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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Pineapple Man

So, at present, 190 people "follow" this blog. But, I suspect that maybe forty people actually read it. Probably fewer. I'm a bit embarrassed to say how many people I actually believe really read it. I'm not quite that secure in myself yet. I do sometimes wear purple shirts, though.

On Facebook, I have 321 friends. I think we all know that this is no more an accurate representation of how many friends I have in actual, tangible life than the number of followers I can proclaim on Blogger. Friendship is a touchy subject in the Apron household. Mrs. Apron and I are admittedly a bit light in the friendship department. We're both a little socially awkward-- Mrs. Apron claims that I'm much better at compensating for my deficiencies than she, and sometimes I agree. After all, I've never thrown up on anybody at a social gathering, or shouted "NIGGER!" during a theatrical event, and I've thusfar successfully resisted the urge to lick the face of many a comely young waitress when dining out.

While these are all definite pluses in my favor, I still have rather a dearth of friends. A have a couple old ones, and a couple new ones, but that space between is a bit, well, vacant. Because I eschew smalltalk, socializing with coworkers, and being outside of my house in general, I have tended to isolate myself, and I do realize that it is mostly my doing. The friendships that I do have are intense, and sometimes the other party just isn't interested in maintaining such intensity, and I can respect that. We are not a culture of intensity anymore, I don't think. We're pretty flip, pretty cas, pretty, um, superficial at times. And that just is what it is. Most people either willingly adapt, or find themselves forced to do so. I don't know if I've decided which way I'm going to go yet myself.

Funnily enough, what I am finding these days is that the friends I do have are hovering around my parents' age, and a few are a bit older. This is what happens, invariably, when a relatively young person joins, and then becomes president of, a Gilbert & Sullivan society.

I love my old friends. When my wife and I got married four (eeeep!) years ago, a quartet of my G&S friends sang a medley of wedding-related Gilbert & Sullivan songs prior to my wife being walked down the aisle by her parents. "Brightly Dawns the Wedding Day" from "The Mikado", "Hail the Bride of Seventeen Summers" from "Ruddigore", "Comes the Pretty Young Bride" from "The Yeomen of the Guard" set the mood just perfectly, and it let the folks sitting on both sides of the aisles know that this wasn't just any old cookie cutter affair. And the voices of our friends, three out of the four well into their sixties, melded together just beautifully.

Another friendship I have is with a sixty-something-year-old Hawaiian man, with whom I serve on another non-profit board. When I was a teenager, I went to summer camp with his two daughters, but, as life would have it, I lost touch with them and became friends with him. Michael is an engineer and does I.T. things that I don't understand, even when explicitly explained to me by him. Michael is very good at lots of things, but the one thing he isn't very good at is communicating with a human being whose intelligence and ability to comprehend complex verbiage is beneath his own. I once borrowed Michael's van to pick up some huge theatrical spotlights and Michael warned me that one of the sliding doors on the van was "recalcitrant."

"Ah," I said, "you mean 'broken.'"

"Yes," Michael replied, "in layman's terms, I suppose, yes, it's broken."

While Michael often communicates like a computer, he has a heart of pure gold. He builds all the sets for the children's performing arts center where I used to work, just getting reimbursed for materials. His ability to imagine and then create is truly outstanding, and he builds everything in his basement. Knowing and believing that Michael can do anything, Mrs. Apron asked him one day if he could take a look at our antique bed that had an unfortunate habit of collapsing.

He spent all day at our house, even driving to Lowe's to buy wood and bracing materials, and he rigged he fucking hell out of our bed. He explained everything that he was doing, using complex geometrical terms, and I just nodded my head-- pretending I understood what he was going on about. Sometimes, though, I would just cut him off and say, "Just tell me where to hold the wood, Michael."

To thank him for helping save our bed and our marriage, we bought Michael a heavy-duty floor protecting pad for a snowblower that his daughter had bought him for his birthday that he wouldn't stop talking about. He was very touched. When we moved into our house, he had bought us a Ryobi starter kit, complete with saw and screwgun and auxilliary battery. Slowly, I was starting to realize we were friends, rather than Michael just being the dad of two girls I went to camp with many years ago.

So I shouldn't have been surprised when he called me a couple of weeks ago to ask me for a favor. His parents, who are very frail and elderly, had been in deteriorating health for some time. They were living in their native Hawaii until three years ago, no longer able to live independently. Michael and his wife moved them up here, into their basement, which they had completely remodeled, making a full bathroom down there as well as temperature-controlled living and sleeping areas. As their health worsened, Michael began making plans for them to move to an assisted living facility. Michael's father, Jack, served in WWII, making him automatically eligible for a bed at the V. A., when one was available. Jack's wife, Harriet, assisted in the war effort, and, after filing lots of papers and some wrangling, Harriet qualified for veteran's status, and, since there are not nearly as many women as men applying for spots at the V. A. retirement home, Harriet got accepted first.

"I was wondering if you would be able to pick my dad up from the V. A. a couple times on the week of the 18th. My wife and I are out-of-town and he wants to go spend every day with her. I have coverage for the mornings, getting him there, but I need someone to pick him up three days that week. Can you do that?" Michael asked me.

"Of course I can," I said.

And so, on Monday night, I drove to the V. A., arriving at 7:30pm, and found Harriet in her wheelchair next to the nurses' station with Jack standing behind her. They're both small, gray-haired, stooped over, Asian. Michael's wife, Sally, calls them "The Twins."

"Are you his grandson?" the Indian nurse behind the station asked me.

"No," Jack said, "he is my ride. If he doesn't take me, I have to walk 25 miles home." This is very humorous, because Michael told me that his father's limit is "200 yards."

Jack shuffled into Harriet's room to get our her pajamas and her Depends ready for her for the evening. As Jack got her things ready, I stood looking at the Xeroxed family photographs tacked up on the wall. There was Michael and Sally on their wedding day, draped in Hawaiian flowers, Michael's hair was completely black. There were pictures of their daughters and their beaus, pictures of Jack and Harriet in younger days.

"What handsome people," I remarked to Jack, "you're a lucky man."

"Well," he said, opening the closet, "I hope so, anyway." He pulled out several little bags and handed them to me. "Here, we do not eat so much food. All they do is give you food here. Please, take this." Little bags of Herr's potato chips, a chocolate Tastykake, and two small pretzels, formerly soft pretzels, now as hard as bricks.

"Thank you, Jack."

On the way out to the car, Jack missed the curb and pitched forward, and I caught him, my heart almost in my mouth.

"I'm okay," he said. "A very long day."

On the way to Michael's house, he told me all about the jobs that he had held.

"Before the War, I worked for The Pineapple Company, (he didn't specify which one, so I just assumed there only was one in Hawaii at that time, hence the capitalization) and after the war, I work for them again, for a long time. I was an engineer. Then, this Chinese multimillionaire call me and tell me I going to work for him, work on buildings made of pre-stressed concrete.

"This guy made a fortune with a stand selling ice cream on the beach to tourist. Also, he own a lot of property. He buy a Chevrolet/Oldsmobile dealership, and a shopping plaza for $30, $40 a square foot, people say, 'You crazy!' But then, later, he sell it for $80 a square foot. He and I build biggest shopping plaza in Waikiki-- $2.7 million dollar. He build the only revolving restaurant in Waikiki-- it run on a one horsepower motor, unbelievable. Only revolving restaurant in Hawaii. He have a temper. I was a timid man when I first went to work for him. And he say, "Jack, put some balls on." He always call me up and scream at me. Every other word out of his mouth was the F-word. He want me to do some things some way I didn't think was right.

"One day, his son-in-law have a judgment against him, and I went to the lawyer to go clean it up, and he call me there at the lawyer office and say, 'Why the fuck you there without ask me first?' And I say, 'My job is to fix problems, and your son-in-law have a big problem.' And he scream and yell at me-- he was in the hospital all the time-- and I hang up the phone and stand up and say to the lawyer, 'This is the last time you will ever see me here again.' And I went right to the office, he wasn't there, he never there, and I gave the secretary all my master keys.

"I was taught in Catholic school, until college, it was all Catholic. I was taught by the Brothers. They were very strict, and you always know you have to do some things in life to get ahead, but you have to have a code. Some things you just can't do.

He and I still talk, though, that Chinese millionaire. He 94 now. I just sent him a card, actually. No hard feeling."

When we pulled up at Michael's driveway, I walked him up the outside stairs to the house. 3 steps. Jack pitched forward against the outside wall with each step, and I held onto him, gripping his upper arms for all I was worth, more terrified than I'd ever been on any ambulance transport, because this was no patient, this was my friend's father. This was an architectural engineer. This was a WWII veteran. This was the pineapple man.

In the foyer of the house, we shook hands.

"Thank you for bringing me home," Jack said. "It's hard to be away from her. We are married sixty years. I never realized that getting old would be such a... problem."

"I'll see you Thursday, Jack," I croaked, turning away from him, my throat thick.

God save the pineapple man.


  1. thank you.

    (i'm 28 and am the same about friends...)

  2. this is sweet, mr. apron. and you're right, friendships are rather superficial nowadays. i've got my trusted group of friends i see relatively often.. the rest of the time, it's just me and Tori. and i prefer it that way. i think. right?

  3. i follow, and actually do read your blog. i kinda forget when i put you on my google reader list, but it was around the time i started following colleen (collology). i went to grade school/high school with her. i just browsed her followers one day and there you were.

    you remind me a lot of what my brother would write, if he kept a blog. he is *almost* as irreverent as you. and it's fantastic.

  4. what a touching post. reminds me of why i prefer (working with) elders to (working with) crazies.


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