The Crossing Guard Chronicles: New School Year and The ‘Curbside Classroom’

I stood resolute at my post, the early morning calm about to be broken by the approaching din of young voices and squeaky bicycles, a familiar and welcoming sound. It’s the first day of the new school year in Brighton, New York.

I stood prepared, blue book in hand, to take names and review notes, notes to refresh my memory of ‘old faces’ and add new names for new faces. As a school crossing guard, these are ‘my kids’ for the next ten months, learning their names is important.

And the ‘Curbside Classroom’ is reopened for business.

“Pick a card! Point it in the direction according to its label: North, South, East or West!”

————————————–

That was the first day of school, a month ago, and I’m getting better with names, and the kids know we cross in an easterly direction.

It’s my job to see the kids make it safely across this section of busy roadway. A byproduct is to pick up a little knowledge along the way and start the day with a smile.

Students are familiar with my routine: expect questions, expect challenges, expect to learn something and expect to laugh. Remember, this spot along a busy roadway is a classroom, too, a ‘curbside classroom’.

In the month that has passed, we’ve discussed words and meanings (moot vs mute), the power of positive words (‘encouragement’…’some people have done more than they thought they could because others thought they could’…Zig Ziglar), setting lofty goals, like going to Mars (‘do you think we will land a person on Mars in your lifetime?’), and other sundry topics

A couple of boys have become teens since the first day, so we serenaded them with ‘Happy Birthday’. Remember being 13? There’s a gaggle of new middle school students whose confidence is growing. At the opposite pole are Seniors with pending decisions. Will it be college and the selection of a career path, or joining the workforce, maybe a military option? It’s nice to have plans but they’re still so very young.

Some things haven’t changed, though, since the end of the last school year, especially the smiles and the enthusiasm to learn or be challenged. So, pick a card and point it in the right direction. Directions are important, we need to know where we’re going in Life.

Together, we’ll go through the school year in heat, cold, rain and snow. We’ll cheer for ‘snow days’, high-five Fridays’, stress over exam days and continue to build strong foundations to support us when we finally ‘arrive at our destination’.

It all begins with a ‘good morning ‘ and a smile at our ‘Curbside Classroom’! Wish us well…

Steve (Oct 2019)

‘S’amusing’ blog at ‘srbottch.com’

Yes, You CAN Go Home, Again…

Reverend Higgins was his usual dry self as he delivered a solemn message to the Pilgrim Church congregation. I always found him a bit dull, but he had good intentions. After all, he was the parson.

I visited ‘the old neighborhood’ recently, and, surprisingly, it began with a Sunday morning service. My sister joined me, unexpectedly. Our father, who never attended service, encouraged us to attend church, made us go, actually.

We usually walked home together after service and today was no different. Like an earlier time, we were expecting mother had a traditional roast leg of lamb ready for Sunday dinner. Ohhh, the skin, always crunchy and tasty, but not so healthy, was a favorite part.

Lucky day, the aroma of cooked lamb guided us past the Boling sisters’ house and down the long blacktop driveway to the screened back door of our ‘three decker’ house. Our big yellow house stood out from others because dad maintained it well, scraping and painting wherever necessary, every summer. Three families lived here, the ‘landlord’ on one floor and renters on two and three. Dad was the ‘landlord’, the first floor was ours.

‘Three deckers’ were typical of New England and Hollywood Street was lined with them, like old ships cleated to the dock. Front porches and big backyards, long driveways and spinning clothes lines attached to the enclosed back porch, these houses were working class domiciles in every sense of the word.

A small market store anchored the our street to the corner. Fresh cold cuts and ground beef, ground on demand, were staples there. The red cooler, filled with ice cold water, always had a variety of tonics* bobbing for the taking. A quarter more than covered the cost. The proprietor was busy, so I’ll catch him next time…

While old neighbors were stirring about, it seemed odd that no one acknowledged me with anything more than eye contact. The Sullivans, a good Catholic family of six kids, a mother and grandmother, were coming home from church. The dad, would come later, from a bar, drunk as usual. Sad to see.

Next door, old man Gibson is going about his property, head down, probably still looking for evidence of last night’s disturbance when some kids threw firecrackers and it sounded like gunshots. A long string of crackers would do that.

There’s my father tending his small tomato garden alongside the neighbor’s fence. It’s Sunday evening, now, and he’s waiting for mother. They’re going bowling, something they enjoy together in their retiring years. I’d love to talk but don’t want to make them late. Next time, maybe…

I saw a lot more today than I could recall, I’m certain. They say we don’t remember all of our dreams. I realized that when I snapped awake in my bed this morning, hundreds of miles and many years removed from Hollywood Street and Worcester, Massachusetts.

It was an enjoyable ‘visit’ home, albeit short, but more nights and chances to dream await me. I’m excited about it. Maybe I’ll visit Beaver Brook Park where I saw the circus, played ball and went to summer day camp. I’ll do that the next time, maybe…

You know, I should call my sister…

Steve (August 2019)

srbottch.com

*a common New England word for soda, pop, etc.

The Bar Chronicles: #25, ‘How Fast Can Mosquitoes Fly?’

Bar Night 2

Mosquitoes! We talked about mosquitoes. Sober and provocative conversation has never been a priority at ‘Bar Night’. We’re just content to gather, wish each other well, have a cold beer, and talk about whatever! When we leave, we’re relaxed, a little smarter, happy and ready to sleep.

A warm July summer evening found us around a wobbly wooden table, by the screen door at Caverly’s Irish Pub. This was our 25th gathering and what began for two of us as a night to ‘howl at the moon’, two years ago, has become a relaxing evening of beer, brotherhood and BS for six of us, although only four tonight, a ‘quorum’.  We reached high to the center and touched our glasses in a toast, then began.

Sometimes, it’s a slow beginning. But we up the tempo a bit, find a topic, hash it around, then move on.

Books, underground cities, poetry, UFOs and the paranormal, Asian worms, ants, first jobs, wives (how we met them), and more, Aristotle, Fibonacci and recalling our favorite teacher. We’ve touched it all, but no politics. You might say that we’re an ‘eclectic’ group, but that would be presumptuous.

I’ve heard the same tale more than once with the same funny lines and same embellishment, nevertheless, we listen and drink. We’re Seniors, when telling and retelling is a right of passage.

As for Caverly’s, it’s become our favorite watering hole. Relatively quiet, if there’s such a thing for a bar, I like the intimacy. It’s small with old hardwood floors, old furniture and even old dogs. A perfect setting for old guys. I hope you visit it and are impressed with its wide assortment of beers and excellent prices.

House Dog

I had hoped to plan something more exciting than just picking up the guys, driving to the pub, ordering a round, talking and going home. However, we enjoy getting picked up, driving together, ordering a beer, talking and driving home. So, we kept the routine. Order and familiarity are comforting to Seniors.

As for the mosquitoes, well, it’s been a warm and buggy summer, lots of pesty insects and nasty bites. One of us* suggested a fan to repel them, after all, and here’s tonight’s takeaway, a mosquito’s top speed is ‘1 1/2 mph’.

Not too many can get excited about tonight’s adventure or this story, but I know a few who will…might.  Until next time, Happy 25th to my ‘Bar Night’ friends.

Steve (July 2019)

*reads The NY Times

My Father’s Overalls…

The more time I put between my youth and today, the more challenging it becomes to remember that youth and its many halcyon moments. But then something happens to jog my memory, filling it with vivid pictures from that time. People, places and events will flash through my mind with clarity and detail.

Summertime begets a beehive of activities in neighborhoods around town. The better weather invites folks outside to work on their grounds and homes, to beautify and repair. Recently, I saw a hired painter wearing the stock and trade white bib overalls of his profession, and I couldn’t help but recall my father, a painter himself, and how important his overalls were to him.

A businessperson wears a suit, a doctor dons scrubs, a teacher a tie, well, not as much nowadays. My father, a painter, wore bib overalls. He had several pair, and wore one proudly, every working day of his career, representing the company that bore his father’s name.

I remember him beginning the week on Monday mornings, on the job site in a clean, creased pair of the white bib overalls. Overalls are not worn as a fashion statement, mind you, they are utilitarian, functional, worn for a purpose, and comfortable. However, when my father put them on over a white, long sleeved button-down shirt, he presented a handsome, confident and professional figure.

Overalls, clean and creased? How? It was a process, a production. And it was a team effort, husband and wife. In the early days, she scrubbed them by hand over a scrub board, my sister recalls. Later, a washer with wringer and then a fully automatic washer. The smell of lye, the ‘secret’ ingredient added to the wash for whiter than white overalls, permeated the house on ‘overall wash days’.

Washing was followed by drying on an outside clothesline, even in winter. The crease was made by a taut wire frame inserted in each leg. When they dried, those overalls were almost too clean and ‘pressed’ to wear painting. but he wore them on every job.

A proper uniform, or suit, tells the world who you are and what you do. About a painter wearing anything less, he would scoff, sarcastically,

“Look at that guy! You want him painting your house?”

‘That guy’ would not work for my dad.

A former sales executive once mused to me,

“If you want to wear a sport coat, go work for someone else!” (Bob R)

Fortunately. I was wearing a suit that day. But the message is the same one my father would send by his own code: dress for success! And he did.

Do you?

Steve (July 2019)

srbottch.com

My sister and I enjoyed recalling the scenes around our household during our youth. ‘Overall’ wash day brought back wonderful memories of our parents on such an ‘important’ event. I hope you enjoy reading it and it tickles your own memory of good family affairs.

Happy Birthday, America

Did you know that two of the US ‘Founding Fathers’, John Adams, second President of US, and Thomas Jefferson, 3rd US President, political arch enemies for much of their lives, died on the same day, July 4th, 1826, the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence (7/4/1776).

Today the US celebrates its 243rd year of Independence and, as a proud American, I’m happy to bring you this bit of historical trivia.

Steve

July 2019

Srbottch.Com

To all proud Americans

I Tried The ‘Skinny’ Pants…I Was Feeling Young!

Whatever possessed me to buy a pair of ‘skinny pants’? Make that two pair, last summer.

Skinny pants’ are the popular pants that fit evenly at the waist, slightly snug at the hips, and taper down the legs where the hem wraps narrowly around your ankle area. Not the skin tight, stretchy style, mind you, but still ‘skinny’. They can be seen on a variety of young men, everywhere ….. young, slim men.

They’re not seen on ‘old men’, anywhere ….. old and ‘filled out’ men. Define ‘old men’ as you please, but when you reach a stage in life when your hair is gone, your ears are long, your skin is saggy and your waist is baggy, you’re fittingly described as old, or older, and too ‘mature’ for skinny pants’.

Me, I exercise and eat a healthy diet. My weight is well managed. However, Mother Nature has won the body battle, albeit in a slow and deceiving, maybe even cruel, way. One day, you wake up and you’ve changed: the little roll around your waist is permanently problematic, it takes longer to get up and go, and you ache, even if you’ve done nothing, you ache.

Yet, here I was, browsing through the pant rack. And I saw them, khaki ‘skinny pants’ and I was feeling young. So, naturally, I felt even younger when the dressing room clerk complimented my selection and the cashier doubled down on it. Have you ever heard a sales clerk tell you otherwise?

I’m an easy mark for sales people, especially those who compliment me. I swiped the credit card, and walked out with a hop in my step.

Fast forward to today, a year later, a new summer. My life long critic (in a good way) finally found it in herself to bring me back to reality, “You know, those pants really aren’t meant for you”. As if I didn’t know. I knew a year ago, when I bought them. But I was feeling young.

Now, back to the drawing board for this summer’s fashion buys. Probably will be the old standby, blue jeans. One thing for certain, it won’t be the pants that hang halfway down your backside, unless of course, the sales clerk compliments me.

Incidentally, I haven’t discarded my ‘skinny pants’, yet. I’ve been doing a lot of yard work and my waist line seems to have shrunk ever so slightly, enough to make me look respectable. I’m thinking about keeping them, at least through the gardening season.

Steve

Srbottch.com

June 2019

To all men young at heart, slim or not!

The Angel On My Shoulder

There she sits, maybe she stands, I don’t know, I don’t see her. But she’s there, I’m aware of her, ‘the angel on my shoulder’. She’s not heavy, not a burden, just a presence when needed.

From holding ‘baby’ brother
To holding baby grandchild…

She’s my big sister. She’s older, but it wouldn’t be prudent to say it that way, now would it? ‘Big’ is proper.

You wouldn’t think I’d want her there after all the times she harassed me as a kid, growing up in the same household, antagonizing me in the way big sisters do.

But times change. This is the sister you get after the growing up is behind you, maybe way behind, the one who eventually assumes the role and becomes your ‘angel’, helping you tack through the headwinds of Life, and doing it so naturally.

It’s a good role for her and it’s made a difference for me. Where I could have behaved recklessly, my ‘angel’ showed me a better way, a cautious, not impetuous, way. And I admit, begrudgingly, I’m better for it. Where do they get the grace to do that?

The same sister who poked and prodded me into arguments years ago is now a person I can listen to for advice. How does that happen?

Miles separate us, but she’s there, sitting on my shoulder, trying her darnedest to help me make good décisions. Not by telling me what to do, but rather by suggesting how she would do it. I’m thankful for her. Of course, I would never tell her that. Can’t let a big sister think she’s doing right.

But, something tells me, she knows. She always knew.

Happy Birthday, Big Sister!

Steve

srbottch.com

June 2019

For my wonderful ‘big’ (and older) sister, June, and ‘big’ sisters everywhere, ‘angels’ on their brothers’ shoulders.

The Crossing Guard Chronicles: #4, ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Morning’

The ‘chorus’ joined in, the ‘maestros’ led, the ‘audience’ smiled and a good time was had by all. We’re the ‘pretenders’, middle and high school students and a crossing guard, letting our joyful, if off key voices be heard while waiting to make our way across four lanes of busy blacktop on the way to begin the last school day of the week.

“Oh, what a beautiful morning,

Oh, what a beautiful day.

I’ve got a beautiful feeling,

Everything’s going my way!”

Whatever the reason, a Friday, a beautiful daybreak for a change, or the last few weeks of school, it was a morning to sing, and we did. Well, I did. A few kids knew the words from the Broadway show, ‘Oklahoma’, and accompanied me. The more we sang, the louder we sang.

This magnificent morning, with its cloudless blue sky, was a time to break out in big smiles and we did that, too, even the ‘sophisticated’ Seniors joined. Some early rising real ‘seniors’ from the neighborhood, who were beginning their daily ‘10,000 steps’, showed some spirit by singing along as they crossed and mingled with students.

What a glorious way to end the school year. And quite a year it’s been at the ‘curbside classroom’. From quizzes to quotes, word games and jokes, anagrams and acronyms, new words and old history, inventions and inventors, we learned a lot of ‘stuff’ from each other. I hope some of it sticks.

But what I really hope is that our mornings, which began with ‘have a great day’, helped these youngsters to really have a great day.

I’ve enjoyed their company and camaraderie on sunny days, on cold snowy and rainy days. I wish the best of success and happiness to those who are graduating and look forward to seeing returning and new students next September.

I’ll be there, at the ‘curbside classroom’ with more facts, new challenges, brain teasers and general conversation. Look for the guy in bright yellow.

Steve (June ’19)

To all the students of the ‘curbside classroom’. Continued successes!

The Bar Chronicles: #24, ‘Tonight Was For The Birds’

“My turn to pay.”

“No, I’ve got it, my wallet is already out.”

How easy was that? Right up front, the bill is a nonissue. One of us steps up and picks up the tab. It’s a badge of honor to pay the bill, especially at Caverly’s Irish Pub, where the beer is cheap and the ambience suits us perfectly.

Caverly’s is our ‘home’ for ‘Bar Nights’, we set up shop in the back room, away from the din of bar talk and the hoopla of an occasional dart game. Tonight, even before we toasted, the evening conversation began with some slight complaining, bemoaning is a better word, maybe bitching is better yet, about the lack of vocational courses in the general public schools.

“What happened to auto mechanics and shop classes? It’s not part of the general curriculum today!”

“Who’s going repair the cars and do the plumbing?”

“What about home economics?”

“And they don’t teach cursive handwriting, anymore”, I added without thinking. Heads turned and silence prevailed, but only for a moment.

“Handwriting? Who the Hell writes anymore, anyway,” I was reminded.

“Well, they should!” There I was, the ‘old man’ in me rallying to the defense of ‘how things used to be’, the ‘glory days’, as Springsteen coined them.  My mother had beautiful handwriting, thanks to the strict nuns and her Catholic education, as limited as it was.  But, I digress.

Enough ‘bemoaning’, there’s beer to be drunk. We clinked our bottles and glasses, toasted to good health, wealth and happiness, and began anew.

Do you feed our feathered friends?? It’s a popular pastime with some ‘Bar Nighters’, and the Baltimore Oriole is one of the regular visitors to their feeders. A bright orange feeder and a healthy portion of jelly attracts these beautiful specimens, apparently.

(Photo by Tom Lathrop, a Bar Nighter)

I say, ‘apparently’, because I wouldn’t know. I lost interest in bird feeding years ago when my family was traumatized by a red tail hawk crashing onto our bird feeder and flying off with a mourning dove clutched in its talons. The kids were young as we watched in horror when the hawk lighted on an overhead branch and consumed the stunned bird, piece by feathered piece. Sometimes, Nature’s way is disgusting.

The squirrel challenge is another reason not to bother with a feeder. These furry creatures can make a grown man look silly, as they outsmart every system we devise to stop them from intruding.  They wore me down.

Some ‘Bar Nighters’ might think they’ve put up the proper defenses against these critters: a long, thin stainless steel wire to a raised feeder; a tipping feeder that closes under the squirrel’s weight; or my favorite, cover the pole with sticky substance, honey or mollasses, but then you attract ants. What’s your remedy?

By the way, if you’re counting, the next gathering will be our 25th Bar Night, a milestone. I thought about making a calendar, ‘The Men of Bar Night’.  Maybe I should take a vote.

The beers are done and we call it a night. I need to get home to fix a dripping faucet. It’s hard to find a good plumber nowadays, y’know! They don’t teach it in school…

Steve

May 2019

The Crossing Guard Chronicles: #3, ‘Jefferson, Edison and Crapper

“Who invented the swim fins?” (You’ll be surprised)

“Who invented the swivel chair?”

“Who invented the first automatic flush toilet?” (7 1/2 gpf…Yikes!)

“..,the baseball mitt, the sewing machine, electric kettle and phonograph?”

Do you see a trend? These were but a few questions tossed my way during our recent ‘stump the crossing guard’ activity at our ‘curbside classroom’. The topic was ‘inventions’. Challenge me with an invention, and I’ll tell you the inventor. Really? I could do that?

“…the zipper, pink flamingo and thimble?”

The truth is, I don’t know inventors, Jefferson and Edison were my default answers, and Crapper was a ‘throw in’ for some subtle humor. But I do know how to stimulate curiosity in the preteens and teens at my school crossing post.

Ask questions, awe them with facts, dare to challenge them, mix in some fun and you’ve got a winning formula for a positive start to the school day, even before they get to their building.

The early morning light showed smiles and enthusiasm on the faces of kids genuinely interested in the ‘game’, as they peppered me with inventions, some common and others, not so common. Those who didn’t have a challenge listened with interest. Now, that’s a positive.

“Who invented Velcro? (Great question, but do you know the story behind it)

“Who invented the thunder lamp?” (Would have loved one back in the 60s)

“Who invented the umbrella?” (Useful this Spring)

The questions went on, requiring me to do some follow-up research to verify answers (below). And, to that point, the only rule was that they had to know the inventor’s name.

“Who invented the Diesel engine (there actually was a guy named Diesel), the chocolate chip cookie (my wife baked some this weekend…they’re gone), and, the traffic light (no, he wasn’t a crossing guard)?

“Bifocals?” (the same fellow who did the swim fins)

Adults crossing with the kids joined the fun. “Who invented the ‘reaper-binder’, the ‘manhole cover’ and what did BF Goodrich invent?”

The end of the school year will be here anon. It’s been a good one at our crossing post with lots of smiles, good conversation and latent learning. While the formal education occurs inside the brick buildings, the day begins earlier, on the sidewalk, with an informal ‘game of Life’ at our ‘curbside classroom’.

Who invented the ‘flying shuttle, printing press, the light bulb’?

I’ve provided a list of the inventions we discussed. As a sidebar, it was not unusual for a discussion to break out over an invention, or the inventor.

I enjoyed the ‘challenge’, as the kids seemed to do, as well, so much so that I believe they expect more. Your ideas and participation are welcomed.

Steve

To all the creators who made our lives simpler with something new every day, and to the students, who help make our mornings a fun time by both listening and participating.

“WHO INVENTED THE …?”

Like many inventions, some were credited to the wrong person, especially in cases where someone didn’t actually invent, but improved a product This list is the best information I found using Wikipedia and other sources. If there’s a correction, please note it in the comments.

Swivel Chair: Thomas Jefferson, who purportedly signed the Declaration of Independence from said chair.

Light bulb: Joseph Swan, Sir Hiram Maxim AND Thomas Edison. (1835)

Printing press: Johannes Gutenberg (1438)

Flying shuttle (a weaving tool): John Kay (1733)

Manhole cover: Thomas Crapper (still collectibles in England).

Reaper-binder: (a farm implement, as an enhancement to the reaper) Charles Baxter Withington (1872)

Bi-focales: Ben Franklin (he used them frequently but whether or not he in invented them is subject to debate)

Traffic light: JP Knight, am English train engineer (1868)

Chocolate chip cookie: Ruth Graves Wakefield (1938)

Diesel engine: Rudolph Diesel (1893)

Umbrella: more than 4000 ago, but waterproofed by the Chinese in 11th Century BC.

Thunder lamp: Richard Clarkson (2013, do you have one)

Velcro: George deMestral (1941)

Thimble: John Lofting (subject to debate) (1693)

Pink flamingo: Don Featherstone, Designer) (1957)

Zipper: Whitcomb Jutson (1890s)

Phonograph: Thomas Edison (1877)

Electric kettle: Arthur Leslie Lang (1891)

Sewing machine: Thomas Saint (1790)

Baseball mitt: Bill Doak, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher (1920), but subject to a great deal of controversy.

Flush toilet: (1596). Several names attributed. Thomas Crapper did not invent it but he significantly improved it with subsequent inventions.

Bendy straw: Joseph Friedman (1937)

Swim fins: Ben Franklin (1717)

Wheel: early man