarious, fuckhead.

One Christmas in our old house, probably when I was about 13, 14 or so my mother had ordered a large leather recliner for my father for Christmas. It was a warm Christmas Eve that year, with very little, if any, snow on the ground. I recall being sent out onto the deck at some point in the morning with a bag of stale Rice Krispies to throw out to the birds. The house was built into a hillside, and the deck wrapped around from the side of the house where it was just a few steps up from the driveway to the back of the house where it stood above the slider doors to the finished part of the basement. I was feeling particularly lazy, and didn't feel like throwing handful after handful of cereal out onto the lawn proper, so I stood at the deck railing in the rear of the house and just upended the bag, dumping a pile of cereal down 1 story to the ground below where it remained.

Later that day, Dad's new chair arrived. My mother guided the deliverymen down from the driveway to the backyard and around to the basement doors to bring the chair in. She then noticed that to do so, they'd have to walk through a pile of Rice Krispies. Thinking quickly of a way to save face, she let the delivery man know that she'd asked her son to feed the birds that morning. But her son, she claimed, had Down's Syndrome, and didn't understand the task. How do I know she said this? After they left, she came upstairs and told me so. Angrily. As if it were my fault she lied and said I had Down's Syndrome.

Now, my cousin, Derek Dynamo, does in fact have Down's Syndrome, and he is one of the kindest-hearted young men you'd ever hope to meet, a real sensitive guy who loves his family and loves to make people laugh. One day my mother was sitting with her sisters, Susan (Derek's mother), and Patty chatting with their mother, Nonnie, and HER sister, Aunt Claire Philbert. Aunt Claire sometimes has a funky thought process, and doesn't quite follow exactly what's going on (but she is a very sweet and good person). At this particular time, Susan was talking about the accommodations Derek gets at school, including a dedicated para-educator. However, Aunt Claire didn't hear para-educator. Instead, she looked confused and asked my mother to clarify for her sister, just exactly, "what does the parrot do?". Now, my mother could've explained that Derek did not, in fact, have a parrot educator, but instead opted to tell her that the parrot uses its claws and beak to sharpen Derek's pencils. Aunt Claire looked not at all less confused by this, but blinked, nodded her acceptance, and sat back in her chair. To my knowledge, she has not, to this day, been corrected.

The final moment of unscripted, muttered wit I'll share today happened during a family game of Monopoly Junior. Monopoly Junior is like regular monopoly, but with fewer properties, set in an amusement park, and with the dollar values greatly reduced, usually by a factor of $100 or so. Also, the man currently officially known as Mr. Monopoly featured more prominently in the various cards and properties. However, Mr. Monopoly went by a different name back then. Back then, he was Rich Uncle Pennybags.

It was a typical family board game, the type pictured in print ads for the very same board games. All four members of the Thirty family were sitting on the living room rug, Steven and Diane Thirty patiently playing this childrens' game with Meghan and I. Mom was not winning though, and was becoming mildly annoyed with her poor luck. She rolled, and landed on one of the card drawing spaces, taking a card. She grumbled about how she had to pay back a $3 loan to her rich uncle. However, her description of this was "Oh, damn it, fine, pay $3 to Uncle Peniswhistle." Meghan and I laughed so hard we couldn't finish the game.

Uncle Peniswhistle.

Hahahahaha, it's still funny.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Tales From The Lebowskis - In Loving Memory of Uncle Jim

Considering I've been on a one-update-per-month-ish schedule, some may find it shocking that I'm posting a new entry literally less than 24 hours after the last one. This morning I received some very sad news: my granduncle James Lebowski passed away late last night after a long full life and a rough battle with leukemia at the end of it. Uncle Jim, as he is known, was the older brother of my grandfather, Dave "Jaja" Lebowski, and his best friend throughout his life. Known to all of us in the family as a kind and gentle man with hardly a rough word to say about anyone, Uncle Jim was loved by all and renowned for his lightning fast eating abilities. It was said that if you looked closely enough you could see the sparks flying from his knife and fork.

I think that paragraph sets the tone I want to have for this entry. I want to take a few minutes to remember some of my favorite Uncle Jim memories and share them with you all. It may be odd that I'm writing this so quickly after his passing and that the tone I'll use is so lighthearted, but it's done out of love and so I can start processing the loss and, sincerely, I think he'd like it. So with that, let's take a moment and remember some fine memories of a terrific man.

A recurring theme with Uncle Jim was his love of food. It could be said that this runs in the family, but in a field of gifted amateurs, Jim was a professional. As I said before, he could eat with unbelievable speed, usually finishing his meals before others were even half done. Although he wasn't one to brag, I believe he took pride in this. I distinctly remember being at breakfast one morning back when I was probably 15 or so with Uncle Jim, my father, Hulka, Jaja, and other various men of my family and being particularly hungry that day. I ate my meal far more quickly than usual and when I looked up, Uncle Jim still had a few bites left to go. Genuinely surprised, I exclaimed, "Whoa! Uncle Jim, you're not done yet?" I immediately regretted it. He looked completely crestfallen, and spent the rest of the meal far more quiet than usual. The next week, the natural order was restored though, and Uncle Jim reclaimed his speed-eating crown.

As with any individual, Uncle Jim had particular favorites in the world of food. Once asked what his favorite food was, he contemplated deeply for a few seconds, brow furrowed, and then finally replied, "... you know, I think I'd have to say gravy." Uncle Jim LOVED gravy. His favorite food wasn't even a food, but a condiment. He would often eat Hungry-Man Salisbury Steak meals and would frequently lament that the amount of gravy provided was insufficient. Hulka, knowing this, decided to have some fun with Uncle Jim one day. He launched into a description of an ad he'd seen for new, larger Hungry-Man dinners with the tray extended to include an entire sidecar of gravy. Uncle Jim's eyes lit up like a the 4th of July. He demanded any and all information Hulka could provide on this new development in the world of frozen foods. Hulka was vague, but descriptive. He couldn't remember where he'd seen the ad, but he said the picture of the meal showed the special gravy sidecar clearly. He wasn't certain, but he thought they were rolling it out to test markets in certain cities. Jim could hardly contain his excitement. He implored his daughter, Holly, to keep her eyes peeled at the Stop & Shop she worked at for any sign of the coveted sidecar.

Of course, this was complete BS. There is no sidecar of gravy. You know this, and so do I. Hulka knew it when he said it. But the story filled Jim with such zest for life that none of us have ever been able to break the news to him that it was false. Hulka would periodically check in on the topic, claiming friends from cities far and wide told him how it just came to their town and how great it was. I hear they adored it in St. Louis. And so, Uncle Jim lived in a state of perpetual excitement for the day that Hungry-Man would finally release the gravy sidecar, a veritable Holy Grail of frozen dinner, in his local grocer's freezer.

His love of food was not limited to just love of gravy, though. He just loved eating. I recall being at a wake a few years ago that Uncle Jim also attended. Many members of my family were sitting in the back of the room, quietly talking amongst ourselves when somebody approached who happened to be holding a bag of some sorts. Uncle Jim, apparently hungrier than anyone realized, couldn't contain himself and asked, hopefully, eagerly, sincerely, eyes big like a child's on Christmas, "What's in the bag? Sandwiches?" No context clues pointed him towards this desired conclusion. The bag merely represented possibility: anything could be inside. And what Uncle Jim hoped more than anything else, hoped beyond the capacity for reasonable consideration of the possibility, was that the bag was full of sandwiches. For the wake.

One other memory of Uncle Jim I'll relate today is a time I was out on a boat with Hulka, Jaja, and Uncle Jim. I was probably 18, 19 or so. We were cruising around, enjoying a bright, sunny day. Everyone was having a great time, including the people in the other boats we'd pass by. One boat I noticed had a family that included a daughter who appeared reasonably close to my age. And she was cute. We traveled near this other boat for a while, and I became increasingly distracted, repeatedly glancing over at the other boat. She was sitting on the side of the boat, facing away from me, wearing a bikini. Nothing skimpy, just a normal, black two-piece bathing suit. And, pardon my crassness and objectification, she had a very nice ass. What? She did! I wasn't leering or anything, but there was no way I wasn't noticing. Unfortunately for me, I wasn't the only one who noticed. Or the only one who noticed that I noticed. Uncle Jim, seeing what was going on, couldn't resist speaking up.

"Oh ho, look at Remus, watching that dupa over there!" Dupa, for those who don't know, is Polish for "rear end". If only those of us on our boat had heard, I would've shrugged it off, laughed. But Uncle Jim said it loudly. Loud enough that the passengers on the other boat heard him, turned, and looked at me. I turned bright red, she moved down from the edge of the boat to a seat inside, and her father gave me a disgusted look. Thanks a lot, Uncle Jim. I don't think he even realized, he was already back engaged in conversation with Jaja by the time I could turn to look at him.

So those are some of my favorite Uncle Jim memories. I'll always remember him fondly, with love, as a good sport, a kind man, and an honest person. I don't think I ever once observed him acting with malice or duplicity. I make no secret of the fact that I have no idea what happens after we leave this world, and I prefer not to guess, but whatever happens, I hope that somehow, someway, Uncle Jim's in a place where he finally has his sidecar of gravy and he's at peace knowing he left loved by his family and friends. Goodbye, Uncle Jim. I'll miss you.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Back in the Bulk - Blunt Farce Drama

Not everyone who participated in the shenanigans of Bulkie 2 South were residents of the floor. A frequent visitor was our upstairs neighbor (well, 4 floors upstairs on the 6th floor anyway), Rich Cornhole. Rich is, to this day, one of my dearest friends. He, along with Ben Stantz (who you've seen a few times on here already) and I comprised 3/4 of the same pledge class for our fraternity and have had a tight bond between the three of us since (the 4th was Mitch Roll, who was a few years older than us and whom I was fond of but have lost most contact with). Rich is a great guy, very friendly, very helpful to everyone he meets, and generally fun to be around. He's also stubborn and has an unfortunate tendency to wind up with all nature of harm done to his body, inside and out. Sometimes this isn't his fault. For example, he wound up with some manner of stomach disease that has plagued him for years. Sometimes, usually more on the injury than illness side of harm, it is his fault. It really, really is.

One day, a number of people were hanging out on Bulkie 2S. Mostly floor residents, and a number of visitors. The hallway walls were cinderblock or some other similarly tough material with the occasional exit sign high up and the occasional raised metal wall outlet low down, and the halls were just wide enough that we would often sit with our backs against one wall and our feet propped on the other. It was in just such a position that I found myself at the outset of this Bulkie adventure. I was sitting near Ben Stantz and Greg Hammel's door, back against one hallway wall, feet propped on the other, chatting with Rich, who was standing up.

Rich suddenly had a look come across his face that I knew could mean nothing but trouble. A mix of determination, realization, mischief, and pride. "Remus, don't move," he instructed me, beginning to back up. I wasn't sure what was going to happen next, but I was leery enough to say, "Rich, I don't know what you're thinking, but I can guarantee you it's a bad idea." "Don't worry, don't worry, just stay still," he again instructed. As he backed up to the T-intersection of the hallways, Ben Stantz happened to be coming from the other way, and saw Rich backing up with that look on his face. Ben interceded, "Rich. What are you doing?" What choice did he have to reveal his plan?

"OK, OK, so, so, so I'm gonna run and dive over Remus, and go into a somersault, and wind up standing again." Both Ben and I announced our displeasure with this idea. Ben actually went so far as to stand in Rich's path with his arms out. But, as fate would have it, something happened or somebody said something down the other hallway that caught Ben's attention. Rich saw his chance.

With one arm, he reached around Ben and pushed him to the side as he began his acceleration. He was successful in getting past Ben, but it did affect his stride and balance. Nevertheless, he continued forward, reaching his peak speed for the run and dove. And what a dive it was! I knew that the time for interference had passed. At this point, I needed to stay still as Rich wanted or risk injury to us both. So I made myself as small as possible as he passed overhead. And as he dove, he tucked his head and shoulders and... holy crap, he made the roll! But, as I watched these fractions of a second unfold, I noticed he was rolling a little to the left... more than a little. I cringed as Rich, instead of entering a second full roll, smashed his head full force into the wall.

Rich was layed out on the floor. I quickly rushed over, as did Ben and all the various folks who were around in the other hallways. Rich was cradling his head in his hands, allowing some sounds of pain to escape. We all inquired if he was alright, and he insisted he was. "I'm fine! I'm fine! Leave me alone!" (Rich, despite having worked on an ambulance and knowing a lot about proper medical care, first aid, and the like, hates acknowledging ever needing such care himself). As he took his hands away from his head, though, we noticed blood. A quick look at the wall confirmed he hadn't just hit the wall, he'd hit the corner of the raised metal power outlet. The 10 or so of us gathered there rushed Rich into the floor bathroom (a men's room! And some of those present were women! Scandal!), where we allowed our de facto floor medic, Clive McEnroe to examine him and apply those rough, thin dorm paper towels to Rich's head as makeshift bandages.

Clive looked Rich over and announced the wound wasn't that large. "See!? I told you, I'm fine!" protested Rich. Clive continued, "Yeah, it's not big, but it's deep. I think if it were wider, I could poke your skull. You need to go to the campus health center." Rich would have none of it. He insisted there was nothing they'd be able to do for him, and that they were incompetent and a waste of time and besides, he had a test tomorrow and didn't have time for this. We forced him, grudgingly, to the bus stop where Ben and I waited with him for the campus bus as he grumbled protests. And we rode the bus with him. And went inside with him. And god damn it if that ass wasn't right. There was nothing they could do for him. They suggested he find a ride to the relatively nearby Windia Hospital. So we phoned one of the older fraternity brothers we knew owned a car (we were pledges at this point), Andy Greensleeves to come and pick Rich up, and that's what happened. Andy picked Rich up and took him and Ben and I went back to Bulkie.

We were hanging out in Ben's room for a while when Rich appeared at the door. We welcomed him back and all crowded up to see the staples in his head. He put down the papers he was carrying on top of a dresser and joined us in the room, taking a spot up on the top bunk, Ben's bed. Everyone was having a good time talking and laughing, but Rich was kinda quiet. Not alarmingly so, just less so than usual. Before long though, as he moved to get down from the bunk, he asked us what was on the papers he brought back with him. Surprised, we asked if he'd read them. He said he tried but it looked fuzzy. Hmm. We looked at the papers, which listed symptoms of a concussion. Vision problems was one. Tiredness. Problems with balance (poetically read just as Rich failed to climb down properly and almost knocked a dresser over). It was pretty apparent. Rich had a concussion.

Again, we insisted Rich needed medical treatment. Again, he protested, citing the test he had to take tomorrow. We asked him if he really thought he'd study alright with a concussion. That shut him up somewhat. We got one of the other brothers, Bryan Augery (who lived on the 4th floor of our lovely Bulkie South tower) who also had a car to be the driver this time and off went Rich to Windia Hospital again, this time with Augie (as he was called) and Ben.

It was late at night when they got there, and there was a bit of a wait to be seen, and even once they took Rich in, he was gone a long time. Ben and Augie were sitting in a room waiting when Dave arrived. Dave had epilepsy. Dave was also drunk off his ass. Dave's wife showed up at the hospital with drunk, epileptic Dave and said, "Here. YOU deal with him tonight." and drove off. So there were Ben and Augie, neither of them a day over 20, sitting in a room with drunk, epileptic Dave for what seemed like forever. And Dave, being drunk and epileptic, started to seize. The hospital staff came in and explained that it would be better for Dave if they kept the lights off. So they did. And Ben and Augie sat for an hour in the dark with drunk, epileptic Dave, who would periodically seize.

Eventually, they took Rich home, and he was fine. The ordeal was over. And no, Rich did not end up having to take his test. But this was only the first of Rich's many injuries, and the next would take place miles and miles from home, in beautiful, sunny Orlando.