My Pop was quite a character. A legend in his own mind, as his friends would kid him. Only child. Teenage bodybuilder. Bandstand dancer and heartthrob. Navyman. Artist. Early 60s Philly adman. Sinatra fan extraordinaire. Incredible optimist. Victim to MS. And the funniest man I ever met (and ever will meet).
He was an amazing storyteller and was most comfortable telling you about himself. Yet self-obsession has never been so likable and illuminating. By the time I was a young adult, his disease had left him nearly crippled and with a limited view of the contemporary world. You’d expect this would narrow his ability to relate to me, but that wasn’t the case. When I would tell him something about my life, he’d counter with a story from his past that let me know he knew where I was coming from.
For example, once I told him I was dating this wealthy girl and felt intimidated by her family’s pomp and circumstance. He immediately countered with: “When I was 14, I was getting close to this girl. Her family had some money, sorta hoidy toidy. She had the first TV in the neighborhood—which made her a local celebrity!–and when she invited me over, I was eager to see it. We were sitting her living room and I’m looking around, seeing if I could catch a glimpse of her TV. Finally, I couldn’t take it any more and asked her where it was. She stuck her nose up in the air and said, “Why it’s in the television room!’…Yeah, that didn’t last long.” That was Pop’s idea of advice, and it was on the money.
Sadly, the MS he had since ’63 finally inked the deal in 2006. As a testimony to my Pop’s charm, there were buddies at his funeral from every stage of his life, from childhood through to the end. How he kept those friendships alive over the decades, including the final decades where he could do little more than make phone calls from his bed, blew my mind. The older one gets, the harder it gets to keep these bonds, and, sadly, a lot of people let an illness like MS be an excuse to let a friendship die. But these guys really loved him and he them, and I know all of them would agree that they never met anyone like Don.
He and my Mother, or Piccina as he called her, were a darling couple for a dozen years or so and provided the groundwork for the man I am today. The first few years of their marriage, they’d celebrate their anniversaries by drinking some cheap champagne and tape-recording a summary of the prior year. In 1971, when I was one, my Pop had some MS-related problems that put him in the hospital, and this four minute mp3 is his description of that event, preserved on their anniversary tape.
I was 31 when I heard this for the first time (he’s 32 in the recording) and consider myself a solid storyteller—but, man, he sends me back to school with this. His timing, his humor, his laughter—just impeccable. (My Mom’s interjections and laughter are a great touch, too.) He’s self-deprecating but never self-pitying. I get the feeling that a few hours after this horrible event happened, he’d already translated it into an hysterical tale.
You may never hear a funnier catheter story.