Little red-headed Girl

208babc8bed09fe3b5b9e6ed7b733c92During one of those trips down memory lane we enjoy with the boys now that they’re grown, found us recalling an episode in Parenting of which I am not particularly proud.  Fact is, the story – told and retold numerous times over – has provided us a few good laughs over the years.

It was Spring, and although I forget the year, it had to be around 1996.  Spring, when the boys were young, brought us little league baseball at the Liberty Bell fields in the Far Northeast section of Philadelphia.

As was my fate this evening, I was coaching a team on which my eldest son was playing.  Yet I had additional company in the form of our precocious son, Brian James; all of six years old and quite popular with those in his first-grade class at St. Martha’s Roman Catholic School on Academy Road.

Having Brian around always seemed to add an unexpected twist to the day’s activities.

It was not unusual for me to have an extra child around since we had three boys to drive herd on divided by two parental units.  How I ended up with the family’s mischievous character as a “plus one” (Mistake #1) escapes my memory.  With the distractions of coaching however, it’s not hard to figure out the direction in which this story is heading.

At some point during my harried coaching activities, I may – or may not – have granted permission for Mr. Mischievous to set off for the playground, bored as he most certainly was with watching his older brother playing baseball.  This was not a huge problem – normally – since the playground was located within easy viewing distance (Mistake #2).

SuperStock_500-135222Did I mention I was coaching 9-10 year-olds in the basics of baseball with wooden bats and rock-hard baseballs?

Needless to say, one’s focus and attention to detail, like a spare non-playing child cavorting on a pleasant Spring evening, tends to suffer under such conditions.

Now, none of this was humorous in the moment.  We have been able to laugh only in hindsight, and only because it obviously turned out well and the climax of the event was … well, priceless.  You see, Brian was a character then … truly an unpredictable element in both the family and school environments, which made him very popular at school though somewhat less so within the realm of Parenting.  He was all free spirit and little in the way of cautious or with any genuine concern for the roles and responsibility of being a Parent.

Shocker, I know …

Needless to say, when it came time to pack away the bats, balls, and gloves; Brian is nowhere to be found.  I sent my eldest son, Mike, the baseball player to the playground to find our little pride and joy.  “He’s not there.”, Mike announced when he returned.

A distracted “What?” was all I said … until the consequences of this all too predictable development hit me.

imagesPanic was the first emotion.  Quickly followed by Dread … dreading, that is, the phone call home to Mama Bear.  (Trust me … You NEVER want to have to make that call!)  Let’s just say the conversation was mostly one-sided and not suitable for audiences with tiny ears.

After placing a reluctant call to Philadelphia’s finest, I got our first and only lead … an older girl who saw our pint-sized MIA accompanying a trio of like-sized females towards a nearby neighborhood.  And I set out on a widening arc of street searches by car.  Michael watching one side as I scanned the other.

These neighborhoods – for those not familiar with the streets of Northeast Philly – were a tightly packed collection of row homes and duplex apartments for block after block after block.

Trying to maintain calm in my panicked state of mind, I was certain our wayward wanderer was somewhere in the area.  Then I saw the weirdest, most welcoming sight a parent in such dire circumstances would want to see.

As we rounded a street corner I spied a familiar silhouette!

Hitchcock's famous profile

Hitchcock’s famous profile

Seriously … It was just a silhouette!  Think Alfred Hitchcock‘s famous back-lit outline that graced the telly at the beginning of each episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  Just a shadow, but an amazingly well-lit shadow in a row home’s front window.  The silhouette so remarkably sharp and clear, that he was instantly recognizable.

The scene was so odd that at first it didn’t quite click.  I turned to Michael and asked him, “Doesn’t that look like Brian?!?”

What really floored me was that the silhouette was obviously singing, maybe performing would be the better term, and with a hand-held microphone at that!

That has to be him, I thought.  Who else could it be?!?

As I knocked on the door of the house to retrieve my wandering troubadour, I found him singing in front of a small female audience, spot-lighted via a strategically aimed lamp, held by one of his female accomplices, that provided the super sharp silhouette.  He was singing some popular song from the day to a rather fascinated group of fans.

51E8gRiIMKL._SL1500_It took a few seconds to shake off my fascination, even admiration for such a bold performance before Parent Mode kicked in and the fire and brimstone came raining down.  (OK … Admittedly, I was never very good at that.  Mama Bear on the other hand …)

As I dragged the thoroughly embarrassed, admonished, and totally puzzled crooner from the house, and I ask him what he was thinking; how could he do that to me; why would he simply wander off without telling anyone???

His answer was simple, “Dad, I really like that little red-headed girl!”

Sigh …

It’s always a little red-headed girl …

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That Summer of ’79

He had just gotten discharged from a 4-year stint in the U.S. Air Force.  I had finished my Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology at LaSalle University.

He was looking to spend a few months enjoying his freedom from the rigors and discipline of military life.  I was frustrated with searching for a career path while still working my old high school/college job with Acme Markets.

It was the Summer of 1979.

Rich and I had known each other from our latter years at St. Jerome’s parish school on Holme Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia.  We attended Father Judge High School (Class of ’74) together with a boatload of neighborhood friends.  Our neighborhood clan matriculated in typical middle class fashion through the hallways of Abraham Lincoln and Archbishop Ryan high schools in addition to Judge.

As we prepared to leave high school, I knew I wanted to go to college.  Rich wasn’t sure what he wanted to do in Life, so the discipline and focus of a military hitch appealed to him.

When he was discharged in early 1979, Rich was ready to enjoy Life a bit.  I was tired of the pressure of job searching and the possibility that maybe I hadn’t sufficiently thought through what Life after college would look like.

So I was an easy mark for Rich’s subtle suggestions to blow off the job search and spend the Summer doing nothing more than enjoying the freedom to do whatever we felt and – in the end – prepping ourselves for the decades-long haul of adult responsibilities.  There would follow many days of unproductive activity followed by nearly as many nights of unproductive activity.

In the wee hours of the morning, we often found ourselves sitting outside Rich’s parents’ house with a six-pack, after the bars had closed, just talking.

Rich always had his head screwed on right … though maybe just a tad too tightly.  He knew – maybe professed would be the better term – that once that Summer of ’79 was over it would be time to buckle down, settle down, and get on with the Serious Business of Life.  He already has his girl picked out, and his plans included marriage and family which – experience would show – he pulled off quite successfully.

He planned to work as hard as he possibly could, but openly expressed his optimistic goal of retiring at age 45.

Eventually that Summer of ’79 ended.  There is so much more I could share about what we did and how we essentially wasted the good part of a year doing little of value.  But much of that I will keep to myself.

Some of those memories have lingered between us over the 3-plus decades that have passed.

  • His greeting of “Michael, man!” whenever we got together
  • That night at the Play Pen at Diamond Beach on the Jersey shore, waiting for David Bromberg to take the stage while we struggled to segregate enough cash to buy gas for the ride home.  (As it turned out, Bromberg never took the stage that night due to audio problems.)
  • Him witnessing my first hole-in-one … (OK … Yes, it was only pitch & putt, but still!) … a shot that could have just as likely ended up 20 feet short of the green.
  • The night I drove my father’s car into a gaping hole on Delaware Avenue in Philly the size – I am not kidding – of a cargo container.  (“Dad, I only hit a pothole!”)
  • Space Invaders … constantly …
  • Laying around his future in-laws’ pool while they were at work
  • Spending the ’79 Eagles Superbowl season dutifully watching every game in Jim Pistory’s basement

As our adult lives progressed, we drifted apart and were never as close as we were that Summer.  That’s certainly not all that unusual.  Life tends to pull you in different directions.

The important thing is we were both successful in the truly important things in Life.  That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

My most poignant memory though is those long, late-night conversations.  Rich was full of plans and dreams, but we disagreed – rather agreeably – over the level of intensity needed to live all those meaty adult years, where marriage, family, and hard work would hopefully set the stage for those peaceful and plentiful Golden Years.

Rich was adamant that the nose had to be kept hard to the grindstone, once the fun and frivolity of that Summer of ’79 had passed.  I used to challenge him by suggesting you had to stop and smell the roses once in a while (Yes, I may have actually used that phrase!), because you never knew how things might work out later.

Rich didn’t agree much with that.  And from what I know, he kept to this viewpoint from the day that Summer ended.  Even when dealt an unfair employment termination in the wake of the ’08 financial crisis, he didn’t let up.  He simply started his own one-man handyman business.  Doing what he needed to support his family to the quality-of-life in which they had become accustomed.

richardI tended to be much more circumspect in my approach to Life as a grown-up.    And now I have never been so depressed over being so right.

Richard G. Tomaszewski left us suddenly on June 17, 2014 at the way-too-early age of 57.

Christian Laettner, I still hate you!

Laettner cutting out my heart

Laettner cutting out my heart

I never win anything even remotely related to skill or the ability to analyze complex data sets to project a likely outcome.  Gave up on sports wagering years ago after – finally – coming to the realization that I sucked at it.  Could never even begin to understand horse racing and handicapping odds.  Nor could I fake the slightest understanding of a daily racing form …

Recent years I gave up on one of my last remaining weaknesses … the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament brackets (for entertainment purposes only). I have always enjoyed the tournament, especially the early rounds where upsets lie in deadly ambush.  But winning “entertainment purposes” from my finely honed college basketball acumen?

Not gonna happen …

Funny how most people I know rarely ever watch pre-March Madness college basketball, yet they believe they can reasonably predict the end result of the sport’s 66-team, rabidly emotional, magically unpredictable, championship-determining tournament.

I was one of those wackadoodles once; but it hasn’t been the same for me since 1992.

That was the year the East Regional was held in Philadelphia’s Spectrum.  It was the year of Duke, Kansas, UCLA, and Ohio State as the top ranked teams.  It was the year Michigan made the run from a 6-seed to runner-up, losing to Duke in the National Championship game.

It was the Year of Christian Laettner.

I know the feeling.

I know the feeling.

Normally the NCAA Tourney was just a reason to spend several afternoons in a public establishment amply equipped with televisions in the company of friends.  But in the early rounds of the 1992 tournament bracket I was en fuego!  As the Round of 32 ended, I realized I had a pretty good bracket collection going … through no fault of my own.

As luck would have it, I had ridden Michigan as my surprise entry into the Final Four.  I had the potential – with a Kentucky win over Duke – of having three of four Final Four survivors! (Kansas and Ohio State having been ousted earlier by University of Texas – El Paso and Michigan respectively.)

So, like any other stat geek with a finely developed obsession common among baseball fans and fantasy sports addicts (Guilty x2), I spent hours analyzing the various permutations and likely results from the conveniently supplied Excel spreadsheet provided those like-minded “entertainment purposes” fans who had ponied up the $10 donation.

And I quickly realized that if Kentucky won its Regional Final matchup against Duke, I would be in the primo “entertainment purposes” driving seat heading into the Final Four and almost unbeatable due to a significant “entertainment purposes only” point lead!

I was on top of the world!

And then this happened …

For a more rounded, less suicidal (mine) version of this History of Misery event watch Ric Bucher‘s video report of The Carnage that left me with a nervous facial tic for years whenever I glimpsed the basketball floor at the Spectrum.

Of course, I don’t really hate Christian Laettner.  I simply hated what his exceptional skills on the court contributed to my wakening realization that fortune did not await me as the result of my keen sports betting insight.

So yes, I guess I hate Christian Laettner for saving me untold fortunes in the 20 years or so since.

It’s a complicated anti-relationship!

Birth of a Phillies fan

(In celebration of Opening Day 2014, a trip down my personal baseball memory lane …)

My first recollections of Philadelphia Phillies baseball came during that Season From Hell – 1964!  You really do not have to explain that reference for most Philadelphia baseball fans, especially those over the age of 55.  Most long-time Phillies fans and – due to generations of legend sharing – even many of those newer to the game can recite the scenario that played out that year.

Gene Mauch

What I remember is my father sitting at the kitchen table; the radio playing; listening to By Saam, Bill Campbell, and Richie Ashburn (in just his second year as a broadcaster with the Phils); smoking cigarettes with a quart bottle of Schmidt’s or Ballantine’s beer, a glass sitting on the table beside him.  He would sit there throughout the game listening and visualizing the game being played.  In those days games were rarely televised during the week.

So some of my first Phillies memories were the turmoil and angst being lived and endured – one game after another – as the Phillies frittered and fumbled away a 6 1/2 game lead over the rest of the National League with only 12 games to play.

(Of course none of this in any way led me to feel sorry for NY Mets fans who went through two straight years of this in 2007 & ’08!!) 

It was difficult watching Dad going through that September.  He lived for his Phillies, much more so than the football Eagles.  He would just shake his head, when he wasn’t yelling at a botched play or a wasted at-bat.  But he was hardly the only one suffering from Phillies Depression in my young 8-year-old universe.  Neighbors – both adults and older, more aware kids – could find little else to talk about.

And when the end finally came, there was a sense of disbelief, then anger … anger at Phillies manager Gene Mauch especially.

That was a HUGE part of my introduction to Phillies baseball.

The Phillies didn’t make it easy back then for their young, impressionable fans in the 1960s and early ’70s.  From 1965-1974 the Phillies posted just three seasons with winning records.  Among the more abysmal campaigns were losses that totaled 99 (’69), 95 (’71), 97 (’72) and 91 (’73).  It’s hardly the kind of performance that builds loyal fan followings in most cities.

And yet they remained Our Phillies … Dad in particular never lost his love for the game, especially his affection for the Home Team.

Bobby Wine

The players I remembered from my first years paying attention to Phillies baseball were Clay DalrympleTony Taylor, Johnny Callison, Jim Bunning, Bobby Wine, Chris Short, Wes Covington, Frank Thomas, Cookie Rojas, John Briggs, Rick Wise, Jack Baldschun, and of course Richie Allen.

My biggest thrill as a young Phillies fan was my first visit to Connie Mack Stadium as the Phightin’s took on those Houston Colt .45s.

Back in the day, we only saw baseball and all our sports on TV in black & white.  I can remember sitting down next to Dad as he watched a football game (most likely Notre Dame) and asking him which team he was rooting for, the “white” team or the “dark” team?   Whichever one he picked – for some contrarian reason – I would say I was rooting for the other team.  Maybe it was just my sense of balance that demanded someone root for the ‘other guys”.

Clay Dalrymple

That night at Connie Mack I can remember entering the stadium bowl from the tunnel and being absolutely stunned by the colors.  The bright green grass especially … the red and white uniforms … the grays of the visiting team … the colorful billboards … the right field “spite fence” … the brown dirt of the infield … When you are used to seeing an event purely in blacks & whites & grays, you suddenly realize what you have been missing; what color and natural sound add to the spectacle.

To top it off, as we took our seats in the upper stands along the third base line, I was horrified at the steepness of the grandstand seating.  For the first three innings I was so afraid  that, if I leaned forward too far in my seat, I would go tumbling down the rows of seats and be thrown from the grandstand to my untimely – though spectacular – death.

The images and sounds are memories still so vivid I doubt they’ll ever fade.  For me, there was no turning back.  I was hooked.  Hooked forever …

For that, Dad, I cannot thank you enough!

(Joseph Vincent Shortall passed away in August 2001.)

Failure to launch

Sydney Cricket Grounds

Sydney Cricket Grounds

Mission Plan:  Awaken at 0330-0345 hrs and catch Major League Baseball‘s first game of the 2014 season, between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks from the Sydney Cricket Grounds in Sydney, Australia.

Mission Status:  Failure, Complete & Utter

I finally woke up at 0550 hrs, well past the 0400 hrs starting time, and figured I might as well fahgettaboutit.

So in the tradition of Great OverSleepers such as Jean-Paul Jean-Paul, what do you think did in my ambitious plans for MLB’s Australian Opening Day?

Was it the …

  1. Snooze button
  2. AM/PM confusion
  3. Radio alarm volume control

Answer will be posted tomorrow!

The Power of Pancakes

pancakes2IHOP declared today to be National Pancake Day.  It says so on my Facebook feed, so it must be important.  It is also Happy Faschnaut Day, a.k.a. Donut Day.

National Carb Days are almost semi-religious holidays for corporate Big Carb evolving from fear for the dawning of the Christian Lenten season, where Catholics in good standing will forsake the siren calls of the IHOP/Dunkin Donut/soft pretzel triumvirate.

Well, maybe not so much the latter in this area.  That’s a Philly thing.  We can only go so far in demonstrating our devotion.  We barely survived edicts of meatless Fridays, which tended to put an economic crimp in the local cheesesteak economy.

In any the case, the point of this post is to celebrate the mystical properties of the pancake!  Any connection with National Pancake Day is purely coincidental.

I say this because I witnessed the Power of the Pancake this weekend!

The story has its genesis in the struggle of addressing the needs for elderly parent care.  There is never an easy solution to the question, what do you do when parents are aging to the point where more focused supervision is required?

My experience includes the breadth of care options available, from Independent Living through intensive, full-time managed care to end-life hospice services.  There are blessings and curses with each choice.

Our latest experience and challenge is the decision to invite our last parent to join us in our home.  My father-in law in a good guy, one I have always gotten along with though he has his blustery side and bouts with stubbornness.

When the choice was presented, I agreed easily enough, although there was a bit of anxiety about how such an arrangement might change a home dynamic with which we were all comfortable.  My wife’s piece-of-mind over a relative living alone was enough to persuade me.

KOQ-571.tifOur solution was to remodel our basement in recognition of my FIL’s desire to remain as autonomous as possible.  So autonomous in fact that his new digs are the nicest in our home (just in case your first impression was an episode right out of the King of Queens)!  The transition however has been anything but seamless.

We had to move him in earlier that expected and before his new palace was in move-in shape.  The remaining construction and approaching holidays made the situation a bit dicier, resulting in a hangover that threatened our expectations for limited disruption to the established household routine.

The difficulties which developed involved the usual sources of close-proximity conflict … mismatched expectations, fumbled communications, and the tendency to avoid rocking anyone’s boat at all costs.  Growing frustrations however required that the situation be addressed sooner rather than later; before the atmosphere we were trying to protect turned fetid, breeding anger.

I was tasked with being the Diplomat of Harmony.

My solution?  Breakfast!

nrAjVpmpU4T94vbK4Wmnt7_CmRKB49G7m-wiN6BxBqf03Octsc48KiZUqOpxXfhzNtnR=s151So this past weekend I invited my FIL out for breakfast at Hatboro Dish!  I did not tell him the reason for the invite.  Found out later he was suspicious, thinking we were going to through him out.  (Insert link for King of Queens episode)

Carol, not a fan of Big Breakfast, opted to let the guys hammer things out at an establishment full of sharp objects.

As we sat down, Jim dithered over the menu options.  I chose the bakery-quality cinnamon roll French toast, which is made by Lochel’s Bakery a few hundred feet up York Road, and Jim chose the pancakes … with strawberries … and whipped cream … soon to be marinated in maple syrup poured from a jar, not emptied from cheap plastic packaging.

Did I mention he’s diabetic?  However, it’s my belief that once you get to a certain age, you should be free to enjoy whatever you can, reasonably and safely.  I let him enjoy his loaded pancakes.

Once we finished our morning meals, it was time for The Talk.  Dreading the moment I put all my cards on the table, I wasn’t sure how Jim would take the challenge.  Changes had to be made.  But addressing them would not necessarily be easy.

What I found out though was that Jim was as unsettled about what was going on as we were.  We had a factual, very honest discussion of expectations vs. reality as it existed.  It was more relaxed than I had anticipated … a friendly, direct, unemotional conversation about how to improve the home situation.

Our discussion couldn’t have gone better.  Almost immediately function and comfort returned to our home!

Now this pleasant outcome could be attributed to a number of things –  personality traits, mindsets, shared values – that helped us at the breakfast table that day.  Either way you look at it, it’s hard to have a bad morning when looking over a stack of pancakes!

Flattery, thy name is …

DarrenTwissell_Old man ring_thI must be looking good at the gym!

I had completed the first half of my grueling cardio workout (OK … a slightly grueling 20 minutes on the elliptical), and decided to take advantage of an open basketball court instead of Part II on the treadmill (normally 25 minutes).

My gazelle-like movements on the court (Picture a very old, slightly overweight gazelle.), abundance of old-guy energy, and my deadly accurate, quick release was obviously turning some heads.  I’m pretty sure I sealed the deal when they saw my signature Jabbar-like sky hook.

That would be Maurice Jabbar, a 75 year-old I once saw play in the Smithsonian Geriatric League.  He owned that guy in the wheelchair! And maybe “sky hook” is a bit of an over-sell; but it sounds a lot sexier than “hop hook”!

No, it looked nothing like this ..
No, it looked nothing like this ..

Anyways … I’m working up a good sweat and in mid turn-around jumper (Picture … Well, you get the picture already.)  I sense someone behind.

“Hey, want to play two-on-two?”

It’s a guy about half my age.  (OK … Half my age 10 years ago …. maybe 15)  Obviously he was impressed.  Or maybe just really desperate for a playing partner.

What he doesn’t realize is I’m very near passing out; everything south of my waist (Yes, everything!) is groaning for me to stop; and I feel one sudden move away from a major muscle spasm.

I must have looked at him like he had six heads, because he suddenly looked alarmed and glanced around … probably to locate the nearest portable defibrillator.

I took in a huge breath; mustered all my remaining strength; and very slowly told him, “Thanks, but … I’m … almost done … here.  And … have to … go soon.  Besides … you guys … are … way … too young … for me …”

He looked either disappointed or relieved that he wouldn’t have to administer CPR.  It was tough to tell through the gauzy haze of my overheated, sweat-drenched face.

“But you’ll be on my side.”, he said.

My guess is he was an ER doc.