This post is an homage. To two men in my life, neither of which is my husband (scandalous!).
The first of these men is my late father, Timothy Frank Wisniewski (how’s that for a great Polock name?):
My father was something of a genius. Almost a savant. He was a brilliant engineer: mechanical, industrial, and computer. And he was an engineer in every. sense. of. the. word.
Everything about Tim Wisniewski screamed, “ENGINEER!”, from the ball point pen always clipped in his dress shirt pocket, to the way he repeated everything you said before he argued against it; from the pad of graph paper he ALWAYS seemed to have on him for impromptu explanations of the laws of physics, to his thick spectacles set on his handsomely serious face.
There were only two things that didn’t scream “ENGINEER!” about my dad — 1.) he was the biggest sports fan I’ve ever known in life, so much so that he would destroy furniture in our living room in fits of anger over college basketball games (yes, I see the resemblance); 2.) he was as equally brilliant a musician as he was an engineer, and he taught me all my early lessons about classic soul, blues, and rock.
He died of lymphoma almost 20 years ago, when he was just a couple years older than I am now. I was 15. He somehow found the energy to engineer his battle with cancer until the end, betting on science and doing everything practical to solve the problem, but in the end it proved unsolvable.
The second of these men is my still-very-much-living maternal grandfather, Sam Spade (nee Salvatore Spada):
My grandfather is not an educated man, but he is just as brilliant as my father was: a different kind of brilliant. If Hollywood were to make a movie about Sam Spade’s life, it would be far more epic than any Humphrey Bogart flick (and I hope to make that movie myself someday).
My great-grandfather died suddenly, at 29, when my grandfather was only 2 and his brother was an infant. It was the Great Depression, and his mother was still a teenager. They grew up dirt poor in the Italian ghetto in Detroit: Sicilians fresh off the boat struggling to make a life in America without a husband and father. Gramps left school in the eighth grade to start achieving whatever was necessary with smarts learned on the street.
If I took the time to recount all the things he actually managed to get done with those smarts, you’d never believe me anyway (unless you know Sam Spade, and then you’d just say, “That’s right, goddamnit!”), so I’ll just say…
Sam Spade — bricklayer, cardshark, used car salesman, bass player in a swing band, pool hustler, barber, and reputed gangster extraordinaire — gets it done. And needs no plan.
And yes, if you’re wondering — despite their total lack of anything in common, Sam Spade really loved having Tim Wisniewski for a son-in-law. And vice versa.
So why am I composing an homage to these two men today?
Well, goshdiggitydarnit, I have LITERALLY solved more problems this week than I’ve ever dreamed imaginable (and I’ve never been one to shy away from problems). And it occurred to me that I was able to do it all because I’m a total hybrid of Tim and Sam.
I made plans and the plans fell apart, and so I did research and made new plans and made lists and phone calls and tracked things down and solved the problem. I stayed organized and I moved quickly and I got the outcome I wanted. Multiple times. I was a total Tim.
But when I set budgets and discovered they couldn’t be met, well… I pulled my look-cute-talk-tough act and bargained my way back. I “refused to accept retail.” I was a total Sam (I’m pretty sure he has that phrase trademarked, btw).
Even better, I combined the powers of BOTH Tim AND Sam at once to solve the biggest problem of the week (or at least, the one that FELT like the biggest). Just when I thought we were set with the house and on a stable path to moving forward, my mechanic called to tell me that Car — who was in for a regular oil change — needed all new front and rear brake systems. $700.
I looked at my budget of JUST the unexpected expenses that had already come up that day, and sat in silence on the phone until the mechanic had to give me a, “Hello?”
A few seconds later I hung up on him. In just a few minutes after THAT I had researched my way to an under-the-radar mechanic in San Francisco that supposedly did work for near at-cost prices, and gotten a rough estimate over the phone. Today I took Car in to the mechanic, we looked at her together, and I left with a quote of $250 for the entire job.
Dad found me the mechanic, and Gramps got me the price.
Houses — especially 100-year-old houses — have a lot of problems, and I’m tired already. But at least my problems for now are solved, and I can go to bed without worry.
So thank you, Big TW, and thank you, Sam Spade, for giving me your DNA. I owe you guys today. And so do the new men in my life.