That Wail In The Elevator Came From My Grandfather

Dear Michael and Caroline,

My Poppa lies in a bed at Mount Sinai Hospital, on Fifth Avenue at 105th Street. He’s gone pale, his head tilted to the side on the pillow, the IV in his arm. He has cancer of the throat and he’s dying.

I’m 29 years old and my grandfather Sheft means the world to me. He took me to Yankee Stadium in 1960, my first trip there. I slept in a bed with him during Christmas vacations as a kid. He took me to his office across from Grand Central Terminal.

How can he die?

He always called me “Bobby boy,” always cheerfully.

“Hello, Bobby boy!” he would boom.

He always seemed glad to see me. I could always count on his attention, depend on him to look me in the eye and lend me an ear. He saved me from my father, my absentee father, even became my father, my substitute father, doting on me, asking after me, worrying about me.

I would show him an article I wrote for a newspaper or a magazine and he might say, “Wow! Such a long article!” A long article always impressed him.

We would watch a basketball game and he might say, “They should be shooting better – that’s why the Knicks are losing.” To him, the game came down strictly to which team shot better.

He would come home from the office and call out hello and take off his suit jacket and loosen his tie and ease into his Eames chair with the evening news on TV and Nana would pour him a scotch on the rocks and he would take a sip and click his tongue and let out this long, deep sigh, exhaling all the tension from his day as an accountant keeping track of other people’s money.

“So how goes it, Bobby boy?” he might then be ready to say.

He would ask me about school or my search for a job. I had trouble finding my first job after college. My problem was that I was particular about the kind of job I wanted, plus the city had gone into a serious economic slum and jobs were hard to come by.

“I’d like to see you situated,” he would say, nodding his head with grave concern. He already understood something I learned only decades later: that a job was kind of everything. You had to make a living.

He would lean back in his chair, his legs opening and closing rapidly, a nervous habit of his, still charged up from his hours at the office. As he sipped his scotch – I noticed he always sipped it, gingerly, savoring it – his legs would be slower to open and close, meaning he was finally winding down.

P.S. – See part 2 tomorrow.

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