To be retired or not to be retired ?

The title refers to my decision to retire from my current position after 20 + years of service. It’s not as if I don’t like my job (although, I don’t) it’s not that I have more than enough saved to live comfortably without depending on Social Security (which I don’t) it’s just that I am able to retire and get the heck out of the place, something I’ve wanted to do since before I even began. I’ll talk more about that once I’ve officially left the establishment for which I have toiled these many years. That way I can’t be punished for any “secrets” I may reveal.

Of course, since I’ve made my decision to retire, the stock market has gone down, prices have gone up and up and up and I’m afraid, no way else to put it. Actually, there are many other ways to put it but I will not go into politics…at this time. What I will go into is whether I will need to work a part time job two or three days a week to keep up with inflation. Since I just went grocery shopping yesterday, I’ll begin with food.

Groceries: My current position is with the Food & Beverage department at a local college, consequently I haven’t been overly concerned about food because I eat for free while at work, usually at least two meals a day. After my divorce 14 years ago, I’ve lived alone and only go grocery shopping once every four to six weeks, spending about $175.00 per visit, obviously this is about to go up. With this in mind, I stuck to my list more than usual, coming in at $167.00, (with a $20 book, love to read) leaving out various unnecessary items such as Spam (for the first time in decades) because everyone knows that the stuff is loaded with substances that are not good for you or anything else for that matter and of course…the price has gone up. Even though I’ve bought nothing but turkey Spam or “Spam lite” (I laughed out loud the first time I saw it on the shelf) in recent years, a person in their sixties should not be eating any kind of Spam (sniff). I also cut back on candy, only purchasing one bag of M&M peanut butter and one bag Reese’s dark chocolate “Thins”. I did buy the usual eggs (up $2.00 a dozen from a year ago. About the only thing that hasn’t gone up in recent memory is Carmex lip balm, still $2.84 for three). As all of us meat eaters know, anything that at one time walked, crawled or swam has gone through the roof of the chicken coop. A package of thinly sliced pork chops, a package of ground up dead animal and two packages of ground up dead animal stuffed into an intestine (UMMM) were my only selections from that aisle. After visiting the produce section, I headed to the checkout area to find only two registers open (it’s like the old joke “how many tellers does your bank have? Seven, except when it’s busy, then they have one”) Checking out didn’t take as long as anticipated, probably because I didn’t switch lines when the other one seemed to be moving faster, something I usually do and almost always regret, as inevitably the person in front of me finds some way of bringing the proceedings to a halt.

On the way home I stopped for gas and we all know how that’s been going lately.

Stayed tune for further updates on retirement:

Up until the past 20 years, my employment history was pretty spotty, mostly because after working at something for a couple of years, I’d get bored and move on to something else, oft times, nothing for a while as I enjoyed doing nothing for awhile. Which was fine when I was in my 20’s and living with my parents, not so much when they got a divorce and sold the house I’d been living in rent free. First, I moved in with my mother, which didn’t last long, then I moved in with my father and brother, sleeping on the couch of their shabby 2 bedroom apartment, while looking for the next big thing, which turned out to be working the overnight shift in a group home for developmentally challenged adults. This lasted about three weeks and ended after a night of being chased around the house by one of the clients and then chasing another (naked) client around the yard at daybreak, hoping that none of the neighbors had small children who rose early to play in the adjacent yards. When I finally managed to get the middle-aged man back in the house, two things happened. One, the phone rang, two, the smoke detector went off, scaring the clients and allowing the naked man to again escape and frolic once more around the yard. The voice on the other end of the line identified himself as the “executive director” and proceeded to ask me where I’ve been as he has been calling for the past half hour. I briefly explained what I was doing before saying “I gotta go” to which he replied “do not hang up on me” which of course, I did.

The executive director fired me later that morning, which was fine by me.

Last Rites:

While at work Wednesday morning, I received a call from my son saying that his uncle, my brother was at the hospital and was not expected to live through the day, consequently, if I wanted to see him (while still alive) I’d better get there soon. After informing my boss of the situation, I took the rest of Wednesday and Thursday off.

Arriving at the hospital, I was directed to the ER and found my sister, sister-in-law and my brothers best friend hovering over the waif-like figure of brother Nick. I hadn’t seen him for a couple of years, mostly because of Covid or so I told people, but it was really because I had no interest in watching another member of the family die of alcoholism. Thirty years ago our dad finally finished drinking himself to death, ending up brain stem dead at the age of 62, the family decided to unplug him, thus making him all dead, not just brain (stem) dead. Not a particularly pleasant afternoon, the worst part (sort of) of which was the feeling of relief that washed over me when dad breathed his last. No more phone calls asking for money, no more showing up at my place of business, looking like Aqualung Sr. and looking for another handout, which he had to know wasn’t coming, since I hadn’t given him money in years. Relief, although a guilty relief at best.

As Nick was moved to a more (or less) permanent room, I wondered if the same sense of relief would come. Now at a private room on the third floor, the nurse commenced plugging a Morphine drip to one of Nick’s “Ports”, at which time I felt almost guilty noticing the attractiveness of said nurse, something I think Nick would’ve appreciated, if he could still think?

Next was the hospital’s Chaplin, an older woman hooked up to a portable oxygen source, which at first made me wonder if she wasn’t a delusional patient imagining she was the Chaplin, when no one with a net came to claim her, I gave her the benefit of the of the doubt and decided she was legit. She said some words over Nick, then rubbed the skin and bones of his shoulder (she was not the only one, nearly everyone who entered the room seemed to think they had to touch the dying guy on the bed. I did not join in this activity) Then the Chaplin said something to each of the people in the room, then had to touch all of US !! In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m not a touchy feely kind of guy.

I stayed until it felt like a good cry was coming on, then went home and called my oldest friend to tell of Nick’s imminent passing, he said all the right things, made all the right noises, then said good bye because his (recently) X wife was calling. That was fine with me, as I wanted to quietly remember my older brother as a kid, as a young adult, as anything other than the scare crow like figure in the hospital.

The following morning I was about to get in the shower when the phone rang, it was my sister, I braced myself for the news, pushed the proper button on the phone and said “Good morning”. To which she replied “he’s better”. “Who’s better?” “Nick, who did you think?” “What do you mean by he’s better?” One does not get better from the last rites. Do they? (Is this a Twilight Zone episode? Am I still asleep and this has all been a dream?) “He had his eyes open and was being fed pudding by Tim (best friend) when I got here this morning.” Says sis, adding “Tim said that Pete and Bobby came by last night and Nick opened his eyes, said hi to both, then went back to sleep.” (What the hell? He didn’t say hi to me yesterday, he didn’t do much of anything, except lie in bed, what am I, chopped liver?) “Is he still on morphine?” I ask. “Yes, he’s not going to get better, better, just better than yesterday.” “So, he’s still going to die, right?” “Yes.” I almost say “well, that’s good, I don’t want to waste a good cry for nothing” but think better of it, say good bye and I’ll see you (and better Nick) later and went to take a shower.

When I got to Nick’s room, the only difference was that he was lying on his left side instead of his right. I stayed for a good part of the afternoon, exchanged pleasantries with the friends who dropped by to pay their (hopefully?) last respects and of course, touch me on the way out.

I return to work the next day and say “he refuses to die” several times to concerned co-workers, who know me well enough to NOT try and touch me. I consider going back to the hospital, then decide to wait until Saturday morning, maybe he’ll be un-better by then and we can wrap this up.

The death call comes at 6:38 am, my sister even says “this, is the call” and tells me Nick died a few minutes ago with Tim (best friend) at his side. Tim had stayed all night, so Nick wouldn’t die alone. Which I thought was nice of him, then again, what are best friends for?

Alone again, naturally.

The title refers to a song I remember from my youth by Gilbert O Sullivan, something to do with a mother dying with the refrain “alone again, naturally” sprinkled throughout the song. This would’ve been the mid to late 60’s, well on my way to being “alone again, naturally”.

Let me elaborate: When I was about 4, my mother locked me out of the house because I was jealous of my newly arrived baby brother. While this may have been true, all I recall is mom telling me to “go find new friends” and locking the door behind me. She didn’t even let our dog “Holly” out to keep me company/protect me. Then again, Holly thought the new born was her responsibility and never left the kids side. Even when my mother pushed the tot in a stroller, Holly would walk along side with her nose in the carriage. Luckily I was allowed to bring my “army men” with me on my quest to find “new friends” in a neighborhood we’d only moved into a couple of months before.

My banishment was to last until my dad returned home from school (dad was a school teacher) with my older sister and brother, who attended the same school my dad taught at (as would my little brother and I), a school district that we did not live in, but dad was friends with the Superintendent of schools and did pretty much what he wanted.

It was a warm day, which I spent in the newly planted bushes in front of the house, playing with the army men and drinking out of the outside faucet when I got thirsty and eating a sandwich that mom left outside the front door after yelling “lunch” and before she relocked the door.

I don’t recall if I felt relief when dad and the other sibs came home, I do recall being happy to be leaving the bushes and going into the house. Perhaps this was the beginning of my life as a loner, perhaps I would’ve been a loner regardless. I did eventually make friends with some kids my age in the new neighborhood, as well as “school friends” when I began my formal education in kindergarten the next year.

Whatever the reason for being a loner, that is what I am, almost always happier with my own company than I am in a crowd (and now with Corona, I have an excellent reason to avoid large (or small) groups of humans, happiness is…) There are exceptions, having “Dunch” with one or both of my kids, and golfing with my son are two of the very few. I rarely attend family gatherings and while I spent ten years attending a “steak dinner” fund raiser at the local firehouse the first Thursday of the month with old friends, Covid cancelled that nearly two years ago and even though the dinners have begun again, the idea of spending an hour and a half in a room chock full of people, none wearing masks because we’re all eating, is not an attractive evening out. Besides, I was looking for a reason to blow the dinners off even before Covid. No offense guys (almost all the steak diners are men) but being jammed into a large room full of people after working in the food and beverage business for the previous 9 – 10 hours was not nearly as attractive as sitting on my recliner watching TV….alone.

Back to the title: Since my separation in 2006 (and subsequent divorce), I’ve spent all but one Christmas alone, the one I did spend with others was about 5 years ago when I flew to South Carolina to visit my son.

Thinking that there wouldn’t be many people flying on Christmas, especially at 6am, I was shocked to find the airport packed, the flights delayed because of a little snow and being 5 hours late to Myrtle Beach. My son missed me at the airport, I was not carrying a cellphone, couldn’t find a payphone and spent $50.00 for the taxi ride to my hotel, upon arrival at which I was told that A) the pool was closed because of the acidity of the water, B) room service was closed because of the holiday and C) no area restaurants were open for the same reason. I spent Christmas eating crackers and cheese from the vending machine, while watching “The witch, the lion and the wardrobe” (or something like that) on TV, “alone again, naturally”.

Dunch:

While having “Dunch” (the time between lunch and dinner, seems to me I heard this term on “Seinfeld” years ago. which means I’m still not comfortable with dining with an overly abundance of strangers. Truth be told, after 40 + years in the food and beverage biz, I prefer to dine alone as much as possible) with my daughter, she mentioned how she checks my “blog” from time to time and hasn’t seen anything posted lately, hence the following post:

While I have not posted anything in months, I’ve made quite a few notes for possible stories. The one I’m currently looking at says: “Triple-fade-high-top-gumby” a term relayed to me years ago when I asked a coworker about his new hair cut. “It’s a triple-fade-high-top-gumby” and it looked good on him. The next time I had my hair cut by a barber who tended to that task from when Kennedy was President until Bush 2, asked what I wanted today, I answered ….”a triple-high-top-gumby” !! Of course Rudy (the aforementioned barber) didn’t know what I was talking about and I didn’t really want a “triple-fade-high-top-gumby” I just liked the way it sounded out loud, probably why I’ve remembered it this long.

This leads to my main concern in life at the moment…I … don’t …have… a… (gulp)…Barber !!!

As I’ve stated above, after having the same barber for over forty years, what does one do? After Rudy closed up shop I visited him at his home for a year or so, but eventually it became clear that he was no longer up to the task and I’ve been seeking his replacement ever since.

The first possible replacement did a passible job until he attempted to apply shaving cream to my …eyebrows !! The next one was recommended by my (now former) father-in-law, since we were on good terms, I gave the guy a shot. It did not go well.

The barber in question was Italian (as was Rudy) dressed in the traditional garb of a barber from a different era and insisted on giving me the “Gentleman’s Special” instead of the “just a trim” I requested. When he was finished, I knew why I always wondered why my wife’s dads hair always looked the way it did. Something I should have thought of before using his barber.

At this point I wasn’t sure where to turn until I was coerced into going to the tanning salon my wife frequented. When entering the rural shop, I noticed the barber chair off to one side in front of a large mirror and asked the proprietor (a very attractive brunette about my age) if she cut hair, to which she replied “yes”. I tanned and had a haircut, pretty good job and she understood what “just a trim” meant and no attempt to go at my eyebrows with a straight razor.

This arrangement went on for a few months and was unfortunately ended when the tanning salon/barber shop kept getting broken into and no matter what the owner did to discourage the break-ins (alarms that didn’t bring the attention of the police until the thieves were long gone and even tried a guard dog but you guessed it…they stole the dog) Eventually the owner/barber closed the business and moved on to something else in a different part of the state.

Just a foot note to this portion of the story: my x wife was jealous of any female that I worked with, especially if I mentioned the woman’s name more than once a week during our nightly after dinner, in front of the TV chats. We once ran into my boss (a woman) while grocery shopping and because I was nice to my boss (duh) and we exchanged pleasantries, I was having an affair, which I wasn’t and didn’t break my wedding vows for the entirety of our marriage, that is until she asked for a divorce and I moved in with my sister. However, I will be honest and admit that I did think about what it might be like with another woman, but didn’t go farther than that.

The reason I mention this is, it was in the back of my mind that the X had something to do with the break-ins, not that she did them herself but maybe hire someone to do so? Crazy? Perhaps? But when you’ve read and watched true crime books and TV shows, you get an idea what people are capable of and it is scary.

Once again without a barber and wondering where to go next, I heard a radio ad for a new shop in a neighboring town and gave the place a whirl. The shop was in a strip mall where my bank had a branch, so I knew where it was and tried it out, not bad, another barber who understood “just a trim” and both my son and I used “Britney’s Barber Shop” for the next few years.

Britney eventually moved to the next town over, a nice seaside enclave a stones throw from the beach, of course the price went up, but only a buck, so I (my son had graduated High School by then and found his own cutter of hair) continued to frequent the new shop, even after Britney got married and sold the shop to her new assistant Eugenia, thus becoming “Eugenia’s Barber Shop”, the price of the haircut didn’t go up.

The situation changed when I was promoted at work and given a different schedule, 9am – 5:30pm Monday – Friday, which is considered pretty good in the food and beverage world, but I’d always had a day off during the week to get things done such as…hair cuts, Dr’s visits, dentist and so on, now I didn’t. Of course “Eugenia’s” hours were Tuesday – Friday 9 – 5, Saturday 9 – 1. This meant I would have to change my Saturday morning laundry duty to another time if I wished to keep going to the seaside shop. Since I only had my hair cut once a month, this shouldn’t be much of an inconvenience and I continued with Eugenia.

Eventually even once a month of not getting to sleep in on Saturday became a drag. While I still got up at my usual 6am on the weekend, I would putter around for an hour or so and then…get back in bed until at least 9, heaven. Besides, the drive to “Eugenia’s” was 45 minutes one way and of course, Saturday morning was/probably still is prime time haircut time, which meant there was nearly always a wait. This being the case, Eugenia rented out the second chair of her shop to another barber and I seemed to get shulffed off on her more times than not, even when there wasn’t a wait. All in all, it was time to find yet another barber.

The internet provided a gold mine of potential barber shops and hair salons, one of which was ten minutes away, as well as being open until 3 on Saturdays, which meant that I wouldn’t have to alter my Saturday routine, I gave the place a call. First appointment was to be the next Saturday at 2, the voice on the other end tried to talk me into an earlier hour but clean clothes come first.

“Scissors and Scooters” (the barbershop shared a building with a scooter sales and service establishment) was off a main road and easy to find. The “Scissors” part was owned and operated by an older woman (older than my 60) and thought I was in my forties, so we began on a good note. That didn’t last long as “Kathy” proceeded to relate most (if not all) the highlights of her life (which is why I knew she was 70, she mentioned it at least 3 times) while she slooooowly cut my hair, it was the longest hair cut of my life, took nearly 45 minutes and it was “just a trim” which what I received and should’ve taken 15 minutes, tops. Before I could decide whether to find yet another barber, the Pandemic hit and I and everyone else I knew, went haircut-less for the next several months.

I think it June before the Government ban of haircuts was lifted and I made an appointment with Kathy. At the time I was enjoying being on “Reserve” at work (40% pay, benefits plus the $900.00 from unemployment meant I was netting more than I usually grossed, happy times indeed) and didn’t mind (too much) that the price of a haircut went up $10.00 to $25.00. I expected the price to rise but $10.00 was a bit high, consequently, no tip. She explained about all the extra equipment she was obliged to purchase in order to comply with the Covid-haircut-regulations, plexiglass barriers, multiple disposable masks (one mask per customer) etc. This explanation came before the procedure began, making the haircut last nearly an hour, definitely no tip.

I stuck with Kathy for the next year, partly because I didn’t really want to hunt up another barber, basically the sometimes it’s better to stick with the devil you know, sort of situation. And as I said, she was only ten minutes away. During these ten or so visits I learned about Kathy’s Jr. High School trip the Washington D.C. , her time spent in Alaska working as a bartender, then California where she trained to get her barbers certificate and so on and son on. This information did not come gradually over the various hair grooming sessions, she went through the her life story more or less each and every 45 minute visit. Definitely no tip.

The final haircut came in late July of this year, where Kathy told me that she was going on vacation to one of the Dakota’s, I can’t remember which and would be back in the middle of August, since I wouldn’t need another cut until the end of August at the earliest, this was fine with me.

The end of August came and went, I was busy at work and didn’t get around to calling for an appointment until early September. The call went straight to voicemail and a voice other then Kathy’s said “leave a message and I’ll call you back”. Figuring I dialed the wrong number I tried again, same result. I waited a couple of days and made another attempt, receiving the “this number is no longer in service” recording. I was going to drive by “Scissors and Scooters” but decided this was sign that it was time for a new barber, back to the internet with very little success, several of the shops I called had the same “no longer in service” recording and I wondered if this was from being Covid-closed for several months?

By this time it had been two months since my previous haircut and I was getting pretty shaggy, what to do, what to do? That problem was temporarily solved when I went grocery shopping at Walmart and I recalled that they had a barbershop/salon right there and this particular morning, they had no customers, so I gave it a shot. One of the masked attendants directed me to a terminal, where I scrolled through the various options for hair care and selected a basic cut for $18.73 with a five dollar tip. A receipt popped out and I was lead to a chair, seated, aproned and ready for my Walmart haircut. I requested my usual “Just a trim, please” to which my new barber replied “Shorter”? “Is there an alternative”? The young lady barber was not amused by my wittiness and proceeded to give me the shortest haircut since I was 8 and my mom (Rest in piece) bought a haircutting kit that was supposed to save the family “$100.00 a year in barber costs” big money in the mid sixties. Unfortunately mom wasn’t very good at cutting hair and my older brother and I ended up with crewcuts. Dad took us back to Rudy’s and hid the hair cutting kit.

As I said, my hair was the shortest it had been in decades but I did get quite a few compliments at work and it is time for another visit to the barber, I just can’t look at myself in the mirror and see a Walmart haircut looking back, plus they don’t do mustaches, all in all, it’s probably back to the internet, what would we do with out it?

Ashes to Ashes.

Or should I call it “Pieces of my mother” or simply “Mothers Day”? I considered “Memories on Mothers Day” but I didn’t remember last Sunday was mothers day until yesterday. My mom died a few years back, it was in December but I don’t dwell on the date, it doesn’t matter, the only thing that matters is that she is no longer with us and I miss her.

Of course the family got together and shared memories, mostly sickeningly sweet ones about how wonderful she was, glossing over the parts that didn’t make her look so good. Like the time she confessed to me that after our cat “Fluffly” (how original) had a litter of kittens, most of which we couldn’t get rid of, when as if by magic, they were all adopted, seemingly overnight. While the truth was that mom drove them to a wooded area and left them on the side of the road. I’m pretty sure I was the only one she told. Mom also admitted to me when I was in my late teens that when she found out she was pregnant with me, she drank a bottle of castor oil in an attempt to lose the baby (me). I eventually got over it, but geez mom!!

When I’m not dwelling on kittens on the side of the road or mom trying to off me, most memories are pretty good. She was a child of both the depression and WWII, who put it all down on film for my nieces school project, I’ve yet to see it, shame on me.

Mom liked to take in strays, people, not cats, and as far as I know, she didn’t leave any of them on the side of the road. After she divorced my alcoholic dad, there was a new face at every family gathering, usually someone who had no place else to go. And no one left empty handed, not if mom could help it, she always made twice as much food as necessary to feed whoever showed up. Mom was the hostess for all holidays, going so far as to have the family and anyone else who wished to attend at her house for lunch on Sundays, then it changed to Wednesdays because too many of us got jobs that included working Sundays. Then it was Thursdays, then she died. My son was fond of saying “Grandma makes Mother Teresa look like the devil.” and wanted to put it in her obit. I nixed the idea, it may have offended someone and mom would not have liked that…probably.

That said…when mom died, we had her cremated and then it was suggested that we all (kids, grand-kids, etc) keep some of the ashes. Most of us did, I even had a small tin tea box for that purpose, but the more I thought about it the creepier it became. Why would I want a piece of my dead mother in the box on the mantel? Or anyplace else for that matter? I declined the offer and have since wondered what would people do if they decided not to bury or cremate a dead loved one? Should they divvy up the body?

“I always liked her feet, can I get one for old times sake? How about a hand? Knee-cap? fingers, toes? Does anyone want the head”? Maybe 20 years ago, but not since cancer and chemo got to her. An arm? which part, upper or forearm? Heart? Kinda creepy. Liver, spleen, kidneys (when I see or think of the word Kidney, it conjures up “steak and kidney pie” I wonder why?) Definitely not the lungs, she had lung cancer, then again, if it was only one, you could do a comparison display, right lung with cancer, left lung without. There are quite a few choices and even though she was slim and trim, there was still plenty to go around, of course you’d need something bigger than a tin tea box.

The Carrion Inn.

When did the practice of naming winter storms begin? Naming hurricanes seems to have begun a little over 50 years ago, before that they were “the hurricane of ’56” or perhaps “the storm of the century” which I’ve heard the hurricane of ’38 referred to, but snow storms? When I was a kid (which is getting to be a long, long time ago) it was just “there’s a storm coming” and I (along with probably every other kid) started thinking, hoping, maybe even praying that school would be cancelled. We’d listen to the local radio station intently for the closing list, my dad was a school teacher and even though we didn’t live in his school’s district, my brothers, sister and I all attended that school. We’d listen to the radio, watch the snow falling, attempt to eat whatever mom made for breakfast, which was always an adventure, please read earlier blogs for more info on that subject.

Of course as kids we didn’t consider that one snow day = one extra day in June even when my dad would remind us of same, it didn’t matter, a day off from school was a day off from school and I didn’t even have to pretend to be sick, something I considered myself to be pretty good at. By the fifth grade I’d perfected the fake whooping cough. All one needs to do is exhale through ones mouth at an accelerated rate until the hoarse whooping sound comes out, then go find your mom. It’s pretty foolproof, the only drawback is that one can’t use this ruse often or it will end with a Dr.’s visit, there’s no point ditching school if it includes going to the Dr.’s office. It’s not that I didn’t like school, I just liked getting away with something more and the whooping cough scenario was a clear win, kids 1 parents 0 and the crowd roars !!

Fast forward a few decades and I am one the other end of the stick, as my job has designated myself and many others as “essential staff” says so right on my work I.D. , just in case I get pulled over when Big Brother deems driving to be unlawful. This has only happened once, during winter storm “Juno” January 27th, 2015. I know the exact date because I, among many others were encouraged to sleep at work, not because upper management was worried about our driving prowess, more so because they wanted enough people on premise in the morning to run the place. The hourly workers who stayed were enticed to do so by the offer of $10.00 an hour to sleep. Salaried peeps, such as myself received (a couple of weeks after the storm) a lap blanket with the aforementioned name of the storm and the date. Blue blankies for the boys and pink for the girls, I kid you not.

Which brings us to Monday February 1, 2021 and another snow storm, I won’t be getting another blankie for this one because I booked a room at the Carrion Inn (not it’s real name) a five minute ride from work that took me ten because of the storm.

My first impression of the Carrion Inn was “where is it” ? as I sloshed through the wet snow covered roads. It should’ve been across the street from the Red Roof Inn, where I’d stayed for a night a couple of years ago during a similar weather event and will never return for various reasons I’ll discuss at a later date. It should have been across the street but it wasn’t, sort of. That hotel was the American something or other (their sign was partially obscured by snow) so I sloshed a little further, turned around (easier said than done) went back, pulled into the American something hotel and caught a glimpse of another building in back and headed for it. The dark sign read Carrion Inn, I parked my pick-up, grabbed the bag I had packed before leaving for work and sloshed through ankle deep wet snow to the front entrance, which hadn’t been shoveled, slosh, slosh, slosh, finally made it.

Upon opening the glass door, I realized that this was the rear entrance, still should’ve been shoveled though and trudged up the short staircase to the reception desk. It was an odd set up, the customer side of the reception desk was waist high, while the other side seemed to be in a trench, all you could see of the clerk was her head, barely visible as she typed away on her computer, checking me in. After receiving my key card and inquiring whether the restaurant was open, it was, I headed to my room, which was back down the stairs, room 106, looking out to the slush covered parking lot. I closed the curtains, turned up the heat, unpacked my overnight bag, put my “shaving kit” consisting of my toiletries in jammed into a tupper-ware pasta tube in the bathroom and turned on the TV for company.

My stomach started to grumble, I put on my mask and headed up to the restaurant, following the proper covid protocols, which was pretty easy since there was no one else around, except the receptionist’s head behind the plexiglass barrier. I nodded, she ignored or didn’t see me from her borrow. The restaurant was empty, no one at all, I took a seat at the bar and a middle-aged man entered from what I guessed to be the kitchen. He nodded a greeting and I asked for a cocktail, he handed me a menu of basic drinks, gin & tonic, martini, screw driver (I didn’t think anyone drank them any more) I opted for a beer, he handed me another menu, I chose Blue Moon, with a glass. Next was the challenge of the dinner menu. It was apparent that my server didn’t speak English well and was content to let the menu do the talking for him. It was a very limited menu, similar to the one offered in a different hotel I stayed in the previous August during Hurricane … something or other, I can’t recall.

There were six offerings on the printer paper menu, three featuring “Shrimps”. After careful consideration, I chose the chicken sandwich, with fries, because pretty much everything came with fries, even the “Shrimps” dishes. The attendant pulled out a tray of lettuce and tomato, I nodded, he showed me a bottle of mayo, again I nodded and he headed to the kitchen. I sipped my beer while waiting for dinner. It took awhile because the phone rang a couple of times with people looking for room service, I think, it was hard to tell from the limited bits of conversation I received from this end of the line. The man behind the bar did get someone to order a screw driver, mostly by reading the drink menu several times before taking the order, two orders of wings and two screw drivers, no “Shrimps”.

The Blue Moon was nearly gone when my chicken sandwich and fries arrived. I ordered another beer, paid and headed back to my room. I’d left the TV on, not thinking it was going to take as long as it did to bring back dinner, which I placed next to the TV, got out of my work clothes, into sweats and a T-shirt, sat on one of the double beds and opened the box holding dinner. Uninspiring is the least offensive way I can think to describe what I was looking at, a white bread bun that was crumbing at the edges, inside was a chicken “Pattie” with some mayo, 1/2 a piece of lettuce and a small slice of tomato, the fries were warm. I dug in reluctantly while watching a Joan Crawford, Clark Gable movie on TCM that involved escaping from an island prison with the usual collection of sorry looking prisoners, with one exception, Ian Hunter playing a Christ like character. “Strange Cargo” is an interesting film all in all, even has Peter Lorre playing “Monsieur Pig” !! I highly recommend it.

By the time the movie ended I had given up on my “chicken” sandwich, didn’t finish my second beer, poured it down the drain, brushed my teeth, washed my face and went to bed after calling for a 5:30 wake up. As usual, I fell asleep fairly quickly, as usual it didn’t last long, although this time it was because of a tapping sound, as if someone were knocking at a door. Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap, no one answered, tap-tap-tap-tap, no one answered, then it stopped. Maybe someone did answer after all ? Then it started again. Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. Was someone having a blizzard party? Was this the secret knock to be let in? Tap-tap-tap-tap ? Whatever it was, it lasted pretty much the entire night, between the tapping sound and the wind, I didn’t get much sleep and was up way before the wake-up call. After doing a short stretching regime in the limited space of the hotel room, I shaved and showered, got dressed and brought my bag to my pick-up, started the engine to warm her up and headed back to the lobby. As I was walking through the parking lot I heard the tap-tap-tap-tap sound, it was coming from a loose piece of siding flapping against the building every time the wind blew and the wind blew a lot last night. Tap-tap-tap-tap….I’d have to find a different hotel next time, maybe the one in between the Carrion and Red Roof would do, hopefully I won’t have to find out any time soon.

2020, end of the year special report:

As this most “unprecedented” year comes to a close, I have to admit, that, unlike many other people, I’ve had one of the best years in recent memory !! Not to downplay what others have been going through, but who can complain about two months off paid (not only paid, but more than I usually get for working, heck, if I was paid as much for working as I was getting for not working, I wouldn’t mind working, not as much anyway) during the summer. My son returned to the area after two years away at school and another working his first job in another state. His new, close to home job was as an assistant pro at a local private golf course, with a new boss who encouraged him to play golf with me, on their course, for free, whenever I got the chance, which with June and July off, I had plenty of chances.

We played many other courses as well, almost all on days when it was hot and humid, just the way we like it and we walk, no carts. Brought a lot of water, with at least two bottles frozen, there is no drinking water on the course and we only saw one beverage cart all summer, neither are supposed to be allowed in these “unprecedented” times, no ball washers either. Somehow, we managed to adapt. I even managed to play decent golf, the practice facilities at the private course helped, as did a 10 second putting tip from my son. I was living a dream, hopefully this is what retirement was going to be like and hopefully I could get there sooner than my financial consultant suggested during our most recent meeting.

Reconnecting with my son and golf were not the only benefits of these “unprecedented” times. I don’t particularly like to be touched (barring obvious exceptions) especially by members of my sex, what is up with that? I’ll hug my best friend at his or my wedding, after that a hand shake will do and now even that is no longer allowed. Social distancing, where have you been all my life??

The “stay home, stay safe” mandate is no hardship what-so-ever, especially now that I’m in my 60’s, had it been 40 years ago when my friends and I were hanging out in one bar or another on a regular basis, stay home, stay safe wouldn’t have been an option. On the other hand, I do miss the monthly steak dinners at the local fire house, not because of the atmosphere (100 guys in a room that becomes so loud that you have to practically scream at the person next to you to be heard) I do miss seeing the group of guys that occupy the section of table with me. I’ve known all of them since High School, some longer and it has become the only time and place that we see each other on any kind of regular basis, which is mostly on me, as I no longer seek out the company of my fellow humans for various reasons, mostly having to do with working in the food and beverage business for most of the past forty years. Not that I don’t like people, it’s that after 8 or 9 or 10 hours of having dozens, scores, sometimes hundreds of people up your ass about one thing or another, I’m done with humans, until the next shift. My apartment has become what my daughter likes to call a “people free zone” 99.5 percent of the time. Consequently, “stay home, stay safe” is pretty much heaven.

Another advantage of these times is the wearing of masks. Back in March, mask wearing was mandated at work, having a large collection of bandanas, I opted for this method, not only because of the aforementioned collection but as a wearer of eye glasses, the bandana didn’t fog them over, besides, it provided many jokes regarding the robbing of stage coaches and such. Unfortunately, when I returned to work in August, these were no longer allowed, fortunately, the masks provided by the company didn’t fog my glasses either. And just between you and me…most people look better in a face mask. Another win-win situation, it was a very good year !!

One pester + one bother = an annoy ?

Interior. night.

Announcers booth: three suited men sit together.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, this is Bart Tadshaw

I’m Buck Jones

and I’m Ronny Tomo with Thursday night football.

Bart: Sorry Ronny, this is Sunday night football.

Buck: Wrong again, it’s Monday night Football fella’s. Didn’t you listen to the annoying song?

Ronny: Will somebody please tell me what day it is ??

Buck: It’s Monday night and we’re the new broadcast team, so sit back, relax and enjoy tonight’s game between the St. Louis Rams..

Bart: Aren’t they the L.A. Rams this year?

Ronny: I thought the Chargers were in L.A. now?

Buck: They’re both in L.A. And tonight they’ll be playing the Oakland Raiders.

Bart: Didn’t they move to Vegas?

Ronny: Didn’t who move to Vegas?

Bart: The Raiders?

Buck: That’s not until next year.

Bart: Isn’t it next year yet?

Buck: We’ll be right back after this.

Fast forward to the first set of downs:

Int. Night.

Announcers booth.

Buck: The Quarterback takes the snap, fakes the hand off, drops back to pass and is clearly pestered by the charging linebacker as the pass sails by the receiver.

Ronny: That wasn’t a pester, it was more of a bother. The lineman’s swipe at the ball was a pester.

Bart: But the linebacker had a pester and a bother, which by rule is definitely an annoy.

Buck: What rule book are you referring to?

Bart produces a red book, opens it.

Bart: On page 14 of “Useless stats designed to give sports announcers more to talk about” “One pester and one bother equals an annoy. It’s right after baseball’s “exit velocity to barrel impact angle equals jibberish”

Ronny: Let me see that.

Bart hands the book to Ronny.

Buck: Shouldn’t we pay attention to the game?

Bart: It’s just another replay and a close-up of the coach picking his nose.

Ronny: (reading the red book) Here’s one from golf. “Strokes gained from not screaming “hit the fucking ball” whenever playing with Jason “All” Day.

Buck: Guys, the Chargers just scored a touchdown.

Ronny & Bart: Don’t worry about it, they’ll be at least 5 replays, and a pester.

Buck: That was clearly an annoy.

Ronny: Pester.

Bart: Bother.

Buck: Annoy.

THE END.

Ever had one of those days?

Everyone has had “one of those days” I am no different. My “one of those days” was a Tuesday, my day off, it was Fall and I was on my way to cut some fire wood for “Gwendolyn” the name I had given our fireplace. Actually, it was my (now X) wife who first used that name to describe our fireplace, she did so because she felt I was spending too much time building and tending to the fire in the fireplace. She was that kind of woman, jealous of everybody and apparently, everything. She was even jealous that I played golf once a week (during the warmer months) with her DAD. She eventually referred to him as “your golfing buddy” instead of dad. Speaking of her dad, it was on his property that I usually went to cut firewood, which is where I was headed this cool Tuesday morning.

The property itself was not where her dad lived, it was 35 acres of forest land about five miles from our house. There was a house adjacent to the property and for whatever reason, “my golfing buddy” had right-of-way through their driveway, to the forest land beyond, which seemed kind of odd. I’d let the occupants of the house whose driveway I was about to invade know that my battered Chevy S-10 pick-up was headed their way. It was not the last time I would be communicating with Kovacks, who were renting the house from whoever owned it. While I know who owns the house, I’m not allowed to mention them because of the sort of out of court, sort of settlement, sort of.

I arrived at the property and made my way up the gravel drive to the two rut “road” beyond. It was colder than usual the night before and there was still some frost on the ground, which made the two rut road just slippery enough to be more than annoying. The 4 cylinder, 4 speed, one wheel drive truck made it’s way to a clearing where I parked, got out and retrieved my chain saw from the bed. There were plenty of standing dead trees for me to play Paul Bunyan with so I began the process, which to me seems quite a bit like doing laundry.

Laundry vs Firewood gathering:

Laundry: Determine which clothes are suitable for washing. This means, did I wear this more than once? Does it reek? Can I get away with wearing it one more time? Firewood: is it seasoned enough to cut up and bring home? Has it been on the ground too long? Is it already rotting? Once it is determined what pieces of laundry or pieces of wood are to be washed or cut up, we move to step two, placing the dirty laundry in the baskets, light colours in one basket, dark colours in another. With wood, it’s a bit less complicated but much heavier. Cut the tree up in manageable pieces, haul to the pick-up and place in the bed. Laundry, take the baskets to the A) laundry room B) launder-mat or C) your mothers house. Load laundry into washing machine (two or more if you are at the launder-mat) pour in detergent, choose the setting you want, start the machine. When the clothes are clean, place into the dryer, set the time and start. When all is washed and dried, return to the place you began and put away the laundry. Firewood, drive back home with the manageable pieces of wood, unload, place wood on saw-horsey thing and cut into fireplace size logs, spit logs with a maul, stack logs. I’ve done my share of laundry as well as cut firewood and on a normal day, this is how it works, unfortunately, this wasn’t a “normal” day, it was “one of those days” and cutting the wood and placing it into the truck should’ve been the beginning of my journey home, this was not to be the case and I would not be getting home for quite some time.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that I parked on frozen ground, that was no longer frozen when I loaded the wood and, you guessed it…the truck’s tires sunk into the muddy surface. Of course I should’ve taken the wood out of the truck and driven out of the mud, but I figured (wrongly) that I could just drive out of the mud, which (of course) didn’t happen. No matter how many times I shifted back and forth from first to reverse, no forward progress, only downward, deeper into the mud. Now it was time to take the wood out of the truck, too late, too deep, too stupid, so stupid that I actually attempted to push the truck out while in first gear, hoping that if this did work, I could get to the cab quick enough to stop the truck from crashing into the trees twenty feet in front of me. Since the truck didn’t budge, no matter how much I attempted to give my self a hernia, no matter how much I became covered in mud (a lot) no matter how many pieces of non firewood and rocks I jammed in the ever increasing hole the tires were making, the truck would not budge. Not only that but the next time I got behind the wheel and gave it one last college try…you guessed it (or did you?) I blew the clutch. Not only did I blow the clutch, I blew the clutch that was just installed a month ago when the original clutch blew!!

To sum up: I…A) was covered in mud. B) had a stuck truck in the middle of the woods, with no clutch. C) had to find a tow truck driver who would be brave (stupid) enough to attempt getting my stuck truck to the dealership where I could pay for clutch number three. Surprisingly I accomplished C and that’s where the fun really began, sort of.

First order of post-blown-clutch business was to secure my chainsaw, gas tank and other items in the cab of the truck. Next was to find a phone, this being the mid ’90’s, cellphones were nearly nonexistent and bigger than the walkie-talkies we had as kids, it seemed prudent to ask the occupants of the house with the driveway that I used to begin today’s adventure for the use of theirs. I also pocketed a few quarters from the pick-ups stash in the ashtray, just in case they weren’t home. They weren’t. Luckily, “my golfing buddy’s” forest land was not that far off the beaten path, only a mile or so to a main road, where there was a small motel and other business’s and hopefully a pay phone.

Hitch-hiking seemed out of the question for a couple of reasons, one, this was not a well traveled road and two, I was still covered in mud, although it was becoming dried mud, I wouldn’t pick up me, so why would anyone else? Consequently, after knocking on the door of the empty house, with no cars in the drive, I schlepped down the drive to the narrow country road, where I turned right with the hope that this would all be done before dark. It wasn’t.

There was a pay phone, where I first called the Dealership where I’ve purchased most of my vehicles for the past ten years, mostly because a good friend of mine ran the service department. He answered on the first ring, I gave him a quick summation of my day so far, hoping he wouldn’t laugh too much, surprisingly, he didn’t. My good buddy said he’d send a tow truck and I gave him my location, said “thank you” several times hung up and called my partner-in-this-thing-called-life wife, hoping she wouldn’t laugh too much, she did. Much too much. I hung up after saying I didn’t know when I’d be home and the obligatory “I love you”. She nearly responded in kind without more laughter, nearly.

I trudged to the nearby convenience store, bought a soda and a Slim Jim and waited on a bench outside for the tow truck. During the twenty minutes it took for the tow truck to arrive, I garnered several concerned looks from the patrons of the store, along with a couple people leaving the sidewalk where my bench was located, stepping into the parking lot then back to the sidewalk, successfully avoiding any closeness to mud-man. I hadn’t had the opportunity to look in a mirror since my logging mishap and wondered how bad I actually looked? I contemplated getting a room at the small motel and taking a shower, but dismissed that idea, mostly because I had no clean clothes to change into and the tow truck was pulling into the parking lot of said motel.

The look on the drivers face as I approached his truck was much the same reaction that I (mud-man) was getting from the other recent onlookers. The driver was about my age (mid thirties at the time) had dark hair and a beard, and began looking around his cab for something to protect the upholstery from yours truly, AKA mud-man. We introduced ourselves, his name was Tom and he didn’t seem interested in shaking hands, which was fine with mud-man. I got in the truck, gave Tom directions and we drove the mile or so to the house whose driveway we would be using. When we arrived at the destination and I directed him to proceed up the driveway, through the back yard and into the woods he gave me a look that clearly said “you’re kidding?”. Then to leave no doubt, he vocalized my reading of his face and said “you’re kidding?” I put on my best “have sympathy for mud-man face and replied “it’s not that bad, really.” As it turned out, “not that bad” would’ve been a major improvement.

Mud-man and his sidekick Tow-Truck-Tom made it up the drive, through the back yard, into the woods and found my truck easily enough. Tom hooked it up to the tow truck and off we went, then for some unknown reason, Tom thought it would be a good idea to bypass the driveway and head down the other side of the house with the idea of going through the front yard. When I attempted to dissuade T.T.T. from this option, he responded with “No sweat” and headed into the abyss, almost literally.

The abyss of which Mud-man speaks was the edge of a somewhat sloping lawn bordering a field with a smattering of saplings. Unfortunately, the sloping part of the lawn didn’t take kindly to T.T.T.’s plan and the tow truck along with my attached my pick-up slid sideways onto the edge of the field and more mud. Stuck again. Attempt after attempt of T.T.T. didn’t budge his truck, even after detaching my pick-up all the progress was down further into the mud. It was Deja Vu all over again.

T.T.T.’s next plan was to take the tow cable, wrap it around a nearby tree and the winch would pull the truck free. It sounded reasonable to me, then again, almost anything would’ve as Mud-man began to get cold. The tree looked stout enough, the cable attached, the winch began to pull, the tow truck started to budge and, and….the tree was pulled out by the roots and loudly toppled to the ground. By this time the occupants of the house had returned and were watching through their windows. I was surprised they didn’t invite friends and neighbors, serve drinks, maybe sell popcorn.

Undeterred by this minor set-back, T.T.T. disconnected the cable from the fallen tree, got more slack, walked to a much bigger tree, wrapped the cable around the tree about five feet from the ground, trudged back to his truck and started the winch. The winch pulled, the cable tightened, the tow truck began to budge and, and…the tree snapped in half, the upper part,of which, with many branches, crashed very loudly to the ground. The people in the house didn’t know if they were witnessing a sit-com episode or Candid Camera. Neither did I. Luckily, the end was nearer than I had any right to expect.

T.T.T. radioed to headquarters for a bigger tow truck, which arrived about half an hour later. It was the biggest tow truck I had ever seen up close, it was the kind that towed tractor trailers, maybe even pulled rockets to the launch pad, it was that big !! After a good laugh at our expense, the new driver and his Monster truck easily pulled both of the stuck trucks out of the mud. T.T.T. and his truck towed me to the dealership, where, even though it was after 9pm by the time we arrived, my good buddy was waiting for me with a loaner car. I’d never loved anyone more, that is until I got home and my partner-in-this-thing-called-life-wife handed me a gin and tonic and I knew I was truly in love 🙂

The End…of this story anyway. Stay tuned.

Theres a horse in my back yard !!

During the Winter of 2020 my parents and I lived in New York City, which is how I ended up living with my grandfather, who I was never to address as grandfather, grandpa, granddad or grand-anything. He was to be addressed by his Christian name of George, which, I was told, would be the first of many rules in his apartment. I wasn’t told why I would no longer be living with my parents, as if at eleven I wasn’t aware of what was going on in the world and specifically NYC. Both of my parents worked in the medical field, my dad was an EMT and mom a nurse. Which is how they met and which is why they couldn’t leave the city. It was strongly indicated by all the “adults” involved (aunts, uncles, great aunts, great uncles etc) that it would be best that I lived with “don’t-call-me- grand-anything” until this all blew over, whenever that may be. “Don’t-call-me grand-anything lived in the country (sort of) So, I moved into the his 2 bedroom (sort of), bath and 3/4 (sort of) apartment and discovered that there was a horse in the back yard (sort of).

“Don’t call me grand-anything’s” apartment was in a semi-rural part of Connecticut. Semi-rural because we were 2 miles from the center of “Northwick” the largest town in the area, as well as being 5 and 10 miles, respectively, from the two (nearest) Native American Casino’s. There was also a large wooded area behind the 80 year old apartment building and a small dairy farm about a mile away on the other side of the main road, which was fifty feet from the front door, that “don’t-call-me-grand-anything” rarely used, opting for the kitchen door, that led to a small landing and a set of stairs to the sidewalk below our second floor dwelling. I was sitting on the top step of those stairs in late March when a movement caught my eye. As I looked through the trees to my left, I thought I saw a horse, a light brown and tan horse behind the neighbors house. Why would there be a horse in the woods behind the neighbors house?

When I think of horses, large barns, open fields and of course, cowboys come to mind. Densely wooded areas behind an old residential house do not conjure up the image of a noble steed training for the Kentucky Derby, or a cowboy putting his new horse through it’s paces to round up strays or any other horse-like experience for that matter. These same neighbors also raised chickens and their coop (which looked as if it had been fashioned by someone who found some mismatched pieces of plywood, some nails, decided to build something with them, ended up with a dwelling that only suited chickens, so they bought some chickens to go with it) was only a few feet from the evergreen trees that separated the properties.

The day after spotting the horse, I asked “Don’t-call-me-grand-anything” about it. “One week there was no horse, the next week there was.” My all-to-quick reply was “Big Duh” !! I winced once the words left my mouth, waiting for some sort of chastising, which didn’t come, instead “Don’t-call-me-grand-anything” gave me a strange look and said “I guess that wasn’t much of an answer.” I was about to say “Big Duh” again but thought better of it.

I interrupt this compelling and completely fictional story for a related and true horse/kid story:

When I was eleven, it was brought to the attention of our family that a friend of my parents were selling one of their young horses. They lived on a small farm, had horses, cows, chickens, pigs, dogs, cats, you name it. My family of six had a nice four bedroom, 2 bath Cape Cod house with a pool on about a quarter acre, no room for a horse and even at eleven, I was pretty sure that the local zoning rules wouldn’t allow one anyway.

My sister and I were the horse fanciers in the family and of course we began arguing about the name immediately. She wanted to call him “Poetry in motion” while I favored “Efrem Zimbalist Horse” after the actor whose claim to fame was starring in a 60′ – 70’s TV show titled “The F.B.I.”. I was not a fan of either the show or the actor, at eleven I just thought the name sounded cool. Needles to say, we never acquired that or any other horse, although under the “assumption” that we would be getting one, I allowed my parents to put the house up for sale. One may wonder why an eleven year old’s parents need me to “allow” them to sell our house, well, a couple of years earlier, my dad was hell bent to sell our house. I, on the other hand liked where we were living, so my best friend Benny and I put a curse on the house. We made up a chant, had a candle, walked around the house three times, chanting our chant and it (or something) worked. The house didn’t sell and my parents took it off the market. Now, with the dangling horse/carrot waving in front of me, I acquiesced and took the curse off. The house sold and we moved into an apartment. That was nearly 50 years ago and I still haven’t forgiven my (thankfully) late father.

I’ll be getting back to the fiction but compelling eleven year old boy/horse story when I think up more fictional material. Until that time….

No new “horse in the back yard” material, I’ve been working on my daughters Xmas present request, which was for me to give her EVERYTHING I’ve ever written. She asked this of me back in the summer, I had to mull this over for a while, I’m great at mulling, I once mulled over a poem for five or six years, not every minute of every day but the poem rarely left me, or should I say the inspiration for the potential poem was rarely far away.

It was while I was mulling this request (which I obviously haven’t and probably won’t ever complete) it dawned on me that I could definitely gather most of the poems I’ve written over the years. I had begun this project more than once in the past fifteen years or so and I was pretty certain that I could find this treasure trove of potential Pulitzer Prize winning poetry, after I mulled it over for awhile.

The project is nearly complete, I’ve amassed nearly 70 works of art (?) and am further mulling whether to bring this collection to a printer or go the less expensive route and put it together in some sort of scrap book/three ring binder presentation. I have until the 20th of February (her birthday) to deliver. While I’m mulling, here is a sample, it’s called Dakota Dreams and is the aforementioned five years of mulling poem. Hope you like it, if not, it’s your loss 🙂

Dakota Dreams

Whenever I’m in New York City

I take long walks

looking for the Dakota

The building in which John Lennon

spent the final years of his eventful

life in uneventful peace.

The building outside of which

he was murdered.

I have dreamt of finding the Dakota

in these dreams I would cry

or hears John’s voice saying

“all you need is love” or

“give peace a chance” or Yoko

would see me crying and say

“you loved him too”

and invite me in for tea.

When I finally did happen across

the Dakota, I stopped and waited

but nothing happened. Only the cool

breeze across my face and the

realization that the Dakota is just

a building, John Lennon was just a man

and I was just another poet in

New York City.

Sorry about the double spacing, couldn’t figure out how to change to single, every time I hit “enter” the program wants to begin another paragraph, not very user friendly, or it could just be me?

Back to “There’s a horse in my backyard”.

During our “stay home, stay safe” time together, don’t-call-me-grand-anything and I got along ok, he checked that I was keeping up with my on-line classes, went to the local rec area to walk the track every other day and prepared some basic but decent food for us to eat, usually something that we could eat for two or three days, with a salad or some fruit added to make it appear as if we weren’t eating leftovers, which didn’t bother me, as long as it tasted good. With once a week take-out or delivery, just to break up the monotony, of which we had plenty. Then there was the horse, which became more difficult to spot as the leaves on the trees began to blossom, consequently I had to get closer to the border of the two properties to make sure he/she was still there. I fantasized that we were both sent to Connecticut to get away from “the end of the world” if you believed the talking heads on TV, which don’t-call-me-grand-anything did not. “don’t believe anything you read and only half of what you see.” was one of his mottoes. I’d never seen him watch any news, not once, so I wasn’t sure which “talking heads” he was referring to?

Don’t-call-me-grand-anything didn’t seem to be bothered by the “stay home, stay safe” mandate at all, explaining “I’ve always been somewhat of a loaner, and after 40 plus years in the food and beverage biz, I have very little craving for the company of my fellow humans.” While I was fairly certain that I was not grouped in with these “fellow humans” I sometimes wondered. Then something happened.

Don’t-call-me-grand-anything’s daily routine went like this: get up between 7 and 8 (“I spent the final 15 years in the food and beverage biz getting up before dawn, never again.”) put fresh water in the tea kettle, place it on the stove, turn on the gas, wait for the water to boil and make tea. Black tea only, brand names didn’t matter he once explained to me. “As long as it’s Black tea, no orange pekoe, no herbal, just Black tea, period.” He’d make his tea, toast wheat bread for two, add some fresh fruit and a bowl of cereal for me. After breakfast don’t-call-me-grand-anything would take his second cup of tea into the guest bedroom/office where I slept and did my computer school work. He would turn on the computer, check his email, reply to any that needed replying to, then turn the computer over to me for my classes. One day in early May this routine changed, don’t-call-me-grand-anything spent more time than usual typing that morning, then gave me an extra break from my school work to check his email. The next day it was two extra breaks and on the weekend he must have checked his messages and wrote replies five or six times a day. When I asked him about this new activity, he simply said, “I have a new pen-pal” and left it at that. I wondered.

The weekend of constant emails was followed by a week of later than usual phone calls, which was unusual for don’t-call-me-grand-anything, actually other than the calls from my parents and other relatives checking on me, the land-line rarely rang at all, with the exception of four or five unwanted calls from unrecognized numbers that went to voice mail, where messages were never left. While don’t-call-me-grand-anything had a cellphone, he rarely used it and only had one because his daughter, my aunt, gave him one on her plan after not being able to find him while he was travelling a couple years before. He did take it with us when we had to go anywhere and of course I had mine, which I seemed to be using less as time passed. I still texted my friends from school occasionally but it was the same-old, same-old and eventually dissolved into helping with homework assignments and not much else.

Don’t-call-me-grand-anything didn’t text “I’ve sent one text, it was to your aunt, it read “call me” and she did. I quit while I was ahead”. I never heard his cellphone ring, I don’t think the ringer was ever turned on, the only time I saw him “use” it was when he plugged it into the charger about once a week. “I’ve lived most of my life without one, why should I change? Just because everyone else uses one is not a good enough reason, at least not good enough for me.” Was his reply when I asked him about the cellphone. He was the first person I remember who didn’t use one constantly or at least regularly and one of the last.

One thing don’t-call-me-grand-anything did have was a large collection of books, mostly fiction with a few biographies thrown in. He encouraged me to read and while I wasn’t a big reader at the time, I did enjoy the Louis L’Amour westerns and war stories, as well as James Herriot’s country vet stories. When I finished a book, we’d discuss it over dinner casually, not as if it was an assignment and I had to give a report, just two people chatting about something they both read. After dinner, we’d clean up, watch some TV and off I’d go to bed. That’s when the land-line would ring…and I’d listen at the door.

I couldn’t hear much, just murmurs, mumbles and half whispers as if don’t-call-me-grand-anything didn’t want me to hear what was being said, of course this made me want to hear what was being said more than ever. I could tell there was a different tone to don’t-call-me-grand-anything’s voice, more upbeat, with a tinge of happiness mixed in. I’d heard the same tone when dad talked to mom on the phone, so I figured that there was a girl on the other end of the conversation. Or, in don’t-call-me-grand-anything’s case a woman, probably his age, which I wasn’t too sure of but figured he was at least in his 60’s. Do men in their 60’s still have girlfriends? I’d been told by my parents and others several times that I was too young for a girlfriend. Even though I’d seen enough on TV to know what the deal was, I figured 11 probably was too young to be interested in girls, 13 seemed to be a good jumping off point and I decided to wait till then. On the other hand I needed to figure out how to hear don’t-call-me-grand-anything’s conversations with whoever he was chatting with.

One night while watching TV with don’t-call-me-grand-anything, a character in the mystery show we were watching couldn’t hear a conversation through a wall, went to her kitchen, got a drinking glass from a cabinet, placed the open end against the wall, placed an ear against the closed end of the glass and smiled. I assumed this meant she could hear what was being said, which proved true when later on the lady relayed what she’d heard to the cops. I decided to try this out that evening when the mystery woman called.

After brushing my teeth and washing my face I went to the spare bedroom/office, unrolled by 6″ piece of foam bedding (which was very comfortable) put on the sheets, placed the blanket and pillows on the bed and pretended to go to sleep. The phone rang about 10 minutes later, I got out of bed, took the glass from it’s hiding place and pressed it against the door and listened. I probably had the same kind of smile that the old lady in the movie had as this little innovation worked like a charm. I could hear don’t-call-me-grand-anything as if he were right next to me and not behind a closed door. Of course I could only hear his side of the conversation but it was better than nothing and I could make up what was being said on the other side. Unfortunately since don’t-call-me-grand-anything’s part of the conversation was somewhat limited I had a lot to imagine.

don’t-call-me-grand-anything: “I’ve never been in a T.V studio but I did take a couple of broadcasting classes in college.”

While this could’ve been preceded by: “I’m now a famous actress and would like you to come to the studio and watch me perform”. Seemed unlikely but a kid can dream can’t he? There was a long silence followed by:

“Producer” ? This could’ve been preceded by “I’m now a Hollywood producer and want you to star in our latest feature film.” Again, this seemed unlikely, highly unlikely. Another somewhat long silence, then a longish “Uh-ha” in what I considered a skeptical tone. Cynical may have been a better choice and as a New Yorker, it was a word I’ve become familiar with.

don’t-call-me-grand-anything was quiet for a time with the occasional chuckle, another “Uh-ah” and some noises that could have been giggling, although I didn’t think adults giggled and it definitely sounded weird coming from the adjacent room. I listened for a few more minutes before putting the glass aside and going back to bed. Hopefully tomorrow don’t-call-me-grand-anything’s part of the conversation would be more revealing than an occasional “Uh-ah”. The lady on the other end of the line must’ve talked a lot, lonely? Maybe tomorrow night would be don’t-call-me-grand-anything’s turn to tell his story, whatever that may be?

Wednesday was clean the bathrooms day and as I’ve mentioned, don’t-call-me-grand-anything’s apartment had 1 and 3/4 quarters bathrooms. The 3/4 bath was no bigger than a NYC closet and this 3/4 bath had once been a closet in the spare bedroom/office and it was small, could’ve come from a boat or an RV but it did have a toilet, sink and shower and it was MINE, all MINE. I’d never had my own bathroom before, unless you’re rich, growing up in a NYC apartment usually meant one bathroom, one and a 1/2 if you were lucky. We weren’t.

Cleaning the bathroom wasn’t a big deal, I’d had chores when living at home and it’s not as if don’t-call-me-grand-anything dressed me in rags and started calling me “cinderfella”. Of course he made sure I wasn’t mixing chemicals and coming up with mustard gas, which turned out to be pretty simple since don’t-call-and-anything only cleaned with bleach diluted in hot water or all purpose cleaner with bleach. There was a bottle of Ammonia for “killing the ants when they show up in May”, which they didn’t this year, “maybe they skip a few years, like locusts” was all don’t-call-me-grand-anything had to say on the matter, other than to remind me that bleach and Ammonia were never to be stored together, not even the same room.

It didn’t take long to clean my small bathroom and I usually asked don’t-call-me-grand-anything if he needed help cleaning his bathroom, he usually declined the offer, but not today. Today he seemed to be moving a little slower, with the occasional “ouch” and grimace thrown in. When I asked him what was up he answered “as my grandmother was all too fond of saying “don’t get old, you won’t like it”. I thought about this for a moment then replied “does that mean it’s better to die young?” “That’s exactly what I used to say to her. Then again, I know what she meant all the same.” As he got off his knees after cleaning behind the toilet. “I should hire a cleaning company but I don’t want someone I don’t know going through my place. Uncle Neddy has probably deemed such activity as unessential until phase three.” Uncle Neddy” is what don’t-call-me-grand-anything called the governor. He came up with the title while we were watching “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” in which one of the characters wrote children’s stories under that name. Pretty good movie, when don’t-call-me-grand-anything wasn’t describing what was going to happen next, something I made him promise not to do, he agreed.

One Wednesday afternoon don’t-call-me-grand-anything decided we should clean up the storage room, separate the the items into what stays and what goes to the dump. While doing this I came across a small cardboard box with a faded label that read “Acme optic company”. I opened it and nearly screamed, there was an eyeball inside, a blue eyeball. When don’t-call-me-grand-anything saw the look on my face, he laughed. “Don’t worry, I’m not a serial killer who keeps the eyes of his victims as souvenirs.” “Is it a spare? do you have a glass eye?” I asked. Don’t-call-me-grand-anything shook his head and said “I’ll tell you the story if you promise not to tell your parents.” I promised.

“A friend of mine and I got a job cleaning out the basement of a building that was once the offices of an eye doctor. While doing so I came across a large box filled with many small boxes inside. In the small boxes were glass eyes, we kept the glass eyes and brought the rest of the junk to the dump. Later that night, my buddy and I went to our local hangout for a few beers, at closing time we decided to drive around town and placed various boxes in random peoples mailboxes, laughing all the way.” He said with a big smile on his face. “Then what happened?” I asked with an even bigger smile on my face. Don’t-call-me-grand-anything let out a little giggle “While I can’t say for sure, there was an article in the paper a couple of days later about people calling the police complaining of finding eyeballs in there mail boxes.” “Did they ever catch you?” “No, but my buddy and I did say ‘Keep your eye on the ball’ , the eyes have it, ‘eye-eye’ among other ‘eye’ expressions quite often for the next few weeks.”

We also came across an equipment/bat bag containing three baseball gloves, two bats, one metal, one wooden, some softballs and an old score book. “Were you a baseball player?” I asked while sliding the over-sized glove on my left hand. “I played little league when I was a kid and softball in my 20’s and 30’s.” “Were you any good?” Don’t-call-me-grand-anything was silent for a minute, seemingly looking through me to a place that probably no longer existed. I waited. Finally don’t-call-me-grand-anything refocused and said “I was pretty good but was lucky to have played with quite a few guys who were really good, a couple of which were some of the best players in the area.” “Did you win like every game you played?” I blurted out. “I don’t think any ball player ever won every game he played in in any sport, not even Bill Russell. But we won more than we lost, although probably like nearly everyone who ever played any sport, I thought we should have won more.” I had noticed a small trophy on a book shelf in the entry hall area of the apartment and asked him about it. “That was from the first championship team I played on. All the wives and girlfriends chipped in to buy them for the players.” He stopped and stared off again, probably revisiting that time and place or perhaps he was having one of those “senior moments” I’ve heard people whispering about behind the backs of the people supposedly having one.

In an attempt to break the silence I asked “What position did you play?” This seemed to do the trick and Don’t-call-me-grand-anything snapped to attention and began his reminiscences. “Started out as an outfielder, ended as a pitcher and played every other position at one time or another in between.” “Were you a good pitcher? Did you strike out a lot of batters?” He chuckled. “Slow pitch softball pitchers don’t strike out many batters on a regular basis, unless he’s playing against some pretty awful players. Luckily, I had some of the best defensive players behind me, we didn’t give up many runs, not when all the parts were working properly, which they usually were.” “Do you still see any of the guys you played with?” Don’t-call-me-grand-anything looked at me “From time to time, although with the current ‘stay home, stay safe’ situation it’s become less and less, although I have to admit that it has been leaning that way for many years now.” Don’t-call-me-grand-anything said this in a matter of fact way, as if it didn’t matter any more whether he saw his old friends or anyone else for that matter, which reminded me of a conversation that I overheard my parents having about don-call-me-grand-anything and how most of the family consider him a recluse and an eccentric, how it would be good for him if I came to stay.

When I told don’t-call-me-grand-anything about this conversation, he chuckled joylessly then said “A recluse? Maybe, but one needs to be rich if one is to be considered “eccentric”. In my younger days I was considered weird, which I guess is eccentric without the money.” We finished organizing the storeroom with little more to say, other than “keeping or saving” on my part and a brief “yes or no” on his. In another attempt to break the silence, I asked about his late night phone calls, to which he replied “these walls are thinner than I thought.” “Not really, I had to put a glass against the door to be able to hear and even that wasn’t mush help.” I thought I was being funny but while the look on Don’t-call-me-grand-anything’s face was funny, it wasn’t that kind of funny, until it was and he let out a laugh and kept on laughing, so I joined in, both laughing until tears came. Don’t-call-me-grand-anything certainly was different than any adult I’d ever met, I guess you could say weird and I dreamily wondered if there was any way I could get him enough money to be eccentric.

The Summer was rapidly coming to an end and it was deemed “safe” to return to New York. My parents called to say they missed me as much as I missed them, if they only knew how much better it was to have a horse in your back yard, rather than a brick wall.

My parents decided to take a mini-vacation and come pick me up, they got a room at a nearby hotel that had an indoor pool and I was to stay with them there for two nights before returning to NYC. Don’t-call-me-grand-anything had dinner with us at the hotel on my final night in Connecticut and he insisted on paying over the protests of my parents. Before he left, he shook my hand and said “Keep in touch” I replied “you too…George” we both laughed the same kind of laugh we shared after I told him of my ease dropping. People stopped and stared, then George left, still laughing through his face mask.

Since returning to the Big Apple, I’ve sent George an email almost every night before I go to be and he replies, most of the time.