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.

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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.

THE LONELY BED

After several years of marriage to Michele, I remain mystified by two things: 1) what in the world are all those bottles she has in the shower? and 2) When it’s time to pay the monthly bills, her behavior changes. It’s like a chameleon changing colors or the vampire growing fangs as the moon comes out. It’s the issue of bills that I will concentrate on here.

Let me begin by saying that Michele is the bill payer in our family. I’ve paid a total of zero bills. Wait, that’s not entirely correct. Years ago, I did pay a cable bill because I didn’t want her to see that I purchased a pay-per-view of Big Busted Secretaries Mud Wrestling in Fishnets, but that was the only time.

After years of intent observation, I have developed what I call the ‘Bed/Bill’ theory. Simply put, the time the bill payer in the family goes to bed is in direct proportion to the amount of money you have in the bank.

Below is what I’ve drawn up for us. It’s all based on the time I go to bed, which is 7:30PM. Keep in mind, your chart may look considerably different and this should be used only as a guideline.

If Michele comes to bed with me at:

7:30PM: This has never happened. Who am I kidding?

9:00PM: Probably two or three minor bills need to be paid. No reason to panic.

10:00PM: She’s struggling to pay at least five bills and checking the various accounts to see where she can do some creative shifting.

12:00AM: We’re in dangerous waters now. The bills are spread out all over the floor and the grunting is getting louder. The empty wine bottles are piling up in the garbage can.

3:00AM: I shoot out of bed and throw back the curtains looking for the bad men from the bank to come walking up the steps with hand trucks to haul us away. Then, I breathe a sigh of relief, realizing that the bad men from the bank don’t take possession of anything, except maybe a coffee cup, one minute before nine in the morning.

Don’t always rely on facial expressions of the bill payer as a mood determinant. Some are very slick and really tough to crack. However, there are ways to tell when particular bills are delinquent. For instance, if my wife has one of our cats on his back, each leg strapped to a different corner of the kitchen table, trying to insert a rectal thermometer, then we must be in red with the vet. Also, when she hears me firing up the electric pencil sharpener during this critical bill paying period, she’ll race in, make a nosedive for the plug and yank it from the outlet. When this occurs, by my deductions, we must owe the utility company. By the way, is it just me or has it ever crossed your mind that with any utility company, there’s a persnickety, old man just sitting by a switch, snickering and salivating, waiting for the stroke of midnight of the day your bill is due and delights to the point of orgasm in flicking that switch, rendering your entire house dark…and cold?

I’ve confronted Michele on my ‘Bed/Bill’ theory and she looks at me like I’m crazy. Yeah, right. Like I’m the one who has twenty-four bottles of conditioners, lotions and exfoliating creams in the shower. But, I’m the nutjob. Sure.

Anyway, try putting my ‘Bed/Bill’ theory to work for you. I think you will find more than a kernel of truth in it. Please remember that family bill payers can become very temperamental, emotional and fragile at that certain time of the month. Treat them with kid gloves, don’t startle them or make any sudden movements and, whatever you do, wait until the crisis passes before sharpening any pencils.

IT’S BEEN A BANNER YEAR!

Hey, c’mon, I like holiday parties as much as the next guy, or at least I used to.
I remember the days when you could actually exhale and let your hair down. You could belly up to the bar and the guy in the next cube would buy you another round (or 5). You may even fall down once or twice on the dance floor as the cool DJ played Limbo Rock for the third consecutive time. The whole floor would erupt in laughter. Ah yes, those were the days.

Today, the rules have changed a wee bit. You are encouraged to attend. Not showing up could very easily brand you one of those awful malcontents — a label that sticks, trust me. No one wants that. Yes, there’s a bar, but should you dare to return for a second trip, you’re playing with fire. Remember, you were encouraged to attend, not necessarily have a good time.

And then there’s the socializing outside the cube farm with the co-workers. Here on party night, you’re suddenly wishing warm holiday greetings to the same jerk that threw you under the bus last week.

Then of course, the boss has to make a speech. You are hoping that he will mention your name as being a key contributor. Listening, you feel a little bit slighted when that fails to happen. You wonder if you shouldn’t have set your sights so high and just accept the fact that he really doesn’t even know your name. “Jeez, he thanks Jenkins, and all that tub of lard did all year was say ‘Yes’ every time the boss wanted an ego stroke because he felt unwanted himself by the corporate office.” Perhaps there’s a lesson there. Who knows?

And his speech, oh my God, please. Why not just record it one year and play it back at every Christmas party?

“Well, it’s been a banner year! We’ve made some changes that we feel will only enhance the forward movement of this well-oiled machine. Sure, we’ve had to let some people go but the people that remain here today are the collective backbone of this company. You are the ones that we depend on. You are the ones that we respect and you are the ones that keep this train on the tracks and going in the right direction. You have my word that you will be here just as long as, well, we feel the need to keep you around (cough). Everyone in this room has played an integral part in this year’s success and corporate wanted me to pass that message along to you personally. They wanted to have a representative here tonight but unfortunately, most of them had a previous commitment and as I’m sure you know, those Ice Capades tickets are very hard to come by. Anyway, thanks for all of your sweat and hard work with past year. You are all a vital cog in our performance enhancement program. One other thing, corporate asked me to keep this a secret until now, but, as a result of all of your Herculean efforts, they will be picking up your bowling ball shoe rental fees tonight (wild applause). Now let’s grab your balls and show the world how we roll! Remember, the 5th frame is the beer frame! Happy Holidays!”

KINDNESS CAN GET YOU KILLED!

Wow! Here comes that expression again: We’re walking on eggshells.

Our radio station performs what we call Random Acts of Kindness from time to time. Maybe we’ll go to the supermarket (with permission) and watch someone’s jaw drop as we whip out a wad of cash and pay for their groceries or we may go to the diner and pick up a lunch tab. While we’re there, we’ll most likely inquire as what that funky odor is that permeates the air. Rumor has it that it’s some sort of cleanser, but we absolutely do know that it’s capable of making eyebrows curl and in some cases, eyeballs popping out and falling to the floor.

The one constant in our random acts of kindness is the recipients reaction. “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU WANT WITH ME?” I bring this up because I realized that the eggshells we are walking on daily are becoming so fragile that we trust no one and question everyone’s motives. Relax, people! I’m just buying your gravy soaked sausage and brisket combo. Save your money: You’ll need it for your cardiologist visit.

I thought I would be a nice guy so I brought my neighbor’s garbage cans back from the street the other day and he was practically shaking with fear when he asked, “What’s going on here?” Isn’t that something you might ask after, oh, I don’t know, someone holds you up at gunpoint or, maybe after you get a letter filled with exclamation points in red ink from your utility company? My God, all I did was bring his empty garbage cans back. I can only imagine the severity of his convulsions if I had cut his lawn unsuspectingly.

Another random act of kindness gone horribly awry took place in a hair salon. A radio station intern, armed with enough cash to maybe purchase a nice Supreme Court justice, went into the salon, again, with their permission, but, unbeknownst to the recipient. It’s important to note here, kids, that sometimes surprises don’t always work out the way they were scripted. As the intern flashed some money in front of the newly coifed woman, she thought he was propositioning her and immediately called 911. Seconds later, her big, burly husband came in to pick her up and, after noticing the commotion, punched the poor intern in the nose and rearranged his ears as well. If memory serves correctly, this was the intern’s last day with the radio station. He decided to enter an internship in a much less dangerous field: coal-mining.

I remember a time when we would do nice things for people and they would, in turn, buy us a six pack of Natty Light and we would chat on the front porch for hours, laughing and, with every passing beer, try to one up the other with our feats of accomplishment. “Hey, Bob, did I ever tell you about the time I saved a Boy Scout from drowning?” “Actually, Jim, yeah, I think I’ve heard that one a few times and if you tell it again, I’ll whack you over the head with this piece of rebar.” Yeah, big Bob, I’ll never forget that day. This little guy was just walking on the pier when he slipped and fell in. Instinctively, I just dove in the wat…” (interrupting) WHACK ! Sorry, Jim, I tried to warn you.

I’ll say it again: We need to relax, people. If someone taps you on the shoulder while you’re in line at Price Chopper, there’s no need to reach in your bag and spray his face with mace. There doesn’t always have to be a catch to everything. Do you think that in return for my buying your industrial strength, reusable, paper towels and your eight hundred pound bag of Kibbles n’ Bits, you’re agreeing to sit through a three hour seminar on time shares in Mozambique? Come on, all we’re doing is being nice. If we paid your bridge toll would you chase us down and fire shots through our windshield on the highway?

Relax. Stop being so suspicious, and, most important, start behaving yourself, because, if you don’t, we’re going to have to get nasty and let you buy your own stuff.