The Bar Chronicles: #10, One Last Look…

Bar Night 2

It’s early April and we’re having London like weather in western New York; damp, rainy and temperatures that chill me from the inside-out. In full disclosure, I’ve never been to London, but I’ve seen movies.  Mounds of dirty snow, like black coal, still linger in plaza parking lots, fighting a losing battle against the slow creep of Spring’s warming temperatures.

Tonight, after a three-month winter hiatus, our small cadre is gathered at a neighboring bar for an evening of brotherhood and beer, heavy on the former and light on the latter. We motored a few miles to ‘the north side’ to revisit a bar whose motto is, ‘the place to be’.

If a few ‘old’ friends want to sit, talk and hear each other, then, yes, this is ‘the place to be’; a long bar, a couple of overhead televisions tuned to sporting events, dart boards and a dimly lit back room with a pool table. Picture it.

We opted for the back room and a wobbly table where we could spin yarns and talk about our senior worlds, away from disinterested regulars who huddled, round-shouldered, at the bar, closer to the taps for quick refills or benign conversation with the barmaid,

Our muster starts with a toast to our health and well-being. A clink of the glass mugs sends a reassuring message to each of us that we’re in good company and we care about each other. Then, the chatter begins.

There was a palpable happiness in the air. And why not, friends are reunited and we have a chance to talk about stuff that has no interest to others. It has taken us years to get here, and we’re in our element, as one would say. .

One of us has a new car, a Tesla, the hybrid vehicle that performs every task a driver could want, except the final one, a last look, just to make sure. Sensors are processing information constantly to give the perfect driving experience. The driver of this car is a former fighter pilot whose skill set will easily transfer to the high-tech sophistication of  a Tesla.

Technology is wonderful whether it’s in a car or gadget,and it’s often on display in our bar rendezvous. We show pictures of grand kids, check news updates, get stock information and find the fastest way home from the bar, if necessary, all from compact computers, our phones. However, when we walk to the car after an evening of social niceties, our focus is still on our conversation and fellowship. Our phones are pocketed while we continue to pay attention to each other and to where we are in life and the wonderful evening of companionship just concluded.

More importantly, though, we pay careful attention to where the hell we’re walking. Seniors don’t fall well!

Hence, we take one last look…

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”
Mark Twain on friendship

Steve
srbottch.com

Dedicated to our neighborhood ‘gang’…

The ‘Barre’ Chronicles…with a twist 

Barre-1st position

I stood at the barre, toed-out, alone in my masculinity and surrounded by a rainbow of colors, women in their exercise tights and tops. And me, with skinny legs in baggy gym shorts and a wrinkled cotton t-shirt with the logo of a local beer manufacturer, I’m the tallest, oldest, and only male ‘at the barre’, a consummate ‘fish out of water’.

Nevertheless, I would not be deterred. 

That was weeks ago and I’ve been ‘hitting the barre’ twice weekly since then. Still in loose shorts but more confident in knowing and doing the routine. First and second position are second nature to me, I wobble a bit on the relève but show good flexibility on the plié, as I squat low, then lower.

And in that two-a-week regiment, I’m seeing more muscular quads, thickening thighs, and firm buttocks with each passing class. But enough about my classmates, my own physiology is improving, as well.  The legs are stronger, my posture has improved and my hair is growing back…(two of three are true).

Barre exercise incorporates some ballet, yoga, balance and weight-bearing movements, using hand weights, balls, bands and the ever-present ballet barre, with multiple repetitions. The muscle ‘burn’ is often intense but momentary, while the feeling of accomplishment is exhilarating and enduring. Completing a routine often becomes an issue of mind over matter and I smile with an inner arrogance, knowing that I’m pushing myself to new limits. What I lack in grace or style, I make up with grimaces and grunts.

Exercise is like that, isn’t it?  Push yourself to reach a level, then reset to do better. The discipline to persevere and the resulting accomplishment are their own rewards.  The occasional injury is a nagging byproduct, a temporary interference.

Our instructor counts down, repetition after repetition, and when we think we’re done, she orders up, “One more rep, yes?”  In an earlier life I would have shouted, “Yes, Drill Sergeant!”. But, now, I just grin, grunt and go on the best I can.

Barre is part of the smorgasbord of exercise classes at my local JCC.  Along with Yoga. Tai-Chi Easy, some boxing and the pool, I feel myself getting a bit leaner and stronger.

And, if my alpha friends find it strange that I’m the only male in a class of women doing curtsy reps at a barre instead arm wrestling at a real bar, I just boldly offer them high fives, aggressive chest bumps and a declaration of the classic John Candy/Steve Martin line…

“How ‘bout them Bears!” *

Barre, Releve

Srbottch.Com

*Planes, Trains and Automobiles

It Was The 60s, A Decade of Change

Steve at Rockford College

“The 50s were relatively calm and peaceful.
The 60s were just around the corner.
What possibly could change?”
(‘It Was the 50s…I Was a Kid’ blog)

It was a proud moment, being selected to my elementary school’s boys choir to sing ‘I Am The Captain of The Pinafore’ at our 8th grade graduation. But, alas, we were a disaster, while the girls’ choir sailed away on a high note. A terrible way to start the new decade, the 60s, but a harmless lesson in life’s disappointments.

Up next, high school, and that meant the bottom rung for my friends and me, lowly freshmen, looking up at everyone. Upperclassmen garnered all the attention, naturally, even from the sisterhood of  freshman girls. The deck was stacked against us.

We were awkward, shorter than most girls and cursed with pimples from cheek to chin to cheek. Hiding them daily with creams and ointments was further evidence of our adolescent immaturity. But, it was the 60s, we’d grow up fast and our acne phobia would be small bumps compared to what lay ahead.

I ‘owned’ my parents, now that my sister was at college, out-of-state, never to return home, at least permanently. School and marriage were in her immediate future, a pattern I would later follow. But that was light years away in my universe as a young teen.  For now, I was too busy learning to dance to impress a girl I favored. Sounds crazy, but she liked the cha-cha, so why not learn it.  Unfortunately, she liked uniforms better, quit school and waltzed off with some young military officer in a new era of ‘Free Love’, the 60s. I quickly forgot her, but remembered the cha-cha.

The 60s saw a world seemingly unraveling. A Russian president pounded his desk with his shoe at the U.N. and threatened the free world, a Cuban dictator built missile sites aimed at our homeland and an unpopular war erupted in the rice paddies of Southeast Asia, a war that would scar our nation for years. It was a period of turmoil, uncertainty and drama, on a variety of fronts.

Assassinations took the lives of a young president, a civil rights leader and other prominent leaders.  Communities burned and mourned. Soldiers returned home in body bags and colleges were theatres of protest, often violent. Our country was being tested. Me, I was a college student in a midwestern city, away from home for the first time. And I was falling in love with a girl who still shares my life.

It was the 60s and the new norm was anything but normal. Within the decade, I’d gone from clueless to married, got a degree and a teaching job and let my hair grow longer, becoming a nonconformist…like everyone else.  Life was good, so it seemed. Then, one day, I got a letter from my ‘Uncle Sam’. My plans were going to change….

It was the 60s and the music told the story..,

‘Don’t stand in the doorway,
“Don’t block up the hall
“For the times, they are a-changin’”
(Dylan)

It Was The 50s and I Was A Kid, What Did I Know…

Front Porch (1)

It was the 50s, life was good. But I was a kid, what did I know…

I remember my mother waiting until supper was finished before contentedly sitting down herself, to enjoy a cup of tea and bite to eat. I grew up naively thinking that all mothers had the same routine; set, serve, clear, then eat. It was the 50s, and I was a kid, what did I know…

We never took a family vacation. However,  we were active as a family, bonding with simple, valuable, family activities: evening rides in our spacious Chevy station wagon for ice cream and hot dogs or to check out the wonderful countryside, fishing at local ponds, watching family television shows, playing games around the kitchen table, even venturing 40 miles to Boston for a baseball game.

We were part of a ‘blue collar’ community and’ living the dream’, it seemed. It was the 50s and I was a kid, what did I know…

june-n-stephen-1957

I watched ‘Three Stooges’ reruns and my father would scoff, “you’ll grow up stupid, watching that stuff”.  We watched Friday Night Fights together on a black ‘n white picture screen and listened on the radio when a Swede knocked out Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight crown.  I didn’t grow up ‘stupid’, nor did I become a tough guy.  The Stooges taught me how great laughter is and I learned nothing from boxing, except the cigar commercials caught my attention.  I would be tempted.  It was the 50’s and tobacco was still king. What did I know…

Annette Funicello, the prettiest Mouseketeer, surely saw me in the crowd at her K-Mart autograph appearance.  I had a crush on her, every boy did, I’m sure she winked at me.  But she never answered my fan letter.  Maybe it got lost.  It was the 50s, I felt heartbreak for the first time.

Big malls didn’t exist in the 50s. Neither did video games, but we had imaginations, enthusiasm and bicycles to take us places; museums, play fields, or downtown for stuff. Several of us went together for moral support when it came time to buy our first jockstraps for school sports.  It was the 50s, we were all kids, navigating our way…

The 50s was an exciting time for new fads, new music and new dangers.  Hula hoops became an instant craze and Elvis became an instant hit.  Parents worried about rock ‘n roll and morals while the government worried about a dictator named Castro. I worried about pimples.

mother-1951            dad-1957

Sitting on our front porch in the 50s, I would calculate my age by the year 2000.  Wow, that seemed old, I thought.  But that was a long road to travel and would take forever to get there.  With certainty, it came and went. I was so young when it did. At least, looking back now, it seemed I was.

The 50s were relatively calm and peaceful. The 60s were just around the corner. What possibly could change…

…but then, what do I know?

“That’s Why They Made Arms…”, A Father’s Lesson

1951 Dad at Ptown

“Pardon me”, I mumbled, while stretching and reaching in front of a shopper more involved with a cell phone call than picking a yam and moving outta the damn way… (excuse my tone, but, yes, I was becoming impatient in a grocery store).

“It’s okay”, she replied curtly, “besides, that’s why they made arms.”

Regardless if it was sarcasm, naïveté, or simple courtesy, her reply completely disarmed me, no pun intended.

I had no retort except to sigh and smile, which was not a bad thing. If we all could be coy enough to react to interruptions and interferences with a bit of sugar-coated sarcasm, there would be fewer angry people.

My ‘old man’ (I never called him that, but it seemed to fit well here) was a hard worker in every sense, fishing being no exception. He would rouse us early from our warm bags and onto the water before sunrise and before the fish started feeding. We worked hard for the catch and ridiculed, even scorned, the late arriving boats, the ‘9 to 5ers’.

A late Spring morning found us fishing for striped bass in a small bay somewhere on the Cape Cod coast (fishermen never reveal exact locations). With anchor down and the morning fog burning off, we were surrounded by schools of stripers and enjoying water thumping hits every cast. The late arrival from a shoreline dock noticed us and slowly motored his skiff closer and closer, casting deeper and deeper into ‘our waters’, hoping to be part of the action, himself, but failing miserably.

You could see it coming, my dad’s tolerance level fading fast, beginning with icy glares over our bow and across the water at this intruder who was oblivious to the angler’s rule, ‘you don’t fish in another man’s water’.

I was impressed with his effort to maintain control and decorum, but not surprised when he dropped his rod, cupped his hands in a funnel around his mouth and delivered a bellowing invitation, dripping with sarcasm…

 “Why don’t you come closer?”

The gulls watched from a buoy, the water went glassy, the fish quit working. We were surrounded by silence, waiting.  And then, it came…

“Thanks, but I think it’s the lure!”

It was a classic mocking response,  deliberate and subtle.  My father was at a loss for words … but not action.

The ‘old salt’ grabbed the wheel with one hand, gunned the motor, spun the boat to roil the water and headed to shore. With the other hand, he reached upward and back toward the interloper, and with nary a glance, delivered the anglers’universal one finger response.*

I realized then, years before my grocery store episode…

That’s why they made arms!

Steve B
srbottch.com

dedicated to ‘the old man’ who has filled my life with stories and lessons

*the writer does not approve this behavior, then or now…

The Bar Chronicles, #9: Christmas Memories

“You got to remember, it was right after the depression and a coal miner’s family didn’t have much at all”

Christmas, a time for goodwill, reverence and seasonal brews. This month’s parley took us to Carly’s Bar, on Winton Rd North, a true tavern bordering neighborhoods and businesses where we enjoyed idle talk, brotherhood and beer.

Carly’s touts itself, on their green and yellow neon sign hanging over the entrance, as ‘the place to be’. Beer choices were primarily standard fare, no speciality brews, and my favorite, Guinness, was served only in cans. Acceptable, but I do enjoy watching Guinness pour from a tap, its distinctive thick frothy head landing atop a dark chestnut-brown body. I can almost taste it now.

We had the back room to ourselves, not fancy but quiet. A giant bag of Skinny Pop popcorn in the middle of a round table satisfied our snack craving and the crumbs we left on the floor were enough to fill the tiny belly of the house mouse.

With our usual toast, we wished each other good will and kicked off the evening with general talk of health, family and mundane ‘man talk’.

But it’s the holiday season and our second and last round of ale found us recalling early Christmas memories. The stories were personal, told with a smile and enthusiasm that brought us back to a special time and place, albeit briefly.

Tales of a terrible Christmas tree, boxes of nails and hardware in a Christmas stocking, and a fruit ‘bucket’ for the family had us laughing and humble at the same time.

While it was well-intentioned, the thin white artificial tree my dad brought home was not festive, at all. But we adjusted to it out of respect to him. It lasted for two years before finding the curb. I vowed never to have an artificial tree but now have two of them. They’re almost real but haven’t quite developed the evergreen scent, yet.

The box of nails one of us found in ‘his’ stocking on an early Christmas morning ‘sneak peek’ was such a disappointment. “Nails and hardware, for me? Why?” Dismay quickly turned to delight with the realization it was an adult’s stocking. His dad would love it.

Life in the coal mining towns was difficult. The Great Depression sapped people’s energy and resources. And while Christmas was a time for giving and receiving, a simple ‘bucket’ of fruit to be shared by all often sufficed to lift the spirits of families. When the fruit was gone, the bucket lived on with practical uses.

The holiday season is a wonderful time to celebrate with friends and family. I wish our group and readers who follow The Bar Chronicles a Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah.

Steve

Srbottch.Com