THE LEGEND OF ERNIE

During times of neighborhood trauma or emergency, such as flooding, as was the case here, equipment and generators are being put to use throughout the area. In some cases, you don’t get them back, not from any ill intent on the part of your neighborhood brethren, but just from the sheer volume of tools being shared and distributed. Sometimes this causes anal retentive men to throw tantrums, cry and scream uncontrollably and plot ways to burn houses down. Such was the case with my dear ol’ dad and neighbor Dick Schmidt. During my childhood, we had a major flood in the chicagoland area and the generators and the electrical cords were flying around like inhalers at Comic Con. The problem is trying to collect what is rightfully yours when the drama finally ends.

Six months later…

Mr. Schmidt was making a cabinet in his garage and motioned my father over to have a look. It is at that point that my father noticed HIS extension cord hanging neatly on the wall. You’re thinking all extension cords look alike. How could you tell the difference? Dad could tell because it had his initials stamped on it. This man labeled everything. He would buy underwear (from Sears Roebuck, of course) and race home and stencil little RDM’s (initialize) all over the crotch and the band. I assume he did this just in case he was ever approached by someone at gunpoint saying, “Okay, mister, off with the BVD’s…NOW!” Dad was also in the habit of naming his tools. This particular extension cord was named Ernie. Why? For Ernie Banks, of course, silly. Ernie was the Chicago Cubs hall of famer who was reliable, dependable and never broke down. Nevermind that Dick Schmidt was a carpenter and had almost as many extension cords as he had empty Old Style bottles, my dear father was incensed at seeing HIS extension cord hanging in Dick’s garage. But, rather than say, “Hey, Dick, look at that. This must have ended up with you after the flood,” he just stewed…and stewed. Like weeds to a garden, word spread quickly throughout the neighborhood that Schmidt was holding ‘Ernie’ hostage. My father became so enraged and let it fester to the point where we actually ended up moving. He claimed it was because my mother wanted a bigger backyard but we all know the real reason: that thieving, good for nothing, Dick Schmidt.

Twenty years later…

I’m in contact with Glenn Johnson, a boyhood friend, who still lives in the neighborhood. He called me to say that he was visiting his brother-in-law, in Portland, Oregon, and his eyeballs practically fell out of his head when he discovered my father’s extension cord at a garage sale! It was beat up, ratty and frayed AND it had the initials ‘RDM’ right there by the plug. Glenn wondered how it could have possibly ended up twenty five hundred miles away and how is could still even work? He bought it for fifty cents. I asked him to mail it to me and, after an extremely long pause, said, “No. I’m sorry. I can’t do that. It should really be displayed somewhere where all the dignitaries and important people can see it. I’m donating it to the Moose Lodge. If this thing could talk, imagine the stories it would tell, Bob.” “Then why did you even tell me you found Ernie if you’re not going to return him to me?”, I asked. With that, he reminded me that I just referred to an extension cord as a real, live person and that maybe I, like my dad, needed therapy. “This is the stuff legends are made of, man. To this day, realtors show both houses and bring up the big ‘Ernie’ feud. It’s incredible.”

So, after all these years, Ernie lives, so to speak, although the chances of my ever seeing him again are slim, unless I make a trip back to Illinois and visit the Moose Lodge on nickel beer night and steal it while everyone is captivated by Miss Sara doing her Karaoke rendition of Weekend in New England.

So, I caution all of you to take care of your stuff and lock it up, Stencil it if you must, but please try to resist the temptation to name it, lest you develop a reputation for being, um, weird. And, one other thing: Friends like Glenn you don’t need.

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MY NOTE TO LEAH

Hi Leah.

Thanks for staying at our house and looking after our beloved felines for us. We both feel very comfortable leaving them in your hands. I just want to briefly go over a few things for you to keep in mind. As you know, there are seven of them on the shelf resting comfortably and for all eternity in their urns. If you wouldn’t mind, when you get up in the morning, just go over to them, acknowledge them by name and read them today’s weather forecast. I now it sounds crazy, but they seem to like it as I remember them spending endless hours sitting on the windowsills peering out, and of course, screaming at the birds to get off the lawn. Thank you.

As far as feeding goes, they eat every 3 hours but, if you forget, don’t worry; one of them will remind you by unloading a hairball at your feet. It’s like clockwork, really.

Just one more thing: you only have to brush them a couple of times a day: once after breakfast and one time before they go to bed for the night after you give them their bath. The hair dryer is on the bathroom counter. Thank you.

Oops, sorry, I forgot something. All three sleep on the right hand side of the bed as you’re facing it. Bean sleeps closest to the edge. I know this sounds crazy but before you tuck them in, would it be possible for you to read The Chicago Cubs box score to them. For some reason they can’t fall asleep without it. Weird, I know. If the Cubs happen to be off that day, just read the previous days box score. They’re cats, they won’t know the difference. The left side of the bed is all yours, for the most part.

Taddio poops…a lot and it’s rather aromatic, if you know what I mean. You’ll know because your eyes will start to tear up as he races out of there and sprints upstairs. Please change litter box immediately in order to save the little paint that’s still on the walls in the litter box room. Thank you for doing that.

Well, that should about do it, I think. I may try to give you a call just to see how it’s going. Does 9AM, noon, 3 o’clock and 7 work for you? I’m sure it’ll be fine but I just like to check in.

Okay, almost forgot. If you should happen to oversleep in the morning, you’ll need to know that the Band Aids are in the bathroom cabinet. We’ve got gauze in there as well. Here’s hoping you won’t need any of it. Nah, you won’t oversleep. You’re good.

Oh my gosh, very important. Friday is ‘Pizza night.’ They LOVE, LOVE, LOVE double anchovies but can deal with pepperoni in a pinch.

Thanks again for doing this, Leah. I’ll call you…a lot.

Bob

MY SUMMER VACATION

I picked up copy of The Sun the other day. In this particular issue the big bold headline was, “MAN HOLDS STORE MANNEQUIN HOSTAGE: THREATENS TO BLOW HER BRAINS OUT.” I also noticed an ad they were running that read, “We pay money for stories. Be a Sun reporter. No experience necessary.” I liked that idea, especially the part about no experience necessary. That’s my best thing. So, I thought I might submit a paper I wrote in the second grade entitled, “What I Did On My Summer Vacation.”

We were traveling from Chicago to a place called Meadville, Pennsylvania to see my grandparents. For you non-historians, Meadville is not where the mighty Casey struck out; it’s where technology struck out.

We stayed at the Ro-Ho-Cho Motel and I must say that the view we had from our room of the ice machine was the reason the Lord invented post cards. Couple that with all the marvelous things my grandmother could do with her false teeth and, well, the trip was just a couple of inches shy of Nirvana. But, unfortunately, this year I didn’t quite make it all the way and so my paper began.

My father, tooling down some dirt road in Ohio singing Tennessee Waltz at the top of his lungs, suggested that my sister and I play a game in the backseat. I think his exact words were, “Kids, why don’t you play the game called, “See who can throw the other one out of the car first.” My sister won.

I got picked up by this farmer plowing his field who was totally convinced that I was the baby Jesus sent from Heaven to pray for his freshly planted corn crop. He took me inside to meet the ‘Mrs.,’ and as soon as she laid eyes on me, the funniest thing happened. Her arthritis, bursitis, laryngitis as well as the dandruff that had been plaguing her for years mysteriously vanished. The next day, with the full intention of adopting me, they loaded me on the tractor and took me down to Balls, the local bowling alley, where the town judge, who moonlighted as a custodian was busy disinfecting bowling shoes. I tried to tell them that they were making a big mistake. I said that I was just a six-year old kid who got tossed out of the car by my sister at my father’s urging. I tried to convince them that I was part of a loving, nurturing, wonderful, nuclear family, but they wanted no part of it.

The next day, the local paper ran the headline, “Farmer Drover and wife adopt the Baby Jesus. Good corn crop all but Guaranteed.”

Days passed and neighbors became more envious of my presence in their little town. Every night when I went to bed they would take turns climbing through the window begging me to help them out. Many were on their knees, face to face with me, tears streaming down their cheeks, tugging on my pajamas, pleading their needs all the while spitting the remnants of that night’s squirrel dinner on my forehead.

Finally, I was able to sneak out of the Drover’s place late one night and head back to the main road. I knew that my family would be returning home to Chicago and I was hoping that if they hadn’t already passed, they might stop if they saw me. Then in the distance I heard a disturbingly loud muffler noise and the sound of an equally obnoxious country song blaring on the radio. I was in luck. They stopped. Mom said that she felt terrible about not turning around and picking me up but added, “You know how your father gets when he wants to be someplace.” Then they asked me what I did and I told them that I stayed with this old farmer and his wife. It was at that moment that something strange happened. The muffler started purring like a kitten, my father’s cigar fell into his coffee cup and the country music station just vanished from the air!

We had been home for about three days when my mother heard a story on the news about this town in Ohio that had a miracle corn crop, prompting the President to proclaim it “Corn Capital of the World.” I thought, “Hey, that’s neat. I was just there.”

Yeah, it was a summer I’ll never forget and believe me I’ve tried. But when I got my paper back I got the shock of my life. There was a humongous red “F” sprawling the full length of the page. “Oh no,” I thought. “I’m going to get killed. I just failed my very first paper of the school year.” Then I looked up as the principal came strolling in. He said he was there to unveil the school’s new grading system. “Boys and girls, from this day forth the new grade scale will be as follows: A = abhorrent; B = below average; C = commonplace; D = dismal; and F = fantastic.” Wow! Double Wow!

When I submitted the story to The Sun, I got this response: “Thank you for writing to The Sun. Unfortunately, the story you submitted has already happened to one of our staff members. However, if you should ever run into Jimmy Hoffa enjoying a peanut butter and banana sandwich with Elvis in the French Alps, let us know. And remember, if you subscribe today, you can get 50% off the newsstand price. Sincerely, The Sun.”

THANKS FOR THE RIDE, MR.B.

As another school year draws to a close, it’s high time we salute those often undervalued, but still dedicated, disciplined and loyal personnal in the educational system…the bus driver.

I will do so with fond memories of Mr. Bedrosian, my high school bus driver in Chicago (It’s near Illinois. You can look it up). Although Mr. B. never achieved the educational level of twelfth grade, he was one knowledgeable and entertaining man.

Mr. B. left school in the sixth grade to cut the heads off chickens on his father’s farm, which, I suppose, would account for the reason that the words ‘thighs’ and ‘breasts’ were the only words not allowed to be uttered on his school bus, or ‘classroom,’ as he called it.

We learned more about life from him that some most of our teachers. He was famous for saying things like, “Study hard, play hard and never leave a ballgame before the 7th inning stretch,” and “Stand up to the bully. Punch him in the head and then pull his pants down. Nobody looks tough naked.”

We couldn’t wait for him to pull up and pile on so we could sit up close and get a good whiff of his freshly lit Camel. There was just something about the aroma of tobacco. We hung on every word he said. I remember that just about every morning he would sit idling his school bus and wait on the corner for Sandy and Steve to come out of her house. “Hey, Mr. B., c’mon, we’re going to be late for home room,” we would say. He would take a drag of his cigarette and tell us, “Sandy and Steve are making out in the house. Give ’em a minute. We punish you kids all the time for fighting. We certainly can’t punish you for loving, can we?”

He was a psychologist as well. “Hey Mr. B., I think this guy named Mike is trying to make time with my girlfriend, Sara.” He shook his head and offered, “Wait until gym class and pound his head in the mat.” Sage advice, indeed.He was ax expert on everything.On the Chicago Cubs: “You kids may even live long enough to see them win four in a row.On financial matters: “If you have to borrow money, ask your father. He’s only going to spend it on Playboys and Pabst Blue Ribbon anyway.” On hot cheerleaders: “Look, but don’t touch. They’re either dating a player or too stuck up to mess with.” On life: “Study hard, play hard and never leave a ballgame before the 7th inning stretch.” He would even quiz us on stuff the day of an exam, just to make sure we were doing our part.

Mr. B. knew every student by name and knew all of our interests. On a typical morning, he would open the doors and ask, Hey Glenn, how’s that curve ball working out for you?’ or “Billy, go get ’em tonight at the track meet,” or “Hey, Miller, next time you try and sneak into Wrigley Field, I’m calling the cops.”

Today, of course, Mr. Bedrosian would be arrested for the way he treated kids and maybe that’s where we’ve gone astray. SMOKING ON A SCHOOL BUS? How could he? But that was then, and this is now, yet somehow we all managed to grow up to be responsible citizens…everyone except Jimmy Wolter, who grew up be a White Sox fan. You can lead a horse to water, but…

A kinder, gentler man could not be found and that’s a lot more than we can say about some educational administrators today, who’ve made the wrong kind of headlines for incidents too numerous to name.

So, Mr. B., I know it’s been several years and nary a Christmas card from me, but, trust me, if you were still driving, I’d be the first one on the bus just to hear that next pearl of wisdom fall from your lips. My old classmates tell me that you’re thoroughly enjoying your retirement in Tampa. Hey, by the way, I’ve heard that it’s a law in Florida that everyone must have a pool but nobody can ever actually go in. Is that true? Thanks again for the education and I’m sure you’d agree, “Kids belong ON the bus and IN school…not ON your front lawn! God bless you.

OOPS! SORRY, WRONG NUMBER

Well, there are wrong numbers and then there are WRONG NUMBERS!
We’ve all dialed wrong numbers before and when we do, we simply say, “Oh, terribly sorry…not looking for a tarot card reader, just a pepperoni pizza with some black olives and a smidgeon of anchovies. Must have the wrong number.”

Enter Eva…a sweet, elderly and very lucid woman in her mid 80’s. She lives with her daughter, Marta, and her son-in-law, Phil. Despite her many health issues, Eva is never without a smile and still possesses a wonderful zest for life. Like most woman her age, her stockings run up to her knees with one always a tad shorter than the other. She shuffles around in slippers with embroidered flowers on the toes and wears a house dress that runs to just about mid calf. This is to ensure that when she sits with her feet up, the top of her beige, knee length stockings can be seen visibly from anyone within thirty feet. It’s the law. Eva is also devoutly religious and won’t even pop a piece of Dentyne in her mouth without first saying grace. Oh, and Eva is 100% deaf.

“Hey, Bob, how does she use the phone?” Good question and I’m glad I’m here to answer it. She calls a service that will place calls for her. They, in turn, put a digital read out on her phone so she can follow the bouncing ball. However, like any piece of technology, this can have obvious drawbacks…like when a relative calls and asks for money. The old, “I can’t hear you, I’m deaf’ routine won’t work.

Eva calls a prayer hotline everyday to get her daily affirmation. It makes her feel safe, connected and loved. In early December, she called the hearing impaired service to put her through just like she’s done for years. She waited with much anticipation for the daily prayer to make it’s way across the screen. Eva has heard most of them before but they were all words of hope and encouragement and that was all that mattered.

On this particular morning, the words that Eva saw scroll across her screen didn’t seem like anything she had ever seen before. The message began, “Oooooh, I seem to have spilled something on my panties. I think I’m going to have to take them off.” Eva’s jaw dropped and her rosary fell from her hands. There was more to come. “Oh, that feels much better. Look, here comes my girlfriend, Diamond. I wonder how her tight, little sweater can hold those beautiful voluptuous…(Eva interrupting) “MARTA, COME OVER HERE!” Eva began to fidget and couldn’t imagine how this could possibly be part of a daily prayer. Her daughter assured her that it must be someone playing a joke, Marta’s husband, Phil, wanted to have a look see himself. He quickly moved Eva away from the phone and took her seat saying that he needed to examine it a bit more closely for about an hour or so. Well, with that little comment, Marta picked up a nearby wine bottle and flung it in the direction of Phil’s noggin. I’m sure, were it not for Phil’s extremely quick reflexes, he would still be being treated for head trauma right now in a nearby hospital.

No, Eva didn’t get her daily affirmation on this day, but, Phil, um, has apparently found religion himself and, calls that prayer hotline, at least once per day…for his mother-in-law, of course. As he was quick to point out, wrong numbers aren’t always a bad thing, but, still if those numbers aren’t stored in your phone, double check them, dial carefully and always beware of really tight sweaters.

THE PERFORMANCE REVIEW

My friend, Rick, was just laid off, or as it was phrased to him, transferred to the ‘Off Payroll Division’, and he told me the one thing he absolutely will not miss is the performance reviews. Who knew they still had performance reviews, anyway? I haven’t had one in years but, then again, what can they really tell someone who plays Elton John records on the radio for a living? You should have played them better? Seriously, I thought reviews went the way of the beer an opener (church key) or Morton’s Mustache Wax (Motto: You look stupid. Go home and shave). However, if you still have reviews, I guess you should be grateful because it means you still have a job.

For the uninitiated, the performance review is conducted strictly for the entertainment of the reviewer. The reviewee already knows how it’s going to end. It’s very much like having to sit through a bad movie after having seen all the horrible previews. Oh yeah, for the victim, it’s like having to endure a root canal from a dentist who really, really enjoys garlic.

The reviewer seems to take great delight in the subtle digs, jabs and twists of the knife. “Say,” (big belly laugh) “remember when you used to call me names that implied that my face and my buttocks were interchangeable? (GULP!) Hey, how about that golf luncheon last year, when you and your cronies put vaseline on all my club handles and then you switched the tomato juice in my Bloody Mary with real blood from a deceased gopher. I’m still in therapy as a result of that. Yeah, that was a good one. Now sit down. Let’s begin, shall we?” (DOUBLE GULP!)

It’s critically important to never, ever burn bridges. Burning bridges loosely translated means being nice to awful people, however monumental a task that may seem to be. Inevitably, the person you rail on, will no doubt, someday be in a position to help you and you don’t want to do anything to hinder that process. By example, let’s look at the mistake Claude made with, at the time, a co-worker of equal irrelevance at Widgets R’ Us. Claude posted a note on the breakroom bulletin board that read: “To whoever stole my Pastrami sandwich from the office fridge…JIM, I hope you enjoyed stealing it and savoring every delectable morsel. Gee, it’s just too bad that my slobbering dog, Elsie, licked the crap out of it before I made the sandwich. Ha-Ha. Hope you burn in Hell… JIM, and, by the way, your wife says the last time she enjoyed a romantic interlude, YOU WEREN’T THERE. Ha-Ha. So, again, whoever took my pastrami sandwich from the fridge, you’re a jerk…JIM.”
P.S. Jim ended up becoming Regional Manager in charge of Widget Design and Manufacturing. Unfortunately, this didn’t end well for Claude.

It’s especially annoying when your supervisor used to work FOR you. The only reason this jerkball leapfrogged over you in the first place is because his cousin (usually it’s Vinnie from The Bronx) knew somebody who once chauffeured Derek Jeter, and whose sister just happened to be The Director and Purveyor of the Rapidly Assembled Nourishment Division (hot dog vendors) at Yankee Stadium. As luck would have it, they ended up getting married and the next thing you know, this guy hands off Yankee season tickets to the big boss and BINGO: INSTANT PROMOTION. Sometimes life isn’t fair, kids.

One other thing to keep in mind about performance reviews is that every good thing you’ve ever done will be covered in the first ten seconds. “Bob, you did an adequate job fixing that paper jam in the copy machine last month and I really liked your orchestration of the Masters golf tournament office pool (long pause, removal of glasses and clearing of throat) but…” OH CRAP! HERE IT COMES. Why does there always have to be a BUT? Because getting the positives out of the way early leaves them the rest of the time to make you feel like you’re a worthless piece of flesh who is just taking up oxygen on the planet and to make you thankful that a malcontent, such as yourself, still has a job in the first place. It’s their job. It’s what they do…and the revel in it.

So, good luck with your next performance review and remember, get a good night’s sleep beforehand, sound alert when you’re in the office and try to exercise some restraint when you feel like jumping across the desk in an attempt to strangle the interviewer. By the way, the next time you have a pizza delivered and the guy at your doorstep is mumbling and kicking himself in the shins, say ‘hi’ to him for me. His name is Claude.

COME ON IN, THE WATER’S…UM, FREEZING!

If you have been following the goings on of the Hudson Valley chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, you already know that every February brings another round of the Subzero Heroes Ice Jump at Berean Lake in Highland, NY. Why do we take the plunge into open waters in upstate New York in the middle of the winter? Because we’re deeply disturbed individuals, but also because we hate Alzheimer’s.

During my radio career, I’ve been peed on by a circus elephant (which is only slightly preferable to being stepped on by a circus elephant), I’ve been body-slammed by a professional wrestler who called himself The Masked Assassin and I’ve had my head shaved in a bar following a stupid football bet. But, this thing is REALLY NUTS! Count me in, however, because after witnessing firsthand how Alzheimer’s strips away ones pride and sense of self and so whittles away at the brain that eventually one forgets how to eat or even swallow, I’m for anything that can raise awareness, even if that involves a little shrinkage.

When my father-in-law, Salvatore, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1994, he was given a clock by the technician and told to move the hands to show the Three O’clock position. Frustrated at not being able to do so, he felt the need to urinate in her flowerpot, thus effectively ending the life of four innocent African Violets who just happened to be in the wrong pot at the wrong time.

The date is Saturday, February 9th and all the information you’ll need is at http://www.subzeroheroes.org. This, being the 9th year of the jump, has grown into a major fundraiser for The Alzheimer’s Association. Here’s an exclamation point as to the importance of all this: Every 67 seconds, someone in this country is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I’m sure that Sal who passed from the ravages of this disease 11 years ago, will be viewing this spectacle from his luxury box in the sky saying, “Get some clothes on, you morons!”

I should mention that you don’t actually have to ‘take the leap,’ to assist. You may choose to stay nice and warm on the shore and volunteer. The word we use to describe this group of people is ’Sissies.” No, wait, I’m sorry…I meant ’Sidekicks.’ Yes, that’s it. In the ice-jumping vernacular, “Heroes” are the jumpers and ’Sidekicks’ are the known as the sane ones.

To help me prepare for this jump every year, I enjoy speaking with a man named Nathan Numb, who happens to be a high ranking member of the Cook County, Illinois Polar Bear Club who run into Lake Michigan every New Year’s Day. He tells me that the second best way to prepare for this jump is too slather your entire body with Vaseline and the absolute best way to prepare is to consume mass quantities of Jack Daniel’s beforehand. Personally, I have been practicing by sleeping in the fridge on alternate nights. I also take an occasional cold shower and, of course, perform the obligatory Hanes Boxer snow shoveling, an event that I trust will soon be a part of every Winter Olympiad.

Psychologists have a term for people who do things like this and I think that term is: mentally unbalanced. Oh, sure, like they’ve never taken a butt naked leap off the pier at the stroke of midnight with champagne bottles in hand to celebrate Sigmund Freud’s birthday. Give me a break.

Remember there date: Saturday, February 9th at Berean Lake in Highland, NY. Again, get all the information on how you can help us find the 1st Alzheimer’s survivor can be found at http://www.subzeroheroes.org. Salvatore gave me some sage advice before Alzheimer’s completely swallowed up his brain and that was, “If you’re going to do something, do it right and try not to screw it up. Now get a haircut!’ See you at the lake.