The Bar Chronicles: #5, ‘Seniors Say The Darndest Things*’

*thank you, Art Linkletter!

Bar Night 2

The heat and humidity has been off the charts this summer in western New York. Lawns are brown, plants are wilting, farmers are worried and throats are parched. Sounds like the perfect time for another ‘bar night’.

So, tonight we found ourselves gathered around a back room table at Johnny’s Irish Pub in Rochester.  Four seniors, friends from our neighborhood, here to enjoy some beer, brotherhood and ‘man talk’, the simple art of filling time with random thoughts, guffaws and past recollections.

Four old guys, we seem to be a bit of an odd attraction to the regular patrons, a generally younger, blue collar type. Then again, everyone is generally younger nowadays.  And the collars?  Well, we’re retired, collars are a low priority.

This is our fifth ‘bar night’, we exhude confidence, experience and maturity as our beer is served.  “Run a tab, we’ll be back for more”, one of us bravely barks out, earning a few approving nods from customers standing at the bar.  There was a time, once, when we could stand at the bar,  but now, sitting is preferred.

The beer was cold and the brotherhood about to begin. With a clinking of our mugs, a “here, here” to each other and our hands cupped behind our ears to catch every word, we leaned in and began our evening in earnest.

The cacocphany of background chatter  interfered with our own table talk, as we huddled closer, like a football team calling a play.  The interval between our yawns grew shorter. Our energy level was was being tested when the call came for a second round. We endured, ordered refills, closed out our tab, and began the ‘second half’ with unexpected profundity.  ‘Who was your favorite teacher and why?’, I asked.

“Simple, it was Miss Sullivan**”, one of us firmly answered, “she had the biggest bosom.” The answer grabbed our attention and would have been enough, but he continued.  “And, she dressed provocatively. My 10th grade friends and I never missed a class…”.  I bet they didn’t.

While not the insight I expected, nevertheless, it was honest. More importantly, to the four of us, it was funny, a classic way to end our ‘bar night’; good timing, excellent delivery and a willing audience eager to kick back a chair, slap the table and ‘guffaw’.

The bar quieted as we filed out to a humid night. Neon signs from other establishments gave a colorful tint to the neighborhood and tall street lights lit our path to the car with another good time behind us.

As we drove home along tree lined streets through old neighborhoods, the car was quiet. Two beers may have made us sleepy, but I imagine the real reason was that three of us were silently wishing we had been in Miss Sullivan’s* 10th grade class, too…

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**name changed for obvious reasons.

Dedicated to Steve, Tom & Jim

The Bar Chronicles: #4, Love Unrequited (How I Met My Wife)

Bar Night 2

‘Tale as old as time…’ 

(Beauty & The Beast)

‘On Friday nights, the boys sat on a bridge over our river, waiting for the girls to come across, hoping to catch the eye of the one we thought was special.  And, I did.’

More than 60 years ago that was a perfect scheme for the young men of a small coal mining town in eastern Pennsylvania. My friend told the story with a twinkle in his eye and a smile, as though it was yesterday.

Here we were, again, three ‘seniors’, in a bar, reminiscing how we met our future wives. It was a moment of sincere reflection as we opened our hearts and shared memories that were a long time put aside.…but not forgotten.

These weren’t ordinary stories and this wasn’t an ordinary ‘bar’, this was the Lock 32 Brewing Company on the historic Erie Canal at the Port of Pittsford, NY. The canal and its towns come to life when the ‘ditch’ regains its waters after the long western NY winter. Working barges, canoes, rowers and yachts commingle east and west from Albany to Buffalo, meandering 400 miles through the Empire State. And, tonight, we witnessed some of it from inside this perfect venue in the tiny Pittsford village.

We found a table facing the canal, where the back wall is a floor to ceiling window that slides open onto the canal’s northside boardwalk, allowing us an unfettered vista of the late evening light settling on the local village. The lovers in front were scooted low enough in their seats that our view was uninterrupted.

 ‘I was a late bloomer in the dating game so I advertised in the newspaper for someone who was sophisticated, fun-loving and liked to dance. She answered.’

A quarter century later my friend and his wife are still dancing. The power of the marketplace.

Cabin cruisers docked on the south side, its occupants enjoying evening cocktails on the aft deck. Ducks collected near us, waiting for handouts, and couples sat on benches, leaning head to head, watching the setting sun lay its fingers across the silent waters, except when an occasional catfish surfaced to snatch an unsuspecting bug.

My eyes locked onto the boats and for a fleeting moment my imagination carried me out to sea, far away from the murky canal waters. Oh, to be an adventurer!

But, fantasies aside, we came here for a purpose, beer and brotherhood. The former started with the house ‘summer’ and ‘scotch’ ales, and the latter with an informal clinking of our glasses and a ‘here, here’, three neighbors relaxing and reminiscing over a beer.

‘I’d like to see number 7, again.’

Being a class officer on campus had its perks, judging cheerleader tryout was a major one. It allowed me to see a freshman girl whom I found attractive. She didn’t need my vote to make the squad and nearly 50 years later, we’re still ‘cheering’ for each other.

A quiet mood settled onto the pub as the evening waned. We emptied our mugs with a toast to marriages and longevity, then went into the night. The boats were dark, the boardwalk was empty, the fish were still active.

We headed home, content, knowing all is well…

 Steve Bottcher

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A Sales Story: The Man In the Green Onion Suit…

“Sumthin’ scwewy goin’ on around here” E.Fudd

If you travel and meet enough people, as I did in my sales career,  then funny things happen along the way. This is one of the funniest. And it’s true… for the most part.

onionsMy day started early with a bakery stop before boarding a Chicago bound flight for our annual sales meeting of the screw company I represented.  It was expected of me to bring a couple dozen New York bagels for the office personnel. Today was no different, with one notable exception, I included onion bagels this time.

The passenger seated behind me was a businessman, too, judging by his tailored green suit and gold ‘power tie’. I observed him carefully folding the jacket and stowing it in the overhead bin. He was meticulous, and it was apparent that he cared about his appearance.

Me, I was in casual attire, sufficient for listening to speeches, looking at graphs and charts, playing golf and collecting a trophy for a successful year, actually a ‘second place’ successful year … again.

“Maybe I should wear power ties”, I thought, as I nonchalantly tossed my bag of bagels into the overhead bin where it slid to a stop against the businessman’s suit coat.   Settling into my aisle seat for the routine flight to the ‘Windy City’, I nodded off by the time we reached Lake Erie.

Then, somewhere over that Great Lake it hit me, the strong and overpowering aroma of bagels, especially onions. I quickly realized, this would not be a good day for that business coat, or anything else in the overhead.

If confronted, I would offer to pay for a quick cleaning.  However, I wasn’t. So, upon landing, I quickly grabbed the evidence, bee lined off the plane and never looked back, disappearing into the sea of faces that is O’Hare airport. Anyway, we wouldn’t see each other again…..or, so I thought.

What were the odds that he and I would sit beside each other on the return trip?  I recognized him by his ‘green onion suit’.

Imagine my amazement when he enthusiastically told me that he was just hired as a sales manager for a major baking company in Chicago.  And the interview clincher? Apparently, management was so impressed that he smelled like a product line he would represent, they hired him on-the-spot.

With a bit of bravado, he remarked, ‘You know, a salesman has to do what he has to do to make the sale’. But, hey, I knew that, I had another second place trophy in the overhead to prove it.

As they say in NY, what ‘chutzpah’!

People are fun, and a sales career provides the opportunity to meet lots of them and have lots of it. Surely, you agree.

Steve Bottcher
Srbottch.com.comTies

For hard-working Joe and his  Bagel Land employees of Brighton, NY, where you get the best bagels in town

And for my fellow salesperson, Mike M, who doesn’t have a ‘green onion suit’, but does has the first place trophy…and ‘power ties’

The Bar Chronicles: #3, The ‘Pinboy’

Bar Night 2

‘…bowling really blossomed, particularly among blue-collar types, in the 1950′s and 1960′s after the introduction of the automatic pinsetter’ John McDuling

It was ‘bar night’ for three ‘old’ friends at a local pub in Rochester, NY, ‘The Lost Borough’. Our plan, enjoy a couple of signature brews and add another saga to ‘The Bar Chronicles’. The pub was busy, ‘trivia night’, complete with a booming voice emcee, eager crowd and ample beer to encourage gamesmanship. It added up to a rowdy atmosphere with plenty of hootin’ and hollerin’.

We selected an ‘ale’ from a ‘flight’ and forged ahead with our own game of ‘remember when’, parrying back and forth with personal recollections of our earliest work experiences, our first actual paying jobs.

We were delivery boys in pickup trucks and shoeshine boys on Main Street. We were floor sweepers in a haberdashery and washed cars at a used car dealership. And we were pinboys’ in a bowling alley, at least one was.

‘Pinboys’, a romantic word in a nostalgic sort of way. I was too young to remember ‘pinboys’, but one of us was the right age to be one. He was a teenager and his work station was at the end of a bowling lane where he perched himself on a bench above the pit. When the pins exploded off the deck from the impact of 16 pound balls rolled down the lane like fodder shot from a cannon, he quickly jumped into the pit and went into action; rolled the ball back, cleared ‘deadwood’, or reset new pins for another roll.

Generally, a ‘pinboy’, or pinsetter, managed two lanes, hence speed was an asset, and a priority. Younger boys with small hands could handle ‘two pins a hand’ while the older boys managed three. With pins in place, he’d jump back to his seat, step on a pedal to lower the rods, or pin holders, and wait for the next roll. A good day returned 8 or 9 cents a game, and an afternoon of work brought in some extra cash for this young man’s coal mining family in the post-Depression coal mining region of eastern Pennsylvania.

Tell me about your first job. Did you like it? What did you learn? I cleaned metal paint pots for a painting company and abhorred it. But I learned lessons of responsibility and discipline that comes from hard work, and stays with you for life. I got paid, but it wasn’t ‘romantic’ like my friend’s job, a ‘pinboy’.  I wish I could have been a ‘pinboy’…alas, I was too young.

Srbottch
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The Piano Tuner…a story of ‘angst’

Piano by Wilson Burgosphoto by Wilson Burgos (wilsonburgos.com)
Plunk… Plunk… Plunk…

I never witnessed a piano tuner at his craft until recently…I hope to never witness it again!

Plunk… Plunk… Plunk…

The evenly paced rhythm, the same key played, incessantly, over and over, until it emits the right tone, then duplicating the process on the next key, and the next. There are 88 keys in a piano.

Plunk… Plunk… Plunk…

The house is quiet except for these monotonous sounds, each key tested for perfection, absolute perfection!

Louder! Softer! Faster! Slower!

 Our old dog stirs, stretches and retreats to a distant room, grumbling his displeasure as he searches for seclusion under a table, his heavy, long breathing juxtaposed against the fixer’s abbreviated movements.

Plunk… Plunk… Plunk…

I find myself a hostage in my own home, a prisoner to the repetitive plunking of a musical mechanic armed with an ‘ear’ for perfection.

I’m a writer, albeit a neophyte, nevertheless a writer. I ply my craft in a vacuum of calm and solitude, focusing on the word, the thought, the picture I create. He, the tuner, focuses on the sound, correcting it from what it is to what it should be. Both take time. The process is the work.

Plunk… Plunk… Plunk…

The constant tapping of the ivory, moving hammers and dampers against strings to make sounds, the same sounds, is tortuous.  Maybe, I’m too sensitive, too impatient, too digitized to today’s fast paced, instant gratification world.  Why is ‘art’ slow?

Louder! Softer! Faster! Slower!

High notes, then higher! Low notes, then lower!  The steady intermittence of it all is unsettling, fraying my nerves like the end of a severed rope.

Finally, the tuner demonstrates his keyboard prowess and plays a wonderful, but brief piece of music, a way of testing his tuning expertise and signaling the end, a climax to his dull and boring work.  The old piano sounds good, even soothing.  I can recompose myself and almost relax.

The ‘mechanic’ returns his tools to their clam-like black case, closes it with two loud deliberate snaps, collects his due and leaves, phantom-like.  The edge of his wide brimmed hat is rolled down and his collar is lifted against the intermittent rain. It occurs to me, as I watch him disappear around the corner, has he played at an opera house?

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…for a neighbor who urged me to find ‘angst’ in my life…

Sometimes It’s Diamonds, Sometimes It’s Paint…

Paint 1

Honestly, it’s never diamonds. Perfume, maybe, but not diamonds. Oh, there was a diamond engagement years ago and another one at our 25th, but that ‘streak’ ended there, 22 years ago. Nowadays, prudence, practicality and pocketbook influence my choices..

So, this Valentine’s Day I gave a gift that satisfied all three criteria, the gift of color. I painted a bathroom for my wife, and, not surprisingly, it was one of the best gifts I’ve given over the years. She raved about it and appreciated my work and the new look. As pleasant as that sounds, it’s an unflattering commentary on my gift giving skills. I’m terrible at it.

However, I’m a good painter, it’s in the genes. My immigrant grandfather established himself as a ‘master’ painter. He begot three boys who continued the trade. The line of succession produced more sons, yet, who donned the white overalls, joined the union and called themselves ‘journeymen’.

You see, while ‘diamonds are forever’ (who wears out a diamond?), paint jobs are actually meant to be replaced. Colors fade or fall out of fashion. The painter gets the opportunity to ‘regive’ the paint job, a ‘do over’, if you will.

Paint 2

“Hey, honey, I repainted the bathroom. How’s it look?  And, Happy Mother’s Day!”

“Looks great, dinner is ready”, she shouts from afar. “You slug…”, is the unspoken word you don’t hear because she has resigned herself to the age-old mantra, ‘it’s the thought that counts’. But we all know this about marriage, ‘what you do or don’t do now will be used against you later’. As I was reminded recently, disagreements, arguments and shortcomings are all part of the bonding process in marriage, no matter how long the union, 47 years in our case.

But, I digress. There are more gift giving opportunities on the horizon. The bedroom sounds appropriate for our wedding anniversary. And the hallways for her birthday. Oh, I just know she’ll love it. Everyday will seem like a birthday as she walks through the house, admiring the colors, reminding her of just how old she is. Hmm, I should rethink that one. Then there’s Christmas, maybe a brightening up of the guest room would be a hit.

Yes, diamonds are pretty; pretty impressive and pretty expensive. So, gentlemen, heed my advice. When the time comes, give the gift that is bold and beautiful, that tells her how much you love her. Give the ‘gift that keeps on giving’ and is cheap, the gift of color…PAINT SOMETHING!

Paint 3

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Where Is Spring?

 

Where Is Spring

An indomitable groundhog scurries across my lawn, signaling the start of Spring. A hairy woodpecker drills at sunrise from the dead branches of a tall locust tree and garners my attention, signaling the start of Spring. Pyramidal piles of pea like deer droppings accumulate by my patio, signaling the start of Spring.

But, ‘where is Spring’?

The calendar confirmed it days ago. The incessant honking of returning geese announced it from the heavens, and well tanned ‘snowbirds’, returning home from sea, sand and sun, expressed their disappointment and dismay at finding lingering snow showers. Even weather reporters  proclaimed it, albeit reluctantly.

But, ‘where is Spring’? 

Baseball players pass hours oiling their gloves and tarring their bats, hoping against hope that fields will be green and  plush for Opening Day.  Pot holes turn roads into obstacle courses, challenging drivers at every turn. Even the earliest flower, the crocus, is nowhere to be seen.  The supply of hand warmers is depleted. The flannel sheets are worn thin. The damp air, low clouds, and dire forecast surely is winter’s last ditch effort to overstay its worn out welcome.

But, ‘where is Spring’?

Mother Nature was kind to western New Yorkers this winter, giving us hope that Spring would be early. However, the proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ seems to be out, dashing our spirit.  Easter Sunday is but days away. Newspapers are announcing the opening dates of local golf courses. School kids are starting their ‘Spring Break’.  And while my weather app just flashed this warning, ‘ snow flurries starting soon’, I am compelled to ask…

‘Where the Hell is Spring?’

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