Tuesday, February 22, 2011

First date

I challenge you to remember your first date.  For younger people, this may not be much of a dare, but for those of the "silent generation" and the "baby boomers," remembering that far back is a struggle.  For some of us seniors, what we had for breakfast is already a fading memory.  Of course having a bad memory or no memory at all isn't always a negative thing as there are a few events in life one may definitely want to forget.  It seems ironic, though, those are the memories that usually don't go away but haunt you forever.  One positive about a bad memory is that you never hear old jokes.

Back in the days of my youth (yes, we had electricity), we were told girls matured faster than boys. My oldest sister, Norma, told me that and my next older sister, Donna, added, "and they never catch up." This is food for thought. As I observe my friends, both singles and couples, and consider the actions of women versus those of men, I believe there might be a good argument for such a theory.

However, I have a fantastic memory.  I...er, I...er, what was my point?  Oh yeah, I remember my teachers from kindergarten on.  I especially remember my third grade teacher, Miss MacBeth, because she was my first major crush. You may think being only in the third grade may seem a little early for a boy to have any sexual urges, but I was much more mature than most - it may be because I was 15.

However, in the fourth grade, all of our gang including Dick, Ralph, John, Dave and Manny discovered some educational literature depicting pictures of nude women.  We became, not exactly avid readers, but "speed lookers" might be more apropos.  Mrs. Hoffman, our fourth grade teacher at North Street School, caught us one day thumbing through the World Book encyclopedia in the back of the room looking for tantalizing pictures (I think we were up to book W-Z), but to no avail.  Sending us to have a motherly chat with Miss Campbell, the principal, proved most interesting.  She obviously had similar experiences with young boys before and handled it well - she scared the crap out of us.  I've been impotent every since.  It was like a verbal edition of the videos about social diseases they used to show servicemen to dissuade them from sexual activity with the natives of any port of call.

Undaunted, my interest in the fairer sex increased.  As I look back, I realize being the baby brother of two sisters may have impacted my life tremendously.  I remember (yes, I do remember) my sisters having "sleep overs" and "pajama parties" quite often.  Our house was inundated with half-naked older and more well developed girls running around and I suffered the consequences.  We all have to make sacrifices.  But I digress.

The queen of our fourth grade class, as far as I was concerned, was named Lorraine.  I'm sure many of the guys shared my enthusiasm toward this young beauty, but were too shy to act on it or possibly had no idea on how to act on it.  Being somewhat precocious, I garnered enough courage to ask her for a date to go to the movies on a Friday night.  To bolster my courage I talked my buddy, Dick, into tagging along.

Oh, I remember it well.  My mother, who questioned my intentions, finally gave in to my pleading and begrudgingly gave me two quarters to take Lorraine to the movies.  Asking my father for money was out of the question especially for this lark.  I certainly didn't want to risk his health - he probably would have suffered a stroke from laughing so hard.  Acquiring the price of two tickets was a real victory for me because the cost of a movie had just risen from 15 cents to a whopping 25.  Afraid to meet her parents alone, I asked Dick to accompany me.  On the walk to her house, he reassured me I was doing the right thing, but when I knocked on her front door, he wimped out backing into the shadows.  So there I stood alone trying to display false bravado when her mother opened the door.  I didn't know which scared me the most, meeting her mother or actually taking Lorraine to the Capitol Theater.

I stood there alone, quivering like the last leaf on an elm tree anticipating a hurricane.  Then the worst case scenario played out; my date wasn't ready (the first of many times) and her mother invited me in.  Oh, no!  Fearing an inquisition, I didn't want to enter the house, but I crossed the threshold as I heard Dick slither further into the bushes.  Luckily for me, Lorraine put on her coat and headed for the door just as her mother told me what time she expected her daughter back home.  We bolted out the door like rats abandoning a sinking ship and covered two blocks before my brave comrade showed his head.

Walking to the theater, I noticed how composed my date acted especially in contrast to me.  My palms sweat even though it was November.  My heart pounded in my throat, but that wasn't a problem because Dick and Lorraine chatted like we were at the school playground during recess.  When we reached the inside ticket office, my shaky hand dropped one quarter and it rolled down the mosaic-tiled lobby floor back toward the front doors.  I imagined only buying one ticket so my buddy and my date could see the movie together and I could go home where, by this time, I thought I should have stayed.  As I stood there listening to the coin roll on and on, the lobby began to approximate the length of a football field.  Did somebody suddenly steamroll this place?  I gawked at the quarter and wanted to run to it, but I was frozen in place with embarrassment. Other people in line stared at me in expectation -- their eyes urging me to move, retrieve the quarter, buy this poor girl's ticket and move ahead.  Lorraine finally nudged me into action while my loyal pal snickered.  Maybe his attendance wasn't my best decision after all.

I have no earthly idea what double feature the three of us witnessed that night.  To me the horror show had already been acted out in the lobby.  Now you may chuckle because I have forgotten the movies and believe this is due to old geezer memory lapse.  Not so, dear reader, my mind was so chuck full of mixed emotions, I didn't know then what movies we had seen when we walked out of the theater.  I do recall our stroll back home though.  A light snow began to fall and Dick accompanied us only as far as his block.  He opted for the warmth of his house and left me to walk my date the rest of the way solo.  Thoughts of holding her hand weren't backed up with courage to try.  We reached her house in time to beat the imposed curfew.  This was the moment.  We stood under the soft glow of the streetlight; the gentle white snow flakes tenderly coming to rest on her hair, shoulders and eyelashes.  I thought she was stunning and my heart stopped as she turned toward me, looked at me lovingly with her beautiful eyes, tilted her head slightly upward and as she barely parted her lips...her mother called her in.  This curse of "close but no cigar" followed me all my life.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The true meaning of football

Professional football, if you include the betting activity, is a billion dollar business.  College football is a multi-million dollar business.  In some parts of our great USA, high school football is approaching the same status, maybe not with the big bucks, but definitely businesslike.  In the south, where I've lived for the last three and a half decades, high school football garners almost as much attention as the next level.  Many high schools now groom and recruit athletes for the field, cheerleaders for their acrobatics and coaches for their winning percentages.  Profits from high school football are growing.  But I want to talk about the "spirit of football,"  not the business of football.

I learned about the spirit of football on the old Erie Canal "bed"  in Ilion, NY.  When I refer to "bed," I'm talking about a filled-in area of the original canal.  The Erie Canal, which opened in  the 1820's,  was the main gateway to the West which allowed our country's expansion into international trade.  Ships loaded with merchandise from Europe and other countries sailed into New York City's port, up the Hudson River to Albany and then barges carried the freight across NY state to Buffalo where the goods were then transported across the Great Lakes.  Materials needed for our nation's expansion westward were imported and the crops and goods produced by the citizens of the frontier people were exported to world markets.

The canal's history is a magnificent story.  The politics behind this endeavor are amazing and the canal's engineering and construction are mind-boggling.  A major part of the canal followed the Mohawk River across upstate NY.  When the river didn't oblige, they dug it out, straightened it, widened it or built aqueducts to carry the waters over obstacles.  It was a brilliant feat.

My maternal great-grandfather moved from Canada to the Mohawk Valley and worked in the Erie Canal carpentry shop.  Much of the industrialization of the valley's villages along the route resulted from its location on the canal.  "Low bridge, everybody down, low bridge we're comin' to a town - fifteen miles on the Erie Canal."  The horses and mules that pulled the barges labored along the "towpaths" that sat aside the canal.  I was raised a block away from the canal "bed" and played on a stretch about 20 yards wide and stretched out to about 150 yards long.  As a young kid the other end of that 150 yards seemed like another world.  Today it could be a short par three.

As a young boy, the canal bed proved a challenge to me.  It was located between Canal Street on the north side and state Route 5S (which doubled as our Main Street) on the south border.  Hakes Road, where I lived also was on the south side and I wasn't allowed to cross Main Street, this ultra busy highway.  Other than shift changes at the Remington Arms, Main Street traffic probably added up to 20 vehicles an hour and this included bicycles.  However being the compliant child, I never crossed the road which was the number one reason I never ran away from home.  So there laid this enormous expanse of green grass beckoning to me like a siren to the sailor.  The village kept the grass mowed and trimmed and I knew that was solely for my benefit.   Some days I would walk to the corner and dream about all the antics I could perform on that wonderfully lush green acreage just out of reach.  As Roy Rogers, I could chase the bad guys and sing to Dale and other damsels in distress.  Because WWII was raging, I imagined performing tremendously brave acts of courage with my dad who served in the Navy or brother Bob in the Army or brother Bill in the Army Air Corp.  I could catch bank robbers and notorious criminals to keep my mother and sisters safe from all kinds of imagined danger.  It was all there,  just across the street.

To many guys certain dates in their lives stand out for significant reasons.  Some guys couldn't wait to be 16 so they could get a driver's learning permit or 18 when they wrapped their hands around the real deal.  Eighteen was also a big number back then because we could drink legally.  And we were ready - my gang had about six years of practicing.  But my first big number was five - I obviously was an early bloomer.  Turning five meant I started kindergarten and I had to walk to school which also meant crossing Main Street.  I anticipated kindergarten with a little anxiety, but the thrill of knowing I had access to the canal bed  superseded all other emotions.  My world was now open to all kinds of possibilities.

If my memory is correct, which is a 50-50 chance, the first activity I performed on the canal bed was as a pirate finding lost treasure while saving a princess.  Yes, I multi-tasked at that young age.  The part of Blackbeard was adequately played by Butch House, a neighborhood friend, and his younger sister Patti acted as the princess.  Butch brought along a cardboard sword to fend off me, the dashing pirate.  Not to be outdone, I crossed back over Main Street, scurried up the alley between Frank's Super Market, which was only super if you were five or under, and an old four-plex, two-story apartment building.  Behind Frank's I tore an orange crate apart, broke one slat in half and tied it perpendicular to another wooden slate with string, which I also found in the junk pile behind the store.  Through the years the trashy junk pile provided so many useful answers to various needs. 

To any sane adult my sword resembled a makeshift wooden cross one saw tilting over a grave in a western movie version of Boot Hill.   But not to me, oh no.  To me, my sword equalled, if not surpassed, Sir Arthur's emerald-hilted Excalibur stuck so solidly in the stone.  I hurried back to the canal bed ready to duel the dastardly Blackbeard for the princess's freedom, but before the first blow landed, I was called home for supper.

The initial football game we played on the canal bed involved members of the Hakes Road Hackers (HRH).  This was a fine organization consisting of four neighborhood kids my age who either lived on Hakes Road or nearby streets.  We dug out a fort in the magical forest at the end of Hakes Road, which actually was the east end of Russell Park and covered it with cardboard from Frank's wonderful junk pile.   I was elected president; I think because I brought the shovel. 

The day I got a football for my birthday proved to be a day never to be forgotten.  I rushed out of my house, hurriedly called an HRH meeting at our dugout fort and surprised everyone with my new leather pigskin.  (I think that's an oxymoron.)   All eyes widened in wonderment and glorious expectations as I uncovered my prize.  We rushed from our clubhouse, out of the woods, down Hakes Road, across Main Street and as our feet hit the glorious turf of the canal bed, I flung my new ball spiraling into the blue sky to the waiting arms of Dick Phillips, my closest friend.  That pass, which traveled about five yards, was my first completion of many more to come.  I still remember it with a thrill.

The Phillips lived four blocks away, which, to me, approximated a universe.  However Dick's sister, Marilyn, palled around with my oldest sister, Norma, and Dick's brother, Bob, was in my sister Donna's class.  Norma used to meet Marilyn at her grandmother's, who lived on Canal Street.   During the fourth year of my rapidly moving life, Norma used to take me to Dick's grandmother's so my friend and I could play games together.  His grandparents were wonderful - to me an ancient old couple who always welcomed me warmly.  The big event of those visits, wasn't the games, but the popcorn.

Besides a brother and sister, Dick had a dog named Jan.  Now you have to understand, calling Jan a dog is like referring to a Mack truck as a tricycle.  This dog was a huge Great Dane.  The dog didn't tower over
us kids, but he stood eye to eye with me.  Well, we started our football game, Dick and me against Butch and Patti.  No gender bias here.  On the first play Dick hiked the ball to me, blocked out little Patti and I outran Butch, scoring my very first touchdown.  (In my future organized football years, I was always quarterback and Dick always my center.  Kinda ironic, don't you think? )  

We kicked off; actually I passed off cause I could throw the ball further than I could kick it.  Butch picked it up and with all possible speed raced toward the goal line we defended.  Dick unleashed a wicked flying tackle and Butch fumbled the ball.  I saw the shiny new brown sphere lying on the verdant green grass waiting for my young hands to clutch it and with fleet of foot, sprint resplendently for a second touchdown.  But my shining moment was not to be.  Jan, the canine mobile mountain, grabbed the ball in his mouth and dashed off.  I tried to tackle him but he had more moves than OJ Simpson.  I mean shuck and jive came natural to this beast.  Jan finally tired of toying with me and stopped, but cautiously eyeballed me as I stalked him.  As I stealthily neared, he slowly backed away - we looked like we were engaged in some cultural dance.  I decided I had gained the shortest distance separating us and suddenly lunged.  I grabbed on for dear life, but he threw me off like I was a flake of snow.  As I laid there, humiliated by a damn dog, Jan gleefully bounced across the street and disappeared behind Dick's grandparents' house.  I swear the gigantic mutt was grinning.

I played football in junior and senior high school, but quit after my sophomore year because I attained my goal, which was quite simple -  I dreamed of leading a scoring drive against our arch rival, Herkimer.  As a sophomore, I quarterbacked our JV team and the varsity coach called me up for the big game.  He must have suffered brainus interruptus because he put me in.  My dream realized fruition; in three plays I quarterbacked our team forty yards for a score.  I never played organized football again, but I did happily participate in another much less brutal, but more thrilling version of the game.

As a junior and senior on Sunday afternoons in fall and winter, our classmates gathered to play "touch" football.  Notice I didn't say the boys in our class gathered, I included the girls too.  In fair weather I suggested we play "skins against shirts" with the male team fully clad, but it never carried a majority vote.
So we had co-ed teams that frolicked on the football field and a whole lot of "touching" went on.  The competition wasn't all that intense, but personally, I never tried so hard in my life to "score."   Those were the games that epitomized the "spirit of football."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Class Reunion-50th

By now, you all know Gal Friday (and every other day of the week).  Well folks, Gal Friday (GF) did it again.  This time she dragged me mucho miles to the Mohawk Valley in upstate New York for my 50th class reunion.  This occurred last October, but I've waited to comment on this grandiose event until I recovered.

First of all let me explain that she allowed me inside the ramp van MOST OF THE WAY.  She seat-belted me in my red or maybe burgundy (I'm color blind) power chair and then secured the chariot via ratcheted tie-downs in the van.  When we hit Vickerman Hill, the 1000-f00t steep decline  into the valley, she jerked me from the van and with a bungee cord tied Ole Red, with me aboard,  to the rear bumper.  She set my chariot to free-wheeling mode, smiled at me and yelled, "Have a nice ride."

Now GF is a cautious driver and didn't go faster than 60 mph down this treacherous grade; however, I hit speeds up to 90.  At one point I flew by her so fast I didn't have time to ring my tricycle thumb bell.  A bungee cord is pretty flexible and its elasticity is quite phenomenal.  I swayed in and out of both lanes using my joy stick to avoid cars, trucks, animals, birds and things that flew by so fast, I couldn't identify them.  This terrifying ride was like a deadly video game but with potentially fatal consequences.  When we reached the bottom of the hill, she caught up with me, stopped the van and allowed me back in.  I will credit her with this, though - she left my seat belt on at all times.  GF is going to edit this posting so I might as well admit my version may be somewhat of an embellishment, but in the past this pathway into the valley has seen many accidents.  I noticed they now have a run-away truck ramp and dead man's curve is not as sharp.

We had another couple following us.  A classmate, good friend and lovely woman who's married to a great guy live near us and since we were both going to the reunion, we caravanned it.  I realize two vehicles doesn't constitute much of a caravan but better than two camels.  Well, Margie was horrified after witnessing my brush with death and rushed over to see if I actually survived my deadly ride, or so I thought.  However, when she reached me, instead of compassionate questions about my health and safety, she carped about speeding and reckless driving. A guy just can't win.

The reunion committee scheduled a casual gathering at BPOE 1444 Ilion Elks Club that night and that's where we headed.  As you can imagine, my chariot can't climb steps, but fortunately the Brothers of Elkdom built a wheelchair ramp for entering the club.  Unfortunately it's steeper than the north face of Mt. Everest.   But after my death-defying race down Vickerman Hill, this looked like a no-brainer.  Undaunted and with a prayer on my lips, I navigated upwards.  The door at the top gave me entrance to the bar, which I badly needed.  After a few belts to get my blood once again circulating,  I wheeled into the gathering room.

I thought I made a mistake; it looked like I interrupted an Alzheimer's support group.  Who the hell were all these old people?  I stopped one old geezer doing the geriatric shuffle toward the men's room and asked if this was in fact the class of 60 reunion crowd.  He adjusted his thick glasses, looked me over very cautiously and said I looked familiar.  He asked if I had been at Ilion High in 1960 and I nodded "yes."  Then he asked me what class I taught.  WHAT!!!

I ventured further into the room.  Looking for somebody I recognized, my eyes finally fell upon an old friend's father.  I called to him and he headed through the throng.  As I watched him near, something blurred in my memory; he didn't look quite the same as I recalled.  Actually he seemed in better shape than I thought he would since he had to be 90 something by now.  I asked about his health and he gave me a five-minute recap of his medical history.  Then I asked about his son, my friend.  A blank expression clouded over and he didn't reply.  Afraid he might be comatose, I reached over and shook him. He ripped his arm away and, while shaking a finger at me, yelled out how many years ago his father died.  I still didn't grasp his meaning.  I figured the shaking finger was due to palsy and what the hell did I care about when my friend's grandfather died.  I never met the man.  Obviously this poor old man I used to admire and respect so much was submitting to senility.

After an embarrassing pause, he carefully explained - like speaking to a two-year-old - he wasn't my good friend's father, he was my good friend.  WHAT!!!  I could see, by the concerned look in his eye, he thought I might need immediate cardiac care and I'm sure he was thinking 911.  I wondered what was happening.  Had I been in some kind of time warp?  There was no way I even came close to resembling these old farts.  Something was amiss here.  Maybe this was a dream or an out-of-body experience.  Trying to calm myself, I sat quietly and listened to remarks in the crowd.  I heard women say things to other women like, "You look just like your mother."  I heard men talking about surgeries, braces, stents and pills.  I searched GF's eyes waiting for a logical explanation.

Then people started coming over to me, shaking my hand and introducing themselves.  Their names brought images of young, healthy kids to mind, but what connection did they have to these senior fogies?  These people were obese or white-headed or wrinkled or bald or couldn't see or experienced hearing loss - or possibly all of the above.  Where were the sexy girls in my class I used to fantasize about?  What happened to the sharp, good-looking guys and the athletic teammates?

Then something  happened; it was like a secular epiphany.  With a digital camera, one of the prom queens, who now looked like a retired prison warden, took a picture of three of us classmates posing like we were back in high school cheering on our gold and brown "Bombers."  When she showed me the result, I thought it was the wrong picture. I saw the image that captured three drunken old men stupidly smiling into the camera and I thought the one in the middle might be drooling.  I condescendingly said something  gracious about these three poor chaps and then asked her to show me our picture.  She claimed this was it and the poor schmuck in the middle was yours truly.  WHAT!!!

Now please understand, I don't look into a mirror very often. I haven't since a few years back when I did and got scared by the reflection. With tremendous strength of character, I asked to see the picture again. Sure enough, the guy stuck in the middle was me - I could tell by the unique shirt I wore for the occasion. Embarrassing tears began to form so I hightailed it back to the bar for more bottled courage. After a few more belts to regain reality, I looked up and noticed the guy in the mirrored back bar was the same guy in the middle of the devastatingly telling digital picture. Besides, he was the only guy in a wheelchair. I ordered some more booze. The rest of the night got a little fuzzy, but I think I remember some of these elderly classmates sharing a few more drinks in our motel room. Yeah, I'm pretty sure.

GF roused me from my drunken stupor the next morning and we joined many classmates who stayed in the same motel, for breakfast, or was it lunch?  Somehow the breakfast/lunch crowd ended up back in our motel room.  I had planned on visiting some relatives that afternoon, but the spontaneous party ran into the late afternoon.  It was fantastic.  In the light of day and after a new found outlook derived from the previous night's revelations, I knew these people.  They weren't strangers; they were old friends.  Some of the people were reunion committee members and had information on the attendees and those who couldn't make it.  I inquired about those who were absent.  I must have come up with about 20 names.  As I ticked the names off, one by one the same answer came back - "I'm sorry to tell you, but he or she died."  WHAT!!!  About 90% of the people I asked about were now deceased.  One guy present begged me not to ask about him.  I discovered 30 classmates had passed away.  This was from a class of about 150.  How could this possibly be?  I mean we weren't that old.

The afternoon flew by so fast, before we knew it, people had to scurry to get ready for the night's gala reunion dinner.  During our little afternoon tea, a few drinks were consumed and everyone left in much better spirits than when they came.  Truthfully, to me, that short time in that tiny motel room, sharing old and new stories with my high school friends, was a golden memory never to be forgotten.  That alone was worth the trip no matter how long or dangerous.  To those who didn't make it; believe me, you were very present in spirit.

The dinner that night was more fun than should be allowed.  People who hadn't seen each other in 50 years caught up.  The music was drowned out by a more melodic sound, that of laughter and good cheer.  My only gripe was the weekend was too short.  I didn't get to talk to so many classmates I wanted to see.  I did get a lot of email addresses and phone numbers that I will follow up on and I'm excited with the thought.

I was asked by the committee (who, by the way, did a superb job)  to compose a poem for the reunion and read it at the dinner.  With a little help from GF and a staff member, I blurted out my composition and didn't get hit with any food or utensils.  To me, this was a victory.  GF, always prepared, brought along extra napkins in case the fruits and veggies did fly.  I felt pretty confident, while wheeling up to the mike, because the law couldn't arrest me for drunken walking.

Following the dinner, a group of us met back at the motel restaurant for coffee and dessert.  My sense of accomplishment regarding my poem soon proved to be false.  When I asked the woman next to me what she thought about my verse, she promptly mashed my joy stick and drove me into the table.  Both the stick and I were jammed under the table and time seemed to slow to the pace of a snail in reverse.  Finally her husband discovered a miniature version of the jaws of death in his watch pocket and cut me loose.  I then realized my attempt at poetry wasn't the big hit I imagined.

The next day GF and I visited places referred to in my novel, Blue Chariot, which is a suspense thriller that includes some scary scenes around the Mohawk Valley.  We enjoyed a pleasant day seeing various areas and envisioning scenes in the book.  When we returned to the motel, Ralph, a friend since 5-years-old and someone I've always stayed in touch with, called me.  The three of us met for dinner and guess what - we gathered back at our motel room for drinks.  We broke up slightly after 3 AM.  It was rather simple for me to find my bed.  I just had to raise from my chariot and fall forward, but I think Ralph had to make several passes to find his room.

The next morning GF and I breakfasted with my aunt and uncle who still live in Ilion, my hometown.  They are 80 and 85 and look terrific.  After careful consideration, I realized they looked younger than me.  Boy this reunion trip was turning brutal.  Then we departed the valley and headed west to see some sites I included in my second suspense thriller, Mistake.  We headed for Ithaca, Watkins Glen and Penn Yan.  That night we stayed around Rochester and dined with my niece, her husband and son and his wife.  She mentioned I smelled like I had been stomping grapes all day so I restricted myself to one cocktail.  Family members can sometimes be a little too truthful.  I mean I hadn't seen my niece in years and I thought she could cut me a little slack, but it is what it is.

The next day we shuffled off to Buffalo. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)  GF, the saint she is, consented to a visit with one of my old high school girlfriends I hadn't seen since 1961.  Her husband had passed away and I had consoled her via email.  I promised, after consulting with GF, we would visit her when we came to upstate NY and here we were.  My ego allowed me to be a little nervous about our dinner meeting thinking GF might wonder about the wisdom of reuniting with an old flame.  After all we were on a reunion excursion so this fell nicely into the theme - right?  Jealousy never reared its ugly head which also got me thinking about my appearance.  I figured if I looked even half-way decent, GF might worry, at least slightly, about an old girlfriend making a pass.  When we entered a nice Italian  restaurant, I saw the look of disappointment on Judy's face and spent the rest of the night in a lousy reality check.  This trip got worse every day.  I didn't know how much more my ego could take.

Judy, of course, looked like she did when I last saw her 50 years ago.  By now I wished she resembled her father, who, in my opinion, wasn't a handsome man.  I discovered she was about to marry some "prince of a guy" and move to some mansion in FL.  Oh joy.  He probably is young, handsome and rich.  My self-worth was sinking fast.  As I sat there, the proverbial bump on the log, the two women got along fabulously.  I ordered more wine.  By now, I didn't bother to ask the girls if they wanted refills; I sailed alone.  By the time we closed what I now considered a dump, I drove my chariot crooked.  Hitting numerous tables and chairs, my legs suffered so many bruises they throbbed at every heartbeat.  To top the evening off, I whacked my head on the van's roof as I wheeled up the ramp.  I wasn't sure if the red liquid emitting from the wound was blood or wine.  I wanted my mommy.

We drove through the Allegheny Mountains on our return trip to DE the next day.  Sunshine filled the sky.  Even with my bloodshot eyes and dulled senses, I couldn't help but appreciatete the hardwood trees of fall ablaze with reds and golds.  The scenery of rural NY and PA was lush with green foliage and spectacular farms boasted beautiful hip-roofed barns and magnificent silos standing tall like sentinels watching protectively over their pastures.  We passed through quaint small villages decorated with stately old homes with manicured lawns adorned with autumn flowers and colorful fallen leaves.  Some towns sported classic courthouses amid crisply defined town squares.  All this beauty-why did I feel so rotten, so down in the dumps, so physically and emotionally bruised?  I can't wait for my next class reunion.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Bowl

After two weeks of intense build-up the big day arrived. For Green Bay fans, Sunday truly was super, but for the rest of the world, not so -  unless you were wise enough to bet on the Packers.  It also was a good day in our house because Gal Friday (GF) won $50 on a football pool.

We hosted a small Super Bowl party - small because our temporary quarters confine us to limited numbers at our gatherings.  GF can't wait for our new house in NC to be built so she, once again, can host any number of celebrations with lavish dishes of tasty foods, inventive party decor, special festive drinks to match the theme and for thousands of family, friends and neighbors.  OK, maybe thousands is a little of an exaggeration, but if we could afford it, she'd invite the county.  Our little party consisted of three other couples and  two singles, but it revealed many interesting changes in our lifestyles.

First of all, I want you to know I did help in the preparation of the goodies. GF spent a few days prior to the big day cooking and baking such items as empañaditas, sweet and spicy meatballs, chili, corn muffins, marinated vegetable salad, butterscotch biscotti and fruity chocolate clusters. I'm sure I missed something, but you get the idea. She also made and hung all kinds of posters and other Steelers and Packers regalia around the villa. (Our temporary quarters is a duplex, but now renamed as a villa by the local realtors. It sounds so much more sophisticated and consequently they can rent or sell it at a higher price.)

Of course GF had to have a placard explaining what each dish contained and this is where my talent and effort came into play. No, I didn't create these computer-generated name cards, but I did remember where the holders for the placards were stored away. I also helped make out the beer and wine lists. After these gigantic efforts, I took my well-deserved nap.

Back in the old days - I sound like my father - a Super Bowl party, like all the others, consisted of a keg of beer and whatever munchies I could afford with the money left over from the main purchase - the beer. The dining experience usually included potato chips and pretzels. As I grew older, my first wife tried to convince me keg parties were childish so I submitted to her will and instead of kegs, I bought cases of beer. To display my maturity to my wife, I added nacho chips and salsa to the menu. Usually by the end of the game, the keg or cases were empty and the furniture and carpet were strewn with broken pretzels, chips and spots of salsa. The guys would go out for more beer and the party wouldn't break up until the sun rose over the horizon. The hardcore were around for lunch.

Times have changed. Last night the "hangers on" left at 11:15 PM, not AM the following day. The beer consumption equaled, not two cases, but two cans. Two empty wine bottles reared their ugly heads - white wine at that. Trash day after one of my parties was one of my proudest moments. Garbage cans bulging with empty beer cans, booze bottles and maybe a red wine bottle or two would jam the traffic on my street. The garbage men would brag about the "party animal" on their route; I was a local hero on the garbage truck circuit. But now, two white wine bottles and two beer cans; I can't look the waste management guys in the eye. They now eyeball me with sneers of disappointment, even disgust. I feel like a whipped dog cowering with my tail between my hind legs.

When everyone left last night, not early this morning, but not that late last night, GF didn't even have to run the vacuum cleaner much less scrape the floors with a putty knife or wash salsa off the ceiling. The behavior of the onlookers watching the game seemed more like they were viewing a night of chamber music rather than being wild fans of a brutal sporting event. If anyone sneezed, it constituted a vile sin and unlike the old get-togethers, breaking wind was a definite taboo. Even eating chili didn't allow for such an indiscretion.

So what should I conclude from this drastic behavioral swing? Are my newer friends more sophisticated than my old chums? Are they better educated? Is the factor of age a direct effect? Medical conditions and pharmaceuticals may be contributing factors. There are a lot of considerations involved to come to any positive conclusions and I'm not the person to digest all the ramifications and draw the correct determination. One thing is for certain though - I want to revert back to old habits and be a hero to my garbage man again.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Chutchy

Last week we lost a dear friend.  Carolyn Hemming was a close friend of us both, but especially of Gal Friday (GF).  These two were so close, they were like sisters.  Carolyn, of Polish heritage, was called "Chutchy" for aunt by her adoring nieces and nephews but became known as Chutchy or Chutch to many.  Chutch, her husband, Denny (my fraternity brother), GF and I formed a fearsome foursome during college.  Together we did all the crazy things college kids do and probably some extras.  GF became a welcomed member of Chutchy's family and continues to be part of the family today.  When Chutchy delivered her first daughter Allison, Dennis and Carolyn gave the infant the middle name of Benay after GF. GF even became "Chutchy" Benay to Allison and her sister Judy and their cousins.

Chutchy and Denny stopped to visit a couple of months ago on their way back to Florida.  Chutchy didn't look too healthy and we knew from frequent phone calls, she suffered with respiratory problems.  She was on oxygen and had lost many pounds.  However she retained her indomitable spirit and we knew she'd courageously fight her illness and outlive us all...so we believed.  God must have had different plans as he called her home last week.  Before continuing, I must try to give you a quick overview of Carolyn Tekla Grimm Hemming.

Carolyn was a looker with a firery spirit.  A professionally-trained designer, keen businesswoman, accomplished golfer, terrific wife, mother and grandmother, fantastic caring friend to so many, local leader and superb cook, she won respect from everyone coming in touch with this force of nature.  To me, her most-telling two characteristics were making sure everyone had fun and insisting it be done her way.  She threw theme parties for every conceivable reason.  Her parties promoted the most ingenious costumes and she always dressed poor Denny in the most outlandish of all.  Chutchy's shindigs rivaled any Broadway production.  Her flair for drama was only surpassed by her passion for fashion.  She attended a fashion school in New York City, studied public relations at Utica College and earned her Syracuse University degree in fine arts. GF claims Chutch could take a piece of fabric; give it a twirl and out would come a dress or drape or whatever the occasion called for.

Did I mention firery spirit?  She demanded people listen to her opinions and if they didn't agree, well tough...unless you found a way to present another side which GF sometimes managed to do.  Chutchy was a highly principled woman about as stubborn as anyone I ever met.  She lived by the old adage, "If you don't stand for something; you'll fall for anything" and Chutchy stood for many things.  She championed worthy causes and helped many local families.  I figure the best description I can conjure up is her being a tough and talented whirlwind.  She was a happening, a bigger than life presence. 

We received the call from Chutchy's daughter Allison last Tuesday and we both were heartbroken but GF was shattered.  We planned to drive to Utica, NY on Friday to pay our respects to family and friends at the funeral home.  Saturday was the funeral followed by a tribute luncheon at Grimaldi's, my favorite restaurant in town.  On Thursday GF casually sashayed over to me and sweetly asked, "Honey, would you dash off a poem about Carolyn you can read at the funeral mass?"  Notice she began her request with "Honey."  This is very significant because when she normally directs me to do anything, she calls me "Ed."  When she's mad at me, my name becomes Edward.  But when she wants something she knows is going to be hard for me to swallow, it's "Honey."  So when I heard "Honey," my ears stood on point; I knew something difficult was going to be requested.

GF asked me to dash off a poem about Chutchy, the most multifaceted, grandiose person known to mankind.  You don't just dash off a lyrical remembrance to a force like her. I mean tomes could be written about this woman.  This was a daunting challenge, but it got worse ; she then told me to keep it to one page.  This was like asking an ant to run the Great Wall of China and back overnight.  So I sat at my keyboard and put my rigid digits to work.  I composed a zillion four-line schemes that correctly applied to our subject, but discarded  the vast majority to succeed in keeping the verse to one page.  Family and close friends will recognize some references to actual events but I hope all readers of my poem ascertain the flavor and sense of largeness of this remarkable lady. So with apologies for not including all the wonderful characteristics of a most amazing personality, here is my one-page composition. 

A Salute to Carolyn Tekla Grimm Hemming

From Grimm to Hemming, Denny’s true find
Wonderful memories of Carolyn come to my mind
A Renaissance woman with talents galore
Great wife and mother and oh so much more

Her family saw her as the ultimate Queen
While friends viewed her as star of the scene
For certain a star who gave all a thrill
Comedy and drama with professional skill
 
Any soul mired in sorrow, she’d answer the call
With empathy she yearned to care for us all
Her way with pathos morphed laughter from tears
Sympathetic compassion through all of her years

The Creator I called her, with smile on my face
She’d transform old leather into dainty soft lace
For Judy’s wedding, she began to revamp
Created a cathedral from an old Catholic camp
 
Allison’s Big Apple apartment flamed and burned
Carolyn fled to her side distraught and concerned
Found a new place, created a warm home
Crafted from old things of wood, glass and chrome

She’d create sumptuous servings upon her stoves
Prepared with olive oil, lemons and garlic cloves
Anticipating her meals brought instant delight
Be it served morning, noon or into the night

Delicious were her dishes of meat and fin
Cept’ the Thanksgiving she stuffed ole Tom with gin
She goosed the bird, she pushed full throttle
Diners wished she’d emptied the gin from the bottle

A force of nature so aptly named
Excitement for all, everyone claimed
Devilish, funny, a spirit of fire
A whirl of humanity we came to admire

She brightened our lives and this we applaud
She’ll now bring a smile to the lips of her God
She left to us all her caring touch
We’ll always love you, our wonderful Chutch