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

#2 Isn’t So Bad…

“Your #2 is our #1 business”
(on the truck of a septic tank cleaning company) 

I won a spelling bee contest in 4th grade. It was the last time I finished first, with one exception. There were memorable 2nd places, though, and I decided that for an overall body of life’s work, #2 isn’t so bad.

As a kid, I was an alternate on my Little League All-Star baseball team which is like 2nd place to the 15 kids who made the first team, the 1st placers. Nevertheless, I got an All-Star hat, inclusion in the team photo where I’m smiling like a 1st placer, and 58 years later no one knows that I was an alternate, a 2nd placer.


(upper right…smiling like a fox)

In high school I made the golf team. The coach needed bodies to fill out the roster and I knew which end of the club to hold, so there I was, playing golf daily on local courses for free. Not a bad deal for being just a player. And my college application (yes, I included it under ‘extra curricular’ activities), never mentioned I was #6 on a six-man team.

Uncle Sam called and I attended the Army’s Drill Sergeant Academy at Fort Ord, CA as a reservist and was #1 for five weeks, until I caved under the pressure of being at the top and finished #2 when I marched my classmates outside the boundaries on a final practical exam. Perfection is an important criteria for an Army Drill Sergeant. Still, I earned a ‘Smokey Bear’ hat and added a stripe. Ironically, when I graduated, I was asked to come back as a full time drill sergeant. They must have had a shortage of #2s. I declined.

During my sales career, I finished 2nd on several occasions to the top sales person. For awhile, I started to feel like #2, but I got a ring, handshakes and the usual accolades from management, the same as #1, so I got over it. Besides, I got more laughs at my acceptance speech and that made me feel like #1 for the night.

No, settling for #2 in life’s contests isn’t so bad. It’s in love that you want to finish #1. And I did. Recently, I surprised my wife with a reminder and brief celebration of the 51st anniversary of our very first date. She wore a gorgeous black & white dress to our college Christmas dance in 1965. I walked her back to her dorm, asked her for a kiss goodnight and have been #1 since. Quite an exception, wouldn’t you say?

“Being No.2 gives you the glory of being at the top without the pressure of being No.1.”
(Rose Budnkoski)

A Hat Story…🎩 

“I collect hats. That’s what you do when you’re bald.”
James Taylor, Singer/Songwriter

I’m not a hat collector, but I am bald, on the top. Heat escapes through that unguarded space like smoke up a chimney.  Hence, I need a hat.

I find hats difficult to buy; so many styles, so many shapes.  A hat literally changes the way you look, for better or worse, often hiding the irregular shapes that a hairless head reveals. It’s important to find the ‘perfect’ hat.

Trying on hats in front of a big department store mirror is awkward, too. I use the dressing room for privacy where I can channel my ‘inner hat looks’ and zone in on the perfect one that fits those ‘looks’ as well as my head. I’m thinking something iconic, like this guy…

brando

I’ve worn a variety of hats over the years: team hats with logos, winter hats with side flaps. fishing hats, those grubby hats that smelled and got tossed around and stored with gear until the next outing. One smell of that fishing hat helped you recall the story of the ‘one that got away’.

hats-3

The Army gave me a ‘Smokey Bear’ hat. Actually, the Army doesn’t ‘give’ anything, I earned it. An odd shape, the Drill Sergeant hat was good for standing close to a trainee and pecking him on the forehead with the hard brim to make a point. I know, harassment,right?

hats-4

When I was six or seven, my parents dressed me for a brother-sister picture. Of all things, they found a soft hat my size that made me look like a little old man escorting a young and much taller lady to the local Moose Club for a night of  jitterbugging. Surely, it embarrassed my sister to pose next to me. I wore it just the one time.

Now, I am an old man and need a hat with a bit more style than my lifeless, faded Red Sox hat. It’s a classic but it’s ready to become a fishing hat.

red-sox-hat

Style, comfort and warmth, the three criteria for a new hat. I found one on a recent solo shopping expedition. It’s the Gatsby or ‘newsboy’ style. My wife is not a fan, says it makes me look old. I think she means ‘old-er’. I like it. It keeps the heat in and that’s good enough for me.

What do you think?

hats-1

Yes, hats can add style to your image, a little pizzazz to your ‘get up and go’. But thinking about the different hats I’ve worn, this one is probably the one I treasure most…

hats-2

Steve

Srbottch.Com

Smaller Bananas: A Dog Story

jake

“1, 2, 3 for me, 1 for Jake”

This isn’t a story about bananas, it’s about a dog, our dog, Jake, ‘the king of all dogs’.

I mention bananas because Jake and I ‘bonded’ over bananas every morning. For every 3 slices of banana I dropped on my cereal, Jake got 1. He stood by, waiting and salivating, while I sliced and counted each piece into our respective bowls: “1, 2, 3 for me, 1 for Jake”. Then, he waited for my signal to enjoy it.

Jake has been gone a couple of weeks and we’re still discarding his ‘stuff’: beds, toys, treats, things that bring a tear to our eyes. Some of it we donated to our local animal shelter.

I still find clumps of shedded hair when I clean house. It moves between my fingers and I feel his presence; the softness of his coat and the smells of his oils. The attachment to a pet is incredibly strong and letting it go is difficult, but we’re making progress.

Our decision to euthanize Jake at the appropriate time, if there is such a time, was  challenging and heart breaking. Outwardly, a dog may not show his aches and pains, but the look in Jake’s eyes told us he was hurting. His mind was willing but his body wasn’t, the end of his life was imminent.

‘The Last Battle’* is a poem that tells the story of a dog’s final wish. The dog reminds us that we’ve shared a wonderful life, a life filled with love, and our final act of love would be to help the dog pass, peacefully.

We loved Jake and made that decision to end his suffering, humanely. Pet owners face this decision with heavy hearts. Jake came to us as a nervous young rescue from a local shelter.  He left us in a calm and peaceful state, cradled in the arms of my wife, his constant companion.

We take solace in knowing that our rescue eleven years ago afforded Jake a chance to live a happy, normal dog’s life. In return, he gave us his love, warmth, kindness and loyalty. We mourn his loss now and will remember him always as ‘the king of all dogs’.

I’m still having a morning banana, but buying smaller ones that I can finish, myself…

Steve
srbottch.com

To Jake the Dog, and dog lovers everywhere

jake-n-cheryl-walking

*The Last Battle
(1st stanza)
Author Unknown

If it should be that I grow frail and weak
And pain should keep me from my sleep,
Then will you do what must be done,
For this — the last battle — can’t be won.
You will be sad I understand,
But don’t let grief then stay your hand,
For on this day, more than the rest,
Your love and friendship must stand the test.

The Bar Chronicles, #8 (Rev 1): ‘The Interruption’*

Bar Night 2

“To our good health and friendship!” 

 We clinked the frothy pints of our favorite brews, IPAs and Guinness, and began another evening of general conversation, fellowship and beer, a couple of rounds if we’re lucky.

Our last experience was good enough to make another run to Caverly’s Irish Pub in the Southwedge neighborhood of Rochester, NY for a post-mortem discussion of our uniquely American system of electing a President, the ‘electoral college’.

But first, as usual, our pithy conversation commenced with a mixed bag of topics: living with brown bears (a Russian family actually domiciles a bear in its home); turkeys (yes, they can fly); and, cars (the environmentalist among us is getting a Chevy Volt…I want a ride).

Then, a bit surprisingly, came the interruption…

“Pardon me, fellas, ever see one of these?”

The stranger at the adjacent table leaned into our space and held out a round metal object. “I carry this in my pocket for good luck. Bet you don’t know what it is.” The sly grin and cocked eyebrow bespoke the confidence that he had us stumped. I was stumped.

(“I’ll take Local History for a thousand, Alex”)   

“It’s an old Rochester bus token, haven’t seen one for years.” countered the most senior of our senior trio this evening.

Slam dunk! Just like that, the intruder slid back in his seat, shoulders slumped, confidence gone, challenge repelled.

“A bus token, huh! He didn’t know I’ve been around since Roosevelt.”  Without hesitation, we raised our glasses, nodded our approval and silently toasted this ‘small victory’ with a drawdown of our ales. Victories of any size are worth toasting when you’re a Senior.  How quickly emotions can shift from one side to the next, or table, as was the case.

The mere mention of a President’s name segued us into an election discussion, not about the winner and loser but the electoral college. Do we like it? Does it serve its purpose? Does it validate the winner?

Interestingly, three of us couldn’t agree. One thoughtfully defended it as a method of assuring all parts of the country have leverage in the race. Another just felt that the popular vote should determine a winner. The third declined an opinion but did opine that we need civilian leaders who make smart decisions. We can all agree on that.

Someone kicked on the jukebox and an Irish ballad filled the small barroom, it was a good time to leave.   We headed out the door in lockstep to the rhythm of the music, egos in tact.

We’re Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives but tonight we put alliances aside and just enjoyed our friendship, a perfect antidote to a long, arduous and grueling political campaign. And we were only the spectators….

srbottch.com

*writer’s prerogative : I made a few revisions including a title name.  I think it improves the story.  

‘But, You Knew I Was a Snake’*

snake

 She clung to my neck like a high school sweetheart as we posed for the camera, ‘She’ was a snake, a ‘ball constrictor’, and me, I was a narcissist with an appetite for curiosity.

‘(Curiosity) makes your mind active instead of passive’ **

“This photo will get some attention”, I was thinking, even before the shutter snapped. “Social media was meant for me…”

I had never held a snake and it wasn’t on my ‘bucket list’. But I couldn’t resist when the reptile and her handler were in line with me at the counter of a local garden/pet supply store. I was buying mulch and ‘the snake’ was there for a take-out meal, a box of rats. My curiosity and sense of adventure pushed me, “May I have a picture with your snake?”

‘(Curiosity) makes your mind observant of new ideas’ **

Satisfied the snake was not a threat, I let the handler drape it over my shoulders. Our fears often are created by the unknown, I thought. And my knowledge of snakes was full of unknowns. Saturday morning Tarzan movies was my limited reference of snake knowledge. But my curiosity was driving me. “It’s so dry and smooth”.  The more I spoke, the more ignorant I appeared.

‘(Curiosity) opens up new worlds and possibilities’ **

By now, a small cadre of customers had formed behind me in the register line. Curious, I suppose.  They were practicing patience and I was becoming the center of attention…and enjoying it. Sales people love attention, so it felt natural. But something felt unnatural as we smiled and hissed for the camera.

Oddly, my rib cage felt cold and the thought occurred to me that the snake sensed my slight nervousness and her body was adjusting accordingly, by changing temperature. Wrong!  But I held firm and smiled, nothing was going to spoil this Facebook post.

Not even a snake peeing on me. Snakes have heavy streams, I learned.

I got my picture and the crowd behind me got their laughs. I was left with a hoodie and rib cage soaked with snake urine. But my ego and curiosity were satisfied. The picture garnered numerous ‘likes’ on Facebook, Instagram and now a blog story.

Are you a curious person? Has your curiosity ever put you in predicaments? Has it often satisfied you?

‘(Curiosity) brings excitement into your life’ **

The life of curious people is far from boring. It’s neither dull nor routine. There are always new things that attract their attention, there are always new ‘toys’ to play with. Instead of being bored, curious people have an adventurous life.**

Find something to be curious about!

Steve

Srbottch.com

* ‘The Snake’ is a song released by American singer Al Wilson and written by Oscar Brown

** ‘4 Reasons Why Curiosity is Important’, Donald Latumahina (Lifehack.org)

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