Tag: Blog

My Memorial Day

I usually can’t remember what I do specifically during Memorial Day each year although I believe it typically starts the week prior to the actual day itself.

I’m usually reading the stories from World War II veterans in the newspaper all week. Stories about the Greatest Generation and how they spent time “over there” fighting Nazi Germany. Most often the stories seem to reflect their accounts of the D-Day Invasion. True heroism and sacrifice that I will never be worthy enough to accept.

The Memorial Day weekend itself is usually quiet around my house. One day is typically set aside for the annual visit to some relative’s home for a cookout (or in my case a birthday party since many coincide with this time of year). Making merry, partaking of adult beverages and eating so much food someone has to wheelbarrow me to the car for the drive home since I can’t move. Good times indeed.

The actual Memorial “Day” is normally spent quietly for me. I’ll try to sleep late (something I don’t normally do) and lounge around on what feels like Sunday.

But this year was a bit different.

My daughter, who has an obsession with all things swimming, decided bright and early she wanted to visit the Palmer Pool today. I had thought she would have had her fill of aqua related activities yesterday in my cousin’s pool. A large in ground one she had all to herself for several hours. But she was bound and determined to drag her old man to the community pool.

I’ve only been to the Palmer Pool a few times. I grew up on the south side Easton which is quite a ways away. During my tenure there I was considered riff-raff by the township hoi polloi when ever I went. But now that I am a full-fledged card carrying member of the Palmer community, at least as far as taxes are concerned, I decided to partake of the opportunity once again.

When we arrived I noticed the flags were flying at half mast and I reminded my daughter as to why they are so. Mouthing the same old lines that countless other parents and teachers have spewn to young ears. Hoping that the meaning might somehow get across and that this day isn’t really “the start of summer”.

As we swam I noticed a few things that jarred my memory: The part of the patio that was reserved to the Dip and Dance crowd. The long lines to get funnel cake and french fries. And of course, the diving boards where children would line up to jump into rather chilly water.

What else did I notice you ask? Ladies that should be in bikinis and those that most definitely should not. Shirtless men’s bellies hanging over their shorts so far they probably could not see their toes. Then there were the ones who had their guts sucked in (most likely to impress the ladies who looked good in the bikinis).

I swore I even saw a guy there not wearing a shirt who looked like Magilla Gorilla. The guy’s back was covered with layers of hair. I’m talking werewolf here, not a good look. Although I ‘m not really sure what part of the lunar cycle we’re in this week.

I had an encounter with my old high school classmates too. Well, at least I thought I did. I believe I saw Jim Prendergast there with his children waiting in line. I haven’t seen Jim in well over twenty years and wasn’t 100% sure it was him. I believe his nickname in high school was “Stickman” or something like that. I was tempted to walk up to him and call him that but I was afraid that if it wasn’t him my nickname might have been met with a fist. So that meeting never happened.

Later on, while sitting pool side, I noticed a young girl throwing a hakee sack (do they still make those things?) with her Dad. I kept going over and over in my head that I had seen them before and finally I realized that it was Michelle Eck’s husband and daughter. I know this only because of Michelle’s Facebook updates. She and I had also graduated together but she was nowhere to be seen. Her husband and daughter I have never met and they would have absolutely no idea who I was so I let that encounter go by as well.

But the most important thing happened as I waited outside for my daughter to go in and change to go home. Out of the locker room came a woman who was rolling a wheel chair. I watched her wheel the boy who rode upon it to a grassy area where upon he slowly got up.

I’m not sure if he had cerebal palsy or some other condition that made him so frail but I watched him struggle to move independently down towards the pool. Time seemed to stop for me as I watched the woman (who I assume to be his Mother) catch up to him and meet him at the steps. They held hands together and walked towards the water.

I kept thinking about how difficult it must be for both of them in their day-to-day lives. Simple things like dressing, eating and getting around must be a chore. But come hell or high water they were going swimming today. And damnit, they did. It also looked like it was something they do quite often together. Meanwhile, I spend most of my time taking so much for granted.

So this Memorial Day was a good reminder for me. I enjoyed every minute I got to spend with my daughter but for the first time in quite a long time I’m also remembering why we are all able to enjoy the things we do.

I hope yours is special too.

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The McDonaldland Crime Syndicate

Back in the day, if Mom and Dad drove anywhere passed a Mickey D’s you knew darn well a whiny blonde-haired boy in the back seat was going to beg them to make a pit stop.

As a child, I loved going to the Golden Arches. It was like visiting Mr. Rogers or The Fonz only this excursion also included burgers, fries and shakes! I just loved eating there as a wee lad. Much more so then now, as eating that stuff today tends to put weight on me for some unknown reason.

But I have to admit, the thing I loved most about going to McDonald’s in the 1970′s had nothing to do with burger or fry. No, the best thing about going to the place where billions and billions were served was that it was another chance for me to see what my boy Ronald McDonald and his homies were up to.

Ronald sure had the coolest bunch of friends ever – a posse that all lived in their own little McDonaldland. A world filled with talking nuggets, trash cans and trees. A place I only got to visit when my parents grew tired of listening to their bratty kid on the way home from the store.

I still fondly recall trying to collect all of the promotional, lead-laced glasses and plates they’d have. Not because I’d ever utilize such items for eating or drinking mind you. My goal was strictly to have something with the McDonaldland characters on it. The coolest bunch of dudes ever. You know who they are: Ronald McDonald, Grimace, The Professor, Mayor McCheese, Big Mac and Birdie the Early Bird (for all you breakfast lovers out there).

It’s actually been years since we all really hung out together, so on a whim I decided to read up on my old pals to see what they were up to. What I discovered about their past was shocking… and sadly, I don’t think we can be friends anymore.

Has anyone else noticed the evil crime syndicate that was being run out of McDonaldland?

Take a look at these biographies of the characters and you tell me. Fatty fast food is the last thing our children need to be worried about. The truth is, larceny has been running amok in McDonaldland:

Hamburglar – The Hamburglar was a pint-sized burglar who first appeared in March 1971 and was one of the first villains on the commercials. He is dressed in a black-and-white hooped shirt and pants, a red cape, a wide-brimmed hat and red gloves. His primary object of theft was hamburgers.

 

 
Captain Crook – Captain Crook was a pirate who first appeared in July 1970 and is similar in appearance to the famed Captain Hook from Disney’s 1953 movie Peter Pan. Unlike the Hamburglar, this villain spent his time trying to steal Filet-O-Fish sandwiches from citizens of McDonaldland while avoiding being caught.

 

 

 

Fry Guys -They are characters used to promote McDonald’s french fries. When they first appeared in 1972, they were called Gobblins and liked to steal and gobble up the other characters’ french fries.

 

 

Griddler – A short-lived McDonaldland character. He was featured in 2 commercials in 2003 to promote the McGriddles by stealing them from Ronald and his friends.

Even my boy Grimace started out on the wrong side of the tracks:

Grimace a large, purple character who was first introduced in November 1971 as the “Evil Grimace”. In Grimace’s first two appearances, he was depicted with two pairs of arms with which to steal milkshakes and sodas. “Evil” was soon dropped from Grimace’s moniker, and Grimace was reintroduced in 1972 as one of the good guys.

It seems like almost everyone at McDonalds has taken to a life of crime. And to make matters worse, the only two real “good guys” around: Mayor McCheese and Big Mac (an actual police officer) both disappeared from McDonaldland years ago and haven’t been heard from since. Coincidence?

I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to question which side Ronald himself is on.

Which makes me wonder how it all began….

Dear Diary: May 13, 1987

I am so grateful to have kept my journal from high school. It gives me the opportunity to look back now thirty years later and see just how far I’ve come.

I’ll be the first to admit, a lot of it is rambling on and on about music, girls and homework but sometimes I said some of the most profound things. Not bad for a seventeen year old.

Case in point: This entry from 30 years ago. I was a member of the Concert Choir in high school during my senior year and quite honestly it’s the best memory I have. I loved it so much that when the director of the choir retired from the school district a few years ago and became the director of an adult choir I immediately brushed up on my Bass II vocals and joined without question.

But back to the story: On May 13th, 1987 my high school choir performed its annual Spring Concert. It was a night of firsts and lasts. It would be the first time I ever performed on stage as a guitarist. It would also be the last time I’d be singing with the amazing people I spent nearly thirteen years of my life with.

I still remember standing in the hallway behind the auditorium when it was all over just letting everything sink in. Receiving high-fives and handshakes from kids, excuse me… “Seniors”… many of whom I only knew from yearbook photos and who wanted nothing to do with me during my entire school career. Sadly, the feeling was mutual.

And yet suddenly, a truly amazing thing happened. The ignorance of  high-school “clicks” was gone and everybody (yes, everybody) suddenly became “cool”. I guess it was because we all knew that in less than a month we’d be saying goodbye for the last time.

It was one of the last true moments of greatness in high school and my youth. This is what I wrote the next day:

5/14/87

Dear Diary: Last night was my first time EVER playing to an audience on stage. I was really scared as the moment approached but they, friends comforted me (in more ways than one).

I tried like hell to psyche myself up but it didn’t work until the curtain opened. Then I WANTED it and I really let loose!

Afterwards, the G- string on my guitar broke (3rd string). I was so grateful it didn’t happen during the concert.

I threw picks into the audience and don’t know what became of them. Maybe somebody’s home with it – happy. That’s what I hope. I hope I made people happy.

That’s what music is all about. It’s not money, sex, drugs, long nights – although all of that somehow seems to go with it. Music has one purpose: To make people emotional.

We did that last night.

I laugh when I think about my rock-star mentality that night. I mean, who in their right mind would ever play a menacing black guitar on stage for “Flashdance” and then jump back in to the choir to sing Aus Justi?

I remember there was one thing I was especially excited about as I put pen to paper the next day. I couldn’t wait to write the line “in more ways than one”.

You see, that night was also the first time a boy five months shy of becoming eligible for Selective Service actually received a kiss on the cheek by a female that was not his Mom or Grandmother. Keeping my journal over the course of the year, I would NEVER have gone so far as to write anything about my interaction with girls. Mainly due to my fear of the journal winding up in the wrong hands. But on that day I didn’t care. And as I read this awesome entry again the words on the now tattered yellow pages began to sink in.

Not only did we make great music that night but I think I became more confident in myself as a person.

Teacher Teacher

Most of us wanted our school years to just fly by. Every day of school was just another day closer to the weekend and doing whatever we wanted to do. At the time, most of us never really thought about the real impact school and teachers would have on our lives.

Bring out the way back machine Sherman and set it to the years 1984-1987……

I’m in high school again. You know, those crazy years we all went through. Like walking down the halls in Jordache jeans while Spandau Ballet blared over the loud speakers, carrying books covered by paper grocery bags (a requirement back then and before plastic bags became ALL the rage). Ok, its “True”, I made up the part about Spandau Ballet.

In all of my schooling I can’t remember much about what was learned or very much about my teachers. Although my friend Michele has the uncanny ability to recall exactly WHERE I was sitting in history class in proportion to her location. We’ll have to talk about this at the next reunion. I have a lot of questions that need answering.

Anyway, although I can’t recall much I do remember three teachers during my tenure there that really impacted me the most: Mr. Siddons, Mr. Fox and Mr. Milisits. I won’t even bother to give their first names because to me, respectively, that’s who they will forever be known as.

Mr. Siddons was my tenth grade history teacher. His father was one of the last of the old school door to door sales people who had sold insurance to my grandparents. He was also my brother’s history teacher two years earlier. So there’s sort of a familial relationship there too.

Mr. Siddons was probably the most benign person you’d ever meet. He had a soft tone and rarely yelled. But the one trait he had that I’ll never forget was the ability to tell the lamest jokes. You know the ones I mean, something like: “Why did the chicken cross the road? Because He had to go the bathroom”. And he’d always give out a “Mr. Siddons” laugh. Nothing outrageous or anything. He would just kind of chuckle to himself. You could tell he must have been up all night thinking about it. How he’d deliver it and the kids would go crazy.

At first his shtick didn’t go over too well with me. But by the end of the first month of class I actually looked forward to the little gems he’d throw out. Even though most all were met with crickets (and he must have felt like the size of an ant in a room full of elephants) he never let it get to him. He’d always chuckle, wipe his mouth and seque with “Ok, let’s take a look at the Gulf of Tonkin”….

Strangely enough, every day after having learned about Tonkin, the Volstead Act or some war to end all wars I remember giggling to myself reciting a joke over and over in my head as I walked out of the room. Surely, a joke I would never utter to anyone else. Maybe that was really his shtick. To get me to try to remember them.

During my junior and senior years I rarely got down to the part of the school where Mr. Siddons and others of his “ilk” resided. But on the occasion that I did or saw him in the hall he would always say “Hi” to me and call me by name. He always remembered me. And I’d never forget him.

Let’s transfer over to Mr. Fox in the Art department. A short, grey bearded man with a limp. Mr. Fox had suffered from polio as a child and as a result he walked a bit strangely. Sadly, I’m sure he was the butt of many jokes from cruel students but I think by this point in his life he was immune to all.

Art class was a means of escape for me. I loved to draw and became an affection ado for Bob Ross. I could watch that dude for hours paint a happy little tree. And while we never painted those trees in Mr. Fox’s class it was still a way for me to forget about all the problems of the day.

We all knew Mr. Fox must have been an artist himself. And one day we found out what he loved to do. We came into class to see these miniature models of a circus that he had constructed himself. Everything he painstakingly made from scratch with his own two hands. You could see the pride in his eyes. This guy was GOOD.

But the one day that really stands out for me was when we were drawing the human figure. We’d have students go up and just stand there while the rest of us drew. I could always draw the body (even cool detail on their Converse sneakers with rainbow shoe laces) but never the face. It never came out right. I spent a long time on it and it just wasn’t happening. He must have seen my frustration because at one point he came over and sat across from me. It was just me and him…face to face.

He looked at my piece and was impressed. Then he asked me why I was so frustrated. I told him it was because as hard as I tried I could never get the face to be anywhere close to being right. So he took a piece of paper and started doodling…all the while looking at me and just saying things like “You know, if you really want something and try hard enough, you can make it happen”.

For those thirty seconds or so I was more doubtful than ever…”Yeah, right” I thought to myself. Then he stood up and told me “Keep up the good work Jim”, and passed me the paper he was doodling on.

As he walked away I picked up the paper and looked at it. The old guy with the limp had just drawn a picture of my face. One where even the subject (in this case, yours truly)  would say “That looks just like ME”….he did that in thirty seconds of just scribble.

Finally, we move on to the music department, my personal favorite. I could write a novel on my exploits here (including the day I officially became a ROCK STAR opening for Clay Aiken) but we’ll save that for another time. Suffice to say, I credit most of my music “success” to the days of high school music theory and choir.

Mr. Milisits (or “M” as he is known) would conduct the huge high school choir. One that won many awards over the years. I’m sure for many; choir was like art class was for me. Just a way to get out of taking another boring subject. But that soon changed. Somehow, he would take a group of kids and make them WANT to sing.

He would always tell us inspirational things to keep pushing us. Quotes like “You can do this”, “A new mistake shows progress” and “Talk to me” resonated with everyone. He just had “something” that made you want to work hard.

During my senior year, it was his teaching that made me want to play guitar in jazz band and the school play. Now, to get a metal head that wanted nothing to do with ANY after school activity and would spend most of his free time jamming to Bon Jovi and Def Leppard to perform “Leader of the Pack” is really saying something.  That M’s got some strong kung-fu.

When it came time to perform, be it at school or somewhere in Canada, it was really like “rock star” night for the choir. And well, I even got to play that black heavy metal guitar during our spring concert. One that hangs on the wall in my office right to this day that I still play.

I could bore you for hours on how M’s classes changed me but let me just end by saying those classes are the best memories I have from high school.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to rejoin “M” and a few other alumni as he is now the director of the Lehigh Saengerbund Chorus.We’re preparing to perform at Allentown Symphony Hall in early June, twenty-five years after I last sat with him in high school concert choir.

As I sit in rehearsals now there’s no wayback back machine required. It’s like re-living a part of all the best days of being in school again. That old feeling of “you can do it” and “new mistakes show progress” are back.

And it’s all good.

Dear Jim Letter

It was a rainy Saturday morning and very apropos if you ask me. I awoke very early to the sound of thunder and could sleep no longer.

As I stumbled down the stairs listening to the rain pound on the rooftop the grumpiness I once had for the Sandman’s lack of personal attention slowly began to subside.

You see, the routine I have every Saturday morning is simple and never changes. I like to sit on my nice comfy couch, drink coffee and read the morning newspaper. My wife and daughter would still be asleep and there’d be no television or phone calls. Just peace and quiet. Caffeine and news print. This was definitely “ME” time.

And the idea that I was awake even earlier than usual only reinforced my joy. I knew that now I’d have even more quiet time alone then usual. So all I could think about was getting the old Keurig fired up, grabbing the newspaper and curling up on the couch. The fact that I could also listen to an early summer rainstorm in the background was a bonus.

The kitchen seemed darker than usual this morning. Natural light had just begun to fill the room and I could see the rain pounding the outside window above the sink. The sound of the refrigerator turning itself on was comforting. But that’s when I noticed something was missing from the nearby family room.

The big comfy couch.

The one that I spend my Saturday mornings reading newspapers and drinking coffee upon was gone. Surprisingly, all of the end tables and lamps were still in their places. Even my beloved 50″ flat screen television that was my portal to Hollywood and grid iron games was still mounted on the wall untouched. Only the couch was gone.

My heart sank as I thought immediately that my home had been robbed overnight. I thought of all the things that would be missing and all of the horrible things that might have been done to my family while we slept.

I reached for the phone to dial the police but noticed a simple white letter lying on the kitchen table. The hand writing on it was one that I didn’t recognize. Too neat to be my daughter and not in the style of my wife.

Something told me to pick it up and read it. The paper was white and crisp and the ink on the page barely dry. I’ll read it to you now verbatim:

Dearest Jim,

I know this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be done. Writing like this. But it’s the only option I have left. I’ve put up with a lot these past few years and I am left with nothing but tears.

Being with you has been wonderful at times. You’ve taught me so much and for that I will always be grateful.

But the time has come to say goodbye. We’re simply not meant to be together.

I’ll always cherish the way you’d leave crumbs from your sandwiches and popcorn lying in my cushions. The long naps we’d take together. The laughs we’d share when you’d “accidentally” break wind on me. But most of all, I’ll remember our Saturdays together.

Sadly though, you have your ways and I have mine. Nothing in the middle seems to make sense.

I do still love you. But the pain that lies beneath the happiness has become more than I can take. We are too good to settle for something that will just never be.

I wish you everything good life has to offer and a happiness that will endure.

Goodbye,

Couch

A tear came to my eye and there was a feeling of emptiness in my heart. I won’t sugar coat it.  I’m the first to admit that I’m not perfect. And I’ve had plenty of relationships end badly before. I can’t remember if I’ve ever received a “Dear Jim” letter before but there is one thing I do know. I’ve never been dumped by a couch. Ever.

As the Keurig finished brewing I took in a deep breath and blew it out. Rain continued to pound on the roof and for a moment I felt like dashing out and finding my beloved. In the end though I realized I had to just let it go and move on.

I dragged a chair from the kitchen table to where the couch used to be and sat down. The coffee didn’t taste as good as it normally does. I only hope this isn’t a sign of the way Saturday mornings were now going to be.