“Women who really don’t like to do it should marry a very old man.”
(Those women); They’d be best served however if their search for a marriage partner stayed clear of any resemblance to my family lineage fowarded on by my mother’s side.
Long before the advent of Viagra, or the advice emanating from your television set suggesting you visit a gal named “Cialis,” or recommended substances referenced as “sexual enhancers,” my mother’s side of the family had as its stem a very long line of Romanian gypsies. Mom’s people found their own special way of adding delight to their already spitfire lifestyle. Medically, they all defied scientific reason for their extreme longevity.
My mother’s father, Sam Siegel, spent the greater part of his adult life chasing down any and all of the opposite sex he deemed available. In his mindset, I do believe that meant anyone who could walk unassisted. As Sam Siegel spoke no English, he did his philandering almost entirely by making use of his animal magnetism and a set of the most piercing green eyes ever seen in the borough of Brooklyn. Samuel Siegel emigrated from Romania to the United States some time in the late eighteen hundreds. He was one of eight children to make the long ocean cruise. It was this same Sam Siegel who managed to teach a seven-year-old child to play cards; specifically “Pisha Paysha,” and “Casino,” the games of his choice.
Pisha Paysha – (Yiddish) a card game for two players one of whom is usually a child; the deck is placed face down with one card face upward; players draw from the deck alternately hoping to build up or down from the open card; the player with the fewest cards when the deck is exhausted is the winner.
Cassino, also known as Casino, is an Italian fishing card game for two, three, four players in two partnerships, or even theoretically five players. It is the only one to have penetrated the English-speaking world, via Italian immigrants to America. First recorded just before 1800 (1797), it seems to have been heavily elaborated in 19th century American practice. It is mostly played by two with a standard deck of playing cards, being the object of the game to score 21 points by fishing up cards displayed on the table. It is very similar to and probably descended from the Italian game, “Scopa.”
Sam’s closest friend was his next-door neighbor and barber, an Italian immigrant who, like Grandpa, was unable to speak a word of English. Their life together was family, food sharing, non-stop smoking, drinking, and playing cards. How in the name of hell they were able to pull it off, I’ll never understand. While Grandpa was able to converse in an assortment of eastern European languages, Jimmy was strictly Italian speaking. (I never knew Jimmy’s last name. To me he was always “Jimootz”; that’s what Sam called his friend, and so to was how I referred to him.
‘Til the day he died, Sam called his card games “Kerosene” and “Scopa.”
Since he was illiterate in the English language, he became dependant on those around him for what was thought to be a correct pronunciation. His source for up to date information was word of mouth from the relatives, and a literary dose from the Yiddish newspaper “The Daily Forward.”
Even at seven years of age, grandpa relied on me as his teacher. In many ways, I became far too advanced for a child of seven; if you get my drift. But when it came to numbers, my grandpa Sam could cipher with the best of them, regardless of the coinage, denomination or the country’s realm. Sam knew money. In retrospect, I can see now what a great contradiction he must have been to his Jewish immigrant friends.
From the time the Siegel clan landed on the shores of these United States of America, the total assimilation began. They strove to learn the language and to take part in the cultivated dream almost all of them shared. Why Sam resisted learning how to speak English is a difficult thing to comprehend. Perhaps because he was so surrounded and inundated by people there at his beck and call, speaking English was not a necessity in order for him to survive. From day one in Brooklyn, New York, the capitalist approach fit him to a tee. Work hard, make the money, raise a family and be free to worship and take part in whatever you wanted to, with one exception: Socialism. This was in itself the most difficult thing for the newly-arrived family to understand.
Many of those eras’ immigrants were skilled with needle and thread. The sweatshops became a source for survival for many of the neighborhood families. The ability to run a sewing machine wasn’t a useable trait for any of my grandfather’s siblings. They made it by buying and selling used furniture, and ultimately graduating into the world of collectibles and fine antiques.
It was not yet the turn of the century when a less than sophisticated populace struggled with much of the pain they had first experienced in Europe. The difference between Europe and the United States was enormous for the Siegel family. They quickly learned how to play the capitalist game. They all worked long hours, and still managed to play hard. None of them were remotely interested in anything resembling what they had run away from in Romania; especially not anything that smacked of socialism, or communism.
The Daily Forward
The publication began in 1897 as a Yiddish-language daily issued by dissidents from the Socialist Labor Party of Daniel DeLeon. As a privately-owned publication loosely affiliated with the Socialist Party of America, Forverts achieved massive circulation and considerable political influence during the first three decades of the 20th Century.
I found out from an older cousin, the two reasons for Sam Siegel reading the Daily Forward. One, it was printed in the Yiddish language, and two, Sam could make good use of it for lining the birdcage he always seemed to have. (Another of those things I can’t tell you too much about. He liked canaries. What can I say?)
I know for sure my grandfather didn’t agree with the newspaper’s editorials. One of the English words he picked up along the way was “bullshit.” I always knew when he was ready for a card game. He’d finish reading the paper and I’d hear him say, “Bullshit.” Consequently, I find myself doing the same thing. While I never turned into a skilled card player, I did master the use of the word “bullshit” as passed on to me by Sam Siegel.
If you could see my face as I write this piece, you’d perhaps understand what fun the old guy brought with him.
And as one final recollection I offer another visual 🙂
Late one afternoon on an early autumn day I headed over for a card game with you-know-who. As I arrived at his house; the first level of a two-story building, situated on top of his two furniture stores I found Sam and Jimootz on the top level of the stoop, holding court (having a party) with four rather attractive older women.
It turned out, the ladies had each brought a sampling of their own cooking to the party for the boys (Sam and Jimootz) to enjoy. They welcomed me as I was simultaneously given a heaping plate, and motioned to sit down. It only took a moment or two for even a very young kid to figure out, these partiers were having a great time while not being able to converse in the same language. I guess a genuine smile is an effective communication skill regardless of the language.
Many years later, I became privy to an article having to do with life expectancies; the differences between men and women and the era they lived in. Low and behold right there before me was the year 1940;the year of Sam and Jimootz’s party on the stoop in Brooklyn. And here are some of my discoveries:
* Women considerably outlived men (perhaps explaining the number of older women who seemed to always be around my grandfather).
* Most men had very long and arduous workdays. Few of them could spend their days sitting on the stoop.
… and about the movies you might be interested in the following:
* February 7 – Walt Disney’s animated film Pinocchio is released.
* February 10 – Tom and Jerry make their debut in the animated cartoon Puss Gets the Boot.
* May 17 – My Favorite Wife is released.
* May – A reproduction of “America’s First Movie Studio”, Thomas Edison’s “Black Maria,” is constructed.
* July 27 – Bugs Bunny makes his official debut in the animated cartoon A Wild Hare.
* October 15 – The Great Dictator, a satiric social commentary film by and starring Charlie Chaplin, is released.
* November 13 – World premiere of Walt Disney’s Fantasia, the first film to be released in a multichannel sound format (see Fantasound). The film also marked the first use of the click track while recording the soundtrack, overdubbing of orchestral parts, simultaneous multitrack recording and lead to the development of a multichannel surround system.
Top grossing films (U.S.)
Rank Title Studio Actors Gross
1. Fantasia* Disney/RKO Deems Taylor $98,000,000*
2. Pinocchio* Disney/RKO $84,000,000*
* Best Picture: Rebecca – David O. Selznick, United Artists
* Best Actor: James Stewart – The Philadelphia Story
* Best Actress: Ginger Rogers – Kitty Foyle
And so it proved out as not just a memorable year for a very impressionable child, but arguably the beginning of the major animation industry as we know it today.
And so, all of that being said, if I were reading the aforegoing piece and I didn’t know the author, perhaps there would be a degree of wonder over what it all, or part, had to do with acting, or specifically voice over. Well, the bottom line for me is a simple one. Reflection, pure Stanislavski, and recapturing moments of what I refer to as “silent joy.”
“Silent joy,” is what comes to me when I float or sometimes even charge back to an era of complete calm. Like so many children of the depression, our parents and grandparents took the brunt of the suffering. But to most of them, the life and times of the depression lifestyle were far less painful than what most of them left behind in what they all referred to as the “old country.” These turn of the century brand new Americans lived, bred, and bore the children of our greatest generation ever. My creative skills stem from much of my “silent joy.” What a blessing to recapture moments to serve me well.