Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Better Half?

I took a couple of plane trips around this time, the first to visit my Grandpa in 1972 and then to visit my Aunt Marge in 1973. Visiting Teodulfo Dizon was quite an experience. He was still a strict, disciplined man though the years had mellowed him quite a bit. Matter of fact, I found him to resemble the Koreans I would meet three decades later in their characteristic inscrutability. Though he had left the Orient over sixty years ago, he still maintained its ways and style, as if clinging to the environment in which he was born and raised. It was also due to the military tradition in which he was steeped, from his childhood as a military brat to his time in American bases from San Pedro to Fort Sam Houston. Though he was a slender man weighing about 135, he was hard as a rock and had never missed a day of work in over fifty years.                          

It was a whirlwind week for me and I wish I had the maturity to have savored more time with him. I went out a few times with my cousin Linda, who had played roller derby in a local team before retiring due to a knee injury. She took me to a downtown gay bar (which were the height of fashion in the glitter rock era) and we drank it up with some of the best-known drag queens in town. I met my cousin Johnny, who Grandpa warned me about, but we hit it off and went out for an evening of pool and had a great time. I also went carousing with my cousin Lupe, who invited me to an after-work party that Friday and then to some local downtown spots. I would have never dreamed that I would relocate to San Antonio a decade later, and that Johnny, Lupe and I would become as the Three Musketeers as I built my new infrastructure.

Grandpa would eventually write down his memoirs in a short essay, which would become the foundation for my semi-biographical novel, Generations (as yet unpublished). He told me quite a bit about his life in San Pedro and confided in me in a manner that would have made the Four Brothers jealous. I wish I would have realized at the time that he was pouring his heart out to me in hoping I would be the keeper of his memory, which I certainly hope I am. I remember him cooking a delightful shrimp and rice entrĂ©e for dinner one evening, and can’t remember him serving up anything I didn’t like. That was a big difference from my first visit to SA as a weeun, as he and Mom got into a row over him trying to make me eat my first bowl of oatmeal!

I also found out he was a big wrestling fan. Unfortunately, he naturally cheered for the babyfaces, while I was overjoyed to see the Golden Greek, John Tolos on the tube as he tore up some jobber in short order. I imagine what he would have thought in watching his grandson as Broadway Turk Superstar using everything from chairs to ashtrays on opponents in the Texas Wrestling Association almost two decades later. Actually, he never saw one of Manny’s fights, most likely because he wouldn’t have been able to bear it. Grandma Stella, on the other hand, went to most of them.

His big thing was still poker, and on my last night he brought me to his friend’s home for their big weekly game. Linda and her friends had planned a big sendoff for me but there was no way I could refuse Grandpa. It was a penny-ante game and I got thoroughly shellacked. I’m a pretty good poker player, but in those games, they were calling almost a dozen wild cards per hand which reduced it to a game of chance rather than skill. This took away my bluffing game, which both Grandpa and our revered family friend Baron Sanders disdained. Grandpa never bluffed; Manny called Baron on a bluff one time and Baron’s face grew beet-red with embarrassment! At any rate, Broadway Turk wouldn’t make much of an impact as a poker player on that particular sojourn.

I found out just how ornery he was on the ride to the airport. We stopped off at a department store and I saw a hat similar to his fedora and wanted to buy it for him. He declined, but I insisted, and I was going to pick it out when he caught my wrist in his version of the Iron Claw. It was either twist free or relinquish, and my Grandpa won out. I should have mailed him one afterward, but, that’s a stupid kid for you. At any rate, it was one of the most cherished visits of my life. I wish the one a couple of years later with Manny had been more pleasant, but that was when worlds collided and the generation gap appeared as an earthquake in our relationship.

That next year I visited my Aunt Marge, and my relationship with the Sanders clan was on the decline soon afterwards though I wouldn’t realize it until years later. She considered herself the leader of the clan though my cousin Brooks’ wife Gloria confided in me that she feared her older sister Brooks (no misprint, quite a popular family name). She was initially pleased as punch to meet me again after over a decade, and I hit it off famously with her husband Vernon. I also got on well with Brooks and his family, and we were scheduled for a family get-together at his property on Lake Dallas. He had made his fortune in the construction business and was the clan’s only legitimate millionaire before going bankrupt in the 90’s.

Manny nearly gagged when I turned down a proposal from Brooks to join his firm as a representative with his South American field office during a visit with us at the Waldorf-Astoria a couple of years earlier. Of course, my head was full of fantasies of NHL or wrestling stardom, and I thought the world was an oyster before me. What I never understood was why Manny didn’t jump in as quickly as he did with the writing school rep a couple of years before that. He could have told Brooks that we needed time to reconsider, and even shipped my ass out with parental authority. Well, that was Manny for you. Brooks never reached out again, even when I was desperate for help with Mom at my side and my Year Zero EP in hand during our reunion visit in 1979.  

My fatal error came one afternoon after a long talk the previous evening in which I told her of recent family hassles due to my mother’s drinking problem. We planned lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant, leaving me to my lonesome as she went to have her hair done. I sucked up a half-case while listening to the Velvet Underground on her room-to-room stereo, writing a ballad called “Patti” about kidnapped newspaper heiress Patti Hearst (which had long since been misplaced and forgotten). When she finally got back I could barely read it back to her. She probably thought me quite the hypocrite, but should have seen the underlying problems. Yet I think it was more of a question of trying to stuff the skeletons back into the family closet.

The problem with the nouveau riche is that they think their crap don’t stink when, actually, what they fear and despise most about others is what they see deep inside themselves. That holds true for most people as I found through my psychiatric studies. This is why they marginalized my Uncle Vernon, a fine man who overcame his drinking problem. They kept him forever in the background at our reunions, and I spent most of my time there with him. Not the best way to score brownies with the Sanders clan.

Payback time came in 1985 at the Hyatts’ wedding which was hosted at the Abbotts’ home in Fort Worth. I drove up with Debbie Von and we saw my parents emerging from a vehicle in front of the house just as they arrived from the airport. As it turned out, Mom was three sheets to the wind, Manny chalking it up to her fear of flying. This, of course, I discredited as a crock of shit as Mom had been an amateur pilot who had earned her wings in flight school back in the 40’s. She ranted and raved throughout the short evening as I did my best to refrain from laughing my ass off as Aunt Marge somehow maintained her composure.

There were a couple more reunions after that, a last hurrah at Lake Dallas in 1979 and a mini-reunion at the Hyatts in Cloudcroft in 1992. I was definitely the black sheep at Lake Dallas though they seemed more comfortable with the stylish wiseguy in the business suit in Cloudcroft. I drove up to Fort Worth with Bobby Bulldozer for Uncle Vernon’s funeral in 1992 a couple of months before the Hyatt reunion, and would have shown for Aunt Marge’s funeral a few years later if Lea Shithead had taken the time to notify me. We were on the outs by then after a spat between Duane and me at my first wedding in 1995, but I think it was more of a case of her wanting to sabotage my connection with the Sanders clan worse than it already was.

Money was always a case of sour grapes with her. She was never a hoarder or a tightwad, but she always loved being around those who had money, and wasn’t overly happy when her peers had more than she did. That was the main reason she stayed close to Brooks Abbott. His wife Gloria was a lovely woman and a great person but was highly suspicious of males in the clan, some of whom had come on to her more than a couple of times. Their son Clay was a great little kid but I suspect he went the way of Thumper Hyatt as he matured. I know that Brooks worshipped the kid and most likely brought him into the business, which bankrupted a few years later. Geez, I wonder why. At any rate, Brooks even had the Shitheads out to his resort home in Lake Tahoe a few times before he went under. I’ll bet they didn’t do much visiting after he lost everything.

(To be continued...)

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