Tribute to Jan Masaryk with Love and Gravitas

by John Kaufmann


La Nausée

The phone rings when I am in the car, driving back from Ithaca.  Me, Wife, Daughter.  It’s maybe two thirty in the afternoon, and we have another hour and a half or two to get home.  It’s my father.  “Would you like to come over for pizza tonight?”  I glance at the wife.  She was raised on xiao xun, but even she is not up for it.  “Sorry – can we reschedule?”

I feel sorry for the parents these days.  The father is in his late eighties.  He is the picture of rude health, but my mother, who is four years younger, has Parkinsons.  She can walk and feed herself, but eating anything complicated, like mussels or lobster, takes time.  They still live in the old house.  Their friends are dying off.  My mother was an only child.  My father’s step-brother is dead, and he was never close to his sister.  My sister calls frequently and visits each month, but she lives in Maine.  I live nearby, but I am a shitty son.  And after this…what?  The nursing home?  Some DNA diluted pro stirpes each generation?  In Taiwan, your picture goes on the wall when you die.  Your name goes into a scroll that sits on the household altar which is only opened when someone dies, or when a younger son sets up his own family.  Everyone in the house pays respects at least once a day.  We just disappear.

We make arrangements to eat pizza with the parents the following weekend.  Park the car, walk around the rough wood and creosote wall.  That’s the stone wall I fell off of.  That’s where the cat bit meThat’s the roof I used to climb out of the window onto.  That’s where my sister and I used to –  “Hullo!”  Hands and cheeks are extended.  My father’s hand is big and strong, even now.  I have big hands, but his are enormous.  My mother is stooped over, almost like a hunchback.  She is trembling less than last time we met; they must have her on some new meds.  Just inside the door, my father comments on my haircut.  He dislikes the fact that I cut my own hair.   Upsets his sense of order.  “The back of your head looks like someone hit it with an ax.” 

“Barbers are a waste of money.” 

“It looks terrible.” 

“Flattery will get you everywhere, Herr Doktor.” 

Our daughter takes after me.  Shy by nature, unsure of herself, more comfortable communicating with her thumbs than in person. She speaks in elipses, code words and shortcuts.  She doesn’t do please-and-thank-you normal.  That’s why she says, “This pie would sure be great with ice cream”, instead of, “Can I please have some ice cream?”, when it’s time for dessert.  Her grandfather frowns, and lights into her. 

“It would also be good without ice cream!” 

Grandmother suggests, helpfully,

“Why don’t you ask for some ice cream?” 

“Hey, Bro – you got any ice cream?” 

The “Bro” sets him off. 

“You can call me one of two things.  You can call me ‘Dr. Kaufmann’, or you can call me ‘Grandpa’.  Do not call me ‘Bro!’” 

He is frowning and seething with rage.  A small mist of spit sprays out of his mouth as he speaks.  Then he tells me again, with passionate intensity, that I should get my hair cut by a professional.  I can see he is thinking, “Getting these kids to act normal is like pushing on a string.  Or nailing jelly to the wall.”  And he is spitting and foaming at the mouth as he thinks it.  I start rehearsing the speech for the daughter before he stops yelling.

In the car, I tell her, “Grandpa is a cranky old man.  It’s not you.  It’s him.  Don’t take the way he acts personally.”  “I know.”  It seems to have bothered her less than I expected.  And I am thinking, You wonder why I prefer the company of foreigners, meth addicts, old Italian men, wannabe wise-guys, strippers, blackjack dealers, eviction lawyers, mobile home park managers, commodity traders, boxers, hoboes, cops, to your kind?  Remove the log from your eye!  Remove the log from your fucking eye!

The Corporate Veil

Mike, the manager at the mobile home park that I own in northern New York, and I are dealing with a family called the Franklins.  Mrs. Franklin kicked Mr. Franklin out some months ago.  She stacked his belongings on the lawn underneath a sign that read, “Free Stuff”.  They had a few knock-down, drag-out fights before that.  The police were called, the neighbors woken.  They own a Siberian husky that is not allowed by the rules.  They have broken one of their windows, and a water pipe leak has damaged the floor underneath their sink.  Ever since Mr. Franklin moved out, they have stopped paying rent.  Their son, Aaron, parks his car on the lawn and blares music.  Their dog relieves itself on their neighbors’ yard.

Q: Why did you give up a successful Big Law career to run mobile home parks?
A: I find providing clean, safe and affordable housing to people who need it to be more rewarding than helping rich people bilk the government.

Q: Can you do that, if certain tenants interfere with other tenants’ ability to quietly enjoy their property?
A: You have just answered the question.

The son cops an attitude whenever he speaks with Mike.  The neighbors hate him.  Mike despises him.  I speak with him once, when I visit.  Twenty years old, thin, white and a real mouth on him.  “You will have to turn that music down.” 

“There is no noise ordinance for this part of town.” 

“It is in the park rules.” 

“You are harassing us.” 

“These are the rules.” 

“Other people park on the grass!  Other people have the police at their house!  You are harassing us about nothing!” 

“$950 in back rent is not nothing.  If you do not pay within the time frame, we will proceed with the eviction process.” 

“I know the eviction process.  I am a first year law student.” 

“Oh!  I am an attorney myself.  Where do you go to school?” 

“Where is your lawyer card?” 

“My what?” 

I stop there.  What he is saying isn’t right.  It isn’t even wrong.  You enter a shit-slinging contest and you emerge covered with….what?  I walk away, go to the office, turn on the computer and draft paperwork to start the eviction.  I would love to foam at the mouth, shout insults, resort to sarcasm, brandish a baseball bat, break the kid’s kneecaps or threaten violence.  I would like to behave like Grandpa.  But Grandpa doesn’t get results.  And I don’t want to be Grandpa.

The Web

“Shoes off?”

“If you would”.

I have just bought my park in northern New York, and Mike and I are standing in the threshold of the best home in the park. The floors are covered with clean carpet, and there is a gas-powered fireplace in the corner.  I’d live here.  The owners are Ben Mosca and his wife, Fran.  Ben asks, “You own the park long?” 

“A month or so.” 

“You got a lot of whack-jobs here.” 

“The entertainment is priceless.” 

Ben is a long-distance trucker.  He’s my age, skinny, gray-haired, mulletted, fit.  Fran stays at home, collects SSI.  Ben’s brother, Gabe, lives ten homes down from Ben.  Gabe’s home is nothing like Ben’s.  Rotting porch, convex roof, gapped skirting, dirty siding, unregistered car on blocks parked in front.  When I knock on Gabe’s door to dun him for lot rent, he sticks his head out of the storm door and growls at me, like a bear in the spring. Mike will tell me, “I spoke with Mosca today.” 

“Good Mosca or bad Mosca?” 

“Bad Mosca.” 

“Don’t tell me about Bad Mosca.” 

“Those guys really related?”

After nine months, Good Mosca begins to pay late.  We serve them with a 30-day notice.  Then, we learn that there is a mortgage on the home, and that the bank will foreclose.  Fran has spent the time Ben was on the road at the casino east of town.  There is a $30,000 lien on the home, and there is no way they can service it.  The lot lease is the least of their worries.  They are going to move out whether we evict them or not. 

I call the bank, ask if I can buy the home pre-repo.  Fill out some paperwork.  Jump through some hoops.  Stop in to speak with Ben and his sons about authorizations.  Their stuff is packed up.  They are subdued, polite, resigned to their fate.  “I am very sorry about what happened.” 

“She had a gambling problem.” 

Do they mind that I am asking them for help to buy their home for pennies on the dollar? 

“Take care of her.  It sounds like she needs it.” 

Mike gives the home a coat of paint and does some light cosmetic work.  A woman named Miriam, who lives in town and runs a home-care agency, wants to buy it.  She says she has a slug of insurance money coming within six months.  She can pay a little more than the principal amount of the Mosca’s loan plus my repair costs when she gets it; until then, she can pay $1,500 a month.  She moves in, and spruces the place up.  She hires Mike to stain her porch and to put in new cabinets.  She buys a custom-built refrigerator that is flush with her countertop, and a kitchen island.  I stop in to say “hi”, with Mike.  “Shoes off?” 

“Yes, please.” 

I could definitely live here

“You mind if I take a few pictures?” 

“Of course!” 

“I could send these to Architectural Digest.” 

Once the Franklins are gone, a tenant named Jim Funk tells Mike that his daughter, Danica, is interested in buying their home with her boyfriend, Tom Mosca.  “Any relation to Ben Mosca and his idiot brother?”  “They are all bugs to me.”  I am at the park, helping Mike and another tenant named Art clean up the Franklin mess.  The Sheriff had shown up at 9:00 sharp, straight out of central casting.  Fifty-five or sixty, five ten, stocky, white, bald head, fleshy, clean-shaven face, blue windbreaker that reads “Sheriff”.  Art had not been there in the morning; that puzzled me.  While we were waiting for the sheriff, I asked Mike, “Where’s Art?” 

“He’s Mrs. Franklin’s brother.  He thought it would be awkward if he were here when they were rausted.”

Danica and her grandmother, Jim’s mother, drive up to look at the home.  Before they step out of the car, Jim tells me, “That’s my mother.  You should hit on her.” 

“What’s her name?” 

“Sheila.”

“Sheila, Baby!” 

Sheila looks at me with narrowed eyes.  She is seventy, short, with steel gray hair and, like her son and granddaughter, bottom-heavy.  

“Sorry.  Jim told me to do that.” 

“You put him acrost your knee, and I’ll spank him.” 

“We usually don’t show homes until they are ready, but I understand that Danica is in a hurry.  Have a look.  It’s a mess, but I’ve seen worse.” 

“I was expecting much worse.” 

“It’s yours, if you want it.” 

“How much up-front?” 

We discuss terms.  They can buy the home for cash, or they can do a lease-option for a term of years.  Sheila’s eyes narrow.  “How much is it if we do the rent-to-own?” 

“Depends on when you buy it.  You can buy it after three, five or eight years.  The purchase price depends on the purchase date.” 

Slippery as an eel in a bucket of snot.

“Yeah-but how much is it?” 

She gets time value of money.  Good for her. 

“You can add up the payments for any of the three options and back out the lot rent.  It is always cheaper to buy up front.” 

“I’ll get a loan and pay it up-front.” 

“That is the best thing to do, if you can afford it.” 

“I want it in my name and Jim’s.” 

Smart lady. 

By now, Sheila, Jim and I are standing in the office.  Tom and Danica are at the home, measuring the cabinets.  I tell Sheila, “Bugs can’t buy homes in New York State.” 

“You sure you ain’t single?”

We walk back to the home, to inspect it further.  When we get there, Miriam is with the kids, critiquing the paint job.  Miriam, the lady who bought Ben Mosca’s home and fixed it up.  I ask Mike, “What is she doing here?” 

“She is Ben’s sister, and Tom’s mother.” 

“She’s a Mosca?” 

“I didn’t know till this morning.” 

“Be careful where you piss. It’s the gene pool.” 

“You can’t make this shit up, John.” 

“I couldn’t.”

Fathers

This is me, folding clothes with my thirteen year-old daughter.  “Could you imagine actually liking your father when you are, like, forty?”

“Jesus!  Nice to have a vote of confidence, Mei Mei!”

“Annie’s father is a pain.”

“Sam?  He seems kind of goofy, but he’s OK.”

“Goofy?

“Yeah.  Didn’t Annie say that he pretends to, uh, crap her doll down through his shirt?”

“I didn’t hear that.”

“She told us.”

“She says that he gets angry easily.”

“Well – I’ve never seen it, but people like that often have quick tempers.”

“Even her mother says so.  In front of her.”

“Mommy loves her father, and she’s well over forty.”

“Yeah, but she’s –“

“Taiwanese.  But Ah-Gong really is a mensch.  That’s not xiao xun.  That’s just a great guy.”

“OK.”

“Maybe you’ll understand in thirty years, Young Lady.”

“Area Man Lectures Daughter!”

“Grandpa has been known to lose his temper from time to time too, you know.”

“Grandpa is a dinosaur.”

“His father – your -great grandfather – died when he was twelve.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Well, he did.  Grandpa was younger than you when he lost his father.  Wouldn’t you have liked that?  No father?”

“HAH, HAH, HAH!”

“I think that that shaped him as a father.  Something was missing.  He tried to fill it with a void.  Unfortunately, I was that void.”

“Oh.”

His father – my grandfather – the guy who died young – was supposedly a great guy.  He was an engineer.  I understand that he was quiet, reserved, gentle and decent.  I never knew him, of course.  Uncle Bob used to tell me that I looked like him.”

“Who was Uncle Bob?”

“My great uncle.  GG’s little brother.  Don’t you think it is strange that your great grandmother was named –“

JiJi!  Area Man Makes Inappropriate Bilingual Penis Joke with Daughter!”

His father – my great grandfather – got his PhD in chemistry in Germany.  He was worried that his son – your great grandfather – the guy who died young – spent too much time rowing crew when he was at MIT.  You know what MIT stands for?”

“Hah, hah!  Never heard this one before!”

“Made in Taiwan.”

“But Grandpa was a pain in the ass as a father.  Sorry – pain in the butt.”

“I can imagine.”

“Take these and put them in your bureau, please.”

“OK, DAAD.”

“Deutsche Akademische Austauschdienst?”

“Is everything with you either an obscure private reference or recycled content?”

“Clean your room while you are at it.  I have seen meth labs that are cleaner.”

“You’ve seen meth labs?”

“Not very good meth labs.  Mobile homes where people have been cooking meth.  We come in after they bug out, and clean em up.”

“Oh.”

“They are a meth.”

“HAH, HAH!”

“We digress!  Clean your damn room!”

“Breathe, Dad.  Relax.”

“Please and thank you.”







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2 Responses to “Tribute to Jan Masaryk with Love and Gravitas”

  1. Tribute to Jan Masaryk with Love and Gravitas | Defenestrationism.net Says:

    […] This is part three. Read the suite from the beginning […]

  2. Tribute to Jan Masaryk with Love and Gravitas | Defenestrationism.net Says:

    […] This is part four. Read the suite from the beginning […]

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