A few weeks ago, I went to see Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie. It was in limited run at the time, and only playing on Houston Street in The City. The overall experience was surreal, and not just because before the movie played, there was an ad for Gay Pride with a picture of me with my ex on the big screen. There was another moment that completely just blew my mind. I was walking down Bleeker Street and listening to Holiday by Madonna, and I was instantly transported back to my childhood, and walking those very same streets with my Grandfather.
We all have people that we idolize, from celebrities to moguls to athletes, but no matter what anyone says or does, or how famous a person may be, no person has had more of an influence on me, and my life, than my Grandpa Freddy. Back in September, I set out to write a blog about him that articulated all the amazing moments and feelings that were in my head and heart at the time. In the end, I felt the final product could have been so much better, and I had wanted to remedy that for a while now.
But how do you talk about a person whom impacted your life so deeply? Everyone should have that one person in their lives that pushes them down the right path, who never judges, and loves unconditionally. For me, that was my Grandpa.
Being the first grandchild of the family, my Grandfather and I were always close. I mean, he loved all of his grandkids, but it’s very safe to say that he and I had a special bond. He gave all my siblings nicknames, mine being “The Professor” because I was into reading and did well in school. It was a name he called me until the day he died, and I was in my twenties. It’s actually a name I miss being called.
I remember being little and going to his job on the Bowery. He repaired watches in this little booth, and I would sit there all day with him while he worked. He was an extremely hard worker. He would take his work home with him every night and would work on watches to all hours of the morning. He was definitely a professional, and had an amazing work ethic. The customers and other vendors used to come, and I always remember how funny my Grandfather was. He had a very sarcastic, dry humor, which I think he definitely passed onto me. But everyone would sit and talk to him. He was always very nice, and I can’t think of one person who had something negative to say about him. I actually don’t think I ever heard my Grandfather raise his voice.
Growing Up, I wanted for nothing, whether it was anything Star Wars related, my favorite chocolate lollipops on Passover, or even the Madonna issue of Playboy (circa 1985). No matter what it was, or how much I drove him crazy, if I wanted it, I more than likely got it. I remember one time I wanted this mustard jean jacket with the olive collar, like I had seen on Beverly Hills, 90210. We combed The City for an entire weekend for that jacket. I don’t think we ever found it, but there wasn’t a single complaint from him, and we had a great time together. In all honesty, my Grandfather loved clothing. He had a wardrobe unrivaled by anyone, and most of his clothes had tags for years before he ever wore them. Sound familiar?
Walking around was probably one of our favorite pastimes. My Grandfather loved to walk everywhere, and it’s a habit I definitely picked up from him. We walked and explored The City, and I can thank him for my love of New York City. There was always something to see. One time, we were walking through Alphabet City (the backdrop for the show RENT), and we passed a man painting outline figures on the walls of an outdoor garage. Grandpa thought the work was garbage. Little did he know, and we both realized it years later, the man was Keith Haring. Just a typical day in The City, kinda like the time he pointed out hookers to me while walking on St. Marks Place.
But culture was not only about streetwalkers. He was fascinated with movies and shows. I remember seeing The Wiz and Snow White Live at Radio City Music Hall with him. We saw all the Star Wars movies together, and I remember when he took my brother, Harrison, and I to see Jaws 3D. We even stumbled onto the set of Friday the 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan while they were filming in Times Square. If you pay attention, we are actually in the background of a scene. As I got older though, the movies I tended to like didn’t quite match up to his love for classics, like his favorite, Hollywood Hotel. If he were alive today, I guarantee he still wouldn’t let me live down the night I made him take me and my then nine year old brother, Hymie, to see 54. He swore to never see a movie with me again after that, and we actually never did.
I moved in with my Grandfather when I went to college, and although we pretty much kept to ourselves, we had several rituals. Every morning, we went to the Greek luncheonette on Grand Street for breakfast. He would get his coffee and danish, and I would get toast and chocolate milk. He then would walk me to the train to school, which happened to be on his way to work. On the weekends, we would go to Teresa’s on First Avenue for Saturday night dinner, and to Second Avenue Deli for Sunday night dinner. He had to have his hard salami once a week, and I had to have my burger deluxe with fries. I respected his home, and didn’t come in late or give him reason to worry about me, and he respected my privacy. I found out years later from my Grandmother that even though I never brought anyone home, he knew I was Gay, and he had no problem with it.
After I graduated college, I moved out for about a year, but after an incident with a family member, my Grandfather asked me to move back in with him, and I did. I later found out from my Grandmother that although he would never say it to me, he actually enjoyed having me there. And to be honest, other than the fact that my Grandfather hated air conditioning, I really enjoyed being there with him. He didn’t sugar coat things with me, and I valued his opinion on everything. I lived with my Grandfather until the day he passed away.
I remember the day my Grandfather died like it was yesterday. It was late at night, and I was in my pajamas. He and I were talking about how I should be better at saving my money. I said good night and turned to go to bed. He started to do some work stuff. As I went to get under the covers, I heard a thump, and called out to him. He didn’t answer, so I got up to see what had happened, to find my Grandfather lying on the floor. I panicked and instead of calling 911, I called an upstairs neighbor, who called 911 for me. The EMT guys came, and I remember leaving the apartment without a coat and barefoot in the snow for the hospital. I was alone when they pronounced him dead, and it was my responsibility to tell my Mother and Aunt that their father had passed away.
That night still haunts me. Although I know in my head that there was nothing I could do, in my heart, I wonder if he would have made it had I acted sooner or done things differently. Every year around the anniversary of his death, I have terrible nightmares. I was the last person my Grandfather saw or spoke to, and his last words to me were about something he was disappointed in me about. It gets easier over time, but it never goes away. I lost my Grandfather, confidante and my best friend all in one night.
Losing my Grandfather completely changed everything in my life. Shortly after his passing, I had to move out of his apartment and find a place of my own. I had to become responsible for myself and take care of everything on my own. It became important to me to work hard, because I had bills to cover and nobody to lean back on. I definitely became more independent, and it was my goal to be someone my Grandfather would be proud of.
This December will mark sixteen years since his passing, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. Yesterday, I decided to watch the DVD of my Bar Mitzvah, which took place 29 years ago this month. As crazy as it was to see the fashion and all that was 1987, it was so nice to see relatives that were no longer here. But the best part of watching the DVD was getting to hear my Grandfather’s voice again, because even though I have a clear vision in my head of him, I forget what he sounded like.
When I think of my Grandfather today, I hope he’s looking down on me, smoking a cigar, and he’s proud of me, and what I’ve accomplished in life. His influence continues on to this day, and I hope to one day be half the man he was. He is gone from this world, but never from my heart.
I love you Grandpa!!!