Speech Not Given
Due to confusion on my part, and my ridiculous ignorance about Catholic traditions, I never read the speech I wrote for Pat Gleason’s funeral. I thought I was supposed to read at the service, so when I got the reading Marty chose from the Book of Wisdom I thought my bit just wasn’t going to come up. So, I never printed it out. I also never finished pruning it, so I think its a little long. All the same, I really want Marty and Tony to have the chance to see it, and Nick was kind enough to ask about it, so here it is.
When I walk in, Mr. Gleason’s in his living room, surrounded by stacks of books, taking in a movie, discussing theories and practices of modern coaching with Tony, confirming some legal fact or joke with Marty, and pitching set-ups to Judy, who bats them back like a practiced comedy team. He’s doing this all at once, and the man is home after working all day. This is how he relaxes, by flexing and practicing four different social or intellectual pursuits at once.
Later, Mr. Gleason is having a casual discussion, it appears, about human rights and international law, with a Brazilian exchange student from Beloit College. Picture Pat, the wise and serene elder calmly debating with the enthusiastic and curious student he just met. They’ve each got a drink in their hand and they’re each joshing like old buddies. They’ve known each other for maybe two hours at this point.
Another night, I saw Pat spring from his big chair and rush off headlong in search of a neighborhood cat. This even after he had taken Judy out for a night on the town.
Ask anyone: I talk too much. Around Pat, though, I was quiet, even shy. At first I was intimidated, being in the den of a scholar, in the home of a man who had, like, a real job; the sort that you see on television. I’d heard so many stories about him by now, it was like being around someone famous. Later, after Pat had made it clear to me that I was welcome in his home, I was still quiet, because it’s such a treat to watch the Gleason family in action. It’s awesome. I just bask in it.
The last meal I had at the Gleason house was selected, prepared, and served by Pat. I have never before, or since, had such astonishing tamales. Seriously. I have been actively pursuing a mexican food experience on that scale ever since, and I haven’t found one yet.
It might have been the general rapport at the table. It might have been Marty drawing stories of South Side Chicago bars and young tomfoolery out of Mr. Gleason. It might have been the comedy routines that Tony and Judy perfectly improvise. I think, though, that it’s this image I have in my mind of Pat buying tamales from a strolling street vendor he knows in the city. I love this picture: Mr. Gleason in his suit, casually chatting with this older gentlemen on a sidewalk in front of a gorgeous neighborhood mural of Guadalupe. They know each other, of course, because Pat’s bought tamales from the vendor before. Pat knows they’re the best tamales you can get, so he won’t buy anything else. Passersby in the scene think this pair of joking, chatty guys — lawyer and vendor — breaks some sort of social rule, but Pat doesn’t care. This guy’s tamales are the best, he’s good at what he does, and Pat doesn’t talk to social rules, he talks to people. The vendor is a person who works hard, and knows good food, so Pat makes time for him.
I have no idea if that’s what Pat’s encounter with the tamale vendor was like. I do know that tamales tasted better when Pat bought them from a guy he knew with a cart. I know they taste better at the Gleason’s kitchen table.
I know Pat saw right through the acts people put on around him. It was a little scary, actually, to be figured out so quickly by a total stranger, because normally you assume that someone who sees through your act will reveal you to others, judge you, or refute you. Not Pat. He shared information with you, made you smarter, and talked with you as though you already knew the things about yourself that he figured out just by looking at you.
That’s how Pat knew good folks. That’s how he taught his kids to spot the good in people, even if those people couldn’t see the good in themselves. That’s how Pat knew the best guy to buy tamales from.
Those tamales were so good. They were savory as a great conversation, spicy like a good joke, and as satisfying as a favorite restaurant. It was like eating a delicious secret. I’ll never have another tamale that good. But at least I know I can stop looking. I sat at the best table in the house and had the perfect tamale.