Nat Daniel as a young married man, circa 1945 (years after the time of this story), with my mom, Mollie (photo taken on the boardwalk at Long Branch, N.J., where I was born)
To mark my dad’s 108th birthday this week (he was born on Sept. 23, 1912), I’m retelling a funny story about him. Actually, it’s a story about himself that he told me when I was a kid. It’s about an incident that took place while he was still in his student years, when he had a summer job working for a chemical company in New York City. Dad never did tell me what his responsibilities were at this company, but they apparently included the sort of odd jobs and errands that required no special training.
One day, he said, he’d been asked to deliver a package to an office farther uptown — or perhaps downtown — in the city. He’d just finished lunch, which he’d eaten while sitting on a wooden crate that held a large, heavy glass bottle of aqua regia (“regal water”) — a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acid so potent it can dissolve even gold and platinum. To get to the place where he was to deliver the package, he’d have to ride the subway.
As he walked toward the entrance to nearest station, he gradually became aware of a gentle breeze on an unaccustomed part of his anatomy — his fanny. He reached back and felt bare skin! The crate he’d been sitting on had apparently had a bit of the aqua regia (or perhaps another acid) spilled on it, just enough to eat through the seat of his pants but not burn him.
By this time, Dad had already walked a couple of blocks. He told me the pants he was wearing were ample enough to allow him to grab hold of the cloth on either side of the gap and more or less “cover his butt” … so he could walk awkwardly back to his employer’s shop. Fortunately, he said, he had another pair of pants there (he’d wear nice pants when traveling to and from work, then put on “work pants” when he got to his job). So he changed into his good pants and completed the errand.
Happy Birthday, Dad. Wish you were still here to laugh along with me and all the many other people who still love and miss you and your irrepressible sense of humor!