Phil talks about his dad, and scares the living
daylights out of Mike.
Phone conversation: Monday evening, about 7:30 PM,
October 23, 1995.
Me: "Hey, Dad. How are ya!?"
Dad: "Who's this, Phil? How ya doin'?"
Me: "I'm all right."
Dad: "How ya feelin'?"
Me: "Good, ya know."
Dad: "Yeah? Didja go to work today?"
Me: "Of course I went to work."
Dad: "Did you walk at all?"
Me: "Yeah. This morning I walked from the
bus terminal to work."
Dad: "How far is that again?"
Me: "I'd say it may be a mile, maybe a
Dad: "Oh boy. How long did it take you?"
Me: "Well, I have to rest a lot along the
way. But, now I'm up to a
half hour. I cut
through a lot of buildings on the way, ya know
where they connect
to the streets."
Me: "Ya know, like from 42nd Street, I
cut through the university, then
from 43rd there's
a Helmsley-operated building. I go through that.
Then on 44th,
there's another building with a 'Chris Haircutters'
sign that I cut
through and that gets me to 45th. Walk down a few
I'm at work. It's good because I don't get too wet
when it rains."
Dad: "Don't you have an umbrella?"
Me: "Nah, I don't want an umbrella."
Dad: "Why not? I'll pick one up for ya. Caldor's
Me: "Nah. Thanks, but I won't even be able
to hold it up."
Dad: "Oh yeah...but doncha get wet?"
Me: "Yeah, but I like gettin' wet. It's
Dad: "What are you gonna do when it snows?"
Me: "Snows? I'll love it even more."
Dad: "Ya know, Phil, I really worry about you
falling on the ice. What
are you gonna
do when winter comes?"
Me: "Don't worry, I'll be careful."
Dad: "Yeah, don't worry! Sometimes you can't
even see the ice."
Me: "Dad, please stop worrying. Besides
if we have another wussy winter
like last year,
there won't be any ice."
Dad: "Did the car pick you up today?"
Me: "Yup. Everyday at 5:30. I still can't
believe June is doing that
for me, ya know?"
Dad: "Yeah. I was thinkin' of writing her a letter
to thank her. You
Me: "No, why should I? She'd appreciate
Dad: "So, did you eat yet?"
Me: "Yeah. I just finished."
Dad: "What did you eat?"
Me: "Yesterday, Carol and I got Chinese
food delivered, so I ate that.
I had mixed vegetables
and wonton soup."
Me: "So anyway, I called to thank you for
helping me with the computer
desk. I really
Dad: "Oh, no problem, Phil."
Me: "And thanks for vacuuming and everything
Dad: "My pleasure! I told you I'll come over
once a week if you want.
Anytime you need
me to do something for you, just ask."
Me: "I know. Thanks, Dad. Whatsa matter,
you sound like you got a
Dad: "Yeah, I know! I've been sneezin' a lot
Me: "Did you go for your walk this morning?"
Dad: "Yeah. But you know what happened? I'm doin'
Dad: "And I felt a little pain in my chest. So
I didn't do the full
mile. I turned
around and went back. I didn't want to risk
anything, ya know."
Me: "Dad, ya know, maybe you should rest
a bit. You had a busy weekend
here with the
desk and everything. You're 65, you're not a kid
to Rye Beach."
Dad: "Yeah, I know."
Me: "Anyway, thanks again for the desk
and the meat loaf."
Dad: "Oh, did you try it yet!?"
Me: "That's tomorrow night's supper."
Dad: "Good. Didja see, I cut it up into meal
size portions and wrapped
and I put 'em in the freezer so they don't go
Me: "Yep, that'll be dinner all week."
Me: "Thanks again, Dad. I really appreciate
Dad: "Phil, anytime you need help with anything,
Me: "I will."
Dad: "Okay. I love ya, Phil."
Me: "I love you too, Dad. Bye. Thanks."
My Dad died the next day, Tuesday, October 24, 1995. He had a heart
attack while taking his walk at Jones Beach. As my brother Johnny said,
"At least he was somewhere he wanted to be."
I'll never forget that dreaded phone call the day he died...Tuesday
morning, October 24, 1995. I was at work, busy, putting together comedy
clips for KBIG, our Los Angeles Laugh Machine affiliate. Mario,
a co-worker, comes into the studio. He says, "Philly! Your brother-in-law's
on the phone." I said, "My brother-in-law? He never calls me!" Something
is wrong, I think. Mario leaves the studio and shuts the door. I pick up
the phone, "Hello?" The voice on the other end says, "Phil!" It's my sister,
Rosemarie, and she's crying. I'm very tense now. I say, "What's wrong!?"
She says, "Phil, sit down." "Why? What's wrong?" I reply. I was thinking
that something happened to my 17-month-old nephew, Thomas. He had been
sick a few days earlier. Then, like a two-ton truck had hit me head-on,
she says, "Phil, Daddy passed away."
Boom! I sat down now and in disbelief said, "No." She
said, "Yes, Phil. He passed away this morning." I asked, "How? What happened?"
She said, "He went for his walk this morning at the beach and he had a
heart attack." "Where is he?" I wanted to know. She said, "At the hospital.
Johnny had to go to identify the body." I could not believe this news.
I said, "And he's dead?" My sister replied, "Yes, Phil." "They couldn't
do anything to save him?" I asked. She said, "It was too late. They found
him lying on the boardwalk."
All kinds of thoughts ran through my head. Thoughts of my Dad walking
alone on the boardwalk at Jones Beach. Then she said they were coming to
pick me up from work. She and John, her husband, would be there in about
three hours. Then we would go to Long Island. After she explained everything,
I asked one more time. I said, "Roe, he's really dead?" She said, "Phil,
"F**k," I calmly replied. Then we hung up. I just sat in the chair
in the studio. I was numb. I put my head down on the console for a second
or two. I refused to cry, at least at work. But I wanted to scream. I picked
my head up, looked at the comedy bits I had to produce. "Yeah, right,"
I thought. Then I looked up at the ceiling, shook my head and quietly said,
"God? What the f**k are You doing?"
Three hours later, my brother-in-law and sister came to pick me up.
When we got to the house on Long Island, as I came in the door, my Aunt
Lucy got up from the couch, "Oh, Phil!" she said, as she hugged me and
began to cry. I asked where Johnny was, because I wanted to see the body
at the morgue.
My father and I were very close. We were best friends. When I was diagnosed
with ALS, he took it harder than I did. He was going to take care of me
as the disease progressed. When we were on our way back to my condo after
I was diagnosed, he said, "When you're ready, you come home." But you know
something, when I take a step back (so to speak), I'm relieved that he
doesn't have to see me like this. I'm also very grateful that he didn't
suffer in death. Lord knows, he suffered enough in life. The people who
were with him when he passed away said that he was gone before he even
hit the ground.
There were two men, both in their 70's. They showed up to my father's
wake that Thursday morning. I don't recall their names. But, like two messengers
sent from Heaven, they explained everything I needed to know about my father's
death. They said my Dad was walking towards them. He stopped for a moment
to say hello. My father complained that his knees were bothering him..."You
know your father, he liked to keep moving." A few seconds later, they heard
someone call out, "Hey! Your friend just fell down!" The two turned and
saw my Dad lying face-down on the boardwalk. They immediately ran towards
him. One of them called my father's name; "Ralph, Ralph," he said. But
he told me that my Dad just made a gurgling sound. They turned over the
body and both of them knew he was gone. That's when a young woman who also
walked in the morning came over. "She put her jacket under his head and
tried CPR," the men said. "And, in less than 10 minutes, the paramedics
arrived. They tried everything to save your father. But your father wasn't
responding. One of the paramedics even tried mouth-to-mouth. But we could
tell he was gone. He was gone before he even hit the ground."
A GREAT MAN
The flowers at my father's funeral were breathtaking. I remember the
first night, walking into Dalton's Funeral Home, the flowers engulfed the
room like the many faces one would see when entering a jam-packed ballpark.
I was also impressed by the amount of people. Both nights there was standing-room-only.
It's funny--if you saw my Dad on a day-to-day basis, you would think he
was a lonely man. But after talking with so many of his friends from work
and the beach, I realized how he touched people's lives in so many different
ways. Some people he kept in touch with by writing, others he would phone
or visit. He was always sincere. He never bullsh*tted anyone. A friend
of his from the beach told me how my Dad was great moral support when his
wife was dying of cancer. He told me how he confided in my father. My Dad
always asked how his wife was. He also said that my Dad told him that it
wasn't going to be easy, but if he ever needed anything he would be there.
I was also amazed when his friend Herbie showed up to the wake. Herbie
is a friend of his from Citibank. He has Multiple Sclerosis. My Dad used
to help him to his car when they worked together in Huntington. Despite
the MS, Herb arrived in his wheelchair, which was being pushed by George
Kreckler. George really came through us during those dreadful three days.
He saved us money on the limousine by asking Jimmy Nestor, another friend
of my father's from the bank, to drive his limousine. George and Jimmy
also volunteered to be pallbearers along with my brothers, Johnny and Ralph.
A NICE FALL!
I remember asking my Dad, "When Mommy first got sick, what were the
signs?" My mother, never an easy topic for my Dad to discuss--but he'd
answer my questions anyway. He said, "One day she fell while walking across
Hempstead Turnpike. Another time, when you were just a baby, she said she
was coming in the front door, she had you in her arms and she fell walking
up the step into the house. That's when she sprained her ankle. Because
she didn't want to drop you." "Hmm, I don't remember that," I said. "Oh,
how can you remember that? You were only two, for crying out loud!" he
barked. Then he calmly added, "Oh, and one other time she told me she was
washing dishes, and she just fell in the kitchen. We thought it was a trick
Trick knee, nothing. My mother died in 1967 from amyotrophic lateral
sclerosis. And now 28 years later, I've got it. For the most part, I am
remaining positive. The only setbacks are the falls. To put it mildly,
The first time I fell, I was walking to work on 45th Street in New
York City. I tripped on a crack in the sidewalk. When I fell, I hit my
head in the street. It didn't hurt, but it did shake me up a bit. Because
I couldn't figure out if I fell because of the crack or the disease. Thinking
back, it was probably both. My legs didn't have the strength to make up
for the loss of balance. But something impressed me about people that day.
Like I said, I was in the City. Everybody was in a rush to get to work.
But two people asked if I was okay and offered to help me up. I just thought,
"So much for the rude New Yorker stereotype." Another time I fell was a
few weeks later. I was on the way home from work. I had put in an extra-long
day, because I was going on vacation.
It was late September. A rainy night in New York City. I had just put
in a 10-hour day. I was exhausted as I left the studios on 45th and 5th.
Mike, a co-worker, and I had to walk to 46th and 7th to get my car. I was
totally wiped, could barely walk. Mike carried my knapsack for me. I asked
if he could drive a stick, but he couldn't. I wanted him to get the car
and come get me. The rain continued to fall. I was soaked, but I didn't
care--it was cooling me off. I must've rested at least every twenty steps.
I couldn't hold my neck up any more. Mike asked if there was anything he
could do. I said, "No. Let's just get to the car." Every once in a while
I would whip my head up to see where I was going.
Then I saw the garage where my car was parked. "Home free," I thought.
I tried to walk a little faster. I gave Mike the claim ticket and told
him to go ahead and get the car. Not a second later, I whipped my head
up and down I went. (Slam!) I hit my head on the sidewalk.
My first reaction was to get up. But the whole left side of my body was
numb, like when your foot falls asleep. My head didn't hurt, despite the
pounding it took on the pavement, but I did feel a little dizzy as I laid
there. Mike heard my head hit and quickly came back. The numbness left
and I tried to get up. No dice. This was the first time I ever needed help
getting up, so I asked Mike to grab hold of my arm and help me up. But,
when he grabbed it, he kind of pulled on my arm and didn't help. So I jokingly
said, "What're you doin'? Jerkin' my arm off?!" We both laughed as I laid
on the wet sidewalk. Then I said, "Grab me from the armpit." He did, and
I got up. I was still a little shaken-up, but I didn't want Mike to know
that. We got to the garage and I felt my head. There was blood. I asked
him to see if there was a lot of blood. He said, "Eew, yeah--but not much.
Do you want go to the hospital?" he asked. "No, I wanna drop you off and
go the f**k home!" I said. Finally, the attendant pulled up with my car.
"C'mon, Mikey, let's go!" Mike asked if I was okay to drive. And since
I was in one of my wise-ass moods, I laid into him a bit. "I'm okay. Besides
how the f**k are we gonna get home? You can't drive my car, remember? "I'll
teach you right now, if you want. It's so easy--c'mon! Don't you wanna
learn how to drive a stick shift on a rainy night in Manhattan? It'll be
fun! C'mon, where's your sense of adventure? So what if the cabbies honk
at you! You wanna learn? I'll pull over right here." He said, "No, thank
you!" I knew he wouldn't, but I would've taught him right there if he wanted.
As we drove towards the West Side Highway, Mike said, "How's your head?"
"It's okay. I've got a hard head," I replied. Then I said, "Hey, Mike--if
you were in front of me, how didja know I fell?" "I heard your head hit
the sidewalk!" he exclaimed. Then I freaked Mike out. As I drove up 44th
Street, there was a car in front of us. Mike asked again if I was okay.
So not to let an opportunity to scare the sh*t out of my fellow co-worker
pass up, I replied, "I'm okay. By the way, Mike...is that one car in front
of us or two?"
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