Whenever I call my father he answers the phone as if he were in the middle of a raucous party. I picture red-faced guests holding plastic cups and the stereo blasting the Eagles. But probably, he's doing something more mundane - trying out a new recipe for chicken and wild rice soup maybe or puttering around the house with his dog (who may be dressed in any one of the pink confection numbers my dad's girlfriend has purchased for her.)
“Hey!” he shouts with glee. “Which one is dis?” My dad has not yet mastered caller ID but knows by the prefix that one of his daughters is probably on the line. He is a born and raised south side original and talks with that wonderful mixture of old Irish immigrant and blue collar Chicago that Saturday Night Live parodied in the 1990’s.
“It’s me Dad,” I say.
“Oh, de old one!” He jokes.
For this call, I am trying to pin down a funny story about him to write for a book submission.
“A funny story about me?” he laughs. “Ach…I haven’t been funny in a long time. I’d have ta think.” There is a pause in our conversation where I’m pretty sure I hear him clipping his toenails. He has this thing about his feet, especially his toes. He has impossibly small feet and, throughout my childhood, seemed obsessed with grooming them. He left tiny moon-shaped fingernails sprinkled across the house like snow.
“How about when you dress up in green zoot-suits and attend White Sox games with your friends? That's kind of funny. What's that all about?”
“Da Green Brothers?”
“Yeah, why do you do that?”
“Oh you know how guys are,” he says.
I have no idea what that means.
Earlier in the day I’d called my sister Leah to mine her memory for funny stories about dad. She said the original idea for Da Green Brothers was a play on the characters from the Blues Brothers except these guys were Irish so they were Da Green Brothers.
“I don’t get it,” I say.
“I know,” my sister says helpfully.
She pauses. “He gets lost a lot,” she offers.
“Yeah,” I say, thinking his regular excursions into the Northern suburbs of Chicago looking for his daughter’s homes and hoping to just get lucky somehow; to simply remember a street or a landmark, is sort of funny. But is that a story?
Back on the phone with my father I ask, “How about how you always read joke books in the bath?”
“Oh yeah,” dad laments. “But we got dis new plumbing system and now I can’t get da right drip ta keep da bathwater warm. I used ta get my best reading done in der,” he sighs.
There is another short break in our conversation while I picture my dad crammed into a cold tub shivering with a paperback. That's pretty funny.
“Leah says you made her laugh with some tale about how you and your eleven brothers and sisters used to collect cans around the neighborhood to raise enough money to get into the movies,” I say. “What about that?”
“Oh ya know,” I can imagine him shaking his head as he remembers. “We was just a bunch of hooligans.”
Though many of them grew up to be Chicago cops and firemen, they are still truly a bunch of hooligans. They’re also each other’s best friends, loud and drunk and either brawling or shouting, “I love ya!” at every gathering. And there are A LOT of gatherings. With twelve of them, twenty-one of their adult children and countless grandchildren, every week is someone’s birthday, christening, wedding or baby shower. When Dad turned sixty, my sister and I booked an entire floor at the American Legion for his party.
“What about how you bought Leah and I used cars in college? Mine was that Dodge Daytona hatchback with the racing stripes across the sides? I was a twenty one year old college girl and you bought me a racecar. That’s funny.”
“Ach dose beaters? Yer sister’s cost two thousand dollars and yers was one thousand. Yers lasted longer and you could fit all yer girl stuff in da back.” He draws out the word girl emphasizing the difference between himself and his alien girl-daughters. I let him get away with it even though he was the one who bought me my first lipstick. I hadn’t asked for it, he just knew from my pawing through my stepmother’s giant box of cosmetics, that it was time.
“How about your quirks?” I am becoming desperate. My father is hilarious but I can’t think of one defining story to pin down or illuminate his character. “Like getting lost?”
“Yeah, I get lost a lot,” he admits. “But that ain’t funny ta me,” he jokes.
Since we’re on the subject, Dad asks me for directions to the theater my children are performing in this weekend.
“You’ve been there five times dad,” I point out.
“Yeah, but all those damn streets in your town look da same. Listen, I’m gonna think about it an I’ll let ya know if I come up with anything funny.”
“OK dad,” I say.
“I love ya!” he returns to his boisterous party voice as he signs off.
“I love you too dad.” I’m thinking this wonderful, warm and quirky guy I just talked to is a gift I’d like share. I just wish I could think of a funny story about him.
Dad, on a recent trip to Vegas.