By Charlie Sacchetti
It wasn’t always this way but for the last 20 years or so I’ve become became a big fan of the late Jewish comedian Jackie Mason.
I saw a video of his one-man show on Broadway and I was amazed at his comedic timing and delivery. I enjoyed it so much that I purchased his book, “How to Talk Jewish,” and thoroughly enjoyed it. The book highlights Yiddish words and phrases, many of them now used by non-Jews, and describes their meanings in a way that demonstrates Jackie’s wit and wisdom.
Haven’t you heard people say things like, “Boy, that guy’s got Chutzpah” (pronounced Horspath) when describing someone who is overly brash or has an overabundance of gall; or “Oy Vey!” when experiencing a feeling of bewilderment? Many of these phrases are inter-mingled with our language. However, one stood out and stirred up some humorous memories.
The word was klutz.
The Yiddish word klutz is a noun to describe someone who is clumsy or awkward, and a person who does things in such manners can be described as klutzy. As I think back, I can certainly remember episodes that would put me in that not-so-elite group.
At an early age, I developed a trait that is usually prevalent in the Italian community. That is, expressing oneself not only verbally but with additional emphasis by moving the hands. I saw this a lot in my family. Some of my relatives wouldn’t be able to speak if they sat on their hands. In our Southwest Philly home, during our evening meal, my father didn’t say much after a long, hard day of his laborious duties. He chose to unwind at the table, enjoying my mother’s delicious food while simultaneously reading his favorite newspaper, The Evening Bulletin. The paper was placed strategically on his left, which was also my immediate right. Reading the paper, at the table, was a ritual he enjoyed and my sister, Kathy, and I knew not to bother him while he decompressed. One night at dinner when I was about 10 years old, while talking to my sister, I motioned with my right hand and knocked over my full water glass. Naturally, my father’s first reaction, before the yelling started, was to grab his beloved Bulletin before it became a soggy mess. He wasn’t too old at the time, maybe in his mid-40s, but his reflexes weren’t fast enough to prevent that newspaper from becoming The Evening Sponge. It was really funny but we didn’t dare laugh and dinner resumed after Dad offered a few “comments.”
Old habits can be hard to break, and my propensity to knock over filled glasses was rekindled years later when my wife, LuAnn, and I attended the wedding reception of one of my favorite customers. As we sat at our table, which was beautifully adorned with flowers, silverware and full champagne glasses, I turned to greet someone and knocked my glass onto my wife’s left leg, which was inside of a lovely, new, beige, summer pantsuit. Our table included six other friends, who knew us well, so the shock value was limited. Luckily, the glasses were small and by night’s end, the spill was just about non-evident.
Another tale involved LuAnn’s favorite aunt, Grace, and her rather large, Italian boyfriend as they were on the way to a dinner. They were only dating for a short while and were riding in South Philly in his big Buick sedan. It was the spring of the year and the poor fellow was having quite a problem with his hay fever. This event happened many years ago, when there was no air conditioning in cars. So, with windows down, the more they drove, the more he sneezed. After a while, the sneezes got pretty violent and noisy. Gracie reflexively pulled back with every successive outburst. Finally, around Broad and Wolf Streets he sneezed so hard that his full upper plate popped out of his mouth, flew out of the window and landed 3 feet to the right of the double line in the street. That was pretty embarrassing for the poor guy and not the best way to impress a lovely lady. But there was more to come. As he looked in his rear-view mirror, he saw a Bond Bread truck run over his teeth. We never found out what he had for dinner that night but I’d bet it didn’t include corn on the cob.
These stories aside, the one that is the absolute best example of klutziness was the incident that involved a beloved coach who I will not identify. I’ll only say that he is no longer with us, he is in his sport’s hall of fame and attained national and international prominence. He was a man that everyone respected, and the mere mention of his name brings joy to all who knew him. As the story was told to me by my dear friend who was there at time, the subject was driving to a game with three others. It was a cool evening and he had been suffering from a bad cold which caused him to be very congested. While driving, he felt the need to expectorate some of the phlegm that was tormenting him. What could he do? He was driving. He couldn’t reach into his pocket for a hanky, so he did what most guys would do, he turned to his left and projected the material at breakneck speed. Only one problem … his window was up! Even a hero can be a klutz.
Charlie Sacchetti is the author of three books, “It’s All Good: Times and Events I’d Never Want to Change;” “Knowing He’s There: True Stories of God’s Subtle Yet Unmistakable Touch,” and his newest, “Savoring the Moments: True Stories of Happiness, Sadness and Everything in Between.” Contact him at email@example.com.