‘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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The Bar Chronicles, #7: ‘Presidential Campaigns’

Bar Night 2

“Want to join us for a beer tonight?”
“But the Presidential debate is tonight”.

“It’s beer!”
“What time shall I meet you?”

And so our newest ‘bar night’ guest joined the boys for an evening of ‘brotherhood and beer’. No arm twisting, just old fashioned subtle ‘salesmanship’, beer vs politics.

Caverly’s, in Rochester’s South Wedge, calls itself an Irish pub. It definitely tilts that way with an oversized Irish flag in the bar, dart boards on the wall and a variety of Irish beers. The owner/bartender and patrons were a friendly group and the beer was fairly priced.

At first, we were like the proverbial strangers in a western movie who get stared down by the locals when they ride into town. Four seniors, not riding, but strolling through the open door, surveying the decor and nodding approval, caused a momentary pause to a couple’s Scrabble game. We passed the final test, a sniff over by a couple of old dogs who were there with their regulars, then claimed the only 4 person table in this small neighborhood establishment. Our evening was about to commence.

As always, the clinking of our pints and well wishes to each other signaled the start of another evening of recollection and remembrances. With the usual small talk out of the way, we got down to a not-too-serious political discussion, ‘past presidential campaigns and elections’. We adroitly omitted the current campaign in an effort to maintain high standards, however, as we discussed, past elections weren’t innocent affairs, either.

Adams and Jefferson were most uncivil in 1800 and when Adams lost he declined to attend the inauguration of our third President, who needed help from the House of Representatives to break a tie with Arron Burr.

John Q Adams won the highest office in 1824, besting ‘Old Hickory’ Andrew Jackson, courtesy of the House, again. See a trend to close elections?  Nastiness and divisiveness was not invented in 2016. After Abe Lincoln won in 1860, the entire country fell into civil chaos, war.

Then there were mottos and headlines: ‘I Like Ike’ and ‘Dewey Wins’. Of course, it took until 1960 before a Catholic was elected, thanks to John Kennedy. He beat Nixon who won a ‘do-again’ eight years later.

Remember Lyndon Johnson lifting his beagle by the ears? He lost the SPCA vote on that one and famously declared, in 1968, “if nominated, I will not run, and if elected, I will not serve”. So Democrats nominated Hubert Horatio Humphrey* at their convention and the streets of Mayor Daley’s Chicago erupted in violent protests with the Vietnam War as a backdrop.

Political campaigns are major events, grueling work for the candidates and expensive. But, if they come through Rochester, it would be fun to sit down and have a beer with the candidates. They could join us at Caverly’s and for one night we could be ‘all the President’s men’. That would certainly be a ‘Bar Chronicle’ to remember.  I just hope they don’t read the writing on the bathroom wall…

caverlys-wall

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*In President Carter’s  nomination acceptance speech of 1980, he referred to Humphrey as Hubert Horatio ‘Hornblower’, a fictional naval character in novels.

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.

srbottch.com

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

The Streets of Our Neighborhood…

streets

(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’.

srbottch

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.

high-falls

(photo by Kathy Davis: blog.life-verses.com)

 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)

srbottch.com

  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

Bananas

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.

Fruit

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…

srbottch.com

**name changed for obvious reasons.

Dedicated to Steve, Tom & Jim