Once upon a time when me and the whole world were a good deal younger, my father had a business partner. I don’t remember his name, but he was a big, bluff Russian who used to come over the house, visit, and make gallons of cabbage soup. He must have thought there were a lot more of us than there were because my mother couldn’t figure out how to store so much soup, even though we had a full size standing deep freezer in the basement and a huge fridge in the kitchen. He and my father would go into the kitchen and produce these gallons of soup. We all had to eat it for weeks until we were sure we were turning into little cabbages.
Bob (or whatever his name was) was accident prone and an enthusiastic teller of stories, most of them about his own misadventures.
“So I was at the beach, at Coney Island” he says, almost shouting because he never said anything except very loud. “Very sunny. Blue sky. A nice day to take my mother to the beach, let her relax in the sun by the water. She is just settling down with her chair. And she asks me if I’ll set up the umbrella for her. I mean, she didn’t have to ask. I always do it, but she always asks anyway, like if she doesn’t ask I won’t do it. I took her to Coney Island, what did she think, I’m going to leave her to cook in the sun?”
We all nodded dutifully. Because he was my father’s partner and we were kids, so what else was there to do?
“It’s a big umbrella. With stripes. Red and yellow. I got it myself, on sale. Umbrellas are expensive and this was a good sturdy one and I paid bupkas for it. If you ever need an umbrella …” and he paused to remember what he was going to say. “Anyway, this was one of the good ones, with a heavy pole so it would stay put.”
We nodded some more. Our job. To nod. Look very interested.
“I opened the umbrella and had to find the right place to put it because, you know, if it’s in the wrong place, the shade isn’t going to be where you want it. So I walked around a bit until I found just the right place. Then I took the pole and a jammed it into the sand as hard as I could and it went pretty deep. Seemed good and solid.”
We were still nodding. I must have been — maybe 10? — and had been taught to be polite, no matter what, to grown-ups. We did not call adults by their first name. I think my teeth would have cracked if I had tried or my tongue would have stuck to the roof of my mouth.
“What with everything looking okay and my mother settling down in her chair with a book, she looked happy. So I figured it would be a good time to get something to eat and I told her I would go get us some hot dogs — and something to drink. She said that was good, tell them to leave the mustard off because — she’s always reminding me but I know, I know — she doesn’t like mustard.
I walked all the way over to Nathan’s — that’s a pretty long walk, all the way to the end of the boardwalk — because they have the best hot dogs” at which I was nodding with real enthusiasm because Nathan’s really does have the best hot dogs, “And I love those beef fries. I got five, two for her — with no mustard — and the other three for me because I was hungry,” and he paused to pat his large belly, “And I started walking back. I could see where to go because of the umbrella’s stripes. I could see it all the way from the boardwalk.”
Nod, nod, nod.
“The weather suddenly was changing … some clouds were coming in from the ocean. It was getting a windy — a bit — and this was happening all of a sudden while I had gone to get the dogs. Funny how the weather changes so fast along the water, you know? So now, I’m almost there. Up comes a big puff of wind and that umbrella pulls right up out of the sand and flies at me and whacks me over the head. Boom. I thought my whole head was going to come off.
I dropped all the food and fell right over. Like a rock I fell and just lay there. My whole brain was like scrambled eggs. They had to come and take me to the hospital. I was completely compost for TWO DAYS! Two days! Completely compost!”
Be careful of flying umbrellas at the beach. They will turn you into compost. That’s not good, especially when your hands are full of hotdogs.