My first memory is when I was four years old: a family reunion at my uncle George’s farmhouse. Uncle George was one of those great guys, a true character who claimed to have been a World War II bomber pilot and dated Miss America, one of those guys who walked into the room and lit it up. You remember how Al Pacino talked in Scent of a Woman? “Hooo-waaaaaaah!” Uncle George talked exactly like that. Complete conviction. He’d say something like “Don’t eat that mustard! Mustard will give you a heart attack!” He’d just make it up. But to this day, I’ll be putting mustard on my hamburger and wondering….
Uncle Chick was there, too. Greatest con artist in the world. He’d gotten meningitis when he was a kid, lost his eye, and had a glass one inserted. He worked in an office during World War II, but he’d go into taverns, put his glass eye on the bar, and say, “Would you buy a drink for an Army man who lost his
I remember us kids sitting around at this reunion and Uncle George telling stories: “Chick, take off your finger for George Timothy and Ada Frances.” Uncle Chick had this fake finger, and he’d do one of these moves and put the finger on the table. “Now, Chick, take out your teeth.” And Chick took his dentures out and laid them on the table. “Now, take out your eye and put it on the table so the young ones may gaaaaaaaze upon it.” Chick took out his glass eye and stuck it on the table. And Uncle George said, “Now, Chick, unscrew your head.” And all of us kids took off running, because when you’re four years old you believe anything is possible.
At a very early age, I learned how to tell a story.
The best lesson my mom taught me was how to be scrappy. She was a beauty queen and had her own television show. But for her birthday, she’d buy herself a table saw. She put a roof on our house. My father – great as he is – couldn’t pick up a hammer. It was my mom who was up there pounding the shingles in. But more than that, she taught me how to be realistic and survive in weird situations.
I have this buddy, Giovanni, in Italy. Over the summer we’re out riding motorcycles in the middle of nowhere. I go through this intersection, there’s nobody around. Giovanni comes through, and out of nowhere this lady in a car comes racing across and crushes Giovanni’s leg.
I get back to him, and it’s a mess. Blood and bone everywhere. No ambulance around for a hundred miles. People start coming over. I don’t speak the language, but somehow I’m making them understand: “From you, I need this. From you, I need that.” We get towels, we get bamboo, we use bungee cords to make a splint, we get a car.
Keep your cool, get the job done – that’s what I got from my mother.
You know, after all these years, it’s still hard to explain my father. But the best way I can tell you about him is this: There are people in life who you wish you could be at a certain moment in time. Something happens and the moment calls for you to say just the right thing – and most of us don’t say it. The right words come to you later, in the car when you’re driving home. “That sonuvabitch, you know what I should have told him?…”
My dad was the guy who always had the perfect comeback at the moment it needed to be said. You’d watch and go, “Wow!”
He was an idealist, too, and it’s easier to be the friend of an idealist than the child of an idealist – because the idealist will make his child an example.
When Bobby Kennedy was killed, my dad was a journalist doing a TV show in Columbus, Ohio.