I Met A President, A Hall-of-Famer and Annette Funnicello

I struggled in vain to get my team hat signed by a star player; oh, the indignity of being squeezed out by little shavers and hovering grannies who obviously were ‘veteran warriors’ at this ‘contact sport’ of autograph seeking.

Autograph seekers can be aggressive, pugnacious and rude. They don’t give ground easily, as I learned during my brief moment as an interloper into the arena of idol worshippers.

Why do we seek autographs, anyway?  Well, to start, it’s gratifying to have a celebrity pay momentary attention to us and it’s fun to brag about who we saw, and who saw us. And some autographs actually become valuable over time. A rare baseball card recently sold for more than $3,000,000.

The pushing and shoving to reach the celebrity is one way to get an autograph, or shake a hand. However, sometimes the moment comes when you least expect it.  So, be prepared and don’t be shy about engaging the target.

A former middleweight boxing champ gave me an autograph when I approached him in a restaurant. Carmen Basilio, a one time great, was alone at the bar, and a long time removed from the boxing spotlight.  Hence, he was ‘low hanging fruit’.

President GW Bush (#46) gave me a handshake following a speech, his not mine. A large Secret Service agent focused on me, laser like, as I stopped the President in-place and offered a suggestion, something that ordinary citizens can do in America.

I ran down former Chicago Bears coach and football Hall of Famer, Mike Ditka, at O’Hare Airport for his autograph, but just shook his hand and a offered a nice word on behalf of my father-in-law, a huge fan of anything ‘Chicago’. Ditka was intimidating.

One of the earliest and most enjoyable autographs I got was from the queen of Mouseketeers, herself, Annette Funnicello, during a Mickey Mouse Club ‘meet and greet’ at a local K-Mart parking lot. I was crazy about her, every 10 year old boy was, and now we were face to face, across an autograph table, my naturally big ears lined up opposite her costume ears. As she handed me the signed black & white glossy photograph, my knees went weak and my voice cracked.  I mumbled something forgettable before being shoved along to keep the line moving.  Nothing has changed, it’s every man for himself for the autograph seekers.  Nevertheless, I think she looked at me.  Yes, she did, I’m certain of it.

I don’t have the autographs but the memories remain. It’s not important. Today, I’m collecting footprints and ‘signatures’ from two new special people in my life, my grandchildren. Stars come and go, but the ones who count the most crawl into your life and stay forever.

Twins crawling

Steve

srbottch.com

Sept 2017

The Bar Chronicles: #12, The Listener

Bar Night 2

This warm July evening was a good night for ‘howling at the moon’, so we headed for Caverly’s Irish Pub. An old dog greeted us at the screen door with an obligatory sniff from foot to knee (all he could reach) before stepping aside. I was tempted to say, ‘Fido sent us’, but doubted his sense of humor, never mind the language barrier.

The patrons are friendly at Caverly’s, as is the occasional dog who roams from table to table, lingering long enough for a scratch behind the ear. It’s said that a pet is therapeutic. So is a frothy beer and friendly conversation. We came here to do both, and without further ado, ordered our favorite brews from the chalkboard menu, scratched the dog and began another evening of beer and banter.

Only three of us tonight and once again the talk was lively, intriguing and instructional.. We learn a little bit more about each other in these ‘bar nights’. Tonight was no exception. However, we never get too far in conversation without raising our drinks and with a gentle clink of the glass, wish each other ‘cheers’.

“Are you serious, you really don’t know how to fold a fitted sheet?”

And with that unexpected ‘ice-breaker’ our exchange was underway with a detailed description of how to fold that fitted sheet. Needless to say, without a fitted sheet to fold, it was futile (long ‘u’ and ‘i’, for effect)… it was futile to expect me to fully grasp the process.

Admittedly, I’m a poor listener to instructions or directions. I did enough listening during my sales career, it’s a critical component of selling. But retirement loosened those shackles and now I primarily listen to myself.

However, critical listening is important in many areas, including military readiness. One of us, tonight, was a listener; a military listener at a far outpost during the early years of the Cold War, listening to the ‘other side’ for a ping here and a ping there to help us understand our adversary’s intentions or movements. The narrative was fascinating and we listened…stopping long enough to order another round.

The thought occurred to me. With today’s social media phenomenon when the chatter is overwhelming, do we listen more or are we too busy planning what to say next?

At ‘bar night’, we listen and that makes an enjoyable evening.

Steve
Srbottch.Com

She Made Me What I Am Today, An ‘Ironman’: The Promise

She made me what I am today, an ‘Ironman’!

Processed with MOLDIV
(photo by Glenn Higgins)*

 Iron2  Excuse me, did I say ‘Ironman’? My bad, I meant, ‘Ironing Man’. I’m an ‘ironing man’: shirts, pants, cloth napkins, aprons (not mine…yet), pillowcases, etc.

Dusting, yes, a critical skill.  It’s tedious but you won’t find creepy bugs housekeeping along our crown molding and baseboard. As for the hardwoods, the Swiffer tool is my choice. Gripping it a certain way let’s you ‘slap shot’ those pesky ‘dust bunnies’ into a corner for easy gathering.

Swiffer

Both chores combine housecleaning and athleticism: the multiple reps of a weightlifter sliding a water filled iron back and forth, back and forth, back and forth and the steady, rhythmic gliding of a ballroom dancer sweeping across polished hardwood. My wristband monitor goes off the charts on cleaning day.

The best benefit, of course, is the ‘come hither’ look of appreciation in my wife’s approving eyes. But, alas, by the time I’ve ‘pressed’ my last pleat, ‘pushed up’ from bunny hunting under the bed or ‘power dragged’ the Hoover over the dog haired rug, I’m too tired to go anywhere, hither or not.

Meantime, the golf clubs have lost their shine, the gym membership is going unused and the resistance bands have dry rot. Nevertheless, I’m staying in shape with squats (toilet bowl cleaning), bends & reaches (dishwasher loading/unloading), heavy lifting (turning a queen mattress) and sprints (“hurry, the dog needs to go out”).

The genesis of these new found domestic skills can be traced back to something I did forty-eight years ago, I made a promise.  Promises, vows, oaths, call them what you will, are important to our own notion of self-worth, when kept.  They measure us for trustworthiness. They address our character and integrity.

Promises call for sacrifice and commitment. In my case, I didn’t commit to housecleaning but I did promise my everlasting support. LIFE changes, doesn’t it?  Priorities get rearranged.

Yet, somehow, IT’s worked out satisfactorily. I have well pressed handkerchiefs and there’s no stress of calling ahead for a tee time.

I just need someone to show me how to fold a fitted sheet…

Sheets
Steve
srbottch.com (July 2017)

To legions of men everywhere who help with the housework, whether you admit it or not, because you want or need to do it.

*thank you Glenn Higgins for the sculptured body photo (GlennHigginsFitness.com)

The Bar Chronicles, #11: The ‘Poo-Poo’ Platter

Bar Night 2

“…and yet a true creator is necessity, which is the mother of our invention.“ (Plato)

The sidewalk tables were filled with patrons on the first nice evening of spring and Caverly’s Irish pub, a corner bar on South Ave in Rochester, NY,  was headed for a busy night. We filed inside, four of us tonight, the screen door slamming behind us, as screen doors are wont to do, a not so subtle announcement of our arrival. No one noticed.

Inside, we claimed our usual spot, an old, round pedestal table near the door.  Its nicked and bruised finish could not belie its history as witness to many rowdy nights of reveling. The Irish music was a bit loud, but tolerable.

We’re not philosophers, seers nor politicians. We’re just four friends, retiring gentlemen all, sitting around a table, commiserating about how things are and wistfully offering how they ought to be, if we ‘ruled the world’.   And, of course, the cold beer or two we’re enjoying helps validate our opinions and solutions on this, our eleventh ‘bar night’.

Tonight was a night to drone on about the unimportant ‘why’s and and why nots’ in life. Good fodder for idle conversation for ‘older guys’, but in the overall scheme of life, not so much.

We raised and clinked our glasses in traditional fashion, gently, to avoid spillage and waste, and toasted best wishes to one and all,  then began our mundane topics.

Why does rush hour traffic move like an inchworm, stretching and compressing, stretching and compressing? And, why is the cost of higher education so high? Why not just make it free by using other people’s money?  Contrary to the axiom, there are ‘free lunches’ if another party pays.   We picked good fodder tonight, didn’t we?

And for the gem of the night, why isn’t there a reliable option to scooping up dog excrement other than a hand in a plastic bag? There is now, the hands free and no mess ‘poo-poo platter’, a two piece assembly consisting of a plastic bag over a five gallon pail cover (photo).

PooPooPlatter 1

Simply slip the ‘platter’ under the dog’s bottom as it squats and collect the ‘deposit’ in real-time. Fold the bag over the cover with the poop inside, secure the top and properly dispose of it. What could be more simple, efficient and cleaner?  I would attach an action shot, but…

Our group was somewhat hesitant, shall I say reluctant, about investing in further development of the prototype I introduced. It needs marketing and all the stuff that could make this the next ‘hula hoop’: low investment, big return.  No one was willing to play the ‘Shark Tank’ game, maybe for good reason.

We didn’t solve any major problems and laughed about the ‘poo-poo platter’ on the ride home, a straight ride in our town. The frivolity was a perfect example of  the camaraderie among this peer group; lightweight topics and the willingness to express inane thoughts.  It fit perfectly into the blog theme of ‘good times, good places and good people’.

By the way, I’m a perfect 20/20 for ‘catches’ with the ‘Poo Platter’…

PooPoo Platter 2

Steve

srbottch.com

Dedicated to problem solvers everywhere, even those who just talk about it

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?