Friday, December 15, 2006

a notable phone conversation

During my last year at NYU ('04-'05) I participated in a guinea pig volunteer program where they matched up college students with local Holocaust survivors. My survivor, S. (don't feel exactly right about revealing his name), has lived in the same upper west side studio apartment for the past 43 years. He lost almost his entire family in Poland during the Holocaust and never married. Needless to say, he's been a pretty lonely guy. I know he appreciated my visits because he told me so every time I had to leave. Whether he realizes it or not, I got just as much, if not more, out of our visits as he did. We could count on each other, which is an important quality. My experience with people in NYC never lived up to my high expectations of how people were back home in Chicago. Of course there are a few exceptions, but for the most part, I spent most of my college years alone for one reason or another...usually that someone said they'd be there and they weren't. Anyway, that could be a whole different post...the point here is that S. and I had a consistent companionship that made my whole time away from home worthwhile. (On top of all that, my last grandparent--Grandpa Joe--passed away in February of '05, so for the remainder of my time there, I kind of adopted S. as a grandfather-figure in my life.)

I could probably write a novel based on our visits, but for now, I just wanted to share a funny conversation that happened today.
S. and I don't talk on the phone very often, but I can pretty much count on him to call and wish me a happy whatever Jewish holiday is coming up. In this case, Hanukkah. So he called today to see how I'm doing and inquire about my family...oh and about my "social life"....and about Borat of all things.

Here's a transcription of the conversation (imagine a thick, Polish accent) that ensued:

S: And how is your social life?
A: Good I guess.
S: Well you must have a lot of friends around since you live back home now, right?
A: Actually, a lot of my friends are still scattered around the country, but I'll get to see some of them in the next few weeks while they're home for Christmas.
S: And do you have a nice young man in your life?
(in my head: ahhhhhhhhhhhh why does this always come up?)
A: Well no, I guess not...
S: You know it's important to find a nice young man, Alyse. Because that's what life's all about. Even if it's just dating for fun and it doesn't end up being something serious. It's still important to be social and meet people. That's how you find the right person, right?
(I can't believe an 81-year-old is giving me love advice...)
A: Um, yeah...sure.
(How do I explain to S. that I am just now starting to let my guard down, that I'm trying to trust and open up again...that I'm trying so hard to not let the past interfere with the present? I don't know. So I don't go into it. He doesn't need to know all that.)
S: I know I probably sound like your grandpa.
A: Yeah you kind of do...
(Every time I visited my grandpa when I came home on breaks from college, he'd say things to me like, "I bet you have to beat boys away from your door with a baseball bat." "Yeah something like that, Grandpa," I'd respond, sarcastically smiling and rolling my eyes. "You just remember that if one of those boys treats you bad, they'll have to answer to your Grandpa Joe." "Would you hit them with a baseball bat for me, Grandpa?" "I would." "That's so sweet." Let's just say there are some [who shall remain nameless] that better appreciate their unbroken kneecaps, for I never told Grandpa Joe the truth.)
S: Well it's important you know.
A: Yeah I know...I'm trying.
* * *
S: So, tell me Alyse--Is Borat playing in Chicago?
A: Um, yes...
(Oh we go...)
S: Did you go see it?
A: Yeah...Did you see it??
S: I did, yes. Of course I read about it because it was all over the news. I wanted to see what kind of meshugga would make such a movie. You know that word? Meshugga?
A: Haha, yeah (and take note that just yesterday my dad pointed out that word in a painting--see previous post)
A: Did you like it?
(I brace myself for a lecture about morals and ethics...I don't know which would be more uncomfortable--seeing the movie with a 12-year-old, which i did or with an 81-year-old Jewish republican.)
S: I did. Yes, I found it funny. I've seen funnier, but I laughed at several parts.
A: Wow...yeah, I pretty much felt the same.
S: Sacha Cohen is pretty brilliant you know. He points out all that is wrong in the world through humor.
(I can't believe what I'm hearing.)
S. went on to say that he found the inclusion of naked men wrestling each other "depraving," but other than that, it was rather enjoyable. And smart.

I always feel awful because every time we talk he asks me if I've heard anything back from any resum├ęs I've sent out to businesses in NY. He wants me to move back there so we can resume our "weekly meetings" (as he called them). For awhile I didn't have the heart to tell him that I quit trying to get a job out there. Today I tell him in a more roundabout way that, for now, I'm pretty much obligated to stay in Chicago until August. He asks me then if I have any visits planned. I said I'm hoping to come out there in January or February. "Oh good--I was hoping you'd be able to fit in a winter visit." So there's my motivation. Now I just have to pick a weekend and buy a ticket. Anyone up for a trip?

(photo: for my final photo project, i asked S. if he'd mind being the subject. for the presentation i hung up two 16X20 prints and about ten 4X6 prints, interspersed with excerpts from the journal i kept of our visits. i also had a cd player with headphones so viewers listened to The Pianist soundtrack as they looked at/read the stuff pinned to the wall. now it's all in a book format.
this is my favorite picture from the project. if not my favorite picture of all time.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you :) look at that emo boy one on this blog: