The Old Man and The Garden


I watched him through our kitchen window, an older gentleman standing by the curb. He was looking past our garden gate, admiring the plants, various hydrangea that were reaching the peak of their soft whiteness. Come fall, they will be a delicate pink, then brown, as Mother Nature guides them to dormancy, but for now they are like a fragile lace, petals laying softly, one upon the other.

I’ve noticed him other times, generally during evening walks, exercising at a pace suitable for his years, while enjoying the canvas of colors that our neighborhood becomes after a long, harsh winter. Our garden is a regular stop for him, albeit brief, inspecting the plants for changes, I suppose, as our daylight lengthens and we transition from spring to summer. The garden seems to look its best before sunset.

The idea of introducing myself seemed like the sociable thing to do, but on second thought why interrupt a peaceful interlude with idle chatter?  One can’t look at gardens to appreciate the graceful way its flowers, leaves and branches blend with and balance each other while in idle conversation. I held back and allowed him to enjoy his solitude and solidarity with our garden, before he resumed his slow walk with a look of satisfaction on his face.

How can one not appreciate the simple beauty of a garden?  On occasion, I’ll sit and watch our hydrangea in an almost meditative state. I become aware of the ground, constantly moving, ever so slowly as I stare, often mesmerized. Hardy sedums creep along the soil, reaching out and claiming new territory with their thick roots and attractive colors. An earthworm appears, if only for a moment. Bugs and spiders (are they the same?) move cautiously across rocks while bees and ants are in a state of constant motion. I’m alerted by a mosquito.

The garden is a rapid version of our own existence. It lives, grows vibrant, weakens and fades, to be replaced by a new variety in time. The cycle of life, I suppose.

As for the old man, I haven’t seen him for weeks.  Things change, others will surely take his place at our gate…or someone’s gate.

To passersby who enjoy our garden views. I see you through our kitchen window…

The Streets of Our Neighborhood…


(photo by Kathy Davis)

They generally were hilly, up and down in every direction, making our play more challenging in summer and more fun in winter. They hurt us when we tripped, leaving red stains where we fell. They were uneven and balls took crazy bounces. We marked them with chalk, then hop-scotched on them. We jumped on them, over ropes while singing crazy verses. These were ‘the streets of our neighborhoods’.

They were yesterday’s outdoor ‘home screens’ where we played, running with our legs, peddling our bikes, throwing balls and playing other games with friends, both boys and girls. They led us to parks, schools and downtown. We were always moving on ‘the streets of our neighborhoods’.

From early morning to dusk, we were the ‘gangs’ who gathered there for games, games that we created ourselves with balls, sticks, piles of leaves or mountains of snow. They provided us our own place to roam and explore until the calls to come home were heard, on ‘the streets of our neighborhoods’.

We were the noisemakers, youngsters covering our eyes against a tree, counting to a hundred, then warning, ‘here I come, ready or not’, seeking the hiders and chasing them like a hound after a fox.  With youthful exuberance and constant yelling, we ran each other down in games of tag, catching the fastest one last through sheer exhaustion. Wild games, played on ‘the streets of our neighborhoods’.

Today, as an adult, I wonder, where is all that unbridled energy?  Where are the boys and girls with knuckles and knees scraped and bruised from running and pushing and falling and doing it over and over, day after day? Where is the happy sound of kids physically exerting themselves in their made up play? Where is the noise that used to make older people open their windows and yell, “go play in front of your own house”? I’m older now and have earned my turn to yell…to be an old curmudgeon, but the streets are empty.

‘The streets of our neighborhoods’ were places where kids met without adult supervision. We planned, organized and executed the days and weeks activities on our own. It was informal and efficient.  The streets were a safe place to be. We settled disagreements without intervention. Our minds, and most importantly, our bodies were actively involved in our play and we flourished, playing outside everyday. We fell fast asleep at bedtime and awoke energized to do it again.

Some of my best memories are street play with friends from the neighborhood. We had winners and losers, but the play itself was paramount. Nothing stopped us. Only growing up could do that…on ‘the streets of our neighborhoods’.


To Joey, Lincoln, Tommy, Buzza, Jackie and a slew of other kids who played, then grew up, on ‘the streets of our neighborhood’.

The Bar Chronicles, #6: ‘The Bards of The Genesee’

Bar Night 2

‘I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree…’ (1)

The Genesee River works its way north from Pennsylvania through the hills, valleys and plateaus of western New York, cascading over falls, sliding over limestone and shale before slicing through Rochester and quietly slipping into the Great Lake, Ontario, at the city’s port.  The river is a landmark of our community, inspiring photographers, writers and poets.


(photo by Kathy Davis:

 Tonight, at the Wegman’s Pub* in Perinton, NY,  was a night for poetry, inspired not by the river, but by ‘beer and brotherhood’.

‘Let those who are in favor with their stars
of public honor and proud titles boast…’ (2)

To call us ‘Bards’’ would be an exaggeration. We’re just four old guys sitting around a table, enjoying a couple of brews and reading poetry. Four men with three hundred combined years, reading other people’s work, real poets’ work. A beautiful thing!

 A tool-maker, a software engineer, a Marine fighter pilot and a screw salesman, reading Blake, Kilmer and Shakespeare between sips of IPAs, stouts and lagers. But not just reading them, actually interpreting them and discussing the role of poetry in our own lives. Believe me, it happened.

From the personification of a tree as a living being to tigers and everlasting love, we brought our favorite poems to the table tonight and read them aloud, in a pub.  Our voices rose to the occasion.

Who knew Joyce Kilmer was a man?  One of us admitted taking a poetry class.  Shakespeare was being Shakespeare, and one of us was never exposed to poetry.  Life’s lessons are a result of our own places and times.  Growing up in coal country, on a farm or in an urban setting makes a difference in one’s experiences. Sharing those differences is exciting.

‘Tyger, Tyger, burning bright,
 In the forests of the night…’ (3)

When did poetry come into our lives, someone asked.  I’m not sure, myself, I suppose it was required reading in school.  In 5th grade, I memorized the first few stanzas of Longfellow’s ‘The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere’ and still can recite it, although I forget names of people I’ve recently met.

Some find poetry inspirational, I enjoy its imagery.  Poets excel at using language to effectively tell their stories.  The rhythm of their words completes a process that makes poetry so different from prose. Poems have ‘voices’.

Do you like poetry?  Tell us your favorite. By the way, I recommend reading it with beer and friends…

‘The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees…
And the highwayman came riding, riding, riding…’(4)

  1. Trees by Joyce Kilmer
  2. Shakespeare’s Sonnet #25
  3. The Tyger by William Blake
  4. The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes.

*The Pub at Wegmans in Perinton was very nice. More of an eating environment than a genuine pub, but it was quiet, perfect for our social event.  We didnt have to ‘cup’ our ears.


Lost In Bananas… A Shopper’s Story

“Every day, you get our best!” Danny Wegman


While it seemed forever, it was only five rings before I answered. Five rings!

‘Cargo’ shorts complicate life. Seven pockets on a half pair of pants is complicated. Forgetting which one holds my phone is problematic. Ignoring the call would have been the prudent choice, but I answered, feigning innocence, yet knowing what was coming.

“What took so long, it rang forever, and where are you, dairy”, she asked.

Cursed shorts!

Nevertheless, a poignant question, where am I?  I’m certainly not in dairy, that would mean I’m nearly finished. No, I’m still in produce, somewhere beyond broccoli, carrots and apples, in the vicinity of lettuce and potatoes and finally here, the last stop before my itinerary (she organizes it by, a.department, b.aisle, c.product) … before my itinerary takes me to breads, pharmacy and general goods, but nowhere near dairy, our final rendezvous before check-out.

“I’m lost in bananas”!

I was sincere, hoping not to sound sarcastic, but the cacophony of silence told me otherwise.

However, it’s true, it’s easy to ‘get lost’ in bananas, baked goods, even seafood and sushi, for that matter, in my grocery store. And not because it’s big, which it is, but because it’s a cornucopia (kaleidoscope, too) of sights and sounds that satiate my senses. If I have to grocery shop, then why not do it in a place with the finest food and the best workers, WEGMANS*, where the motto is, “everyday, you get our best”.

Besides the variety and orderly, almost artistic, arrangement of fresh produce, fish, poultry and meats, as well as breads, cheeses and general food staples, WEGMANS is a reflection of the American ‘melting pot’, where at any one time I can bump carts with a potpourri of people from Rochester’s diverse international community, or Wegman family members themselves, and I do.

But I get ‘lost’, easily.

I get waylaid in pastry, sampling Maria’s rum balls. Jim, in produce, brightens my day with his loud hello and attentive ear to my rambling anecdotes. Barnabus, in beers, educates me on hops and barley, which I forget, but how can you not listen to a man with such a fascinating name.


I go to Wegmans with three things: a shopping list, orders not to deviate from it, and a reminder to get in, get done and get home. Easier said than done. The sights and sounds of fresh vegetables, ripe fruits, prepared meals, fish, meats and cheeses being laid out in perfect symmetry is pleasing to the eye and tantalizing to the taste buds.  How can one possibly go through here quickly?

I’m ‘lost in bananas’ because shopping becomes secondary to the enjoyment of new discoveries in different departments. And I’m always ‘observing’ other shoppers, a diverse congregation of people who fill the aisles, their carts, and the cash registers.

If you’re going to get ‘lost’, do it in Wegmans.

You’ll have the nicest time finding your way out, but be prepared with a good alibi for when you get ‘found’….

srbottch  squash

*incredible stat: 9 WEGMANS grocery stores with a 15-20 minutes of my home. And thats just a start.  Rochester is fortunate to have this iconic company headquartered here.

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 enthusiastically blurted out, “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 that we had been in Miss Sullivan’s** 10th grade class, too…

**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

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

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’