The Red Moustache Manuscripts

The Red Moustache Manuscripts contains vignettes chronicling over a half century of adventures. Some of the stories are amusingly funny while others can be seriously enlightening. So come in and enjoy a truly unique experience!

Trip to Washington D.C., 1968

As a 60 year old teacher I try and make learning relevant by recalling real life experiences I've had, experiences my High School students can relate to. One such story I told to a student was very relevant to what was happening in real time for him. Something happened in the classroom and there were several students involved, him being one of them. Initially he told the truth, but when his peers decided to lie, not wanting to be the only one telling the truth, he chose to be complicit, which given my high opinion of him, was both surprising and disappointing.

My early attempts at getting him to tell the truth failed. While having him repeat the lie looking me in the eyes made him mighty uncomfortable, he managed to do it.

My next tact was to tell him a story about an event in my own life where my ethics had been challenged by my peer group in a way that was at once compromising. I won a free trip to Washington D.C. in 1968 while working as a newspaper delivery boy for The Quincy Patriot Ledger. In order to qualify, each paperboy had to get 19 new customers. Ronnie, our manager, took us out early evenings and weekends to canvass neighborhoods for new subscribers. There were three of us who lived in an area by the Heights Shopping Plaza in Sharon and several others from Foxboro who got into the Ronnie's delivery van and were trying to earn the free trip. We helped each other out and as a result, we all qualified by the deadline.

There were only two Chaperones for close to thirty-five boys and they had the job of making sure we all returned home from D.C. just as  our parents had sent us, in one piece. The Ledger chartered a Greyhound Bus and stocked it with box lunches. Several kids were unable to hold down their food in the moving bus and their regurgitated  lunches made for a long, difficult ride to D.C.. Today the trip would never have happened as having just two guys watching thirty-five 12-15 year old boys would not be an acceptable ratio. As it turned out the two Chaperones indulged themselves in adult beverages the entire time and we were pretty much on our own except when we had a scheduled group tour or a photo session. The Ledger sponsored these trips for all the good publicity it would receive as well as the many new paying customers they were adding. It was a win-win.

Back in those days paperboys delivered by bicycle, metal baskets affixed to each side of the rear wheel, rain or shine. We had kickstands on our bikes, parked them carefully, and walked the paper up to the front door, putting them in between the regular door and the storm door, careful to make sure the storm  door was completely shut so it wouldn't blow open on windy days, damaging the door and sending sections of the newspaper flying across the front lawn. We collected the weekly fees ourselves  and earned our tips. By having a paper route at a young age, we learned about responsibility and commitment early in life.

We were all told that while in D.C. we would have time to go to gift shops to buy souvenirs for our parents, siblings and friends. There was no shortage of stuffy, little gift shops and no shortage of tacky, over-priced collectibles engraved with  "Washington D.C.". I made up my mind early that I would buy a gift for my best friend Michael and when I saw a pocket knife with  silver engraving on the side, I knew immediately he would like it.

I chose the knife and while walking towards the register another paperboy said "Don't pay for it, walk out with it. Everyone's doing it". More kids nodded while they left the gift shop, unpaid souvenirs concealed in their pockets. I was caught in the moment. I had a dilemma, I was not a thief. Everything I learned in the course of my life up to that point was about honesty and the Commandment "Thou shall not steal" had been deeply embedded in my conscience at a very young age...

Feeling the pressure to conform, I hustled through the doorway with the rest of the paperboys. Once outside I was overwhelmed with a feeling of guilt. I got two city blocks away from the souvenir shop when I decided I was not a thief and nobody was going to make me one. I turned around and headed back to the gift shop.

I thought I'd get caught trying to put it back, so I took it out of my pocket quickly and laid it on the counter by the cash register. I paid for it and then caught up with my group. They laughed and teased me, but I refused to let them make me a thief. I held my moral ground and I felt very good about it, and still do.

Years later, 40 to be exact, I reconnected with Michael. After a lot of catching up, he told me he still had the pocket knife. I hadn't told him the story about how I purchased it, and so I thought it was time. In addition to being his keepsake, that pocket knife had been my savior. He loved the story and now had an even greater appreciation for the souvenir I got for him in D.C. back in 1968.

I decided to tell my student the story, the one caught in a similar dilemma, hoping he could see the lifelong effects that making a good decision can have. I told him returning to pay for the pocket knife had been an important moment in my life. I made a decision not to be a thief. I told him this was his moment, that he had an opportunity to choose not to be a liar...

He thought it over and it made sense to him. He immediately  shook my hand and said he was willing to come forward and tell the truth. I was proud of him for making the right decision, just as I had many years ago.

It all worked out.

Bicycle Fit

There are only three points of contact that matter when it comes to bicycle fit: hands, feet and bottom. A lot of bike fitters start with body measurements and then select the size frame that makes these measurements easiest to accommodate. To eliminate bicycle retailers from having to stock several bikes in one or two centimeter increment sizes, around 20 years ago there was a move by some manufacturers towards small, medium and large sizing, and with the new front loading stems available at the time, most individuals could find their position on one of the three frame sizes by using the correct size stem and seat post. I remember when frame and component designer Mike Burrows along with Giant Bicycles, began shipping OEM bikes sized this way, with adjustable stems that were similar to the very expensive LOOK adjustable stems that were making adjustable stems somewhat desirable. But the stem was a focal point of tradition and purists were unwilling to forgo their traditional single bolt, -17 degree quill stems in favor of weird and complicated looking adjustable ones, even if they insured better fit.

Back in the day, changing a stem meant removing bar wrap and levers, it was not the simple task it is today using two and four bolt front loaders.  Bike fit was less forgiving in the days of single bolt quill stems and it is believed front loading stems and later the use of video technology, changed the way bike fitting is done.

Twenty-one years ago I went to see Bill Petersen, bike fit guru, to resolve a chronic knee issue. After complaining of knee pain, my regular Orthopedic ordered an MRI and after seeing it, quickly prescribed surgery. But the second opinion I got from a younger guy who cycled, differed in opinion.  When he looked at my MRI he saw scar tissue from a previous meniscus repair and no new damage. He recommended I see Bill Petersen and not undergo another surgery.

Before I went to see Bill Petersen he told me I could bring up to two bicycles. In addition to the two bikes, I brought the owner of my LBS who was a rider I turned cranks with on Saturday mornings in a local, competitive group ride. He performed bicycle fitting at his shop, but a chance to watch the bike fit guru in action was not to be missed even by him. A session with Bill was good chunk of change, but I loved cycling and I needed to get to the bottom of my chronic knee problem.

It was an interesting session, beginning with measuring leg lengths. Mr. Petersen determined that my hip to knee measured longer on my right, but my knee to ankle was longer on my left, making my leg lengths equal. He said he could adjust the fore/after of my cleats for that slight discrepancy. He analyzed my feet using an electronic device and began making custom foot beds. He ran into a nearby room where he made them. He came out several times to try them in my cycling shoes, only to return to his workshop where I could hear the grinding wheel and smell the shaved rubber and fresh adhesive. He was like a mad scientist, and it was obvious he was determined to make these foot beds perfect for me.

When the foot beds were complete to his liking, I got on one of my bikes which was secured in a trainer and began pedaling for him. Video technology had not yet become the standard it is today and Bill did all his observations with the naked eye. I heard before I went and Bill reinforced it when I arrived, that he favored fixed LOOK pedals and he might require that I purchase them in order to get the fitting done. I was using rotating Speedplay road pedals and after watching me pedal on the trainer long enough to work up a sweat, Bill said that although he was not a big fan of Speedplay, my knees were straight and my pedal stroke near perfect, so he did not recommend changing them.

Using a Plumb Bob, rulers and ultimately his expertise, Bill raised/lowered my seat post, adjusted the fore/after of my seat, adjusted saddle tilt, adjusted my cleats, rotated my bar and told me to use only 170 mm cranks, explaining that he was less concerned with crank length at the bottom of the pedal stroke, but more concerned at what happened at the top given my knee issues. He suggested spinning and not mashing. He did the fit utilizing the neutral knee over pedal spindle (KOPS) position, a position whose effectiveness modern day bike fitters have aggressively dismissed as myth.

After he transferred all the measurements onto my second bike using a FitStick, the session was over. Bill told me to go home and ride and to call him with my results after a couple weeks of training.

The entire session took 2.5 - 3 hours and if I remember correctly, cost around $250 with the custom, cycling-specific foot beds.

I was excited to get out and ride and on my first ride I was surprised to be in such extreme pain. It felt like there were golf balls under my insteps. I rode like that for four days until it wasn't fun anymore and the pain was too much. I called Bill to tell him something was wrong. He set up another appointment for the following week and told me to continue riding, to give the changes a chance.

In the days leading up to my follow-up appointment the pain in my insteps disappeared. I called Bill to tell him the good news. After a few weeks the knee pain that originally drove me to my Orthopedic and then to a second opinion and ultimately to Bill Petersen, was gone too.

Back when I went to see Bill Petersen he was way ahead of his time. Entire cycling teams were fit by him. Lance Armstrong went to see Bill. Today, progressive bike fitters call his technique "Old School" and "Outdated", but for me it worked. It has kept me surgery-free and pedaling pain-free on two wheels for the last 21 years.

I  heard  a while back that Bill moved to California and later that he had passed away. In the 2.5 -3 hours I spent in his shop I was left feeling he was a man of great integrity who paved the way for bike fitters with his innovative approach to solving physical problems through proper bike fit. I'll always be grateful for what he did for me.

 

Career Path

So there I was, just dropped out of College, got married and was jumping job to job. While in my Junior year at Northeastern, I, along with 34 of my Physical Education Major peers, was brought into a room and told that there was only one male gym teacher for boys and one female teacher for girls at every school and that they normally stayed for 30 years. The result, no jobs for P.E. Majors." Change your major".

When I politely asked about courses like Karate, Tennis and Psychology of Sport and if those credits would count in different programs, they abruptly said "No". I went on "So all the money we paid for those courses was a waste and you just found out about the lack of future jobs today?" They did not give a credible answer. I left Northeastern unhappy with my college experience.

After going job to job, all I really knew was that there were plenty of jobs I did not want to do for the rest of my life. After part time stints at UPS I ended up driving a Canteen Truck, better known as a "Roach Coach", for a woman who owned a company her deceased husband had started. I had a route and I made no fewer than 20 stops a day, selling coffee, sandwiches, pizza, hot dogs steamed in beer, candy, juice, soda pop and cigarettes. It was a new and different experience and I had fun doing it, but it was not a good career choice and I knew that...

My first stop was at 8:00 a.m. at Mass Hospital in Canton, MA, a hospital for handicapped children. There were several such kids in wheelchairs who waited with Nurses for my arrival. I had patience for them and a lot of respect for the Nurses who worked there. In addition to these people there was a group of construction workers that were involved in a project that was within an eye-shot of where I parked my food truck.

It was during this time frame that my Father in-law, a career Plumber, and my wife, arranged for me to go with him for a day to experience a day in the life of a Plumber.

On that day I went to my in-law's house and met with Irv. At the time my Father in-law was in his early sixties, much like I am today. He was fit. He had spent his entire adult life after serving in the military, working in the mechanical trades, plumbing, steam fitting, and you could tell. His forearms were heavily muscled and his hands were much larger than what you'd expect on a 5'7" frame. They looked like cartoon character hands that had been hit with a sledge hammer and were incredibly swollen. In Irv's case, they were a result of many years of hard work.

We jumped into his Chevrolet van. It was gold colored and a newer model than the green snub-nosed Econoline vans I had seen in family photos. The first thing I noticed was that the rear quarter was damaged on the passenger side, the side view mirror was bent and the glass missing. I found out later that it was during the first week of ownership that Irv backed into something and he was so upset he decided not to get it fixed. Inside, the van was a mess, tools and parts mounded in the middle to a point of looking like junk. I found out later on that it was Irv's mess and he knew exactly where everything was and it was not to be organized by anyone else under any circumstances...

On the way to the first job I listened carefully to Irv, whose voice was difficult to hear because of all the junk rattling around in the back. We were going to an older house owned by a young Doctor who lived near the center of town in Sharon. Irv smiled as he told me. He was clearly happy to be in his van and on the way to fix a toilet at a customer's home.

When we arrived there Irv told me to grab the blue plastic tool tote in the back of the van. Irv never locked his van nor did he lock the front door of his house. He was a very trustworthy guy and he was trusting of others. He always saw the good in people despite knowing the bad...

We were welcomed into the house by the Doctor's wife. There were young children running around behind her in the kitchen. We walked up to the second floor by way of an incredible stairway. It had a large dark mahogany hand rail and matching spindles that swirled up to the second floor. It really was a magnificent stairwell, the kind only found in older homes and probably one of the reasons the Doctor and his wife bought this house.

We entered the hallway and stopped when we got to the bathroom, which had a similarly stained wood door. There it was, the toilet. Call it a "John" or a "Hopper", but our first job of the day was to fix it. This particular toilet was vintage 1940's. Originally tanks were mounted high up on the wall where a long pipe connected it to the floor-mounted bowl. There was a chain that extended down that was pulled to activate the flush. They were designed to flush using 5 gallons of water. This one was an updated version of the original. The tank was hung on the wall 8-13" above the bowl where a shorter chromed pipe connected the two pieces of white Vitreous China. The 90 degree pipe came with the toilet and was long on both ends. The Plumber cut both ends for a custom fit. Toilets being sold at that time (late 70's early 80's) were close coupled, meaning that they were directly connected, used 3.5 gallons to flush, and it was only in older homes that you would still see this type.

Although it looked old and dated, it was obvious Irv was determined to fix it and not replace it. He took off his navy blue Dickie work jacket and rolled up the sleeves of his matching navy blue Dickie long sleeve shirt. Irv wore navy blue Dickie work uniforms, complete with a matching brimmed cap,  and low Knapp work shoes. His work clothing was all function and no style. Style wasn't important to him.

With his sleeves rolled up, Irv quickly dropped to his knees in front of the white porcelain bowl and called to me to hand him the "long skinny, yellow handled screwdriver". I moved things around in the blue tool tote and found it. I handed it to him over his shoulder, handle first...

Without hesitation and much to my surprise, Irv plunged his bare hand into the water in the bowl and began digging at something. I peered over his shoulder and watched as he made circles with the screwdriver. It would have made a nice "Norman Rockwell" picture, a 23 year old helper peering over the shoulder of a 63 year old Plumber. The memory has remained with me in that art form.

After considerable effort, Irv had something. He pulled it out of the toilet and it looked like a metal ring to me and so I asked "What is it Irv, a ring?" He flipped it to me and I caught it in mid air. I looked at it briefly and then put it on my ring finger on my right hand and began admiring it... That's when Irv turned his head, and still kneeling in front of the bowl, he said "No Vin, that's solidified urine!"

I immediately removed it from my finger and staring at Irv's crooked grin, I knew this trade was not for me. I made it through the rest of the day, careful what I touched. When I got home to my wife she asked "How was your day with my Father?" And although she loved and admired him for being a great father and a respected Plumber, I had to be honest "Your Father's crazy and I'm never eating his homemade coleslaw ever again!"

Every Fourth of July Irv had a cookout at his house that featured his homemade coleslaw. On this day Irv wore shorts and his favorite shirt, a white tee with medium horizontal blue stripes, a large red sailboat on the chest area and red trim on the sleeves and neck. Irv cleaned up well and looked great in his casual clothes. He always had the stone fountain he built running in the back yard on the fourth. It was always a great day.

My day with Irv helped me eliminate "Plumbing" as a career choice. I went back to my "Roach Coach" where in addition to the food and beverage, I began selling designer jeans, leather jackets, cheap wrist watches and costume jewelry. I even took bets on football games with cards I got from a local bookie. I had some winners and the bookie always paid.

Back behind the wheel of my "Roach Coach" I had plenty of time to think about my future, which at the time was going nowhere. While at my first stop, the Mass Hospital, I began some dialogue with the three Plumbers working on the hospital renovations. When they heard that my Father in-law was a self-employed Plumber they questioned my decision to drive the "Roach Coach". One of them asked me "Are you afraid of the little brown trout?" I knew that was Plumber-speak for shit, and I laughed and nodded yes. They went on to explain how much they enjoyed being Plumbers and that I didn't have to work the drain end if I didn't want to. They explained how they were focused on the mechanical end. I left with much to think about...

After a couple more months of making coffee and taking bets, I mentioned to my wife wanting to give Plumbing another go. She mentioned it to her mother. The women arranged for a Sunday football day for Irv and I.

Irv's house was a small cape with a narrow circular driveway that facilitated his frequent stops at home between plumbing  jobs. It was  located less than a half mile from the beach at Lake Massapoag in Sharon. He had built it himself. He opened his Plumbing Company shortly after my wife was born in 1958. He worked out of his garage, which was under what was my wife's bedroom. It was where he stored pipe, fittings, and kept his pipe threading machine. In the unfinished basement he had a desk he rarely used and a extra refrigerator where he kept wax rings for setting toilets.

Upstairs he had a small kitchen, and a breakfast nook that he surprised his wife with after a lengthy vacation, a small dining room, a comfortable formal living room, a screened porch built by a contractor who owed him money and a little den where he watched T.V. with his wife. Their favorite show was "Candlepins for Cash" which was on every Saturday at noon. They rarely missed watching it together.

The den was small, 8' wide x 10 'long. There was a leather recliner and a fabric covered loveseat along the side outside wall, a four foot wide leather wrapped bar angled in the corner partially blocking the double-hung window at the rear of the house, and a console T.V. across from the loveseat.  Throw in the bookshelf on the inside wall between the den and the bathroom, and it was a tight fit, but very cozy. That's where we watched football. Irv had been a player and so had I, so we had a similar appreciation for the game. We liked big hits! Irv let me have the recliner and he sat on the love seat, cushion closest to me. The T.V. screen couldn't have been more than four feet in front of the loveseat.

I was there to watch football, but also approach Irv with idea of me going to work for him. Everybody knew that and that made it a difficult start-up conversation for me. Although I had rehearsed several ways to begin, after the first quarter of the first game I wasn't finding it... At half time my wife brought in some snacks from the kitchen where she and her mother were enjoying their time together. Because the recliner was nearest the door and the loveseat in front of the T.V., my wife could motion to me from outside the room without Irv seeing. She mouthed to me "Ask him!" I nodded okay...

The first game ended and the second one was starting when my wife made her way in again, bringing snacks and refilling our glasses. She motioned to me again "Ask him". I nodded okay.

The second game was nearly over and I had yet to ask him... Suddenly Irv turned to me and said "I heard you want to work for me" I responded "Yes". He said "Be here tomorrow morning at 8 o'clock-" I said "Okay." And there it was. I got my first job in the Plumbing Industry and I was working for my Father in-law in the town I grew up in.

With a career in Plumbing that has extended through 37 years, although it didn't appear to be at first, in the end, it was the right decision for me.

Thanks Irv!

 

 

 

 

Because everyone's a food critic...

My wife and I have been married for 39 years and early in our relationship, while we were dating and living in Boston, we frequented T.G.I. Friday's. It didn't matter which one we went to either, the food was always great and the atmosphere always fun. When our middle son was attending a school in Connecticut many years later, during visits we all went to T.G.I. Friday's, his choice.

Recently my wife and I decided to revisit the restaurant, which has become a very big chain. When we arrived for the first time, on a Saturday night, we were surprised there was no wait. We ordered and both of us were happy with our meals and the service. Several months later, wanting to go out and "catch a bite to eat" we agreed on T.G.I. Friday's. This time my wife made reservations on Open Table.

When we arrived on this Saturday night, the parking lot was not full and the restaurant had seats/tables available, it was not packed nor was there anybody in the waiting area.

I ordered the Bacon Cheeseburger with fries, medium. My wife got the Chicken Quesadillas. We waited 25 minutes for our meals to arrive. Immediately my wife commented on how "skimpy" my plate looked. And it did. The burger looked as though it had been downsized and there weren't many fries to fill in the void in the over-sized plate. I felt her comment, although deserved, could have waited until after dinner...

My wife's plate on the other hand was full, no voids, and once again I believed I had been "out-ordered"- I started with a fry and immediately I realized in a world full of incredibly tasty fries, these were plain and were not unlike the cheap frozen store-bought variety I pounded down as a toddler with 3 fish sticks and a dollop of Heinz Ketchup. Disappointing at a restaurant.

As I watched my wife slide a fork full of her Quesadilla into her open mouth I saw her grimace in discomfort and then spit the food into a napkin. I asked her what was wrong and she said it was horrible, that it tasted like sausage and not chicken. I asked her if it was bad and she said it tasted either raw or spoiled...

We got our waitress and explained the problem. She offered to make another plate of Quesadillas, but by that time my wife had such a bad taste in her mouth she declined the offer and asked to see the menu.

I was nibbling on my burger by now and encouraging her to order whatever she wanted, telling her I'd wait for however long it took. She appreciates eating out more than I do. I'm a homebody, but she likes going out. If I wasn't married I'd probably rarely leave the house except to pickup a pizza locally.

After rereading the menu, which had been changed and made smaller than the last time we were there, she couldn't find much. She settled on the Soup of the Day, which the menu didn't name, only the waitress knew. The waitress said she would have to check to see what was available as the soup is limited. She returned with bad news, only the clam chowder was available and although I like clam chowder, the wife is not a big enough fan to make it a meal. She said she would skip the meal and just order a dessert.

She fancied the Red Velvet cake with a scoop of ice cream, but asked if it contained tree nuts as she has an allergy. Friday's was one of the first restaurants to concern itself with food allergies way back when.

The waitress returned and said that although the Red Velvet Cake did not contain tree nuts, it was made in a bakery that processes food containing tree nuts. My wife said "No thank you-"

Before I took the last bite of my Bacon Cheeseburger, one I rated 6 out of 10, my wife was asking for the bill. We paid roughly $16 for a lousy burger and fries with a root beer and my wife did not eat anything but one bite of a "Spoiled Quesadilla" that ended up back in her plate.

The waitress apologized for the bad Quesadilla, presented us with a coupon for a free dessert, courtesy of the Manager, and then wished us a Happy Thanksgiving, which at that point seemed so untimely...

In the end our night out sucked- We have however added T.G.I.Friday's to the ever-growing list of restaurants we will never go to again. In fact we've changed the name of the restaurant to T.G.W.N.G.T.Friday's! (Thank god we're never going to Friday's).

Moose III

As much fun as we were having driving from Massachusetts to Florida; when we knew we were getting close to Frank's house in North Carolina, we welcomed the thought of stopping for the night. Setting out on a life changing journey was exciting and the ride there was to be savored and not rushed. There was some sadness that immediately overwhelmed me when Robin got out of the Gran Torino and greeted Frank. We would be driving the rest of the way without our female companion and I knew the dynamic would be very different the rest of the way...

Franks home was a two story farm house set on a large heavily wooded lot without any other homes in close proximity and it had a somewhat unkempt look. There were several rusted pieces of farm equipment that looked like they'd been planted, scattered about the property. Frank was a carpenter and lived there with his business partner, who at 2:00 am, was sound asleep in his unheated room on the second floor. Frank's room was on the first floor where there was some heat. He offered us either rooms on the second floor where there were spare beds and linen, or the couches downstairs with no linen and some heat. We crashed on the couches where the effects of the beer and the smoke had us sound asleep in minutes.

In the morning the daylight entered through the cheap curtains that hung over several tall double hung wooden windows in the living room that looked out to where the dirt driveway was. Frank and Robin came out of the bedroom locked in a playful embrace and then accompanied by the creaking sound of heavy work boots on aging bare wooden stair treads, Frank's roommate made his way down the open staircase.

Frank made a pot of coffee and we all embraced the mugs for not only the caffeine, but for the warmth. After some laughs, Frank's partner went outside to where their early model, faded green Ford pick-up truck was parked under a weather-beaten, tin-roofed carport and attempted to start it. Minutes later he ran back in and out of the cold morning air and told Frank it wouldn't start. Frank immediately suspected the battery and made a call to a contractor and explained that their truck wouldn't start and that they'd try to start it again later and if it didn't start, they'd try again the following day... There was no urgency in his voice and I got the feeling that in these parts, life operated at a slower pace, and that work could easily wait to the next business day.

With six empty coffee mugs spread out on the seven foot long dining room table and an empty glass pot under the coffee maker in the kitchen, we said our goodbyes and got back in the Gran Torino to start the rest of our journey. We decided it was Kenny's turn to drive and Moose moved into the shotgun position and I manned the backseat alone, tending to the beverages in the Styrofoam cooler.

Moose was tired and he nodded off quickly, and so I kept the conversation going with Kenny so his attention to the road remained focused.  We stopped at a rest area in South Carolina to empty our bladders and grab some lunch. The weather had started to warm up and we were able to remove our coats. The effects the warm weather had on our spirits was obvious.

I wouldn't get my turn at the wheel until we entered Georgia...

Dreams...

I was having a decent night's sleep, for the type of sleep I normally get at my age. From 55 on, I don't remember sleeping through the night often, except for the night of my 60th birthday party when I indulged in a few too many Frozen Mudslides, ones I had mixed myself and with a heavy hand...

It was around 3 a.m., two hours from wake-up, that I became a conscious participant in the dream I was having. I was walking down a wide, crowded sidewalk in a major city, and not in a good area. I seemed to be walking with everyone near me, but no one in particular, when suddenly there were gunshots fired at the upcoming intersection.

I followed those near me into a dark, narrow alleyway just to our right and we all hustled through it, fearing for our lives. As we approached the end and were back in broad daylight, someone yelled "Watch out, he has a stun-gun!"

I immediately became concerned about my Atrial Fibrillation and the possible ramifications of being zapped by a stun-gun. I had no choice but to exit the alleyway, make a U-turn with everyone else, and jump over a short brick wall and head towards safe passage. I could see the guy sitting on a wall nearby just aiming his stun-gun and zapping people as they ran by him. I hoped he would skip me because of my age...

As I hustled past him and my back was turned, he reached out and nailed me in my left calf. I felt the electric charge, and I immediately awoke from the dream, gripping my cramping calf.

It was a disabling muscle cramp like no other. I imagined the frog I dissected back in 1975 as a Freshman at Boston University, its gastrocnemius tightly balled up close to the crease of its knee. It was dead, fresh out of a Formaldehyde bath and unaware of me and my lab partner 's scalpel and intentions.

My own calf continued to tighten in a way it never had before. I've experienced muscle cramps, but nothing like this. The intensity caused me to roll out of bed and onto the floor, grimacing in agony. I was unable to walk for several minutes and when I thought I could, I attempted to walk it off, but to no avail. I went back to bed.

A couple hours later when my alarm went off, my balled up calf was still useless. I hobbled towards the bathroom wondering how this happened. Had I crossed the line between dream and reality? Would it happen again? Running for my life through a dream and then back to reality with injuries sustained in the dream was more than just surreal, it was fucking crazy...

At the Supply House...

Since becoming a Vocational Teacher thirteen years ago, I spend less and less time in field and as a result, little time at the Supply House. Funny thing about Plumbers, although we're competitors for the same jobs, and that can be cut-throat at times, we've somehow managed to remain friends or at the very least, friendly acquaintances over the years. Maybe it's because there is a bond that hard work, sometimes dirty work, creates, or maybe it's that hard, physical work is the great equalizer, taking us all down a notch to a more acceptable reality where we coexist without bias. Whatever it is, the camaraderie is uncommon and truly remarkable.

Every industry has its own language, and the plumbing trade is no exception. When Plumbers get together it's always interesting and entertaining to listen to the conversation, or if you're a Plumber, be part of it. There's always grand, sometimes exaggerated stories accompanied by  unrestrained laughter. That's what I miss most about not being a full-time Plumber.

While on Christmas Break I needed some parts to rebuild a Symmons tub and shower valve for a good customer. I could easily have gone to a big-box store like Home Depot or Lowes, and stood in line with nameless faces, but I opted for the friendly confines of the local Plumbing Supply House instead. On the way over I wondered who I'd see and how long I'd stay...

Dave's my old High School buddy and manages this particular store and I figured I'd see him. He's worked in Supply Houses since him and I graduated High School in 1974, even owned one, and he got his Plumbing License a while back, so he speaks the language fluently. And then there's another guy who has been there for a long time. Ken's lugged boilers and water heaters around the back of houses with me and helped get them inside. Before surgery to correct a difficult medical condition, he was a bull and there were many times that without him there to help, carrying heavy items in alone would have be extremely difficult, if not impossible.

I walked in and the big-wigs were all busy on the phones, which is common, especially during heating season and frigid temperatures, and so two young kids were working the counter. I was immediately disappointed, thinking I would pick up my parts without chewing any fat...

Ken looked up from his desk, which was closest to the counter area, and came out of the office to say hello. After a friendly handshake we both did some catching up. When my wife was battling cancer, both Dave and Ken asked about her all the time. They were genuinely concerned.

All of a sudden in walks Danny. I worked  with Danny 35 years ago. We were both employed by a local Plumber and one of the first jobs we worked together on was a three-family rehab in Dorchester. I remember carrying a full two-piece toilet and seat, still in boxes, up multiple flights of stairs to the top floor. I had challenged myself to do it in one trip. Next thing I know, there's Danny, six years my senior, and he's doing the same thing. He wasn't about to be outdone by an Apprentice. Danny was the licensed Master Plumber on the job.

We worked hard and took our breaks together, getting to know one another. He was very outspoken, funny and there was never a dull moment, which helped us through difficult installs. He was definitely not a short conversation kind-of-guy and over the years, on more than one occasion, I spent considerably more time than I had available listening to his colorful stories while standing at the supply house counter.

On this day he approached slowly, still displaying the wide smile and the crazy eyes that was his way of drawing you in. He had aged and put on some weight, nothing we all hadn't done, and he was quick to mention he was having his second knee replacement, next week,  just after New Years. As we spoke I was imagining him carrying that toilet up to the third floor and wondering if either one of us could still do it today...

Since I had a customer waiting I cut it short, shaking hands again with Ken and Danny, wishing them both a Happy and Healthy New Year, which seemed so much more meaningful now than it did some thirty years ago...

Do Aftermarket Parts Add Value to a Motorcycle?

It's been said that "The cost of a new motorcycle is only a deposit on the aftermarket parts".  A lot of motorcycle owners begin personalizing their new rides at the dealership, before they ever take them home. Customizing their rides can get very expensive and for some motorcycle enthusiasts, despite the cost, it becomes a joyful obsession.

According to Brandon Gaille, host of one of the most downloaded marketing podcasts in the world, "4 in 5 motorcycle owners say they are willing to invest into add-ons, such as a windshield, a saddlebag, or a luggage carrier to enhance their riding experience". And according to the AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) which has over 235,000 members and has been around for 75+ years, "The average member age of a motorcycle owner is 48 and they’ve been riding a motorcycle for more than 25 years". Mr. Gaille also points out that "three out of every four dollars in disposable income that is available in the US for purchasing motorcycles is owned by the 50+ age demographic".

That means Baby Boomers are the majority of the ones riding motorcycles and have the most available disposable income. According to research, in the United States the average household income of a motorcycle owner is above $85,000, about $30,000 higher than the average household income.

Since only 5% of the Boomers who own motorcycles are women, it's the men that are making most of the purchases, but it doesn't stop there. This demographic is also responsible for the lion's share of the aftermarket parts industry's success.

Google  released a report in 2015 that motorcycle parts and accessory searches by mobile devices had increased 45%, and even with a 7% drop in desktop searches, total motorcycle parts and accessory searches in 2015 had increased 16%. Smartphone technology has made buying aftermarket motorcycle parts even easier.

Gaille's marketing analysis yielded more predictions-"As motorcycle owners age, they become more likely to spend money on accessories for their bike instead of wanting to purchase a new one. Being innovative in the accessories market can help to push sagging sales that are seen in specific niches, especially with the touring bikes."

What we're seeing is a boom in aftermarket motorcycle parts and accessories sales. A simple Google search will yield hundreds of online stores offering all the popular aftermarket parts at discounted prices. A bike that may cost $12,000 new, could have well over $4,000 dollars in aftermarket parts, making the total investment $16,000. But what if any, is the return on these modifications?

Two popular pricing guides, Kelley Blue Book (KBB) and National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), both have categories for motorcycle values including OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) factory installed upgrades and accessories. NADA even has a disclaimer that reads " Due to custom features such as chrome, paint, engine modifications, and market conditions, some values may increase by as much as 10%-30%."

So what about non-OEM aftermarket accessories, do they increase a motorcycle's value and should they also be figured into the equation?

Up until now, buyers rely on book values put out by the likes of KBB and NADA, and these companies do not have the expertise to estimate aftermarket parts values. OEM factory upgrades are simple to price because they're listed by the manufacturer at the time of sale. All KBB and Nada do is depreciate a motorcycle's value based on age, condition, and mileage. They do not factor in for things like EFI controllers ($450), free-flowing exhausts ($700), performance intakes ($300), and custom wheels ($1,500). There's also custom grips, pegs, mirrors, saddlebags, chrome and powder coated parts and hardware, heated grips, the list of potential aftermarket parts is endless. The aftermarket industry is alive and doing very well indeed!

Most motorcycle insurers use book values to determine replacement cost. Harley-Davidson, who sold 161,658 motorcycles in the U.S. in 2016 and another 100,000 overseas, and is also one of the world's leaders in accessories, includes "$3,000 Accessory Coverage" in their motorcycle insurance policies. Their thinking is "make it insurable and they will buy it"-

GEICO Motorcycle includes "some level of coverage for customized parts or equipment under Physical Damage Coverage for no additional premium". They also offer an option to increase the amount of coverage for custom parts at an additional premium. Custom paint that is completed after the initial build, can also be added to a policy, but is limited to $500 in most states.

With all the aftermarket parts being bolted on, why are potential buyers so unwilling to consider their value? And why hasn't anyone put out a price book that includes aftermarket parts and custom motorcycles? Certainly those in the motorcycle industry could do it and a price book that included non-OEM accessories would further help aftermarket parts sales as a result of the added resale value.

At least for now, a dealer may attempt to minimize any upgrades done to a used motorcycle during trade negotiations, only to advertise and resell the bike and it's upgrades a day later at a much higher price than the trade allowance, cashing in on the accessories. Buyers seem willing to overpay a dealer on a used bike with aftermarket accessories, but tend to negotiate using book value during a private sale.

I believe a customized motorcycle does have considerably more value than one that is completely stock and that aftermarket parts, OEM or otherwise, should be figured into the selling price.

Of course there are motorcycle owners who wouldn't spend seventy-five cents for air if they had two flat tires...

Take a seat...

Sometimes where we choose to sit is very revealing. Take for instance, restaurants. Do we prefer booths or tables? I'm a booth kind of guy. Tables, especially ones in the middle of the room, leave you exposed. I could deal with a table at the perimeter, but not in the middle. I like the comfort and privacy of a booth. Similarly, I'm not a bar person. When I was younger I liked dealing with the bartender directly and not a middleman, like a waiter or waitress. And having two strangers at my sides while I got annihilated, wasn't necessarily a bad thing. The grownup me doesn't like seats at bars, including diners. I feel like it's a seat in "coach", that the first class seats are the booths. When I went out to dinner with an old male friend and I suggested we get a booth he told me people would think we were gay... I told him he could do a lot worse. He's single and obviously insecure, so we sat at a table...

Movie theaters... I have to get there 35 minutes early so I can choose my seat. Those who arrive late let guys like me dictate where they'll sit. I can't sit too close or too far back. In fact, I must be in the center section, middle-middle. Isle seats are at the mercy of other peoples bladders- not a good thing! My evil comes out when I have a strangers ass in my face... I can't sit in the two side sections either. Those are last minute choices I'm sure. But the only thing that pisses me off more than getting a less than perfect seat, is the late arrivals. They show up like seeing a movie was a last minute decision. Even during trailers I don't want an obstructed view because some a-hole was running late. And tall people, you have to get there early to allow others the opportunity to avoid sitting behind you. Nothing worse than a late arriving tall patron with good posture. I find that choosing a good seat should include finding one with a short individual already seated in front of you. Just a thought...

Concerts... I get it that people are moved by the music. If I was in a gospel church I'd expect to stand up. But if I paid for a good seat at a concert and some a-hole with a better seat than mine, say two rows closer, stands up to dance, it's like "This is NOT Woodstock! Sit the fuck down!" It all starts in the front with people who have the best seats and the least amount of concern for those seated behind them. I was at a Steely Dan concert when I ran into two such fellows... And these were white guys with absolutely no rhythm. They stood up and looked like George W Bush getting all funky with Michelle Obama. I couldn't see. So... I got up and stood right in front of them and started my hallelujahs. They didn't like it. The usher was called in. It was like the NFL referee who throws the flag at the retaliator. I was scolded for my behavior and told to return to my seat. But I did go face-face with the doofuses. They were feeling me and they smartened up quickly...

Classrooms... I always sat back row, end seat in grade school, either side, preferably door side. I liked the privacy of only having two other kids to deal with. Of course, as I've gotten older I naturally migrated to the front so I could see. Now I'm in the 'kiss-ass" section, but it's for a good reason.

At a baseball game I prefer the view from the third base side. I can sit on the first base side, but never down the right field line. Again, middle of the isle insures that you will not be a slave to someone else's bladder!

On a plane I break all my own rules. Call me a pessimist, but I fully expect to crash and when we don't I'm relieved. So I like to sit behind the wing on a window. If it goes down I want to get the best view before it's over. I was once told "When your number's up, it's up- But when you're on a plane and the guy sitting next to you, his numbers up, you're going down too!"

In a doctor's office waiting room I can feel the germs stuck to the seats. I no longer read any germ infested magazines and I sit as far away from other sick people as I can. And I'll get up and move if I have to. I assume everyone's contagious. I'm just hours away from committing to wearing a blue surgical mask every time. Once my son had me drive him to an appointment during the winter months, windows rolled up, and he didn't mention how sick he was, causing me to get very, very sick. The next time I picked him up at college I had two surgical masks and we each wore them while we drove to his appointment. It was a funny moment, but he was not to be trusted ever again...

On a bus, subway or train it's nice to take them at odd times when lots of seats are available. I'll sit anywhere then except outside the stinky bathrooms. Unfortunately, trains and busses usually fill up fast and you're forced to breathe a lot of common air. I don't like it. I avoid public transportation if at all possible.

In elevators I try and assess the occupants before I get on and if I'm alone I just might pass on a run or two. My feeling is that the elevator may get stuck and I wonder are these the people I want to get stuck with? If there's hesitation, I wait. If I decide to get on, I favor getting in on the right, left facing out, and pressing buttons on that side. I usually move quickly to the back corner and stand near the wall. As a rule, I don't trust people on elevators...

I don't like lines either. If I'm forced to stand in long lines I'm on the verge of becoming a full-fledge maniac. It's a lot like claustrophobia, but without a medical excuse. I take deep breaths and try and relax. That's why I don't enjoy going out for ice cream on hot days. Really? I eat ice cream year round. The hot weather doesn't suddenly call me to a dairy bar- But it does a lot of people. If I bump into you in September, October and November getting some ice cream, I have no problem standing behind you in July and August. But if you're only a hot weather fan of ice cream, I'm not happy standing behind you.

In my own home I have to deal with the seating preferences of my wife. Happy wife-Happy life! We all grow up sleeping on a twin mattress. It's all ours. We sleep in the middle and sprawl out. We get a bigger mattress when we live with a significant other. That's where it begins. Taking sides. My wife likes to sleep on the left side as you look at the bed from the foot end. When you first move in together, you live in the middle anyways, but as you get older your side is your side. I give in or I give up, doesn't matter to me. She carries her preference with her on vacation too. On the couch she likes to read at the far end of the L-shape, by the end table and lamp. Understandable. But when she's done reading she'll boot me out of the other end, her preference for watching TV. So you think I'm a wimp? When we first had kids I sat at the head of the table. I liked it and I felt like the "Patriarch". As time went on my wife positioned herself at the head without explanation. Since she prepared the meals and cleaned up after them, who was I to argue? I began sitting with the rank and file, on the sides. The only disadvantage is that the heads of the table rely on the sides to pass food, so the sides become waiters and waitresses, constantly passing food around the table. I don't mind passing the food plates, but I must admit that I don't like putting them back. By then my fork is usually full. I suppose my change of seating would have been more agreeable if my wife hadn't started taking the big piece of chicken too. Must be a privilege of those seated at the head...

Not that seating is everything, but different seats offer different perspectives. In "Dead Poets Society" Mr. Keating has his students stand on his desk to experience this change. I think we should all heed his advice. We can't get too comfortable where we're seated. Change is good!

Take me to your Leader!

Have you ever watched a movie where in an opening scene, a Martian lands on Earth and the first words out of its mouth are "Take me to your leader"? - Of course you have. Even fluorescent-green Martians, new to the planet, know who they should talk to. They understand that on Planet Earth, humans have always given the ultimate power to the one individual they refer to as "our fearless leader". Martians know enough not to ask to speak to a Tactical Manager or an Operational Manager, they land their flying saucers and immediately demand to speak to the top dog- the CEO, the Commander in Chief, the Leader!

Of course we have never witnessed an effective takeover by Martians who have used this approach, as even the cleverest Martians have fallen short. But what if they changed their strategy? Rather than starting at the top, they instead, began at the bottom of the managerial food chain, approaching the Operational Managers first. How would this approach change their ability to understand our planet, our culture, and possibly assist them in mounting an effective corporate takeover?

Operational Managers often referred to as Front-Line Managers, supervise the activities in a corporation and are the link between management and non-management personnel. They are on the production room floor, getting their hands dirty, interacting directly with the largest number of people in their corporations. They are the working leaders, the ones that know the most about daily activities and witness first-hand, employee resistance to change. They report these results directly to their superiors, the Tactical Managers. These middle managers report to Top-Level Managers who depend on this feedback to perform SWOT Analysis, evaluating the organization's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in order to formulate strategies and make on-the-fly corrections.

Although leaders formulate an organization's vision from the top-down, it is the effective followers who have the responsibility of carrying out the organization's mission on the production floor. If the Martians in question were non-violent and came to Earth with the sole intention of completing just one mission- the take over of the leadership positions in several major corporations, would they not be wise to attempt to start the process democratically by enticing the majority of employees with a new mission statement and a different corporate culture, ones they might readily embrace? A takeover using this tactic would appear to be most effective utilizing a bottom-up approach; win over the "hands on people", giving those at the bottom of the corporation a new business portfolio, one they can truly believe in. Create an innovative mission statement; one with vision that could sway the Operational Managers who have the most contact and influence on the non-managerial employees who are in the greatest number.

Smart Martians looking to takeover the leadership roles in major corporations would begin by attacking the organization's weaknesses. They might start by diagnosing the organization's culture, listening to employee's stories, learning what activities are rewarded, identifying obstacles to change, and by studying the organization's mission statement. By determining what kind of culture the organization is presently functioning under: group, hierarchical, rational, or adhocracy, they might then be able to determine their best options and the most effective direction to take in order to secure the most promising future for the greatest number of people.

Perhaps current leadership has been nurturing a Hierarchical culture for a long time, utilizing a Warrior Leader who is outspoken, frank, self-important, strong, and focuses on control and stability only, sending employee moral plummeting. If after performing an external audit, the Martians feel radical change is the most effective option, they may offer an Adhocracy, a culture antonymous to bureaucracy that emphasizes change, growth, and innovation where Participate Leaders are flexible, take risks, are team oriented, and seek a balance of power and input. With this as their strategy; changing the corporation's culture from the bottom-up by introducing an acceptable, but radical change; they may put themselves in a better position for a take-over than if they had attempted an approach that involved top level executives, who's job it is to establish a mission, create both vision and other strategic goals, but are fewer in number and lacking the hands-on experience of front-liners.

Competing with top-level executives at their level, but from a different direction (bottom-up), the Martians will be able to challenge existing leadership without interference. Operational managers, with their use of concurrent control and frequent interaction monitoring operations on the production floor, would be instrumental in assisting the Martians in accomplishing their goals. Although limited in power, Operational Managers have the ability to influence others, making them valuable assets to the Martians.

At one point, a Martian Transformational Leader with passion and the ability to transform a vision into reality, one that can motivate others to put aside personal interests for the good of the organization, must step forward. Not too unlike human leadership, this leader must be able to communicate the corporation’s vision, build trust through the use of superior verbal skills, and be capable of moving a company from its present reality to some preferred state. The characteristics of great leaders, even those who are fluorescent-green and from Mars, are similar in any organization. Being able to influence others to attain goals, great leaders secure many effective followers, without whom effective leadership is not possible.

Once the Martian leader is able to make believers of the Operational Managers and non-managerial employees by introducing a new corporate mission statement and a different and more acceptable culture, the timing would be right to complete a leadership takeover, bottom-up. Once complete, the new leadership could perform management audits, evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of their newly implemented culture.

By setting up strategic control systems, the Martians will be able to measure and monitor how well the earthlings are responding to change. By minimizing organizational conflict and by building productive relationships based on trust and mutual respect, corporations that are Martian-owned may stay that way for a very long time.

Not too far off in the near future you may hear a fluorescent-green Martian on the big screen who has just stepped out of his or her flying saucer finally say, "Take me to your Operational Manager!"

Richard's Plan

My first full year as a Vocational Teacher ended on June 22nd, just eight days after celebrating my fiftieth birthday. The career change came after spending twenty-five years of long, tiring days and many late nights, working in damp cellars and moldy bathrooms, and this change was long overdue. I was glad to be off my aching patellas and back in high school. Not that the Plumbing Trade had short-changed me; my three boys all had braces on their teeth and had never gone to bed hungry. I asked for nothing more.

I was fortunate to have survived with a willing and spirited attitude, many tradesman do not. When the opportunity to teach at the Regional presented itself and I was hired, it was as if the book I was trapped inside had finally turned the page and I was able to begin the next chapter of my life, one I had only pawed at in the past.

Shortly after I began teaching my breaths became noticeably deeper and more relaxed. I was reconnected to who I was before I had unwillingly exited childhood and had swiftly entered into adulthood, a place where my breaths had become shorter, more rapid, and incomplete.

When the buses pulled away from the Regional on the final day of the school year, I felt rejuvenated, like a lifetime of stress and fatigue had been lifted off my soul. I learned that having only the summer in my sights was every bit as refreshing at the half century mark as it had been many years ago when I pedaled my pirated bicycle through the old neighborhood with a full-blown boyish grin and on healthy knees. I couldn’t help but allow my thoughts to wander recklessly and I began thinking about the first days of summer and my childhood friends…

Richard lived in one of the larger homes in the blue-collar neighborhood I grew up in during the mid sixties, some thirty miles south of Boston, Massachusetts. Unlike the majority of the single-story ranches built on postage stamp lots populating the suburban development, his was a newer two-story home with an attached two-car garage, bordered by woods and several other similar houses. His father was an electrician and word was electricians made good money. Normy earned every bit of it too, working all the time. I never saw him wearing anything but well-traveled work clothes. He was old school and worked for quite a long time out of his station wagon. It was a mess with tools, spools of wire and boxes full of electrical parts establishing permanent residence in the back of his weighted down Country Squire. Their garage was even worse; in addition to a 16’ wooden motorboat, which hadn’t been moved in years, it was cluttered with years of accumulated electrical stock making it difficult, if not impossible, to navigate through.

Just one birthday shy of being a full-fledged teenager, Richard was average height and incredibly thin with blue-green veins visible throughout his forearms and one large one running up the left side of his neck that finally disappeared just under his ear and behind his bony jaw. He combed his thick brown hair down into bangs, which landed just above his big, bulging brown eyes. He spoke through full lips with a muffled voice, appearing to be straining his vocal cords with every syllable and catching his breath at every pause. Most importantly though, Richard had huge stones fueling his over-confident swagger and it was this unique characteristic that made him stand out from the rest. Richard had no difficulty scooting through the jungle of electrical debris in their garage.

Normy was short and stocky, with thinning black hair and always looked preoccupied with something of greater importance. He occasionally wore black-rimmed reading glasses that looked studious and out of place on his rounded, battle worn face that seemed stuck in one deadpan expression. He looked like the kind of Dad you wouldn’t want to piss off. Richard feared very little outside of his father and older brother…

Kenny was four years our senior and matured early. He was thick like Normy and had a surfer’s cross pinned on the dungaree vest he wore over his leather jacket. He carried his chin high, rode a motorcycle, lifted weights, and looked tough. With long wavy brown hair parted down the middle, and sharp lines to his slightly bent nose, the area around his eyes, and his forehead, wearing a fierce look with partially dilated pupils, he resembled an eagle. At the very least; he appeared to have Native American blood running through his veins.

Richard boasted about how him and Kenny frequently roughhoused together, later admitting that as a result of their playful encounters, he learned how to scream “Uncle!” at a very early age. All I think Kenny ever wanted to do was toughen up his little brother.

Richard was born with severe asthma, almost dying at birth, and had been on medication ever since. Back then doctors had few remedies other than pure speed. They would rev up his heart with Tedral, a lethal concoction consisting of Theophylline, Epherine HC1, and Phenobabitol, a mix that is no longer manufactured in the U.S., hoping to pump more blood to his lungs where it was needed. As a result of being heavily medicated, Richard couldn’t gain weight and was wound pretty tight. He had a short fuse and a wise-ass smile to go with it. All things considered, he was unpredictable and fun to be around.

One summer afternoon in late June, after school was officially out, we were bored stiff and Richard suggested we run away. “Why?” I asked. Richard smiled widely and confidently before he answered, “Why not?” I was happy at home, with three squares and clean clothes, and didn’t see the point. Richard convinced me running away was what I needed to do and off we went.

He said we could hide deep in the thick woods behind his house, and that nobody would find us there. We walked directly into the woods with bad intention and without a compass. Within an hour we were lost. After some initial panic, we discovered that we must have been walking in circles because we hadn’t actually ventured very far and could still see the back corner of his garage. After our botched effort to become young fugitives, we realized that running away was just as boring as hanging around, and a whole lot more work. We crashed inside the hull of the motorboat on top of some moldy old life jackets, and while out of the hot sun, safe inside the cool of the garage, we dreamed about what we could do tomorrow… We were both home in time for dinner.

By the age of twelve I had fallen madly in love with the girl next door. The oldest of four girls, by fifth grade Debbie was so pretty I was only able to look at her for brief periods, fearing my affection would be discovered. She was petite, with dark hair and eyes; her perfect smile and china doll complexion made her irresistible. When she was wearing her pink-gray three-quarter length cashmere coat along with the white angora winter hat that hid all but the ends of her medium length hair, with snow flakes falling all around her, she was Jackie O. 

I was always shy around her, but still made every effort to put myself in that position. She knew how I felt, my crush on her wasn’t near the secret I pretended it to be, and everyone who lived on our short, close-quartered five-house street knew it too. When Richard found out, he demanded I ask her to go steady. I didn’t have an I.D. bracelet to give her, which was the custom in those days, but Richard had an idea. I’d give her a piece of jewelry– his mother’s jewelry! Richard said he could steal a necklace from his mother’s jewelry box, and that she would never know. I didn’t like the idea, but to Richard, it was the ultimate plan.

I was uncomfortable walking through his parent’s formal bedroom, darkened by heavy draperies, and even more uncomfortable staring into the open jewelry box, which in the moment looked more like a treasure chest pried open, spilling it’s lavish and sparkling contents into plain view, a glimpse of faceted excess I found staggering…

Richard chose the necklace: a big gaud-awful costume piece that definitely looked like it belonged clasped around a wrinkled old neck seated at a stuffy benefit luncheon. How could I refuse Richard?

I went to school the next day with the bulky piece weighing down my right front pant pocket, not too unlike the effect the electrical parts had had on the back of Normy’s station wagon. I saw Debbie, and under extreme pressure, I asked her if she wanted to go steady with me. She casually accepted as if I had offered her a chocolate chip cookie from my lunch bag. There I was standing there, almost forgetting the most important part… “Oh, and this is for you…” I said, as I reached into my pocket and pulled out the cumbersome necklace, happy to get rid of the lopsided bulk that had been tugging at my tightly belted waist. Once inside the open palm of my twelve year-old hand the serpentine-like necklace took on a life of it’s own, and I struggled momentarily to keep it from sliding out. Debbie looked at it suspiciously, smiled and then accepted it from me without hesitation. It was a done deal! Thanks to Richard I was going steady with the girl of my dreams! 

That night Debbie’s mom took one look at that costume necklace and, suspecting its origin, demanded she return it to me the following day. Richard and I put it back in his Mother’s jewelry box without being noticed. Debbie went steady with me for all of five days, and broke it off saying that her mother made her because she didn’t approve of my friends…

Richard’s favorite expression was “If there is shit in the yard I’m going to step in it!” And step in it he did. As he got older his air/fuel mixture only got leaner. He never put on much weight and due to the severe asthma and the medications he took, he remained wound pretty tight. 

Richard suffered a heart attack in his early forties and didn’t make it. By then I had already been out of touch with him for quite a while, but I’ll always remember him for his extreme enthusiasm and willingness to devise a plan.

I’m sure writing this story was somehow his idea.

 

OCID

Obsessive-Compulsive Information Disorder! Why not? In an age where every type of behavior, real or imagined, has an identity and someone the medical profession has decreed as having the ability to treat it, let’s name this behavior.

Those in search of information no longer have excuses. With laptops and iPhones, research is just a touch away. College-aged students man themselves with their laptops and cell phones much the way knights carried swords and shields in medieval times. No longer does any conversation tidbit go unchallenged. Google and Wikipedia and the like, have made it easy to do ‘real time’ information searches. Most statements end up current, obsolete, relevant, or irrelevant, and you better know in advance or you could be made to suffer social humiliation. Maybe at the next Presidential debate candidates will be allowed to use laptops to avoid looking like… politicians?

During the Christmas break my three boys all sat around (chilled) with their laptops and iPhones charged and ready. Casual conversation was no longer casual. I felt like I was trapped in a game show, uneasy about recalling even the simplest bit of information without absolute certainty. After voicing my displeasure over this pressure to converse, my youngest informed me that all the kids at his school use their laptops to argue. Remember when an argument was just an argument? Now it has become a full-fledged technological debate where only one answer is correct.

Even in sports we no longer leave anything to chance or the human eye. There are replays and red flag challenges. We as a society want to get it right! Whatever “it” is-

But how much fun is “right”? Senseless arguments once provided us with a way of bonding. Coming to absolutely no solution together was neutralizing if not harmonizing. Today’s arguments have become the proving grounds of non-stop debate over who can access the correct information the quickest. To the winner go the spoils! And to the losers? Well, laptop debating has become somewhat of a blood sport, crushing the egos of those lacking technological competencies.

Back in the day I blamed the pyramid-shaped gold-covered mansard roofs and red-lettered signs of Fotomat for our nation’s need for speed. The California-based Company and the originator of one-day photo development which was quickly made obsolete by one-hour photo development, introduced the country to “fast” back in 1965 when “Fotomates” (females) and “Fotomacs” (males) manned these small huts which usually popped-up in the parking lots of shopping plazas.

After America’s “need for speed” was exposed, fast-food restaurants popped up everywhere and our culture grew more impatient with those who couldn’t produce in a hurry. Package delivery companies can guarantee “next day delivery” and in the case of medicine and important legal documents, this service, though expensive, can be life-saving.

Back to conversation and college-aged adults- They have grown up in a world full of “speed”; computers, cell phones, fast food, Jiffy Lube, next day delivery, etc… Their world is FAST and getting faster! Such is the quote “That’s so 27 seconds ago-” But I worry it’s not all good. They’re impatient, stressed, and suffer from disorders only recently named. They’re forced to multitask just to keep up. If I could control the universe I’d slow it down. I’d give conversation a chance to get silly and unimportant again.

It could be that I’ve become irrelevant and will soon be obsolete, but I’ll hold on to my casual conversation filled with silly, unimportant details because it has always worked for me.

Donald J Trump: American Icon

Many in this country include Donald J Trump in the category of "American Icon" along with the likes of Elvis Presley, Hugh Hefner, Michael Jackson, Muhammad Ali, Evil Knievel, Babe Ruth...

To them Trump is the billionaire real estate mogul, star of The Apprentice, an International Playboy and he's occupied that spot for decades. Their image of him is clearly one of a celebrity who has lived a life only afforded the 'very rich 'n the very famous'. To his many admirers, his name is always in bright lights, and they envision him surrounded by gold, beautiful women and flying around the globe in his private jet.

Many women desire him and many men want to be him. He hit the campaign trail running. He had already secured a place in the hearts of his admirers and for them trying to think of him in any negative sense, was impossible. When Donald Trump stated "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters-" he was right. Once you're in people's hearts, they stop thinking logically and they make excuses when anything arises to the contrary, not too unlike what some parents do for their misbehaved children.

When Trump mocked a disabled member of the media, his admirers made excuses. They did the same when he disrespected the family of a fallen Muslim soldier, made comments about John McCain, demeaned women, minorities, was accused of rape of a minor and committed fraud, a crime he settled for 25 million dollars. Even his p**** grab tape did not cost him at the polls.

In the end Trump was right. He could do anything and still not lose voters. He was already nestled deep in the hearts of his admirers to a point of worship, and they stopped thinking with their heads. The only task ahead was to make his opponent appear evil, and according to recent CIA reports, he had Russian Intervention, GOP cover and FBI help.

Although Hillary Clinton ran a clean campaign, she was viewed as the liar and the Wall Street candidate. The "fake news" and Wikileaks/Russian propaganda were effective in turning people on the Democratic candidate. Clinton was not an "American Icon" and she had found her way into very few hearts...

Over the course of his campaign, the REAL Donald Trump revealed himself. Those revelations would have been enough to sink any other politician, but not "The Donald", he already had celebrity status, was an "American Icon" and was living in the hearts of his supporters and that's a sacred place...

It was obvious from the beginning of his campaign that Donald J Trump was not capable of doing the job of POTUS, but more importantly, President-elect Trump has continually proven in the weeks following his electoral victory that he's not capable of learning how to do it either. His "off-the-wall, all-night" tweeting habits, blatant disregard for security briefs, his condemnation of the CIA, his praise of Vladimir Putin, his bizarre cabinet appointments and his disregard for his campaign promises, all indicate he is unfit for the Presidency.

After giving it more thought, I believe Donald Trump's accomplishments as well as his character, or lack there of, disqualify him from inclusion on the aforementioned list of "American Icons". But upon further consideration, I believe he would be a better fit on another celebrity list sandwiched between Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian... ("The Donald" would like that!)

Opportunity-Disadvantaged

"I always knew who they were. They didn't have to tell me. After just a brief conversation it became obvious. These were brilliant people."

Some of the most successful people of my generation, the Baby Boomers (born 1946-'64), did not attend college. They worked their way up within organizations and companies. There was a path for us, however narrow, but it was an available option and many traveled it successfully. It was a simpler time.

Many of my friends enlisted in the Armed Forces after High School (70s) and from there went on to college under the G.I. Bill. Then there were guys  like myself who got involved in the trades. It was at a time when being a tradesman was a respectable profession. It was an honest day's work, everyday. Americans appreciated the building trades and those who chose the career. My friends and I were proud of our blue collars and we wore them like a badge of honor. We were there to continue the work our fathers and grandfathers had started. We were building America.

The 80's was a great time to be in the building trades. The "Building Boom" was a housing boom and the construction of housing developments and condominiums was plentiful. In addition to Excavators, Concrete Companies, Carpenters, Electricians, Plumbers, HVAC Technicians, Masons, Roofers, Painters, Plasterers, Landscapers, etc... there were Insulators and Cleaners; companies that swept houses clean after the rough construction was complete. There were no shortages of good-paying construction jobs. Blue collar America was working hard and being  well compensated for its efforts.

When the "Building Boom" finally crashed in the early 90s, many flocked to the technology industry where they found their job salvation. The "Technology Boom" offered great wages and benefits, something the construction industry didn't offer its non-union workforce. Technology was an attractive industry. It was cleaner, less physically demanding, offered training and a promising future. Some experts believe this shift is responsible for the shortage of skilled workers in the building trades that still exists in today's job market.

After the Housing Industry made a recovery in the mid to late 90s, the economy showed good signs. The purchase of new homes and cars were on the rise, two important commodities in an American economy. For a while there was reason for optimism. Then the housing crash of 2008 led to a full-blown recession. Unemployment and foreclosures were high, while hope for an economic recovery was at an all-time low. Parents of children born in the late eighties-early nineties struggled to remain optimistic, even if only for their kids.

Non-service and non-construction job requirements began to include four years of college and post-baby boomers were forced into making decisions. No longer was it "Should I go to college, into industry, the armed forces, or the trades?" It was all about reach schools and safety schools. Without a military draft to delay the process, these decisions had to come during junior and senior years in High School. There was a lot of pressure put on these 17, 18 and 19 year old "kids", more than any other generation before them.

Enter the education and banking institutions who were more than happy to offer their assistance during this dilemma. It was a supply and demand situation and knowing the competition for acceptance would tighten, Colleges and Universities raised their tuition and banks/finance institutions were ready and waiting to take full advantage. It became a feeding frenzy for them, and a time of confusion for parents and children who were forced to make financial decisions that would impact their entire lives.

Wealthy families who could afford to pay these increased tuitions did so without hesitation, but for middle America and the working class, post-secondary education had become a high-stakes game. Would these "kids" be able to get jobs after graduation to pay their student loans?

Baby Boomers were more than happy to see their offspring enter into secondary education, some hoping their children would become the first in their families to earn a college degree. We all took the shiny bait,  letting how proud we were for our kids cloud the debt waiting at the end of this artificial rainbow.

When it finally happened, it was obvious that not all entry level jobs paid well and a good portion of those who had college loans were forced to return home and live frugal lives in order to pay their insurmountable debt. The path these Millennials (born 1982-'04) were advised to take was, at the very least, misleading. This generation is by far the most educated we have ever seen in the United States, but being born into recession plagued times has limited their opportunities.

Their frustration is evident in their willingness to place blame on educational and banking institutions, the government, and their parents, who they believe all failed them. Their attitudes may seem arrogant at times, high-brow, pompous, and extremely angry, but not without good reason. After all, the generation with the most education, hopes for the brightest futures and the highest student loans ended up with limited opportunities and decreasing wages.

If there was indeed hope for them it would make discussing it more amicable. But it appears that in their main earning years, a large percentage of highly-educated Millenials will remain opportunity-disadvantaged.

The most difficult part for the Millenials is that they are some of the most brilliant people of our times, and they're not shy about it, but they have been limited in their opportunities to both utilize and cash in on that brilliance.

For those hard-working Millenials who are fortunate enough to have landed on their feet and in their chosen professions, the problem becomes their obsession with success. Many Millenials, in an effort to secure their positions, overwork themselves, taking too little time to unwind, and as a result, find themselves stressed and experiencing job burnout prematurely.  This may be what is fueling their anger towards a system that they believe has not rewarded them, but has failed them miserably.

A majority of highly-educated Millenials show no indication of wanting two of the key pieces of the once  highly sought-after "American Dream", home and family, but according to a recent Pew survey, have instead opted for "achieving financial security" and "being debt free". 

Whether they're searching for a job in their chosen career or overworking themselves in it, some while paying off hefty student loans, highly-educated Millenials are finding very little sympathy...

Alive and well...

In 1963 my family sold our small ranch house and we traveled to Johnstown, Pennsylvania so my father could get a better job as an agent in the ILGWU (International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union). I remember spending two weeks there, house-hunting and site-seeing. We went up the side of a mountain in an 'Inclined Plane', a glass elevator of sorts. I was just seven years old, but living in Massachusetts had already turned me into a loyal Red Sox fan . This move to Pittsburgh forced me to consider other options. I liked Bill Mazeroski , I remember his walk-off home run in the 1960 World Series.  I could easily embrace the Pirates with their yellow and black baseball caps...

Just when I had gotten excited about our potential new home, my father announced we would be driving back to Massachusetts and that he would not be moving us to Johnstown...

On the way home there was plenty of time to stare out the car window at the passing scenery, or just sleep. Even after my eyes closed from fatigue, I listened to my parents talk. We hadn't embraced the move because the people of Johnstown had been pretty vocal about not liking Jews. I remember  opening my eyes briefly and seeing my mother's face during the conversation. She was upset. What began as a journey to improve our position in the world turned out to be a great awakening...

When we returned to Massachusetts after a long, tiring road trip, it was too late to cancel the sale of our house in Sharon and so, at least for the time being, we were homeless. For a while we stayed in my Uncle's house, in his basement. I remember having trouble sleeping there because of the chirping crickets who never seemed to quit.

We rented an apartment in Foxboro. At the time the New England Patriots were not playing there. The Boston Patriots played at different fields around Boston as members of the AFL (American Football League). There was a small theater in the circular area in the center of town where we went during Christmas vacations to watch Three Stooger Marathons. Going from a house, albeit a small ranch, to an apartment, was quite a change, but my parents assured my sister and I that it was temporary and that we'd find another house in Sharon very soon.

While living in Foxboro I hung around with other kids living in the apartment complex. That was where I first heard the word "kike". They called me a kike. Since I hadn't attached a meaning to the word yet, I didn't know how to react. When I went home I asked my mother what it meant. She looked unhappy and disappointed while she explained it was a term used by people who hated Jews. She said it was not a nice word and told me to stay away from those kids.

Not long after that incident John F. Kennedy was assassinated in a Dallas parade. We sat in that small apartment, on our couch just a few feet from a sixteen inch black and white TV and watched the funeral procession. We wept as a family. My father was a Democrat and an active member in the Democratic Party. We had a picture on our wall of my father shaking Kennedy's hand. We were devastated...

Within months we found another house in Sharon and I spent most of my childhood living in the town of Sharon which had a large Jewish population. It was there where I would get my nickname "Vinnie".

Occasionally one of my good friends would call me "Vinnie the Jew". I knew his dad was prejudiced against various minorities and so I overlooked it and we somehow remained friends.

I spent two years living in Connecticut ('69-'71), eighth and ninth grades, and I found the kids there very accepting of people's differences. I played Church League Basketball as it was referred to, and on Beth Jacob, one of two temples in the league. There was one black church and a bunch of white churches as well. We all got along just fine.

While playing freshman football at Norwich Free Academy one of my teammates, a rugged Italian kid who started at tight end, heard about Yom Kippur and that Jews fast while atoning for their sins. Nick knew I needed nutrition to play football and so he packed me a lunch that morning and brought it to school. When he found me in the morning he tried to hand me the brown bag lunch he made and packed himself, explaining that he didn't want me to go hungry. I explained it was a choice and he understood, but assured me he'd hold onto it if I changed my mind. It was a very kind gesture made by a legitimate 'tough guy' who obviously had a heart of gold.

Over the course of my life I've experienced plenty of anti-Semitism. Usually it's the expression "Jew you down" that finds its way into conversation by those who don't believe it's hurtful. While working as an Apprentice Plumber in 1983, one of my co-workers used "Jew Boy" once too much and he found himself being called out and offered a hammer to use in a hammer fight. He soiled himself and declined in front of no fewer than eight others. He never used that term in front of me again. Although I was willing to let him have the hammer to start the fight, I knew I'd end up using it on him. We're both very lucky he acted sensibly. I could still be serving time...

As a self-employed Plumber named 'Vinnie' I've heard many of my customers speak poorly about minorities, including Jews. As a teacher I've heard my students use racist, bigoted, anti-Semitic terms. The one incident that I found shocking happened at a friend's son's graduation party. While in the basement of their home small groups gathered and everyone was involved in their own conversations. I was just moving around the room and not limiting myself to any one group when I heard it. The host's best friend was preaching to a small attentive group when he made this statement "Hitler should have finished the job!" It was shocking, but not surprising. I never felt the same way about the host or any of his friends ever again...

As recent as two years ago I told my youngest son that anti-Semitism was alive and well in America. He disagreed and told me I was crazy. My wife was very quick to agree. I did the research and experts believe anti-Semitism is not only a powerful force in the United States, but all over the world. My son and wife read the articles, but still had their doubts.

When Donald J Trump won the Republican primary and was running for President I immediately identified his strategy. He could not steal the Liberal vote, but he could pander to the haters and secure their votes. When he got the support of the KKK, White Supremacists, and Alt-Rights, he did nothing to disavow their racist dialogue.

Extreme hatred had been hiding in the weeds, but the coals were still hot. What Trump did was splash gasoline on the coals and he ignited that hate and fueled his campaign with it. From a political standpoint it was brilliant, but any other way you look at it, he divided the country and invoked fear in the hearts of all minorities. (Jews, Muslims, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Latinos, LGBTs, the Handicapped, and women). Even after his victory he has been slow to step in and stop his supporters from acting on their hate with violence.

Swastikas with the message "Heil Trump" have been spray painted on both private and public buildings and monuments. Women, Muslims, Mexicans, Latinos, African-Americans, LGBTs, and Handicapped individuals have been harassed, spit on, and generally disrespected, and this is occurring in elementary schools too. Donald Trump has made hate acceptable behavior and he's done nothing to prevent it. If this is a sign of what a Trump-America will look like it's not good.

'Hate' is out of the weeds and alive and well in the election year 2016. Donald J Trump may have won the Presidency, but Americans of all denominations may have lost their freedoms and civil rights in the process.

Two of a Kind!

They were inseparable. Whatever one was involved in, the other was too. Although one was always considered the stronger, more dominant, they both participated in the same events, but never competed against one another. They looked similar, but were not considered identical. They dressed alike, which made it all the more confusing.

When they were old enough to work it was only natural that they worked together. One was always helping the other. One would hold or steady something while the other used a hammer or a saw. It didn't matter the task, they were always helpful and complimented each other nicely.

It was common knowledge that one was more social, always shaking hands and waving to passersby's. The other was far less aggressive. They were both well groomed and attracted similar attention.

It wasn't until after the accidental fall that they truly understood their unique relationship... He was up on the third rung of the stepladder drilling a 2" hole in hardwood when it happened. The drill bit bound-up in an unseen knot less than an inch from completion, taking him by surprise. The sudden torque  jolted him and he fell off the ladder. In an attempt to break his fall, he landed palm down and with a great deal of force...

He knew immediately from the pain and numbing sensation that he had fractured his wrist. For ten weeks it was in a cast, followed by weeks of rehab...

The other discovered that it was difficult to work or do almost anything without his help...

For many years his stronger, more dominant right arm had become reliant on his left...

The games remain the same...

Too many years ago, when I was just a kid, neighborhood birthday parties were the best invitation you could get. A good portion of the day would be spent with friends enjoying cake, ice cream,  opening  presents and playing traditional games. Restaurants with funny names and arcades hadn't yet replaced paneled playrooms and backyard barbecues. Kids were dropped off at the birthday boy's/girl's house and it was just a whole lot of fun!

The traditional games included Red-Rover, Musical Chairs, Simon Says, Follow the Leader, Red Light, and my favorite- Pin the Tale on the Donkey. I wonder if the inventors of these games ever received the credit they deserve? I also wonder if our parents realized just how important learning to master these traditional games would be throughout our adult lives?

Red Rover involved two teams, each forming parallel lines 15-20 feet across from each another. Teammates would lock hands and one member would call out "Red Rover, Red Rover, send so-and-so right over!" The individual that was called would run across , choosing a spot to break through. If they broke through they remained on their original team.  If not, they joined the other side. You had to be strong and choose wisely...

In Musical Chairs there were only so many seats available for one too many bottoms. Each round participants nervously walk around the chairs until the music stopped and then tried desperately to find a seat. Each round the number of chairs shrinks and somebody always gets left out. The winner is the last one seated. We all learned to move quickly and to secure a seat for ourselves. Survival of the fittest?

Simon Says allowed one person to control the movements of the others. If you were caught doing something that wasn't proceeded by "Simon Says..." you were out. Listen carefully to Simon, do only as he/she says and you get to play...

And for those who would rather put all their clout in one person and stop thinking for themselves, there was Follow the Leader. One individual dictates all the movement and the others simply follow. If the leader goes down the wrong path , he or she remains unchallenged and the group makes the same mistake. The only winner here is the Leader...

Red Light gave participants ample time to advance their position to the front where the leader stood, but only during the count 1, 2, 3... As soon as the leader shouted "Red Light" you had to immediately stop. Once the leader said "Green Light" you could advance again. The cadence was always unpredictable and any movement meant you were out. If you made it to the leader first, you took his or her spot. Pay attention to the powers that be, don't get caught trying to advance your position when you shouldn't and you could end up in charge...

In Pin the Tail on the Donkey you were blindfolded, spun around until you were disorientated, asked to find the paper donkey hanging on the wall and then to pin a paper tail on or as close to, the proper spot. Usually two people were there to help you find your way and you had to trust them... Seems this game is still very popular. Designate an individual as the donkey. Tell confusing and misleading stories about him or her, keep people from seeing the truth, and get those people to pin the "tale" on the one you want.

Sometimes the games we play as children are the same games we play as adults. We just don't want to admit it. Perhaps the inventors of these games would rather remain anonymous?

Them and Us

I’ve always told my kids that unfortunately there are only two teams in life- “Them and Us”.

“I can see by your coat, my friend
You're from the other side
There's just one thing I've got to know
Can you tell me please, who won?” 

And I believe it too. Whether you’re talking about the Hatfields and the McCoys, Red Sox - Yankees, North and South, Sharks - Jets, there are really only two teams, “Them and Us”.

“When you're a Jet, 
You're a Jet all the way
From your first cigarette
To your last dyin' day.” 

Too many times we divide ourselves when we don’t have to.  It is my belief that it is in our nature to pick a side. We enjoy having a rival, an enemy. It helps us confirm who we  are.

“When you're a Jet, 
If the spit hits the fan, 
You got brothers around, 
You're a family man!”

And being part of something bigger than us makes us feel bigger than life- 

“When you're a Jet, 
You're the top cat in town, 
You're the gold medal kid
With the heavyweight crown! 

Here come the Jets
Like a bat out of hell. 
Someone gets in our way, 
Someone don't feel so well!” 

I’m not sure we can solve all the mysteries of the world if we “divide and conquer”, but I do know if we acknowledge our common traits and choose not to dwell on our differences, we can make a better world.

“If you smile at me
I will understand
'Cause that is something
Everybody everywhere does in the same language” 

What happened in Texas only divided us more…

“Horror grips us as we watch you die
All we can do is echo your anguished cries
Stare as all human feelings die
We are leaving, you don't need us” 

It’s every man and women’s choice to be fair in their evaluation of others. I’ve made my choice…

“Wooden ships on the water, very free, and easy
Easy, you know the way it's supposed to be
Silver people on the shoreline let us be
Talk'n 'bout very free, and easy”

“And it's a fair wind
Blowin' warm out of the south over my shoulder
Guess I'll set a course and go”…

 

“Wooden Ships” lyrics by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young

“Jet Song” lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

 

 

Athletes As Role Models

When I was a youngster I was a big fan of the Boston Patriots of the American Football League (AFL). I knew every player, their height, weight, even where they lived during the off-season. My first favorite was the Patriots' first ever draft choice, 5'-10", 190 lb., running back Ron Burton.

Ron grew up poor in Springfield, Ohio. His mother died during his sophomore year in high school, the same year his father left. He was fortunate that his grandmother was a gospel preacher and the clean lifestyle she encouraged became Burton's choice.

Burton learned how to prepare himself for the game of football while still in junior high, and even then, he woke up at 4 am to run 7.5 miles daily. As a senior he was an All-American, All-Ohio, Most Valuable Player, and regarded as the best high school football player in Ohio.

He received 47 scholarship offers and after being heavily recruited by first year coach, Ara Parseghian, he chose Northwestern University. After a dismal sophomore year (0-9), Northwestern beat top rated Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Oklahoma, a feat that had never been accomplished, propelling Northwestern to number one in the nation.

Burton finished 10th in the Heisman his senior year, and would later be named a member of the Northwestern Hall of Fame as well as the College Football Hall of Fame.

In 1960, Burton was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL, the Rough Riders of the CFL, and the Boston Patriots of the newly formed AFL. Burton chose the Patriots where he became the first Patriot to rush for 100 yards in a game. As a triple threat (rushing, receiving, returning), Burton amassed 1,449 total yards in 1962, and was voted to the AFL All-Star team that year.

Former Patriot head coach Mike Holovack wrote in his book "Violence Every Sunday" that Burton "would have been one of the all-time greats, but he was unlucky physically. Everything happened to him." After injuries limited his play during the better part of two seasons, Burton was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs where he retired before the regular season began in 1966.

Burton's career did not end with football. After retiring from the game he became salesman for John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company where he developed into a dynamic motivational speaker.

At the time, Burton was involved with Pop Warner football and he became very friendly with another incredible motivator and former star athlete, Sharon coach Jack Cosgrove Sr., formerly of Norton and father of former Maine Black Bears' head coach, Jack Cosgrove. The rivalry between the two coaches was friendly, but competitive. When the Sharon Red Devils had their banquet in 1967, Cosgrove convinced Burton to speak at it. I was 11 years old then, but I remember it well.

I was excited that Ron Burton was the guest speaker, anticipating the night for weeks. When it finally came, I was listening to Burton's every word.

He talked about his childhood and the influence of his grandmother and later, coach Ara Parseghian, but he talked at greater length about clean living. He said that in his entire life he had "never taken a drink". I thought long and hard on that one...

On the way home that night, I looked at my dad while he drove and asked "Ron Burton never took a drink?" My dad was quick to say "That's right!" I went on with my inquiry "You mean, he only eats?" My dad laughed hysterically "No, he drinks milk, juice and water, just not alcohol."

At the time, I didn't understand why anyone would choose alcohol over milk and juice. A few years later I would better understand the message Ron Burton had delivered that evening.

Burton went on to establish the Ron Burton Training Village in 1985, nestled on 305 acres in Hubbardston, MA and serving 11-18 year old kids from all walks of life. Ninety percent receive full scholarships.

Diagnosed with bone cancer in 1999, Burton said, "I focus on my blessings. All I want to do now is serve. I am just a servant."

In 2003, Burton succumbed to cancer. His work ethic and clean living are still at the foundation of his Training Village, where his message continues to inspire young men.

"Kill Vinnie"

"We are who we have learned to be, and in certain instances, it's done in order to survive-"

Although we're born into this world with certain personality tendencies already mapped out in our DNA, it is our life experience that steers that potential, sometimes resulting in unexpected and inconsistent  behavior, and other times, those experiences can be enlightening, molding us into highly successful individuals well beyond our own expectations.

Looking back through my own life, I remember being a quiet boy, shy most of the time, who loved friends and family and was very trusting to a point of being naive.

After moving to another state in the middle of eighth grade, I was forced to interact with kids who had been friends with one and other their entire lives. To me it seemed like a game of Red-Rover, and it was tough to break their chain. I did not want to play-

I went several months sitting quietly in classrooms, appearing more distant than afraid, but it was the fear that prevented me from opening up. After three months in self- induced seclusion, I was able to direct my focus during a weightlifting contest in gym class, setting an all-time school record. That gained me instant popularity and with that newly discovered confidence I broke out from behind the silence and began establishing meaningful friendships.

We moved again at the end of my freshman year in High School, a move that saddened me. On a personal level I had grown so much and I wasn't ready to surrender it, again. But we moved and this time it was back to where we had originally come from. They say "you can never go back" and it's been my experience that "they" were right...

I returned a changed person to old friends who had also changed. It was at a time (early 70's) when kids 13-15 experimented with alcohol and drugs, and while in Connecticut I had remained clean, motivated only by the desire to be an athlete, fully understanding that alcohol and drugs would only hinder that goal. I continued eating healthy and working out in an effort to be the best I could be. I never believed that I was born with any athletic advantages, but that it was out of desire and focus that my bigger successes had resulted.

Before moving to Connecticut I was one of the Captains on an undefeated Pop Warner football team. We went undefeated and it was after a week long bout with Bronchitis that I played in the South Shore Championship game, beating Walpole, a heavy favorite, and we did it handedly. At the end of the game the trophies were presented, both team and individual. I was totally ecstatic, winning the championship and being part of a great team, and all the while knowing I'd be moving to Connecticut within a few short weeks. It was like a last hurrah with my childhood friends for me.

When they announced the MVP I wasn't really paying attention. In fact, it was our trainer that had to jar me away from my celebration and tell me I had won the award. I was shocked- We had a great player on our team, probably one of the best Pop Warner players ever, and I assumed that he was the MVP... I received the award, and on the ride home in the team bus, "he" cold-shouldered me...

When I returned from my two year hiatus in Connecticut, I had forgotten all about it, the hard feelings. The team championship had always meant more to me than any individual award.

It was during the spring of our junior year that I approached him with the idea of working out together. He was fast and I was working on it. I had become very strong, lifting routinely and although he was not lacking in the strength category, I knew I could help him develop his strength and take it to another level.

He was probably unaware that I had nothing but respect and admiration for him. Wanting to work out with him was done in order to make us a better team. It was a time when Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick were the best running duo in the NFL and I told him we could be the high school version of it. He agreed to work out together.

I was excited the whole way over to his house that afternoon. I had seen him shake off would-be tacklers and run for long touchdowns for many years. He was as much my hero as my friend...

We began by doing some stretching and calisthenics before we lined up on his dead end street to do wind sprints. The street was paved, but had a light coating of sand on it that had not yet been swept away after a long snowy winter, but it was the perfect length. It was incredible to run with him. He was as fast as he was powerful. His thighs were thickly-muscled and it appeared as though there were rocks stuffed under his calves. I was always a few steps behind him, but that was fine with me. I knew he could motivate me into becoming a more complete player by improving my speed.

After just a handful of 100 yard wind-sprints, we headed downstairs to do some weight lifting in his cellar. I wasn't trying to out-do him, that's not what this was about, and so we used the same weight and began doing some reps on the bench. After just a few sets, his interest seemed to wane, and that's when he suggested we head upstairs to watch old Pop Warner film. I was easy and agreed to cut the workout short and watch some film.

I was surprised when he had the reel-to-reel already set up and the film of the 1969 South Shore Championship ready to play. He pulled the shade and hit lights in his living room and we began watching the black and white film in less than real time speed on the free-standing screen he had set up. At first it was fun to revisit that game, but then something strange began to happen. He was pointing out defensive plays I didn't make and making it a point to mention tackles I missed...

Maybe I was naive, but I completely understood what he was doing. I told him to stop the projector, that if he was upset he hadn't won the MVP he could come over to my house and I'd give him the trophy- He had no answer. That was the first and last time we worked out together, but it did motivate me to train harder.

Our senior year was a bust. Certain changes were made to our starters that disrupted the dynamic on what was once  a great football team. Our quarterback was moved to tight end, I was moved from middle linebacker to defensive tackle and lost my starting position at fullback, and the play selection featured only "him" going off tackle right and off tackle left and we became very predictable. The defenses keyed on him and his impact was greatly minimized.

We entered into the last game of our season, Thanksgiving Day, 5-4, with a chance to have a respectable season. I was moved back to starting fullback for this game and we ran the Wishbone offense. On every play our quarterback put the ball in my gut as I ran between the guard and tackle, and if in his opinion there was space, I'd get it, if not he continued down the line of scrimmage where he could either keep it or pitch it to "him" trailing the play. I liked being back at fullback and while practicing this formation, I knew we could be successful controlling the ball. They wouldn't be able to key on him, and if they did there would be other options.

It was during our last full contact practice of the season that the coach took me off the starting defense so I could run against the starters and give them a big back to tackle. I didn't like not practicing with the defense, but I had little choice in the matter.

In the huddle I was positioned in the back row, middle, facing the quarterback who was our former starter and the one who had taken all the snaps back in '69 when we won the South Shore Championship. Looking at him call the plays was comforting, but seeing the junior varsity line in front of me was a concern. On the first play the starting defense ran over the JV offensive line with ease and I was gang-tackled. I went back to the huddle to see a nervous group of young boys who were visually shaken by the task of blocking the starters, mostly seniors. I was gang-tackled again. That's when it started-

He was lined up at cornerback when he started the chant "Kill Vinnie, Kill Vinnie!" The entire defense followed suit and the chanting got loud. I looked around at the blood-thirsty looks on the faces of kids who were once my friends and it was then that I saw the evil smile he was wearing under his helmet. This was his revenge.

I expected the Coach to step in, but he did not. On subsequent plays I was gang tackled and the Coach blew a late whistle and because I refused to go down easy I was taking cheap shots to the back, sides, knees and by friends of mine I had known since kindergarten. It was like a feeding frenzy, and he continued to lead the chant "Kill Vinnie, Kill Vinnie!".

I knew the JV line was incapable of even slowing down the starting defense. My adrenalin was pumping and I looked into the quarterback's eyes and said "Give me the fucking ball up the middle-"

As we walked up to the line of scrimmage the chanting was getting louder and more spirited. When I got the ball I had my eyes on the middle linebacker, the position I lost to him, I lowered my head and shoulders and went low until we collided, that's when I exploded upwards, contacting his facemask with full force. I lifted him off his feet and set him on his ass, and ran up the middle like a wild-man, untouched. On the way back to the huddle I began taunting the defense with "Who's next?" The linebacker was still on the ground, and looking dazed. The Coach stepped in and immediately called the practice...

I went to locker room, got my belongings and drove home in my muddy uniform...

The Thanksgiving game was going well. We were successful running out of the Wishbone. I got nine carries for over 50 yards, according to my friend's father who kept my personal stats. Some of my carries were credited to "him" as we wore similar numbers, were similar in size and no one expected me to be running the ball as much as I did.

To start the second half I was moved back to middle linebacker, my natural position. At tackle I was a down lineman and that minimized my skills which were my vision and hands. It was during that second half that I had 14 unassisted tackles and several sacks. I was in the backfield so quickly the opposing Coach complained to the Refs that I was offside, but they told him I wasn't, I was on the snap count.

I had the best game of my High School career, but we lost when a touchdown was called back when one of our offensive lineman jumped off-sides, not too unlike he had done all season long. We joined the unappealing fraternity of teams that lost their Thanksgiving Game. No matter what, that's always 50% of the teams, just not how I wanted it to end...

Walking off the field alone, I was approached by the Head Coach who said "I should have moved you to middle linebacker sooner-" to which I replied "Like the first game of the year". I was pissed!

That night there were drinking parties and I did not attend. I drove around in my car alone and drank some beer, reflecting on my High School football career, one that hadn't gone as planned. I had the eight-track cranked, but all I really heard was "Kill Vinnie, Kill Vinnie!"

It was around 2:30 a.m. that I found myself angry and in the Coach's neighborhood. He took away my starting positions, had allowed the chanting "Kill Vinnie, Kill Vinnie" and put me in harms' way with his late whistles during the last practice. I saw his house and the small patch of front lawn he spoke of often and valued so much. It was wet and soft. I was young and dumb and couldn't resist. I drove up on it and sat there for a moment, reflecting. I revved my V8 motor to see if any lights went on inside his house. Then I revved it again and let the clutch fly! I tore up his entire front yard, mud and grass flying everywhere. When I stopped I was still on his front lawn, and I waited to see if he was coming out. After a minute or two I slowly bounced my tires over the sidewalk curbing, looked back one more time, cranked up the tunes, and drove off...

I made some new friends that year. I even played spring soccer, which was rarely done by football players. The friendships I made during that 16 game soccer season came at the right time for me and were meaningful.

In the end, after graduation, I put things in perspective. No one should ever be forced to play Red-Rover, it's a cruel game...

I'll always look at those former friends who chanted "Kill Vinnie, Kill Vinnie!" in a completely different way. Even now, 40 plus years later, I'm careful who I chum up with. I do not maintain a lot of friendships, but the ones I do are meaningful and very important to me...

 

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