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 MANNIQUIN 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.”

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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.

IT’S A GRAPE! STOMP IT, RINSE IT, DRINK IT!

Whenever I go on wine tastings at local vineyards, (Haley’s Comet comes to mind) I always make sure to bring my sixty-four ounce, pewter Chicago Cubs beer stein with me with the hope they’ll fill it up. Just a heads up: they won’t.  Instead, they will dispense into your glass, an amount approximating two thimbles full. You will then be expected to swirl it around for a minute, hold it up to the light as if you might have just discovered some alien being floating on top, sniff it for thirty seconds, then sip. From that experience you should be able to tell everything there is to know about that particular wine. “Hmm, I believe this wine comes from the Fishkill region of New York with sixty year old grapes that were grown under the blazing sun next to Route 9…near a traffic light.”  Look, consuming wine should be enjoyable, relaxing and stress free. It should never become a science project.  “May I help you?”  “Yes, I’m looking for a wine that after two glasses will make me macho, good looking and worldly.  What isle is that in?”  “I’m sorry, Bob, we have nothing on our shelves that can accomplish anything even close to that.”

 

I’m not trying to diminish the wine pros that really do know what they’re talking about. These people study it and truly appreciate the inter workings of every facet of the wine making process, and that’s great.  They generally either own or operate their own wine business or they are master sommeliers, or both. Then, of course, there is the person who tries way too hard to impress but, in truth, the only thing they know for sure is which end of the bottle to open. My friend, Mark, falls in this category.  I implore you to stay away from them at cocktail parties because they will drone on adnauseum about the dreadful state of the economy and insist that nothing will turn around until Steven Mnuchin starts returning their e-mails.

 

So, I decided to play a little prank on Mr. Smarty Pants Mark. You should know that Mark spends hours in his ‘lab’ (basement) on weekends conjuring up what he believes is the best wine on the planet.  Trust me, I’ve had some of Mark’s wine and I’m not exactly sure what planet he’s referring to. For my little test, I enlisted the help of my other friend, Kevin. I know what you’re saying: “Bob, you’ve actually got two friends?” Yes, I really have two friends and they both like wine but only Mark is a pompous jerk.

 

Kevin provided me with a homemade bottle of Merlot. I replaced his label, Kevin’s Really Good Wine, with the label from a bottle of 3 Blind Moose Merlot 2007. Of course, I had to alter the contents a little, strictly for the purpose of exploiting Mark. I poured out about a cup of Kevin’s wine and fed it to the plants, may they rest in peace.  I then added a combination of Poughkeepsie tap water, three tablespoons of lemon extract, a shake of nutmeg, an eighth teaspoon of chili powder, and a splash of olive oil (extra virgin). Oh, and just to finish it off, a pinch of Tabasco. I gave it a good shake and delivered it to Mr. Know It All.  He was duly impressed by the label and immediately broke out the corkscrew.

 

Unfortunately, for appearances only, I had to pour myself a glass as well. He held the glass up to the light, swirled it around and brought it t his lips. The moment of truth was upon us.  “This is excellent wine,” he said. “My tongue feels like it’s dancing.”  I was in my glory. Yes, indeed, my little friend, Mark, was blowing the cover off the bullshit meter now!  To taunt him a little further, I asked him what he thought it tasted like and he said he was getting a hint of birch. Well, that’s great, I thought, because who among us doesn’t want our wine to taste like charred firewood? Mark insisted on having another glass and the joke was getting out of hand. There was no way I could level with him now. All I wanted to do was go home and throw up. He ended up having three glasses. The message here is simple: The harder a person tries to convince you how knowledgeable he is, the less he actually knows.  But, on the other hand, maybe Mark’s just addicted to lemon extract.

 

Here’s what I do know: The next time I’m having a glass of red wine, I’m tossing a big ol’ ice cube in it, and, if I’m feeling really rebellious, I may not even swirl the glass or sniff it, and I recommend you try the same thing. It’s very refreshing and cathartic.

 

Coming up next time, kids, we’ll explore the many fine pretzel varieties that can be successfully paired with a bottle of Angry Orchard.

THEY WALK AMONGST US EVERYDAY!

Hey, congratulations on that potential new job! You think the interview went fairly well, except for that part about you not being able to give the interviewer a satisfactory reason as to why you were unable to finish your junior year of high school.  But, hey, education can be sooo overrated. No problem. I’m sure you were otherwise able to wow wow him over with your amazing grasp of the English language. Oh, but just for future reference, “Anyways,” isn’t a real word and neither is “Slutkicker.”  However, it was kind of neat how you were able to work that in while speaking of your girlfriend.  Very cool.

 

So, you need to provide a urine sample before you can finally don that spiffy paper hat?  Hmmm. Well, that could be a little bit of a roadblock, I guess, huh?  Hey, why not tell your girlfriend’s eight-year-old son that he needs to pee in a cup. Yeah, that’s it. But, what if he asks why? C’mon, you can always say that the doctor requested it. No, forget it, that’s not good. You’re going to tell him what?  Oh my! You’re going to sit him down and tell him that you have a really good chance at being the new French fry chef but you need to submit a clean urine sample for it in order to seal the deal.  Okay, but, then what?  NO, NO, NO! Do not…I repeat DO NOT tell him that the reason you need his urine is because you’re on METH!  Horrible idea and here’s why: he’s going to run to his grandmother and tell her about your dilemma and it’s only going to spiral downhill from there. Why? Because grandma’s going to pick up the phone and inform the police about your conversation with the little guy, and consequently, they will be more than interested in meeting you and asking you a whole boatload of questions.  One other thing: there’s a strong chance that this could result in you not procuring your dream job of standing there pouring salt on innocent little undercooked potato strips. Gol Dangit!

 

I’m very sorry they rescinded their offer. You would have really rocked that hat, I’m sure of it. Hey, look at it this way: the pipe, I’m sorry, I mean the glass is always half full. Remember that. Pick yourself off the canvas and get right back in the ballgame of life. Seriously, it’s not like that was the only job out there, anyways…

DON’T LOOK NOW BUT HERE COMES FATHER TIME

It’s one of the most frightening things that have happened to me in a very long time. I was at Kohl’s the other day because I had a thirty percent off coupon. I wasn’t really looking for anything but, c’mon that coupon wasn’t going to use itself.

 

As I was ambling my way past the shoe section, I noticed a really nifty pair of…(gasp!) SLIPPERS! It was, in fact, at that exact moment that I feared that Father Time was getting larger and larger in my rearview mirror.

 

None of my friends wear slippers and not once has the word ‘slippers’ ever come up in even casual conversation…ever. “Hey, Smitty, come on over and let me show you my new slippers.”  Um, no, never.

 

I needed a moment so I took a seat in the shoe section starring at those ankle high stocking type thingies that you’re supposed to put on before trying on shoes but hardly ever do. Then my mind flipped to how many people might actually use them and put them back in the box where the next unsuspecting shopper inadvertently puts them on only to have their foot shrivel up and decompose before their very eyes a few minutes later from all the bacteria!

 

It’s not that I have anything against slippers. My father-in-law wore them all the time, as he shuffled back and forth between the kitchen for prune juice and the bathroom to, um, get rid of his prune juice. But, he was ninety-six with Alzheimer’s. He got a pass. But, adding to my paranoia, I also realized that I’ve developed a fondness for Wheel of Fortune. This has, unfortunately, caused a major riff in my marriage. When it comes on, Michele let’s out a huge, unforgiving sigh and then closes her eyes, shakes her head and says, “Do we have to?”  “Sweetheart, be quiet. I think he’s about ready to buy a vowel.”

 

By now, perspiration bubbles were starting to build up on my forehead and I found myself just starring at that Brannock device, wondering how long it takes for the employee responsible for measuring strangers’ feet all day to develop a severe drinking problem. But, sadly, I also wondered what color slippers I should get, brown or grey?

 

What happened to the time, anyway? One day you’re tossing your mortarboard in the air after graduating college and before you know it you’re spray painting a tennis ball lime green and gluing it to the roof of your car so you’ll be able to find it in the supermarket parking lot!

 

The reality is Father Time catches up to us but be brave and just know that when he does, there’s going to be a pair of slippers with our name on them, so slap ‘em on, wear them proudly and, for the last time, get off my lawn, you kids!

WELCOME TO WEDGIETOWN!

Among the reasons we end up in expensive, intense therapy sessions as adults, fifth grade gym class has got to be near or at the top.

 

Gym class has been a staple in elementary schools almost since the time that Eve asked Adam if that fig leaf made her look fat. However, few people in the long and storied history of ‘shirts and skins’ can honestly say that gym class was the best thing that ever happened to them. Physical Education teachers all have whistles. It’s the law. I think they need to blow them more often. In addition to stopping the action in a heated competition of synchronized jumping jacks, there is plenty of shenanigans going on in the locker room and in the shower that goes unnoticed.

 

Gary Ives, a classmate of mine and the world’s biggest jerk had hair in places that would have the Geico caveman pounding his club in amazement. How could anyone be so hairy at eleven years of age?  I made the mistake of asking him about all that growth as we were disrobing from another arduous game of badminton. “Hey jerkball,  are you sure you’re not really twenty-one and were just held back a few years because you thought Neil Armstrong played for the Cubs and Pearl Harbor was the author of The Good Earth?”  For some strange reason, he took offense at that and grabbed my underwear. “OH CRAP, BLOW YOUR DAMN WHISTLE, MR. COHEN. HERE COMES AN ATOMIC WEDGIE!”  It was too late.  My eyeballs practically jumped out of my head, my screams set off the sprinklers and my manhood, obviously still in virgin territory, was in serious jeopardy of never getting in a game…ever.  And just where was Mr. Cohen while this assault was taking place?  Why, he was in his office watching Phil Donahue, of course.

 

By the way, just for the record, I love gym teachers. I wanted to be one back in the day myself.  I thought the whistle was cool and who didn’t want to come to work wearing sweats and sneakers? But, can you imagine the pressure of having to come up with a physical regimen for an entire semester? It’s a brutal job and that’s why there aren’t more gym teachers. If memory serves correctly, our 5th grade Fall semester looked like this:

 

Week one:  tumble

Week two:   climb rope

Week three: tumble with rope

Week four: remedial volleyball

Week five: fifty yard walk and run

Week six: dodgeball (kids, take off your glasses!) Week seven:  bounce on trampoline Week eight: bounce on trampoline holding a softball Week nine: softball throw Week ten: retrieve softballs

 

How many dollars have I spent on therapy concerning the venerable athletic supporter? It was more than a few years ago, why can’t I let it go? Funny this is, they never told us how to wear one. It was assumed that we already knew. Those assumptions were wrong. And what’s with this cup thing? What am I suppose to fill that with. Toilet tissue worked fine for me. I just snapped it on, filled it with toilet paper and I was ready for anything, except of course, Gary Ives.

 

Let’s not forget the ol’ wet towel snap to fully round out the pleasurable gym experience. Why do young snot nose bullies find that even remotely humorous? Is it because they’ve never been on the receiving end of one? Is it because nobody wants to mess with the bully?  Maybe it’s because that’s as good as their pathetic day will get; inflicting pain on the unsuspecting.  But it’s probably because they know the gym teacher has no plans of blowing his stupid whistle and, truth be told, if he had his way, he would be right there snapping towels himself.

 

Yes, the memories linger and the therapy continues. And did anybody ever actually learn anything in gym class? No, except it’s best to get a doctor’s note whenever possible. But, after all these years, I take comfort in knowing that my dear classmate, Gary is, more than likely, still in 5th grade and showering with a walker these days. But, if there’s any justice in the world, by now, he’s found himself on the receiving end of several of those atomic wedgies.  “OH DEAR GOD, BE CAREFUL…THE PROSTATE!”

FINDING MIKE A NEW HOBBY

I would like to introduce your to a friend of mine. His name is Mike and he’s getting married this year…for the sixth time. We grew up together in Chicago cutting class and spending many a spring day at beautiful Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs. We were proud to call ourselves elite members of The Bleacher Bums. True story: I once dropped my car keys in left field and Pete Rose kept them for seven innings before tossing them back to me. I washed them as soon as I got home.

How can someone get married six times? It’s not supposed to be a hobby. The most amazing thing is, wouldn’t you say to yourself, at some point,  “Gee, maybe I’m not very good at this.” If an astronaut mistakenly steers his ship onto Venus instead of The International Space Station, some NASA official would probably bring it to his attention that perhaps he should consider driving a Loop bus or something instead. Marriage is a divine institution where men deepen their existing relationship and learn many new skills in the process, like the art of laundry (never wash black sweatpants with white blouses). We learn moderation (Nascar races do not need to be watched for the entire 500 laps), and utensil cleansing (soap really does help cut grease).

In Mike’s previous five marriages, his wives were the ones initiating the divorce proceedings and there’s not a slouch among them. They were accountants, bank managers, photographers and school teachers. Most of the divorces were granted on the ever popular grounds of irreconcilable differences, but there was one abandonment issue (Mike went to the Cubs spring training in Arizona and forgot to tell her). There was also one who filed for divorce on the grounds of ‘scumbaggery.’  I think Mike invented that. I’m told that future wife #6 claims to be working overtime on the world’s perfect pancake batter and she’s surrounded herself with all the right people as she straps on the apron and cheerfully waits tables at IHOP.

How many times will you be willing to stick your hand over the open flame before you realize that maybe that’s the cause of all the skin curling up and nails falling out? “Wow! That really hurt. I can’t believe it. I’m only going to do it a couple more times and that’s it.” Besides, let’s be honest: Marriage failure is a self fulling prophecy. With each new spouse, the likelihood of calling the current one by the wrong name naturally increases, and, of course, that leads to the current wife becoming an ex-wife and the vicious cycle continues.

Mike, I’m sorry, buddy. It’s time to find yourself a new hobby. You gave this marriage thing numerous shots and it just wasn’t in the cards. Might I suggest something where you can participate all by yourself, without harming another human being. Gardening is a great hobby. Just grab yourself a hoe and have a field day. Painting  or pottery would be nice. There’s no way, you could hurt anyone doing either one of those things. It’s only when you involve another person that you seem to have problems. Might I suggest a ‘starter person,’ and by that I mean a mannequin. I hear Macy’s has some really nice ones this time of year.