That would be the voice of Grandpa Sal, my wife’s mother’s father. A man convinced that everywhere he turned somebody was trying “to put the screws into him.” Chiselers were out to rip him off, con him, cheat him in some way, and Grandpa Sal was onto them all. He knew their tricks, what was what and who was who — and no, he wasn’t going to pay $400 to that son of a bitch mechanic down at Exxon.
I met Grandpa Sal late in his life, and didn’t get to spend much time with him before he died over a decade ago, but I always enjoyed his astonishing, impromptu visits. Sal lived alone in Albany and drove a beat-up Ford, only because they never take away driving licenses in New York State. You can be deaf, blind, and bonkers, with blood spurting from your ears, and Motor Vehicles will rubber stamp your license and send you back on the road. “Drive safely!”
Sal never called; he just showed up at random times. There he was on the stoop, pushing the doorbell, blinking behind large glasses, wisps of hair growing from his enormous, legendary ears. He’d explain he was out grocery shopping, figured he’d swing by. Over coffee, the conversation would inevitably turn to some bastard who was trying to put the screws into him. I loved it every time Sal used that phrase, and usually felt sorry for the poor guy who crossed Grandpa Sal.
One thing he did on at least two different occasions:
Time to depart, Sal’d rise, hug my wife, Lisa, because he was crazy about her. He’s shake my hand with the approval only an old man can bestow, and head to the door. Almost as an afterthought, Sal reached into the pocket of his rumpled jacket and pull out a half-pound of sliced ham. He’d picked it up at the deli and wanted us to have it, he explained. Here, for you. Sal slapped it into my hands — it wasn’t in a shopping bag, just the damp clear plastic wrap you got at the deli counter — and I’d stammer, “Wow, um, ham! That’s so . . . thoughtful . . . of you. We’ll, like, definitely make sandwiches.” Turning to Lisa, smiling, “Right, honey?”
Grandpa Sal always came with a gift. He knew we were the Good Guys. Because never once did we try to put the screws into him.