Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Toilet Papering and French Leather Incident

I was talking with a friend of mine about a week ago and the subject of my dad’s frugality came up. It came in the form of a toilet papering of my house back when I was about 17. The toilet papering turned into a bit of a tricky situation. Especially the fact that during that time in my youth, when discussing the toilet papering incident with my high school friends, I had to leave out a minor detail, out of fear that my friends would keep doing it.

It was a Saturday or Sunday morning, and I woke up to my dad saying in his Dutch accent “Erik! You need to get up and clean the front yard and your car. They’re covered it in Toilet Paper and French Leathers.” French what? I knew what toilet paper was, but what the hell was a “French Leather”?

The sound of my dad’s voice also woke up my older brother Tony. So he came along out to the front yard to see what all the commotion was about. Sure enough, the house, yard and my car were covered in toilet paper, but where in the hell were the “French Leathers?” When I got to my car to inspect more closely, I saw that it was also decorated with condoms. At that point, I knew what a “French Leather” was. I think the perpetrator must have wasted a whole jumbo fun pack on my car and the house.

While looking at the mess, our neighbor Jim from across the street walked over to give us a report of what happened. Jim was a former Green Beret or Commando or some type of Special Forces. He was always up late at night screwing around with something. Having Jim around was kind of like having your very own neighborhood security guard who knew how to kill people. What he had in killer instinct, he lacked in common sense, because sometimes he worked on his car around midnight. However, he was approachable and if you asked him to put off working on his car until the next day, he would easily oblige.

Apparently while doing something late at night he noticed what was going on around our house. So he apprehended the perpetrators about when they finished soiling our house and my car with toilet paper and “French Leathers.” “I took care of them” he said “It was a blond guy and his girlfriend. They drove a Mercury Tracer, and I put the scare of meetin Jesus in them. Don’t think they’ll be coming back any time soon.” I knew a blond guy who drove a Mercury Tracer. It was Bruce Barker and his girlfriend Shauna (RIP). Those two were like two peas in a pod. Damn Them!

After Jim left, Tony and I got straight to cleaning up the place. We cleaned it up fairly quickly and made a large mound of toilet paper on the front lawn. When my dad came outside to see our progress, he saw Tony and me about to get started on placing the toilet paper into the trash can. He put an immediate stop to it sayin, “Godverdomme! What are you doing?”

“We’re throwing the toilet paper away” Tony responded.

“No! It’s still good” my dad replied.

Wait a minute. What? What did he just say? Utter disbelief came over Tony and me. What the hell was my dad thinking? We’re not wiping our asses with that paper! No! No! No! This can’t be happening! We knew our dad was frugal, but this was downright ridiculous. Damn you Bruce and Shauna and damn my dad’s prison camp instincts! How are we going to get out of this situation?

A funny aspect about my dad was that a lot of the time, if it really wasn’t a big deal and it was out of his sight, he would forget about it. My mom would often throw old shirts of his away without his knowledge. If he knew about, he would protest, and if he didn’t, he was none the wiser.

So Tony and I took on this strategy. First, we obeyed our father, who now according to the Catholics, art in heaven. Then we waited a couple of weeks and put it in the trash, right under the kitchen waste, the evening before the trash pickup. It needed to be under the kitchen waste, just as a precaution. Because knowing our luck, my dad would decide to throw some last minute stuff away right before the trash got picked up. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Double thankfully he didn’t make us save those “French Leathers.”

We never did hear about it again, which was a good thing. Yes, my dad was frugal, but really only for himself. I said it before and I’ll say it again. He wouldn’t give you the shirt off of his back because it was too worn down. He’d buy you a new one. He would spend a load of money on a stranger, but nothing on himself. That being said, I still wasn’t going to wipe my butt with that paper, and I wasn’t going to tell my friends what my dad did. If they knew what he did, they would have risked getting killed by Jim to decorate our house with toilet paper and “French Leathers” on a nightly basis.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Thank You Oom Hemme

“Godverdomme, twee vingers!” my Oom Hemme (Uncle Herman) said to me after I poured him a beer with no suds. Translated to English he said, “Goddammit, two fingers!” He wasn’t mad. He was just a little disappointed because he wasn’t going to fully enjoy his beer. So Oom Hemme took this opportunity to teach me a valuable lesson about enjoying beer. In order to fully appreciate a beer, it needs two fingers of head, and a good beer will hold it. This wasn’t the first lesson Oom Hemme taught me, it wasn’t the last, but it was definitely one of my favorites. Now I find myself disappointed when I get no head, on my beer.

I got the call from my mom on Monday in the morning right before I dropped Xander off for school. Oom Hemme had passed away from the cancer that was eating away at him. After that call one memory after another began shooting through my head. I would try to focus on one and then another one would appear and then another in no real order turning into a bit of a sporadic ramble of memories. While driving to work with all of these jumbled memories of him, I got cut off by a gray Prius with a sticker that read “Ass Family.” According to the family description, “Smart Ass” was driving. That was the first time that being cut-off made me laugh and smile. Oom Hemme was good at making me laugh and smile, and there are not many memories I have of him where he wasn’t smiling or laughing.

Oom Hemme was a daring person. I think he got that from his childhood, during WWII. As a 10 year old, he would jump on slow moving trains and make his way over to the cart containing the coal. When the train would go over a bridge, he would start pushing a lot of the coal over into a boat that he and his friends placed under the bridge to collect what they would push over. That was pretty gutsy considering the consequences if caught. However, the alternative was freezing to death. He did what he had to do, and that should be commended. He was brave as a child and fearless as a man.

Oom Hemme was the youngest at heart adult I’ve ever known, and I think his friends never really acted their ages either. Because the last time he was in California, I noticed he had a scar on his head. When I asked him where he got it, he mentioned that he and his bicycle club friends would set up bike rides and with specific bars to stop at. By the end of the day, they would usually be a little too tipsy to be riding their bikes and his scar was evidence of one of these bike rides. Mind you, he was in his 70s doing this. He was also still playing soccer, skiing and golfing at that age too.

When I think of Oom Hemme, I think of a good beer being shared amongst family and friends, telling jokes and playing cards. Much like my grandfather, Oom Hemme loved playing cards. He always brought a new game to the table and would gladly and patiently teach us how to play. I remember many nights’ playing cards with him, my mom and my brothers. It was always so much fun.

He was the one who first really introduced me to beer. I was at the tender age of 12 when he mixed me some Grolsch and 7 up, which if I remember correctly is referred to as a sneeuwwitje (Snow White, pronounced sney yu wicha). It was like beer with training wheels, and I loved it! I don’t think I would care to drink it now, but at the time, I thought it was the coolest. I felt like I fit in around the card table, drinking my sneeuwwitje.

Back in the late 80s, my brother Tony and I practically spent a whole summer at Oom Hemme’s and my Tante Jose’s (Pronounced Yosay; Aunt Josie’s) house in Denekamp, Netherlands. At the time, both my brother and I didn’t want to go, but my parents wanted to go on their own little vacation without any children. They thought it would be a good opportunity for Tony and me to get to know Holland. So they shipped us out for the summer.

I know not wanting to go made me seem like I was an ungrateful little brat and I have to agree with you. I think I was. But over the years, I started to really appreciate that time I spent in Denekamp and Europe, and I grow more upset at myself for not taking more advantage of it. Because I learned a lot from that time and quite a bit of it was from Oom Hemme. Being that he didn’t speak English too well, and I didn’t speak Dutch well at all, our communication was always flawless. We always found a way to talk.

During that time Oom Hemme and Tante Jose introduced Tony and me to not just the culture of Holland, but the culture of Europe. For instance, upon our arrival to northern Italy, Oom Hemme pointed out that there is not an Italian man over 50 who doesn’t have a large belly. At first I was a little offended by my uncle’s stereotyping of the Italian people. But then, after driving around some small town for a bit, I noticed that he had something there. I did not see one skinny old Italian man. They all had guts. He said it was due to eating all of that pasta.

Speaking of pasta, I remember this one instance in Italy where I caused a young blond Italian woman with large breast to scream as if she were being stabbed to death. Oom Hemme, Tante Jose, Tony and I were beginning dinner at a quaint little restaurant in the small northern Italian town. I have no idea what the others ordered, but I ordered spaghetti. When I started cutting my spaghetti with a knife, I heard this loud shrill come from behind me. I honestly thought somebody was killing a woman behind our table. Turned out, every time I cut through the pasta, the waitress felt a stab in her heart.

To save herself from a mental break down, she raced over to teach me the proper way of eating pasta. Twirl the fork into the spoon. After doing this a few times and stuffing my face with mounds of pasta, I felt it was a rather messy way of eating pasta, so I went back to the fork and knife. I think it made her mad. But hey, why did they give me a knife in the first place? I think that whole little escapade really amused Oom Hemme, because he was smirking the whole the time.

On that trip, I remember hiking with Oom Hemme, Tante Jose and Tony. Oom Hemme and Tante Jose didn’t think we could keep up with them on account that Tony and I were not properly dressed for hiking. Yet, Tony and I thought that tennis shoes, shorts and a t-shirt worked just fine in San Gabriel’s, why wouldn’t they work in the Alps?

The way he described the trail, we thought we were in for a major hike. However, Oom Hemme’s attire didn’t seem too rugged to handle the hike that he described either, because he had funny looking shoes with funny socks and knickerbockers to match. All he needed was the suspenders, the shirt and a long horn to blow and he could’ve been casted in a Ricoli commercial. Back then, I don’t think you could’ve gotten me to wear a hiking outfit like that, but now I totally would.

When we finally arrived to the trail, Tony and I started snickering. Our shoes were going to be just fine. This trail looked more like a fire road. Tony seemed a bit insulted by this too. As a result, he took off to prove that this trail was nothing compared to the San Gabriel Mountain trails that we would hike with our dad. In about a half hour, Tony became a speck in the distance. I on the other hand, hung back with Oom Hemme and Tanta Jose and just took in the landscape.

During that hike, while taking a short cut through a pasture in these gorgeous Austrian Alps after we finally caught up to Tony, Oom Hemme told me not to look into the eyes of the cows which we were passing by, because that might entice them to charge. That freaked me out. I could see the headlines, “Young Stupid American Tourist Trampled by Cows.” So I walked briskly across the pasture and barely even glanced at the cows. I don’t know if he was pulling my chain, but to this day, I will not look a cow in the eye.

It was a beautiful time, and it was quite generous to let us share a summer with them in Europe. It’s funny how some summers fly by and you can’t tell one apart from another, and other summers stay with you as distinct and separate memories. The same goes with people. Some people are hard to decipher from one another, while others characteristics and charm etch themselves into your heart.

Thank You Oom Hemme.

Monday, March 21, 2011

My Dad's First Headstone.

It was a Saturday morning about 10 years ago. I arrived at my parent’s house. My mom was home, but my dad was out. She was in the kitchen making some croquettes (a delicious Dutch treat). I walked into the kitchen, greeted her and asked her where dad was. She smiled and said, “Picking up his headstone.”

The confused look on my face prompted her to explain, which she reluctantly did. She told me that one of her co-worker’s daughters had died and they didn’t have enough money to take care of all of the expenses. So being that my mom and dad had a couple of plots at Oakdale Memorial in Glendora, my parents thought it would be a good idea to donate one of them to her co-worker.

Apparently at Oakdale Memorial (I don’t know if all graveyards do this) they store the prepurchased headstones on the prepurchased plots. So my parents headstones were already there, with their dates of birth etched into them. Since my dad’s headstone had a type-o (Or is it an etch-o?), they decided to remove his headstone and use his plot. It was a very nice gesture by my parents, and my mom’s humility made her rather uncomfortable talking about it. But it still didn’t quite explain why he was picking up his headstone.

So she explained further that the error on my dad’s headstone was fixed, but since they could no longer store it on the original plot, they had no place to put it. You would think they would have had some sort of storage area for them, but apparently they didn’t. That or my dad was too frugal to pay for storage. So they called my dad and asked him to pick it up. After my mom explained all of that, an evil thought popped into my head. What if my dad got into a car accident and died? Talk about being prepared. I mentioned it to my mom, and our sick minds started laughing. It was horrible, yet funny at the same time.

When my dad arrived home, he saw that my car was there and recruited me to help him move his headstone into the garage. We went to the back of his Explorer and opened up the back lift gate. There, lying on the carpet was the newly edited headstone that read “Anthony M. Jansen, April 6, 1936 to ___________.” It was a rather haunting site.

“Can you get the dolly?” my dad asked. I did just that and when I got back to the Explorer, we lifted the heavy headstone onto the dolly. We then proceeded to roll the dolly, with headstone in tack, to the back entrance of the garage.

While rolling the dolly, I mentioned to my dad, “This has got to be one of the most morbid things I have ever done in my life.”

Annoyed my dad replied “Your mom and her fucking ideas!” This reply said it all. He loved my mom, but sometimes her ideas would put him in odd situations, and this one topped them all. When we got into the garage, my dad pulled out a piece of cardboard. We place the headstone on the cardboard, and wrapped it up. We then placed it under his work bench for safe keeping. I felt it needed a little more before we placed it in its final resting spot, like a benediction and a sprinkling of holy water. Maybe even a serenading with a Gregorian Chant during this whole process would have been appropriate, but much to my dismay, none of these things happened.

Over the years I and my brothers would mess with my dad about the headstone, but he didn’t really care that his mortality was in the garage. It didn’t seem to faze him. Sadly, when my father actually did pass, we were not able to use this headstone. My parents purchased two more plots at Forest Lawn, and Forest Lawn requires a special type of stone for their markers. Apparently their soil can only use a certain type. I have my own opinions about that, but I’ll leave that be, because quite frankly, aside from that, Forest Lawn was and is spectacular. They are a class act.

The end result is we still have a headstone with my father’s name and birth date on it in the garage at my parent’s house. So, does anybody need a headstone?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Young Rock God (WARNING: This contains a lot of profanity…and I mean A LOT of profanity. My mom might disown me after reading this.)

When I was in the first or second grade, I was totally into Heavy Metal. I loved Van Halen, The Scorpions, Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osborne and a lot of other Heavy Metal acts. During that same period, I was a deeply religious young lad too and often felt conflicted with the music I loved and the rumors of possible Satan worship that went along with it. I never really cared for KISS, but the possibility that KISS was an acronym for Kids In Satan’s Service scared the bejesus out of me. Contrary to KISS, I loved AC/DC, but being that their moniker was suggested to be Against Christ / Devils Control put me into a personal conflict of epic proportions.

Because I loved Heavy Metal so much, I wanted to be the next David Lee Roth. So I quickly got started on my Heavy Metal career by writing lyrics. I loved the music of Satan but wasn’t going to be lured into worshiping him. So my lyrics were a bit different. I decided to remedy this internal conflict by writing lyrics about how I felt about this eternal struggle between Good and Evil or God and Satan. Now there are actual Christian Heavy Metal bands who sing about this. I guess they may have felt the same way when they were young too or maybe they just feel that way now.

At that time I believe I wrote a ton of lyrics, but there is only one that I remember today. I remember it because much like my love for Heavy Metal and God, it was a bit of a contradiction. (Or at least back then it seemed like Heavy Metal and God contradicted each other.) Sometimes I actually find myself singing this song in my head while I’m doing chores around the house. I don’t remember what I titled it or the meat of the lyrics either. I just remember the chorus. It was “Fuck You Devil! Hell Sucks!” Basically, I would sing the “Fuck You Devil” part and right after that the imaginary band would chime in and sing the rest, kind of like this “Hellllll Suuuuooucks!” All together, sing it one time now. “Fuck You Devil. Helllll Suuuoouks!”

I thought it was kind of catchy. At the time I loved it. I was so proud of it. So much so, that I sang it to my older brother Tony, who was also into the Heavy Metal. However, if I remember correctly, he felt I needed to tone it down a bit. So he offered his suggestion of “Damn You Satan” instead of “Fuck You Devil.” I didn’t like it. I couldn’t compromise my artistic integrity and true feelings for the comfort of the masses. No siree Bob. The message was loud, clear and straight to the fuckin point. If you were offended by my words, then that was too fuckin bad. I felt like giving the Devil the fuckin finger and I was gonna fuckin do it.

Now, you’re probably wondering, why the fuck is a first or second grader using such foul language? Well, I learned these naughty words at a young age, partly because the street I lived on had lots of older kids and partly because my dad cussed like a fucking sailor. My mom would truly try to stop it. Bless her heart. But it didn’t matter what the punishment was, I would still cuss a lot. Those naughty words where like gold to me. I didn’t care how much Zest or Dial went into my mouth. I was not about to give up the F word for anyone or for any reason. It just sounded so fucking cool. Sadly, I have yet to be completely cured of my potty mouth. I will often hear my wife Janie say “Erik! Filter!” when she hears me use them during a conversation. Old habits are hard to fuckin break.

When I think back to when I was that young, it cracks me up. It wasn’t just me who was into the Heavy Metal. The neighborhood kids loved it too. We didn’t want those cream puffs Tommie Tutone, Rick Springfield or Toto. We wanted our music to have some motha fuckin balls. We wanted Ronnie James Dio, Judas Priest and Krokus.

Often, we would play air band to Van Halen in the garage too. I of course would play the part of Diamond Dave, Tony would be Eddie, Aaron Walsh would be Michael Anthony and David Mesic would be Alex. We would make guitars out of cut up card board boxes and plastic wiffle ball bats. Mesic’s drum set was actually made out of floor jacks and not so cut up card board boxes. I remember pissing Mesic off once attempting a Diamond Dave jump, because I landed on his drum set and broke it all up. Fucking cry baby.

Back when I was first dating Janie, she found some evidence of my dream of being a rock star. The evidence was in the form of a stack of my second grade pictures. They were all autographed by yours truly. Shit, my imagination back then was boundless. I often wish I could tap into that kid, because he was fucking funny. I guess that’s why I still find myself singing that lyric in my head. The boldness of it cracks me up, but the honesty and the innocent ignorance still makes me fucking smile.

“Fuck You Devil! Hellll Suuuoouks!”