So Long, My Kentucky Jew ...Some of you who know me from NvNews.Net may recall me talking about my brother-in-law Allen Schneider, an honorably discharged Vietnam Vet who suffered from Agent Orange exposure. Like some of his band of brothers like John Kerry or even the Swift Boat Veterans, Allen not only came home a very changed man but to a very changed country. A country that repeatedly denied him his VA benefits from the moment of discharge all the way until 1997 when, as a result of his failing health, my parents asked Allen & Darlene (my sister) that if they wanted to leave Las Vegas and come back home to Michigan, they'd foot the bill. Not an easy feat for my parents as they were "Depression Era" children in their 50s and only brought home $20,000 a year.
Allen & Darlene agreed and stayed with us for about a year or so and with my Dad's help (and after a lengthy battle), Allen finally got the VA Benefits and medical attention he deserved. Not long after that, the lack of a nightlife here in Michigan made them yearn for Las Vegas again. Once we were assured that Allen's VA Benefits and health care would continue the moment he landed, we sent them on their way.
In the years since they're departure, my Dad had quintuple bypass surgery, contracted diabetes as a result of the steroids he was on, and got a short-term lease on life until he suddenly passed away in my lap almost 3 years ago to the day (April 8th). Since his death, there's been a series of other deaths in our family starting with his mother 6 months later. His best friend of 50 years - Harley Green - buried his wife Dora just a few months ago, and last week the Green family buried Harley. All these deaths in such short noticed has left me wondering who was next. Since my mother had a heart attack last summer, I'm thinking she's on borrowed time.
I come home early tonight around 7:30PM and noticed a message on our answering machine. It was Darlene and all she said was, "Mom ... you there?" I didn't think much of it. Checking the Caller ID, I noticed that Darlene's cell-phone number appear multiple times through out the afternoon. Again, I didn't think nothing of it because let's just say Mom is popular and she's gets calls from her children, grand-children, and her friends every day (sometimes much to her chagrin as she's not always in the mood for gossip.
My mother showed up at around 11PM. Our conversation was as follows:
Me: "Did you go to 'work', Mom?" (it's a euphemism we use for "Bingo")
Mom: "Yes. I didn't plan on going to Bingo but you know Amy ..."
Me: "Oh. Hey, Marge called. Also, Darlene has been calling here all afternoon according to the ID. Sometimes back to back."
Mom: "I already talked to her around 4PM ..."
Me: "Well, these are repeated calls after 6PM. A brief message in on the voice mail, too."
Mom: "I'll have to call her back ..."
Me: "Must be important, whatever it is ..."
Mom: "OH! You weren't here -- Her husband died ..."
Me: "Wuh?!? ALLEN DIED?!?"
Mom: "She told me at 4PM that Allen died at the hospital. He said (I love you, Dar) he loved her and immediately after Darlene replied ('I love you, too, Allen), he closed his eyes and died."
Allen was something else -- constantly joking and fucking with you (even if you weren't in the mood), kinda happy-go-lucky. But not always. Sometimes, he could be hard to handle like when he would have his flashbacks from the war. One had to be careful around him - they either came suddenly out of the blue or could be inspired or induced (I found that out once when I was playing an online shooting game on my PC). He also was very compassionate and open-minded. He once told me that when he was lifted out of Vietnam, he overlooked all the bodies he could see from his high vantage - VC and American alike - and the torn country side, blown up shacks, wildfires, etc., his first thought was on how utterly senseless war was. So senseless that people could kill each other either for paltry reasons or out of total ignorance. He then told me that something Jesus said in The Bible jumped at him:
"If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out, for it is better to enter the Kingdom Of God with one eye than witness Hell with both. If your hand causes you to sin, tear it off, for it is better to enter the Kingdom of God disfigured than to be whole and tossed into Hell."
And in that instant, he thought that Jesus admonishment would also apply if the context was Male or Female, Catholic or Protestant, Black or White, Arab or Jew. "In that moment," he said, "I made the decision that I would wage war no more. If this," pulling out the Star of David around his neck ... "causes me to sin, then I'll cast it off. If this," pointing to his surname on his license "causes me to sin, then off it comes. Bottom line, kid. Neither race, religion, or ignorance is an excuse for war. None. It's like that Styx song that goes 'Just remember it's a grand illusion and deep inside we're all the same'."
"You sound like a self-hating Jew," I replied as a joke.
"Then so be it," he said. "Being human is more important than being black, white, Jew, Arab or whatever. Our money is green and our blood is red. Those are the only two colors that should matter in humanity."
"Spoken like a true Zionist," I said jokingly.
"Shutup, you fucker!" Allen would gripe and slug me on the arm.
I also asked him if he ever visited the Vietnam Vets memorial and he quickly lowered his head and said, "No. I couldn't never do such a thing."
"Too many memories. Too many friends, eh?" I asked.
"That's not the real reason," he said with tears in his eyes. "It's because my name isn't there."
Allen, my Dad, and I would often argue for points for we all loved to argue or needle each other. Our rule was that the first person to make one of the others clench a fist or curl their bottom lip won. Allen lost quite a few of those "arguments" but it was always funny because his Jersey accent would become more profound once riled up. Also, if you busted his chops with a good one, his white bushy goatee would sudddenly bristle. The result looked like Allen had an albino porcupine caught in his mouth. It was during one of these arguments Allen had earned some loving nicknames.
And that brings me, in closing, to the title of this post. Two of those nicknames for Allen became very popular. The first was Jersey Devil which Dad or I would pronounce, "Joyzee Davvul". The other one -- THE BIG ONE -- came about when Allen went to the bathroom to soak his dentures after eating dinner. He walked up to Mom (Allen was always affectionate), hugged her around the waist, said, "Thanks for dinner, Mom" and kissed on the cheek. Dad, reading the paper at the time, let one corner droop so he could see this over his reading glasses.
"HANDS OFF MY WIFE, YOU JERSEY DEVIL!" Dad cajoled in his deep, booming voice and it was on!
"Hey! What you say, Dad?!?"
"You heard me. Last person that tried to get fresh with my wife had to get fresh teeth," Dad growled, fleshing his left arm. A former two-time Golden Gloves champ, Dad knew his hooks. So did his victims. He also had "Boxer's Pride" -- that whole bravado about being able to whoop anyone ass, anytime at anyplace.
"My teeth is in the hopper so let's go. I shot bigger and meaner blowhards than you, Old man!"
"I'm going to show you old, you sonofabitch." Dad stood up grinning, put down his paper, got a good look at Allen and starting braying laughter for Allen was clothed in nothing but his pajamas and on his head was one of those skin-tight Tommy Hilfiger skull caps on that you see the hip-hop kids wearing today. Personally, I call them "Noggin Condoms". So, picture if you will a scrawny, 5'7", 122 pound, weathered looking, clone of George Carlin but with a bushy goatee, no teeth, and looking like a fuckin' gang-banger standing there with his dukes up, okay?
Allen put his fists down, "What?!?"
"You look like a goddamned idiot ..." Dad chortled.
"I like this. It's confortable and makes me more of a handsome chick magnent than you'll ever be, you toothless hick from Middlesboro!"
"If your teeth was in, you might be right." Dad said, "But right now, MC Hammer, you look like a Kentucky Jew!"
Immediately, Allen's goatee bristled, knowing he had no comeback and Darlene and I lost it. We were laughing until we cried. Allen could only stand there glaring at my dad with his bombadeer blue eyes, shaking his head. Dad, thinking that Allen was deeply insulted, tried to break the ice by putting his arm around his shoulder and coddling him ("Aww, it's not that bad. It has a nice ring to it, actually. Let's take it on road. 'Sizemore & His Kentucky Jew'! I can play the guitar and sing while you ... just stand there looking like that!") but in reality Allen was torn between hugging him for getting him with a good wisecrack and wanting to knock the hell out of him for it. After about 7 minutes, Allen's goatee smoothed back down. Walking into the kitchen, he said, "Good one, pop. I owe you a beer". Dad got that beer, all right. After it exploded, baptizing him and one of the lap dogs, Allen cried, "One Beer -- shaken, not stirred!"
And with that, I shed a tear and tip my Vodka in farewell to Allen Schnieder.
My Kentucky Jew.