On Saturday night, November 15, 1975, I was a senior at Choate School. Some buddies and I had signed out that weekend to go to Boston, ostensibly to look at colleges. Which we did of course the next day. But mainly it was a weekend to blow off some steam. One of my pals, John Helmick, kept an illegal car near campus and so off we went off that afternoon driving north on I-91, joined by Neal Collyer and Tom Trimble. CB Radio was in vogue and John impressed us all with his ability to talk to the truckers. “This here is Orange Crate,” he drawled in his Des Moines accent, “how it be looking over your shoulder?” Trucker-speak for “any highway patrol passing out speeding tickets around here?”
After settling in at our Copley Plaza Hotel, grabbing some pizza, and a six pack of beer procured, someone had the foresight to turn on the boob tube late that night. To our amazement, we tuned in right at the beginning of Robert Klein’s legendary “I Can’t Stop My Leg” skit. It was one of the first episodes of Saturday Night Live. Playing a ridiculously amped-up blues musician, Klein’s gag was to bounce his leg up and down in an exaggerated way while singing “I Can’t Stop My Leg” repeatedly. Without warning, the leg does stop in the middle of the performance. “It stopped!” he shouts in put-on shock. Only to start up again.
Here’s the only version of the skit available on YouTube; it’s filmed right from the monitor with a low-grade phone, but you get the idea:
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The girl from Glasgow was cute. At the Palacio Hotel, Estoril.
The Arc de Triomphe. The Louvre. The observatory at the top of the Tour de Montparnasse. Invalides. Trocadero. There’s a lot to see in the city of light. Dad took me to all of it. And of course we recuperated from the cuisine of Great Britain.
Aside from the momentary lapse on the Metro, Dad did well with the language barrier. He was familiar with Paris and knew the ropes. While tagging along for the ride, I felt intuitively that this sublime city loomed large in my future. And nine years later, I did come back to Paris to live there as student during the summer to master the language. Later on, I came to spend a lot of time in both London and Paris on business or visiting friends. London always struck me as a familiar place. If you flew from New York towards the northeast and kept going past Boston, about 5 hours later, you arrive in London, which, like Boston, has lots of crazy streets, red brick buildings, English-speaking people with crazy accents, 7-11s, Colgate toothpaste, and a nearby place called Cambridge. However, if you pushed ahead yet another hour, you arrived in Paris, with none of those things (except crazy streets, of course). I loved the exotic quality of ditching the familiar. France feels like a foreign land, but not an unfamiliar one. It’s a place where you can dig deep in its mysteries and reap rich life experiences.
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For my entertainment, Michael would utter a few worlds of both Lithuanian and Russian. I would repeat and try to commit them to memory to dazzle my pals back in Florida whom, I was sure, had never heard any words of either. But it was impossible to remember. The only word I could grasp was the Russian word for pussycat — “koshechka.” He grinned widely at me when he said it.
After dinner and just before dessert, Michael would produce a fresh five dollar bill and present it to me, just as the Lord must have presented the tablets to Moses. And like Moses, I was transfixed by the vision of the prideful face looking down at me from the other side of the dining table. No one had ever glowed at me like that. All of a sudden, Dad would nudge me and ask, “what do you say?” He was a little annoyed as if I had no manners (or had forgotten them). Immediately, I would snap out of my reverie and say “thank you Grandfather.”
Read More “MY GRANDFATHER AND THE DOOR TO THE OLD WORLD, PART 2”