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 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.

 

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…

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**name changed for obvious reasons.

Dedicated to Steve, Tom & Jim

Today, I Built a Snow Fort

Winter Street

Living in western New York requires a hearty soul when it comes to weathering the weather. Every winter, Mother Nature throws her best punch at us. After lying mostly dormant this winter, she reminded us of her mood swings with a pummeling of snow that stopped drivers, closed roads and shut down businesses.  And some of us thought Spring was on the way.  Ha!

How do people along the Niagara Frontier handle Mother Nature with her long, dark winter nights, and mornings crisp enough to snap the nose off your face if you wiggled it?  Only one way, we take what She’s blown at us and make it our playground.

We tug on long johns, wrap ourselves in downy coats, then race out-of-door to play, just as we did when some of us still could race.

Against cheek numbing winds, we schuss down snow-packed mountains on narrow flat boards. We clamp on snowshoes and break new trails in deep silent stands of nearby woods.

Snowshoes

Dull skates and old sleds are rescued from dusty web covered garage lofts or backyard sheds. Blades and runners are honed and waxed to make perfect for gliding over new ice or flying down slick hills on our bellies.

The brilliant sunshine on a wintry day makes a frigid five degrees feel like a tepid ten. We are survivors!

Me, I call on a time when kids were always outside, playing games that strengthened our bodies and stretched our imaginations. Today, I built a fort in my backyard blanket of cold, cotton-like snow, a dugout snow fort.

My fort today was not unlike one I built back then, simple but strong. A mini fortress, big enough for a cadre of ruffians and a cache of snowballs, just in case real ruffians showed up, as they often did. And amid the screams and yells, and maybe a curse, was the splatting thud of snowballs finding arms and legs and an occasional noggin’.

Those snow castles gave us a place to escape, a place so cold that only the energy of our youthful exhuberance kept us warm, as a pint size ‘band of brothers’ huddled together, making plans for our next adventure.

And what better place to have that adventure than on a corner snow ‘mountain’, the high, hard packed hill of shoveled or plowed snow, perfect for a game of ‘King of the Hill’.

Winter is a great time to test our endurance, to demonstrate our vim, vigor and vitality. Come Spring, we will scratch a notch in our snowpant suspenders as a symbol of success against the elements. We shall prevail!

Today, I built a snow fort. And tonight, under the cold, star lit sky, I’ll climb a corner snow ‘mountain’ and declare myself, King of the Hill!

srbottch.com

Dedicated to the kid in every adult, builders of snow forts, and those who challenge themselves in the great outdoors.

The Bar Chronicles: #1,  A Night At The Bar 

Guinness

A mild evening in late October found me in a bar with a friend. I don’t frequent bars and haven’t been to one in years. But this night seemed to be a good time to go. And we did, a spur of the moment decision following a public meeting on our town’s master plan for future development.  At first chance, we made a beeline to the local watering hole, a sports bar.

Inconveniently, the only tandem stools available were under two televisions blaring out hockey and football action. Throughout the bar, patrons sat with one hand wrapped around an ale and their heads tilted back and up to see the games. I was expecting to see a chiropractor’s contact information scribbled on the men’s room wall, ‘Sore necks? Call this number…!’

No TV for us. We came to relive a snippet of days gone by when ‘bar nights’ with the boys was a more common occurrence.  A cold one and some ‘BS’ was on our agenda.

“What’ll it be gentlemen?” That would be us, ‘gentlemen’, not ruffians, but a couple of senior citizens on a weeknight escape. The barmaid could see it immediately, this wasn’t our ‘first rodeo’.  “Two Guinness, 12 ounce”, I bellowed, like a bar night neophyte ordering his first drink after turning legal, promising my friend a dark beer with a frothy head, thick enough to leave a sudsy moustache on his lip.  “An import?”, he quipped.  The profundity was beginning already as we debated the virtues of imported Irish stout versus American light.

Here we were, two friends, far from ‘over the hill’ but getting there, done with our careers, wiser than a wise owl and older, neither trying to impress the other, content only to have a night-cap at a bar and talk about the four Ps of life: politics, portfolios, pills and the past.

We briefly gnashed politics around, then abruptly shifted to something slightly less daunting, the economy and our portfolios. The embellishment of our ups and downs surely eclipsed the highs and lows of the ‘big board’, itself. We toasted our own moderate successes and moved on to health issues, always a big topic among Seniors.

“Another round, boys?” What a segue. It’s been reported that a little alcohol each day can be a healthy regiment.  But another round? We’re only 6 ounces into our 12 and it’s been more than an hour. “Check, please.!”

We gulped the last of our beer without getting to the ‘past’, agreeing to do it next time, or the time after that, and headed for the exit. I slid a quarter into the gum ball machine by the door, cranked the handle and watched the purple sphere slowly spiral its way to the bottom. I looked down at it, and left.  Who the hell can bend over that far to retrieve a gum ball after filling up on beer, albeit one 12 ounce Guinness?

srbottch

Dedicated to my wise friend and namesake, a model Senior, Steve P.