Joined NPL at the February l935 convention which was held in New York. Had no sponsor as such, but was befriended by C. Saw and Oedipus, with whom I became quite close. C. Saw died some months later, but I worked with Oedipus for several years, until I left for the army with the outbreak of World War II. (With Oedipus, I worked on a history of the NPL before I left. He continued the work, and it was probably the most extensive history of the NPL ever written up to that time, a work which unfortunately has now disappeared.).
I chose the name Twisto because it suggested both “twister,” a puzzle of sorts, and the magician's “presto changeo.”
Date: Thu, 6 Mar 2003 00:23:11 EST
Val-U called me this afternoon with some very sad news. Twisto has passed away. I believe she said this happened today (Thur, Mar 6, 2003).
Twisto joined the League in 1935 -- the fifth-earliest join date among current members. He was one of the NPL's young puzzle whizzes of the 1930s. He dropped out of the League for many years, then rejoined following our renaissance in the 1970s -- becoming a regular convention attendee and writing some wonderful reminiscences and other articles for The Enigma. He remained amazingly youthful in both appearance and temperament throughout his life.
Twisto's wife, Ruth, is inviting anyone who knew Twisto to a memorial gathering Friday, Mar 7, 2003, at 6:30. She especially invites people who would like to have something read about their memories or come and speak themselves to do so. She is also eager to hear from anyone who knew Twisto in the early days. For more information you can call Twisto's wife, Ruth, at the number in the directory.
From: "Donna Inglima" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Memorial for My Father by Thomas James Nesi
For all of you who don’t know me, I’m Tom Nesi -- Jim’s son.
I guess we all have great memories of times spent with our dad’s. One of my favorites was watching Hal Holbroke perform Mark Twain when I was a teen. Every time Holbroke as Twain was about to finish a story, he seemed to lose his place -- and move on to a completely irrelevant topic -- then somehow wend his way backwards to make his point. During that performance, my father laughed out loud constantly, particularly at the line, “When I was 14, my old man was a fool, but by the time I turned 21, I was amazed to see how much he had learned in 7 years.” What my father marveled at most was that Holbroke had created an illusion, and that once the actor and the make-up were gone, the illusion vanished into an empty stage.
I’m now a writer and producer of medical films and books and live in Princeton, New Jersey. As a hobby I raise a 14 year old son and on occasion attempt to correct his English essays. I never got a chance to confess this to my father, but on my last high school English assignment I received a B-. I’m not sure which rules I broke, but I’m grateful the teacher who handed out the grade is not here.
That’s because I’m going to ramble on a bit about my father in no particular order. You’ve heard most of the details already, so I’m just going to fill in a few blanks. In fact, since some of you here are writers, code breakers and puzzlers, I thought I’d a few clues -- about how this talk is going to end. Here they are: Spirits, thin air, dreams, mercy and Naples.
Well, last year, dad and I spent a wonderful three days at the Wine Spectator bi-annual tasting event. For those days, we got up at 9 am, took a taxi down to the Marriot on 44th street and began the arduous task of smelling, swirling and tasting the world’s finest wines.
It was tough on my dad because already his eyesight was failing and his hearing was a touch off, but I’m happy to say his olfactory senses were in still in fine form.
On the final climactic day of the tasting, we moved to the front of the hall, there to sample a Chateau Haut Brion 1982. It is a magnificent wine. Rich, complex, smelling of good earth -- terroir as the French call it -- redolent of cassis, oak, smoke and berries. Its tannin’s had been tamed by years of bottle aging, but it still had fight and decades of life in front of it.
The wine commentator, Michael Broadbent, an Englishman of the old school, said it was one of the finest bordeaux he had ever tasted. My father leaned forward to hear, relishing the poetic descriptives of the speaker as much as the bouquet of the wine. “Layer upon layer of fruite du terre,” Broadbent said. “Clean, sumptuous, bold yet not overwhelming....” and so on.
Dad took another sip as Broadbent continued: “The important thing to really remember about this wine is that it won’t reach it’s peak for another twenty years,” the wine commentator said. “Best to cellar it.” He replaced the cork in the bottle. I remember it being definitely half full, not half empty.
My father was the oldest person in the room except for Robert Mondavi, age 90, who was sitting right in front of us. “You know,” my father said out loud. “I really think that all things considered, I better enjoy this wine right now. I’m really not sure I should wait until I’m 105.”
“Quite right,” Mr. Mondavi, who was also a bit deaf, fairly shouted. The two clicked glasses and finished the nectar on the spot.
The exchange caused so much commotion, that it reached the ears of Michael Broadbent. He smiled brilliantly, glanced at the partially drained bottle of Haut Brion still clutched in his hands and said to the assemblage with unusual British bravado, “Yes let’s finish this wine up. I defer to the two gentlemen in the front row.”
* * *
My father did not begin his life sipping Chateau Haut Brion. He slept in a bed on the top floor of a walk up flat in Little Italy with his two sisters, Grace and Joe, flanking him. Dad said he could never take a bath because his father used to fill the tub with ice to keep the wine cold.
Thus his introduction as a connoisseur of spirits.
In the 1920's my father spent his days in school, church and the movies. “The movies were the best part,” dad said, “because it was always cool inside.” He spent an entire summer watching double-features, the names of which mostly escaped him. Westerns he guessed.
By his teenage years, my father could already speak three languages fluently: Latin, Italian and English. He had an affinity for words that never left him; an enthusiasm for language, its quirks, its meanings, its derivations, its uses.
He read and wrote voraciously for as long as I knew him. He could relate the sounds and smells of his old Italian neighborhood as easily as he could savor the taste of that Haut Brion. The old coal burning pizza parlor, probably one of the first in New York. The smell of urine and refuse in the alleyway next to his tenement. The endless banging of construction workers. The Italian voices shouting orders to local vendors.
My father loved the wit that language could impart. And he never cared about the source. He loved Shakespeare, he loved Joyce, he loved Mark Twain, he loved Damon Runyon. Quotes flew from him like exotic birds, on whimsical flights and I could never leave home without some bit of literary wisdom being thrown my way.
In order to go to college, my father was supported by his two sisters. My aunt Grace said that my dad was a big trickster. He once slipped sneezing powder into her make up, causing a massive eruption of cosmetics to explode through their flat. My father denied this incident, but I have a feeling my aunt was telling the truth. Grace never held it against him though. For no matter how mischievous my father may have been, he was an Italian son who was about to go to college -- one of the few from the ghetto to escape to the sanctuary that was City College of New York. There my father was free to pursue his considerable talents among the elite group of survivors of other ghettos from other parts of the city. Later, these poor mostly second generation immigrants would spread their learning throughout the United States and the world, winning Nobel Prizes, changing art, science, politics, language and society itself -- gradually moving toward fulfillment of the American dream as they fanned out of their native ghettos into the suburban enclaves of our country. Leaving WWII in China, my father read the farewell words of General Joseph Stillwell (Vinegar Joe): “There is no place like home. We know now what it means by the American way of life -- freedom and equal opportunity, an ever rising standard of living.” That was 1946. Two years later, I was born.
I’m a product of those words and dreams. My father imbued me both with the sense of the poor and the hopeless -- and belief in the opportunity afforded by America.
Dad was a combination of the new and old worlds. The poor Italian boy who watched his father lose what little he had in a barber shop -- and the young scholar who would go on to an Ivy League education, raise a family and live in a neighborhood with good schools and clean streets.
This is not to suggest that I grew up in a rich household by any means. My father, like most men in the 1950's, commuted to the city every day from our modest apartment in Queens. He arrived home nearly the same time on the same bus, and my brother and I would run to the stop to greet him -- as if he had returned home from a perilous and uncertain journey from an unknown country.
Dad succeeded in getting me through my teenage years mostly in tact. And he encouraged me through college. From an early age, most likely from a genetic quirk, I was compelled to write -- something that pleased my father a great deal.
But while my father may have enjoyed my writing, his enthusiasm was not shared by those whose job it was to hire. I spent my early twenties in California, the graveyard of literacy. No matter how hard I tried, I simply could not make money in my chosen profession after my graduation from USC Cinema school. Finally, I called my father to say I really didn’t have the talent and wanted to quit. My father reacted as if I had threatened to murder the Pope. “You have plenty of talent -- you just need the time to write and be creative. Forget about taking some silly job, I’ll support you. There’ll be time enough for you to work.”
I’ve never forgotten those words. They flew in the face of every child rearing or adolescent advice book ever written. Certainly with my father’s kind of pampering and indulgence I would grow up to be a dilettante, a drug addict, a homeless bum -- or worse still -- an English teacher.
But dad’s words and faith had the opposite effect and I dedicated myself to my craft with yet greater zeal. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas I would come back to New York with a fresh tale of woe from California. It never fazed my father, who by this time had not only lived through the slums of little Italy but the horrors of the second world war.
He always shrugged when I left to return to the west coast and recited a bit of Shakespeare: “To thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day. Thou can not then be false to any man.” I still have no idea why he would say that to a would be screenwriter, but its a fact.
My father’s business advice was voluminous. Here it is in its entirety, “Neither a lender nor a borrower be.” -- Armed with wisdom like this, I was never in any danger of being -- a lender.
But pop had a kicker that saved me a bundle.
Upon losing what was almost my entire savings (about $500) in an absurd stock market adventure, my father recited to me the immortal words of Sky Masterson from Guys and Dolls. “Son,” my daddy says to me, “I am sorry I am not able to bankroll you to a large start, but not having the necessary lettuce to get you rolling, instead I’m going to stake you to some very valuable advice. One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to show you a brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken. Then this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of this brand-new deck of cards and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not accept this bet, because as sure as you stand there, you’re going to end up with an ear full of cider.”
Years later when internet stocks were imploding and Enron was collapsing and financial analysts were squirting ink from loaded pens, I thought of this advice and how instead of investing in the stock market, I had bought my own house. The third generation of the Nesi family was out of the ghetto once and for all.
* * *
My father did not like war. He arrived in China just after the surrender of the Japanese. Nonetheless, another war was starting, the Chinese civil war. Dad did not talk much about his experiences. He did tell me that he once guarded a garbage dump with a fifty caliber machine gun. He told me he wasn’t sure what he would do if someone had tried to steal the trash. Fortunately, no one ever did.
Later in life, he remarked that while on guard duty another night a man was being tortured behind him. Dad said that the torture proceeded long after the man was dead -- so my father finally went back to tell the perpetrators that perhaps at that point some mercy was in order. Other than that, my father simply said that from what he could tell, war simply produced a lot of death and that was about it. I don’t think he saw much good come out of it. Vinegar Joe Stillwell, after telling the GIs about the American dream, followed up with this quote: “War is a stupid and wasteful thing and we can’t afford another in our lifetime or in the lifetime of our children. Its a waste of life, of wealth and of time and anything that can bring us to another war must be avoided like the plague.”
Vinegar Joe led his troops through the man-to-man jungle fighting in Burma and was assigned to lead the rangers into a frontal assault on the main Japanese island. He never issued orders from television and no one ever called him either a wimp or a coward for his lack of zeal to kill people in a far off land. Maybe he knew something about combat our present leaders never experienced.
My father did relate one war incident to me however, about an airplane ride he made in order to get into China. In 1945, the only way for an American to get to Shanghai was to land in India and fly over -- or rather wind your wind your way through -- the Himalayas. Crossing the hump, as it was called, was not a joy ride.
“We had reached some twenty thousand feet,” dad said, “and there was nothing below except icy peaks, cloud-capped towers and thin air.” At this time my father noticed that one of the engines of the plane did not appear to be doing particularly well.
My father decided to inform the pilot.
“Hmmmm...that’s not very good,” the pilot said, “You better get out your parachute and ration kit.” The left propeller sputtered to a complete halt.
My father started strapping himself into the parachute, but it regrettable decomposed in his hands. Dad walked back up to the pilot and showed him the debris. “Well, it doesn’t much matter anyhow,” the pilot said, “you’d probably be killed before the chute opened.”
My father recalled that the plane was bumping pretty badly by this point and the pilots inspirational words did not make dad feel any more confident. “Listen,” my father said, “Have you ever flown a plane with one engine?”
“Over mountains like these?” the pilot said. “You think I’m nuts.”
But the pilot was reassuring. “Look, I think there’s a pretty good chance we’ll make it through.”
A pretty good chance -- my father mumbled -- returning back to his bunk. He opened his box of rations. It contained one chocolate bar and two condoms. My father looked out the window of the plane and wondered what he would do with either the condoms or the chocolate bar in 25 feet of snow in the middle of the Himalayas.
Well, of course you know the story ended well. The plane made it through the mountains and landed safely in Shanghai. I never asked my father what he did with either the chocolate bar or the condoms. Maybe they’re still in some plane with the moth eaten parachute. I guess I’ll never know.
A final parting story. We’ve covered spirits, mercy, dreams, thin air -- but what about Naples -- just how is this story going to end and how will we fill in that last blank in the puzzle?
Well, here it goes.
I’ve told you about how my father left Little Italy, how he moved up through life, how he imparted me wisdom -- but I’ve left out his return to Italian soil.
When I was a teenager, he took our family to Italy. We saw the great sights of Rome, Florence, Capri -- but somehow my fondest memory was my father in Naples. Southern Italy. Poor, rugged, smelling of spoiled fish, urine on walls, dirty streets and fuming cars. Spread before my father was his childhood and he took to it like a long lost son -- for he spoke in his first language to nearly everyone in sight. He was a man who had completed a full and joyous pilgrimage. Back again to the rich soil of his youth -- that glorious terroir -- that aroma -- the cassis, the tobacco, the layers of fruit, the rough tannins smoothed out by the waft of pizza from coal ovens."
My father was declining in his final months, the hearing, the vision, the short term memory -- but the wisdom that comprised his inner soul -- his perception and compassion were stronger than ever.
A week or so ago he decided to take a walk alone in the city, the city in which he was born, which he loved and in which he was growing too old to see clearly. But which city I wonder? The present or the past, or both. Maybe he took that last walk to find an answer. He fell. And he was never again able to speak to me coherently again. Any advice I got from now on, I would have to get on my own. It was a lonely feeling. Very lonely.
But my father has always amazed me. He can see my concern in his eyes and he once again falls back on his Shakespeare, this time to the words of Prospero. So far as we know, they are the last words Shakespeare ever wrote and they are addressed to a perplexed and distressed son who needs comfort: My father is a man who knows above all things, how to please and bring peace to his family and friends.
And so as he speaks these lines -- I imagine him pacing through New York City, like Prospero roaming through his enchanted forest -- reflecting on what was, what was to be and where lay his ultimate destination:
You do look, my son, in a moved sort,
And now you, his friends must decide my father’s destiny as he says in this epilogue:
Now my charms are all o’erthrown,
And so now, with you, I wish to applaud a brilliant life and let a spirit soar.