Saturday, August 22, 2009

TV Times

My parents had a Zenith black and white TV, maybe a twenty-inch. They kept it on a rolling cart in their bedroom. You turned it on with a satisfying clockwise click. I got to lay in their bed and watch that TV on days when I was sick enough to stay home from school. Lots of Lucy was watched on that TV.

It had been our only TV and it had been in the living room until it was moved into secondary service in the bedroom by the new Magnavox color console. I couldn't be contained the day the Magnavox was delivered, and I remember we watched "I Dream of Jeannie" that appropriate a show as any, come to think of it, to be one of the first shows we ever viewed in color. Barbara Eden was very colorful, and so was the inside of her bottle.

The Magnavox turned on with a pull-out knob, rather than one you turned to the right. You had to pull it out increasingly gently over the years, as it had the tendency to come off in one's hand, especially mine. Dad would huff as I'd sheepishly hand it to him to screw back on.

I don't think the Zenith made the trip when we moved up from the city to P'son, but the Magnavox did. We acquired a new rotating antennae in short order, which provided us reception to all the channels, two through thirteen. The exception was channel four, which for some reason never wanted to come through no matter how many times you rotated that antenna dial. By necessity, my mother switched her allegiance from Days of our Lives and Another World to The Young and the Restless and The Guiding Light.

My sneaky TV watching strategies also changed by necessity, as we moved from apartment to apartment to house. When I was very small--four or five--after bedtime and lights out, I'd climb into my sister's crib which was flush against the slatted folding door that separated our dining room-cum-bedroom from the living room, where my parents would sit, comfortably watching their evening's selections. Dr. Kildare was a favorite. The configuration of a later apartment allowed me to hatch a better plan, which provided a better sight line and was much easier on my neck. Lying across the back of the living room where the hallway entered in worked well, as my parents' chairs faced away and I could dash back to my room if necessary when one of them jumped up for a quick snack during the commercial break. Once we were in P'son in the two-story house, I had to relegate myself to the stairs, where, if I positioned myself just right midway down, I could see through one kitchen door, out through the other, and into and across the living room, where I could catch about three-quarters of the screen. Not ideal, but it was the best I could do.

Of course, my plans were foiled under any of these these three circumstances if I fell asleep where I lay, which I often did.

It was back to black and white, and a little portable, when I went off to college. The TV perched on top of my dresser, and we girls on the eighth floor of Cone Dorm crowded around it every afternoon at three to watch Luke and Laura work their way through outlandish situations on General Hospital.

TV watching changed in quite dramatic fashion during my college years.

Cable! The breakthrough from channel thirteen to heights theretofore unimagined. HBO! We sat at my boyfriend Will's place for an entire summer and watched endless repeats of Richard Pryor concert movies.

Remote control! We visited Will's grandparents once. They had their TV perched high on a shelf. They sat in their chairs and changed channels from afar! No arguing over whose turn it was to get up. And you could switch from one station to another... instantaneously! No flipping! I sat by myself for a good hour changing channels randomly, just because I could. And my attention span hasn't been the same since.

VCRs! My friend Stan had a VCR. No, I lie. He had one of those video disc players, the first home player of any sort I ever saw. It was very cool, and he argued vigorously that it was the better-quality format, even as videocassettes quickly overtook the market. Then there were those who argued the superiority of the Sony Betamax format to VHS. Whatever, I really couldn't see the difference, and didn't care, and Betamax didn't last too long, anyway. Those Sony people didn't tailor their product to the demands of the market....or something like that. I had more than a couple geeky/techie movie buff friends, for whom movies at home, "on demand" from your local video store, was the Holy Grail of leisure time. Any one of them could argue a side better than I ever could over that issue.

My big issue was now there were "components" to watching television. The TV, and the player. I met Peter in the midst of of the video boom. He, of course, had the TV, the player, and then a second one, so he could dupe tapes. And he routed the audio through the stereo and geez, the stereo had like five, six components....there was the cassette player, the cd burner (sounded painful), the tuner, the equalizer, the pre-amp, and the power-amp. We had cords and wires and breakers and switchers, and, I think, routers. Peter made many good-natured attempts to teach me the ins and outs of our "entertainment system," but try as he might, I'd always have to call him at work if I so much as wanted to play a record.

And the TV. For goodness' sake, we had four remote controls now! What had been a neat novelty was now a daunting hurdle to be overcome.

"I have the picture on Peter, but no sound. what do I do?" Peter usually tried to keep things set so I could turn on the TV in as few steps as possible, but it didn't always work; as often as not, I'd bungle something up. I'd get picture but no sound, or sound, but a blue screen. On the phone, he'd have me rummage through the basket of remotes to find the right one.

And those four remote controls? I should have said four active remote controls. Peter had a penchant for keeping out-of-use remote controls as he occasionally replaced components. Not only did I have to figure out which one I needed, I had to fish it out from a basket of eight or nine. What this meant for me, as often as not, was that if I couldn't reach Peter on the phone, I would just give up, and not watch TV.

I'm not asking anyone to feel sorry for me. I know it was and is my responsibility to keep up with the technology, with the ever-changin' times. But at some point, it just seemed to not be worth the effort. If there was something I wanted to see badly enough, and I was alone, I'd track Peter down somehow, or call the neighbor in to help me. And beyond that....

...well, over the years, while I still hunker in occasionally for a good Food Network fix or a Mayberry Marathon, I've kind of lost interest in TV. It's something to say, now as we're in what I sense might be remembered as another "golden age" of TV dramas, on the good old networks, and on cable. My friends, they all rave about The Sopranos, Lost, CSI-Wherever, Mad Men, Big Love....and I'm sure they're all terrific. But I just can't commit anymore. I have other things I want to do.

Which may, granted, be an issue that extends beyond my TV habits. I want to write more, I want to read more, I want to go more places and do more things and see more people than I used to.

And sometimes I want to sit quietly on the couch and just think.

But I will still stop everything if I stumble on good ol' Lucy.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sudden Death (March 2009)

When somebody big and famous dies suddenly, dies before his or her time, dies in an unusual fashion, or some combination of the three, the world takes notice. Not that it is more tragic for a famous person to die in this fashion than you or me, but when everyone sees it on the news, talks about it at work, and reads the full story in People Magazine the next week, you just can't get away from it. You feed off each other. You talk about it at the "water cooler," you talk about it with your neighbor on the elevator, and you just feel.... bad.

Such was the case with Natasha Richardson. She achieved the trifecta, and it hit people even more because she was a beautiful woman. She was famous--an accomplished actress from an accomplished acting family. She certainly died before her time. age, for Christ's sake. She died after a fall on the bunny slope, suddenly, unusually. A fall similar to a fall any number of well-heeled novice skiers took on the same slope that day. A fall probably not too different from the fall I took when I slipped in the lunchroom on an errant french fry a couple of weeks ago. I probably fell harder than Natasha did, as it was linoleum, not snow. A simple fall. It happens. I was lucky. Or, more accurately, she was supremely unlucky.

It reminded me immediately of two other notable ski-deaths, which coincidentally took place within a week of one another. Ski deaths are inherently unusual. Maybe not as unusual as, say, badminton deaths, but unusual all the same. You can get hurt skiing for sure, but deaths are infrequent. You have to fuck up pretty badly to die.

Michael Kennedy, the scandal-laden son of Robert Kennedy (Kennedy men and teenage babysitters don't mix) died ten years ago, while goofing and tossing around a football on an intermediate ski slope in Aspen. Ran into a tree, broke his head open, severed his spine, and died immediately. Dumb. Tragic too, certainly too high a price for being stupid and reckless on a ski slope. But dumb. Sonny Bono ran into a tree on a ski slope a few days later and died too. Or, actually, off the ski slope. Off piste. Powering between the trees, being a big shot. Oops, missed one. Stay on the slope! It's a rule for a reason!

It surpassed the trifecta, really, that these similar occurrences happened so close to one another. To increase the drama even further for my friend Janet, who thrives on celebrity mishaps and drama, Paul and the kids and I were away on a ski trip, of all things, when these accidents occurred. Out of touch, pre-cellphone. I called her as soon as we returned, and she was reduced to tears at the sound of my voice.

"Oh my God! Oh my God! Are you OK?"

"Of course we are Janet. We had a great time." I stay calm with Janet, trying, somewhat arrogantly, to lead by example. "And how have you been?"

"I've been trying to call you! Isn't it awful what happened to Sonny and the Kennedy boy? Unbelievable. Unbelievable. So sad. So sad."

"Oh yes...I heard something about that. It certainly was sad, and pretty wild that it happened while we were away skiing, of all things."

"Well, that's why I was trying to call you. I was so worried, so worried..."

"I'm sorry, Janet." I conceded. "I knew you'd be upset, and I probably should have tried to call you sooner. But what would we have talked about??"

"Well...." said Janet, "I needed to know if you had heard about the terrible accidents, and whether you planned to come home. I was going to beg you to come home. Skiing is dangerous, and with all that has happened this week..."

"All that has happened this week," I said gently, "didn't make it any more or less dangerous for us this week. It was just a big coincidence they both happened this particular week, and happened while we were in Vermont. You know that. Think about that dopey behavior. We're much more careful than that. We've gone on ski trips before, and we were no more likely to get hurt on this one than on any trip we've been on before..."

She knew, Janet. She did. She worries about her loved ones, goes over the top, but when all is said and done, she can admit it when someone (usually I) calls her on her histrionics. I think she is relieved when I do.

"I know, I know....OK...I'm just glad you're back in town. I don't like it when you're away....So when are we going to the movies??"

Back to business. Crazy accidents happen. Janet stopped and thought for a second, and realized that our family wasn't one which lent itself to falling victim to horrific outcomes, because we were us, we took proper precautions, and....well....we were us.

We're us. We don't just die just like that. We all believe we're above it.

You do, too. C'mon, you do.

Though not too convincing an argument, of course, when you think about someone like Natasha Richardson, who fell in what must have looked like at worst, an ungraceful galumph into the snow. And died. On a family vacation. Just died.

Not being reckless.

Not being dumb.

Just being unlucky. Supremely unlucky.

The kind of accident, which, if you mull it over too much, makes you think twice about even leaving the house. But of course you do, and you can't over-think it. Because shit happens. Shit you can't control and shit you can't let scare you from getting on with life. Terrible shit happens sometimes.

It just does.

It just happens.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Good Leg

"Looking at me and grunting in sympathy doesn't help me any!"

I can appreciate that my dad feels bad when I lift his mobility scooter to hump it into the back of my van. He snorts audibly as I lift the base of that scooter and in one motion land it heavily into my trunk, sort of like the snatch motion in weightlifting. "Careful with that," Dad says.

"Dad, there are two options when it comes to your scooter," I tell him. "Getting it in there, or staying home."

I take it apart into its components, but the main part is still heavy, and that battery is darn heavy, too. And sometimes I break a nail.

I'm glad my dad has a scooter, and I'm glad it enables him to get about. I'm glad he still wants to get about, as he was never the social butterfly. That was Mom's department, and Dad followed along because it made her happy.

Dad had Polio as a child, which paralyzed his right leg from the knee down. The ramifications and surgeries followed him throughout much of his teen years and his twenties. He was hale and hearty otherwise, and nice-looking and smart, so while one can't say the Polio didn't affect his young adult life much at all, one could say that Dad adapted plenty well, and while he was limited in speed, he was limited in little else.

The pronounced limp Dad walked with from the first day I knew him, didn't hinder him too much. He couldn't run, but that was about the only physical difference I could make out between my dad and anyone else's. My dad could go to work, my dad could build furniture, my dad could mow a lawn, my dad could climb a ladder, and my dad could swim in the ocean better than anyone else's dad I knew. He didn't drive; he couldn't flex his ankle to control the foot pedals. He could have had a car rigged to accommodate his special needs, but Mom drove, he reasoned, and "I have no desire to go anywhere without your mother, anyway."

My dad was on TV. I would never in a million years have said that to anyone, because it didn't make him better or more special than anyone else's dad, and I knew that from he get-go. I'd only tell anyone if they happened to ask, "What does your dad do?" But it was cool, and I was proud of him every time I heard him hawking Tide, or Ivory Liquid, or Nissan.

"I'm just selling stuff," he'd say.

We moved out of the city to P'son, and Dad had a whole large-ish yard complete with brook and two waterfalls and an aging farmhouse to deal with. Dad kept the unruly grounds in order, while Mom embraced her inner garden goddess and provided us with all manner of tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini and even okra, which you weren't even supposed to be able to grow outside of the temperate climate.

Dad tamed the unruly banks of our river with only a shovel--the river which overflowed alarmingly into our yard whenever we had a heavy rainfall, or our up-the-hill neighbors opened their dam without notice. He mowed our hilly lawn, first on foot, then a rider mower at my mother's insistence, without fail every week. He had a specific pattern that had to be followed, and no one, he said, could follow that pattern as well as it needed to be, hence, no one ever mowed the lawn but Dad. I always wanted to take that rider mower a few turns around the yard. But no.

"It needs to be done this way, and you don't take it seriously enough."

"You'll tip it over and get hurt."

Dad's lower right leg was missing muscle. It was spindly and lifeless. It was made up for in his left leg which was the leg of a football tackle. All the extra weight, all the extra work that leg had to do to make up for the sick one. The balls of that foot were hard like billiard balls. At one point, the knee of that left leg started to give him trouble. Without wasting time, Dad went straight to the orthopedist and straight into physical therapy. He'd sit on the kitchen counter every afternoon and do his exercises, the lifts and the flexes. "This is the only leg I have," Dad said. "If I lose this one, I'm sunk."

The occasional use of a cane was the first small sign. He downplayed it, and indeed only used it occasionally at first, on a longish walk or if the terrain was uneven. "I don't catch my balance as quickly as I used to," said Dad.

But soon enough, he was using it all the time. Not to worry, I told myself, lots of Dads used canes. And grandpas too, certainly...even more grandpas used canes, and Dad was a grandpa now.

The next transition took place at some point during the the surreal and disorienting period Mom was diagnosed with brain cancer--the surgery, the temporary "recovery," and a few blessed good months before the ultimate recurrence and of course, the ultimate...

All I remember is Dad went into it with a cane, and came out the other side with a walker. And a decidedly slower step.

He moved near us, Dad. He had to. You couldn't live in P'son without a car. There was no car rigged for him to drive, and he was too old to start now. And he had never wanted to go anywhere without Mom, anyway. I would have to do. And it was OK, after a spell.

There was nothing else for it to be but OK.

Dad began joining us on our summer vacations, and it worked out well. We all went to Cape Cod that next summer. In spite of my trepidation that it would be hard to return to the same place where only the previous summer, Dad had called to report that Mom's cancer had returned, it was all right. Dad took that walker and plunked his straw fedora on his head and walked out and sat by Long Pond and did his crossword puzzles and watched the kids swim and admonished me for not using enough sun block. It was business as usual, or as close as it was going to get.

"You know, my knee's not working right," Dad reported a couple of years later, another summer back at The Cape. I asked what he meant. The bad leg?

No. It was the good leg. The good knee. It had served valiantly, taking on lots of extra work, lots of overtime, for its weaker partner. And now it had decided to retire. Overnight, though not really.

Those strong arms of Dad's were called into extra service to take on even more than they had already. The good leg could still prop up Dad's weight, if he planted it carefully. He had to teach himself to to do this, to establish a new walking rhythm, though in an even slower tempo.

"I'm calling the doctor, Dad, he'll refer us to an orthopedist, and we'll..."

"No. No. Let's not" Dad said.

"What? What do you mean? You can barely walk. You can't go on like this, we have to see what can be done to..."

"No. No. I don't think the knee's going to get better. I think I'm damn lucky it's taken me this far."

I wondered what to do. "There's nothing to do," Dad said. "I'll just do what I have to, what else is there to do?"

And he did. If it took him fifteen minutes to get from point A to point B when it took the rest of us fifteen seconds, so be it. If it bothered anybody, it was their problem, not his.

I started paying attention to those Scooter Store commercials. Low-budget commercials, but to the point, and featuring the always-earnest owner of the company as the spokesman, an approach Mom had always liked. "He looks honest, and it looks like a good product," she'd say when one would appear on TV.

Indeed, it did. I contacted the company, and they put me in touch with their local rep. We made an appointment, and he came to our apartment, where I had brought Dad over and we were all eagerly waiting. The rep buzzed the buzzer and I came down, as we'd agreed upon. I had to drive one of the scooters up. He was an outgoing fellow, with a ready smile and handshake and, of course, patter, as all salesmen should be. He and I drove the scooters around the building and into the basement service entrance to the bemusement of all neighbors passing by.

We selected the proper scooter in short order...the right model, the right seat, the right payment plan ("I'll just pay for it now and be done with it," Dad proclaimed) and after Ian took a salesman-sanctioned turn on one model up and down our fourth-floor hallway, the salesman was gone. Within a few days the spanking-new red scooter arrived, with the deluxe padded seat with the arm rests. Perfect.

It sat for a while in Dad's living room. We were all a little stand-offish. Dad wasn't too sure he'd be able to maneuver it properly. I wasn't so sure I'd be able to take it apart and put it back together as easily as they did on TV and as easily as I did it with the salesman. "Oh let's just go somewhere, what's the big deal??" my sister Kat demanded with the certainty and confidence of someone who only addressed these issues occasionally, from afar, and totally at her will.

But we did. Dad and Kat and I went to Cape May. It was the off-season, but we weren't there for sun or sand or boardwalks. We were there to be together for a couple of days and try out this goddamned new contraption and get used to the idea that this thing, this thing that no one wants to have to acknowledge, was in our lives.

Kat, she needed to realized that Dad grows feeble. She sees him less frequently, and it's more of a tiny shock every time, the thinness, the slowness. She doesn't get over as much as she'd like to, and she does feel bad. She built her life elsewhere; I built it closer to "home." And it's OK. My bile rises once in a while, and when it does, I remind myself that when Dad's mom grew old, it was Aunt Babs', Dad's sister, who took on the lion's share of care. And Aunt Babs' bile rose up once in a while, too. It's normal. It's the way life happens.

I take Dad on his rounds, bring him over to dinner, check in. Kat comes up when she can and we take Dad to dinner. We take the occasional weekend somewhere, the three of us. And when we do, she always humps the scooter into my van. I think it makes us both feel better.


Dad once told me that he wanted a pony when he was a little boy. He told me his dad would always respond, "Wiggle those toes, and I'll get you a pony." When I think about my dad, always stuggling to wiggle those toes, it makes me cry.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Window Incident

It must have been summer, because I was home.

Mom had called the window washing service, and they came, the two of them. The older man, she knew from before. Another man, a younger man, came to do the job with him.

It was always exciting when the window washers came. It seemed such a perilous job, hanging from platforms and ropes and harnesses, all for the sole purpose of giving the well-heeled, those affluent enough to afford your services, the privilege of looking out of streak-free glass to whatever lay across their line of sight...Central Park, the Chrysler Building, the New Jersey Palisades.

In our case, it was just other brownstones and an Italian deli. We had four floors of windows in the front and four floors of windows in the back. Not too arduous a task.

They came in and went upstairs to start their work, the younger man in the front and the older man in the back. Mom did her work in the kitchen and I did my work, playing with my toys and following her around. After a spell, Mom took two glasses of ice water up to the top floor of our townhouse. It wasn't "our" floor, it was my dad's bachelor friend Bob's, but we all had access to all of the house.

"Here," Mom said to the older man as she handed the glass through the window to where he perched in his harness, "you must need a drink. Where's your partner? I thought he was up here too, but I didn't see him."

"Yes, he's up here," the older man said. 'He's out in the front."

"I was just there, I didn't see him," Mom said."He's there," the older man said.

"I didn't see him," Mom said.

I watched from window sill level as the older man climbed back in, unhooked his harness, and went with Mom to the front of the house. I followed, unnoticed.

A knot, just a little knot, formed in my stomach.

"See?" she said as they entered the front room of the top floor. It was an empty, unused room, one it felt strange to be in. The wide-open window stared back from the other side.The older man's face clouded. He rushed past Mom to the window, leaned out and looked down.

"Oh My God," he said, and turned and ran out of the room. Mom leaned out and looked down.

"Oh My God," she said, and turned and ran out of the room.

I was left there, alone, and tried a couple of times to jump high enough over the sill, to look down and see what they had just seen. I couldn't.

But I knew.

I turned around. Mom and the older man were gone, halfway downstairs by this point. I should go down too, I thought. But I didn't want to see what they were going down to see.

But I'm a little kid. I shouldn't be on the fourth floor next to an open window by myself. They shouldn't have rushed out so quickly and left me here alone, no matter what they saw down there. They should have dragged me along with them out of the high room with the open window.

Lucky for them I'm a good girl, and not given to doing anything stupid.

I left the room, ran down all the same stairs. I didn't stop to listen or try to find where anyone was. I ran straight down to my room, to my street-level room which faced the tiny courtyard and the street that ran eastward outside our home. I ran in and threw myself toward my bed to hide my head under my pillow. I had to wait out whatever had just happened.

There he lay. Right outside my the window to my room, flush with my bed. The younger man, lying on his back, with his eyes closed and his mouth open.

There he lay, in "my" courtyard, maybe ten-by-eight-feet tops, the tiny courtyard where my friends and I played Cops & Robbers with the help of the tall wrought iron fence. The courtyard when our old-man neighbor, Frank Companagne, wrangled our garbage cans on trash pick-up day, an arrangement Frank finagled out of my folks the day we moved in, in exchange for a few bucks a week. There he lay, in same spot in the same courtyard where my sister and I posed for a photograph that hung on the wall of our living room.

I didn't stay. My little body turned in mid-dive to my bed when I saw the scene outside my window. I ran upstairs to the living room. I didn't know where anyone was. I had no intention of looking. I ran behind the sofa, took a two-second break to marvel that I was able to fit back there, then curled up into a ball.

I heard Mom talking into the kitchen phone, summoning an ambulance. The older man was most certainly outside, tending to his partner. I hoped he didn't try to move him. You aren't supposed to move people who might have a broken neck, or a broken back. Maybe I should go out there and tell him? No, he'd know. Grown-ups knew these things.

What if he's dead? Could he be dead? Right outside my bedroom window?

I kept quiet behind the sofa. I calmed down a little as I listened to the TV. It was the Hollywood Squares. That's good, I liked the Hollywood Squares. I listened to the entire show. Zsa-Zsa Gabor was the Secret Square.

I wondered when someone might start looking for me. I needed someone to help me come out. I couldn't do it alone.

Mom eventually did, a few minutes later. She called for me, and I called from the back of the sofa. I was relieved she finally missed me. There must have been a moment where she thought, "Wait! Where's J?" Though I hoped that moment would have come a little sooner, I knew that Mom, the older man, the ambulance guys, and probably a lot of the neighbors at that point, had their hands full.

He wasn't dead, the younger man. Mom and Dad visited him in the hospital a couple of times, and hired Marianne down the street to babysit when they did. He had some broken bones, but was fortunate enough to be a "karate expert," he told them. He had executed a karate movement on the way down from the fourth floor to the courtyard to "minimize the impact" of his fall. He could have been dead, but his "expertise" saved him.

Then came the lawsuit.

"How did he fall?" I'd asked. "Why is it our fault?"

"He fell," Dad stated emphatically, "because he didn't listen."

"I knew we shouldn't have visited that guy in the hospital," I overheard him grumble to Mom. "I knew this was coming."

I had to ask, and I had to ask Dad.

"Daddy, is the window washer going to be OK?""Yes, Honey, he'll be OK."

"So why is he suing us?"

"He's suing us because he believes it's our fault he fell out of the window."

I asked Dad how the younger man fell out of the window, and Dad explained what happened. There was a window on the top floor of our building, not easily accessed. It was a little window in a little closed-off room. Mom and Dad hadn't wanted to go to the trouble of opening that room and clearing the way for the window washers to wash that window, so Mom had instructed the men not to bother. The younger man decided, anyway, to reach over to that little window from the outside to wash it. He grabbed on to a piece of the concrete cornice of the window, it broke off in his hand, and down he went.

"So, we told him not to clean that window, and he did it anyway?"

"That's right, Honey."

"So why is he saying it's out fault?" I was feeling a little bad for the younger man, who, while he was told not to clean that window, was probably just trying to do a thorough job. He got hurt, but that wasn't our fault, and Mom and Dad were nice enough to go visit him in the hospital, so why was he doing this?

"Honey, I don't think he's blaming us, I think it's this man's lawyer who's blaming us. I think the window washer's lawyer told him that even if it's not our fault he fell out of our window, he could maybe get us to pay him some money...well, because he fell out of our window."

"That's not fair," I said. "You were nice to him after he fell, you visited him in the hospital. Why is he asking for money if it's not your fault?"

Dad might have rolled his eyes a tiny bit, but was silent. How much can you explain to an eight year old?

What he could do was hire Harry Lipsig, who, I learned over twenty years later when I read his New York Times obituary, was known in legal circles as the "King of Torts." Harry Lipsig, among other feats, represented a man whose legs had been crushed by a runaway car with a defective accelerator, and when he was done, the jury awarded twice what he had asked for. Harry Lipsig was known to bring tears to the eyes of juries when he told the dramatic tales of his clients' sufferings. He'd bring tears to his own eyes in order to bring a jury to its knees.

The younger window washer should have had Harry Lipsig. Instead, he had a lawyer, who when faced with Harry Lipsig, folded like a cheap tent.At the time, all I knew was we "won," and didn't have to pay the window washer for falling out of our window.

After more time, I learned that Dad paid a lot of money he could barely afford to secure the services of Harry Lipsig, a man, who, by reputation alone--for that was all it took--kept the young window washer (or his lawyer) from sending us to the poor house.

"Is everyone OK now?" I asked Dad, after the days where he and Mom had to go to court were over. Mom was quietly upset, upset that the nice young man, the one she had gone upstairs to bring ice water to, the one she and Dad had visited in the hospital, would do this to us. Dad was more matter-of-fact about the whole thing--the incident happened, the guy, or his lawyer, tried to get something out of it, and failed.

"Yes, every one's OK now, Honey," Dad said. "It's done."

"I'm glad he's OK," I said.

"Me too, Honey," said Dad.