Listen To My Grandpa’s Stories Or You’ll Die

My grandfather tells a very aggressive story.  He means well; it’s clear that he wants to get some kind of moral across, but the exaggerated lengths he goes to tend to discredit his stories, and that’s why I love them.

Grandpa is a rather conservative gentleman named Colin.  Colin worked for a living, and carries his days as a miner on his sleeve wherever he goes.  He’s as Irish as you please, a bit red-faced after a drop of the ol’ whiskey….and come to think of it, I’m not sure if he’s ever not red-faced.  When convenient, he’s a very staunch Catholic.  Most importantly, in his eyes, he is a very hard worker.  He’s got a big nose and two giant ears.  When he tells stories he leans towards you and always looks at you slightly sideways so he can get you with his piercing blue eye.  Doesn’t matter which eye it is, he’ll squint the further eye from you as he talks.  My sister and I used to sit on either side and take turns asking him questions in order to see his shifty-squints.  His voice is a deep bass growl, always a few decibels above what is comfortable to listen to as he shouts his stories.  The rather cheery Irish and Minnesotan mixed accent the rest of my family has sounds harsh and accusatory when it comes from his throat.  It’s more a growl than a voice.  He once told me, at the age of five, that he had been raised by bears, and that’s where he got his voice.  I believed him.

Grandpa’s stories were always made up on the spot.  He was visiting my hometown in Iowa and was reading the newspaper.  I was 13 at the time, and I saw him eyeing me suspiciously across the room with his blue eye.  He looked at me, back at the paper, and back to me.

“What is it, Grandpa?” I asked.

He beckoned me forward and pointed aggressively at the newspaper.  It read ‘Teen Pregnancy Rate Up In Des Moines County’.  He pushed the paper to me so I could read the story.  At this point I had to fight off a fit of laughter.  Clearly he thought this was my fault, and while I appreciated his confidence in me, I knew it was misplaced confidence.  My charisma could barely handle conversation with a girl without me blushing; it was nowhere near where it needed to be to get a couple hundred girls pregnant.

“I knew a young guy that got a young girl pregnant.  Do ya’ know what happened to them?”

I did, of course.  It was the same thing that happened to all the characters in his stories.  Still, I shook my head ‘no’, because he wanted to tell me.

“They died!  She died because she made bad choices and lacked responsibility!  He died because he didn’t listen to his grandpa, and her dad shot him dead for lacking decency and morals.”  Grandpa fixed me with his icy stare, evaluating whether or not I had gotten the message to stop impregnating girls dozens at a time.

“Did they arrest the dad?”

“No!  They let him go free because the boy needed to be taught a lesson!”

I doubt the boy learned much from being shot to death, but that’s the way it was with grandpa’s stories.  Severe consequences arose from minor infractions against his blue-collar, Irish Catholic, hardworking decency.  I never heard about my family’s history from him.  The closest I’ve gotten was the story of how all my ancestors died because they didn’t have enough food due to their laziness, despite the warnings of their grandfather.  A secondary story about my great great great grandfather also surfaced.  Zachariah Benzedecker Bishop was his name, and he was a prison guard in Vermont.  One day an inmate tried to start a riot to protest the abhorrent conditions of the prison (rightfully so), and my great great great grandfather shot him dead.

“Ya’ know why he did that?”  Grandpa asked in his usual growl.

“To stop a riot?”

“He shot him because he wasn’t behaved and didn’t listen to authority, or your great great great grandfather!”

I tell you all this so I can share my grandfather’s second most entertaining story.  His first and best story was about Justin O’Reely and how he only had one testicle.  It was an uncharacteristic story for grandpa and unfortunately I wasn’t there to hear it, but he had everyone in tears that Christmas Eve dinner.  His second best story was told in his car, where I was the only witness.

Grandpa wasn’t a good driver.  He still isn’t.  I’ve told him many times that he needs to be a safer driver by either paying more attention or to stop driving altogether.  He didn’t listen to me that day like he usually didn’t.  After cutting off another driver (twice), the driver whipped around and gave grandpa the finger before speeding off down the road.

This infuriated grandpa!  Some 20-something no-good kid had dared to disrespect him, a good and honest blue-collar Irish Catholic hard worker, and he did it in front of his grandson.  I saw his knuckles go white as he tried to catch up to that car again to show him who was boss.  Grandpa had accelerated to five miles below the speed limit instead of his customary fifteen below, but that 20-something was gone.

“Did ya’ see that?”
“Yes, Grandpa.”
“That’s a bad idea.  Ya’ know why?
“No, Grandpa.”

And for once, I saw him struggle for the story.  I didn’t know if it was the multi-tasking, the frustration of being flicked off, or that he couldn’t fix me with his blue stare while he was telling the story.  His bad driving was getting worse.  I knew it was going to be a good one.  The anger was stewing in him, fermenting, because he couldn’t get even with that punk kid.

“When I was a young boy in Minnesota, my grandma died.  We held mass for her because she was a goodhearted decent Catholic lady, God bless her soul.  We loaded her up in the hearse and the funeral procession followed.”

I was enraptured by the story.  Grandpa never went into such detail, and I had fully expected great great grandma to have died to some rather common vice.  This was different.  He was drawing from himself this story that he needed to tell.

“We were in a procession a mile long, your great great grandma was so loved by everyone.  The whole town showed up.  Well, there was this one jerk, some moron 20-year old guy that got behind us and started flashing his lights at us and honking his horn.  He had no respect.  He stomps on his gas and gave everyone in line the finger!  Me, my ma, the line of everyone, the hearse driver, and even your great great grandma, God bless her soul.”

Grandpa was fuming.  At this point he’d run a red light (3 seconds after the yellow winked off) and had started speeding.  I was getting scared, I asked him to slow down and pay attention, but I also wanted him to go on with the story.  Maybe he was equating these two 20-year olds despite the 50+ years between these two incidents.  We drove on in silence, until we made it into the country of Iowa.

“Ya’ know what happened to him?”
“No, Grandpa,” I said, though I was pretty sure.
“His car broke down.  Flat tire or something.  There he was on the side of the road out in the middle of nowhere Minnesota.  Ya’ know what happened to him?”
Now I wasn’t sure.  “No…?”
“Every last one of us gave him the finger! Baam!  One after the other.  Finger…finger…finger…finger…a whole town of middle fingers except your great great grandma, God bless her soul.”

A smile crept across the old man’s face.  “And when we left the cemetery after the funeral, we all did it again!”
“Did anyone stop to help him?”
“Of course not!  He was disrespectful and crude.  Ya’ don’t swear at someone like that.”

I wasn’t sure if giving the finger was the same as swearing, but I let it slide.  Grandpa’s mood had lifted.

“So what happened to him?  This was before cell phones.”
“It was before all phones.  What do ya’ think happened?”
“He had to walk back to-“
He died!”
In hindsight, I should have seen that coming.
“And ya’ know what?  He didn’t get a Catholic mass.  All’s he got was a tombstone that said ‘Good-For-Nothing’ in the shape of a middle finger.”

I’m pretty sure that at some point, grandpa had lost the truth of his story.  He knew it, I knew it, but it was still funny.  Still, Grandpa lacked closure for this recent case of being flicked off, and he settled into a kind of a mood.  Then, I saw a familiar red car in the left turn lane.

“Grandpa, that’s him!”

The situation was something like this: we were on a two-lane highway cruising in the middle of nowhere Iowa.  The red car was in a 3rd turning lane, stopped and waiting for an open spot to drive on.  Grandpa pulled his car to a stop inches from the other vehicle.  Keep in mind, this wasn’t an intersection, it was a highway, where we were expected to be going 50mph.

Grandpa rolled down his window and reached out with his hand, thumping the red car’s passenger window twice.  The 20-something was unaware of us until that point, but his reaction as he snapped his head around was priceless.  The thumping made him jump, and his shock went to terror as he turned to see an old man and his grandson leaning out the window and flipping him the bird on four different hands.  Grandpa stomped on the gas and sped away.

It’s my fondest memory of my Grandpa, as it is the one time I heard him laugh with complete triumph and comradery.  He was a good guy, albeit stubborn and gruff in his own way.  I learned a lot from him.  Unfortunately, he died later on because he didn’t drive carefully and he didn’t listen to his grandson.

The War From The Top Floor

Today is Friday, the day I talk about “The Issues”.  Today I want to talk about today’s youth.  Part of living a long and productive life is getting old and cranky.  I’ve done a stellar job in the cranky department because I’m more mature than my peers.    Other people are taking their time getting old and cranky.  Heck, I have a few grandparents-in-law that still haven’t gotten cranky.  While they are out being pillars of society, chatting with friends, being social, and having a good time, I’ve done my duty and have gotten cranky to make up for their delightfulness.  I’ve got a glower down that can instill the fear of mortality into an unsuspecting person.  I have to channel some real crankiness to achieve that one.  Think of me as the old man from the movie “Up”, except there is no redeeming 1st 10 minutes of my movie to totally justify why I’m such a terrible person.  I just am, because that’s what this country needs!

 

I can tell that I’m an old man because of the war I’m waging against the children in my apartment complex.  They are loud.  They are awful.  They are dumb.  I tell this to people often, when they ask about what is on my mind.  The people that have had kids (I’ll call them “Breeders”) always feel the need to justify this.  “Oh, they do that because they are kids.  You’ll understand one day,” the breeders say with a knowing smile and a wink, as if my wife and I have never heard about this great thing called ‘sex’ and how it leads to a tiny, loud, awful, dumb person invading my family, taking my food and foiling my attempts to sleep, but once we figure out that sex exists we’ll have a romp that’ll last until at least 6 more people are in my family.  Yes, breeders of the world, I understand that kids are in fact children.  That doesn’t stop them from being loud, awful, and dumb.  Your excuse of “they are young” doesn’t change any of what I have previously stated.  The people without kids (I’ll call them Normal) always agree with me on this: the situation I have is awful.

 

The kids at my apartment complex are especially bad.  There is an arsenal of plastic weapons that are constantly left just outside the door, as if the Battle of New York came to a bloody climax just outside the door of Fort My Apartment.  Sure, the bodies are gone, faded away just like real bodies do in video games where people die by the hundreds, but the remnants of the weapons tell the awful truth.  Not only that, but every day from noon to 4 pm, I can hear the screams of that battle as it gets reenacted every day.  Every day.  Those bloody kids go running around every day, screaming and yelling.

 

It’s not normal screaming and yelling.  They do this terrifying high pitched siren call with their voice that sends a deeply coded and ancient message down to the core of my DNA that members of my caveman tribe are being murdered by Saber-Tooth tigers.  They’ve tapped into the power of evolution, calling upon the heritage we share as social creatures.  It’s a scream that cannot be ignored, and they usually let that banshee wail loose whenever something really scary happens like a ball went out of bounds, their friend is being a jerk, or a cloud cast a shadow on them.  I’ve tried to condition myself to ignore it, but the howling menace outside my window gets inside of my nerves and fires electricity through my brain, telling me that a Tyrannosaurus Rex got past Og, Bog, and their dog and is now eating all of the young people and I need to get my club and act immediately.

 

The scream has been noticed by others.  I work from home, and I do a lot of communication from my computer.  I’ve got a nice microphone, the kind you can sing into and record music, and it picks up sounds the way a microphone is supposed to.  Every so often while I’m talking to a client, a scream of “a stranger captured me and is murdering me in his basement” gets recorded and sent over to the people I’m trying to talk to.  There is this delay in the conversation as shock registers into their system.  The shriek has gone into their DNA, and they have heard the message loud and clear: The employee you are talking to has stolen me, a child, and is torturing me to death, and you need to do something about it!  At this point in the conversation I can tell if the client I’m talking to is a Breeder or a Normal based on their response.  A Breeder will laugh and say [paraphrased] “Oh, yeah!  Kids are supposed to be loud and awful.”  If a Normal is on the other end, I hear a muffled “click” as they turn on a tape recorder so they have evidence to hand over to the police.

 

When the kids aren’t screaming murder, they are being awful in other ways.  They’ve taken up a game called “Foul!”  It looks a lot like kickball in form and function, but whenever anything happens the kids all yell “FOUL!” and then argue with each other for the next two minutes.  Every single play.  There are also heated arguments over the stupidest of things: you’re playing with the 1 ball in 20 that we leave out here perpetually which I wanted to play with, stop pretend shooting me with your pretend gun because we are on the same side (apparently you’ve been betrayed, kid who is pretend dead), stop being mean to me when I’ve been a rat bastard to you for the past hour, and my favorite, which is “go play somewhere else!”

 

The war I have with the kids has come to a head.  Our apartment building has two doors that lead to the outside, and both lock once the door is shut.  The kids are too stupid to keep a key with them, so they just leave the backdoor open.  I can tell whenever they do this, because there is screaming outside my window and the temperature of my apartment has risen by 10 degrees.  Summertime in New York is a hot time, and New York was built back when air conditioning wasn’t a thing.  My air conditioning unit keeps the house and a nice and cool 80 degrees (about the best it can handle) and runs so loud that the TV cannot be heard over it in the next room over.  Not to mention, the recent infestation of chipmunks and bugs can be attributed to the kids for when they forget to shut the door and leave it open all night.

 

So I go downstairs and shut the door.  I shut it if they are not there, and I shut it if they are there.

 

You might think this is a jerk move (if you’re a Breeder), but the door has a sign clearly posted on it saying “This is a Security Door, and should remain shut”.    I’m not sure if a security door is a proper noun or not, but that’s how the sign chose to be capitalized.  I didn’t even post that sign (although I have lowered it so that it is eye level with any child that might be using the door).  Anyway, the sign says the door should be shut, I want the door shut, so I shut it.  If I wanted an apartment with a permanent 3 foot by eight foot hole in the wall, I would have gotten one.

The kids think this is terrible.  Whenever I go anywhere, I shut the door.  When I leave, I shut the door.  When I come back, I shut the door.  I’ll kick whatever plastic sword they have out of the way and shut the door.  I’m not going to swelter in my own home because these idiots can’t carry a key with them outside.

 

The kids know who I am.  Once a kids stood up to me and said (in a slightly entitled voice) “would you PLEASE leave the door open?”  

 

I repressed my smile of pure condescending glee and instead glowered at the kid with such crankiness that he took a step back.  “No.”  And I kicked out the plastic sword and shut the door behind me.

 

The kids have gotten smarter.  When they see my car pull up, they sprint into the apartment building, waiting for me to pass so they can wedge the door open as soon as my shadow has past.  It’s a smart move.  However, there is a smarter move.  The door on the other side of the building as 2 doors.  One to let the mailman in, and another that locks.  If they left that inside door open, everyone would be happy. 

 

The parents haven’t said anything to me.  If I was a parent, I think it’d be great if someone locked my kid outside so that I could have some peace and quiet.  Besides, if something terrible DID happen, the Old Grumpy Man upstairs would be the first to know, since he is forced to pay attention to what my kid is up to, and he’s probably not evil enough to let the kids get kidnapped/murdered/eaten by dinosaurs.

 

The door wars are going in my favor, and the reputation it’s won for me is well appreciated.  One day the kids were kicking a ball against the wall of my apartment, and bouncing it off the ceiling.  I’m the top apartment, and this was getting old fast.  I took a page out of “To Kill A Mockingbird” and channeled my inner Boo Radley.  I went out onto my balcony for about 10 seconds, and glowered.  Only one kid saw me.  I could tell because he did a startled double take so exaggerated I thought my glare had shocked him with 100 volts (a power I’ve been working on).  As soon as he turned to get his friends’ attention to alert them, I quickly jumped back into the apartment and out of sight.  For the next ten minutes I heard the kids argue with such terror in their voice.  They do this thing where they try to whisper like a Shakespearian actor would.  They scream their whispers, but add a lot more airy flourish to whatever it is they are saying.

“I saw him!  He was out on the balcony”
“I didn’t see him!”
“He’s going to tell on us!”
“Don’t be silly!  He’s not there.”
“But what if he was?”
“I saw him!”
“No you didn’t!”
“Can we just go?”
“I guess.”

 

The incessant beat of the balls against my walls stopped during this conversation, and the haunting thought that I might be listening (I wasn’t trying to, but they are shouting outside my window so I hear it) drove them to play in a different yard.  The mystery of the Grumpy Old Man works wonders in the way that glowering never could.