Billy Crystal Remembers Childhood in '700 Sundays'

Comedian Billy Crystal's book "700 Sundays," based on his recent one-man play, is a tribute to his family -- especially his father, who died when Crystal was just 15. Crystal estimated that he shared only about 700 Sundays with his father, whom he deeply loves and admires.

The book, which takes a nostalgic look at the Long Beach, Long Island of yesteryear, is available in stores now, from Warner Books.

Chapter 1

We got a new car!

I was the most excited kid in the world because we finally got a new car, and I didn't even know what make it was.

All my father said on the phone was, "I just bought a new car, and it's a surprise, so, everybody be out in front of the house because I'm going to pull up exactly at noon." So right before noon, we stood in the driveway, my brothers, my mom and I, trying to guess what Dad bought.

"Maybe it's the Ford Fairlane," Joel, who was fifteen, wondered.

"No, I bet it's the Bonneville," Rip, eleven, said with authority.

"He mentioned something about the Chrysler Imperial," said Mom.

I interrupted, which I always did because I was the youngest and the shortest, which made me the loudest. I was also nine.

"Wait, he said it was a surprise! What if he got," as I looked up to the sky with hope, "a Cadillac ? " (I swear I could hear angels singing.)

We were silent for a brief moment, all of us considering that heavenly possibility, when we heard Pop's honk, and there he was waving, as he pulled up in our brand-new, right-out-of-the-showroom, 1957 . . . gray-on-gray Plymouth Belvedere. What the hell was he thinking? Of all the cool cars out there, he picks this one? A Plymouth? And gray? Gray isn't even its own color, it's a combination of black and white. And two tones of it? This was not the car of my dreams, but at least it was a new car with big fins, red leather interior and push-button transmission. The Plymouth replaced the only car I ever knew in my life and I was glad to see this car go. It was an embarrassing-to-drive-around-Long-Beach-in big, black, boxy, 1948 Chevrolet. This was an ugly automobile. It had a sun visor over the front windshield, so it looked like the car was wearing a fedora. Sometimes it looked like the car was an old-time film noir detective sitting in front of our house. It wasn't a family car. This was a getaway car. They killed Sonny on the Causeway in this car. Why on earth would he keep this car for nine years?

Two reasons. One, we couldn't afford anything else; and two, my father loved this car. He took perfect care of this car. He even named the car. He named the car "Nellie." Men always name their cars after women, and talk about them like they are women. It's always, "She's a beauty, isn't she?" It's never, "Isn't Ira a great-looking car?" Boats are almost always named after wives, daughters, or girlfriends. I have never seen the SS Larry. Even the man who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima named the plane after his mother, Enola Gay:

"Hi Mom, I just dropped the A-bomb on Japan and killed eighty thousand people, and I named the plane after you!"

"Oh son, thank you, I can't wait to call Ida, she's always bragging about her Sidney."

And men talk to their cars, just like they're women -- "Come on girl, turn over baby, turn over."

Men treat their cars like women: put a lot of miles on them, and eventually they trade them in for newer models.

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