Tired of being mad at Nick:

Perhaps it is the holiday season, perhaps enough time has passed to stop being mad at him, for whatever reason, I’ve begun to recall typical “Nick” moments. First, some background: Nick was my older brother, as such and the first born male child, my dad taught him how to do statistics for baseball, basketball, football, figuring batting averages, shooting percentages, that sort of thing. My younger brother and I were the after thoughts, the “oh yeah, I guess I should teach the other kids something as well.” Not that I was interested in either Math or Science (the subjects my dad taught at Greeneville Elementary School for 27 years) especially Math, once one can add and subtract, what else does one really need to know?

So, Nick learned math at an early age, he got to the point where he could add up the purchases at the grocery store before the machine, with tax. It impressed the hell out of the cashier and everyone else within earshot whenever we went to the store, it impressed the hell out of me as well, even if I had a pocket calculator (which didn’t exist at the time) it would’ve been impressive if I could add five items in the same time that Nick did an entire weeks worth of food, hopefully without stewed tomatoes.

A couple of years later, while several of us kids were playing Clue, Nick figured out how to win in three moves. At first, we thought he just got lucky, when he did it 5 games in a row, we asked him to teach us the trick, at first he refused, and kept winning to the point it was no longer fun to play. When he finally agreed to show us all how to do it, Nick prefaced it with, “remember, once everyone knows how to do it, we won’t be playing this game any more.” I won’t share the method because, he was right, once everyone or anyone knows how to win that quickly, the games are short, the fun is gone and everyone loses interest.

I will, however, share the method to win the “Wishbone pull”, a custom that requires two people to grasp each end of a dried Wishbone and pull, whoever ends up with the large portion of the Wishbone, gets a wish. My now X-wife and I would engage in this activity whenever we cooked a chicken or turkey, that is until I won 90% of the time and she refused to play any more. Silly me decided to tell her the “secret” of winning this game. Always let the other person pull, while you just hold onto your end and 9 times out of ten, you will end up with the bigger portion and the wish. Unfortunately, once both participants know the secret, you end up with two people holding the Wishbone, waiting for the other to pull first, this becomes boring pretty quickly and ending the game entirely.

Fast forward a few years, we are now in High School, Nick a senior, me two years behind and along with Nick’s best friend Tim we went to the movies to see “Murder on the Orient Express” which is an Agatha Christie story about…you guessed it…a murder on the Orient Express, which was a luxury passenger train that travelled through…you guessed it…the Orient (which is probably no longer PC) If you are not familiar with the story, it goes something like this: A man is murdered on the train and there are many suspects among the other passengers, if you’d like to know more….read the book or see the 1974 film, there is a newer version that I advise you skip as it does not follow the original story, as well as being just plain lousy. Anyway, the murder occurs and within a minute, Nick whispers to me that he knows who did it. I look at him as if he is nuts, so he writes down his deduction on a slip of paper and hands it to me saying “don’t look until the movie is over.” I did as he asked and of course he was correct, I won’t share this info, as it will ruin a pretty good film. (the 1974 version, not the more recent version as it does a pretty good job of ruining itself)

Last, but not least is the story of a card game that we called “Acey-ducey” which is played by dealing two cards, face up to each player, then each player decides how much money he or she will wager that the next card dealt to them is in between the two they already have. A player can bet the entire pot or any portion of it, if multiple players bet the pot and lose, they all have to match what’s in the pot. My friends and I have played this game many times and the pot can get pretty high, pretty quickly, as it did one Saturday evening, the pot was large and two players were left in this particular hand. Those players were Nick and his best friend Tim, Nick came first, he had a 7 and a 4, Tim an Ace and a 3, just about the best hand one can get in this game. The deck was very low and Nick bet almost the entire pot, leaving a Nickle, I was dealing and out came a 5, Nick won and Tim was pissed, figuring that would be his pot. Just for formalities, Tim bet the pot, I drew the card, a duce, Tim loses and everyone laughs, including Tim, who added…”we don’t call him ‘Joe computer brain’ for nothing.”

If this is your first time on this site and don’t understand the title, I will explain: My dear brother Nick died earlier this year, having drunk himself to death and I have been mad at him ever since, perhaps I’m now done, or perhaps, it is just the time of year to forgive?

Baseball:

During the Thanksgiving weekend the Baseball channel replayed the Ken Burns documentary “Baseball” a custom that happens once or twice a year, usually during the Allstar break in July and/or an off season holiday such as Thanksgiving. I’ve seen the documentary several times and it always brings back memories of one sort or another, usually it’s watching a Giants game with my dad when I was a kid, he pointing out how good Willie Mays was and I fixating on Willie McCovey, my very first sports hero, hitting home runs. Other times it’s the 15 or so years I spent playing slow-pitch softball, how seriously we took it back then, and how insignificant it all seems thirty years later. Although, I still have nearly all the uniform shirts from all the teams, as well as my well worn glove and dad’s seventy year old first basements mitt, both oiled and ready (sort of) to go.

Speaking of my dad, this years multi-episode presentation reminded me of October and my Math and Science teaching father’s practice of banishing the student who sat in the desk in front of my dad’s desk and placing a TV there instead, to watch the World Series, which for many, many years, was only played during the day and dad wasn’t going to miss any of it. It didn’t matter who was playing, it was the World Series, that was reason enough. I often wonder if that sort of teacher behavior would be tolerated in this day and age, and how lucky I was to grow up in the 1960’s and 70’s.

The other memory that comes to me while watching “Baseball” is how much I like black and white photography, I’d rather watch a rerun of “Perry Mason” in B & W than “Ironside” both starring Raymond Burr, but “Ironside” was filmed in colour and looks like a commercial for buying a new colour TV, with all the bright, almost florescent hues bombarding the viewer, or not, if one had a B & W TV. Which I guess was the point, since nearly every 60’s TV show that converted to colour does pretty much the same thing, bright, brighter, brightest….”Buy your new Motorola today!!”

If you haven’t had the pleasure to watch the documentary, it is presented in “innings” with the first describing the origins of the game, about the first 100 years, after that, each inning is a decade, with it’s own title 1900 – 1910 is titled “Something like a war” for how hard they played. I eagerly watch each inning until it gets to the 1960’s when most of the footage is in colour and I lose interest. Not really sure why, maybe B & W represents the past and colour the present or future, neither of which I’m particularly looking forward to.

A perfect Southern Comfort Manhattan on the rocks with a twist…and how not to make one.

And other misadventures on one side of the bar or another:

The large print refers to the cocktail that I indulge in when out to dinner, usually with my daughter (29+) on our once a month get-together. The smaller print refers to my 20 years tending bar, as well as the 40 years, on and off, haven’t been a regular at any bar since my 20’s, time well spent playing on softball teams that were usually sponsored by bars or taverns or…you get the idea. But that’s another story for another time, at least as much as I can recall, it’s been awhile.

As alluded to in the previous paragraph, I’ve spent considerable time on one side of the bar or another. Along the way I’ve favored several different cocktails, a C.C. Horse’s neck (whiskey and ginger ale with a twist. Whiskey makes you frisky, rum makes you dumb, gin makes you sin! Which was at least partially true at the time, as I was dating a woman who drank gin and although in my early 20’s, I didn’t need whiskey to make me frisky, gin definitely made her sin 😉 ) A regular Horse’s neck is just a ginger ale with a twist, the C.C. stands for Canadian Club Whiskey. As you can see it’s pretty easy to make, but not when one throw’s in the Horse’s neck part. I had to look it up in my trusty “Mr. Boston’s Guide for Bartenders” after I heard a character in a Humphrey Bogart movie order one. Of course me being me, I couldn’t just order a C.C. and ginger with a twist, I had to throw in the Horse’s neck part, usually with looks from veteran bartenders that you might expect to a snot nose 20 year old.

By my mid 20’s I had moved on to gin and tonics, especially Boodles gin “oodles and oodles of Boodles and noodles” is what a friend of mine and I would mumble after downing a quart between us…on more than one occasion. Not sure if gin made me sin but it certainly made me laugh, which is what I may have been doing when I met my future partner-in-this-thing-called-life, although she claimed it was the previous week when I prevented the drunken x-wife of her soon to be x-boyfriend from throwing a table at her. I recalled the incident in the bar that was my (and soon to be our) unofficial headquarters but it was definitely a chair, not a table, the a fore-mentioned drunk x-wife was way too wobbly to pick-up a table, she could barely manage the chair she was pulling back to throw when I took it away from her. Man of the hour, although it was more self-policing the bar that sponsored one of the teams I played for. Besides, life isn’t an old west movie, the chairs aren’t made of balsa wood and could inflict serious damage. Unacceptable behavior, especially in what I considered My Bar !!

Fast forward to the next week, when after playing a double header, I was enjoying the fruits of my labor (free beer) at My Bar/head quarters along with a couple of teammates, when I felt a hand on my nylon uniform pant clad butt. I turned to see the vaguely familiar face of an attractive young lady, who, while keeping her hand on my butt, said “thanks for last week.” To which I replied “pardon?” “You kept that crazy, drunk woman from hitting me with a table, don’t you remember?” “I remember taking a chair away from a drunk, there was no table involved, other than the one you were sitting at.” We locked eyes for a moment, before she said “Thanks anyway.” And tuned to go. “May I ask your name?” It was the only thing I could think of to make her stay. “You may.” “Okay, what’s your name?” “Carol.” Which is how I was introduced to the woman I would marry three years later.

Carol drank vodka (nothing rhymes with vodka, don’t even try) vodka and 7, with lime, White Russians, it didn’t really matter, as long as there was vodka in it she was happy. This love of vodka would cause difficulties toward the end of our marriage, difficulties such as our divorce but that’s another story.

Back to the journey from beer and shots to the above mentioned per/so-co/man/rx/tw (which is how one would write it up while cocktailing in the days before…cringe…touch screens ordering systems) . Speaking of perfect Manhattans, the perfect part means that instead of just sweet vermouth, a bartender uses both sweet and dry vermouth when making the cocktail. Usually a so-co/man/rx/tw would get only dry vermouth because the Southern Comfort is pretty sweet on it’s own, but I like both, one to offset the other and the lemon twist to take the edge off. Side bar: one should never have to ask for a lemon twist, because there is only lemon twists in the world of real bartending. Limes are either wedges of wheels, no one makes lime twists and don’t even get me started on oranges !!

When yet another injury to my left foot ended my ballplaying “career” I laid off beer and shots (for the most part) and settled on G & T, rx/lime for a summer drink, but hadn’t decided on a winter drink, hadn’t tried Southern Comfort since I barfed up quite a bit of it at a stag party in my early 20’s. I tried C.C. Manhattans, perfect C.C. Manhattans, even a Rob Roy (a Manhattan made with Scotch) didn’t care for any of them. Then one night at our usual hangout, a new tender of the bar suggested that I try a per/so-co/man/rx/tw and I loved it, the perfect (no pun intended) sipping drink, add rx/side and it lasts for nearly an hour, just long enough to get through the app before switching to wine when the entre arrives.

How to make a per/so-co/man/rx/tw properly is pretty simple: start with a 6 oz rocks glass, fill with ice, pour 2 oz so-co, 3/4 oz of sweet vermouth, 3/4 oz of dry vermouth, take a lemon twist, twist it and rub along the rim of the glass, stick in a stirrer and serve. No need for shakers or bitters (some recipes call for bitters, I prefer to forgo this ingredient)

Speaking of Bitters, I will end this post with a story I heard many years ago in regards to the sale of Bitters: At the monthly meeting of sales people, managers, V.P.s and the like, the main topic of this particular meeting was…how to increase the sale of Bitters. (if you don’t know what Bitters is, it is a collections if ingredients including alcohol, that is used in different drink recipes. It comes in a bottle with a small hole in the plastic stopper at the end to shake the contents into the drink) As several ideas were shared amongst the attendees of the meeting, one of the new sales people raised her hand and said, “why don’t we make the hole bigger?” Everyone laughed, then silence filled the room, broken when the senior V.P. repeated…”make the hole bigger?” Sales increased by 25% the first year.

Golf

“and none of that happened”

As November rolls into New England and another season of golf comes to an end (unless you are the type of golfer that dons multiple layers of clothing until they looked like the kid brother from “A Christmas Story” before braving the weather to hit a little ball with a crooked stick) I reflect on the state of my game, which isn’t that great and can be more or less summed up by two holes, both par 3’s.

The first par 3 that I’m going to describe is the 12th hole of the private course where my son is the assistant pro, which is the only reason that I am allowed to play there. The hole isn’t long, varying from 120 to 160 yards, guarded by a low rock wall and a sand trap. I’ve played the hole many times and have used an 8 iron, 7, 6, 5, 4 hybrid to varying degrees of failure and one or two successes. this day for reasons I don’t recall, I chose my 5 wood, which should be way to much club for this shot, but having had success shaping this particular club from left to right, I decided to hit a big high fade, with the intention of landing the ball within ten feet of the hole…and none of that happened…except for where the ball ended up…seven feet from the hole. What did happen was, I hit the ground about 3 inches behind the ball with the 5 wood, the club bounced up, off the ground, hit the top of the ball, which went about 80 yards, then the ball bounced up in the air, landed on the top of the rock wall, bounced over the sand trap, came to rest on the green, seven feet from the hole…and I made the putt.

The second par 3 that I’m going to describe is also on a private course, this one in Rhode Island, with several hole with water views, a beautiful property that I was allows to play because I tagged along with my son, his boss the head pro and a member of the course where both worked.

Hole number 5, 165 yards, all over water. My son hit first and actually hit the flag on the fly, with the ball ending up just off the green, his boss hit it in the water, the other member of our foursome hit it on the green, now it was my turn. I selected my 3 wood, which was too much club for the distance, but I intended to hit a big fade that should land the ball on or near the green…and none of that happened. What did happen was that I half skulled the ball, which never got more that four feet high and splashed into the pond just short of land…or so we thought.

After dutifully going to the “drop area” and hitting my ball onto the green, one of our group noticed a ball barely past the weeds that border the pond in front of the green, my original tee-shot. I chipped the ball above the back to front sloping green and later watched the ten foot down hill putt drip into the left side of the cup for a par.

The remainder of the round had it’s ups and downs, I was able to pull a couple more rabbits out of hats and finished with an 88, not great, but better than it could have been, yet not as good as my son’s 73, but then again, he’s a golf pro, how he got to be one is another story for another month !!

High School Reunion.

I wasn’t going to go to my 45th reunion, mostly because I had gone to the 35th and wasn’t impressed by anything they had to offer, especially the 20-something DJ who inexplicably, did not have any pre-21st century music on his DJ computer and became quite upset when I offered him $20 to put on the radio and tune to an oldies station.

Fast forward 10 years (I did not go to the 40th), the invitation arrived, I glanced at it, $65 for the event, which included a buffet with “carving stations”, a band and a cash bar. I placed the invite under a magnet on the fridge and forgot about it.

During one of our weekly conversations, my best friend since High School announced that he had bought two tickets to the Reunion, plus booked a room at the hotel that was hosting the event. Assuming (but hoping not) that the second ticket was for me, I immediately began thinking of excuses to not go, the wheels stopped turning when my best buddy said “I’m taking Candi” meaning his on-again, off-again girlfriend. Then he asked if I was going? I said I hadn’t decided, then threw away the invitation as soon as we hung up.

Unfortunately, this was not the end of the Reunion conversation. The Wednesday before the event, my buddy called and announced that the on-again, off-again Candi was off-again, she needed a break and would I take her ticket and go with him to the Reunion. Eventually, I acquiesced only after establishing that the room had to have two double beds if I was to stay the night, as he had already told me that he and on-again, off-again, always booked a king-sized bed.

While packing for the event, it became apparent that I didn’t have much to wear to such an outing, not that I don’t have plenty of clothes, which I do, but what to wear that made me look smaller around the waist and a little taller than my 5’9″ ? I dug through an old steamer trunk looking for the cowboy boots that at one time (before another left foot injury) were my daily nonathletic foot wear. Couldn’t even get them on my feet, which left sneakers, work boots or golf shoes, then I recalled that there was a Goodwill store around the corner from the hotel and decided to give it a whirl, success, black leather (?) slip-ons with at least an inch of heel, $4, perfect !!

The Reunion began at 6, but my buddy wanted to check in early so we could avail ourselves of the heated indoor pool, which worked for me. When travelling, I prefer a hotel with an indoor pool and room service, and a nice restaurant, with complimentary breakfast and a golf course and a hot tub in the room/suite. Have I missed anything?

Arriving at the hotel at about 3pm, I checked in, was told that I couldn’t get a key without my buddy’s permission. To which I replied, “then you should call the room and get it…please”. He did and I was on my way to room 408, which thankfully had two Queen sized beds. I hadn’t seen my buddy for a couple of years, somewhat because of the “pandemic” and somewhat because of his failed marriage that he hadn’t even told me about until it was nearly over. That’s just the way he is, communication wise that is, every now and then he disappears from my life, won’t return calls, usually lasts for a month or two, the last time it was a year, maybe more. It bothered me the first time or two, since then it’s just Paul being Paul, besides, he’s my best friend.

We had a couple of cocktails in the room, took a dip in the pool, showered and dressed for the event. Me in black dress pants, a white golf shirt and a red, black and white patterned sweater, new shoes, Paul in skinny jeans that looked too small for his 6’3″ frame, a wrinkled white button down shirt and slip on shoes.

Checking in at the red and white (school colors) decorated table inside the door of the ballroom housing our event, Paul was given a plastic covered yearbook photo with his name, I (not being expected) was given a stick-on label on which I wrote X X and left it at that. There was also a “goody bag” with a metal reusable water container and a paper program with the names of all the classmates who were expected to attend the evenings festivities, about 70 out of a class of 700+. On the back cover were all the class members that had died, about the same number that were expected at the Reunion, I wondered if that meant anything? I wondered further when I counted the number of dead classmates that I knew and compared it to the number of live classmates present that I knew, the dead won out 11 to 9.

Most of the people at the gala were strangers, even after seeing their yearbook photo’s and reading the names under those photo’s. The exceptions were a couple of women whose names I recognized but did not look even vaguely familiar, ditto for a couple of guys and one guy who I still don’t believe was the person he presented himself to be. Then there were the two or three who I knew, mostly because they looked close to how they did 10 years earlier.

The night rolled on, the food was decent, the four piece band actually played music from the 70’s and 80’s, all with a large screen backdrop of the yearbook photo’s, live classmates as well as the dearly departed. Paul’s had a hairstyle that looked as if he was wearing earmuffs, I was resplendent in my custom made fringed Deerskin pullover, designed to look like the one Alan Ladd wore in “Shane”, I recall thinking and not for the first time, that black and white photography did not do it justice.

Toward the end of the allotted time, all the classmates that hadn’t already left lined up for a group photo, about fifty of us stood, sat and squatted for the camera, most of those that had to squat needed help up off the floor.

The staff finally kicked out the remaining few of us at about 10:30, some headed to their rooms, some went home, a couple went to one’s van and five or six headed into the bar, where we were told that they close at 11pm. “On a Saturday night?” I asked the not too thrilled bartender, who, one would think would be happy to see customers, she clearly was not.

Good to her word, the bartender ushered us out the door at 11, I finished my drink with a few others in the lobby and went to my room wondering how many people would be at the 50th and if I would be one of them?

Bye-Bye…..Camp Co-Co.

If you have been following my musings on retirement and such (and why wouldn’t you?) you’ve noticed that I have yet to say much about my employer of 20 years, 5 months and 22 days. I could be petty and post a list of the things I disliked about the small college that employed me for many more years than I originally thought I could endure. Instead, I searched the memory banks and came up with a fond one….it was on a Friday night in February, I was working the PM shift in the Snack Shop and pub. It was a cold night even for February in Connecticut, the pub hadn’t opened yet and the workers were prepping for the inevitable evenings onslaught of hungry students in various stages of consciousness.

The radio was tuned to an oldies station, because I was the boss and I liked the oldies station. The crew once took a vote to decide what station everyone should listen to and presented it to me, I laughed “are you under the impression that this is a democracy? Wrong, this is a dictatorship and I am the dictator.” Thus, we listened to the oldies station, which on this particular evening was playing Don Mclean’s “Bye-Bye Miss American Pie” as I entered the kitchen. Liking the song, I began singing the chorus, I was joined by Toni at the prep table making pizzas, then Selin, a student worker from Turkey, who garnered a puzzled look from our other American student worker, to which Selin replied “what, I can’t know this song?” With that rebuff, the American student joined, then Mary at the grill piped up, then Roxie the cashier, then Karie on the oven, then the students ordering food and/or waiting for their order kicked in, then the students sitting at the tables and booths, literally everyone in the room was singing and when the final “drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry, and good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye, singing this will be the day that I diiiiie.” was finished, the students gave us and themselves a round of applause that Mr. Mclean himself would’ve appreciated.

The remainder of the evening/early morning went as usual, with drunken people staggering around, arguments in the bar about which CD should be playing (the bar is more of a democracy than the Snack Shop, music wise) a couple of ambulances taking the passed out cold, drifting into a coma students to the local hospital, finally closing, tired, sweaty and not looking forward to doing it all over again the next night. But for about five or so minutes of singing, laughing and clapping, it was the best job I ever had.

The Daily Five Second Affair

Each morning, as so many of us do, I drive to my place of business. Luckily, my daily commute is almost exclusively on the hilly, winding back roads of southeastern Connecticut. I get to see New England’s landscape at it’s most expressive. The white, black, blue and silver of winter, the sun glistening through nature’s tinsel. The green warmth of Spring’s rebirth, Summer’s heat cracking the black ribbon of road I navigate, and finally, the calm of fall before the return of Winter’s storm.

Again, like most of us, some days I’m early, taking the time to enjoy the sights and sounds. And some days I’m late, driving faster than I should, hoping none of God’s creatures decide to take that final deadly dash.

Yet, it is not of these daily joys and sorrows that I take fingers to keyboard to tell you about.

Recently, I’m not sure when exactly, I first noticed her. It could have been a Monday, or Wednesday, or any day that the green Toyota first passed in the opposite direction. It was between a small fair ground and the turn off to the State park, two sections of winding road joined by a short straightaway.

What first caught my eye was the unusual colour of the car. Not so unusual that I hadn’t seen it’s like before, but none-the-less, I noticed it. The car with the dark haired, sunglassed female frame at the wheel. She, like me drove alone, sometimes she, like me would be singing along with the radio, other days, her face seemed sad, but usually her look was that of contentedness. A days work done before returning home…to what? Where? More importantly (for me anyway) to who, or is it whom?

Did she live in or near the town where I worked? Did she work in or near the town where I lived? Was she married, were there children? These and other thoughts ran through my imagination for a few minutes each day, then it would be time to focus on something else.

It may have been more of my imagination (or my inflated ego) but as the days and weeks passed, this dark haired object of my daydreams seemed to smile at me as our paths intertwined. Eventually I came to think she might be…but no it couldn’t be…could it?

Years ago I had worked in a small country Inn as a bartender, another in a long line of jobs, professions, on what I’d hoped would lead to…I still don’t know what? Late one afternoon, as I was walking through the lobby of the Inn, my boss was interviewing a young lady, no more than college age. Hire her, I nearly said out loud. Later, in private with my boss, I would say it out loud, and she was hired.

She started the next week as a waitress and we became fast friends, good friends, almost instant old friends. Unfortunately, she had a boyfriend, who would become a fiance. I also, took comfort in the arms of another.

Eventually, she was offered a management position, as was I. She, because that is what her college degree dictated, me because I had grown weary of tending bar, plus, I wanted to be closer to her. We went to meetings, sitting across from each other at the twelve person table. I’d roll my eyes and make funny faces that only she (hopefully only) could see to break the monotony and make her laugh (or try not to). In response, she would kick me under the table.

At the time I agonized (once again) about always seeming to find the right woman at a time when she was already involved, or I was, or both. Yet I didn’t let it get in the way of our friendship. She seemed seemed happy and I did the Sir Galahad thing and let it go, again.

So here I I am, 10 or 12 years later, driving to work waiting to see another long lost love for all of four or five seconds and wonder what might have been.

The first day the dark haired girl in the green Toyota didn’t drive by was a Friday in April, the month of both our births. I though she probably had taken a long weekend. On Monday I chalked it up to the same thing. By the next Monday it had to be a full blown vacation.

Thinking she may have found a new, shorter route, I tried several, a different one each day, then back to the old one the third day. Finally it was apparent that she was gone, again.

So now I drive each day admiring this picturesque part of the world. the black, white, green, brown and yellow, but I don’t expect to see her anymore. Perhaps it’s just as well, it probably wasn’t her anyway. Besides, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, just on the other side of the little fairground, I pass a red Buick with a pretty blonde, who looks vaguely familiar, maybe, just maybe…..

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. More on my pre-final gig employment history at another time.

I’ve been using up quite a bit of vacation time since I decided to retire and would’ve used more until it was confirmed by H.R. that unused vaca-time, unlike unused sick time (of which I have 900 hours) will be paid to me in my last check.

Other than playing a few rounds of golf with my son and posting these words on my blog, I haven’t been doing much. A little extra cleaning of the apartment, and a lot of day time TV, which as we all know, has changed (for the good) over the years. No longer is one stuck with talk shows, game shows and soaps, although they are still available, as are reruns of pretty much everything from “Law & Order” to “That girl” to “Perry Mason” the latter of which is on at least 5 times per day, sometimes I tune in just to see what car Mr. Mason is driving, my favorite is the Caddy convertible he had in the first season, my dream car, which I probably couldn’t afford to drive in this era of $5.00 a gallon gas !!

One disturbing aspect of the different shows that I watch is the number of commercials seemingly aimed at a certain age group. These include laxatives, hearing aids, walk-in bathtubs (the Jacuzzi tub is the one I’d go with), hair replacement supplies, knee, ankle, elbow etc braces, as well as dozens of prescription drugs I’ve never heard of for ailments I’ve never heard of, all with side-effects that sound far worse than whatever ailment it is supposed to treat. “can cause swelling of the tongue and severe diarrhea” (among many, many other side effects). On the bright side, the tongue swelling will prevent eating, thus reducing the chance of diarrhea, a clear win-win scenario if there ever was one.

After spending a good part of the prior three days playing phone tag with the people who manage my retirement account, I finally set up a payment plan. $1000.00 a month after taxes until the well runs dry, which should bring me into the 70’s and leave me with Social Security, definitely will need a part time job and hopefully one of my offspring will have a house with a spare bed and bathroom by then. Or maybe I’ll be dead by then, it’s interesting getting old (er), I’ve been recalling incidents long forgotten, such as when I was about 9, my grandparents took my older brother and I shopping for new shoes and a winter coat. The coats were gray with a black fur collar, beyond embarrassing at school, we felt like mini-grandpas, all that was missing was his black fedora (which I claimed after his death and still have). The shoes were also mini-grandpa black lace-ups that just wouldn’t break in, hurt like hell, luckily there were new houses going up in our neighborhood, accompanied by lots of dirt, which turned to mud after a good rain, perfect for sucking the hated shoes right off my feet, lost in the quagmire, gone forever. “honest mom, they just came right off”.

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”.