I love Billy Crystal. Almost everything he does or says makes me laugh, but now I know that some of the things he says and does can make me cry, too, which is a good, good thing. Plus, despite the fact that he grew up in New York and I grew up in Texas, it appears that we have about three things in common, something I could never say about myself and, oh, say, Lindsay Lohan, for example. So, today I sent a package to Billy Crystal, along with a letter that said this:
Last night, I had the accidental delight of tuning in and watching 700 SUNDAYS on HBO or some channel – I never really know since the cable guy was here and screwed with everything. Still, whatever channel it was, the whole thing made me happy. Thank you for being as open and honest about your life as you were so more and more people can understand that we all have more in common than not.
You grew up in New York; I grew up in Texas. Our lives didn’t parallel in any way that I can see, other than the fact that we are both Baby Boomers. And this: My grandmother farted in the morning in very much the same way your grandfather did. The first thing she did each morning was open the fridge and pour a small glass of cold water, then place that tiny glass back into the fridge next to her water bottle. It made a very specific clinking sound on that half-circle, aluminum shelf. Then, she would pad across the kitchen to turn on the light and, in that short trip, let out these tremendously long (what we called) “growler farts,” as if she were stepping on a duck or a bagpipe under water for a really long time. They weren’t smelly farts, not really, as farts can go, just loud. And long. And horrifyingly, uniquely her own. Now, since she’s gone, our grandmother’s farts belong to us, her grandchildren, to include in funny family stories about her, and I’m sure she is laughing about them as loudly as everyone else, although not as loudly, I am certain, as were her farts.
And this. When you went to see your mother after her stroke and she could do nothing but stare. Mentioning the Yankees brought her back to the surface. I can relate to this. My mother loved baseball; specifically, the Brooklyn Dodgers. When the Dodgers left Brooklyn and moved to Los Angeles sometime in the 1950’s, Mother never forgave them. Thirty years later, as my mother lay dying from emphysema, on a ventilator, in the ICU @ Methodist Hospital in Dallas, I went in to see her. She was sitting up in bed, with her glasses on, watching a baseball game on TV. I kept thinking, WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE??? Her lungs were shot; the machine was breathing for her. She couldn’t speak with that tube down her throat. But, still, she could watch a ball game. My sister Peggy came in and we were standing on opposite sides of our mother’s hospital bed, both of us making random remarks about the baseball game to keep from talking about any of the things so obvious and difficult. Speaking of the World Series, I said, “I was kind of glad to see Kansas City win it last year.” Peggy said, “Yeah, I was, too, but I can’t remember who they played.” I shrugged my shoulders and shook my head; I couldn’t remember, either. Mother took her pad of paper and her pen and wrote, with a shaky hand: R E D S.
So, thanks, Billy, for this latest gift of yours to all of us. And, thanks for the wonderful memories. I am enclosing a gift for you, too, my newest book called DEAD IN A DITCH – Growing Up In Texas & Other Near-Death Experiences. It’s a collection of essays about all the ways Mother thought we, her five children, would die. It’s also like looking at someone else’s picture album and, in doing that, if you pay attention, you can begin to see the story of the family emerging. I’m not doing this to ask anything of you. It’s a gift. Read it, if you would like, or pass it along, if you don’t.
I guess my biggest wad of thanks should go to the cable guy. If he hadn’t come out the other day to screw with the cable box, drag wires everywhere, and chastise us for being so out-of-date with our equipment, I might never even have seen your show, 700 SUNDAYS last night. I might never have known that your Mom loved baseball like mine did, or realized that you and I both grew up in a similar miasma, in the crop-dusted fog of our grandparents’ farts. We have more in common than I thought. Lucky us.
Blogger’s note: Please do whatever you can to see Billy Crystal’s new one-man play, 700 SUNDAYS, another touching and funny sparkle of brilliance from a funny, sparkly and brilliant man. It might be on HBO, but I’m not sure now, thanks to the cable guy.