Sometimes, during the last couple years of his life, when we would go out to dinner with my grandfather, he would take his teeth out and put them on the table. He’d pick at them with a fork or sometimes even drop them in his water glass and swirl them around. I think the first few times he did that, we all said, “Oh my God, you can’t do that…Gampi!...Come on…what are you doing?”; but it got to be a common enough occurrence that after a while, we all kind of shrugged and kept talking, “Waitress! We’re ready to order”. You might think that was an indication of his senility, even altzheimer’s, but it wasn’t. My grandfather was sharp as a tack, in fact he died giving a speech at a party he was having in his house for the District Attorney of Philadelphia. He was also a firm believer in the importance of manners (when we were little,for example, he insisted that when we were introduced to his friends or co-workers that we look them in the eye, give a firm handshake or curtsy, and say, How do you do?) but he always lived by his own rules. If he felt like taking his motherfucking teeth out at a table in a restaurant, he was going to take his motherfucking teeth out.
Here are a few other details about my Grandfather:
-He was born in Italy.
-He was a college professor.
-He was President of the International Trial Lawyers Association.
-He went to an Ivy League school that he paid for himself.
-He wore pinky rings.
-He carried an old brown wallet, stuffed 3 inches full with cash and every credit card in America, and held together with 6 rubber bands.
-He owned bespoke suits in every color and fabric, including ones with jackets in pink and yellow and red; he had to turn a room in his house into a closet just to hold them all.
-He mostly wore clip-on ties because he never learned how to tie one.
-In the summer he had a party every Sunday and he would cook the food and then sing before dinner with a 3-man band he had hired specifically for that purpose.
-He was very generous.
He went through almost his entire life without removing his teeth at the table, so, yeah, it was odd. Kind of scary too, seeing his face slack, suddenly formless. Maybe it was a clue, one that gets overlooked until there is hindsight, that he was heading down a dead-end street. It may not have been a conscious act, but it was a way of saying, however quietly: I’m done.