Monday, June 29, 2015

That Was the Week That Was

That was quite a week we had last week, huh?  Whole lotta stuff going on in the news that seems vaguely important.  For a change…  So let’s see what we think about it all.

South Carolina
Yep, pretty tragic stuff, with that church shooting.  What that terrorist did… no wait, that was a white guy, so he can’t be a “terrorist,” I mean that “disturbed individual” did was sickening.  But at least people are taking down the Confederate flag!

I know it makes a good story, but I’m just not impressed by all this flag stuff.  But I can see why it grabbed everyone’s attention.  It’s something that’s easy to fix.  It doesn’t take much to pull down a flag and put up something else, like the US flag.  Sure, it makes some waves, but waves level out over time.

And businesses?  They have no backbone at all, especially the big retailers.  They’ll go whichever way the wind blows, so not to lose money or customers.  At least they will for the time being.  It wouldn’t surprise me to find some back channels being set up right now, so Bubba can stay flush with stars ’n bars memorabilia without their having pickets outside Amazon headquarters.

It’s no wonder politicians, even Republicans, are jumping on the bandwagon.  This way, they can appear sensitive to African-Americans, without having to address any actual problems.  You know; if there were any racial problems.

According to Fox “News,” the arbiter of what the GOP is supposed to care about, there is no “white privilege” and racism has already been solved.  Therefore, if there’s no longer a problem with race in this country, they’re not wrong in ignoring it.  No need to be concerned with urban unemployment, minimum wages, food deserts, dilapidated housing and crumbling infrastructure.  “But hey, we let you take down that flag!”

What’s hard to fix is the mentality behind the glorification of the Confederate flag.  Yes, there’s a prideful and nostalgic element, but it’s dwarfed by the gross insensitivity of what it represents to those who aren’t Caucasian.  It’s relic of the Confederacy who fought the Civil War primarily because of slavery.  There’s a reason why stores continue to sell Confederate flag stuff… there’s a demand.

WalMart is no hero for pulling this merchandise; it was purely a dollars and sense decision.  They make a certain amount of money on these things, which is why it warranted shelf space in the first place.  But the negative publicity was going to cost them more in lost sales than what they made on Confederate flags, so the merch gets pulled.  Clean and simple.  Gotta protect the bottom line.

What would have been heroic would be taking this stuff off the shelves before the controversy, say, anytime over the last 50 years.

I’m pretty sure the Republicans are relieved about the Supreme Court decision upholding the ACA because they were painted into a corner.  If they had won, the onus would have been on them to come up with something better.  They’ve had five years and haven’t come up with jack shit.  The millions of people who just lost their insurance coverage would be looking for an explanation, and short of that, retribution, come November 2016.

This way, they can continue to campaign against Obamacare, without having any skin in the game.  They can just keep on doing the opposite of whatever the president wants.

Obviously, the ACA is not perfect.  No legislation of this complexity ever is.  So the answer is to fix the specific problems, not just scrap the whole thing.  You build the infrastructure step by step.  But that’s too complicated for a campaign bumper sticker, so no one is interested. 

Same-Sex Marriage
That was the Big One.  People will be wailing about this one for years.  Well, by “people,” I mean right wing religious dogmatists who don’t see a problem with forcing other people into a lesser class because they conflict with their own sense of religiousness.  The sane part of the country (60% and counting) celebrates this unequivocal statement of freedom and equality.

A truly free country does not let one person’s “freedom” create social and financial hardship for others. 

And like I saw on Facebook, “If the practice of your religion results in the victimization of others; find a new religion.”

I’m sickened by the gross duplicitousness of using religion as a cover for bigotry.  As I’ve mentioned here many times before, there is a whole laundry list of religious prohibitions found in the Bible, none of which are taken seriously in this day and age.  So why this one?  When the religious nuts start seeking injunctions against Red Lobster’s All-You-Can-Eat Shrimp Festival, then I’ll take their claims seriously.

Until then, it’s just the continued cherry picking of the Bible to support their own prejudice.  Period.  And remember, these are the exact same arguments put forth in the 60s, to protest interracial marriage.  The Supreme Court held that we hold no separate classes based on the way we were born.

They just said it again now.  This is America.  If you open a business, you have to cater to whoever walks through your door.  Period.  If you don’t, you have to have a damned good reason, like a health code violation, an illegal altercation or disturbance, or they’re robbing you.  It can’t just be because your discomfort with one of their inborn characteristics. 

I had to laugh at Justice Roberts’ dissent, asking, “Who are we?” to change millennia of tradition.

I would answer; the same people that changed the millennia of tradition when granting corporations personal rights of religion and speech.  It didn’t seem to matter very much then.  What’s different now?

When I first heard the decision, I wondered how long it would take for conservatives to try to get around it.  It didn’t take long to find out.  They plan on using every means necessary to ignore, legislate and regulate their way out granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  Hey, it worked on abortion, and that was “decided” over 40 years ago.

Like with the Obamacare ruling, I think Republican politicians are pleased as punch over this decision.  Now they get to bring out their campaign fear tactics in full force.  They can rile up their limited-IQ base with threats of bestiality, pedophilia, polygamy, and any other perversion they can come up with. 

If they can’t run on their accomplishments regarding the economy, jobs, infrastructure repair, health care, or the stock market, they can sure as hell sell some fear to the gullible masses.

I bet their message will fit on a bumper sticker too.

Director’s DVD Commentary:
1: Thank you Cassie, for the opening graphic, which I lifted from your Facebook page.

2: “That was the Week That Was” used to be a news show in the 60s, on which musical satirist, Tom Lehrer, used to perform.  He later made an album of those songs and named it “That Was the Year That Was,” which is the only reason I know that little piece of useless trivia.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Jurassic World

Jurassic Park is still one of my favorite movies.  Back when it came out, I thought I’d seen everything.  For a Dinosaur Boy from way back, who until then thought the horrible stop-action animation of The Land of the Lost was the closest I’d see to a live, mobile dinosaur, it changed everything.

I was married (cold chill runs down back) when it first came out and Future-Ex, her kid (who was 9 at the time) and I went to see it in the theater.  I swear, when the movie was over, we could not convince that kid that there weren’t really dinosaurs roaming the earth.  He didn’t believe there was any way all of that action could have been faked.

OK, he was 9, and not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer…

Even the sequels were alright.  Granted, the dinosaurs got smarter and the characters got dumber, but the action and spectacle were still entertaining.  I continue to stop and watch whenever I trip on one them when I’m channel-surfing.

So it was with great anticipation that I was awaiting the release of Jurassic World. And wouldn’t you know, it came out while I was away at NoochFest, so I had to wait until last weekend to see it.

I admit it; I have a 17-year old’s taste in movies.  I like big, noisy, effects-heavy spectacles.  And the more monsters, the better.  Those are the only kind of movies that get me to go to the theater.  When there is an interesting horror, comedy, or “talky” movie, I usually wait for it to come to HBO or DVD.

So as I sat in the theater with the movie unfolding, and later as I left the theater, one thought kept running through my mind:  “This may be the most exciting movie I’ve ever seen.”

Only time will tell how it stands up, but I absolutely loved it.  Sure, there are the usual plot holes and implausibilities you find in most action movies, but you just have to forget about that stuff and go with it.

As I recall, the first movie had a huge one.  I mean, how does a T-Rex just sneak into a room occupied by 4 humans and 2 velociraptors, and no one notices?  And where are the giant footfalls everyone feels every other time T-Rex approaches?

I saw Jurassic World in 3-D, and it really added to the adventure.  There were a couple of times I flinched like a schoolboy and then chuckled at myself afterward.  A few other times, I found myself clutching the armrest as the tension mounted, and had to tell myself, “Dude… MOVIE.”

There are a lot of references to the first movie, both in some of the sets, character references and hell, the entire last sequence!  This one really seems like the legitimate sequel to Jurassic Park.  And it makes the other two look like Lego movies, by comparison.

But for all the tension, suspense and general chaos, the movie was basically bloodless.  Most of the killing takes place out of frame, save for people being gulped down whole.  The first three movies were much gorier. 

 A lot of the initial press I saw about Jurassic World centered on sexism, especially Bryce Dallas Howard’s high heeled shoes.  And I suppose a lot of that criticism is valid.  But you know what?  I just can’t give a rip.  I don’t go to movies to see social justice, I go to put the real world on hold for a couple of hours and be entertained.

I enjoyed the heroine’s character development as she went from an antiseptic, bottom line obsessing manager to a righteous badass, saving the hero’s bacon on a couple of occasions.  It was like she turned into a much hotter version of Die Hard’s John McLean.

Same undershirt and everything.

When I came home from the theater, I texted my nephew and told him I thought he’d like Jurassic World.  He then saw it on Sunday and texted me.

So there you have it, from an old man with a 17-year old’s taste in movies, AND from a legitimate 16-year old, the movie’s a winner.  If you like action movies or any of the other Jurassic Park movies, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.  I may go see it again, and will no doubt buy the Blu-Ray on the day it comes out.

At my showing, a couple of movie previews piqued my interest.  First of all, Ted 2 is coming out this summer.  I got at least 3 belly laughs just from the trailer, so I’ll probably have to go see it, even though it doesn’t really qualify as one of my “spectacle” movies. 

But the new Terminator does… it looks good, but I have to wonder.  I saw all the classic Terminator catch phrases used in the trailer, as well as a big plot twist… did they hold anything back for the movie?  I hate when a trailer shows all the best parts, leaving the feature with nothing but filler.

But the Terminator is one of my favorite series, so you know what they say… “I’ll be back.”

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


I just got back from Pittsburgh (again) yesterday, where we held our once-every-ten-years-or-so family reunion for my mother’s side of the family.  We had family members come in from Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, California, and, of course, Maryland.

My mom’s last name rhymes with “Gucci,” only with an “N,” so I dubbed the occasion “#NoochFest.”  (Just in case you’re wondering what the odd hashtag was on the weekend’s Facebook/Twitter posts.)

I drove out on Thursday, and was the first one to arrive at our destination in Wilkinsburg; a large rental house that was supposed to be able to sleep 16 (if you bring a bunch of air mattresses).  I knew there was going to be trouble before I even got inside.

The neighborhood was pretty sketchy and even locked, the front door didn’t look very secure.  The weather-stripping was loose and it looked like one good shove would blast the doors wide open.  Once inside, it didn’t get much better.  It wasn’t that the place was in disrepair, but that there was practically no furniture inside.

In the main rooms, there was one couch, one rocking chair, and a canvas “tailgate” chair.  There was a card table and a 3-foot long kitchen table.  That was it, and we had a party of nine coming.  There was no TV, no coffee table, just a lot of empty, freshly vacuumed, square footage.

Upstairs, there were two bedrooms, each with a double bed and a dresser.  Another bedroom had one twin bed and a desk chair.  On the third floor, there was a king-sized air mattress and no other furniture.  Also, there were no A/C vents in that bedroom, nor a ceiling fan, so the temperature was about 95 degrees.  It was completely uninhabitable.  I figured there would have to be some serious negotiating when assigning bedrooms.

My choice was easy… I was the only “single,” so the twin bed looked be mine.  I had brought along an air mattress just in case of emergency, and it looked like we would need it.

So I unpacked and tried to make the place more habitable.  I stocked the beer I brought into the fridge and went around to the bedrooms to turn on the ceiling fans.  Round about that time, the rest of the family began to show up.  They were as unimpressed as I was.

In fact, my brother and brother-in-law were on their phones almost immediately, trolling for a Plan B.  This was supposed to be a long weekend’s vacation, not an exercise in seeing what we could endure.  Luckily, both brother and brother-in-law had a butt-load of Hilton points, so we decided to muster out at the Monroeville Doubletree instead.

Is it me, or are the ice buckets getting smaller?
  Apparently they have ice bucket condoms now.  What’s next, liners for drink glasses?

But after a kind of turd of a first day, things looked up quickly thereafter when we went to Kennywood on Friday.  If you’re not familiar, Kennywood, it’s a small amusement park outside of Pittsburgh, which was built in 1898!  No, the rides are not that old; it’s gone through a number of renovations and they have modern rides.  But there are still a number of rides that were open back when my parents were kids.  That’s what made it so much fun.
One of those rides is the Jackrabbit, which is a small (by today’s standards) wooden roller coaster, with a serious first drop and a number of camel humps. 
Another is the Racer, which is a racing coaster featuring more humps and sharp curves than steep drops.

The other set of cars is to the right of the stairway.

I wasn’t crazy about the Jackrabbit… it reminded me of why my roller coaster riding days are behind me.  I’m just not crazy about the sensation of falling… or rather, the sensation of being rammed straight down into the ground at high speed.

I rode that one with my dad, although that may have been a tactical error.  It took some wiggling to get both our butts into that narrow seat.  You could tell it was built in a day when Americans were significantly smaller.

The Racer was a lot of fun though, as one set of cars would race against the other, often so close to each other, it felt like you could reach out and smack the other team.  I liked that coaster a lot more.  I rode it with my nephew Daniel.  There were individual seats, so we didn’t have to go cheek to cheek.  He fit fine; I probably should have buttered up.  When I got out of the ride, it sounded like someone opened a bottle of champagne.

There was one ride, the Skycoaster, which we were pretty much universally against riding.  Two or three people would lay down on a small platform, attached to the top of a giant tower, and then they would get towed way up to the top of another 280-foot tower, and let go.  The riders would come soaring down like they were on a giant pendulum, and swing back and forth.  It looked just like this:
All I could think of was, “Nope.  Nope nope nope.”

For a closer, clearer view, (which wasn’t shot with a cell phone), click here.

Interesting concept though.  Physics in action.  They should dress people in knight’s armor and have another one released in the opposite direction.  In theory, they would bounce back in the opposite direction a number of times.

After the obligatory train ride, (so us old people could sit down for a moment), the boys wanted to go a water ride.  Now I wouldn’t have minded a nice misting machine, but the last thing I wanted to do was tromp around for the rest of the day in wet clothes and shoes.  My mom, brother-in-law and I passed.  Everyone else loaded up on the raft.
Brother, Sister and Dad, lined up to get on board.  The boys are already seated.

That was the best call I made all day.  They got off the ride completely soaked, with squishy shoes.  Even the giant air dryer didn’t help.

Next were the bumper cars, so I couldn’t pass up a chance to knock my nephews around a little bit.  Daniel thought he had me lined up a couple times, but I was able to pivot sharply and get outta Dodge.  Age and treachery, baby!

We finally sought the shelter of the cafĂ©, got something cold to drink, and united with my aunt and uncles and their families.  Eventually we went back to ride the Jackrabbit and Racer again.

I swear, I don’t know who was happier, the kids or my dad.

There are three generations on that ride; the same one my dad rode as a kid.

A little grandparental bonding time on the Racer.

We called it a day around 4:00, and beat it back to the hotel.  We met up at the house where my aunt, uncles and cousins were staying, for a pizza party.  Their rental place in Squirrel Hill was actually nice.  It was fun to have an low key gab-fest before the next day’s outing at the park.

We had a pavilion on Saturday at North Park, for us to eat and drink and shoot the sht.  So it was pretty much just like the previous night, only outside. 

My brother bought a couple of wiffle ball sets, so they called me out of the stands to pitch to the boys.  They didn’t know that Uncle Bluz was good friends with “Uncle Charlie,” as I showed them how to make a wiffle ball curve by several feet.  Sadly, I exceeded my pitch count in about a half an hour, so they had to make a call to the bullpen for another right-hander.  But it’s cool; I’m almost back to a full range of motion with my right arm…

It was funny though… shortly after we got there, about a hundred motorcycle riders showed up for a picnic at the pavilion just down from ours.  I wasn’t complaining… they had some great music playing.

This is only a few of the bikes; the rest were off to the right.

I told Daniel I’d give him a dollar to tip over that first bike, but he wouldn’t bite.  I’m pretty sure bikers wouldn’t beat up a kid…  Uncle Joe was sure these weren’t “biker” bikers… More like a group of dentist who ride, than the Sons of Anarchy.

The big event for Sunday was going to see the Pirates/Phillies game at PNC Park, aka the most picturesque ballpark in the country. 

The weather was a little worrisome… forecasts called for rain throughout the day.  But it only rained early, before the game… buy enough to make several of us pop for ponchos.

First the ice bucket gets a condom, then me.

But the rain stopped before the game started, and was replaced by stifling mugginess.  I hoped it would be a quick game, but there it was, 0-0 going into extra innings.  But for a scoreless game, it was quite entertaining.  The Buccos pulled off several outstanding defensive plays, featuring a sprinting, diving catch by right fielder Sean Rodriguez.  (It was the #3 highlight on Sports Center on Monday.)  The Pirates eventually won, 1-0, on a walk-off single by Jay Harrison, in the 11th.

And that was that… we went out for dinner and dessert, and all went our separate ways Monday morning.   Granted, as soon as I got home, I had to head back out because Sitcom Kelly had her Sitcom Mom’s company seats for the Orioles/Phillies game.

I must be kryptonite for the Phillies, as they got shut out in this game too.  They must have seen me and went, “What, him again?

Unfortunately we had the obligatory obnoxious Phillies fan right behind us… You’d think that when your team has the worst record in the league, you might want to keep your big mouth shut.  Anyway, a couple other fans threw a couple of pointed barbs his way, which effectively shut him down for most of the night.

Maybe I’m just getting old, but I don’t pay my good money* for ballgame tickets so I can hear some dumbass trying to call attention to himself.  No one is there to see clowns like that.

*Yes, I know I didn’t have to pay for last night’s ticket, but it’s the principle, you see.

Anyway, the fun’s over; now it’s back to the grind.  No more adventures until July, when I’ll be Ohio-bound.  I suppose I ought to be dried out by then.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Odd Bits - The Small Government Edition

Several news stories caught my eye last week, and by running through them all now, I can be the last one to the party because they’re all old news by now.  Such is the lot in life for a weekly blogger.

“Lighten Up, Francis”
I just had to laugh when Rick Santorum, the political face of Catholicism, spoke up to ask that the Pope stop talking about climate change, preferring that he leave the science talk to the scientists.

Ordinarily, I’d agree with him because Catholic leadership has not traditionally cottoned to scientific learning over the ages.  Just ask Galileo.  But this Pope breaks the mold a bit.  In fact, he has a secondary degree in Chemistry, which makes him about 700 times more qualified to speak on scientific matters than Santorum.
This really puts Santorum in a fix.  He can either ignore the leader of his faith, (a faith which seems to be the central pillar of his campaigns) or ignore the direct commands of his wealthy GOP benefactors… coughKochBrotherscough… who need him to denounce mankind’s involvement in climate change, because doing otherwise, or heaven forbid, taking action to address it, would be bad for their energy businesses.

I am once again left in awe of the massive hypocrisy at play here.  Yes, Rick, let’s please stick to things we know about.  Because politicians certainly know about everything, don’t they?  Politicians know that 97% or environmental scientists are wrong.  Politicians know best how a woman’s reproductive system works.  Politicians know exactly how long a woman should wait before being allowed to have an abortion, or how far they have to travel before it becomes an inconvenience. 

What GOP politicians know how to do is meddle in average people’s personal affairs, while claiming to be for less government. 

And that was never as clearly demonstrated as it was in another article I saw, comparing requirements for doctors performing abortions in blue states versus red states.  Many Republican state governments are providing mandatory scripts for these doctors to read to their patients, which contain blatant falsehoods and lies.  (Example: “Medical abortion can be reversed,” “abortion causes breast cancer,” abortion leads to irreversible mental illness and depression.”)

I don’t care what one’s stance is on abortion; politicians are overstepping their bounds by telling trained medical professionals what to tell their patients.  If a person can’t trust the information a doctor is providing them to be accurate, the medical profession falls apart.

Again, GOP politicians campaign on reining in government, but they substitute their factually incorrect dogma for a highly trained, highly skilled doctor’s advice.  Of course, they say it’s all to protect women.  

But we know what it’s really about… it’s just one more piece of the puzzle, designed to prevent women from seeking abortions.  It’s right up there with requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals, and clinics having the same ER capabilities as hospitals.  If enough clinics close, women will have to drive that much further.  And if they can’t get insurance for the procedure, they might be able to afford it.  And when they do get to the clinic, there are government-enforced waiting periods, which requires either a hotel stay or a second long-distance trip.  PLUS, there are non-medically necessary tests some doctors are required to do, like sonograms and ultrasounds, transvaginal or otherwise.
 And if they’re really just concerned about a woman’s safety, why aren’t there similar regulations for non-hospital places where you can have a baby?  There is a far higher risk of dangerous of fatal complications from childbirth than there are from abortions. 

Just when the fuck did all these congressmen get medical degrees?  I wouldn’t want these fucksticks anywhere near my family, or my wife’s uterus.  (You know, if I had a wife.) 

Yeah, requiring banks to disclose their terms in plain language is a massive government interference into the free market, but these pricks can make a doctor give incorrect information to a woman in need.  That’s the party of “less government.”

My ass.

The Right Way to Solve the Problem
At least there was some good news from the Abortion Wars.  The number of abortions performed in the US has come down since 2010.  Conservatives were quick to claim that the drop was due to their increased regulation of abortion providers, like forcing them to provide sonograms.

However, that claim falls apart when you see that the number of abortions dropped by a similar amount in states without restrictive legislation.

But do you know what is applicable across the country since 2010?  Access to free birth control, made possible by Obamacare.  You know, the program that conservatives are fighting so hard to repeal.

Makes perfect sense.  It’s no wonder people get fed up with politics.

Live Without a Net
With a couple of recent injuries at baseball games in the news, I saw an article about how some people now are pushing to have ballparks extend netting around the infield, to protect fans from flying bats and balls.

And the pussification of America continues. 

Look, it’s simple… pay attention to the game.  If a bat’s coming, duck, or at least get your arms up to protect yourself.  OR, if you’re worried about it, don’t sit right up front!  All these things are choices, and I’m a pro-choice dude.

One of the people in the articles actually said that no one complains about the netting behind home plate, so it wouldn’t be any different if they extended it.

I say, Lady, you must not read Darwinfish2.  I complain about the netting every time I sit in Sitcom Kelly’s Mom’s company seats, behind home plate.  I don’t like that it ruins any chance to take a decent picture.

However, I’m not actually complaining so much that I don’t want the net to be there because that’s a high-risk area.  Foul balls are blasted against the screen with great regularity.  Down along the baselines, not nearly as much.

I’m good with extending the railings, so that people don’t fall out of the upper deck. And I’m good with the net behind the plate.  But leave the rest of the field alone, please?  We can’t just bubble-wrap our entire lives.  If you don’t accept the risk, go sit under the deck.

Oh yeah, it’s harder to be seen back there.

Director’s DVD Commentary: I fully acknowledge that if it had been ME who got clonked on the head by a flying baseball bat, I may be leading the charge for netting instead. Or not.  It would be my own fault.

Our Moment of Zen
Lastly, did you hear about the ISIS terrorist who posted a selfie of him standing outside his ISIS headquarters?  US Intelligence was on it immediately, and 22 hours later the Air Force dropped three bombs on it and destroyed the building.

I only have one thing to say about that:


And here we thought that the worst that can happen to you when you keep your nose in your phone, is getting clobbered by a bat.

Monday, June 1, 2015

2015 Rock n Roll Hall of Fame Inductions

Saturday night, I got to watch a tremendous wrong get righted, as HBO finally broadcast the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which took place over a month ago.  My “Queen,” Joan Jett finally received her due as a hard rocking inspiration to a legion of fans, from aspiring female musicians to fans of her unrelenting 3-chord rock and roll.

If you have HBO, they will be re-running the show, so you should try to DVR it.  It’s definitely worth seeing, plus you can always fast-forward over any inductee who’s not your thing.  In addition to Joan, they inducted Ringo Starr, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Green Day, Lou Reed, Bill Withers and 50s group the Five Royales.

I watched the show via DVR, with a 30-minute lag.  I figured I’d leave room to zap the stuff I didn’t care for.  Little did I know I’d enjoy almost the whole 3-hour show.

I can’t even try to be objective when it comes to Joan Jett, who led off the show with a rousing run through her theme song, “Bad Reputation.”  As you may recall, I met and hung out with Ms. Jett about a half-dozen times during my career in record retail, (the full story is right here), and she was just a beautiful, genuine, sweetheart to me and to all the fans she’s met.  She listens when you speak, looks you in the eye when she’s doing it and gives you thoughtful, honest answers to your questions.

Even at 56-years old, she looked fantastic.  In that respect, she’s like the anti-Keith Richards.

One of the things that I think finally got Joan into the Hall was last year, when Dave Grohl brought her out when Nirvana went in, to sing their biggest song, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”  It showed that she was being taken seriously by a highly acclaimed HOF band.  After Bad Reputation, she brought Grohl out to help with her other signature song, “Cherry Bomb,” from back in her days with the Runaways.  Later she brought on Tommy James for “Crimson and Clover,” which he wrote.  Miley Cyrus came out as well, for backing vocals. 

I was surprised and glad that she didn’t play “I Love Rock n Roll,” which was easily her biggest hit, but was never one of my favorites.

I was kind of surprised when I heard that Miley Cyrus was going to be the one to do Joan’s induction speech.  I mean, other than their gender, I didn’t see much in common between the two of them.  She gave an interesting, if crass, speech, which opened with, “I wanna start off this induction with the first time I wanted to fuck Joan Jett.”

I was like, “Get in line, chicklet…”

Honey, I’ve got piercings older than you.”  Source: WireImage

Joan’s guitarist, Ricky Byrd, later chided her, saying, “Miley, we ALL wanted to fuck Joan.”

Joan’s acceptance speech was far classier, and when she choked up, I was all done.  I was just so proud of and happy for her, it was almost like the Steelers winning another Super Bowl.

Bill Withers was kind of an odd choice, I thought, for the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.  I mean, I’m sure he did more than the three songs for which I know him… (“Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me,” and “Just the Two of Us.”)  But those were pretty high-quality songs.  I always thought of him as an African-American James Taylor, because his voice had such a smooth, soothing quality.

Stevie Wonder did the induction speech, and he and John Legend did the performances.  Withers didn’t sing because he’s been out of the music business for the last 30 years, but he did deliver a very clever and insightful acceptance speech.  One of his best lines was, “Having Stevie Wonder induct me is like a lion opening the door for a kitty-cat.”

I was never much of a Green Day fan, but their segment was enjoyable enough.  With all the weird groups that have been inducted thus far, you can’t say they’re not “rock and roll.”  Each member made a short speech, and they were far more eloquent than I would have expected.  They played three of their hits without any special guests participating, and that seemed to be enough.

I was never a Lou Reed fan either.  I watched Patti Smith give the induction speech, and Reed’s partner, (avant-garde synth artist) Laurie Anderson give the acceptance.  Both were touching.   But I fast forwarded through the performances.

That brought me to the other highlight of the night: watching Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble get inducted.  John Mayer took time off from banging starlets to give an inspired induction speech, followed by short acceptance speeches from the three remaining members of Double Trouble and Stevie’s brother Jimmy Vaughan.

Those were tough to watch; but enjoyable.  Then when they all started playing “Pride and Joy,” along with Gary Clarke Jr, I was done; reduced to a puddle on the floor.  To quote my favorite mommy family bloggers, I was feeling all the feels.  It was pride and happiness about their going in, mixed with the crushing sadness over the loss of Stevie Ray, and wondering how many more musical gems might have been brought forth over the last 25 years.

The only other song they played was “Texas Flood,” which I suppose was prescient, given the weather conditions in central Texas lately.  I kinda wish they played two shorter, snappier songs, but I understand that a longer song like “Texas Flood” gave each guitarist a chance to stretch out some solos.  And that was what SRV was all about.

I don’t care what anyone says, Ringo has always been my favorite Beatle.  Back in the 70s, I thought Paul was too sappy, John was too weird, and George was irrelevant.  But Ringo?  His songs here happy and peppy, with fat hooks and big choruses.  Granted, he did have a Who’s Who of British pop music in the studio with him, and writing songs for him.

I remember back when I was in 8th grade and took a class trip to Paris and London, we got to tour the Abbey Road recording studio.  They handed each of us an 8x10 glossy of one of the Beatles.  They gave me a John Lennon pic, which I immediately traded to another kid for a Ringo.  I always say that my first record album was Stevie Wonder’s “Talking Book,” but my second was a Ringo Starr album.  It was like the soundtrack to my 7th-grade year.  So contrary to popular wisdom, I have no problems with his being inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. 

Paul McCartney gave a lovely induction speech, and Ringo’s acceptance was charming, funny and very British.  For the performance, he got behind the drums for “It Don’t Come Easy,” and then led pretty much everyone from the rest of the induction class to do the obligatory “A Little Help from my Friends.”  (He totally should have sang it like Joe Cocker, as a tribute to the late Englishman.)

There may have been more, but I’m not sure… I was pretty wiped out by that time.

With Joan and Stevie Ray finally making it to the Hall, who am I going to complain about getting subbed now?  Most of my top favorite bands are in.

I guess I could go with Meat Loaf, but I’ve never even seen his name in the conversation.  There are the Scorpions and Judas Priest, but heavy metal is barely represented.  Maybe Dire Straits?  The Cars?

Ah… got it. 

George Thorogood for the Hall of Fame in 2016!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What a Snappy Dresser

This weekend, I took some time off from watching people trying to out-Murica each other on Facebook, to actually accomplish some things.  (“I’ll see your eagle and American Flag collage and raise you a 105-year old WWII vet.”)

OK, I’m just kidding.  I hardly accomplished anything this weekend.  There was just this one thing… And it was kind of a big deal, for me.

As you may recall, my back bedroom has been basically empty since last April.  I’ve tried to refrain from filling it up with junk, so it can function as a guest bedroom.  I might have gone a bit too far because four stark walls, with nothing on the floor, doesn’t make for a very inviting guest room.  And since the CFO and his giant son are supposed to come visit this summer, I figured I should at least provide them with somewhere to put their clothes and stuff, besides their suitcases.  So I bought a dresser.

Now, in my upbringing, Dad rarely put anything together; he almost always made a play for the floor model. 

My friend, the VP of Hell No, he could fashion an ornately carved dresser out of an oak tree, scrap metal and a donut, using nothing but the tools sitting around his garage.

My Blog Sister (“Blister?”) Cassie would find a second-hand dresser with a drawer and two legs missing, and turn it into a showpiece with nothing but sandpaper, stain, and the force of her will.

Me?  I had to order a kit.

“Dresser in a Box!”

Despite my frequently telling tales of Bluz the Incompetent Handyman, I am adequately proficient with basic tools and following instructions.  I’ve assembled much larger things than a simple 3-drawer dresser… like my corner PC desk, my 1994-era entertainment center, and other media racks and such.  I just had to make sure I took my time and followed the directions carefully.

So, Saturday afternoon, I tackled my chore of the weekend and began banging out a dresser.

Yep, all the big pieces are there.

Luckily, I had plenty of time to get my power screwdriver all charged up.  Otherwise, I would have needed to ice my forearms for a week.

One of the steps specified that I take diagonal measurements and ensure they were equal.  I was thrilled because that meant I got to use Grandpa’s tape measure.

When I was in Pittsburgh for Grandpa’s funeral a couple weeks back, Dad wanted to pass something of Grandpa’s on to me.  None of his personal jewelry items seemed right… his watch would have been nice, but I was literally wearing the exact same watch.  Then I saw his locking tape measure and knew that was the perfect item.  Grandpa was very exacting in his measurements and I knew that this tape measure was the perfect avatar.  Either that or a level.  Grandpa wouldn’t hang a roll of toilet paper on the spool without getting out his level.

Thanks for the assist, Grandpa.  Too bad I couldn’t find a level as well.”

Things went along OK, more or less.  I did have to go back and redo a couple of things.  The directions were mostly pictures, with very little verbiage.  So on a couple of things where it looked like a particular panel had symmetrical markings, the scored holes were one inch from the edge on one side, and maybe three inches from the edge on the other side.

Naturally, I didn’t notice the difference until things didn’t line up later.  But I figured it out soon enough, and it didn’t set me back too far.

Oh my God, where are my drawers?

The biggest problem was that while they seemed to have included a number of extra hardware parts, I was short by one small flathead screw.  I needed one more for the metal slider rails on the drawers.  I swear, I looked all through my hardware and screws (which I had already sorted into like piles), and all over the floor, but could not find it.  I was going to have to rely on whatever I could find in my random box of screws in my tool bag.

I found a number of screws that were the proper size, but they were round on top instead of flat.  When I tried one anyway, it looked like the end of the screw would stick out too far on the rail, and maybe keep it from opening properly.  The whole detour cost me about a half hour.

But not to worry… the drawers ended up opening and closing just fine, and I had me a dresser!

Naturally, as soon as I was done, and cleaning up the spare parts, don’t you know I found that little son-of-a-bitch screw… sitting right there on the table, where it was supposed to be.

There it is, at the upper right.

If I didn’t live alone, I would have sworn that someone moved that fucker when I wasn’t looking and then put it back.

So now the guest bedroom has something in it besides and empty microwave box.

When I emailed some pics to my folks, Dad asked me if I was sure it was level.  You know, because Grandpa would have expected nothing less.  Remembering that there is a level included with the iPhone compass app, I checked it out.

That’s what you call, 100% balls-on accurate.  It’s an industry term.

Good thing too.  I’d have hated to have to jam some of those extra parts under one side.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Odd Bits - The Hills, Bills and Sills Edition

You know, when your day starts with listening to Zorba the Greek in the car, you know you can’t be sad, even on a Monday.

Yiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!  Yip yip yip yip!

Count DeMoney (“Dee-mo-nay!”)
Can someone please wake me up after the 2016 elections?  It seems like the campaign has already been going on for years.

OK, it doesn’t seem like it, it has.  The Republicans have been sharpening their knives for Hillary Clinton ever since, well, forever.  But it really became noticeable over Benghazi.  I know I’ve said it before, but the only reason that it has been getting kicked around for so long is to throw shade at Hillary.  No one gave a damn about the dozens and dozens of people killed in Embassy attacks during the last few administrations.  No one even remembers.

The GOP kept opening inquiries and investigations for the sole purpose of contaminating the Clinton presidential campaign.  Which is fine, but guys, stop pretending you care about the people who were killed.

But with the heat on Benghazi dying down, (after a GOP-led investigation could turn up zero offenses), they are laughably going after Hillary’s financial stream.  Now they’re claiming that she took money for her Senate campaign from people who wanted her favor.* 

[drops mic, walks off stage in disbelief]

Excuse me, isn’t that just like every single congressional candidate across time and space?  Please.  There is major influence being bought and sold under the guise of campaign finance, and the Republicans are the standard bearers.  Hillary should tell these clowns that she’ll open up her books right after they do.  An investigation of the Koch Brothers campaign finance endeavors, alone, would make people’s heads explode.  The GOP is only against influence-peddling when someone else is doing it.

That said; I am far from Hillary’s biggest supporter.  In fact, I’d be thrilled if some other Democrat could somehow win the nomination.  Call it Hatfield and McCoy fatigue, or, in this case, Clinton and Bush fatigue.  I don’t think the country will be best served with either one in office.

Personally, I’d love to see Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders make some noise.  Yes, I know there is zero chance of either one winning the nomination, let alone the general election.  But I’ve seen very little that either one of them has said, with which I disagree.

However, the Hillary juggernaut rolls on, and if she wins the nomination, I’ll vote for her, if for no other reason than that she’s not one of those out there in Iowa fear-mongering and posing reprehensible propositions in order to win over a bunch of right-wing nut-jobs who wouldn’t know the Constitution if someone slapped them upside the head with it.

*Director’s DVD Commentary: I saw the story about the influence-peddling claims online this morning, but when I went back to include the link, I couldn’t find the story again.  Bugger-all.

The Old Game Ball, again.
I’ve been going to a lot of Orioles games this summer.  I like to load up early in the season before it gets obnoxiously hot out.  I’ve been to four so far, and am going tomorrow, and probably once over the weekend, and again during the week.  So by the time it gets smoking hot outside, I should be pretty much sick of it all.

But I’ve had a good time so far.  Sitcom Kelly and I went Monday night and got seats in the 2nd row, down the 3rd baseline.

Was really hoping someone would lace a ball into “our” corner, but no such luck.  A foul ball did come our way though, landing one row behind me and 3 seats further down.

Then on Friday, I went by myself and got one of those seats where I was the only one in my “row,” because the section ended in a point.  It would have been totally cool, to win pizza for the whole row, and then have it just be me.  (Yes, I would have shared around anyway.)

This was our view on Monday, and the arrow points to where I sat on Friday.

There wasn’t much action in this corner either, but I’m pretty sure I was on camera a lot when they were shooting the pitcher from inside the opposite dugout.  Unfortunately, I didn’t record the game because I needed to DVR the season finales of Grimm and Amazing Race.

I did snag one bit of luck though… when I “checked in” via the MLB app, (which I can do now that I’m an official smart-phone haver), I got a message that I was one of the 25 “pre-selected” people to win a t-shirt.

Whoo Hoo!  Because I totally don’t have enough orange t-shirts.

I really had to hand it to the Orioles sound guy that night, for pulling out the most strained musical reference I’ve ever heard.

The Angels had a player named Cowgill.  The first time he came up to bat, the sound guy played the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You.”  What’s the connection?

The Partridge Family TV show was based on a real singing family, called The Cowsills.  

Cowgill?  Cowsill?  Booyah!  I bet I could count the number of people there who got that reference on my fingers.

And speaking of Angels, I’m pretty sure I know who these fans were rooting for…

When did nuns start wearing blue?  Maybe it’s white at home, and blue on the road…

Anyway, MLB’s efforts to speed up the game must be working, because Friday’s game was wrapped up in 2 hours and 20 minutes.  Or maybe it was because of the pitching duel.  Either way, I was actually home by 10, in plenty of time to watch one of my shows.

Of course, it was Friday, so it didn’t matter when I got home.  Hope they can work some more of that magic for weekday games, when I have to get my tired ass up in the morning.

So like I said, although I was in good position to pinch a foul ball, none came my way.  But if I had, you can be damned sure I wouldn’t hand it to some kid!

There’s been a lot of fuss in past weeks, about grownups snatching baseballs and not handing them over to the nearest kid.  I’ve gone into this before, so you know where I stand.  If I come up with a ball, I’m keeping it, despite what this new chart says.  And if I AM going to give it to a kid, it will be a kid of my choosing, who may or may not be at the game with me.  It’s not my job to pacify some random kid’s tantrum.  I say, start teaching him right away that life can be unfair.  Life does not always cater to what you want, when you want it.  The earlier people learn that, the better.

That said; I’m talking about catching a ball fair and square.  I wouldn’t intercept a ball that’s been tossed to a kid, or wrestle one away from him, and I certainly wouldn’t shove an old lady away from one, like this Phillies fan did.  That’s just not right.

Of course, you have to take into account that it WAS a Philadelphia fan.  I don’t see why anyone was surprised.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

We Put the 'Fun' in Funeral

So, it was back to the Burgh for Grandpa’s funeral.  I drove out Tuesday morning, attended two “viewing” sessions, the funeral was Wednesday and I drove home Thursday.

But first, I had to prepare.  My dress shoes were a little beat up, so I figured I’d better do something about them.  Usually when my shoes get too scuffed, I buy new shoes.  But I didn’t have time for that, so for the first time in about 15 years, I shined my shoes. 

Unlike Joe Pesci in “Goodfellas,” I still have my shine box.

The trips were relatively uneventful.  I ran into some rain on the way out, but that was actually a good thing.  There was so much orange pollen on the hood of my car, I felt like I was driving a giant peach.

It was really good to see everyone.  That’s the funny thing about funerals, at least in my family.  I have so much fun hanging out with my aunts, uncles, and cousins; I almost forget why we’re there.

As my dad frequently said, we wanted to “celebrate the man’s life, rather than mourn his death.”  So what’s wrong with a little frivolity?  Sure there were some very sad and serious moments, like when my cousin’s 3-year old daughter tearfully exclaimed that “my Grandpa’s DEAD,” at the viewing.  But then later, she touchingly slid a piece of candy under his pillow.

This is Luci, in a much happier moment.  Flash forward to someday in the future when she has kids: “I didn’t have fancy toys when I was little; I had to play with a corkscrew!

But there were also plenty of moments of merriment.  Like when we were back at my aunt’s house, where Grandpa had spent the last several years.  There was a bunch of us gathered in the living room, including my sister-in-law and nephews, and other assorted relatives.

My cousin Nikki was going through the cable TV on-screen guide, looking for a suitable TV show to put on.  I don’t know how she managed to bring the guide up into the wilderness of the 500-series of channels, but there she was… in porn land.  The highlighted field happened to be a delightful selection called, “Gonzo Goo Splatter #8,” complete with a colorful episode description.

Nikki, completely oblivious to the situation, rolled the grid trying to find her show.  (Later on, she said she saw the “Gonzo” part and thought it was a Muppet show.) 

Biting the insides of my cheeks, I began looking around to the room to see who was noticing.  It wasn’t everyone yet, just a couple cousins.

Just as everyone began to notice… FINALLY, she took a second to look at what was being highlighted on the screen, went “OH MY GAWD,” and mercifully changed the channel.  I swear I must have laughed for a solid five minutes.

Someone said, “What kind of cable package did they sign up for?

I said, “Either our aunt has some exotic tastes we didn’t know about or Grandpa was a lot more spry than we thought!

The other funny moment was at the late viewing Tuesday night.  I was sitting with Nikki, her sister Angela, and my sister, and we were trying to list some of our grandpa’s attributes that the priest might be able to work into his homily.  Soon their father, my Uncle Ange, strolled by and they asked him for some ideas.

He explained that Grandpa had a lot of opinions about what’s right, what’s wrong, and how things should be done.  He’d speak his piece, and let it go, never arguing with you about it.

My sister spoke up and said, “That’s not so!  He was always trying to get me to taste things I didn’t like, no matter how many times I told him I didn’t like it.”

Uncle Ange very gently said, “That’s because you were the Nuisance Grandchild.”

Well, that was a big mistake… not in what he said, but that he said it in front of me.  I then spent the rest of our time there bringing up her status as the Nuisance Grandchild, and soon the rest of the cousins were doing so as well. 

Director’s DVD Commentary: He was totally kidding and felt bad about causing all the fuss.  I, however, have no such conflict.  In fact, in my role as Older Brother, I’d be derelict in my duties if I had done otherwise.

Angela and Nikki were also responsible for picking out a couple of Bible verses to read at the service.  I was really glad that they were asked, and not me.  No, it's not because of my anti-religious tendencies; it's that I would have been sorely tempted to use the verse that Samuel L. Jackson uses in "Pulp Fiction."  (Ezekiel 25:17)  But I'm not a bad enough muthaf***er to pull that one off.
Available to speak at funerals, weddings and bar mitzvahs.

My grandpa was such a great planner, he even made sure he ended up with six grandsons; the perfect amount for pallbearers.  It’s been a while since I had the honor, so I must have forgot how much heavy lifting was involved.

My big mistake was at the funeral home, where we had to move the casket down the stairs and into the hearse.  I ended up on the back corner to my left.  My left hand is practically useless, plus, I was in a major load-bearing position.  I came very close to dropping my end until I could get my other hand into play.

Live and learn though, because we had a lot more moving to do: from hearse to church, church back to hearse, and hearse to the cemetery.  Each time, I made sure I could use my right hand, and got myself in the middle spot.  I’m the oldest of the group… let the young bucks handle the load!  Some of those guys could bench press that much weight… with me sitting on top.  I was content to be there merely for decorative purposes.

After the service, my nephew Sammy, pretending he's in the end of the movie “Big.”

In and around all the formalities, we would gather back at my aunt’s house, where there were plenty of catered dishes to work on.  Several people made liquor store runs, and Uncle Ange kept us stocked with plenty of wine.  We tended to do what we always do: sit around a table and eat, drink and tell stories.

I know my nephew Daniel likes it when I tell stories about his dad.  (His dad?  Not so much.)

We also made sure we paid attention to Grandpa’s late-in-life-partner, Samantha.

How can you not love this little face?

They were great companions ever since they got the little Maltese.  It was funny though because the only dogs Grandpa ever had were hunting dogs, who were always kept outside.  No one ever thought he’d become attached to a fluffy little lap dog.  I'm sure it helped that she turned out to be very smart, and a very good girl.

On Thursday, before scattering to the winds again, we stopped by our favorite hometown place to get fish sandwiches.  Because of course we did.

I even ordered two more, to go.  And remarkably, they both made the trip home… although one of them didn’t survive much longer.

Just in case you always wanted to know what Lady and the Tramp looks like in Italian, check out the poster that was hanging in the place:

“Vagabondo.”  It sounds like it should be somebody’s name… “Now batting for Philadelphia, third baseman, Joe Vagabondo.” 

So, we came to town, we laughed, we cried, we ate, drank and made merry.  And we made plans to restart our reunions, and get together more often.

Just what Grandpa would have wanted us to do.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Patriarch

It was the call I was expecting.

Grandpa went into hospice on Thursday, and that’s almost always a one-way ticket.  My parents left for Pittsburgh on Friday, and Mom called me Saturday afternoon.  Grandpa had passed.

I was very glad that I had gone to see him when I was in town at the end of March.  He seemed OK then, but I’d been told, he had good days and bad days.

It saddened me, as I started looking through my photo archives, for pictures of Grandpa, because we would all be the poorer for his not being here.  In business, we call it “Institutional Knowledge.”  He knew the best ways to do everything, and lucky for us, he was only too willing to share. 

But really, I can’t be too sad.  I mean, he was 99!  Ninety-freakin-nine!  I don’t know any other 53-year olds that still have a grandparent around, so I know I’m fortunate.  Hell, the last 15 years have been gravy.

And after a long, honorable life, he followed it up with the perfect death.  He was asleep when they took him to hospice, and he never woke up.  There were no IV lines, feeding tubes, respirators, or any pokes or prods.  His family was by his side, as he simply slipped away in his sleep.

And with that, Grandpa “won” at life.  A perfect 1-0 record of kicking life’s ass.

How could anyone not be happy for that?
I have to pack now and get ready to drive to Pittsburgh tomorrow, so I’m not going to ramble on.  But if you’d like something more to chew on, I’m reposting a bit I wrote 2 years ago, for Grandpa’s 97th birthday. 

His grandchildren (and other family members) were working on a book of stories and remembrances, to be bound and presented to him for the occasion.  Each of us wrote up our own stories, and I posted mine here. 

(The book came out wonderfully, I might add.  There are a quite a number of talented writers in this family, of whom I hadn’t been aware.)

97 99 Years of Awesome
Director’s DVD Commentary: Next month, my Grandpa is turning 97.  It’s really amazing… the dude is a real piece of work.  Ever since he hit 90, I’ve been telling everyone that he’s a shoo-in to make 100.  And you know how I hate being wrong…

Anyway, to mark the occasion, my cousin’s wife asked a bunch of us to send her some material… pictures, stories, memories, and whatnot, so she can have it made into a hardbound book.  Naturally I loved the idea.  Not only do I have a warehouse of photographs, you KNOW I love to tell stories.  

My original idea was to recycle the post I wrote a few years back, regarding the story of how as a kid, my dad got picked up by the local cops for jumping trains, and Grandpa refused to come down to the station to get him.

Last night I got it all written up and adapted for the book; I just wanted to review it with fresh eyes today before I sent it in.  It wouldn’t do for the Family Blogger to submit a story full of typos and awkward grammar.

But then I had to go and sleep on it.  By morning, I had decided to scrap the original idea completely and write something more nostalgic.  And because I never keep anything I write to myself, you can have an early glimpse.

So let me tell you about my Grandparents…

There are so many memories associated with my Grandma and Grandpa, from early childhood up through becoming a creaky old grown-up.  I’m betting that most of these will be shared among all of us that grew up visiting their tidy little home in Coraopolis. This is what I remember from our weekly visits, when we still lived in the area, to our annual visits for holidays or reunions.

It starts for all of us in The Lap… Grandpa’s Lap at the head of the table.  Newest baby gets the spot, where he learns how to dunk biscotti in coffee or wine.  I don’t think any of us actually remember being on the lap, but we remember the next youngest kid that displaced us, sitting there.

We older-generation grandkids remember the movie lights.  Grandpa took 8mm movies every Christmas, which were always accompanied by the blindingly bright movie light.  I think the light was so bright so that after it was turned off, the grownups could watch us stumble into things.

In watching some of those movies later, I realized that it was all actually the same movie, repeated over and over:

Here’s some squinty kids opening presents.  Look who’s coming in the door…everyone say hi!  There’s the baby, sitting in the middle of all the presents.  Time for dinner… look at all the food!  Everyone wave… now let’s eat.”  Then the next year… “Slightly older blind kids opening presents… hey, there’s a new baby… look at the food… Everybody wave…”  Repeat indefinitely

When we’d visit, the first stop would invariably be the basement; that’s where all the toys were.  I’d always be amazed at the floor.  It was always painted, and so clean you could eat from it.  We’d head straight for the shelves that held the puzzles, blocks, Lincoln Logs and board games.  Sometimes I’d wander through the other section, through the amazingly organized workshop, to the wine cellar.  I loved the sharp smell of the old wooden barrels.

That reminds me of the other favorite pastime: caging sips of the grownups’ drinks.  It wasn’t very difficult, the grownups always obliged, except that one year, when they were finishing off the last of Grandpa’s home made wine from 1962.  No sense wasting the Good Stuff on the children.

As the oldest of all the grandchildren, I always tried not to make the “strong drink face,” or else I figured they wouldn’t give me anymore.  I wanted to be a Big Boy.  I remember being so happy when I was finally old enough to participate in the post-Mass eye-openers.  After getting back from church, Grandpa would break out the Jack Daniels or Crown Royal and we’d all get an eye-opener shot.  Then Grandpa would say, “Well, we have to open both eyes, don’t we?” and then pour us all another shot.

I always remembered the back yard as being so big… we’d play football or wiffleball there, and it would cause a stampede if we hit the ball over the hedges.  We’d have to run out to the street and try to stop the ball before it rolled down the hill and into the sewer.

It wasn’t until I visited as a grownup that I realized that the yard wasn’t that big at all, and most of it was taken up by two things.  First was the garden.  Grandpa’s garden was a work of art.  He grew enough stuff to stock a salad bar all summer long. 

These shots were from 1992, so Grandpa was in his mid-70s.  At that point, he was taking it a little bit easier.  You can tell because the tomato stakes aren’t all the exact same height, nor are they all painted the same color.  But what you can’t see are the boards laid down between the rows, so he could walk between them securely and care for each plant.

As for weeds?  There were no weeds.  Ever.  I think that whenever a weed dared poke up out of the ground in Grandpa’s garden, he’d stick his head out the back door and go, “Hey, what’choo doing over there?  Get outta here!

The weed would zip right back into the ground.

I should note that my dad did NOT inherit the gardening gene, as evidenced by the year he used his golf clubs for tomato stakes.  He said it added iron to the soil.

There also used to be a large apple tree in the middle of the yard that yielded the biggest, tartest green apples around.  Sometimes we’d actually race through dinner just to go outside and pick a giant apple or two for dessert.  (Of course I’d have to spend the next day on the pot, but it was totally worth it.)

I didn’t do that for very long because I quickly learned that the dinner was where it’s at.  Grandma always put out enough food to feed an army.  As soon as we’d arrive from out of town, a huge spread of cold cuts would appear, along with her homemade wedding soup.  I’d build myself a sandwich the size of my head.  And then we still had to eat dinner a few hours later.  It was a dream for a growing teenage boy.

Don’t even get me started on the Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes.  Best meal of the year, every year.  Man, I miss the smelts.  And the cookies!  All the ladies in the neighborhood would bake dozens of their favorite cookies and then trade them all around.  All of us kids had our favorites… mine used to be the “ravioli” cookies, which looked like raviolis, but had chocolate filling instead of meat or cheese.

Another treat was that we got to have pop with dinner, which we never got at our house.  But Grandma and Grandpa would have those variety cases of orange, grape and cream soda in those returnable 12-oz bottles.

Some summers, my folks would leave us there while they went off for some no-kids time.  We always had a ball and enjoyed the uninterrupted Grandparent face time.  I still remember sitting out on the front porch, drinking our orange pop and listening to Bob Prince call the Pirates game.  We also liked to walk down the hill and watch the trains go by.  It was always soothing to me to hear them go by at night, from up in the guest bedroom.

In the wintertime, Grandma always knitted us slippers, usually in black and gold.  My brother and I constantly wore out the bottoms, necessitating the new models.  I wore them well into adulthood.  I’m sure Grandma never expected to be knitting size-12 slippers.  I still have my last pair, holes and all.  Even though I can’t wear them, they’ll always have a place on my bedroom floor.

When I was managing record stores in Cleveland, Christmases used to be the worst.  Life in retail was crazy during the holiday season, but the saving grace was that on Christmas Eve, I could close up shop and set sail for Pittsburgh.  I’d roll in to Grandma and Grandpa’s about 9:30 and Grandma would be ready with soup and sandwich while Grandpa brought a cold Iron City Light up from the cellar.  And Grandma always had Klondikes for me when she knew I was coming.  At the time, they weren’t yet available nationwide.

That would be the first moment in months that I’d just be able to sit and breathe, and catch up with these two dear people.

My grandparents were the rocks of our family, then and now.  They were always there for us, always helpful and always with the right advice.  Usually it was just to work hard, be honest, do your job and always do the right thing. 

Not to mention there’s nothing that can’t be fixed when you come together around a table full of good food and wine.