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.

Advertisements

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.

TAKIN’ A DIVE

Eight years ago, my father-in-law, my best buddy, my hero, Salvatore Cavalieri, was released from the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.  I remember Sal being a huge NY Yankee fan and not only being able to name everybody in the starting line up, but rattle off with ease their batting average, and their cigar preferences. Sadly, I also vividly recall Sal trying to brush his teeth with a fork.

I remember Sal with his vast knowledge of gardening and how he would delight in explaining how various soil qualities, pinching and pruning, staking or caging produced the best tomato plants in town.  I also remember Sal not being quite sure how to work that tool called a ‘shovel.’

Sal adored his family and put them all on the highest of pedestals. I always admired him for that. But then my heart sunk to my ankles the day he could only reference Michele as ‘his daughter.’

Welcome to the world of Alzheimer’s.

Michele and I were caregivers for Sal in our home for several years so can speak firsthand to the demands of 24/7 care. No one should have to end an otherwise dignified life in this manner. Sal, please know one thing: we will do everything in our power to make sure the awareness level is raised and that someday, we may finally be able to utter – heck, yell – the word ‘cure.’

On February 10th we will, once again, be diving headfirst into the fight against Alzheimer’s disease at Berean Lake in Highland. We strongly encourage your participation. Seriously, I’m not jumping in ice-cold water in February without you there to see it.

Know this: this is a day for fun, frolicking and fundraising for a very serious cause. Mark the date: February 10th. Think of a tailgate party minus that tedious football game. The tents are pitched, the grills are fired up, beach balls fill the air and the hot tub salesmen are salivating. Every single year is better than the one before and every single year, I get out of the water saying the exact same thing: “For the love of God, who’s got my beer?”

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions we get about the event.

 

  1. Q) Do we have to jump in the lake to actually help out?
  2. A) No, you big sissy. You can register as a sidekick and assist your chosen

‘Hero,’ by handing her towels, slathering his hot dog with mustard,

raising money and, in general, offering words of encouragement.

 

  1. Q) How many people show up for this event?
  2. A) Last year, we had over 150 jumpers (Heroes) and 700 people assisting

from the safe haven of dry land.

 

  1. Q) How is the jumping order determined?
  2. A) The person with the most money raised jumps first followed in

descending order.

 

  1. Q) I’m a virile man and I’m concerned about shrinkage. What should I do?
  2. A) Seriously? Buy a Corvette!

 

  1. Q) How can I join a team?
  2. A) You can join an existing team or start your own team for someone you

know who has suffered from Alzheimer’s.  Get more information at:

www.subzeroheroes.org.

 

  1. Q) Okay, I’ll do it. What should I wear?
  2. A) Anything you’d like. I have seen more costumes on this day than on Halloween. I’m partial to the speedo, but only because I don’t need a Corvette!

 

  1. Q) What is the name of your team?
  2. A) Team Sal, for my father-in-law, Salvatore. Feel free to sign up or donate in his memory – or in honor of someone you love – at subzeroheroes.org.

 

This is one of my favorite days of the year and I think once you join us, in some capacity, you’ll agree. I hope you can spread the word and together we can work hard, never give up and ultimately silence Alzheimer’s disease. Hey, c’mon, what’s a little shrinkage anyway?