All posts by Gary DiDona

comparative essay WY

I guess I should start by giving you some background on me.

My undergraduate major is in biology.

My first job was as a research technician for the chairman of one of the most prestigious hospital dermatology departments in the country, and my graduate degree is in social work, focusing on clinical psychotherapy.

I tell you all of this to let you know that I am well steeped in the scientific method. Things pretty much have to be proven before I accept them.

That said, I have to tell you unequivocally that I fully believe in the power of fortune cookies.

Let me explain.

My moment of epiphany happened when I was 21.

I had a part-time job as a stock clerk with the Purchasing Department of our local city government while I was attending undergrad.

It was my last day on the job before going to work at NYU, and the office staff decided to order Chinese food for lunch.

After lunch, I picked a fortune cookie and opened it.

Three days before going to work in medical research, the fortune read, “You will find much success in the field of medical research.”

After the initial wave of disbelief waned, a deeper sense of trying to figure out how my co-workers had perpetrated such an elaborate and inventive hoax took over.

Some salient points to consider:

1.  I myself chose the cookie out of the six that were included with our lunches.

2.  I immediately demanded to see everyone else’s cookies, all of which contained different fortunes, and

3. The fortune was very specific, not a generality that people sometimes make fit into their life experiences.

Granted that the term, “Much success” is relative, but, considering that I eventually was listed as a co-author on a research paper published in one of the field’s highest regarded journals,  I guess you could say that the fortune was fairly on target.

More than three decades later, after countless hours (of course, for me, that phrase typically means anything over 10…), I have never been able to explain that uncanny fortune, thereby making me a true believer in fortune cookies.

If you can somehow explain it other than by the fortune cookie gods smiling down on me that day, please drop me a note. I am more than willing to entertain other explanations.

Now please excuse me.

I need to go get some Chinese food. I’m dying to know what’s going to happen to me next.

Parisian Laundry

The first overseas trip I ever took was when I was in my mid-20s with two of my best friends from junior high school, Ben and Tom.

We spent three days in London and six days in Paris. Fighting every urge to overpack, I took just enough clean clothes to get me through about half the trip.

London was wonderful. After visiting some sites, we took the Chunnel train from England to France.

Paris was amazing. We were staying in a beautiful boutique hotel, The Hôtel du Quai Voltaire, which Ben’s father had recommended.

The hotel is on Quai Voltaire, a street on the Left Bank overlooking the Seine with unparalleled views of the Louvre across the river. Our quaint room had a small balcony (an important detail to this story).

After three days of sightseeing, I was running out of clean clothes, so it was time to do some laundry. Since this was my first time in Europe, I asked Ben how laundry in a hotel was done.

He said it was just like doing a load of laundry in a Laundromat in the U.S. They would pick up the laundry bag, return it and charge by the load.

I only needed to wash a few pieces to get me through the rest of the trip, but, following Ben’s advice, I figured that if they were going to charge me for a full load anyway, I might as well get my money’s worth, right?

So I filled the hotel’s laundry bag for pick-up.

At the end of a great day at the Louvre, we headed back to the hotel to change for dinner. Instead of the laundry bag that I had left on the bed, in its place was a neat little tower of packages, each beautifully wrapped in Kraft brown paper and tied with twine.

As I opened the packages, I noticed that all of my clothes were cleaned, pressed, and exquisitely individually wrapped. Not just each of my shirts, but each pair of underpants and even each pair of socks.

My initial thought was, “Wow, Parisian hotels are amazingly elegant, even with mundane things like laundry.”

Then, I noticed the bill sitting next to the small tower of packages. The bill for DRY CLEANING (not washing) each piece of clothing was 550 francs, which at the time was $110.

My mind was busy trying to calculate the ft-lbs of energy that would be needed to throw Ben, a much larger guy than me, off the balcony over Quai Voltaire, and into the Seine.

My entire vacation started to be ruined until Tom calmly gave me a piece of advice that I still apply today.

“Gary, look at it this way,” he said. “For $110, you’ve bought yourself a story that you’ll be able to tell for the rest of your life.”

Whether you like this story or not, I don’t care. I just need to keep getting a return on my $110 investment.

My Three Great Loves

In “A Bronx Tale,” Chazz Palminteri’s mobster character, Sonny, says, “You’re only allowed three great women in your lifetime.”

I agree, but I would amend it to say, “You’re only allowed three great loves in your lifetime.”

And, with all due respect to all of the beautiful, amazing, smart, and loving women who have been and are currently in my life, my three great loves have been: my 1976 Chevy Monte Carlo, my 1982 Chevy Camaro and my 1992 Honda Accord.

This is not to say that there have not been (and are) women in my life who have meant everything to me, but the love that I am talking about is a different kind of love.

The love that a man has for his car can spring from many different roots.

For me, it started as a child in the suburbs of NYC, where a car is not only necessary for transportation, it is a core part of the culture and helps define who you are as a man.

For instance, my first two cars were Chevys because my dad, my role model for what it meant to be a man, was a Chevy Man.

He loved to drive, and many of my most powerful and cherished childhood memories were the long, scenic drives we would take as a family.

Cars also defined freedom as nothing else could. The idea of being able to jump into a car and go wherever I wanted whenever I wanted was always intoxicating to me. What better way to demonstrate my independence than by jumping into my car, picking up some friends and just driving around?

1976_chevrolet_monte_carlo_in_joyce_100016338730411845So, at 17, I bought my first car, a used 1976 Monte Carlo. The car had a hood that was longer than an aircraft carrier’s landing deck. With a pale yellow exterior, a white Landau vinyl half-roof, and a white interior, I looked like a 5′ 5″ pimp cruising the streets of my hometown.

Everyone in town knew that car, and for a fairly introverted 17-year-old, that equated to acceptance. In so many ways, that car really was my first love.

Then a year to the day later, I bought a brand new 1982 dark blue Camaro Berlinetta. It was the first year of the Camaro’s redesign, and I was one of the first people in my town to have one. As much as I loved my Monte (affectionately known as “The Banana”), this was a totally different kind of love.

I was the first owner. I was its first, and there is nothing quite like that feeling.

“The Layomatic,” as my friend Ben named it, was another step in defining who I was as a man. It was a muscle car, but the Berlinetta model also had class. I won’t comment here if “The Layomatic” lived up to its name, but it made me stand out from everyone else, just as “The Banana” had.

Ten years (and two engines and three transmissions) later, I purchased a brand new dark red 1992
Honda Accord with a gray interior. The choice of a car speaks volumes about the person who owns it. When I bought the Accord, it was the first time anyone in my family had owned a foreign car.

Yet another step in my independence from my family. My choice of an Accord also spoke to where I was in my life.

I was getting older.1992_honda_accord_coupe_lx_s_oem_1_500

The Accord was highly rated for reliability. That’s where I was in my life: Looking for reliability and not so much for flash.

Well, the Accord stayed with me for 22 years (longer than any woman has to date), until January of this year when it just couldn’t go any further. I could not have asked more from it, and I am still dealing with having to let it go.

Since I now live in Brooklyn, I recognize on a cognitive level that I don’t need a car to get around. But try to tell that to that boy who grew up with cars being such a core part of his identity.

Some day, I may buy another car, but, for now, I am going to try and get used to not having one. In fact, I wrote this while sitting on the train on the way to visit my brother and his family.