My father showed, by his decades-long close friendship with Benjie, that he was perfectly capable of being an appreciative, supportive, loving friend. This certainly struck my sister and me over the years, watching our father befriend young people not much older than we were, seeing how much his young friends loved and admired him. We watched this as he launched sorties against us every night at the battlefield of the dinner table.
“Well, they saw me at my best, Elie, what’s the mystery there? I never outflanked them, strafed them with machine gun fire or deployed poison gas or brutal propaganda against any of them, unless they desperately needed it. Once it was open warfare, all bets were off how about much they loved me after that,” said the skeleton of my father.
I didn’t say it was a mystery, I said it was striking to us. The reminder of how easily, it seemed, you could not be a mean and unreasonably critical person. The potential was right there in front of all of us the whole time, our little noses rubbed in it, you might say. I had a friend or two who thought you were a great guy, wished their father could have been so cool.
“Well, another person’s father always looks cooler, don’t they?”
Not necessarily, it shakes out all kinds of ways.
“But wait, you said ‘a friend or two’? What’s with that? You had more than one or two friends,” the skeleton said.
Yeah, well, as you say, I chose as my friends select ass-kissing sycophants likely to second my distorted view of whatever I was forcing them to agree with. But, on a more serious note, most of them saw more of your hectoring side than you might have shown the crew and customers at Tain Lee Chow.
“You know, it’s funny you should use that image, of Tain Lee Chow. Benjie, your mother and I owned that place, yet Benjie worked behind the counter most of the time and I stood between the kitchen and the serving area frying noodles all day. Funny, the memory of that time is about as happy a memory as I have from my adult life. It was great to be part of that little team, to be my own benevolent boss, and I used to, literally, take home brown paper bags stuffed with cash,” the skeleton looked off as nag-shaped clouds chased each other in the skies above upper Westchester.
“Your mother used to tell me I stunk of Chinese noodles,” he said.
“Well, as you and Benjie observed with such marvelous compression at my funeral, he and I were the father and son each of us never had. He had a hard time with his father, didn’t respect him much, felt his father never gave him the respect he needed. You know, these relationships are two way streets…”
Wow, really? I never realized that.
“You’ll lose that in the edit, Elie,” said the skeleton, “it’s beneath you. Anyway, for a variety of reasons– the orthodox Judaism, the sense of humor, the acuity as a businessman, the confidence, the mutual deference in certain matters — Benjie and I just hit it off. We naturally deferred to each other in our respective areas of expertise. We could both be stubborn, as you know, but for whatever reason, we were able to compromise with each other in ways I couldn’t with you and your sister. For example, do you remember that Benjie was totally against opening a kosher Chinese restaurant? He wanted our joint venture to be a steak house.”
I remember mom describing that conflict. She and Benjie often squared off, neither of them took any shit from the other. She used to get angry describing his face when he set himself against her, with those “little blue piggy eyes”.
“You did well to carve ‘heart of a poet’ into her gravestone . I never noticed his eyes were piggy, or little, for that matter, but, then again, he never showed me that face. He and I, I don’t know how to explain it, we gave each other the benefit of the doubt, I guess. Benjie and your mother used to fight all the time, and she eventually left the restaurant after one particularly bad one, but they loved each other too.”
Although it was a bit more love/hate, wasn’t it?
“That’s fair. Anyway, we all got things from that relationship that were important to us. We were willing to explore all options when we came to an impasse. Benjie, for example, had never tasted Chinese food, which was a big reason he was against the idea of opening a Chinese place. We all went to Moishe Peking for dinner, that was in Manhattan. He loved the food. He had nothing to compare it to, never having eaten at House of Won, or Fan Fan, or any of those other trayf emporiums, but to him it was delicious. As a businessman he recognized the value of offering something nobody else in Queens had– kosher Chinese food. He agreed after that and we never looked back. Once he was in, he was in 100%.”
It’s true that you got things from each other neither of you had. He had a head for business, you didn’t. He had confidence in his ability to make money, and you had your life savings, and confidence in his abilities. If not for your support, he probably wouldn’t have opened any restaurant at all. If not for his business acumen, you’d never have attempted it either. The place was a great success, and gave all of you a certain amount of nachas, and bags of cash, not to mention a liberating sense of autonomy after years of working for those Hadassah bitches.
“Very true. That’s the essence maybe, of a great relationship. The complementary nature of it. What I have, you lack a little, what you have, I can’t find in myself,” the skeleton paused.
“Not you personally, Elie, I mean, in a perfect world, I mean, it could have gone that way… but a good relationship, I mean, an actual mutual friendship…. there’s a give and take…”
Yes, of course, I get it. Maybe the fucking tragedy of this world is how close to a perfect world it is, and how brutally far from perfection.
“Which is one reason most murders happen between loved ones,” said the skeleton.
Yeah, homicidal love, one of the funniest, most fucked up kinds of love there is.
“Yop,” said the skeleton, pointing up into the sky where one of the nag-shaped clouds had caught another and seemed to be fucking it horsey style.