She sat there on that pumpkin-orange corduroy chair against the wall next to the breakfront that was full of Japanese “mementos” (blades in sheathes that were too big to be knives but too small to be swords, a tea set, saki jars of various sizes) and Jewish collectables (Seder plates, kiddish cups, and a couple never-used laverim). We were watching 60 Minutes. I was doing the crossword in my favorite brown comfy chair, my late grandfather’s chair-I must have inherited his taste for simple pleasures.
“What’s the sixth Hebrew month, Grandma?”
“What?” She had a black Twizzler hanging out of the side of her mouth that she chewed as she spoke.
“The sixth Hebrew month,” I shouted. She looked at me like I was crazy, her cataract left eye drooping slightly lower and redder than her right.
“Hebrew for what?”
“Never mind.” 8 down remained blank.
“Oh, the Yankees!” Grandma shouted gleefully. I looked up to the TV. Replays of Alex Rodriguez’s game-tying home run ran as a commercial for the playoffs. Grandma was smiling. “That Derek Jeter. He’s my favorite. And so handsome.” She sounded like a swooning schoolgirl.
“That’s A-Rod, Grandma.”
“What?” The volume was maxed on the television. I don’t know why I bothered. “Is it too loud?” Grandma asked. Of course it was too loud, I couldn’t hear myself think.
“No, it’s fine,” I lied, before returning to the crossword.
“What’s the score?” Grandma asked.
“It’s just a commercial, Grandma.”
“IT’S A COMMERCIAL,” I shouted over the blaring TV. She nodded, still smiling, but I knew she hadn’t heard me. 60 Minutes came back on. They were doing a special on swine flu. A high school football player had collapsed on the field after coming down with the sickness. He was in critical condition due to a secondary staph infection. Scott Pelley was interviewing the family as they stood outside the hospital bedroom:
“And he was fine before the game?” he asked the father.
“Perfectly fine,” the father answered. He had a strong southern drawl.
“And then what?”
“Then he came home. He said he felt a little sick and was going to take a shower. When he came down from the shower all the color had drained from his face. We had-” Scott cut him off.
“How did he look?”
“He was pale gray. He looked weak. I knew we had to call an ambulance. Before the ambulance came, his coach stopped by. The last thing he said while he was conscious was-,” the father choked on a tear, but continued after stifling it with masculinity. “The last thing he said was, ‘I don’t think I’ll be able to play tomorrow, Coach.” He put a thumb and forefinger to his eyes and turned from Scott. “I’m sorry,” he said between sniffles.
Grandma cut in. “I don’t like you in the city surrounded by that swine flu,” she said emphasizing “swine flu.” “Riding the subways and on the trains. You can’t trust anyone.”
“I’ll be fine, Grandma.”
“I don’t know. I worry so much.”
“I know, Grandma.” Another piece of licorice was dangling from her mouth. She sneezed and some black flecks of candy sprayed across the living room. I cringed. “I think I’d be safer in the city,” I thought to myself before saying loudly, “Tzu gesunt.” She sneezed again. “Tzu lebn,” I added.
“Thank you,” she nodded gratefully. She took her Russian superstitions seriously-sneezing and whistling in the house (which she would have none of) held more spiritual connotations to her than I would ever know.
Andy Rooney came on after another Yankee’s commercial. I put down the crossword.
“What’s the deal with everyone complaining about sleep,” Andy started, his old jowls jingling slightly as he spoke. “A recent sleep study at Johns Hopkins found that the average American isn’t getting enough sleep nowadays. I must not be an average American. I can sleep anywhere, anytime.” The network put together a video montage of Andy sleeping in the various rooms at work. “I was on the bus the other day and when I realized I was three streets past my stop. I had to get out and walk back because I had fallen asleep in the seat.”
His rant about sleep came to a close after some more images and videos. He ended with an “I’m just lucky I haven’t fallen asleep during 60 Minutes yet.” I chuckled at Andy, shaking my head. “I only watch 60 Minutes for An-,” I started, but as I turned toward Grandma I stopped. Grandma was passed out in the chair holding her reading glasses. The programming schedule was in her other hand resting on her lap. She snored gently, but I couldn’t hear because of the TV. A black Twizzler hang out of the side of her mouth swaying slightly with each breath. “Elul,” I remembered out of nowhere. I filled in 8 down. When I looked back up, Grandma had awoken. She stared at the TV like nothing had happened. I chuckled to myself.
Part 1 | Part 2