The life and times of an ethnically ambiguous little lady.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Like Dad, Like Daughter

I was asked to do a show last night where I had to write a piece on the theme of "Daddy's Girl." Considering the dinner over the weekend and my current frustration, it was nice to write something positive, because my dad is a great guy. And I must say, from writing the piece I'm realizing how much he and I are alike. I mean, throw a mustache on me, give me a couple more inches, and get rid of my boobs and we could be the same person.

Here 'tis:

Some girls are complicated and quirky because they didn’t get enough love as a child. I am indeed a very quirky girl. I can not, however, say that I was lacking love as a child. In fact, my parents are so supportive that if I tried to kill myself, I think they’d hold my wrists straight because they’d want me to succeed in whatever I do. So, I’ve been trying to trace where this quirkiness originates. While some of it might have developed from my napoleon complex, I think most of it’s been passed down directly from my father. As they say, I learned it from watching you, dad.

My street cred definitely comes from my father. I may have been raised in the suburbs of Philly, but he was raised on the rough streets of Camden, New Jersey, the former murder capital of the country. That makes me half hood and explains my affinity for the hip hop music. He got a little nostalgic a few years ago and we drove by his old house, which now, I kid you not, looks like a boarded-up crack house, complete with strung-out ladies on the front steps. And if I wasn’t mistaken, I think I saw two little kids playing tag with Oozies on the front lawn.

I’m also a little scrappy and love to pretend I’m tough. My father was in the army, though he didn’t exactly get to see a piece of the action. He ended up in language school where he became fluent in Mandarin. This skill only seems to come in handy when we’re at museums and he attempts to read the wall hangings from the Ming Dynasty period. In high school, I would wear his army jacket around, because we all know, there is nothing more intimidating than an army jacket with “Epstein” on the pocket.

I apparently get my tongue-in-cheek arrogance from my father as well. He would never make a pass at a woman—he is a happily married man, after all. But if a little affection comes his way, well, he’s not one to turn it down. I remember he and I were helping on election day in Philadelphia one year. I started talking to this older West Philadelphia woman who asked how I got involved with volunteering. I point in the direction of my father. I don’t know if it was the sparkle in his eye or the way the sun caught his black and gray hair but her response was: “Girl, I love me those salt n’ peppa men. You better tell your mama to watch out for me.”

Obviously, I was a little surprised by her response. We Epsteins are a very good-looking people, but really, he’s a married man! When I told my father about it he smiled coyly and said, “Oh, I get that all the time.” I doubt it. But as a safety precaution we now always escort my father into Philly and intercept any of the panties that are thrown at him as he walks by.

Maybe he took extra joy in this situation because my father was a bit, how shall we say, voluptuous, as a child. Nothing like being a tubby kid with incredibly thick glasses to get the self-esteem up. I guess he got frustrated with this self image and thus became very active and dropped all the weight. And when I say active, I mean the man is a serious gym rat. My dad will run 7 miles before topping his workout off with a couple hours at the gym. While I try to keep up with him, a treadmill accident several years ago left me with twenty stitches in my leg, a failed knee modeling career, and an innate fear of falling off gym equipment. So nice to know that even though he’s pushing 60, he can still kick my ass.

I think his stubbornness is a contributing factor as well, a trait I more then share. I I mean, I’ve worn jeans I’ve loved until they had such a large hole in them, they were practically shorts. My father had a stubborn pants experience in gym class in high school. Seems he was wearing his huge bellbottoms—it was the ’60s after all—playing baseball when he managed to step on a hornet’s nest. The entire nest proceeded to fly up his pant legs.

His teacher screamed at him “Take off your pants! Take off your pants!”—a cry he’s heard many times since—but refused to as he was in mixed company.

My father is also a keen devotee of sarcasm. We were in Brazil on vacation and he wanted to buy a rather expensive necklace for my mother. When he went to charge it on his credit card, the company required a call to make sure it wasn’t stolen.

“Well,” he said to the woman helping us, “we could always leave collateral,” as he looked at me. All I sudden I saw myself, chained to a work gang of small Brazilian boys, mining diamonds in the factory as tourists went by, watching me and waving as I cried. And people wonder why I’m a comedian.

Our trip to Brazil also showed me how unwilling my father is to ask for directions. It was Friday night, the sun was setting, and my father decided that he wanted to celebrate the Sabbath like a good Jew. Sure, some people come to Brazil for the beaches, the music, the bikini waxes, but not my father. After getting the name of a synagogue from the concierge, he set off with my mother and no command of Portuguese. After twenty-five minutes of walking, it turned out that no such synagogue existed in said location.

“Well, we tried. Let’s head back,” my mother said.

And just as my father was about to respond he spotted a couple, a very obviously Jewish couple. How do you know they were Jewish, you anti-Semite, you ask? Well, let’s just say nothing screams Heeb like payas (those curly sideburns) and an accompanying girl with a long skirt and a stroller full of babies.

“Perfect!” My mother exclaimed. “I bet they know where there’s a synagogue. Saul, go ask them.”

“Roberta, did you hear them speaking Portuguese? How am I supposed to ask them?” Now, I’m going to have to disagree with my dad on this one. I think there are a lot of ways he could explain himself. Simulate praying. Draw a Star of David in the air. Show them you’re circumcised.

Instead he said, “Let’s just follow them and see where they’re going.”

And that’s when my father started his Jewish reconnaissance mission. And as my mother knew it was fruitless to argue, she went along for the ride. I don’t know if it was that army stint which made him feel like trailing someone was a good idea, but off they went, following just close enough. Whenever they feared they would be “discovered” they would jump into the nearest doorway, like some kind of two member A-Team gone horribly wrong. They followed the couple for three miles, past the beach, past the prostitutes, the pick pockets, and the many salsa and merengue clubs. It was at this point in the story that I decided that my mother must really love my father. You just don’t go on a three hour tour with someone you’re just ehhh about.

Finally, the Jewish couple entered a building. Only problem was that it was someone’s house. Seems the couple was heading to Shabbat dinner, and not to hang with God just yet. Dejected, my parents began the trek back to find our hotel. The expedition wasn’t a total loss as my mother found a “Curves” gym, (or “Rolls” as my friend likes to call it), to which she belongs in the states and loves.

He’s a pistol, my father. And one I’m happy to call my own. I just wish he wasn’t so willing to barter me for jewelry.

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