“That’s Why They Made Arms…”, A Father’s Lesson

1951 Dad at Ptown

“Pardon me”, I mumbled, while stretching and reaching in front of a shopper more involved with a cell phone call than picking a yam and moving outta the damn way… (excuse my tone, but, yes, I was becoming impatient in a grocery store).

“It’s okay”, she replied curtly, “besides, that’s why they made arms.”

Regardless if it was sarcasm, naïveté, or simple courtesy, her reply completely disarmed me, no pun intended.

I had no retort except to sigh and smile, which was not a bad thing. If we all could be coy enough to react to interruptions and interferences with a bit of sugar-coated sarcasm, there would be fewer angry people.

My ‘old man’ (I never called him that, but it seemed to fit well here) was a hard worker in every sense, fishing being no exception. He would rouse us early from our warm bags and onto the water before sunrise and before the fish started feeding. We worked hard for the catch and ridiculed, even scorned, the late arriving boats, the ‘9 to 5ers’.

A late Spring morning found us fishing for striped bass in a small bay somewhere on the Cape Cod coast (fishermen never reveal exact locations). With anchor down and the morning fog burning off, we were surrounded by schools of stripers and enjoying water thumping hits every cast. The late arrival from a shoreline dock noticed us and slowly motored his skiff closer and closer, casting deeper and deeper into ‘our waters’, hoping to be part of the action, himself, but failing miserably.

You could see it coming, my dad’s tolerance level fading fast, beginning with icy glares over our bow and across the water at this intruder who was oblivious to the angler’s rule, ‘you don’t fish in another man’s water’.

I was impressed with his effort to maintain control and decorum, but not surprised when he dropped his rod, cupped his hands in a funnel around his mouth and delivered a bellowing invitation, dripping with sarcasm…

 “Why don’t you come closer?”

The gulls watched from a buoy, the water went glassy, the fish quit working. We were surrounded by silence, waiting.  And then, it came…

“Thanks, but I think it’s the lure!”

It was a classic mocking response,  deliberate and subtle.  My father was at a loss for words … but not action.

The ‘old salt’ grabbed the wheel with one hand, gunned the motor, spun the boat to roil the water and headed to shore. With the other hand, he reached upward and back toward the interloper, and with nary a glance, delivered the anglers’universal one finger response.*

I realized then, years before my grocery store episode…

That’s why they made arms!

Steve B
srbottch.com

dedicated to ‘the old man’ who has filled my life with stories and lessons

*the writer does not approve this behavior, then or now…

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

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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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

srbottch.com

*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

garden-gate

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 Bar Chronicles: #3, The ‘Pinboy’

Bar Night 2

‘…bowling really blossomed, particularly among blue-collar types, in the 1950′s and 1960′s after the introduction of the automatic pinsetter’ John McDuling

It was ‘bar night’ for three ‘old’ friends at a local pub in Rochester, NY, ‘The Lost Borough’. Our plan, enjoy a couple of signature brews and add another saga to ‘The Bar Chronicles’. The pub was busy, ‘trivia night’, complete with a booming voice emcee, eager crowd and ample beer to encourage gamesmanship. It added up to a rowdy atmosphere with plenty of hootin’ and hollerin’.

We selected an ‘ale’ from a ‘flight’ and forged ahead with our own game of ‘remember when’, parrying back and forth with personal recollections of our earliest work experiences, our first actual paying jobs.

We were delivery boys in pickup trucks and shoeshine boys on Main Street. We were floor sweepers in a haberdashery and washed cars at a used car dealership. And we were pinboys’ in a bowling alley, at least one was.

‘Pinboys’, a romantic word in a nostalgic sort of way. I was too young to remember ‘pinboys’, but one of us was the right age to be one. He was a teenager and his work station was at the end of a bowling lane where he perched himself on a bench above the pit. When the pins exploded off the deck from the impact of 16 pound balls rolled down the lane like fodder shot from a cannon, he quickly jumped into the pit and went into action; rolled the ball back, cleared ‘deadwood’, or reset new pins for another roll.

Generally, a ‘pinboy’, or pinsetter, managed two lanes, hence speed was an asset, and a priority. Younger boys with small hands could handle ‘two pins a hand’ while the older boys managed three. With pins in place, he’d jump back to his seat, step on a pedal to lower the rods, or pin holders, and wait for the next roll. A good day returned 8 or 9 cents a game, and an afternoon of work brought in some extra cash for this young man’s coal mining family in the post-Depression coal mining region of eastern Pennsylvania.

Tell me about your first job. Did you like it? What did you learn? I cleaned metal paint pots for a painting company and abhorred it. But I learned lessons of responsibility and discipline that comes from hard work, and stays with you for life. I got paid, but it wasn’t ‘romantic’ like my friend’s job, a ‘pinboy’.  I wish I could have been a ‘pinboy’…alas, I was too young.

Srbottch
Srbottch.Com