Thursday, February 16, 2012

If You Were In A Room With Jim, You Were Smiling

We, as a culture, are hardwired to commemorate various anniversaries.  The day we were born and the day we married are to be celebrated.  Other anniversaries are more somber and reflective. Sad, even.  But we recognize them nonetheless – maybe not with grand displays, maybe we don’t verbalize them at all, but we know they’re there. Those dates stick with you.

I didn’t really want to give this day power.  It is what it is, and it feels pointless to pay homage to the pain year after year.  Buuuuttt like I said – I can’t help it.  Hardwired.  And we haven’t gotten to year after year yet – this is the first one.  A year ago today, my dad died.  Though it’s obviously still crushing to think about, that’s the case any day – the year anniversary is also proving to be just… weird.  Surreal.  It feels like it happened yesterday and a million years ago.  Which is not an uncommon feeling, I guess.

So I debated for a while on whether I wanted to, in fact, commemorate the day via blog.  Like I said in my first post, I don’t mean any of this to sound self-pitying, or aggressively melodramatic, or like I’m trying to collect condolences.  I just figured that everyone experiences loss at some point, and so everyone can connect to this in some way. 

And also, my dad was always so proud that I followed in his literary footsteps that I felt I had to post something.

But I decided that what I really wanted to do was bring some levity to the remembrance (which I am 100% certain he’d want) by sharing some of the hilarious anecdotes / heartfelt thoughts that people wrote about him and sent our way last year, highlighting what a brilliant, ridiculous, sweet guy he was.  I laughed and cried my way through reading these again – they are awesome.  So, without further ado…

As Jim was the soul of humor, smarts, wit and ironic insight, it would be hard to pick just one memory.  So saying, what instantly sprang to my mind happened probably 20 years ago.  I was walking in your front door for what would be (I knew) a delicious Jim-cooked feast.  You and your father were on the floor in front of the TV set watching the Evening News and President H. W. Bush was speaking.  As I entered Jim turned to me, eyes alight, absolutely beaming with pride and recounted, “Marika just said, 'Daddy, the President is a pin-head!’"  No father was ever prouder of a three-year-old daughter.

After being dragged up to a cabin in the woods by my family, Jim reluctantly emerged from the car, looked around at all that nature and announced, "I don't trust air I can't see.”

I am a pretty good cook, and Jim once made the mistake of suggesting an alternate way to prepare something.  I did not say anything, I just looked at him, and then he said, after his characteristic pause for greatest effect,  "I never believed in channeling someone, but your mother has just gotten into your kitchen."  My mom was not known for her patience and gentleness.

It was truly beautiful to see the sublime love that he expressed for you and your mother every time I was around him.  I've never seen a man with such a total dedication to family and friends – really connecting with them on the most heartfelt level.

Last summer, your parents came to visit us in LA.  The only condition – set by your father – was that he would cook dinner for us.  All we had to do was round up the usual suspects and provide the kitchen.  They arrived at about 4:00, LADEN with grocery bags  – no doorbell ringing – just them and bags of food.  And not just food from ordinary grocery stores.  No – they had stopped at an Italian market for rice for risotto, some Thai or Vietnamese place for shrimp, an exotic bakery for cheesecake, was it?  Who remembers – at the time, none of stopped to remember each detail.  It was just Jim – his generous, abundant, warm, funny self doing what he always did – feeding us and making us so happy.

Upon seeing Jim’s name as contributor to a food blog while reading a restaurant review on that blog, I asked Marty, “What else does this mysterious man do?”  That helps summarize my never-ending awe, respect and astonishment at his continually appearing facets, layers and interests.

Jim always made me feel better being around him; expressed understanding of my point of view – even if he didn't embrace it; and created a peaceful balance among disparate and feisty friends when we gathered together – all topped with the impish smile of a knowing and benevolent rascal.

If you were in a room with Jim, you were smiling.

Several years ago, we were having dinner and discussing the war in Afghanistan.  We got quite serious discussing the plight of the refugees fleeing over the Kyber Pass and into Peshawar.  Quietly at first and then building, Jim started humming, "My kind of town, Peshawar is... my kind of town.”  That ended the erudite discussion and all descended into fractious frivolity.

I always think about what a supremely unique combination of characteristics Jim had – gentle, thoughtful, intelligent, funny, caring, and quirky.  He was his own man, and not one who met our culture's ideals necessarily (and I doubt he or any of us who cared for him would want him to), yet he still managed to operate with grace and fluidity within our strange and sometimes cruel world.

The thing I loved most about Jimmy was his equanimity.  He could cook rings around me blindfolded, but was so very graciously complimentary about my cooking, even when I naively served Italian to him and Marty.  Then, after my first meal at his house – rigatoni, meatballs, sausage, peppers in a heavenly red sauce – I knew it would be Chinese take-out next time he visited us.  By the same token, Jimmy was patient and generous when he played in our poker game.  I don't think any of us realized how skilled he was, but still he didn't win every time and let others at the table take home a few bucks.  Occasionally.

I remember vividly the goodness in his smile, the merriment in his eyes and the optimism flying off the slope of his nose, the warm and loving feeling he wrapped us in, the blissful comfort foods he cooked for us, his impish laughter and hilarious storytelling, but I cannot remember any of the words...

He was such an incredibly kind man – it's unbelievable the kindness he showed to me.  He went way out of his way to help me, and I was just this kid he barely even knew.

One bit I heard from him at dinner one night was that the only regret he had about living in California was that Marika had never gotten to experience the joys and subsequent well-embroidered stories of sitting at the dining table with all the "old girls" in the family. Marika was sitting right at the table with me and my sister, and then Jim looked around at us, waited a beat and said, "Oh my God!  You guys ARE the old girls!”

The day I met Jim he did the most stone cold, spot on imitation of Mervyn Dymally I've ever heard. Then he said, "Never trust anyone with three Ys in his name."  I knew our friendship had a future.

Thinking back over my fund of Jim stories, the one that I recall most vividly related to the horror movie he wrote for a friend back in the day.  I may have the words wrong but he said something like, “I was watching the movie that I'd written when the fucking mummy started spouting Nietzsche.  I wondered who the fuck had written those lines, because I sure didn't.”


And here’s one of my own, which comes from a home movie of ours.  My dad decided to videotape the preparations for my first Halloween… well, not my first, but the first for which I had any idea what was going on.  I was two and a half, dressed as a tiny pirate (or, as I said with my horrendous speech impediment, “piwate”).  As I was playing with the candy meant for trick or treaters, and I asked, “Daddy, are we going to take the candy with us?”  To which he responded from behind the camera, “No sweetie, because the point of this holiday is to extort candy from other people.”

He could make me laugh just by saying the word “fart.”  He invented characters and voices for each and every one of my stuffed animals, as well as a sock puppet he named “Barfy.”  He spoiled me rotten without actually making me rotten.  He was my mentor and my friend.  And in my 14 years of almost year-round soccer, much of which was played many hours from home, in pouring rain, in scorching heat… the man missed two games.  TWO.  IN 14 YEARS.

I could not have asked for a more supportive, loving, witty, brilliant, generous father.  So this hasn’t necessarily gotten easier over the last year, but we press on.  My dad had faith in me even (and especially) when I didn’t have it in myself – and that’s what has kept me going. 

So, that’s that.  I appreciate anyone getting all the way through any of my posts, but if you made it through this one, special thanks.  And now, my final word on the subject will be the first and greatest lesson I ever learned from my father, and one not to be forgotten –

Never eat anything bigger than your head.

1 comment:

  1. Marika, this is so lovely. You make me hear your Dad's voice and see his smile. You do him and your mom proud.