Gym Class

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					Opening Thoughts


I decided one day that I wanted to write a book. Everyone I know writes. I was married to
a professional writer. Many of her colleagues at the newspaper she writes for already
either has already written books or is enduring the painful, ongoing process as we speak.
A friend of mine is, of all things, a competitive eater when he isn‘t painting (buildings),
and HE is writing a book. Thus, I decided that I would write a book too. All I lacked was
talent, training, and desire, and I figured that could pick those up anywhere!

There was one more thing that I lacked, though. I had no idea about subject matter.
Should I write a novel? Should I write the next great murder mystery? Should I write
some trite little piece of tripe that goes absolutely nowhere yet makes people laugh?

I decided that the best course would be to write about what I knew best or in this case,
WHO I knew best. I decided to write about myself.

That might seem rather pompous, to think that people would actually be interested in the
life of some nobody from the Midwest and what path his meaningless little life took. As I
started to write, though, and started reliving things that would make up the chapters of
my little missive, a pattern begin to emerge. I realized that no matter what field I had
entered into during my life, everybody seemed to be interested in bringing me down a
notch.1 I went into sports, became a rather good power hitting catcher, and pitchers threw
at me. I went into martial arts, and the little Korean instructor used me the way a pervert
uses a blow up doll. I went into music, became a skilled musician capable of playing
three instruments, and people from record labels kept asking if I had a day job. It started
to get to the point where I felt that I needed to watch my back every minute of every day.

Then I remembered that I had once read about a famous desperado from the old west,
back in the days when men were men and sheep were nervous, who made a point of
sitting with his back against the wall, and facing the door in the saloon. That way, he
deduced nobody could sneak up behind him and shoot him in the back.

1
 People might think I have a persecution complex, but my shrink doesn‘t think so. She just thinks I‘m
depressed.
In his honor, I decided to call this book ―Me and Jesse James‖. After fifty plus years of
watching over my shoulder, I know how Mr. James must have felt.

So, Jesse, this one‘s for you. Let‘s write!




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Gym Class


For eight years running, the day I really looked forward to (that statement would be
sarcasm defined) was gym class. This was a mixed blessing in that some of the activities
required gorilla-like strength and rabbit-like speed. However, it also presented other
activities that showcased my gorilla-like speed and my rabbit-like strength. It started out
easily enough in the first few grades, where gym class was basically doing a few jumping
jacks, maybe 10 pushups and one quick spin around the gym. By then the class was over
with a minimum of sweat, exhaustion and embarrassment. As things got more intense,
they expected me to climb ropes, do sit-ups, throw some ridiculous thing that looked like
a volleyball on steroids (I later learned that it was correctly called a medicine ball, though
I couldn't for the life of me imagine how getting slammed in the gut with a heavy,
overstuffed ball could be considered therapeutic for anything other than a gas bubble the
size of Rhode Island) and do various calisthenics designed to tone muscles I never knew I
had. However, I never had the abdominal strength to get past more than a handful of sit-
ups, schools had definite mandates against doing the kind of structural damage that a boy
my size climbing a rope would do to a ceiling, and I figured that if I hadn't used a given
muscle by that point in my life it probably wasn't that critical a muscle to begin with.

After that it was just games like team tag, an ingenious game where once you get tagged
you switch sides and become a pursuer rather than a pursuee. Once everybody is
captured, you start over with one person chasing the rest of the class. I didn't see it then,
but the political implications here are quite blatant. With every tag the pursuer made, his
team got bigger, and thus stronger. More and more tags, more and more people, a
stronger and stronger team. Combine this credo with the lack of conscience of, say,
Adolph Hitler, and you begin a process of brainwashing kids into believing in the
improper political doctrine of "might makes right". What kind of lesson is this for kids in
early grade school to learn? Doesn't this lead, by natural progression, to the "gang"
mentality we see far too much of today, where the gang with the most members rules the
streets?




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Although I don't know that the other most popular game, dodge ball, is much better in
terms of the message it carries. One guy has the ball and he tries to hit another guy. Of
course the fastest and most agile will never be hit as long as there are easier targets. As
one who wore a man's small shirt size by the 2nd grade, need I offer you more than two
guesses who spent years in the middle of that circle of doom? One of my grade school
claims to fame was that I was able to set, hold and eternally maintain school records for
the longest in the center of the dodge ball circle without ever hitting anyone with the
volleyball in order to escape. It was known as "the 60's".

Somewhere near the 5th grade it was time to move into sports where teamwork would be
the object rather than individual skills. Another chance for my size to thrust me forward
into the spotlight came up when the teacher tossed us some basketballs and had us choose
up teams. Ever been the 29th guy in a class told to break into 4 teams of 7 players each? I
felt like the whole gym class was a giant tuxedo and I was a pair of brown shoes. It came
down to the teacher interceding to even up the teams and he had to stick me somewhere. I
was placed onto a team with a group of kids who at that point in time all looked like Wilt
Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West to me. My proudest accomplishment from the
grade school basketball days was to be able to say that through it all I could keep up
enough to at least stay on the same side of the court that the play was on. I do need to
clarify though that I often just hung out around mid-court a lot and just stepped to one
side or the line or the other. Once in a while I would meander down court toward the
play, moving with the speed and grace that I imagine the glaciers must have exhibited as
they drifted southward and carved The Great Lakes region out of Pangaea. Occasionally I
even got the ball, at which time I would either throw up a wild shot from wherever I
happened to be standing when the pass arrived, throw an equally wild pass to whoever
was standing closest to me, or commit a dastardly violation known as traveling, where I
completely forgot the part about dribbling and just kind of trotted along with the ball.
One way or the other, the ball went back to the other team, and I went back to the
sidelines. (I must say in my own defense that as I got older and played with people who
knew the game well enough to teach me some fundamentals, I got better. Even turned
into a pretty good guy to have on your team to play hard defense in spurts, set a solid pick
and make a few long jumpers to break up a zone defense. However, my fouls-to-minutes


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ratio was somewhere near 14 when projected out over a full game, a ratio that would
likely result in a sentence of 10 years to life in almost every court in the country.)

As we got older and progressed into contact sports, my star began shining more and more
brightly. I don't know that my star got any brighter, but at the very least it moved into a
place in the sky where there were fewer clouds to conceal it. Our gym class stretched into
50 minutes rather than 30, and we were deemed physically capable to move into contact
sports. Football, basketball, and wrestling were all sports where my strength and power
might be a factor. I can recall my first wrestling match as if it were yesterday.

< Standard black and white B-movie cliché dream cloud effect on. >

The gym teacher tried to pair us up by size as best he could, but when you have a student
who may as well have Frigidaire tattooed on his ass you just come as close as you can. I
ended up watching match after match, seeing the combatants tie up in bear hugs, butting
foreheads, growling like I imagine the black bear must growl after waking up with 5
months of hibernation echoing in his empty belly. It seemed like every one of them
watched the Saturday morning Professional 'Rasslin shows and while they knew ―The
Atomic Drop‖, the ―Step Over Toe Hold‖ and ―The Abdominal Stretch‖, it seems none of
them noticed that a little leverage and redirected energy would bring your opponent down
like Enron stock. It was finally my turn, and it was as if the cliché "Angels sing as the
heavens open to reveal bright sunlight" scene played. My opponent came to the center of
the circle, attempted to grab my upper torso, and allowed me to sweep in on his legs,
taking him down with a move that can best be described as the prototypical fireman's
carry. Flat to his back and pinned to the mat in less than 8 seconds. Could I have found
my niche as early in life as the 6th grade? I could see it all clearly in the fleeting moments
that followed that first quick pin. First the CYO championship. Then the Ohio High
School championship. Then on to the NCAA! Then the 1972 Olympic games!!! All as a
result of that first quick pin.

Time to turn off the dream cloud and run a reality check.

There was no weight class in grade school for a kid who was approaching 160 pounds.
The heavyweight class at that age topped out at 125 pounds back then. If I could have lost
35 pounds to meet THAT weight limit, what the hell would I need wrestling for? And by


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the time I got to high school, those kids had all been wrestling in organized programs for
3 years, so I was 3 years behind in skill level, 3 years behind in conditioning and totally
out of desire to catch up on those 3 years. Oh well, the Olympics don't mean that much
anyway. And wrestling is a stupid sport. After all, you can't turn pro unless you want to
wear a mask and attend the Dick the Bruiser school of Recreational Acting.

Finally, having endured the mandatory 6 years of "little kid gym", we were given a break
and after some rudimentary calisthenics we were given the instructors blessing to have
what was known as "open gym", where we could choose what we wanted to do. One half
of the gym was used for a half-court basketball game. The other half was usually used for
volleyball. The running people had the outside of the gym to do laps and the exercise nuts
had mats on the stage to do more sit-ups and pushups. I managed to find a little area
behind the bleachers that was JUST big enough to stretch out in and catch an extra 40
winks. Hey, if the teacher could call it "open gym" so he could sneak away to the teachers
lounge for coffee and cigarettes, I could call it "open gym" and catch up on my sleep.

Once in a while, things would get a little too "competitive", and the punches would start
flying. Being a "manly kind of man", our teacher would simply have the class make a
circle, fit the combatants with oversized boxing gloves, and let them have at each other.
Quite often things died down by the time you realized what you were getting in to, but
macho is macho even at that age. Looking back I would estimate that 95% of these fights
would have been avoided if not for that special "American Gladiator" chromosome men
seem to possess, but we would have missed out on some wonderful entertainment had
they not been allowed to step into the squared circle. Somehow, from my little sleeping
spot under the bleachers, I ended up involved in one of these. I haven't the slightest idea
how it happened, but I found myself in the middle of the class wearing something that
resembled mittens left over from the filming of "The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman". You
could not possibly injure anyone wearing boxing gloves with this much padding in them.
Or so I thought.

I was hardly a fighter. All I knew about boxing at 13 was to stay covered as much as
possible and to stay turned slightly sideways to cut down the area your opponent had to
land a punch on. I had seen all of the old Joe Louis newsreels, and this happened just



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after that February night in 1964 that Cassius Clay (with the proper amount of respect I
state the obvious, that he later converted to the teachings of Islam and was thereafter
known as Mohammed Ali) knocked out Sonny Liston in less time than it took Robert
Goulet to sing The National Anthem, and I knew that if you hit first and acted crazy your
opponent might think twice about getting up. And somehow, all that knowledge fell right
into place, and as my adversary came forward with a wild left hook, I snapped my head
back to let him miss and countered with a straight hand that landed squarely on his nose
and sent blood spattering in every direction. He fell backwards and hit the floor with a
thud as the entire class cheered the fact that someone finally got hit in one of these fights.
I followed Clay's lead and charged across the floor, standing over him and screaming at
the top of my 13 year old lungs how he should get back up and eat the rest of his lunch.
They pulled me back to my "corner", got him to his feet and declared the fight to be over.
A handshake later we were friends again, and my boxing career ended with me
undefeated.

That was also pretty much the last time I ended up on top.




                                                                                             7
4th Grade Floor Talk


Has anybody asked to see your diploma lately? Has anybody walked up to you on the
street and asked if you know the Pythagorean Theorem? At your last job interview, were
you asked the chemical symbol for aluminum? Of course not. Yet these things are a
random sampling of the plethora of useless information we are fed for the first 8 years of
our education. Are these teachers trying to confuse us or ready us for the rest of our lives?
Seems to me they could teach things we need to know like how to shoot firecrackers off
without losing any fingers that may be important someday when trying to order the
correct number of beers from 25 feet away. Possibly how to stretch the last little bit of
enjoyment out of a Tootsie Pop, resisting that overpowering urge to bite through the last
little bit of the delicious candy coating to get to the chewy Tootsie Roll center just a little
bit faster. Maybe even how you can have leftover meatloaf in your refrigerator yet can't
for the life of you remember the last time you had meatloaf for dinner. And for certain
what to do when you break a shoelace while lacing up your sneakers for the big game.
You know, real things that only experience can teach us. I often longed for some lessons
in life in place of the hooey they fed us day after day, 5 days a week, 9 months a year.
What are the rewards anyway? You work hard, you read what you have to, you take your
tests, and the kids who have the memory and ability to regurgitate the names, dates, and
places they jammed into their empty little heads the night before get the good grades with
no consideration if they have LEARNED anything. I have to admit that it's the best
system we have but something is seriously wrong when students who routinely earn A's
in grade school and high school are found to be functional illiterates later in life.
Anybody can remember "Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492" and other equally as
nauseating little study limericks. However, ask the name of the ships, the name of the
Queen who authorized the journey, the total cost of the project and what the objectives
were for leaving Europe and NOW what's your little poetry reading going to do for you?

"Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. As for the rest of your questions I haven't a
clue."




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So why do we have to study the stuff they teach us anyway? I suppose it's the traditional
thinking that school is supposed to offer us a well-rounded curriculum to prepare us for
whatever career path we choose to follow later in life. Who cares who won The Battle of
Hastings? Who cares how many presidents we have had (as long as we can be reasonably
sure we have one now) in our history? And how can anybody believe some of those
stories anyway? A shot that was heard around the world? A dollar thrown across a river?
George Washington cuts down the cherry tree and lives to tell about it? Let's examine a
few of these fables a little closer. Maybe the world was smaller or the guns were louder,
but the furthest I have ever heard a gunshot travel was when our neighbor took some
shots at someone he thought was stealing his car. Luckily for his wife, on her way home
from a night out at the local tavern, he wasn't a very good shot. And a dollar thrown
across the Delaware River? I find it hard to believe a dollar EVER went that far, though I
guess after the cherry tree fable they figured they could get away with anything having to
do with ol' George. I have a feeling the cherry tree story may have gone more along the
lines of George's father coming home and beating the living shit out of the powdered-
wigged, satin-knickered, three-cornered-hat wearing juvenile delinquent for cutting down
a perfectly good tree. I mean, his father couldn't know at that point in his life that he
would end up being THE George Washington no more than my father could have known
when I was 8 that I was THE Eddie Vidmar. At that age, a kid is a kid is a kid. Some just
have more, err, imagination than others. If you cut down a tree, whether you tell the truth
or not, I give you my word as an expert on impending ass whippings that you have an ass
whipping headed your way, and at breakneck speed.

So all in all, this kind of "kid logic" made school more than just a place to go every day
while the world went on around me. It was a challenge to head out and seek knowledge
every morning, knowing that most of what would be handed to me on any given day
would be an unbelievable load of shit. Thus I felt it was my duty to the rest of the poor
misguided, misinformed youth of America to impart some of my personal wisdom upon
them whenever the opportunity presented itself. The teachers usually hated giving me
that forum, but it was part of the academic program to see that I became a competent
public speaker and didn't fear standing in front of groups. However, add to the mix the




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fact that I couldn't possibly have cared less about the topics I was given to speak about
and you get a very interesting result.

It‘s been my experience that your typical resourceful student can spend up to two hours a
night coming up with great excuses not to do the forty-five minutes of homework he was
assigned. I had it down to such a science, however, that my list of dodges was usually
completed in ample time to settle down to a relaxing night of music beaming across the
expanse of Lake Erie on CKLW, AM 800 from lovely Windsor, Ontario. And listening to
CKLW was the thing back then, because it was so cool that they were an hour behind us
and we thought things would happen here in Cleveland that wouldn't happen in the
Detroit/Windsor area for sixty more minutes! That very same "kid logic" worked very
well when applied to homework, too. It's a wonderful thing.

One such evening of evasive maneuvers resulted in a most interesting dissertation about
fish. It was the 4th grade, and it was my turn in the rotation to get in front of the class and
deliver a ten-minute lecture on the topic of my choice. (You can get by one time by
saying you couldn't think up a topic, but only once. After that if you can't come up with
one, they GIVE you one, and that means actual work because if the teacher gave you the
topic, that means she must know something about it too and your story has to match.) Of
course, I had nothing prepared, opting to listen to the Cleveland Indians game the night
before. I can't be sure about the score, but given the teams that played here in the early
60's, I'll go out on a limb and say they lost. With such talent as Willie Kirkland and Gary
Bell, a general manager named Frank Laine who seemed hell bent for leather on being
the farm system for the entire American League, we got used to it. Listening to the game
prevented me from preparing, so I decided to visit my cousin's 3rd grade class and see
what THEY had lying around. It had never occurred to me that one teacher might know
what kind of teaching materials in were another classroom. That prevailing "kid logic"
made me believe that the nuns stuck to the room they taught in and never visited any
other room in the building. I picked up a Discovery Magazine, a wonderful children's
publication that touched on science, sports, current events, whatever. They also had these
little books about different subjects, like one was about dogs; one was about snakes,
etc.... I got lucky and found one about fish! So I headed into my science class, armed with
the Discovery Magazine and the little book that would later in life remind me of the


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Time-Life series, the kind where "you'll receive one about every other month until we
either suck your savings dry or you move and leave no forwarding address‖.

But I digress.

My lecture was going swimmingly (if you'll pardon the far-too-obvious pun). I was
dazzling the students with brilliance AND baffling them with bullshit, the ambition of
every politician, public speaker and clergyman everywhere. I told them about different
species of fish living in different types of water, in different habitats due to the different
feeding needs of different fish, how colors helped camouflage them from predators, and
how some could withstand deeper water than others could. I had about sixty seconds of
deceit remaining and was hoodwinking the entire class with a level of finesse normally
demonstrated by heads of state, lawyers and used car salesmen.

Then I saw "THE HAND".

A girl sitting in the front row, one who I never got along with up to that point (and for
reasons that will become obvious surely never tried to get along with after), raised her
hand to ask me a question. I looked around the room maybe two, three HUNDRED times,
trying everything I could try to not see that extended hand even though it was waving so
close to my face she could have perforated my deviated septum. And I almost made it
until the teacher stepped in and asked what her question was. Now my first reaction was
to be pissed at the teacher for stepping into my arena, but after all it WAS her classroom
and this was just a lark for me, playing teacher. I can't remember the question exactly
from 1961, but I can come damned close. It was something like:

"You said that the bigger fish normally live at the bottom of the lake. Exactly why would
that be?"

Now I was a pretty clever kid for my age, and I figured that this little tap-dance would be
no big problem. The first thing that popped into my head should be more than enough to
shut the snobby little bitch up. So I came up with the theory that:

"Down where the water is deeper, the sunlight can't penetrate that far and the water is
much colder, so evolution has provided that bottom dwellers would be bigger and as such
have more insulation against that added cold."



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I said it so fast, with such confidence and with so little hesitation that I assumed I had
sold her on that one. Hey, had it been ME in the seat I would have bought it. Then again,
I believed that a guy in a red velvet suit actually ran around in my neighborhood after
dark every December passing out Erector Sets and lived to tell about it, so how hard a sell
am I to begin with?

Well, it seems that the questioner was intent on playing the dual role as answerer as well,
and she immediately refuted my brilliantly spontaneous answer, spewing something
about the depth of the water adding more pressure and thus the fish needed to be stronger
for their breathing mechanism to be able to withstand the pressure of the additional depth.

Now, had I thought of that, I certainly would have used it, because to be honest it
sounded a lot better to me than the "cold" theory. However, this was MY day to give the
lecture. MY day to bestow my knowledge on the group. MY fifteen minutes in the sun.
MY time to shine. And damn it, nobody was going to top ME on MY day. So I looked
her squarely in the eye, paused for one of those moments that seemed like several
vacuous lifetimes, then softly tossed my magazine and Time Life looking book on her
desk and told her "Well, if you know so damned much about fish, YOU can give the
talk." And I walked directly to the classroom door, opened it, went through it, closed it
behind me, and took the rest of the day off. I mean, how much humiliation can even Jesse
James take in one day? The last thing I remember seeing was the nun turning her back to
the class so nobody could see her laughing, hearing the girls in the class gasp in a proper
fit of required Catholic school sanctimony because I said "damned", and hearing the boys
in the class cheer because someone had finally put a muzzle on this loquacious bitch.
(This was the same kind of person, as I would learn later in life, who would ask someone
for directions and then argue that the directions were wrong. I mean, if you know where
you are and where you are going, why the hell did you ask me for directions anyway?)

Me? I don't remember what I did with the rest of the day. Maybe I went fishing!! For the
big ones!!

They live close to the bottom because they can withstand the pressure, you see....




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8th Grade Science Project


It's funny how things look to you when you view them from a lot of year‘s worth of
distance. I can recall things that made me sick enough for Pepto-Bismol back then that
would bounce off me now like the sexual harassment charges bounce off Bill Clinton.
However, the rulebook that accompanies the growing pains clearly states that we MUST
live through those situations no matter how much anxiety it may cause. Such was the case
of the eighth-grade science project.

No matter when these assignments are handed out, it's a lead pipe cinch that an inventive
student like I was will not begin his work until the night before it is due. While my
classmates spent months just thinking about the theme of the project, I opted to do the
entire thing in about thirty minutes the night before the presentation. (This led to things
later on like explaining that the fish bowl wasn‘t really empty, it had oxygen in it.
Somehow this was supposed to tie in with the concept that fish couldn't live without the
oxygen they draw from the water, but more about that later.) Keep in mind that these
were the middle 60's, and our fledgling space program with the astronauts, rocket
boosters and space capsules were the rage. We had no idea that just twenty years later the
space shuttle would be making regular runs to the land of green cheese and little purple
people. I decided that I could toss together a space travel presentation in the allotted
forty-five minutes that would rival anything the others could bring in.

Wrong again, Jesse!

It started off like every other Wednesday. I woke up to the sound of the toilet flushing,
the smell of the coffee and cigarettes peeking under my door from the kitchen where my
parents sat entranced: .my mother by the crossword puzzle, my father by the view from
the kitchen window out into the neighbor's back yard. I could never figure out the
attraction, as that view changed little other than the usual springtime maybe-this-year-
it'll-grow green to the summertime maybe-they-overwatered burnout brown to the winter
look-how-that-damned-snow-drifts white. My father must have seen some deeper
meaning in this view though, since he gazed at it blankly every morning before he went



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off to work. The crossword puzzler, well, that's a chapter in itself. Beyond the calling
back and forth to my aunt to see what she had for twenty-two down and discuss the shock
that it wasn't really Brad's baby Adrienne was carrying that week on "As the World
Turns", life in our house changed little through the years. Except for this particular
Wednesday. This was the day I had to stand in front of the class and demonstrate my
science project. I did my morning ritual of dozing on the toilet while pretending to wash
my face, comb my hair and brush my teeth as the water ran until it was totally out of hot
(and it takes a LONG time to drain a water tank) and began to prepare for my trip to
school.

We didn't live far from the school. Maybe two blocks. It was on the same street as my
house, in fact. No complicated turns through dangerous back alleys, no "seven miles
though the snow...with no shoes...uphill...both ways..." story here. It was at most a five
minute walk even with a stop at the corner store to snatch some gum or a candy bar for
the trip. On the way I'd meet up with Ron, Louie, Sam and the rest of the neighbor kids.
Schools were very different back then. Everybody went to the same neighborhood school
and you were actually allowed to have friends in different grades than you were in. So
that five minute walk often turned into a twenty minute game of tag, a pickup football
game with the new kid's book bag, or maybe just a vote on whether school would be
interesting enough that day to attend or not. We usually went no matter how much we
talked about cutting. We all knew better than to risk having a cut day show up later in our
"PERMANENT RECORD"!

But I digress......

I walked into school on this particular Wednesday with my project tucked under my arm,
neatly wrapped in brown butcher paper. Right up until that moment I still felt I had
actually pulled it off. I honestly believed that the teacher would have no idea that my
project took maybe thirty minutes to prepare, including the gathering of raw materials,
the custom art work with the magic marker, the dialogue that would accompany the
actual demonstration and the preparation for the trip to school.

Then I saw some of the other projects.




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One girl had made a dairy farm. A whole fucking dairy farm. With little plastic cows
glued to the platform grazing on little plastic grass and drinking from the mirror that was
supposed to be a little man made watering hole. All of this just outside the little fenced in
barn complete with doors that opened and closed. Picture the little tanker truck
approaching on the side road and you have a pretty good idea what it looked like.

Oh well. There had to be ONE show-off in the class.

Another project was a boy who built a gear driven, motorized replica of the solar system.
Not only did the planets rotate around the sun, he had figured out a way to gear them so
they rotated in real time, where the planets closer to the sun completed their orbits faster
than the more distant ones. He had also included the moons for each planet. (I didn't
know until right then that other planets even HAD moons.) If you stood in just the right
place you could actually experience a total eclipse every eleven minutes or so. Why wait
seventy four years for a total eclipse when you can see David's Solar System do the same
thing every eleven minutes?

Okay. Maybe TWO show-offs.

You know that saying "It'll get worse before it gets better?" It did. There was a volcano
that made noises and smoked as it belched some foul smelling stuff I later learned was
supposed to be lava. There was a replication of Old Faithful that actually erupted every
five minutes, simulating the hourly blast of steam. There was a chronological chart of the
glacial movement that carved out the very area on the Great Lakes where we lived. One
guy did a glass blowing exhibition where he actually turned a piece of glass rod into a
circle. Another showed how heat will travel down a conductive rod as she heated a
hanger with a candle and caused candles four, five and six inches away to drop off at
varying times.

And now, the curtain went up for Jesse. I went into the enormous closet (that was called a
"cloakroom" for some reason, though I had never heard the word "cloak" in a way that it
referred to a garment) and retrieved my project. I was going to dazzle them with my
knowledge of space travel and the stress the astronauts went through as they floated
through their fourteen minutes of weightless reports of how pretty the view was. Tearing
off the protective outer wrap, I heard the snickers begin almost immediately as the


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cardboard space capsule I had cut out became more and more exposed to my classmates.
Maybe if I had painted over the Campbell's Soup logo I could have slipped that detail
past the goalie, but there it was, for the entire eighth grade to see. It was kind of a cross
between what the bell shaped capsules looked like during those early days of space travel
and something from a Picasso exhibit. The custom artwork was supposed to draw their
attention away from the fact that I had no idea what I was talking about them, as nobody
could draw better stick figure astronauts than I could. I went to great lengths to find out
exactly what position Alan Sheppard was in during his journey because I did not want to
report anything to my classmates that was not 100% accurate. So picture my Campbell's
Soup space capsule with my stick figure astronaut drawn on it in a position
approximately like one would assume for do-it-yourself childbirth. Well, sure, the
capsule had to travel with the broad side toward the sun so the heat shields would protect
the astronaut from the intense heat. Thus when the capsule was in flight the passenger
was sitting right side up just like he was driving my uncle's green Chevy. The kicker
though, and what I was sure would send my grade over the top, was the detachable retro-
rocket. Now I had NO idea what a retro-rocket was, but I DID see Huntley and/or
Brinkley talk about it on the news, and damn it, David and/or Chet wouldn't lie to me.
The way I understood it, the retro-rocket (and as I got older I got to know that retro had
something to do with backwards, going back, back in general) provided a blast of energy
against the to the direction of travel that slowed the rocket down so it could begin re-
entry into the earth's atmosphere. I found out many years later that this was right on
target, but shit, I was only thirteen years old at the time! That also meant I had to sell this
stuff to other thirteen year olds, all of whom had already see a dairy farm, a solar system
and Mount Vesuvius just minutes prior. So I made my retro-rocket act just like I saw on
television, where the rockets fired, did their thing and then detached and drifted out into
cyber nowhere while the capsule slowed enough to be affected by and begin its way back
to earth. Wouldn't you know it? My rockets fired right on schedule but right then the glue
that held the two sections of the capsule together let loose, right between the
"Campbell's" and the "Soup."




                                                                                                16
So I guess you would be correct in stating that I had the first official St Vitus space travel
disaster. My poor little stick figure astronaut was never heard from again, though I
understand he found work later starring in the Winky-Dink cartoon series.

Also be sure that I have not drank milk, visited Yellowstone National Park, watched an
eclipse, gave a damn about Mount St. Helen's or cared about heat transference as it
relates to Global Warming ever since.

The Space Shuttle is more my thing!!




                                                                                            17
High School


Someone once told me that high school was a time you would look back on later in life
and laugh about as you remembered all the great times you had. The memories of the
school dances, the football games, homecoming, your first kiss, all of it. Thirty plus years
later I'm sitting here looking back. For some reason I'm not laughing.

What those shortsighted soothsayers forgot to mention is that the growing pains
associated with those formative years will also be something you remember as you reflect
on your teens. With trends, styles and societal mores changing almost daily, it can be a
traumatic time for a youngster as he tries to fit in. My teen years were no exception,
though possibly by my own doing they ended up more complex than they needed to be.

Let's start with choosing a high school. For the kids who went to public school this was a
non-issue. You went to school where you lived. End of story. For those of us with the
added burden of being raised Catholic, we had to choose which Catholic high school we
wanted to attend, though the constant was 4 more years of having religion rammed down
my throat. I would have preferred to attend the public school near my home, but I gave
mom and dad the benefit of the doubt, assuming that they knew best, and since they were
paying for it.

Wrong again, Jesse.

As I learned later, neither of them attended a Catholic high school. They were raised
during the depression years and even the smallest tuition was more than their families
could afford. Both of them attended the nearby public high school. This was something I
wish I could have done, for reasons that will become crystal clear as I go on.

I went to a very large, very fine, very exclusive, very expensive (at the time), all boys'
Catholic high school called St. Joseph High School. We were the St. Joseph Vikings,
something I never quite understood because while the name Viking was used all the time
there was no actual Viking. I don't think there was even anybody of Swedish ancestry
there during the entire four years I went there, much less an actual Viking. We stood tall
and proud of our football and basketball team's successes, like most high school kids do.


                                                                                             18
Academics were expected to take care of themselves, and they pretty much did, falling by
the wayside as the team went 10-0 every year. It was a fairly typical "athlete factory"
school, one where the bigger, stronger, faster lineman were issued one red shoelace and
one green, thus eliminating the need for that annoying "left and right" nonsense when
calling plays in the huddle.

What really separated the public and private schools though was a sort of caste system
where schools were considered to belong to one of three categories. These terms may not
mean much depending on what part of the country you are in, but here in Ohio we had
the "preppie" schools, the "mod" schools, and the "greaser" schools. Each of them had a
dress code, a set of behavioral guidelines, and a genre of music that they were permitted
to listen to, with immediate and permanent ostracism as the penalty for even the slightest
infraction.

The preppie group had the money. That was pretty much what started the preppie ball
rolling, the money. They wore short hairstyles, tartan plaid pants, knit polo shirts (and
this was before the alligator on the pocket became cool), and either a sport coat with
patches on the elbows or a sweater tied around the shoulders, but never actually worn.
(This group later became either WASPS or Yuppies, depending on where you come
from. The older version includes tortoise shell frames on the glasses you didn't really
need and a pipe that was never lit, but we are talking about fifteen year olds here.) They
owned eight track tapes of Oklahoma, Showboat and Annie Get Your Gun, and spent a
lot of time chatting about how Priscilla let them get as far as putting an arm around her on
the drive home from the club last weekend. Luckily daddy had let them use the Rolls that
night.

The mod group was contrary by a full 180°. The hair was longer, the clothes were wilder
and the music was louder. Much louder. The mod group took their lead from the British
Invasion bands of the 60s; most notably those four lads from Liverpool with the hair that
was so long it actually touched their ears! They wore a lot of bell-bottomed jeans, boots
and t-shirts. Some of the offshoot mods went with the tie-dyed look, but that came later,
when Timothy Leary invented and popularized LSD. This group listened to the British




                                                                                            19
bands as well as heavier stuff like Iron Butterfly, Vanilla Fudge and The Quicksilver
Messenger Service.

I was in the last group, the greasers. Our dress code was a little more exactly dictated. We
were to wear a banlon shirt, an alpaca sweater, and something called Sansabelt slacks.
Sansabelt slacks were simply slacks that had an elastic band sewn on the inside of the
waistband. I don't know why they were so popular, because the fit was terrible. They
hung badly from the crotch and didn't hold a crease worth a damn, but they were required
if you wanted to be in the swing of things. The shoes I must spend some time on. There
were two options. Stetson was one. Regal was the other. Most greasers opted for the
Regals. The Regal shoe was not much more than your basic shoe that had a seam sewn
into it about three inches back from the point. It formed sort of a triangle with the point.
The key to the Regals was that the triangle had to be spit shined to the point where you
could literally comb your hair in the reflection. Everybody had their own method of
shining that toe, and some of them were actually pretty inventive (some were equally as
stupid). One was to soak a cotton ball with water, dip it into the polish, and then work the
wet polish into the leather. For a day. Another method was to light the polish so the wax
base would melt and then apply it. I don't know what this was supposed to do but I
wanted to belong, so I did it. My room looked like the LaBrea Tar Pits from all the
melted Kiwi shoe polish on the rug, but my shoes looked good. We listened to Motown
music and only Motown music. It had a good beat, and though you could really dance to
it (Motown music usually scored high on American Bandstand!), greasers didn't dance.
Greasers also rarely got laid because the girls liked the guys who could dance, but that's
another story.

I specifically refrained from addressing the requisite greaser hairstyle until now because
the greaser hairstyle deserves a paragraph all its own. There was a minimum grease
requirement of 1/4 tube Brylcream per 'do, and Brylcream was the standard. The
television ads all said ―A little dab‘ll do ya‘‖, but obviously the advertising giant who
came up with that little ditty wasn‘t a greaser in high school. No other substance would
do, and a greaser could use no less than 1/4 tube per day. The hair had to be greased to
the point where it would stand on its own yet be supple enough to dangle on the forehead
at just the right angle, similar to the famous spit curl Bill Haley wore well into his forties.


                                                                                            20
Some of the guys I knew spent the whole four years of high school experimenting with
the Brylcream technique. Some of them (like me) never learned. My hair was either too
wet or too dry. I either had too much grease on it and it stood up as if I were constantly
facing a Nor‘easter or I had too little and it just laid there on top of my head like a big,
muddy divot. Later on, in my junior year, I gave up, opting for longer hair, but that's also
another story.

There was also a large rift in the paradigm on the distaff side. The greaser girls had a look
all their own as well. They had dramatically teased and heavily sprayed hair. I can't say
for sure but I think Aqua Net is probably responsible for at least half of the hole in the
ozone layer. They wore tight sweaters or white blouses with the poofy collars and tight
skirts. Since most of them also went to Catholic schools, the required footwear with their
uniform skirts was saddle shoes, and that's what they wore. Saddle shoes. Always saddle
shoes. The mod girls wore clothes pretty much like the mod guys did, creating a steady
flow of comments from old people like, "I can't tell if that's a boy or a girl". It was true
that from the back quite often you couldn't tell. And with Twiggy having been the hot
model in the '60s unfortunately you couldn't always tell from the side either.

High school in general was about as pleasant as oral surgery for me. I hated being told
that I had to read books over the summer, or do homework, or even work while actually
AT school for that matter. I just didn‘t care. I figured then that I would somehow get by
on my looks, my guile, or dame fortune, but education never really mattered much to me.
I spent a great deal of time in the guidance counselors office, constantly being reminded
that if I just applied myself I could be a straight "A" student. I was never able to
understand why a guy who couldn‘t get a better job than a high school guidance
counselor would dare to tell me about how important my education was. I was never able
to convince them that grades were just a letter on a paper and they didn‘t mean anything.
I know a lot of really stupid ‗A‘ students, and a lot of very smart dropouts. It‘s only my
opinion, but I feel that grades simply don‘t matter. I know a lot of people with Master's
Degrees that can't grasp the concept of how Velcro works. I know a lot of people with
high school educations or less that are wizards when it comes to mathematical concepts,
especially where they apply to real world situations. For sake of example, let's look at a
team of carpenters building a deck. At some point where they want to make sure that


                                                                                               21
everything is square they move to a corner and take a measurement along one side,
making a mark at three feet. At the other leg of that corner they make a mark at four feet.
Then they run a tape between those two marks and it should be five feet. Why? Because
the Pythagorean Theorem says that A² + B² = C², and 3² (9) + 4² (16) = 5² (25). If those
measurements work out, the deck is square to the house you are attaching it to. Now,
maybe the carpenters don‘t know they are applying the Pythagorean Theorem (and I
often wonder how Pythagoras himself came up with this) but they are indeed applying it,
and it works. Grades are earned by regurgitating names, dates and places back to a
teacher who then decides how well you have regurgitated and assigns you a random letter
as a grade. It really is no indication of whether you have actually learned anything or how
much you may have learned if you did learn anything. It's the only thing we have to use,
though, so I guess it's here to stay.

If school did one thing for me though, it has made me wonder about things. It made me
wonder what kind of credentials some of those teachers presented that they were hired as
teachers. It made me wonder how an airplane stays in the air. It made me wonder if the
moon is 238,857 miles away and light travels as 186,000 miles per second, are the
shadows cast by moonlight 1.284 seconds old? It made me wonder, and I still wonder,
how a guy named Hector Maldonado managed to flunk beginning Spanish.

I said that the reasons I would have preferred to attend public school would become clear,
and there was one very obvious clue in the preceding paragraphs if you caught them. If
you missed it, I will repeat it. ―I went to a very large, very fine, very exclusive, very
expensive (at the time), all boys Catholic high school called St. Joseph High School.‖ All
boys! No broads! No girls anywhere in sight! That‘s just not normal. I would be guessing,
and I don‘t care enough about this to do the research, but I believe that despite the
preaching that goes on in a catholic school about what a bad thing divorce is the boys
who are products of a catholic education have a higher divorce rate than boys who went
to public schools. There was very little opportunity to develop social skills in an all boys‘
school. The time we should have spent hitting on the babes between classes was spent
ducking into classrooms to avoid being struck by a stray punch, or to avoid an
―accidentally‖ extended foot as we ran from class to class. My god, between having to
remember what class was next, which books were required and what room it was in,


                                                                                            22
didn‘t we have ENOUGH pressure on us already? I don‘t know if I could have handled
the extra assignment of ―trying to look cool for the babes‖ on top of all that. At that age, I
couldn‘t look cool in an igloo no matter what I tried, so it didn‘t matter much at the time.
As I got older though, I realized how much the lack of that basic social skill set meant to
me. Three wives and much therapy later, I can tell you that those skills are still not all
that well developed. Write to me and I‘ll send you a list….




                                                                                             23
Practical Jokes


Have you ever played a practical joke on someone and really gotten them good? I mean
one of those jokes where the result is major property damage or an injury? The kind of
joke where you just know they are going to get you back? And then you go on with your
day to day life making eye contact with everybody who passes you, screening your phone
calls, having other people start your car and open your mail, and hiring a food taster
because you know something is coming but you don‘t know when?

You have just described my life.

It‘s been fifty years now and I still can‘t shake the feeling that my parents decided to
have a second child (that would be me) as a practical joke and now the world is just
waiting to get me back but good. Between being the one caught every time something
went wrong at school even on those rare occasions I had nothing to do with it, sitting and
watching the ping pong ball draft lottery go bad back in 19702, and marrying a woman
who couldn‘t have been a worse match, my life has been one practical joke after another.
I narrowed it down to one event, one small thing that put me into position to do some of
the terribly stupid things I have done.

I was born too late.

Many people say that for a lot of reasons, but I was literally born too late. I was born on
June 27th, 1951, just five minutes after midnight.3 So many things would have gone
differently for me had I been born six minutes earlier, on June 26th, 1951. Let me explain
that and clear up the ping pong ball thing in the process.

In 1970, the Viet Nam war was at about 9PM of what would be its day long cycle. The
fierce fighting was over, the major flow of soldiers moving in and out of country was
over, and our military people began to move into a mode where we were cleaning up and
getting ready to turn things over to the Vietnamese military forces. There was a lot of
training necessary, a lot of inventory needed to be sure exactly what we were leaving


2
    More on that subject later. For now, just know that it didn‘t go well for me.


                                                                                           24
behind and a lot of maintenance on equipment so what we left actually worked. Thus
there was a large amount of manpower needed, and enlistment was expectedly at an all
time low. As you can imagine, nobody wanted to go to Viet Nam. Thus the Selective
Service came up with this brilliant idea for a draft lottery, and it centered on ping pong
balls. One non-descript day in June, the nation watched as ping pong balls were drawn
from two large hoppers. The first hopper had 365 balls in it, each with a date on it. The
second hopper also had 365 balls in it, numbered 1 through 365. So when you heard your
birth date called, the next ball designated your position should there be a draft, and
obviously number 1 went first, then number 2, and on up to 365. I suppose that it couldn‘t
possibly be more random than that, though I thought of several thousand other ways to do
this once my set of ping pong balls was drawn.

I listened to all the birth dates right around mine, and the corresponding numbered balls
were in the high 200‘s and low 300‘s and I was feeling pretty good about this. Finally,
they drew that ball with June 27th on it, and I held my breath as the guy reached into the
other hopper for the numbered ball.

He said, ―Seven‖.

Picking my jaw up from the floor, I repeated ―seven?‖ at about 120 decibels4, and
listened as he repeated the date and number combination. He said ―seven‖ again. And I
replied, ―Seven what? Seventy something? Seven hundred forty five? You can‘t mean
just seven!!‖

He meant just 7.

Getting back to the concept of born too late, had I been born those 6 minutes earlier I
would have been number 340. I would have been in no danger of being drafted. When my
number came up I immediately enlisted in the Army for 3 years, because enlisting for 3
years gave me an option to go wherever I wanted to go. I chose Germany. After the early
training stages, I ended up at a small post near Stuttgart, Germany, and began what I
anticipated would be a quiet 30 months in Germany, barring a sudden desire by
Luxemburg to start some shit.

3
    We are getting closer to explaining the ping pong balls.
4
    This is generally stated to be the level of a thunderclap, a loud rock band, or a chain saw.


                                                                                                   25
Well, the continuing practical joke that is my life continued when my entire unit was sent
to Viet Nam. I thought taking that extra year would exclude me, but I was wrong.5 The
autonomy of the military apparently comes first, and since the guy in the red, white, and
blue silk suit said he needed me in Viet Nam, off I went. I didn‘t understand why it was
so important that I go to fix trucks and jeeps in Viet Nam. I saw plenty of trucks and
jeeps that needed fixing in Germany, but apparently my Uncle Sam thought this was an
emergency, so off I went.

Well, the time passed relatively quickly. I had a rather non-descript tour of duty, the high
point being a torn anterior cruciate ligament in my right knee that I injured playing
basketball. There were more noteworthy events, but that was the military, it was during a
war, and there is such a thing as security. If I told you anymore I would have to kill you.

The story comes back to ―what would have been different‖ when I can back to the states.
I had to finish out my last nine months somewhere, and the same Uncle Sam picked a
base called Ft. Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma. I just figured that that‘s where I was needed or
they wouldn‘t have put me there. You can laugh if you want to but the whole time I was
there not one Viet Cong infiltrator got past Tulsa!

But I digress…

While I was there I got married to the above-mentioned worst match ever. I was 22, she
was 19, and for some reason we thought that we were going to make a run of it, even
though both of us (well, one of us anyway) didn‘t really want to be married once the
honeymoon was over.6 All of my plans went directly out the window when I made this
terrible mistake. I had planned on going to college on the GI Bill, being a walk-on
candidate for the baseball team and coming out of nowhere to be the best catcher Ohio
University ever saw, thus earning a scholarship to pay my way for the next 3 years of
college. When the reality train came to the station, I realized that the GI Bill would not
pay for BOOKS at Ohio University, much less the tuition, and that Ohio University had a
guy catching for them named Steve Swisher. I never knew Steve Swisher. I hated Steve
Swisher, but I never got to meet the man. I did read his name a lot in the sports pages

5
    Before you sign anything, read the fine print.
6
    Just for the record, it never really started.


                                                                                             26
when he made it to the major leagues, though. So I went to a local college, working full
time in the process, and generally spent 7 years of my life living in a place as close to hell
as I ever want to get. Mercifully that all ended after that 7 year sentence was commuted,
but see what those 6 minutes cost me? Had I been number 240 instead of number 7, I
would not have gone into the service, I would have not been in Oklahoma where I met
that girl7, and I would not have gotten married.

Come to think of it, maybe that WAS the payback!




7
    Nobody goes to Lawton, Oklahoma on purpose.


                                                                                           27
Relationships


As I sit here in my basement, typing yet another installment of the book that will never be
published, I look up at my calendar and notice that it is October 20th, 2001. This is the
day that this year somehow was designated as ―Sweetest Day‖. This day usually slips
past me as quietly as a sunset just like Valentines Day, birthdays, and in selected years,
Christmas. I have a hard time understanding the concept of picking a random Saturday in
October to buy a gift for someone who is supposed to be your sweetest every day of the
year. What is so special about this particular Saturday day that men are required to buy a
card, flowers, candy and depending how many of these fabricated romantic holidays you
have failed to remember since Sweetest Day a year ago, possibly a new car? I can‘t say
for sure, and it doesn‘t mean enough to me to do the research, but I am guessing that the
respective executive sales directors of Hallmark, American Greetings and Whitman‘s
Chocolate created this day. The florists may have had a hand in it too, though I doubt it
because nobody listens to anything a florist has to say.

It all comes down to how much you respect the word ―relationship‖. I find it to be an
interesting enough word to begin with, yet when applied to affairs of amore it takes on
even deeper meaning. I read stories in newspapers and see spots on newscasts all the time
where Senator Whatzits admits to having a ―relationship‖ with secretary Whoozits.
Maybe it‘s time to actually examine the word ―relationship‖.

Webster defines it as ―a state of affairs existing between those having dealings‖. I
suppose I can live with that. However, that leaves much to the imagination of what
exactly ―dealings‖ are. Noah then tells me that dealings are ―a method of business or a
manner of conduct‖. Again, I can live with that. Moving on then to conduct, we see ―a
mode or standard of personal behavior especially as based on moral principles‖. Now we
are getting somewhere. Somehow I have a difficult time, though, using a term like moral
principles in the same sentence as any elected official like Senator Whatzits, but more on
that later.




                                                                                             28
I wonder if it could be said that I have had a relationship with my mail carrier. Every day
she gives me my mail. Last year at Christmas I gave her twenty bucks. She gives me
something, and I give her something.8 That sounds like we have both business and
dealings, so I guess I maybe I am indeed involved in a relationship with my mail carrier.
And since money has changed hands, I wonder what the talking heads would make of
THAT relationship?

If that logic stands up to scrutiny, I guess I had a relationship just this afternoon with a
gorgeous young woman named Brenley. We stood there for the longest time, making that
kind of meek, subtle eye contact that people do when they are both too shy to make a first
move. At exactly the right moment she decided to speak first, and once we determined if
I wanted paper or plastic, I paid for my groceries and went home to my wife.

Then there was the relationship I had with one of the guys on the crew that was paving
my street today.9 He told me not to drive on the hot asphalt for at least thirty minutes or I
might harm my tires. In retrospect, and factoring in the cost of four new tires, that may
have been the best relationship I have had lately. I mean this guy cared enough about my
tires to warn me about the asphalt, though I guess that would mean he actually had the
relationship with my jeep, wouldn‘t it?

The point is that the word relationship can take on many definitions. It doesn‘t really get
too complicated until you apply it to your romantic life, and then it gets very
complicated, and very quickly. There‘s the risk of deciding when it‘s a ―stay over‖ night
or a ―go home‖ night. There‘s the risk of telling someone you love them and risk not
getting the return ―I love you‖. This can scar you for life.

One of the most difficult aspects of the relationship centers on the gift giving ritual. There
are way too many rules for gift giving. You need to know what days the gifts are to be
offered, how much to spend, and how personal (or impersonal) a gift to give. I can help
here, and I will do so even though you didn‘t ask.

Here‘s how I did it, though you can decide if it‘s right for you.


8
  She gives me bills. I give her money. Something seems wrong with that arrangement but I‘ll think that some other
time.
9
  Don‘t get ahead of me now!


                                                                                                                     29
Let‘s use January 1st as the start point. The first gift occasion will be February 14th, a day
named after some Catholic saint, of all things, that I am sure is in the category of
―Holidays the greeting card cartel created to boost sales‖.10 What you need to do is start a
decent sized argument about February 10th, though nothing more serious than ―Are you
gaining some weight?‖ That should keep her angry with you beyond the actual date of the
gift exchange, and you can skate on that one. Then call her and apologize on the 16th or
so11. Repeat the process for St. Patrick‘s Day, allowing you to go out drinking with your
friends. Do this for Easter if you are catholic, Mother‘s Day, Father‘s Day, or any
occasion that calls for a gift. Do not forget the wild cards, i.e. birthdays, the anniversary
of your first date, etc.

November and December are special cases, however. Whatever you do, and this is
extremely important so you may want to highlight it, stay in good graces for
Thanksgiving or face the no win situation of eating at Denny‘s with the toothless, lonely
old men or cooking a turkey for yourself. Later on you in the book will find a chapter
about Single Guy cooking, where you will learn why you desperately you want to avoid
this.

That moves us forward into December. There is a lot of great stuff to do during the
Christmas season that you will probably want to be accompanied for. There will very
likely be some great seasonal concerts12 you probably want to see, a lot of fun times
goofing on people at the mall as they rush to get shopping done before anybody else
does, and some great Christmas parties you will probably need a ride home from13. This
one, guys, there‘s no escaping. You must buy a gift for Christmas, but what the hell,
guys. I have shown you how to duck most of them. I can‘t do it all for you.

Before you do any tweaking or tinkering with this formula be aware that it has been
tested personally over many years, and it works very well. The only caveats are that the
comments you use to start the arguments are not too personal or too nasty to where you
can‘t recover gracefully from them and that the gifts you exchange are somewhat close in

10
 Valentines Day, Sweetest Day, Secretaries Day, Mothers Day, Fathers Day, generally any day that nobody famous
was born or died yet gifts are expected.
11
   The next day would be a little too obvious.
12
   The cool thing to see when this was written was the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
13
   This also carries over to the upcoming New Years Eve decadence.


                                                                                                             30
value. Don‘t leave yourself open to later scrutiny when she suddenly realizes that buying
you a new car for Christmas the year you bought her the electric can opener has earned
enough relationship credits that she can get away with things like making you dance in
public, eat with silverware, or visit her mother when you have tickets to the home team‘s
playoff game.

Of course, I am on my third wife, so feel free to take this with as many grains of salt as
you like. Maybe even a shaker full. Possibly a whole mine.




                                                                                             31
Single Guy Cooking


Life can really suck sometimes. I have recurring dreams about going through a life that is
free from decision, free from stress, free from aggravation. However, we all know the
grim reality is that we‘re all faced with decisions every day. Some are important, others
trivial. One critical decision every man must eventually face is whether he should get
married or learn how to cook for himself. However, this is often not all of his choosing,
what with beauty being in the eye of the beholder. Let‘s say for sake of discussion that
you are butt ugly and nobody wants to behold you. You, then, belong to the group that
have not chosen the single life, but rather had the single life thrust upon you, and this
chapter is for you…..cooking for the single guy!!!

I suppose it‘s true that we live by rules from the day we come kicking and screaming into
the world. There are rules of how much mom will take before she sends you to your
room, and rules about how much dad will take before he sends you to the dentist.
However, males simply don't learn one set of rules they may need later in life, especially
if they are in that butt ugly group I mentioned earlier.

The rules of cooking.

There are rules about washing a utensil before using it just because it happened to drop
onto the floor for a second. I mean, how dirty could it have gotten in one second? There
are rules about carefully measuring ingredients as you add them, using these deformed
little eating utensils marked with TSP and TBS and other inane abbreviations, and cups
that say ―one cup‖ on them. I don‘t need a cup marked ―one cup‖. I can see that it‘s one
cup. That always confused me. One of them actually said ―half cup‖, but upon closer
examination I concluded that it was a cup like any other cup, just half the size. There are
rules about using those little bottles of spice that you get as housewarming gifts to add
flavor to your meals. There are rules about eating balanced meals after referencing a chart
depicting something known as ―the 4 food groups‖, which incidentally I have always
thought were beer, pretzels, chicken wings and women. I never saw a reason to be overly




                                                                                            32
concerned with that, turning to the cow for my logic, an animal that should know about
the 4 food groups since cows ARE 2 of them.

And the rules for SINGLE-GUY cooking!

These rules are much more basic than the rules for regular cooking. In fact, the first rule
for single-guy cooking is that you must forget all the other rules you have ever heard
about. I don‘t want to say your mama lied, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a
duck, glaze it like a duck. In single-guy cooking, there are no measuring cups, no ―tisps‖
or ―tibbs‖, none of that crap. Single-guy cooking is best attacked with less technical terms
like toss, drop, throw…..the concern being more where your tosses, drops and throws
land than the physical measurement of what you are tossing, dropping, or throwing. This
is nothing even close to what you learned by watching your mother cook, where you
wore a hairnet, measured everything exactly and taste tested at precisely determined
intervals. This is SINGLE-GUY cooking where anything goes (and anything goes in) so
be prepared for anything!!

So, the foundation having been laid, let‘s go to the kitchen!

You can attack single-guy cooking from many angles, but it‘s always best to stay on
familiar turf, so let‘s play it like a sporting event, and you are the head coach, just with
one of those stupid looking poofy chef‘s hats instead of a baseball cap! An apron might
be appropriate if you are using flour and wearing black, but more on that another time.
(See LAUNDRY.) Also make sure you stay in your own division. No sense in a Single A
chef trying to cook a Triple A meal! Come up with a game plan and stick with it. For
your first meal, start with something easy, like the meal I will walk you through right
now.

Okay! You‘ve just come in from a hard day of whatever it is you do. You open your
refrigerator (that‘d be the big white thing with the Cleveland Indians schedule magnet on
it) and see a plastic milk jug that you won‘t even dare open, half full (or half empty if you
are going into this with a negative vibe) containers of mustard, catsup, and mayo, some
green stuff that is either leftover spinach soufflé or really old cheese, two dried out
hotdogs left in a package, a little foil packet of something you guess may be meatloaf,
and a case of Miller Lite in short neck bottles. (Hey, there are staples, and there are


                                                                                               33
staples!). You quickly turn your attention to the cupboard, where you find a box of rice,
some ramen noodles, a half finished box of stale Cheerios, various spices you have no
idea about (What the hell IS fennel anyway, and what the hell is it supposed to do?), a
few cans of Cream of Mushroom soup. And there you have the basis of EVERY single-
guy meal. Cream of Mushroom soup!

Locate a can opener (in a pinch you can use your church key beer can opener) and open
your can of Cream of Mushroom soup. Dump that into a pot, fill the can with of hot
water, and throw that in. Stir it enough to dissolve the glob of soup into a smooth liquid.
Now it gets tough. See if you can find the stove. It‘d be a big white square thing about,
oh, three feet by three feet with four round things on the top of it. On the front of it
should be some knobs with a diagram that corresponds to which of the round things it
controls. When you find the right one, rotate it to the setting marked medium and place
that pot on it with no lid on it. Note that under no circumstances are you to open the big
square door on the bottom. That‘s for Triple-A players only.

Now, and this is a very important step, check in the freezer. That‘d be the little one-third
sized door on top of the big white thing with the Cleveland Indians schedule magnet on
it. Do you see anything in there that looks like it came from an animal of any kind? Dead
chicken pieces parts, ground up shreds of cow flesh? It‘s at this point you make the call,
coach.

Is this going to be Chicken Kiev or Beef Stroganoff?

Take one of those out and toss it in the microwave. (You are single. You have a
microwave.) Defrost that and bring it to the counter. If it was chicken, slice it into strips.
If it was ground beef, de-clump it as much as you can.

Let‘s assume you called it chicken. It should already be sliced into strips if you have been
following directions. Drop those strips into the pot that‘s on the big white thing with the 4
round things. While the contents of that pot are heating, get the box of rice from the
cabinet. While observing the pot sitting on the round thing on the big white thing, turn the
black knob and wait for it to boil. When it reaches the boiling point, fill your hand with
rice four times and toss the rice into the mix. Once you have added four hands of rice,
give it a quick stir, cover it, and take it off the round thing. Let it sit for five minutes, and


                                                                                               34
you will have some nice chicken and rice in mushroom sauce that will feed four once,
two twice, or you four times.

Next lesson?

Laundry!




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Fast Food Workers


Let me start by saying right up front that I respect what every hard working person does
for a living. The world needs people performing their duties in every walk of life. We'd
be a mess if there were no trash collection. We'd be hungry if there were no chefs to
prepare food, no waitresses to deliver our orders, and nothing for them to deliver our
orders on if there were no busboys and dish washers. We'd be thirsty if there were no
bartenders. There's no reason to look down at anybody because of what they do for a
living. I don‘t see a person working, choosing to rather see a person paying rent, buying
food and clothing for their families, maybe looking forward to a nice vacation every year.

So, I will quote myself and repeat that "I respect what every hard working person does
for a living." It's HOW some of them do what they do for a living that raises the hair on
the back of my neck. I'm not speaking of everyone now, just that unique breed of cat
known as "Fast-Food Workers". Someday someone may be able to explain this to me, but
it seems to me that this one subgroup of our society seems to gravitate to those types of
employment, dragging an 86 IQ and a "laissez faire" work ethic in the door behind them.
Having spent several years playing in bands, I traveled extensively all over the United
States and Canada. And enjoying junk food like I do, my car has steered itself into many
of these places. There's the one with the Fallen Arches, the one that is owned by the guy
with the pig-tailed little daughter, the one that claims to cook over the open fire and many
independents and smaller chains you run across as you tour North America. They all
seem to have this one thing in common though.

They seem to staff themselves exclusively with young people who come from The Planet
of the Brain Dead.

Maybe there's a quality young person working in one of these fine dining establishments
somewhere that I haven't had the extreme pleasure of meeting yet. However, it has been
my experience, and believe me, if you saw my girth you'd know just how much fast food
experience I really have, that these places are staffed entirely by an aggregate group of
the laziest, stupidest, most common-sense-less people going. Perhaps some fast food



                                                                                            36
restaurant manager could provide me with data to prove me wrong, but I have not seen it
for myself yet. It scares me to think that one of these people could be president some day.

You want examples? I'll give you examples.

On a Sunday afternoon at about 2 PM, in a small suburb east of Cleveland Ohio, I drove
into one of those places with the fallen arches. There was one customer inside, seated at a
table eating, not requiring any attention. I was the only car in the drive through line, and
it took me fourteen minutes to get my food ordered and delivered. I'll say that again.
Fourteen minutes!! I happened to look inside as I waited for someone to notice the "car
at the window alarm" beeping and saw a group of five, count 'em five, young girls having
a great conversation. Finally, a long blast of my horn got their attention and someone
asked what I wanted. Then, and listen as I say this slowly, they got my order wrong. I
was the only customer there, and they got my order wrong. I asked for a double
cheeseburger, a large order of fries, and a vanilla shake. Three items. One from this bin,
one from that bin, one from the shake dispenser. And they got it wrong. I send prayers of
thanks to the gods of rock'n'roll every day that I wasn't ordering more. I might have
ended up with some roast beast from the place next door!

One evening on the way home from working a late shift, I drove into one of the places
with the pig-tailed little girl's picture all over the place. It was 12:40 AM. The sign on the
door clearly said that they were open until 1 AM. I pulled up to the window expecting
"Welcome to the Place with the Little Pig-Tailed Girl's Picture Pasted Everywhere. Do
you know what you'd like or do you need a few minutes?" Instead I got "Sorry sir, we're
closed." I think the young lass REALLY meant "Sorry sir, but I want to get out of here at
exactly 1 AM so I have been cleaning up and your $5 order doesn't mean enough to me to
dirty up my grill again." When I asked the young lady why, if the sign said they were
open until 1 AM, she was telling me they were closed twenty minutes before that, she had
no answer other than repeating "Sorry sir, we're closed." When I think back to the phone
call I made next day to the manager, I can't help but wonder where that young girl is
working now. I promise you it isn‘t there.

We also had one of the places near my home that claims that they flame broil their
burgers. I'll ask this obvious question and hope somebody has an answer. Why do they


                                                                                            37
have a bank of microwave ovens if they flame broil everything? Anyway, this was the
only place close to home that stayed open into the wee hours of the morning, until
something like 4 AM. I'm only guessing, but I'm sure it was to get the after-the-bar-closes
crowd. I don‘t know for certain why anybody would want an endless stream of drunken
idiots driving through their restaurant yelling unintelligible things into the little speaker,
but I will assume for sake of argument that it has everything to do with increasing the
bottom line, noting that they did do a brisk business between 2 and 4 AM. At issue here is
how much the bottom line was actually increased, because they had a nice young woman
with red hair working at the window that apparently cut math class every day of her
academic life. I once went through that drive through and got a burger, a large order of
onion rings, and a shake, for a total of $4.24. I gave her a 10 dollar bill and a quarter, and
somehow got $8.45 cents back in change when I should have gotten $6.01. That's $2.44
more than I should have gotten. Now that's not a huge loss on the small scale, but let's do
some basic math on this one. If you allow that a car can make it through a busy drive
through in about six minutes, that's makes ten cars per hour. Let's say she worked 12-4
AM, the busy shift. That's forty cars she took care of. If she lost what she overpaid me as
an average, that'd be $2.44 x 40 cars for a total of $97.60 per shift. With the low profit
margin in that business, I don‘t know a fast food joint anywhere that could absorb that
kind of loss. I must also mention that after a few weeks she was moved to the two-
pronged position of "milk shake dispensing" and "milk shake dispensing machine
maintenance person". Apparently the manager of that location did the same basic math I
did.

I could go on and on, moving from the ground-up dead cow places to the sliced-up dead
cow places to the one with the obnoxious little dog and the many times refried and
reheated beans, but the story stays pretty much the same. They are staffed by a bunch of
young loser kids who call me "dude", live their lives on a skateboard, think the world
owes them a living and that customer service is a lost art. I can't help but think back to
the days when you pulled your car into the covered parking area, a pretty girl on roller
skates wearing satin shorts and a little cap would greet you, and in about ten minutes you
had a tray with your order hooked onto your window. What the hell happened to that kind




                                                                                             38
of service anyway? Now the food costs twice as much, tastes half as good, and you pretty
much have to beg to get it.

I have to tell you about a place near my home. I live in Akron, Ohio. It's a nice little
yuppie-ish kind of a 'burb about 35 miles south of Cleveland. It's the home of Goodyear
Tire and their world famous blimp, Firestone Tire and the Soap Box Derby. There's also a
great drive in that's been around forever (according to my wife who lived here for many
years when I still lived in Cleveland). It's a throwback to the days when service was
service. You pull in, turn on your lights and in a minute or less, some fresh-faced young
college kid is there to take your order. The food is good, the delivery is quick, and the
service is flawless. Even I tip them well, and if you knew me, you'd know just how
significant that is.

And as a bonus, they've never called me "dude"!




                                                                                            39
Adult Job Fair


It looked like a great idea on paper. When I saw the ad for a "Mature Workers" job fair, it
gave me hope that employers might finally be recognizing the value of Employable
Persons Over Age Forty, forty apparently being the age parameter set up as who was a
"mature worker". So at the very least I learned that reaching forty was the bridge that
moved me into the ranks of the mature, my wife's opinion notwithstanding. It was
refreshing to know that someone out there seems to understand that once your first digit
becomes a four people don't abandon their work ethic, lose their ability to think, or
suddenly become unable to make useful contributions to the workforce.

Then I walked in the door.

Despite the fact that the job fair was held in a meeting room at a rather nice restaurant
that features Middle Eastern Cuisine, there was no food provided. There was
complimentary coffee available, though I was kind of hoping for couscous and taboola.
To their credit, they did offer both regular and decaf, seemingly ignoring the fact that
there are still people out there who don't choose to participate in the "first cup of coffee in
the morning" cliché. That was no big deal for me though, as it was after 11AM when I
got there and I had already downed my first Diet Pepsi. (I never said I didn't do caffeine,
I just don't get it from coffee.) After completing the requisite sign in sheets, I quickly
scanned my directory of the sixty or so employer displays and began to schmooze.

Up until that moment, I had never even considered myself to be a member of the
Employable Persons Over Age Forty (hereafter referred to as EPOAFs in deference to the
fast-paced, acronym driven world we live in), though I crossed that demographic bridge a
decade ago. As I walked around the room, with the experience of having attended far too
many of these things causing job fair flashbacks, slowly it sunk in. These employers, the
same employers who seemed so well intentioned at the onset, were feeding the societal
cliché that EPOAFs were of little value in any role other than one that could easily be
considered to be menial labor. I saw recruiters for retail stores, fast food joints,
telemarketing boiler rooms, domestic care agencies and several more career fields that



                                                                                             40
have historically filled their workforce with people who wandered in off the street. I must
go on record here as saying that the world needs retail clerks, domestic workers and fast
food counter help (telemarketers...you decide) and that there is no shame or pride issues
in working wherever you are comfortable working. Except for maybe the area of politics,
the concept of an honest day's work for and honest day's pay is how this country was
built. This fair, however, was touted to be heavily weighted toward technical and
professional vocations, accounts and so forth. There were three. THREE! And as I stood
by eavesdropping at those three tables while candidates before me pleaded their
respective cases, I heard all three of those exhibitors explaining how they had nothing
open right now but they would keep resumes on file for one year and "call you if
anything comes up". I'll risk it and ask the obvious question, "What the HELL are you
even DOING here is you have nothing to offer?"

Now, from the candidate side, what I saw was even more interesting.

I saw a cross section of people from roughly thirty three to seventy years of age. The
gender mix was close to 50/50, with females slightly outnumbering males. I saw a nice
mix of brown hair, gray hair, and no hair on the men, and a good bit of "gray between
rinses" hair on the women. (Note to the 55-ish woman in the navy blue dress: Your
chestnut brown hair is lovely. Why do you dye the roots white?) Most attendees were
well dressed, not necessarily dressed for success but at least dressed neatly. Many of the
men went with the button down suit and tie look, some went with the open shirt and sport
coat look, a few wore simply a shirt and tie. I saw quite a few with Dockers style slacks,
sport shirts and Nikes. The women were in very smart dresses for the most part with the
occasional pants suit mixed in.

There were exceptions to the sartorial rule, however. One man, who I am reasonably
certain was there only because his wife made him attend, came to make initial contact
with prospective employers dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, khaki walking shorts and
sandals, with his dirty gray pony tail sticking out from under the straw sun hat he never
removed. Now it's entirely possible this man belongs in the eccentric category and is a
nuclear physicist between contract assignments. I hope this is not true, though, because
the thought of plutonium in this man's hands frightens me more than the thought of a



                                                                                            41
Village People reunion. One woman wore SWEAT PANTS, though to be fair they were
the perfect compliment to her Garth Brooks t-shirt and wedgies.

Conclusions? You tell me. From the candidate side, I am sure there were many reasons
these people, either already retired or just around one corner from it, wanted to find jobs.
More money, maybe. Too much free time, maybe. Whatever the reasons, they were there.
I saw them. I stood among them. I made polite conversation with a few of them (but not
the guy in the Hawaiian shirt), though never dared to ask any of them something so
personal as why they wanted a new job at this time in their life when I would expect that
it's now time to open the golden parachute and take that world cruise. From the employer
side, maybe it was because of the state of the job market that, to be perfectly frank about
it, almost none of the jobs offered required very much in the way of book learnin'. Maybe
it's a foregone conclusion that jobs in the professional or technical fields are filled by the
applicants who surf the web or pound the pavement to find them. I didn't even want to
consider it, but I came away wondering if this whole thing didn't actually fuel the
stereotype that EPOAFs belong in a category where they are considered to be employable
only in less mentally taxing fields, that technological ability is available only from the job
pool where the Generation X people swim. Or even more frightening, Generation Y.

Maybe despite all the talk, all the posturing, all the lip service, all the legislation to the
contrary, all the denial that such things exist, age discrimination is a reality. Maybe it
really is all about that first digit. I am starting to think more about it now that my first
digit has become a 5. I am thinking about how my late mother and my mother in law both
loved their 70s, and how both of them are vibrant, intelligent, active, delightful,
stimulating women. Do we as a society reach a point where we just stop caring, where we
stop acknowledging that older people can contribute, where we stop considering that not
everybody enjoys afternoons of soap operas, canasta and the $3.99 early bird special at
the smorgasbord?

Hire us EPOAFs. We can help.




                                                                                                 42
Sep 11, 2001
(This was written just hours after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, Sep 11,
2001.)

Okay, so where do you start when something like this happens?

What am I exactly?

Angry?

Shocked?

Startled?

Some of the above?

All of the above?

Well, categorically, angry at whom? We don't even know who did this yet. Once the
investigations determine who is responsible I'll be angry.

Shocked? Of course I'm shocked. This is The United States of America. The land of the
free. The home of the brave. I can't help but begin to wonder how free we are when you
need to be concerned about some faceless, very much less than brave terrorists slamming
a commercial airliner into the building you work in.

Startled? Well, 8 hours ago I was sound asleep. 6 hours ago I left my home for just
another day at the office. 4 hours ago every postcard of the New York Skyline became a
collector‘s item. 2 hours ago I was ordered to evacuate the building my office is in. It's a
tall building in Cleveland near a small airport. One minute I was fixing a laptop computer
for one of my users, and the next I was spiraling down 29 flights of stairs to the ground.
I've never had to evacuate a building before. If ordered evacuation isn't startling, please
tell me what is.

Watching the news reports stream in on television is making me sick in the heart as well
as the stomach. I am watching as first New York City, then the rest of my country is
being closed. I am watching reports of every airport in the US and Canada being closed
because of this. I am watching reports of the borders being sealed. I am watching reports


                                                                                              43
of every business stopping while we, as a nation, gasp. I am watching pictures of what
used to be two very tall buildings that now serve as two gnarled, twisted tombs for
thousands of dead people who were trapped inside.

I am also watching a satellite feed of about 3000 people rejoicing in the streets in
Palestine, and I am starting to get a feeling about who I am angry at. There are young
children taking part in the celebration. What kind of country (and on a larger scale, what
kind of world) is this where young children are taught to hate the United States to the
point that they cheer for such a despicable act of war? And let there be no mistake in
perception, this is an act of war.

I was in the army. I served in Viet Nam. I never saw anything as devastating and as
painful as this is. This is something that happens in ―those less civilized‖ countries. This
is something that happens to other people. This is something that just does not happen in
the USA. Our sky is now populated with military aircraft, and there's no air show in
town. They are up there for business, not pleasure. We are in a state of war without
knowing who the enemy is.

As Day 2 arrives I wake to find that the emotional turmoil of yesterday has not abated.
It's changing somewhat but it's not going away. As more and more details fall into place
it seems that anger is becoming the dominant ingredient in my emotional stew. My office
as a whole seems to be putting on a brave business-as-usual face, but in the lunch room,
the restrooms and every corridor on every floor there are scattered groups huddled and
quietly talking about "it". There are the requisite rhetorical greetings and a few pleasant
smiles exchanged like every other day but they just don't have the usual sparkle to them.
The happy people are a little less happy. The grouchy people are a little grouchier. The
resident jesters aren't jesting. They wouldn't dare. There's an unstated tension visible in
just about everybody. We have been informed of various places we can receive grief
counseling should we need it. I can't help but wonder what kind of grief those directly
involved must be experiencing when here, 500 miles away from the nearest attacks and
for the most part not directly related to any of the victims, we are being offered
counseling.




                                                                                              44
There are too many questions to have so few answers. How did these bastards get past
airport security? Were the security people possibly involved in the plot? Why was my
building evacuated? Was it because the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania made an
abrupt course correction over Cleveland air space? Was it because the primary tenant in
this building is a rather large financial institution, and after the World Trade Center was a
target, two and two added up that this building could be next? There are so many "was
it's" that we could play that game all day. And the maddening part is that we will never
really know the answers. The people with the answers are all dead.

News reports carried story after story of victims who were fortunate enough to be out of
the building before it collapsed, some with the leeway as short as the time it takes to walk
(no, that should be run) a few city blocks. There will be stories of many who became
victims attempting to save others. There will be rising numbers of fatalities as the rubble
is removed to uncover the horrific results below it. None of it will be easy to accept, yet
we will watch, and we will continue to feel powerless. More details about who is
responsible will come out and again we will watch, and again we will feel powerless.

Some day we may determine what the exact intention of the terrorists was. Right now we
can only speculate. Was it a message to our financial institutions? Was it a means of
gaining attention for some sick cause? Did they just want to disrupt our day to day life for
a while?

Sad to say, but no matter how this plays out, they have already won.




                                                                                           45
Traditions


I was thinking about something just yesterday and it interested me so much I had to look
more deeply into it. I opened up Webster's Dictionary and looked up the word "tradition".
The definition was "An inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or
behavior". I suppose that definition works for me, though I would like to have gotten an
explanation of WHY these inherited, established, or customary patterns of thought, action
or behavior, many of which I find extremely stupid, became traditions. Possibly the most
glaring example of this inanity is Christmas. Who exactly came up with this? Ok, the
Christian school of thought claims is the celebration of the birth of Christ. I'll buy that. I'll
also buy about $1000 worth of gifts every December, purportedly to symbolize the gifts
that three wise men brought to the wunderkind. There are holes all over the story, but I
suppose it makes people happy to overlook them. For example, who decided on
December 25th? This event supposedly took place when there was not yet a system in
place to record time, the very concept of B.C./A.D. being centered on this very day.
Nobody can explain why three supposedly wise men were wandering around in a
Palestinian desert on that exact night in allegedly December. Bearing gifts no less. They
just happened to have gifts with them. And what do you make of those gifts? Gold,
frankincense and myrrh. Gold I can understand. It's worth something. Frankincense, well,
at least will smell good if you burn it, as anyone from the '60s will tell you. But what the
hell is myrrh? What do you use myrrh for? Is myrrh animal, vegetable or mineral?
Organic, perhaps? These were wise men and they couldn‘t do any better than MYRRH?
Maybe savings bonds for the kid‘s college fund, but not myrrh.

There are other traditions I find equally as annoying. Some serve absolutely no
constructive purpose at all. Take New Years Eve, for example. This is a night that
otherwise normal people who don‘t really know how to act in public because they only
go out of their homes once a year on New Years Eve, go to a party, get as drunk as they
can, and then go drive on a highway filled with other such idiots. Another great example
is the infamous Birthday Swat tradition, one that my family stopped participating in as I




                                                                                              46
got older and started enjoying the swats a little too much. And how about the traditional
4th of July losing of the fingers caused by fireworks every year?

I suppose, though, that these traditions all have their place. Whether they give people a
way to let off a little steam or actually commemorate some historic event, they do have
their place.

There is one tradition I simply refuse to accept though. That is the tradition of singing
"Take Me Out To the Ballgame" during the 7th inning stretch. I will share with you some
things I found while doing research on the Internet, and we all know the Internet is an
absolute trusted source for everything.

"A baseball tradition is started in 1910 when President William Howard Taft opened the
season by throwing out the first ball. In years to come, a veritable parade of presidents
will follow in his footsteps.

But the 330 pound Taft is credited with popularizing another tradition the same day.

By the middle of the 7th inning, his wooden seat becomes unbearable… and the portly
President stands up to stretch. The crowd thinks he is leaving, and respectfully rises.

But then Taft sits down again, as does the crowd.

A presidential endorsement of a tradition that lasts 'til this day—the seventh inning
stretch!"

Believable enough, I suppose. However, there was no mention of that song! That insipid,
sapless, namby-pamby fucking song. They didn‘t sing that fucking song when the
tradition started. Since tradition, by definition, is "an inherited, established or customary
pattern", just who was it that took the liberty of tampering with tradition and adding that
tedious fucking song to the 7th Inning Stretch? Someone suggested that Harry Caray did
it on his own, but I suspect that somewhere between President Taft standing to stretch his
legs and the day Harry Caray started his own personal tradition of caterwauling in the
middle of the 7th inning it had been done before. Research claims that it was first
performed at a Brooklyn Dodgers game in 1940. I believe, and will believe this until the
die I become fertilizer, that way back in 1909 when Albert von Tizer wrote the music and




                                                                                            47
Jack Norworth wrote the lyrics on an infamous 30 minute subway ride, they did it just to
torment me. I absolutely hate this fucking song.

Let's examine this little ditty line by line.

"Take me out to the ballgame...."

It's the middle of the 7th inning, and you are AT the game, stretching your legs and
singing a bad song. It completely defies all immutable laws of physics that I could
possibly take you there at that moment.

"Take me out with the crowd...."

I'm a loner. I also grew up in the inner city of Cleveland, where being in a crowd also
meant keeping one hand on your wallet and watching over your shoulder so nobody
planted a knife between your shoulder blades. And what about claustrophobics?

"Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack...."

What a thing to say! It isn‘t enough I brought you the game, now you're begging for
food?? And did this guy own stock in Cracker Jack or something?14 And what about
diabetics? You have any idea how much sugar there is in a box of that stuff?

"I don‘t care if I never get back...."

Well, it's a nice thought that I'd get to spend the rest of my life at Jacobs Field here in
Cleveland, but alas, sooner or later I have to get home. All my stuff is there. My clothes
are there. My stereo. I'll need a shower and a shave soon. I mean, if only to let the dogs
out....

"So it's root, root, root for the home team...."

Only a fool would root for the visiting team in a place like Yankee Stadium or Fenway
Park. My god, they beat up their OWN fans at Yankee Stadium.

"If they don‘t win it's a shame...."


14
  Cracker Jack was created in 1893, when F. W. Rueckheim came up with it for the World's Columbian
Exposition, Chicago's first world fair. The company was called F.W. Rueckheim and Brother (it was not
renamed to Cracker Jack Company until 1922). 3 years later, brother Louis Rueckheim came up with the
formula to make the kernels stick together. The product was named by a salesman, who upon sampling it


                                                                                                  48
Well, after a lifetime of being taught that "It isn't if you win or lose but how you play the
game", and "As long as you do the best you can it doesn't matter if you win or lose", it
would appear that lyricist Jack Norworth knew better.

"For its one, two, three strikes you're out...."

Finally they got one right. (Russell Branyan, take note. Apparently you have fans that
know bad songs.)

"At the oooooold...baaaaaaaall...gaaaaaaaame!"

My favorite line of the song. That means it's finally over.

Play ball. And get me a beer!




said "Hey that's a cracker jack." The Rueckheims had the name trademarked and the rest is truly confection
history.


                                                                                                       49
Oct 31, 2001


I went to a funeral yesterday. For the most part it was pretty much like other funerals I
have attended. There was the slight smell of burned beeswax from the candles, a lot of
people I didn‘t know in the chairs, and a lot of sad music. There was one thing that made
this one different though.

The guest of honor was my mother.

I don‘t know when it happened, but somehow time passed, she got old and developed a
bad heart. The mom I remember wasn‘t old at all. The mom I remember was always there
with the right answer to every question, always there with advice when a situation called
for the voice of experience, and just generally always there. She‘s not there anymore.

Well, that‘s not true either. Today she‘s been there more than she has been in a long time.
As I got older and got into my own life, it seemed like I needed my mom less and less.
I‘m finding out now that the older me needed her more than ever, just that I needed her in
a different way. I needed her to remind me where I come from, and to keep me on an
even keel by reminding me that just because things seem to be going well I shouldn‘t lose
sight of the possibility that they could suddenly turn for the worse. I needed her for a lot
of things I wasn‘t aware of. Now that she‘s gone, I see just how much she was always
there for all of us.

As we sat around the funeral home, greeting many old friends, relatives, and relative
strangers as they came to pay their last respects, one by one the ―mom‖ stories came out.
From me, from my sister, from our cousins who always loved their Aunt Mil, and from
just about anyone who had the privilege of meeting her during her 79-year journey.

I sat in my den today and came up with my own mom stories. Through the kind of tears
that accompany happy memories, I listened many times to Connie Francis singing
―Among My Souvenirs‖ and remembered how, in the days when I was a young kid who
wanted to have a career in music, mom and I would sing that song over and over so she
could teach me how to recognize and sing harmony notes. I listened to ―The Blue Skirt
Waltz‖ and remembered how she told me that all Slovenians knew how to waltz, and that


                                                                                            50
it was time I learned. I listened to Artie Shaw‘s rendition of ―Begin the Beguine‖ and
remembered how she tried (unsuccessfully) to teach me the Lindy Hop because boys had
to know how to dance too. (Once she explained again later in life that the boys who could
dance would get the girls, it sunk in.) I thought about all of that, and much more. And I
realized that mom is only gone in body. Her spirit is very much alive and it will likely
live on in everyone that she touched during her life.

That‘s pretty much the end of this short chapter. When you finish reading it, would you
do something for me?

Call your mom. If you are not on good terms with her, make your peace with her now.
Not tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Now. If you are on good terms with her, tell
her you love her and how glad you are she is still in your life.

You‘ll feel better. I promise.




                                                                                            51
The Blog Years

So I'll start by ranting about the unmitigated audacity it takes for some nobody in a small
town in Ohio to think anybody cares enough about his mundane little life to start a blog.
Geeze, I got up, took a shower, took the dog out, came to work, and now I am sitting here
spewing venom about absolutely nothing. Does anybody care that I had oatmeal with
brown sugar and raisins for breakfast? I doubt it! How about that I chased it down with a
banana. Ditto to the doubt it.

So why should I write a blog?
Interesting question, and the answer will probably take a few weeks to gel. Maybe it's
because I am a loner and hardly talk to people outside of work. Maybe it's because the
reason I became a loner is that I tired of the mindless nonsense that people want to talk
about. Maybe it's because as I get older, every day and in every context I see stupidity in
its purest form and want to just scream "DON'T YOU SEE HOW DUMB THAT IS?"
Eventually I will move on to topics that may have some social relevance, if only to me.
I'll go off on things that will piss people off, I'm sure, but they are things that I am sure
need to be said.
We just had a huge go-round in my city because some guy parked in a handicap space.
Now I know the laws, and I don't do it, but unless there is a cop sitting there 24/7 to
enforce it, it's going to happen. This guy ran in to a quickie-mart to buy a soft drink, and
though he was wrong for parking in one of the four handicapped spots, that isn't the
reason I brought it up. Why are there four handicapped parking spaces at a quickie-mart?
Some math major please calculate the odds that four carloads of handicapped people
living in that neighborhood of a city with 150,000 people are going to need milk or bread
at exactly the same moment?
And THAT'S not even the point.
Ever heard a handicapped person go off about "Don't call me handicapped. I want to be
treated like everyone else with no special favors." Okay, I agree. So when the parking lot
at the mall is full, park a mile away and walk up like "everyone else". You can't have it
both ways. Denial isn't going to make the condition that qualifies you for the handicapped



                                                                                                52
sticker go away. You are indeed handicapped. Take your preferred parking pass and shut
the fuck up.

Okay, I will think about who I can offend next and get back to you!




                                                                                    53
A Day in the Life of a Computer Nerd


My day starts with my rolling out of bed at some random time, depending on how late
into the night I worked. I want to plan my day, so off to the computer I go and visit
Intellicast to see what the forecast is for 44310.

After that I want to check up on the home teams, so I head over to ESPN (espn.go.com)
to check the scoreboard from last night. I like to read the complete story, so I head to the
newspapers to check that out. Depending on your preference, you can visit The Beacon
Journal or The Plain Dealer and get the all the news that is the news.

Now that I know the weather, I can plan my activities for the day. Let's see, I want to
pressure wash that deck, but I think it will need some bleach or some other additive to
clean off the moss that has grown since last year. I know that the DIY website will have
that information on one of their 25 or so message boards. And while I'm at it, I can also
check the gardening forum to see if anyone has answered my question about what will
likely grow in a limited sunlight area.

Oh, and I need to ask my buddy Dave if we are still going down to Canton later to feast
on the bratwurst at Mozart's. I open up my instant messaging program and see that he is
also online, and we discuss the road trip. We'll leave at 6 in hopes that the traffic on I-77
south isn't too bad. Just to be sure, before I leave I'll check the traffic reports.

On to business, I have a customer that asked me to upgrade the memory and hard drive in
his computer. I don't want to spend too much of his money, so I'd better check the ads.
CompUSA might have a deal running this week. If not them, let me check Circuit City
and Best Buy. Oh? They can wait for mail order? Then I'd better check Computer
Discount Warehouse and see if they have any specials running on memory.

Before I buy anything, I'd better check my bank balance. For me that's Key Bank, but
most banks now have online access, and it is accurate to the minute.

I see the icon that means I just received an email. It's from someone in Canada who
signed off with "Je me souviens". To quote Gomez Addams, "Tish, that's French." My
friend Allison is a French teacher. Let me see if she is on instant messaging. Nope. I


                                                                                            54
know, I can find out what it means with a visit to the online translation web page. "I
remember?" You remember what?

Hey, I just saw that Meat Loaf is going to perform at Tower City Amphitheater in
September. I loved his music back in the 80s. I wonder how he sounds now that he is old
and broken down like me. Well, it will be fun to see him play again. Let me head over
and check ticket prices. $62 each with processing fees. And even this far in advance the
best I can get is row AA? I think I'll pass.

Ok, it isn't that bad. I actually do go out of the house once in a while, but you get the idea.
The Internet has replaced the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Yellow Pages as the
trusted source for information and shopping guidelines, and you can use it any time of
day or night for just the cost of an Internet connection. You can do almost anything on
the Internet, from finding airline tickets and hotel rooms for you upcoming vacation to an
exciting new recipe you'd like to try for dinner tonight. A great example of the varied
information available is when I was planning a trip to Cape Cod. Without having to ask a
dozen people "Where can I stay up there with my dog?" and hoping one of them had a
clue, I found my choice of about a dozen motels in 5 minutes simply by asking Google to
find me "dog friendly lodging Cape Cod".

So the next time you need to do a little shopping, find some help with a cooking or home
improvement problem, or just want to read the news, turn to the Internet. Your computer
can give you so much more than email if you just ask it to!




                                                                                            55
Did Juan Valdez brainwash us?


What exactly is the allure of coffee? Coffee has permeated our society to a point where it
is the basis for social gatherings.

"Let's meet for coffee."

"Meet me and we can talk over coffee."

"I am going out for coffee."

Okay, folks. It's coffee, okay? It's not some mystical elixir that holds the secret of
perpetual youth or some sort of brain enhancing brew. It's a fucking cup of coffee. It's a
drink made from water and beans that some South American mule driving loser picked
with his filthy, dirty hands and put into some nasty burlap sacks. At least that's how Juan
Valdez did it in the old commercials.

I am 55 years of age. In my life, I have had maybe 10 cups of coffee. I hate the taste. I
hate the cleanup after, those ugly ass grounds everywhere. I don't have house plants so
don't try selling me on the positive aspects of using coffee grounds for fertilizer. I don't
look forward to washing 8 cups every night before I go to bed, because you HAVE to use
a fresh cup every time you want coffee.

What a cliché coffee is. People have bought the brainwash that they can't start the day
without coffee. Well, rough math says that I have started approximately 19,980 days (and
counting) without coffee, and I have made it through most of them so far!

I can remember (vaguely) a night that I was out with the gang and had WAY too many
beers. We went to a nasty ass (now defunct) breakfast place on the near west side of
Cleveland called The Big Egg. The 4 of us sat down at a table, and the waitress poured
coffee for all of us. I picked mine up and slugged it down like a shot of Jack Daniels. I
looked at my pals through the tears in my eyes and said "That was hot, wasn't it?" and
screamed like a little bitch as I poured glasses of cold water down my scalded throat.
That was the last cup of coffee I ever had. I am lucky it wasn't the last time I was ever
able to speak.



                                                                                               56
And then these yuppie bastards come along with the designer coffee. The mocha latte
half-caf grande venti shmenti penti..... I hope you spill it all over your velvet running suit
and crash your fucking Hummer!




                                                                                            57
Bottom of the barrel television


I just saw a promo for some show called "Tuckerville". The clip that they showed was
from an upcoming episode where the lead character is going to quit smoking. If THAT is
a reason to have a television show, I anticipate that my future might be in television
writing.

If this is television material, then I have to say that I have a long list of show topics for
them. Taking out the garbage, shopping for lettuce, cooking spaghetti, cleaning up dog
shit.... The possibilities are endless.

I do have to say that I have never watched the show, so I might be missing the concept
here, but I don't think I see the hook. This is a reality TV show about the life of washed
up country singer Tanya Tucker, who used to be hot at one time, but now looks like every
bleached blond trailer trash hillbilly I have ever seen. She is fat, old, and wrinkled, and
apparently as stupid as a box of hammers. Like most people from Appalachia Heights
who stumble upon a large amount of money, she lives in a big house with her little stupid
hillbilly kids that are, surprise surprise, also a bunch of spoiled brats.

How did it come to be that television has come to this? Has America been dumbed down
so much that the private life of some fat old ugly-assed hillbilly singer is somehow
interesting to us?

But you know what? This isn't really about Tanya Tucker. This is about another
abomination that just started running a few weeks ago called "Shalom in the Home". I
don't know if the guy is really a Rabbi or not, but from what I have seen he is little more
than some schmendrick who schleps a crew from town to town interfering with how
some meshugine people raise their kids. Believe me, if this nudnick came to my house
and told me how to raise my kids I'd tell him to stop utzing me and kick his tuchis out the
door. I don't need this guy coming in and kvetching about my family. I get enough
kibbutzing from my makatenista without hearing this shmuck's fecockta nonsense. Too
many people giving me their meshugine ideas, making me all furblungit.

Talk about chutzpah. Oy vay!!!


                                                                                                58
Open your eyes….


You never know when something will happen to you that is an eye opener.

There is a dispute raging in my city about something that happened early in 2006. Seems
a young black kid was set up and arrested for a drug deal he allegedly did. The jury too
about 20 minutes to clear him of the charge, based on testimony that he was somewhere
else when the surveillance tape showed someone the police claimed to be him selling
drugs. The jury also noted that the guy who busted him was a convicted drug felon
working for the police department like a piece work sheet metal worker. He got paid by
the bust. For everybody he rolled over on, he made $50. Remember that. $50.

The young man who was set up and acquitted was a grad student carrying a more than
respectable GPA. The college, in their infinite (lack of) wisdom, expelled him from
school as a drug offender, and refused to let him back in when he was cleared of the
charges.

The young man became distraught and soon after decided that his life now had no
meaning, and he committed suicide. There is understandably a great deal of outrage, and
of course both the college and the police fail to see that while they are not directly
responsible for his suicide, i.e. they didn't give him the gun or pull the trigger, they are
absent of malice.

To that I offer one resounding word.

BULLSHIT!

A bogus charge, turned in by a junkie needing money for a fix, and a promising young
life is over. For $50.

But that's not really why I am writing this. This was merely an eye opener for me, and I'd
like to tell you about something that happened to me about 3 years ago that was MY eye
opener.

I needed new glasses. My medical plan at the time was partnered with the Sears optical
centers. I made my appointment and headed in. I was told that I would be seen by Dr.
Gwen, and I took my seat and waited. When I was called in, I saw the nameplate on the


                                                                                               59
desk. His name was pronounced Gwen, but it was spelled Nguyen. I thought. "I know
that name. He's Vietnamese", and I was correct. He came in and we started to chat, and
his accent was even more Midwest than mine, so I had to ask.

"You are obviously Vietnamese by ethnic origin but you talk more Midwest than I do and
I was born in Ohio."

He told me how his family came here when he was a year old and that he grew up in a
house that demanded he speak English. (And I laud that attitude. You live here, you talk
like we do.)

At that point I asked where in Viet Nam his people came from, and when he told me, it
turns out that he lived literally yards from where I was stationed in Da Nang. We talked
more, how long I was there, what years, etc.... And this is where he made me feel
ashamed of myself.

He stood up from his chair, walked over to me, shook my hand and said "Thank you."

I had to ask "For what?"

And he said "You have no idea what it would have been like for us if you guys hadn't
been there protecting us. The north would have just run us right out of the country and
into the South China Sea."

I suddenly had a tear in my eye and an empty feeling in my stomach. That was the first
time I ever looked at it that way, the first time I realized that there was another point of
view about that goddamned war. From that second forward I began to feel ashamed for
ever saying words like "gook", "spic", "nigger", "kraut", "dago", "mick"... any of the
more popular racial epithets. This guy, who was a baby then, just wanted the chance to be
free and choose his own life path. He wouldn't have had that chance without the
protection we provided to his family. And the path he chose is to help people see.

It took me until 2003, 31 years after I returned from 18 months in that living hell, to
understand why I went over there. Now I know.

It was so I could get reading glasses.




                                                                                               60
Enough, already


I was sitting here working on a thin crust pizza from Domino's (black olive) and my dog
suddenly started barking up a storm. A few seconds later I heard the mailbox close, and
knew she was just doing her job chasing the intruder away when she heard him. Now if
she was outside and my mailman came up to her, she would sit there wagging her tail and
wait for her treat. This has become such a friendship for her that the mailman often leaves
her treat sitting on top of the mailbox.

What a sad day when a Milk Bone is the best thing in the mailbox.

I get one magazine, so the rest of it is bills and advertising. Now I carried that blue bag
for 8 years myself, so I understand the logic and how those annoying packets of ads came
to be. Some people got together and solicited advertisers with the idea that they could
reach as many people as ever and save money if they would pool their ads and send them
all out in one envelope. That was the birth of the Advo system, and it was the first
domino to topple in the downfall of mail as we knew it. It was the beginning of
mailboxes all over America being stuffed full of grainy pictures of lost kids, and alleged
discounts that never happen unless you meet some very critical conditions, like it has to
be an even numbered date and a Thursday, and you'll get a buck off your pizza. And as I
went to the waste basket to throw it all out, I started to wonder why we can't do with mail
what we do with spam.

Most spam has a link in it that instructs the mass mailers to remove your email from their
distribution. It typically takes a few weeks to get the junk out that is already staged, but
eventually it goes away. The techno term for that process is "opting out". (Everything has
to have a techno term these days.)

Why doesn't the post office give us the same option? Allegedly there is a process in place
to stop the flow of junk mail, but from what I understand they deliberately make it SO
difficult that nobody wants to bother. Couldn't you live without some computer enhanced
projection of what little Juan is going to look like when he turns 18? In 2018?

I know there's an army of blue-shirted robots who would love to carry less of it.


                                                                                               61
And what happened to the free samples? I remember delivering chocolate chip cookie
samples, candy bars, tampons (that unfortunately were later linked to toxic shock
syndrome) and all kinds of free stuff. We used to just love the food samples, because it
was standard issue to receive 10% more units than houses serviced by your office. The
Soft Batch chocolate chip cookies happened to come in for delivery in February, and I
can't begin to tell you how many boxes were consumed at the post office with a cup of
hot chocolate for a warm-up break.

The point is, I don't want your junk mail. I should have a choice. I can turn off the radio
when the commercials play, I can mute the TV. Let me make my own decision on this
one as well.

John E. Potter, are you listening?




                                                                                           62
Still an issue?


There was a discussion on a message forum I use about the POW-MIAs from the Viet
Nam era. Someone asked if after this many years had passed if it was still in issue. Here's
my dime.

I was in Viet Nam (Army) from June 71 to Christmas 72. I am NOT a war hero, and I
want that made clear. I am NOT a hero. The hero's names are listed on a big wall in
Washington DC. However, I did receive a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. I also sadly
experienced the reality of several people I knew, not necessarily friends, but comrades in
arms, leaving base camp and not coming back. Not every body was accounted for, and in
those cases nobody can say that they were killed. They are officially 'missing'. However,
given the time span here, it is likely that if they were not killed a large portion have died
from natural causes by now.

Is it still an issue? It is for me, and it is for everybody who served and was fortunate
enough to come home. It is an issue out of respect for the 58,000 names on that wall.

I tried 3 times to go to The Wall. I drove from Cleveland to DC just to see it. I
approached it, and about 150 yards away, I simply froze and could not go any further. I
sat on a bench and had an emotional moment, and after gathering myself I tried again
with the same result. I gave up and drove back to Cleveland. (6 1/2 hours)

The next summer, in June, I made the trip again. I got closer that time but still could not
do it. I went to the hotel I was staying at and spent the night thinking.

The next day I went back, and I stopped to buy a t-shirt at one of the stands. There was a
guy there who was a former Marine. I paid for the shirt and told him the story about this
being my 3rd attempt. And as I talked my eyes again started welling up with tears and my
voice began to get shaky. He said "Maybe I can help."

This guy pulled the canvas sides down on his stand, came around to me and put his big
Marine arm around me and said "C'mon brother. We'll go together." We walked up to the
Wall, still feeling a little nervous, and he kept telling me "It'll be okay. You know at some
point you have to do this.", and we walked together right up to it. He stayed there a few


                                                                                            63
minutes as I took some deep breaths and gathered myself, and then he slapped me on the
back and said "You'll be okay now." and disappeared. I walked up and down, saw the
name of Marine Cpl John McGlugh, a guy against whom I played high school baseball. I
saw Army Sgt Sylvester Sekne, a guy with whom I attended grade school. I saw Army
SSG James McAlister, a guy from my unit that we just called Big Mac. And the entire
time, I couldn't stop thinking about how close any one of us who served really came to
being reduced to a name on a marble wall. As I sat there in front of the monument, it was
like time stood still and ran in fast forward all at the same time. I went back the way I
came in and wanted to thank the Marine, but he had closed and was gone.

The next year I made the drive again JUST to find that Marine, but there someone else
running the stand, and when I asked about "the guy from last year" I found out he had
been in a motorcycle accident and did not recover from his injuries.

I'll never forget that guy whose name I never knew, or The Wall.

Or the POW-MIAs.

Yes, it's still an issue.




                                                                                            64
The birth of the garage sale


I may just be out of tune, but I don‘t get the appeal of garage sales. Maybe it‘s because I
have better things to do with my hard-earned money than spending it on someone else‘s
garbage. (Have you ever noticed that ―garage‖ is ―garbage‖ without the B?)

Or maybe it‘s because I attended the first garage sale ever.

It was in August 1968. I had been playing golf with my buddies. While I was gone, my
father, the Eddie Vidmar Sr., called Hymie by his close friends for reasons I never
understood, found his ―round tuit‖ for that particular day. (You are probably familiar with
that elusive concept of ―I‘ll do it when I get around to it.‖) It was time to clean the
garage.

Dad moved the junk out of the garage. It was an impressive stack that included a bike for
a little kid, complete with training wheels (I was the only child still at home and had just
turned 17); a pack of hula hoops tied together with string; and possibly the most
dangerous yard game ever invented, Jarts.

Looking back with an anachronistic eye, those Jarts were probably a keeper, and it was a
fun game to play until that unfortunate Sunday when my cousin Rudy took a Jart to the
left foot. (He was lucky. In 1988, the government banned the production, sale and use of
these human powered missiles after a child somehow managed to run under one in flight
and it entered his skull. Yet through the adversity and negative press, the Jarts
underground remains active, and you can read the results of Piqua, Ohio‘s 14th annual
Jarts tournament at www.jarts.com.)

As more and more junk came out of that garage, the pile extended farther and farther
down the driveway. Dad had reached the end of the driveway and still could not use the
hose because of the clutter. To a casual observer, it looked like he was planning to move
out of the neighborhood. A better analogy might be the Bible story of the loaves and the
fishes.

I drove up in the family Mercury Comet, with the 202 cubic inch, straight six-cylinder
engine, and he gestured to park on the street. As I was pulling my clubs from the trunk, a


                                                                                           65
guy in a blue pickup truck stopped, and I watched from the curb as my surprised father
started talking to him. The guy suddenly picked up a kitchen table and four chairs, put
them into the bed of his pickup, handed (my dad) some money and drove off. When I
recovered from the shock this transaction had brought on, I walked into the yard to see
what was going on. My father, hose in hand and as straight-faced as Bob Newhart could
ever be, told me the guy had walked up, asked ―Would you take 25 bucks for that kitchen
set?‖ and he sold it to him.

That was 37 years ago, and I haven‘t been able to decide yet whether my father was an
incredibly shrewd businessman or just another cheap Slovenian who still had his First
Communion money buried somewhere. For the record, I have visited his childhood home
and made it look like Swiss cheese, but there was no Chase and Sanborn can to be found.

I do know that I think about him and smile every time I pass a garage sale. And I‘ll
probably think of him and smile when I clean out my garage.

If I ever get around to it.




                                                                                          66
Flying solo, thank you


As of this writing, I've been divorced for about a year now, estranged for a bit longer, and
was in a marriage that was really over about 3 years before the plug was pulled. A lot of
people ask me if I am lonely. My answer is simple.

I have my dog. Looking back, my dog was really all I had then too, so my life hasn't
changed all that much outside of not being nagged all day and criticized for everything I
said or did.

Now that doesn't translate into "I don't want to meet women any more". Not at all. I
wouldn't mind having some female companionship for things like trying a new restaurant,
hitting the flea markets and relaxing with a good DVD.

However, it does come with a few caveats, and there in lies the problem.

I don't want a "girlfriend". I don't want to be responsible for calling somebody every
night and going on and on about meaningless nonsense. I don't do "How was your day".
Never did. My day was like yesterday was and tomorrow will be. I got up, showered,
went to work, and came home. I prefer to leave work at work, so why would I want to go
over ever bit of boring minutia that took place on my generic days at work?

I really treasure my down time and my privacy. I like to walk around the house in my
nasty old "laying around the house" clothes. I want to be able to get the urge to go
downstairs to the wood shop and cut or glue some project together without hearing
"Where you going?". How many places can I go in this little house, and wherever it is I
am going, odds are good that I will be coming back. Why make me explain my every
move to you?

I like watching testosterone TV. Woodwork shows, metal fabrication, motorcycle
building, car overhauling... NOT scrapbooking (see an earlier blog entry about how a
noun like 'scrapbook' suddenly became a verb), not flower arranging, not gardening (that
fat black woman with the lisp on DIY drives me up a WALL!), none of the fru-fru shows.
I want to see things cut, welded, nailed, glued!!



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I once had an email exchange with a woman who thought she would like to meet me, and
she asked me if I would like to meet her at an apple butter festival. When I read that
email, I thought briefly about how many horses it would take to drag me to an apple
butter festival, and why I would possibly want to go there. (The answers were 14, and
none, respectively.) Some boneheads take rocks from their yard, glue them to pins and
call it home made jewelry. Other boneheads cut wood from patterns on their band saw
and call it "handmade". Still others knit dumb little things that people buy and take home
to throw away. And the home run... Apple Butter? I refuse to put anything into my mouth
that gives me diaper changing flashbacks.

So, any woman reading this who happens to live within 10-15 miles or so and would like
a completely untethered relationship that is a lot of fun and involves occasional sex
please contact me.

But don't ask me to cuddle after.




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Yes, cheapness IS a sense…


One of the things I am always up front about is my penury, my parsimony, my frugality,
my thriftiness. Okay, in plain English, I'm cheap. I am so tight with my money I make
Jack Benny look like the last of the big time spenders. To that end, I don't go out much. I
can't see the logic behind going to a restaurant, eating food that isn't as good as what I can
cook myself, paying 4 bucks for a beer that I can buy for 99 cents myself, and then being
expected to shell out a tip to some twinkie who doesn't have the intelligence to get a
better job than delivering plates of food to people. I just can't bring myself to do it. (Now,

this causes a LOT of problems with first meetings. My standing offer for a first meeting
is that I will cook dinner for us at my house, and we can have dinner and relax with a
movie or music or whatever follows. That offer is met almost unanimously with the
counteroffer that we have to meet somewhere in public first. And my answer is "If you
really think you have something to worry about, then why do you want to meet me in the
first place?", followed by "No thanks."

Here's the thing. Tell me how stupid I would have to be to give you my name, phone
number, address, a Mapquest map to my house, and then do something inappropriate
knowing that with the same name, phone number, address and map you can have the
police here in 2 minutes to take me to jail. You are safer in my home than if we met at a
bar where I could walk you to your car and then molest you in the parking lot.

I won't go out to meet someone for these reasons.

I don't want to spend any money. I have plans for my future that require me to save every
nickel I can, and $50 here and there for dinners that are of little or no value to me are not
in the program.

I work a 40 hour job like most people. That leaves my dog home alone all day. I also
have a business on the side that calls for my working most Saturdays. That leaves her
home alone again on a day I should be there. I am not going to go out at night for 4-5
hours and leave her alone even more. That's not why I have a dog and it's not what I
promised her by deed when I took her from the shelter. I love that dog more than I will


                                                                                           69
ever care about any woman I meet for dinner one time, and she will always hold a higher
place in my heart. Only a dog owner will understand that bond, and I'm not going to try
and explain it to you, because you won't get it. Know going in you will never be more
than #2 to me. Deal with it.

I spend my life avoiding situations where I have to breathe second hand smoke. I will
never date a woman that smokes, smoking is not allowed in my house, and not even in
my yard. So meeting in a bar or a restaurant is not even a viable option.

I won't see a movie in a theater ever again. Ignorant assholes talking on cell phones and
unruly kids making noise through the whole movie is not my idea of an enjoyable
evening, and I prefer to not put myself into situations where I know I will be annoyed.

So, crucify me. I have very demanding standards in my life. And if you want to live in a
bubble, more power to you. Just do it without me.




                                                                                          70
Computer dating is a drag…


Okay, I know there was no formal partie une, but I kind of touched on what would be part
1 in the last entry.

I've participated in online dating for a while now, and I'd love to take a minute to tell you
about the rousing successes I have had.

I'd like to, but I can't. My online experiences have been a series of train wrecks worthy of
becoming episodes of either Seconds From Disaster or COPS.

In no particular order, I have met psychotic women who, over dinner and while cutting
their steak with a sharp knife, went into great detail to explain their multiple personality
disorder. Another sat and told me about how much she hated her ex husband. To her
credit, she did such a great job of it that by the time dessert came I didn't like the
cocksucker much either. Another actually moved here from the other side of the country
to live with me, which lasted maybe 4 months until I realized she was a lazy parasite who
had no intention of ever working and threw job interviews just to make it appear she was
trying to make a contribution. Another I ended up married to for 5 years, a match
somewhat reminiscent of the acrimony between Superman and Kryptonite.

So, ladies, if I may, please allow me to lay down some rules for online dating from the
male perspective. Most of these probably apply to both sexes, but I've never been a
woman looking for a man, so I can only guess.

Most importantly, be honest about everything. Don't lie about your age. If you are fat, say
fat. Not voluptuous, rubenesque, portly, pleasingly plump... the word is fat. I have more
respect for a fat woman who admits it than one who tries to hide behind her thesaurus.

If you are going to post a glamour shot as your photo, also post one of what you look like
all the time. We both know that unless you have that makeup man on retainer you are
never again going to look like you did when you sat for that photo.

Black isn't slimming.

Makeup in large amounts doesn't hide anything.


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Having kids "part time" means you have kids, the same way "smokes occasionally"
means yes, you smoke, and "drink socially" means yes, you drink.

If you have baggage, check it at the front desk. Whatever your husband did to you, I
didn't do it. Not all men are abusive alcoholics, drug abusers, and philanderers. Don't take
it out on me because you picked a loser for your first lap around the track.

If you choose to dye your hair trailer trash blond, make sure you hit the roots and keep up
to date with it. Nothing looks worse than the scrubwoman look of dirty blond hair with
mousy brown roots. If you are tired of trailer trash blond, dye it ALL back to mousy
brown. Just pick one color and end it.

Don't list your hobbies to show what you think a man wants to see. If you like doing limp
wristed stuff like paper mache, say so. I don't expect to find a lot of TIG welders out
there looking for dates.

I met a gal once who said "My friends say I'm attractive". And all I could say was
"Whatever you have to do, you hang on to those friends".

That happened the same day I learned that honestly may not ALWAYS be the best
policy....




                                                                                          72
More on computer dating….


I received a few emails about my series about online dating. I need to respond to one of
them. In no particular order, let me tell you for the record that my parents were indeed
married, that I am not stupid and never had sex with my mother, and that I doubt that I
am THE biggest one you have ever seen. But most important, thanks for writing!!

This will probably be the last in the online dating series. I'd like to wrap up by offering
some definitions to some of the basic terms you will see in the profiles.

"A few extra pounds", "some extra padding", "large and lovely", "rubenesque" all mean
FAT. For some reason women have this idea that fat=ugly in the eyes of men. Maybe it's
because many men DO think that way. I am more empathetic, being fat myself. I try to
look at the positives, and I can thank fat for my never turning to a life of crime. I don't
know how much luck I would have anyway. I mean, at my size it's not like I can run
away from the cops. And if the camera in the bank I am robbing gets my photo, they
would probably pick me up in about 45 seconds. I don't know one other man in Akron
Ohio who fits the description of "bearded, long multi-colored hair, 5'7" and 290 pounds."
And since I have no desire to go to prison and become Jamaal's bitch, I'll refrain from the
bank robbing.

"Low maintenance" pretty much means that while she doesn't go out and spend money on
frills like manicures and expensive shoes, you will be required to pay for them should
you become a couple. Use your own judgment on this one, but remember that every pair
of shoes is equal to 5 rounds of golf, 8 dozen wings, or 35 beers.

"Comfortable in a crowd" simply means that she would rather go to a movie and watch
you spend $15 for tickets, $10 for 2 boxes of popcorn (2 because she is watching her
weight and won't eat buttered popcorn), $9 for two cups of ice with an ounce of diet
Pepsi in them, and then sit for 2 hours while people all around you are talking so loudly
that you can't hear the movie, babies that shouldn't be out in public are crying, and cell
phones are ringing. Isn't that much better than buying a movie on pay per view for $3.95




                                                                                              73
and watching it on the 55 inch TV, popping my own dollar bag of Jiffy pop and drinking
my own 2 liter bottle of diet Pepsi that was 99 cents at the gas station at my corner?

And this one is my favorite. If you have music playing right now, turn it off. If anyone is
talking to you, ask that they be quiet so you can concentrate while you read this section.

If her profile says "I just have SO MUCH love to give....", that translates to "I am an
emotional black hole, and should you stupidly choose to get involved with me I will suck
the life forces out of you until your very spirit collapses and dies." If it says that, here's
what you do. Reach for the mouse. Roll the cursor up to the top right corner of your
screen, and click the X, and do it RIGHT NOW! Then cancel your membership to the
site, spend a few hours in a sensory deprivation tank to cleanse your mind of what you
just saw, sell your computer, and take up woodworking or gardening, or any other hobby
that will keep you from ever seeing that profile again.

Of course, knowing men like I know them, guess which woman he'll pursue?




                                                                                                 74
Just what the hell is going on

I have spoken before of my fish tank. (I'll once again gives props to my neighbor Dan
who gave me his old stuff when he bought new.) It has been a fun learning experience,
and I get some sort of strange pleasure watching the fish swim around, catching up to the
others of the same species in some sort of strange aquatic bonding ritual. But I saw
something today that kind of bothers me.

When I first bought fish, I picked up 6 of these blue neon things.

1 of them died about 2 weeks later, so I was down to 5. Today at lunch I was watching
the tank and counted the blue neons. There are now 7 of them. Now biology was not my
strongest subject in school (baseball was) but it doesn't take Jane Goodall to figure this
one out.

My fish are having sex in my tank!!

Hey, I own the tank, it's my fucking house!!! There isn't any sex going on for ME in that
house, but the fish are getting their freak on???

This is just wrong.

I should have known something was up when I went to clear my internet cache. There
were links to download sites for fishie porn. Deep Trout, The (fish)Net, Hook Me Harder,
Just for the Halibut, The Master Baiter, Reel Fun, Scale Me Like a Perch, and the most
disturbing, Feed Me That Worm.....

Well, I'm going to have to put a stop to this. Or should I?

Let's see, those fish were $1.79 each. Suddenly I have 2 more than before, so their
shameless fornication has saved me $3.58 so far..... And if they keep doing it.....

Let me move that screen a little closer there, fishies!!




                                                                                             75
You mean actually touch the dirt?


At some point in time, we need to deal with the problems that warmer weather brings on.
You people in warm climates won't understand this, but here in the midwest where we
actually have seasons, entire states remain poised in the doorway just waiting for the first
warm day so they can get outside and start annoying everyone around them. I can deal
with the occasional family picnic, with the little whining rug rat grand kids and the din of
constant conversation for 6 hours. I can even deal with barking dogs who have been
cooped up inside all winter. But there is one thing I just can't deal with.

Gardeners.

Every year I have to put up with these people going door to door showing everybody the
squash that they grew that looks like Richard Nixon when viewed from the side or the
zucchini the size of a donkey's dick. I just don't care. What did you actually DO that you
think you deserve credit for anything? You put a fucking seed into the ground and left it
there! Get over yourself already. It's not like you stood over the squash saying "I am not a
crook" every day trying to evoke the countenance of Tricky Dick. My god, these people,
most of which are old couples in a household of two, grow enough tomatoes to feed the
4th Infantry Division and then start looking for people who want them. I can solve your
problem.

GROW LESS TOMATOES!!!!

I have tried and tried, but I fail to see the joy in actually putting your hands into the
ground and physically touching the dirt. And then standing there with a hose every night
watering it. My dog does the watering for me 4-5 times a day, ok?

My god, they have stores for this stuff! How do you know in April or May how many
cucumbers or tomatoes you will want to eat in July? My father used to do this too and I
didn't get it then either. In a tiny patch of ground along the driveway of their house, and I
mean it was like 10 feet long and 2 feet deep, he would put up this ridiculous looking
web/grid thing he made from wood and string and watch every day as the tomato and
cucumber plants would grow up along that mesh. 6 of each! And there were just my dad


                                                                                            76
and my mom living there (me sometimes when girlfriends threw me out and I had a
transition month until I got a new place), and mom didn't eat cucumber.

My father died in 1991. My mother died 10 years later, and when we were cleaning up
the house, part of the program was throwing away stuff from the fridge and freezer. 10
years after he died, there was STILL tomato sauce that mom made from the tomatoes dad
grew. TEN YEARS!!!!

35 minutes away from my house is a historic place in Cleveland called The West Side
Market. I go up maybe every other week. You can buy every kind of vegetable
imaginable there, along with pasta, meat, cheeses, dairy, bakery... If you can name a
food, you can buy it at the West Side Market. And as a benefit, you get to see a mix of
cultures and nationalities that you can't see every day. If you listen, you'll hear Italian,
German, Slovenian, Polish, Spanish, French... every language you can name, you can
hear on a Saturday morning. You have a mix of the little old ladies pulling the shopping
cart, the young kids looking to buy in bulk and save a few bucks, and the tourists just
milling around soaking in the atmosphere. If you go at 3 in the afternoon, you catch the
vendors getting ready to leave, and rather than pack up the last 4 pounds of ground beef
they will sell it off a very low prices. That last loaf of bread, anything perishable, will go
for a song at the end of the day. I once walked in there with 10 bucks in my pocket and
came out with 4 pounds of ground beef, 6 ears of corn and 2 loaves of bread, and had
money left in my pocket to buy a diet Pepsi on the way out. The next day I had people
over and cooked the corn and some burgers on the charcoal grill. The only thing missing
from the burgers was tomato.

I guess I need to put in a garden....




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A wearin' o' the orange....


I refuse to get caught up in the false celebration of these plastic holidays. 3 people so far
have called and asked if I wanted to go out and have a few green beers for St Patrick's
day.


NO!!!


NO!!!


NO!!!


I am neither Irish or Catholic. This day means NOTHING to me other than it's Friday and
I don't have to go to work for 2 days once this day is over. What is it about a day on a
calendar that makes people suddenly want to eat fatty corned beef and drink beer with
food coloring in it? This is a day that some guy allegedly drove snakes out of Ireland with
a crooked staff picked to die. Had he hung on for 14 more days, what would have
happened to April Fool's day? He wasn't even born in Ireland for god's sake. He is
SCOTTISH!!!
The same holds true for Cinco de Mayo. If you aren't Mexican, Cinco de Mayo is May
the 5th, okay? Mexico declared it's independence from Spain on September 15th, 1810.
THAT should be the holiday. Cinco de Mayo had no significance until 52 YEARS
LATER when the Mexican army defeated the French outside of Mexico City. Get the
history straight if you want to create holidays based upon it!
My god. Al Capone kills a bunch of Bugsy Moran's henchmen and we use that day to
send flowers and little valentine cards to each other.
My whole life we celebrated 2 days for commemorating presidents Washington and
Lincoln. Suddenly they now are reduced to half respect as we meld their special days
together, I suspect because businesses didn't want to lose a second day of production.
Easter? Oh, come on. A holiday based on a story that is taken from a book the Catholics
use? What if you don't believe in god? What are you celebrating on Easter? And someone


                                                                                            78
please explain why it's the Easter BUNNY and we hunt for EGGS. It should either be the
Easter CHICKEN, or we hunt for black jelly beans to represent bunny poo.
Thanksgiving I can almost buy into. It‘s the day we remember and give thanks that a
bunch of pilgrims sat down and broke bread with the previous owners of the land that the
colonists stole. That reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine cost the couple an
adoption and decided she'd even the score by taking them to lunch.
Well, time to go to lunch and try to find any place that ISN'T serving corned beef.




                                                                                       79
El Groceria....


I was in the grocery store yesterday. Now let me say up front that I hate going to the
grocery store. They have all those labels that break down the various cans and boxes to
how much it costs per ounce and all of that, causing me to get a huge headache from
doing grocery store math. And it wasn't always this bad, but then they changed can sizes
from 16 oz to 13 1/2 oz and now you need a frickin' calculator to figure out which can of
stewed tomatoes is actually the best bargain.
It all started when prices went up in general, and rather than admit that the cost of stewed
tomatoes went up, they kept the prices the same but made the can smaller, similar in
concept to the natural gas shortage we were lied to about. What a coincidence, a mild
winter in the forecast just as the price of natural gas goes up by 40%. So using less gas to
heat our homes during a mild winter results in gas bills about the same as last year when I
had to endure record snowfalls and 30 days below zero. But I digress.
Even with the math and all of that, what pisses me off about the grocery store is all these
"smart" shoppers who stand in front of a display case for 10 minutes doing the grocery
store math for every item they buy. I was trapped in the aisle behind some really fat white
trash looking woman in sweatpants (not a pretty sight), and I could see she was struggling
mentally with some bizarre tug-of-war deciding on Minute Maid, Sunkist or Tropicana
orange juice. It's a carton of fucking orange juice. Pick one and get out of my way
already.
And don't even get me started on those coupon people. I have to stand there while some
minimum wage cashier who doesn't really want to be there anyway runs these little
scraps of newspaper across a scanner just so you can get 8 cents off on the Cocoa Puffs?
Puh-leeeeeze.
Here's a suggestion for the really fat white trash looking woman in the sweatpants (not a
pretty sight). If you want to spend less on food, eat less of it. And while you are at it, park
your car as far away from the store as possible and walk a hundred yards every now and
then. Trust me. From where I am standing you could use the exercise.
And when you are done loading your stuff into your car, put the fucking cart back where
you got it instead of leaving it in the parking lot to roll and scratch someone‘s car. Fat,


                                                                                              80
lazy, and stupid is no way to go through life.
Although it's worked for me for 55 years.




                                                 81
Chess, anyone?


I haven't done anything outrageous in far too long. I've done a few stupid things, like get
married, stay married, try to keep a really bad marriage alive.... But nothing really
outrageous. The kind of thing that gets people talking, and usually pisses people off.
And I have an idea.
In planning to build a custom chessboard with exotic African woods, I started to consider
what kind of pieces I would use on a board made from Madagascar mahogany and
African Purpleheart. And it came to me like a shot. In fact it came to me right after I
HEARD a shot.
I am going to build a racist chess set.
The white pawns will be little corporate yuppie weasels with their briefcase in one hand,
a half decaf mochachino latte in the other, and an earpiece from their cell phone stuck in
their ear. The rooks, replacing the castle, will be tiny little condos with a tiny bit of grass
and a white picket fence. The knights, since horses are long since gone (and only horses
asses remain), will be tiny little Hummers, the true symbol of Yuppiedom. The bishops
took some thought, but I replaced them with television evangelists, since the true money-
grubbing yuppie typically can't find time in his microwave life to be bothered with things
like worship. The queen and kind took some thinking. The queen I believe will be a little
statue of a Stepford Wife, and the king will be a guy in a sweater tied around his neck
fondling his 3 wood as he waits to tee off at "the club".
The black pieces took a lot of thought. The pawns will have to be little lawn jockeys. I
thought about a bunch of little kids with bags of dope in their hands, but the jockey seems
like the way to go. For rooks I'll have replicas of 6 unit apartment building, complete
with Section 8 designation. Knights will be replaced with Cadillac‘s, and if budget
allows, they will be outfitted with 400 watt amplifiers so the bass can thump and disturb
the white pieces. For the bishops I considered bible toting Jehovah's Witnesses, though
that means you can only play the game on Sunday, the day they come out and annoy
everybody. The option is little figures of Jesse Jackson, since he is allegedly a minister. A
minister with illegitimate children all over the USA, but a minister nonetheless. The



                                                                                             82
queen will have to be a crack whore, complete with fishnet hose, and the king would then
have to be her pimp daddy.
Now to find somebody to produce the pieces for me. Maybe one of those Urban League
sponsored work programs....




                                                                                      83
Mortality in the news


I recently had my will restructured to reflect some deletions and additions, including a
change in executor. There are not many people I would trust with something like this, and
with a very small circle of friends, that made the choice easier still. When the documents
arrived at his house, he sent me a note to tell me they were there, and that it made him
feel sad.

As insignificant as that might seem, I was quite touched to know that. It made me feel
warm inside to know that at least one person will care when I die. (I can count maybe 10
who will really care. Everyone else I know will consider it a footnote.) I admit that I am
not always a day at the beach to be around. The only one who doesn't feel my wrath is
my dog, who is incidentally prominently mentioned in my will. My pal's concern about
my mortality reminded me about the bond I have with my dog. When she leaves me, I
will be absolutely devastated. She has been with me through so much, and she has been
there when all I had was the warm feeling that you get when you hug your dog. Only pet
owners will understand that.

I have a sad, recurring dream (so sad, in fact I will call it a nightmare) about my dog. I
have this nightmare where she is ill and I have to make the decision to euthanize her. I
take her to the vet, sort of a cruel fate because she loves riding in the car, and take her in.
They put us in a room and give me some time with her as they prepare. As I hold her, I
try to softly explain that I hate myself for doing this but this is the only way the pain will
ever stop for her. She looks up and me and seems to understand. Now you need to know
that my dog doesn't do the face licking thing. Yet in my dream, as they inject her with the
fluids that will end her life, she looks up at me, sees the sorrow of my tears, and licks my
face one last time before she goes to sleep. Right to the end she wants to be my source of
peace and comfort. I have never known love like that from a human being, and I'm pretty
sure I never will.

And even though that whole thing is too sad and depressing to think about, the
inevitability is that we live about 75 years and they live 12-14. It just doesn't seem fair



                                                                                              84
somehow, but it's also nothing we can change. I just know that should that day come any
time soon, I'll probably request that they clear the table next to her and hook me up too. I
am so convinced that my purpose on this earth was to find that dog and rescue her from
the shelter, that once she is gone my work here will be done, and I'll happily check out.

I added a provision that when we are both gone, with no regard to what order we both
die, our ashes are mingled and scattered at the park where we walk every day. My life
insurance lists the shelter where I found her as the beneficiary, somehow a fitting tribute
to her, and possibly a message to others to take in a second chance dog instead of a
designer breed. That shelter provided me with the best dog I ever had, and in comparison
to what they gave to me, this is a small gesture of thanks.

Hopefully none of this will take place anytime soon, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared.

Are you?




                                                                                            85
One Last Ride Down Easy Street


A lot of people wander through life never knowing what they want to be when they grow
up. For a variety of reasons, they move from job to job, career path to career path and city
to city looking for that unattainable ―it,‖ like an old mule following the carrot dangling
from a string. Others are fortunate to know what they want and where to find it at a
young age. I fall into that second category. I knew by age 5 that I wanted to be a
musician.

Starting with accordion lessons like all little Slovenian boys did, I headed out on a
lifelong journey that took me through more bands than space permits me to list, playing
every type of music from alternative to jazz, dividing my time between sax, guitar and
keyboards. Yet there was one short period in my career that I look back on and know it
was my ―it.‖

From late 1987 until early 1990 I played in a band called Easy Street.

Led by founding father and lead singer ―Westside‖ Steve Simmons and able to withstand
the stresses that accompany frequent lineup changes, the Easy Street Band was a major
player (pun intended) in the Cleveland music scene since 1975. The band became
synonymous with Midwest rock ‗n‘ roll, and traces of its popularity linger. (Pay attention
to Drew Carey‘s refrigerator.) Easy Street‘s run came to an end on November 19, when
the band played its 30-year, and likely final, reunion show at Tangier in Akron. I was
thrilled, and quite flattered, to be asked to return for the farewell concert as a member of
the horn section.

After digging through a couple of closets, finding my alto sax case, and washing off the
dust, I eagerly soaked a reed (Rico Royal – always Rico Royal) and inserted it into the
ligature. Within seconds of sliding the mouthpiece onto the neck I realized how much
work I had to do to be ready in five weeks. I had to lose 40 pounds and get my chops
back. And fast.

Slowly, it started to come back to me. It had been 11 years since I retired from music, and
the only time I played since then was at a tribute jam for a departed musician back about


                                                                                             86
1999. And then I only played a few tunes. Scale after scale started to bring the tone and
pitch back, but I knew I had a lot of work to do in the area of dexterity. Much like it must
feel for a retired pitcher to toe the rubber after years of inactivity, it was a long, slow
process getting the mechanics back. Finding the fingerings up and down the horn was the
easy part. Making it sound like a sax instead of an injured animal was the challenge.

Progress was more rapid than I had anticipated. The mechanics came back after a few
days, and I was able to concentrate on the notes. There was still one not so minor detail. I
hadn‘t attended a rehearsal yet, and had no idea what my parts were going to be. That
would fix itself though, and I remained focused on my private practice time.

As I practiced, my mind flashed back to the camaraderie we shared as a band, particularly
the road trips in Ontario. There is something about being in a place where nobody knows
you and will likely not ever see you again that brings out the mischievous side in grown
men. Alcohol may have had something to do with it, but I get the feeling that we would
have had the same amount of fun without the occasional Labatt‘s Blue. There was the
golf outing, followed by a rooftop lesson that ended with one of the equipment guys
hitting a ball somewhere into downtown Timmins. There was the famous seafood buffet
in Sault Saint Marie, where nobody could get a crab leg past the table with the ten band
guys sitting around it. There was the club in Sudbury where I celebrated my 37th birthday
with several beers and a chocolate cream pie in the face.

In the final analysis, Easy Street made very good music for a very long time, and though I
was in latter day versions of the band, even for me it was difficult to say goodbye. The
original members, Simmons, guitarists Gary Bonam and Russ Hagler, keyboardist Jim
Madden and bassist Bob Martin, slugged it out through a lot of hard times while trying to
get the recording contract every club player longs for. The band‘s four-song EP did very
well locally, but changes in the drinking age led to venues shutting down, creating a
supply and demand problem where there were many more bands available to play at
many fewer clubs, and members started moving in other directions, musically,
geographically and financially.

While there was never an official announcement that Easy Street was closed, Westside
Steve departed on what has become a very successful solo journey. You‘ll find him on


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Put-in-Bay all summer long, captaining the Lake Erie Booze Patrol through several
choruses of Margaritaville. The bassist from my time, Donnie Thompson, owns and
operates a successful production studio and still performs as a solo act. I have become a
computer geek and run a business in Akron. Time moves forward, as do people.

The last show had an electric atmosphere about it, as long-time fans packed Tangier to
see one last set of the classic Easy Street originals along with cover versions of Southside
Johnny and Bruce Springsteen tunes. The band had always boasted a powerful horn
section, and this night was no exception. I played alto sax in a group of five horn players,
and the feeling of being a part of something done so ―right‖ is beyond description. One
by one the original tunes passed. ―Love Tries.‖ ―She Don‘t Have to Know.‖ ―Romaine.‖
―She‘s Got Your Name.‖ And covers such as the Southside Johnny classics ―Trapped
Again‖ and ―Talk to Me.‖ I was swept back to 15 years ago when all I wanted to do was
play music and see people smile because they were enjoying what they heard.

Then it was over. The last cymbal crash had drifted off into the silence, and people began
filing out of the club. The players gathered for one last round of goodbyes, hugs and
handshakes. The requisite exchange of phone numbers and e-mail addresses went on as
planned, but with the busy lifestyles people lead these days, I have my doubts that the
―I‘ll keep in touch‖ promises will be kept.

After swallowing the lump in my throat, I thanked everybody for a lot of fond memories,
and came home with the adrenaline still pumping through my veins. I took the dog for a
walk, and when we returned I put my sax back in the closet, where it will probably stay
until the next ―farewell‖ show.

The entire evening was a blur, and as time passes and I take the time to savor every right
note, every inside joke, and every memory, I‘ll fondly remember the night. My last ride
down Easy Street.




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And for dessert?


We have a situation here in Ohio right now where some serial killer nut is going to be
executed for at least 2 rapes and murders. I say "at least", because that is just what he was
arrested for, charged with, and found guilty of. Likely there were more. He will be put to
death today, February 7th, at 10:30 am.
My political stance on this issue aside (I am strongly IN FAVOR of the death penalty. In
fact, I once wrote to the governor offering to be the guy who throws the switch on the
electric chair or gives the injection. I smile broadly every time a low life piece of shit is
removed from society.), my concern is the ACLU and why they feel the need to get
involved and "save" these losers after the loser in question comes out and states that he
wants to follow through and take his penalty like a man. Be it true remorse or false
bravado, I care not, just as long as the switch gets thrown and the people of Ohio are
faced with one less violent asshole. The ACLU should get involved only when the
criminal wants to fight the death penalty. THAT is what these tree-huggers are there for.
My biggest concern is the guy's last meal.
This particular member of the "Future Corpses of America" club enjoyed a last meal of
four bacon cheddar cheeseburgers on a toasted bun with all the fixings, a baked potato
with butter and sour cream, french fries, onion rings, macaroni and cheese, a chef salad
with creamy Italian dressing, iced tea, Coke with ice and salt, blueberry pie and
chocolate-chip ice cream.
Geeze. Add that up. That meal had to cost me a fortune. Know what I had last night? I
had a turkey sandwich on wheat bread with light mayo and cheese, and a small plate full
of tater tots. And I had to share the turkey sandwich with my dog. I didn't enjoy a $30
dollar meal like a convicted killer did! Isn't that out of line? Isn't that outside the natural
order of things? This guy raped and murdered at least 2 women and he eats like a king
while I force down some dry-assed turkey sandwich. And it was grocery store DELI
turkey at that! If I had $30 at my disposal for one good meal I would go to a local
restaurant I know of and have jambalaya and chicken etouffee, not some damn turkey and
tater tots! Man, if the voltage doesn't kill him, that meal might.



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This just makes me so mad I could strangle somebody!
Hmmmm.......?




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"Pen" pals


I recently stumbled across a web site that was a little bit different from your normal
dating site. They had the usual search functions, age, new additions, etc... but with one
slight twist.
This site includes the state where the woman is currently incarcerated.
Curiosity made me do it, but I started to browse some of the postings. One particularly
fetching woman, a dead ringer for Gloria Estefan, caught my eye, and I decided to play
along. I will not use her name, though I don't really know if it matters at this point. I
suppose that just to be consistent I will also surpress her prisoner number.
Here is her description, quoted from the web page, because I couldn't make up anything
this good anyway.
"Hello, my name is XXXXXXX. I am 46 years old, I am Indian and Spanish. I am single.
I am looking for a down to earth guy to sweep me off my feet. I am from Kansas City,
Missouri. I enjoy life and love to laugh. I am very open minded. I love to cuddle and
watch TV. I enjoy camping and fishing and I also love to swim. I love to dance too! I am
looking to fall in love with someone and grow old with. I love all kinds of music. Write
soon!"
Let's look at this line by line.
Name, age, heritage, status, hometown... pretty straightforward stuff.
"Looking for a down to earth guy to sweep me off me feet." In prison? I think the best
you are going to find is someone to help you out of "the box". And male, unless in this
permissive society they have co-educational prisons, I kind of doubt it.
"I enjoy life and love to laugh." I have to wonder if that means she is enjoying "life" as in
a life sentence, or just enjoys "life" in general.
"I enjoy camping and fishing and I also love to swim. I love to dance too!" I wonder how
much camping one gets to do in a Missouri prison? Swimming might have come in handy
a while back, but they closed Alcatraz a long time ago. And no matter what, I won't
dance. Don't ask me.
"I am waiting for my prince charming to sweep me off my feet and come rescue me!"
Apparently this is an option in her mind, that some guy is going to hover his Sikorsky


                                                                                            91
helicopter over the yard and lift her off to safety.
Further down the page, you get the option to "verify her information", and for just $14.95
they will send you proof that she is in prison and tell you where. No mention if they
reveal what she is in for.
I am thinking that I could probably deal with a drug trafficker, maybe even sexual
predator. Somehow I don't envision being comfortable with an armed robber, a serial
killer, etc....
George Costanza may have had it right. At least I'd know where she is at night.
Though I don't know if I'd ever sleep again.....




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Phobia??


I had someone take me to task the other day because I told her I had no interest in seeing
Brokeback Mountain. Seems that because I am not interested in a film about a couple of
gay cowboys that makes me "homophobic" in her eyes. I am still working on what
exactly to call this film. If it were a traditional man/woman love rag I would call it a chic
flick, but I don't know what to call this. Maybe a dick flick?
Anyway, I took offense to this accusation, but only because of the literal definition of
homophobic. The word broken down means fear of homosexuals. Fear. Let's see, I grew
up in a tough part of the inner city of Cleveland. I lived a couple of miles from the Hough
neighborhood where the awful riots took place in the 60s. I studied martial arts for 9
years, boxed in the Golden Gloves for 2, went on to be a decorated veteran of the Viet
Nam war, and to cap off the list of brave deeds, I married 3 times.
Fear?
I don't fear anything or anybody on this planet, so let's drop the "phobia" stuff right now.
It my choice to not frequent places and be in situations where the majority of the crowd is
gay, and I opt to exercise that freedom of choice. Being in a social situation of that nature
is out of my comfort zone. First of all, most of the guys there are better looking than me.
Second, there are no women. Well, no women that are interested in meeting men. And we
won't even get into the dancing thing....
Let's look at some of the other things I choose not to do. I think skiing is among the most
inane, asinine things people can possibly do. I spend my life trying to stay warm and
avoid falling down, and these jackasses willingly throw themselves off a mountain. So
what does that make me, an Oakleyphobe?
I am not a big fan of cauliflower, brussels sprouts and beets. I suppose that makes me a
vegophobe.
I REALLY hate that college football team from the school up north. Now I'm a
Wolvophobe?
And I am not overly fond of really fat women. Lipophobe?
The point is, choosing to not put yourself into situations that you know will make you



                                                                                           93
uncomfortable does not equate to fear. It equates to common fricking sense.
I will admit that I tremble noticeably when I have a cavity.
Dentophobe.




                                                                              94
Where, oh where, has my scumsucker gone?


I looked at my fish tank the other day and saw how much algae has started to build up on
the glass. I am new to this whole tropical fish thing so I sought out my neighbor Dan for
some advice. I figured he was the guy for this, since he gave me the whole setup in the
first place. He told me I had to get a plecostomus. My first thought was "Why? Why me?
At my age I need a plecostomus?" Now as scary as it sounded to consider having a
plecostomus, I figured he knew what he was doing and called my doctor immediately.
It turns out that a Plecostomus is a type of catfish that eats algae and sleeps. All day long.
All night long. Ad infinitum. I picked one up three nights ago and one sides of the tank is
already cleaned.
But there's a problem.
My little scumsucker, as I affectionately call him, was nowhere to be found when I left
for work this morning. I looked all through the tank for maybe 10 minutes while I got
ready for work and he was just not there. I checked on the air tubes where he likes to
hang out. Nope. I looked on the plastic tube that covers the heater element. He likes it
there, too. Nope. Then I thought maybe he was hidden against the colored gravel in the
bottom. Nope. I did notice that one of the Mollies and two of the Zebra Danios had a
guilty look on their little faces, so I wonder...
Maybe he had a problem with what I was feeding him and he decided to leave. I did
notice some water leading to the telephone. I have to wonder if he placed a call to Jesse
Jacksfin and was advised to leave and try to find greener aquarium walls. The NAACP
(National Association for the Advancement of Colored Plecostomus) is a powerful group,
and they have contacts.
I did all I could to make that damned fish feel welcome in my home. I bought him a plant
for the bottom of the tank. I saw him hanging out with the little ceramic diver that's down
there. He seemed to be getting along with the other fish, though he was kind of a loner,
always hanging around the glass all by himself and eating himself silly. I gave everything
I had to make this relationship work, and still he leaves me. The nerve! The gall! I paid
$5.99 to spring him from that captive tank at the Pet Smart up the street and this is the




                                                                                            95
"tanks" I get.
Oh wait, I just turned on the webcam and there he is, sucking scum as usual.




                                                                               96
Damn!!!!!

I just saw the most amazing article on MSNBC's web site. According to Forbes, these are
currently the most dangerous vacation destinations.


• Afghanistan
• Burundi
• Cote d'Ivoire
• Democratic Republic of the Congo
• Georgia
• Haiti
• Iraq
• Liberia
• Pakistan
• Papua New Guinea
• Russia (Chechnya)
• Somalia
• Sudan
• Zimbabwe


JUST as I was going to buy my plane tickets to Burundi, too!
Okay, look quickly down that list. Is there ANY sane person on earth who would want to
go to ANY of those places for VACATION????
What, did Disney put a new theme part in Haiti? Is there a new 6 Flags in Cote d'Ivoire?
Some attractive golf courses in Somalia?
What an IGNORANT waste of space this thing is!
If you are going to use my internet, tell me what city has the highest concentration of
easy women who wouldn't mind having sex with a short, fat, old, ugly grouchy pain in
the ass like me. Give me a destination where I can drink myself into a coma and not get
arrested driving back to the hotel. Tell me where I can get some really good barbecue.
And don't tell me Famous Dave's in Florida. Been there. Done that. Puked on the t-shirt.



                                                                                          97
When I go on vacation, I want to relax. I want to see things I can't see in Ohio. Most
importantly, I want to be someplace where I don't have to worry about a sudden uprising
by some insurgent screwball faction who decided to pick MY vacation week to raid the
casa of El Presidente.
Suddenly the south side of Chicago doesn't sound too bad.....




                                                                                         98
Hard to say goodbye….


I lost a good friend last week. His name was Buddy, and he WAS my buddy. Cancer
invaded one of his legs and he fought a good fight but eventually that damned disease
will win just about every time. Buddy and I used to just like hanging out tossing the
Frisbee back and forth and then relaxing on the deck with something cold to drink. I
laughed a lot with him and I'll miss him forever.
Oh, I didn't mention. Buddy was a dog.
I had a computer client who needed someone to tend to her two dogs when she worked
long days. I would go over twice a day and let them out, run them around the yard some,
and just keep them company to break up the alone time. Buddy just loved running and
chasing that Frisbee.
The owner, Denise, rescued him from a horrible situation where he was abused by
neglect, not being fed properly and allowed to lick antifreeze, THE worst thing for a
dog's renal system. Fortunately she got him soon enough to save him from that awful
owner, and she got him on good food and regular exercise, and in 6 months time he was a
happy dog again. She had Buddy for about 4 years before the cancer took his leg over.
But the story doesn't stop there.
Denise herself is a brave, strong woman who has defeated breast cancer. She once told
me that she was too damned stubborn to let this beat her, and damned if she wasn't right!
She went through some very difficult times with chemotherapy, but now has a clean bill
of health. Through all of that pain and suffering, Buddy was right there by her to comfort
her in anyway he could. That was the kind of dog he was. How sadly ironic that he was
her rock through her ordeal and then left us the same way.


I'll remember the happy Buddy. I didn't get to see him often, as we lived some miles
apart, but when I did have reason to visit, the Bud Boy was always happy to see me and
would run right for the Frisbee, as if our life was a long Frisbee game and we just took
long breaks from it. He was happy and strong through the whole ordeal, as was his
owner.


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She did the right thing by her dog in the end, allowing him to leave on his terms with
dignity. He never complained, and though he limped some toward the end, he was strong
willed enough to tough it out.
A lot of people could probably learn a few things from Buddy.
I know I did.




                                                                                         100
My best friend, forever and always….


I recently had my will restructured to reflect some deletions and additions, including a
change in executor. There are not many people I would trust with something like this, and
with a very small circle of friends, that made the choice easier still. When the documents
arrived at his house, he sent me a note to tell me they were there, and that it made him
feel sad.
As insignificant as that might seem, I was quite touched to know that. It made me feel
warm inside to know that at least one person will care when I die. (I can count maybe 10
who will really care. Everyone else I know will consider it a footnote.) I admit that I am
not always a day at the beach to be around. The only one who doesn't feel my wrath is
my dog, who is incidentally prominently mentioned in my will. My pal's concern about
my mortality reminded me about the bond I have with my dog. When she leaves me, I
will be absolutely devastated. She has been with me through so much, and she has been
there when all I had was the warm feeling that you get when you hug your dog. Only pet
owners will understand that.
I have a sad, recurring dream (so sad, in fact I will call it a nightmare) about my dog. I
have this nightmare where she is ill and I have to make the decision to euthanize her. I
take her to the vet, sort of a cruel fate because she loves riding in the car, and take her in.
They put us in a room and give me some time with her as they prepare. As I hold her, I
try to softly explain that I hate myself for doing this but this is the only way the pain will
ever stop for her. She looks up and me and seems to understand. Now you need to know
that my dog doesn't do the face licking thing. Yet in my dream, as they inject her with the
fluids that will end her life, she looks up at me, sees the sorrow of my tears, and licks my
face one last time before she goes to sleep. Right to the end she wants to be my source of
peace and comfort. I have never known love like that from a human being, and I'm pretty
sure I never will.
And even though that whole thing is too sad and depressing to think about, the
inevitability is that we live about 75 years and they live 12-14. It just doesn't seem fair
somehow, but it's also nothing we can change. I just know that should that day come any



                                                                                            101
time soon, I'll probably request that they clear the table next to her and hook me up too. I
am so convinced that my purpose on this earth was to find that dog and rescue her from
the shelter, that once she is gone my work here will be done, and I'll happily check out.
I added a provision that when we are both gone, with no regard to what order we both
die, our ashes are mingled and scattered at the park where we walk every day. My life
insurance lists the shelter where I found her as the beneficiary, somehow a fitting tribute
to her, and possibly a message to others to take in a second chance dog instead of a
designer breed. That shelter provided me with the best dog I ever had, and in comparison
to what they gave to me, this is a small gesture of thanks.
Hopefully none of this will take place anytime soon, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared.
Are you?




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Sign, sign, everywhere a sign….

Have you ever stopped to think about the inanity of the signs we see posted every day?
Somebody is spending a lot of taxpayer money to make these signs that do little more
than state the obvious. And worse than that, sometimes they have information we don't
need.
I was driving east on the Ohio turnpike. As I crossed into Pennsylvania, stopping to
receive the proper vaccinations as I entered Pittsburgh Steeler country, I knew I was
heading into a mountainous area. Everybody who ever took geography or has looked at a
map knows that the Allegheny Mountains are in Pennsylvania. And during my entire
drive through the state, I continued to see huge yellow signs that said "FALLING
ROCK". Now I have never claimed to be THE smartest man in the world, just one of
them. I'm sure Steven Hawking, Michio Kaku and a few others have long since passed
me in that race. However, it seems that if I see a rock in the middle of a 65 mile per hour
highway I can pretty much assume that it fell.
Just when I thought I had seen the worst of it, I read a sign on a door at the VA hospital
here in Akron. Now these doors are the main entrance an exit doors, and they are the type
of automatic door that slide left and right rather than in and out. For some reason, there
was a hand written sign on the door that said "Please Wait For Door To Open". Exactly
how many options do you have in that situation? Wait for the door to open, or slam your
face into it. I can see someone posing in the doorway doing a version of the soliloquy
from Hamlet. "To slam my face into the door or not to slam my face into the door. That is
the question."
My favorite may be "Illiterate? Call 1-800-READING". Okay. How do they read the sign
to get the number?
That is right up there with a long standing question I have. I was in the bathroom of a
restaurant once where the urinal was next to the stall, thus as I used the urinal I was
standing next to the wall of the stall. And on that wall was a sign in braille that I later
learned said "No smoking". With due respect to the blind, how would a blind guy know
that there was a tiny braille sign there for him to reach up and read it? Is it common
practice for the blind to go into a bathroom and fondle all the walls looking for braille


                                                                                              103
signage? It's not like it's beeping or anything to alert the blind that there is a sign there.
The sign I see most is an erect middle finger pointed directly at me. I see that a lot when I
am driving for some reason.
Now THAT sign I understand!




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