I have had many transformations in my 65 years on this rock, some small, some soul-shattering. Perhaps I’ll write about those another time. But it seemed as though every five to seven years, my life took a sharp turn, sometimes doing a full 180. But I thought, I’ve retired, moved into what will probably be my last home, and things have hit a comfortable status quo.
Well, that was about five years ago. But this change didn’t come about suddenly. And it didn’t come about because of, or at the time of Covid, although that event furthered the change. No, this change came slowly.
Because I met this guy.
I grew up in the south. Most people acknowledge that no one is actually from Atlanta. It’s like being a native Floridian; we are a rare breed. But I was born on Peachtree Street, and that’s about as Atlanta as you can get. During the few periods when my parents could get me to go to church, it was Baptist. Not much of it stuck, but that’s my religious experience. As I wrote in my only political article ever, I am an independent, never gravitating in either direction or if I did, I didn’t stay there long.
And as those closest to me can tell you, I am a bit of a grumpy, old curmudgeon. Some say that as if it’s a bad thing. I happen to like being a grumpy old curmudgeon. I’ve cultivated this persona for decades, and dammit, I’ve earned the right to be an asshole when I want to.
So, piss off.
But, as I said, I met this guy.
Almost six years ago, I retired. And by retired, I mean, I walked into my boss’s office, said, “I quit,” and left the building. Because that’s what grumpy old curmudgeons do. Then, almost four years ago, we moved into an over-55 community. We immediately took to it and began attending most of the numerous social events that happened BC (Before Covid).
Most notably were the Friday night pot-luck dinners, attended by several dozen, and the Tuesday morning men’s coffee, where a handful or so of us sat around, drinking coffee and did what men do.
We shot the shit.
Every Tuesday morning, I would get back home, and my wife would ask what we talked about. “Nothing.” Because that’s what men talk about. But we had fun. It was an odd mix of southerners, northern transplants fleeing the cold, from both sides of the political spectrum and all over the place in terms of temperament, humor, and intelligence.
And fairly early on in all of this, I met this guy. If I had to describe my polar opposite arbitrarily, this guy would be it. He was quiet and thoughtful. But he was profoundly liberal and very passionate about his politics. He was Jewish, not orthodox by any means, but he kept with most traditions and holidays. He was from the Bronx. He didn’t have to tell me that; a few minutes of conversation and you knew where he was born and raised.
There were many other attributes that we didn’t share, but there was one that became obvious after only knowing him a short while. He was kind. He was… a nice guy. He did the right things for the right reasons. What a jerk. He really pissed me off.
He drove a Prius. (Of course, he did.) It’s a small community; I can see most of it from my windows. And quite often, I would see his car parked in front of various homes. I thought, man, this guy made a lot of friends quickly.
Then, I began to pay more attention. Whenever I saw his car at someone’s house, I remembered that person just had surgery. Or had suffered a loss. Or was just having a rough time. He and his wife would get out of the car and carry bags and boxes of food to the person’s door. And they would be there for an hour or two, just visiting.
He became a sort of curiosity to me. So at gatherings, I would begin to seek him out. Talk to him on a variety of subjects and try to figure this guy out. But as it turns out, there was nothing to figure. He, to paraphrase the great mariner, yam what he yam.
On one Tuesday morning, one of the guys mentioned we should try to get together and take in a Braves game. The next week, he shows up with game schedules, seating charts, prices on group tickets, and transportation and correspondence from someone with the stadium on what they put together for us. Most people thought it was cool he did that. I thought this guy probably spent four hours or more on some random whim, just to help out. Curioser and curioser.
That same summer, we had a cookout at the clubhouse. About seventy people showed up, and we struggled to keep up with the fodd demand on the grill installed by the builder. The next week a new, huge, and expensive gas grill showed up. No one claimed credit. No one stood up and said, “Yeah, I did that. Pat me on the back.”
But I knew. I quietly walked up to him and offered to help pay. “Nah, I got it.” And like the Grinch after meeting Little Cindy-Lou Who, my heart grew three sizes that day.
I began spending more time with him and his wife. I introduced my wife to them, and we started sitting with them on Friday night dinners. I’m not sure exactly when the metamorphosis began. Maybe I should have paid more attention. Perhaps, I could have put a stop to the nonsense before it got out of hand.
Before I lost control and started being a nice guy.
I think Covid probably drove the final nail into my curmudgeon’s coffin. Shortly after it started and the first wave of lockdowns were in place, he said to me, “we should do something.” Soon after that, there we were, driving around the neighborhood in his ratty old Prius, knocking on doors.
We talked about the fact that the two of us couldn’t monitor the whole neighborhood.
The next day, he had organized a phone tree with half a dozen of us who were still getting out checking on everyone else. Once that settled down, and everyone had become accustomed to the new reality, he said, “this is affecting many people; we should do something else.
The next week and for the twenty-five or so weeks since, we have organized a food drive to help local food banks, churches, and charities. Now we are gathering up children’s presents to take to a nearby church. He has volunteered to work at the church to help with the food drive, their Christmas market event, and collections for nearby nursing homes and veteran’s centers.
This old Jewish guy from the Bronx is spending several days a week at a Catholic church helping out.
Why? Because that’s just who he is.
And who knows? Maybe, come Christmas Day, it will be me carving the roast beast.