- I was perhaps in my fifties when I asked my father, "It always seemed to me that you teased me more than you teased Billy. Is that true?"
"Because you got so much more bent out of shape."
And it was true. I think my sense of humor must have been slow to develop, for when I was young if someone was not actually smiling or laughing when they said something to me then I took it quite literally.
Somewhere around the third grade I began to take an interest in watching boxing on television. Dad began teaching me what to watch for and how to score the rounds. We would compare scorecards and discuss the reasons for our choices, and if a fight went the distance we compared our totals to the totals of the officials.
One day Dad said to me, "You know, I used to box professionally."
Donnie: "You did not."
Dad: "Yes I did. And I became a world champion."
Now by that age I knew how to use a World Almanac, and I knew that it contained the names of all the boxing champions in all the weight classes. I headed straight for it and returned a moment later.
Donnie, waving the Almanac: "See? Here are all the champions and you're not in here."
Dad: "Oh, I didn't fight under my own name. Lots of fighters don't fight under their own names."
Donnie, skeptically: "What name did you fight under?"
Dad: "Kid Sash, the windowweight."
Dad: "No, wait. It was Kid Quire, the paperweight."
- Year later, on the phone, Dad pronounced a word rather strangely, it seemed to me. I questioned him about it and he told me to wait while he got his dictionary. A moment later he read the entry aloud, giving the primary and secondary pronunciations, the latter being the one he had used. He concluded emphatically, "It's acceptable."
Donnie: "Hmm. This might be a good time to remind you of something you said to me years ago, when the situation was reversed."
Dad: "Shut up."
Donnie: "You asked me, 'Why would you want to use a secondary pronunciation?'"
Dad: "Goddamn kid."
- For the last few years of his life, Dad and I talked on the phone several times a week. Along with whatever else might be of interest, many conversations included a request for help with some crossword puzzle he was working on. Usually, these were questions of a type similar to "What's a seven letter word meaning 'advent?' Blank-blank-blank-i-v-a-blank."¹
During one conversation he mentioned that he was about to get new glasses. "I doubt that my prescription has changed, but the lenses are all scratched from my clip-on sunglasses."
Donnie: "Dad, get the transition sunglasses, like mine. They only darken in bright light and revert to normal as soon as you're out of it."
Dad: "Oh, I don't think so, Donnie. They've got new clip-ons that won't scratch the lenses."
Donnie: "Yeah, but Dad, why mess with clip-ons when you don't have to?"
Dad: "Well, we'll see."
For more than a hundred years, "We'll see" from a parent has meant "No," and a week or two later he had new glasses and new clip-ons.
A few days after that we were chatting and he brought up a problem he was having with a Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle. This one was not so easily resolved (which usually meant that he had entered an incorrect answer), and we resorted to a process which we occasionally used as a last resort. I would get a pencil and paper and try to recreate the image of a small portion of the puzzle as he was seeing it, filling in dark squares, word numbers, and the letters he had entered, as well as writing the definitions off to the side. As you can imagine, this occasionally led to some confusion and laughter.
At some point I asked him for the puzzle's definition of a particular word, and there was a silence of perhaps twenty seconds.
Donnie, slightly impatiently: "Dad?"
Dad, more impatiently: "Wait a minute. These letters are small and I'm having a hard time finding the definition."
Donnie, pseudo-helpfully: "Lift up your clip-ons."
Dad, outraged: "Yooooouuuuuu prick!"
(Clearly, "Goddamn kid" was inadequate for an offense so great.)