And no, that's not a punch line to a joke, though it could be. "Did you hear what's happening in Libya?" "No," she non-sequitered, "I was in New Jersey yesterday."
Be that as it may, I was in New Jersey yesterday. It was cousin Philip's 90th birthday. Everyone was there, the three Macbethian aunts, Shirley, Millie and Louise. Louise, the one who was kicked in the head by a horse when she was 20 and hasn't been the same since, has a soft spot in her heart for me. Maybe because I'm the only one with the patience to listen to her as she talks into her hands and bewails the decay of the world. She crochets for me brightly-colored doily-like luggage tags and packs up five of them in plastic containers that once held blue-berries or cherry tomatoes.
Aunt Louise had the salmon. There's no place in her Elizabeth, NJ neighborhood to get fresh fish. It's all Puerto Rican now and they drive like crazy and don't stop at lights. She's the only Jew left in her apartment building and she doesn't dare complain about the lack of heat. She can't afford to move.
Cousin Leo got up and sang a song for his father. He has Phil Spector hair, a clump like a ghost town tumbleweed. For whatever reason, presumably a paranoia about fluoride in water supply, he walked everywhere with a plastic gallon jug of distilled water. He drank nothing else but this.
Cousin Mark, the doctor, spoke too. The aunts wondered why he hid that handsome face behind that mustache.
The youngest son, Cousin Julius spoke too.
I thought of a Harry Ruby song that I heard Groucho Marx sing on an old record album I had.
Today, Father, is Father's Day
And we're giving you a tie
It's not much we know
It is just our way of showing you
We think you're a regular guy
You say that it was nice of us to bother
But it really was a pleasure to fuss
For according to our mother
You're our father
And that's good enough for us
Yes, that's good enough for us.
Then out came the cake with each candle, there were 10 in all, representing a decade, one decade being for luck. Cousin Philip, who still practices his violin two hours a day and still plays softball with the mens' group from the synagogue, blew out them all, though he hesitated and inhaled deeply around candle five.
We took the Holland Tunnel back into the city. We were gone for just six hours. It only felt like 90 years.