Uncle Slappy called late last night, past if you must know, his usual bed time. I picked up the phone and immediately noticed a slight tremolo in his voice.
"Boychick," he said.
"Uncle Slappy. It's late. Is everything ok?"
"Oy, I have to tell you what a night we had. We just got home a few minutes ago."
I took a deep breath. When your surrogate father and surrogate mother are 86, every action that is out of the norm makes you more than a trifle nervous.
"Your Aunt Sylvie and I went out to dinner tonight with Saul and Mindy, the Siegels."
The Siegels live three units down in a two bedroom with a view of the pool. He was an internist in Roslyn until they retired and moved to Boca.
"We went to the early bird," Slappy continued "to my favorite place, "From Schmear to Eternity." On Monday nights they have all-you-can-eat lox and bagel, $14.95."
"That's quite a deal. I imagine Aunt Sylvie took some home for later."
"They expect that," Slappy temporized, "It's built into the price. In any event, you would think Saul Siegel hadn't eaten in a week. He was wolfing down the food like a rabid dog."
"Or a wolf," I amended politely.
"Whatever," Slappy ignored. "In any event he was eating a piece of pickled herring that had to be the size of a whole pickled herring."
"He didn't cut?"
"No, into the mouth like a seal the herring went. And in a minute he's choking like a horse. He's turning red and blue like a bruise."
"Oy," I added sagaciously.
"The man eats like his throat was cut."
"And a cardiologist no less."
"In any event, a burglar, comes into the Schmear and I see he pulls a gun on the cashier. A nice Cuban girl who sits in the front. She freezes like a snow man but meanwhile, Saul Siegel is about to plotz."
"Death by herring," I tsked.
"I get up in a flash, or what passes for a flash when you're 86. The burglar sees me getting up and screams at me pointing his gun. 'Get down,' he says."
"You got down, I assume."
"I did not. I yelled at him, 'He's choking. I'm giving him the Heinrick Manoeuvre. At this, the gunman gets irked with me. 'Get down,' he yells."
"Oy," I added again.
"I yell again," Uncle Slappy says, "I am giving the Heinrick Manoeuvre. And the burglar yells at me. 'Heimlich, you idiot. It's Heimlich, you idiot.' At that point I push in on Siegel's chest and out flies, and I mean flies a giant piece of pickled herring."
"It's said the average piece of food someone chokes on is the size of a cigarette pack. Remember when Mama Cass died?"
"Ach. Ham sandwich," he said. "The herring flies out like a rocket and hits the gunman in the eye, stinging and startling him. The kitchen guy sees this and at that point jumps on the burglar and knocks him to the ground. Aunt Sylvie was the hero. She picked up his gun."
"That's quite a story." I was breathing again.
"The police quickly arrived and we all had to go to the precinct to tell what happened. We just now got home."
"Well, thank god everyone's ok."
"Actually," Slappy paused, "Actually, I'm a little hurt."
"You're hurt?" I asked.
"He shouldn't have called me an idiot."
And with that the old man hung up the blower.
I'm sure he was asleep in minutes. Me, an idiot, couldn't sleep all night.