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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Back in the Saddle Again?


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We're Back! I think!

For those of you who have been coming back of the month of August hoping to see some kind of change for the last month and finding none, my apologies. I hope you took a chance and visited out archives and found some of the treasures buried in the 600 or so posts there.

Since this is mostly a comedy blog I won't go into the details, but I could skip living through this last few months again. Deaths in the family, personal crises, illness, pain, all this kinds of things, you are not coming here for. But, things are looking up and so, I think you should be able to see a return to regular postings here.

Regular? Two to three times a week, usually in spurts.

I discovered that the RSS feed isn't working right, I have to figure out how to fix that. If yours IS working right, leave a comment and let me know. I did manage to get the comment interface working better and some other features cleaned up.

If you have a child, hug them, watch them closely if they are near the water. A young relative drowned this summer. I have a young child. The stuff of nightmares. It's been almost a month now and he effect of the support of our community on the parents has been profound as all those who feel "there but for the grace of God go I" in this situation have extended their hearts and love to them.

I know that those in our house have, and if you pray, I invite you to do so for them and any of those who have lost dear ones of any age for any reason this summer.

I also lost another friend, who was my one of my best friend's uncles. A finer kinder person you would be hard pressed to find no matter how bright a light you had to shine on the world to fine one. Wise, funny, and neat to the point of a methodological that might have driven even Felix Unger mad were it not for the kindness and gentleness in which he practiced it (he did not expect others to be able to practice what he preached, he merely enabled them gently, when they visited him).

George was an enabler of the highest and best sort. An educator, a scientist, a friend, and 'weather' he enabled the world to understand his field of science to advance in unique and powerful ways, or his colleagues and students to grow and flourish as a result of knowing him, or the world to retain works of beautiful music that might otherwise have been lost, George enabled so many to a better life in many ways.

I got to know him first when my friend, his nephew became quite seriously ill, the kind of thing that only a small percentage survived, even in the early 1980's. That my friend survived was due to his courage in being willing to participate in experimental treatment, some luck in being in the right experimental group, some gumption on his own, and the knowledge of the deep and constant support of his 'Unc' who was there for him in ways that no one else could be, not even myself - poor as a church mouse as I was at the time I could not afford to fly to Seattle to be with my friend through the bone marrow transplant and other procedures, I was only able to talk to him by phone and letter. Not good enough. But Unc was a conduit of information to me.

I was terrified that I was going to lose my best friend at the time, in fact, I was in a play called Da, by Hugh Leonard, in which the main character is diagnosed with cancer and has to deal with the approach of his death at that very time. Since it was one of the few paying gigs I had gotten I couldn't help accepting, and it was worth it too, one of the best performances I ever gave. I played the older Kearns who learns some things about himself that he wished he had not by the end of the show and goes through a complex and complete emotional breakdown on stage. A subtle bit of work that shouldn't be forced; in the end, my fears about my friend came out every night on stage.

The audiences thought I was inspired. I knew the truth. I was petrified that my best friend would die in the middle of the production and that I would be unable to continue and would never work professionally again. Through all of that time, the wires between "Unc's" house and mine, and his hotel in Seattle and mine, ran hot and heavy. He gave me updates, I gave him humor pointers for cheering up my friend. It was a conspiracy of kindness to make sure he had the kind of support he needed to survive other storms brewing around him via the females of the species.

Over the years after that, Unc became Grunc as my friend's uncle became a grand Uncle. And I got to know him and his fastidious ways better. Having dinner with him was a real treat. First of all, he was a wonderful cook. Tasty and low fat. But then, watching him clean his kitchen was like watching a man in love with it. He looked very much like Jeff Smith, once known as PBS's the Frugal Gourmet, and took great care to clean his kitchen counters fastidiously. Just....so.

Every crumb came up off the tables and counters. Every particle of dust off the floor into the dust pan. Every unwanted spec into the garbage can under the sink, and every night, without fail, Grunc would take that paper garbage bag out of its container, raise it to the counter top, fold the edges so that the creases were razor sharp and meticulously fold the top down so that there was no possibility that any part of the contents could seep out. On some occasions, if seepage might become a problem, he might add a plastic bag outside the paper bag and put another paper bag around those two, just so that they appeared neat and strong.

Then, once folded neatly and correctly, Grunc would walk the package down the hall, open the door to the utility closet leading to the garbage chute, and his package would ever so neatly descend to the bottom. If, on rare occasions, Grunc had reason to believe that his 'parcel' did not reach the bottom without 'incident' he would then feel compelled to check, by taking the elevator down to the basement and investigating the matter. More than once he found an incredible mess because the garbage contractor had failed to show up to remove the waiting container that collected the garbage that waited at the bottom of the chute.

Grunc would then call the building super who more often than not was grateful to Grunc since no one else would tell him and he would be stuck cleaning up the mess. Grunc lived in a very old, prestigious building near the Museum of Science and Industry, but it was large enough generate a lot of trash.

Some times Grunc's fastidiousness could be hard on those he loved and he knew it, but he just could not help himself. He just wanted to make things easier for people.

One time my friends sister was visiting town and had a 19 year old nanny that wanted to see some of Chicago. They knew that I had been a tour guide and I got volunteered to her around town based largely on Grunc's, not my friend's character recommendation.

Since we would be returning possibly late, (Very late, O.o) Grunc felt that we needed instruction in how to open the door quietly, and to my chagrin and the whole group's stunned amusement proceeded to give a demonstration on how to put a key into a lock and turn it. LOL

I always suspected that he was planting a subconscious idea in both our heads, but it didn't take, at least on her part (rats). But the image of Grunc, in the hallway, bent over the lock, turning sideways with his funny crooked smile, looking half up as he demonstrated the best way to put the key in the lock and turn it just - so(!) to get it to open quietly, will ever remain in my heart as the quintessential Grunc moment.

I think you will have gathered by now that I came to love this old man who let me into his life as a friend as he did not so many others. Of course it was largely due to the fact that I cared deeply for his nephew, but we were both scientists, my lab was less formal, but we talked about my work a few times and he was greatly surprised when he understood the stringency of my methodology, which for a government operation, might not have been so strict. He read a number of my papers over the years and gave helpful comments, brief, it was not his field, but helpful, mostly in that he recognized in a way that others important to me in my life could not, the meaning of some of my achievements professionally. He truly understood them.

His death came as a surprise as I knew it would. Grunc was a private person. When I knew it was coming near I made sure to send him a note that at lest hinted at my feelings. I wanted to get together with him one last time but I suspected that I had missed my window and when he was hospitalized I was not given an opportunity to visit or call him. As I went through the stages of death I was quite angry about this for at least an hour. But that passed. I know that Grunc did not want me to remember him that way and now I don't.

I compare my healthy memories of Grunc to the memories of a six-year old cousin in her coffin and I know which ones I prefer. Funerals are hard for me. Especially the funerals of children. I guess that's true for everyone. But when you are the parent of a child the same age as the deceased it hits really close to home. More than I wanted to say.

So, back to the comedy in the next post.

A little saddle-sore - but as the Jesuits say, if it doesn't kill you, it builds character.

Peter, Chief Editor and Spelling Wrecker
The Peter Files Blog of Comedy, Jokes, Satire, Commentary and Videos

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