Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Chapter 4: Scrabble, Competition & Humor Transmission

Here you go, more memories of my dad:
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     Off the tennis courts, Scrabble games also brought our competitive spirits out. We both studied the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, memorizing the list of two-letter words. My dad preferred to play with his 1950s college version of Merriam Webster’s Dictionary as it had words or spellings that 1970s dictionaries no longer carried. We argued about dictionaries but mostly it didn’t matter, unless he was making up a word and I had to figure out whether to challenge him. We played a 10 point penalty for challenges that were wrong, and he was as likely to have made up a word to get out of a tight spot as to have played a perfectly legitimate word, so it was a guessing game when I didn’t know the word. When it came to tiles, we both angled for the seven-letter word set up, hoarding s’s and blanks and letters that made common endings like “ing” or “ion.” 
I trusted myself in Scrabble, it was me against my dad, wit against wit, both of us consistently making big scores and playing close games. We both liked to compete even though I cared more about the means and he was largely preoccupied with ends. We both liked to rely on ourselves and to be in control.  We both were quick studies and enjoyed mastering something new. We both loved words and language, although I was more literal in my young days and he was a born storyteller. I had begun to understand why I used to hear my mom say, “You’re just like your father.”
Still, there were some major differences. I count my friends as my greatest allies and supreme blessings, and I enjoy all sorts of people and their stories. My dad was an elitist and loner socially. Dad had many fans but didn't have real friends, as in none. Sure, he always had women to date (it didn't hurt that he bragged about being rich), but he trusted few, and none unconditionally, not even his kids.  
While I am a pretty straight-forward person (sometimes overly so), Dad frequently lived behind smoke and mirrors. He got lost in his own fantasies about the future and sometimes had trouble remembering what he had said or promised (it was never a good idea to challenge his revisionist histories though).  
On the other hand, when it came to numbers, Dad was pretty much a genius. In college, a math professor gave Dad's class a riddle that took ages for even the brightest students to solve. My dad loved numbers, lived to compete, and this was the kind of situation that allowed him to have Jedi-like concentration. Dad solved the problem in hours, flabbergasting his Southern Methodist University (SMU) professor. 
Me? I was always good enough at math but certainly not a math genius. When I took the GREs to get into grad school, my English and Logic scores brought honor to my family name; however, sigh, my math scores were merely "good enough."  
Meanwhile, an important difference between us was our basic temperament. I've had to work to free my sense of humor; alas, I was always dubbed the "serious" one in the family. Dad's irrepressible humor--ever-present, even in the most dire circumstances, such as when he went to jail for tax evasion--was the entertaining antidote that made up for his more anti-social side.  The Danish comedian, Victor Borges, perhaps said it best, "Laughter is the closest distance between two people."  So true! Humor was indeed how my dad connected in life. 
Over time, I got a kind of "transmission" of Dad's goofy, irreverent humor, talking in cartoon voices and using some of his signature phrases ("I always like a little blood in the street, even if some of it is my own"). These days, it's fun to see my dad's humor live on in the "kat's" writings (we have to channel my dad to get the kat's voice right). It's also fun to hear my dad's voice show up in my brother's, Teri's, and even Tess's language at times.   
Was he difficult at times? Good God, yes. More on that later. Was he also a true one of a kind? Yes, definitely that too. That’s why I can’t help but write about him and why you are here reading his story in chapters. J

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