His initials were L.A.F. It’s ironic that his initials were L.A.F. because he had the most unique laugh. No one had a laugh like my friend Dan’s dad, Lou.
Lou’s laugh had a gusto that made you feel like you didn’t have to take life too seriously. As a kid and later, a teen in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, Lou’s laugh helped me get through those years.
When the world got me down, there was always Lou’s laugh to help make the pain go away. On occasion, Lou laughed so hard, it was like the late actor Dom DeLuise’s laugh. For those too young to remember, Dom DeLuise starred in a number of films for years. Some of those films featured that distinctive wheezing laugh which can be heard in The Cannonball Run and Smokey and the Bandit II.
I first discovered that part of Lou’s laugh when I took a trip with Dan, Lou and his wife Roberta to Niagara Falls and Toronto well over 30 years ago. On our way back to our then-hometown, Cleveland, Ohio on that trip, we stopped at the Angola Service Plaza in New York State.
After sitting down with our institutional food, we all joked about how terrible the offerings appeared. Dan and I lodged into our typical adolescent humor and then it came, Lou’s infectious laugh-similar to that of Dom DeLuise. Our joy seemed to last for hours.
Of course, there was so much more to Lou than his laughs. He was a devoted loving son, husband, father and grandfather. For years, Lou worked as a professional roofer, AC and furnace repair person and all-around-handyman.
Since Lou worked long, crazy, scattered hours, one never knew when he would appear back at my friend Dan’s house. Typically, Lou would show up at the most unexpected moment ready to sit me, Dan and any other friend down for a lecture. One time, Lou gave us a lecture about having a skill.
”You gotta have a skill in this life if you’re going to get anywhere!” Lou implored one day. “Look at our neighbor Kenny. He fixes typewriters and makes a damn good living at it.”
Other times, Lou would appear in Dan’s kitchen, stand there will his huge smile at me and declare, “Bobby looks hungry.”
To this day, I have no idea what qualifies as, “looking hungry,” but Lou always needed an excuse to get some fast-food to bring in and feed all of us. Whenever these episodes occurred, Roberta would protest, “Bobby gets fed at home! He’s not hungry, Lou!”
While Lou would stand there ready to take our orders for McNuggets, Roberta would emerge from the den adding what she wanted from the fast food restaurant.
Certainly, we didn’t always see eye to eye on how Lou viewed the world. His world was hardened by growing up with a tough Hungarian dad who Lou affectionately referred to as, “The Old Man.” We all feared “The Old Man,” who had that classic Hungarian temper. “The Old Man” seemed to speak little English and was ready to discipline us for reasons unknown whenever he dropped by Dan’s house.
Aside from his father, Lou’s world was shaped by working in Cleveland’s seedier sections. Many folks wondered why Lou would always be down on tough streets like Kinsman, East 55th Street or near Hopkins International Airport on the city’s West Side. The only answer to that query is that was where Lou got the most business. Even though we all lived in the same suburban Cleveland neighborhood, in some respects we were worlds apart from Lou.
Lou saw the underbelly of the Rust Belt while we were safely ensconced in suburbia producing Super 8 films. Lou didn’t quite approve of what he thought were our “childish games.” ‘Since when is film production a skill?’ he would reason. Still, we convinced him that our endeavors were worthwhile and we even coaxed him into a few of our films.
Throughout his professional life, Lou experienced grit, grime and the aftermath of crime while our world was a bit more, “sanitized for our protection.” What wasn’t so much “sanitized for our protection” was Dan’s house, and more accurately, his basement. Lou’s roofing, heating and air conditioning scrap materials festooned the basement.
For two imaginative boys, Dan’s basement was a wonderland. We used Lou’s scrap metal, wood and cardboard to create a mock spaceship control center underneath the stairs leading into the basement. One Halloween, we used Lou’s tools to build a “haunted basement” complete with a skeleton moving up and down a clothesline.
During one of our summers, we took shopping carts from a nearby grocery store and used Lou’s hacksaws from the basement to chop the tops off and attached heavy-duty wires to the wheels with duct tape to create our own go-carts. When we got to sixth grade, we began to take the basement over where we would film some of our Super 8mm films during the time we attended school and even on our college breaks.
Over in Dan’s backyard, Lou tied a rope from the tallest tree with a loop to put one foot in. With a tall ladder, we would climb to its top step, put one foot in the loop, hold onto the rope for dear life and swing like we never swung before. The rope finally gave way when Dan was calmly swinging on it during the summer after eighth grade. Whew!
The unattached garage was also filled with Lou’s materials. We couldn’t get in there much, but we frequently climbed to the garage’s roof where we would experiment with throwing items off it including our friend Chuck’s bike. Yes, the bike still worked after our experiment. My friend Dan’s house was not a typical suburban home. It was a funhouse where imagination knew no limits. We couldn’t have explored our interests without Lou.
Lou passed away in Florida the other week. He was in his late 80s. Late one night, Chuck texted me with the sad news. I later saw what Dan posted on his Facebook page: “My father passed away today. Some of you knew him. He was the kind of guy that would give anyone the shirt off his back. He was in a lot of pain, but at least he’s not suffering anymore. That’s about all I can say right now.”
I write all of this on the eve of what would have been Lou’s birthday, December 8, the same day that singer/songwriter John Lennon was assassinated. Other than sharing the same date, the two events couldn’t have been more different: Lou celebrating one more year on Earth while millions mourning the passing of a talented singer/songwriter whose life was cut way too short. Unlike Mr. Lennon, Lou lived to see his daughter and son get married and have kids.
The last time I saw Lou was over 10 years ago at Dan’s wedding. He was the happiest that I ever saw him. And yes, throughout that entire wedding weekend, he laughed. I’ll never forget that “L.A.F.”