So this week I’ve been appearing alongside SI’s Lee Jenkins on Jim Rome’s TV show on CBS Sports Network.
It’s been surprisingly fun; six minutes of quick, interesting, non-Skip Bayless-asswipe-like dialogue on sports. I’m having a shockingly great time (I say shockingly because I don’t think of myself as a TV guy).
Anyhow, yesterday I decided to wear a tie on air. But not just any tie—an ugly, faded, dated aqua tie made by the luxurious brand, John Henry.
Why? Because it’s the one thing I have that belonged to my Grandpa Nat.
For that reason, and that reason alone, John Henry is my favorite tie. I wear it a couple of times a year, knowing darn well that it’s outdated (he died in the mid-1990s; he probably bought the tie in, oh, 1983) and not particularly, well, attractive. The thing is, ol’ John Henry gets my thinking about Grandpa—who I genuinely loved.
When my brother David and I were growing up, we’d make our annual February pilgrimage to Florida for a week at Grandma and Grandpa’s condo in Sunrise Lakes, Florida. It was exactly what you’re (likely) thinking: beige stucco, white metal railings, lots of gray-haired Jewish New York transplants sitting around the pool or lining up at nearby restaurants at 3:30 pm for the $4.99 early bird dinner special (steak or chicken, side potato, unlimited salad bar). David and I started flying by ourselves when I was, oh, 9ish, and I vividly (and warmly) recall getting off the plane and running into our grandparents’ arms. Upon reaching their apartment, we’d be greeted by a pile of flyers. “What do you boys want to do this week?” Grandpa would say—offering up a limitless (and magnificent) buffet of offerings. Monkey Jungle. Parrot Jungle. Lion Country Safari. Some boat ride. We’d always take one morning to fulfill my one requisite activity: Yankees spring training at Ft. Lauderdale Stadium. I was the only member of the family who gave two squats about baseball, but Grandma and Grandpa would dutifully sit in the stands, asking questions and watching us beg players (Mr. Arnsberg! Mr. Arnsberg!) for autographs.
Grandpa was a techno guy before old people were techno guys. He had little computers and funky gadgets, and at the local synagogue he was known for understanding how to use the objects others just stared at. He was a relatively short man, with thinning hair and a tiny shuffle to his walk. He used to slurp the milk out of his cereal bowl (which drove my mom crazy), and he and Grandma used to have some very funny bickers (I can still hear her voice, calling, “Naaaat!”). He was an awful golfer (I just realized—I have two items of his. The tie, and a WORST GOLFER trophy he won at a tournament), and not much of a hugger or “I love you” guy. But he was v-e-r-y warm and embracing, if that makes sense.
When I reached my teens, my grandpa liked to end our phone conversations by saying, “Don’t forget to wear your rubbers.” He thought he was being funny and, come to think of it, he was being funny.
Shortly after he died, I was with my grandma in Florida. We were in her apartment, and I cried and cried and cried. It was strange, because I wasn’t one to shed tears to my grandmother.
But, even stranger, as I write this I feel like shedding tears once again …