Friday, February 22, 2008

Practice Runs; Summer, 1963

Well, my year with Mrs Fuller came to a close and another glorious summer began. I seem to recall this summer being the summer my father and mother felt it would be good to teach us something and show us America. “See the USA in Your Chevrolet” was the operating phrase here. We didn’t venture too far afield but after a week in Ocean City we took to the road in a series of trips designed to stimulate our young minds and get us out of Wenonah.
We visited Gettyburg, PA, and on the same trip, Strasbourg, PA and the railroad museum, Pennsylvania Dutch country and many other cheesy tourist sites en route. This particular trip was a big favorite for all us boys as it involved Civil War battlefields. Mick and I were mad Civil War fans with Mick even more rabid than me. We had our Civil War hats and our muskets and flags and our Civil War soldiers and games and books and so the chance to see where some Civil War battles actually happened was a rare treat. Or so we thought.
We arrived in Gettysburg after a trip of several hours and headed straight to the Diorama. This was a major tourist attraction and consisted of a huge miniature layout of the battlefield. Lights flashed, music played, and smoke billowed. Still and all it was just little men on paper mache but we loved it. We bought a few souvenirs with money we’d earned from shoveling snow and then it was off to the battlefield proper.
This proved to be a modest disappointment. No, a major bummer. It was just fields. Well mowed fields! No dead guys! No bones! It might as well have had corn growing in it and in fact did in some places. We were not real clear on the fact that dead guys were probably right under our feet and that this was essentially a vast military cemetery and memorial built after a terrible battle. Screw that! We wanted gore and guns and what we got was birds chirping.
Oh, there were some pictures of dead guys. Enlargements of Matthew Brady photos were placed at strategic intervals to illustrate the carnage and that was cool and all. I mean back then you didn’t usually see actual pictures of dead people on the news or in print so seeing the dead rebel sniper by the big rock was cool. Beyond that though we were probably happier swimming in the motel pool.
On our way back we visited the stupid railroad. We went to Strasburg cuz Ted was a railroad lunatic. Ted was an odd little child. He didn’t grow hair till he was like five and he took enormous interest in arcane pursuits and subjects. Railroads were on of them. Old railroads in particular. To give you a real sense of how weird Ted was one year his birthday gift was a push lawnmower from Sears. He loved that mower! Mowed grass for hours when he got it.
Anyway, then we saw the Pennsylvania Dutch people who it turned out weren’t Dutch but German and really not much to look at cuz they were working on their farms most of the time. They’re called Amish apparently and our parents didn’t bother to mention or didn’t know that they were a weird religious sect from Germany that came here to escape persecution. What they got was people following their carts in station wagons taking pictures and buying sho fly pie from them or pretzels. Pretty sad and not way up on the must see list for 11 year olds.
Our next big adventure was a drive down the Skyline Drive in Virginia. I’m fairly certain this was my mothers pick because she was real impressed with the scenery. We could give a fuck about that and mostly moaned about being hungry or tried weird southern food like hominy grits. It was mostly a long, long drive with three yelping boys and two hot adults (no ac in the car) through tourist trap after tourist trap and then back to Wenonah. If I recall correctly Mary Louise was parked with Nonny and Aunt Gersh for this one.
All these trips were, I think, test runs for the mother of all trips. The next summer we were going to drive across country to visit my Aunt Gert in Ventura, CA. You’ll get more of the lurid details on that one in a few months.
The rest of the summer was spent in blissful play. Well, swimming in the pool, running in the woods, and then getting bored. Really, really, really bored because after two months there was nothing to do. What fools we were. Had we known then what we know now I’m certain we would have felt otherwise. Instead we hunkered down on the front porch for marathon games of Monopoly and Risk for the last two weeks of summer and cried like girls because we were bored. My parents must have thought we were insane. I certainly think we were.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Wenonah Wolf Pack

My fellow cub scouts left to right (thanks to Bob Thomas)
Top Row: Unknown,Robbie Cook, Jackie Russell, Me, Unknown
Bottom Row: Don Eberly,Chris Anderson, Rickie Alexander, Don Fisk.
My brother Mick was thoughtful enough to tell me I'm an idiot and that it wasn't Bobby Holt but Donny Fisk. Ooops! I need the names of those two twins. Help!!!!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Gateway Regional Class of 1970 Reunion

Oh! By the way, I've thrown up a site for our wacky reunion! You can go and log on and make yourself feel part of another group that never really accepted you! Here's the link:
Please if you read this, visit the site, set up a profile and invite all our other loser, geek, jock, motorhead, prom queen, cheerleader, egghead, friends to visit and join us in July. There's room for everyone under the tent. Plus alcohol. Plus cheesy sixties music which I'm certain will feature line dancing. Plus hot chicks and fat guys! Or bald guys! Or skinny old guys! Or fat guys that are now fat girls! Should be a gas!
I'm going to be there with bells on! Pass it on my brothers and sisters! We have a need for the geator with the heater, the Bristol Stomp, and slow dancing! See you all in July!

Boys in Groups

Most boys in the 60's were shunted to some kind of youth group or another. Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Explorers, Indian Guides, Summer Camp, Bible studies, whatever. I was no different. Being at the total direction of peer and societal pressure as well as parental orders what would be would be.
My own first brush with organized groups of young boys was in Woodbury, NJ when I was in Kindergarten. This was my fathers weird attempt to bond with me and other boys and young fathers. God knows what popped into his brain to hatch this scheme. My father may be the least outdoorsy type on the planet. While he is athletic and loves sports he has no clue what to do in the wild. Camping is not something he would do unless all the houses and motels in the world burned down. But being a dutiful 50's father he dragged me to one or two groups of kids and dads where he participated in some oddball Indian like rituals and made crafty things. Then, much like his association with Catholicism, he stopped at the first chance he got.
Which brings me to Wenonah in 4th and 5th and 6th grades. I was a Cub Scout. Wolf Pack. God knows what group of Cub Scouts, it was a long time ago but I had a little blue and yellow uniform and a whittling knife and I went once a week with several other assorted losers to meet and whittle and learn woodcraft and dream of being Boy Scouts and living life in the woods. Cub Scouts is kind of strange because you don't ever camp out or cook over a fire or any of that shit. Instead you make stuff out of wood and leather and recite oaths and generally act like probably the biggest geeks on the face of the earth. I'll throw up a picture of me and my Pack for your perusal. You'll see what I mean.
The biggest nightmare for me in Cub Scouts was the Soap Box Derby. For this little exercise in humiliation you were given a balsa wood body of a racing car, two spindly metal axles, four tires and a couple decals and told to craft a racing car that would carry you and your Pack to glory in the Soap Box Derby. Let me be clear. This involved several skills at which I did not excel. Whittling or rather slicing off your fingers, painting (refer to the post on models), and design. I'm an artist not an engineer. This meant that even in the world of geeks I was a bigger geek.
My mis-applied decals, smeared paint job, hacked up hunk of wood would invariable finish last. Thank God. Till next year. The only time Cub Scouts got interesting was in Webelos. Webelos. What kind of nincompoop name is that for an organization? Fake Indian, like Wenonah, but rich in recently manufactured tradition. But at least in Webelos we learned actual shit you could do. Like tie knots or make a fire or cook food.
All of this would prepare me for the humiliation of Boy Scouting. Did I mention I wet the bed? Oops! Big problem on camping trips. After years of preparation, purchase of a nice green uniform, and cool induction into the local Boy Scout Troop, Troop 50 it would all go to shit because of one minor problem. That's right, I washed out on my first overnighter to Elk's Neck Campground in Maryland. Pissed my sleeping bag and out of humiliation, quit. I re-upped when I was 16 but that's for later on.
In the meantime there were of course many other boys organizations you could join that didn't require adult consent. "The He Man Woman Haters Club" for instance. Terry, Chris, and Gary started this one up. The high point of the club, after the scary oath was melting wax on your skin.
Years later in New Brunswick I had a roommate who did this for sexual pleasure. We did it because you could drip fire on your arm and it didn't set you on fire. It was just a little warm. So you looked brave but with little or no actual danger. Aside from setting the house on fire because in general we held our ceremonies in crawl spaces with poor ventilation and old dry wood just ripe for burning.
The nicest thing about all these groups was no matter who you were you always felt like you didn't belong. Cool. None of us felt like we belonged. I was wetting the bed and wheezing, Mick was struggling in school, Sam Stewart was fat, Tommy Wood was everything wrong. We were all broken and all trying to get in some group that would accept us. And they all did! Problem was we all still felt like geeks and losers. Thank God we've grown up. That's sarcasm. Or irony. I forget which.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Athletics in Grade School

First, as an aside, an update: Johanna is well and doing fine. As am I and our three nincompoop dogs. Thanks to our friends and the doctors and nurses.
Next, on to more important issues. In Wenonah there were three kinds of athletics in elementary school: Organized sports, like Minor League or Pony League or Babe Ruth League baseball. School sports, like softball or touch football or dodge ball. And our own disorganized sports, like our Olympic Games around the block or golf in the back yard, or wiffleball, or street football. Each type had its own odd conventions and values.
Let's start with organized sports. When I was young all there was in Wenonah was hardball. You started in Minor League ball, moved up to Pony League and thence to Babe Ruth League. A few gifted young men went on to play American Legion Ball. This was a kind of semi-pro hardball with actual stakes. Each league consisted of one team from several neighboring towns and games were played twice a week, either home or away. Wenonah's baseball field was wonderful, with actual dugouts. It had once been the field for the Wenonah Military Academy in the twenties and so was pretty much regulation. No fences though. Right field was the railroad tracks and left and half of center were wooded. But it was a good 325 to any boundary so not many people banged one that far.
Back in the day you weren't put on the field to boost your self esteem. You were put in the game based on your abilities. If you sucked you went in in the 9th inning. That was if we were winning. I played a couple games a year and got one or two at bats. No hits. Several missed flies. I was always in right field which was a blessing because nobody could hit there except southpaws and no one was a southpaw till Pony League.
At the end of the season, in the fall, we would have a banquet to honor the Most Valuable Player, the Most Improved Player, etc in all the various leagues. We went with our dads and wore suits or sport coats. At the end of the awards and the dinner there was an inspirational talk by a professional athlete. I remember Tom Brookshire but that's about it. They weren't too inspirational but we had seen them on tv and they autographed our programs. Most of these athletes had regular jobs so this was a quick $200 bucks for one night. A lot of money back then.
School sports were just stupid. Rarely enjoyable and never allowed to be played to their conclusion. The only time it was fun was when we played touch football or soccer in the snow. That was a gas. Otherwise you'd play for a very brief time and then back to numbers and books all hot and sweaty.
Disorganized sports were our metier. We developed 18 hole courses in our backyards. I remember excelling at chip shots over the garage roof in particular. We played hour upon hour of street football. Everyone, everywhere, knows that gig. Ten steps, cut behind the Cadillac and I'll hit you. Chris you go long. All day long.
We played dozens of games. Workies Up, Horse, you name it, we played it. We invented our own version of the Olympics with everything from the 100 yard dash to pole vaulting (a failed experiment involving bamboo poles). High jumping was done over yard fences, etc.
The odd thing was that I learned from all of them. I actually became okay at hardball. I learned fundamentals even though I rarely played. I learned strategy and good sportsmanship and how to razz the opposing pitcher. I learned how to have fun playing our sports. Hell, I even developed a fairly good golf swing. Years later, never having actually ventured on a course, I had to play for business. My first drive on a real golf course went 200 yards, dead straight, off the tee. Not too shabby.
Playing was serious business for us. So serious that we played from sun up to sundown with no let up. So serious that we played with bloody knees and lips and elbows. So serious I would run the 100 yard dash again and again and again till my asthma was so bad I had to take my meds and lay in my bed and cry because I couldn't run again. It was as serious as work. Sometimes it was fun.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Hospitals and Fun

This post is only a little about Wenonah, although everyone in Wenonah probably has a similar story to tell. I've spent the past two days caring for Johanna. She developed a severe infection from a sinusitis and we had to go to Christ Hospital. The hospital was deluged with flu patients and she was very ill and so for a variety of reasons there was no bed immediately available. I've been at her side most of the past few days along with her dear friends Sandy and Oscar and Douglas and Teresa. Finally after nearly two days she got a bed and was able to rest in comfort.
Maybe you've been ill. Maybe you have a friend who has been ill. You know what I'm talking about. The long hours waiting for doctors to make decisions, the stressed emergency room workers, the poor sick people who fill the ER. It's not a broken system but it's a system that is often ill equipped to deal with actual people. Johanna's nurses and caregivers were kind and thoughtful but we sat in a cold room with little information for hour upon hour upon hour. It's tempting to say it was because she was undocumented or because she was HIV positive or whatever thing you want to put out to make yourself feel angry but the simple fact is that the American system for caring for the ill is totally fucked the fuck up. We make rules to help people and we make rules to protect ourselves against litigation but we don't make latitude for care.
I watched a young latin girl leave the hospital because she didn't get pain killers fast enough. She was angry and in pain. Her sister was filled with rage. They screamed at all the women in the ER that it was their fault. When I arrived this morning Johanna wanted to leave. No rest. No solace. No calm. No beds.
When I was ill it was the same. When you go into a hospital you are a patient. And sadly that's what you must become. Patient. Patient while you are in agony. Patient while you are afraid. Patient while you are at the mercy of people who have dozens of other people in the same straits.
You could say fuck this shit. Maybe we should. Maybe litigation and money have changed the landscape of healthcare so that it makes no sense. But all I could think about while we were sitting there was men in Civil War hospitals and the men and women who cared for them. For them there was no medicine for the most part to save anyone. There was only solace and kindness and concern.
I think we should go back and look at what the fuck we're doing in healthcare and identify the core of healthcare. Care. Solace. Understanding. For patients. For caregivers. For the men and women who wipe shit off our backsides and listen to us scream in agony.
It's not money that we need to focus on. It's how to deliver care without regard for procedure, regulations, or money. We don't need as many machines. We need more nurses. We need more doctors. We need to stop separating people by their race and disease and personality.
It's very sad when the most wonderful moment in the day is that you get a hospital bed. The most wonderful moment in the day should be when you feel well. When someone claps you on the back and says thank you for saving my mother's life. When a doctor can say I've done my best and I've been successful. I guess I don't believe there are really that many sick people that we couldn't really find a way to address this. Many people here were there only because they had the flu. What the fuck is that. You have to go to the hospital because you have the flu?
We're voting over the next year or so for someone to change this shit. Fuck Iraq. Fuck Afghanistan. Fuck Al Queda. The worst thing we can do is ignore our humanity. I'm on the side of Walt Whitman who tended the dead and dying. All he had to give was kindness. No penicillin. No morphine. No beds. Only care. If we go back to care maybe we can sort this shit out.
I am the lucky beneficiary of healthcare. I would have been dead 20 years ago. I'm not. Nor is Johanna. But no one should be treated like a piece of meat in a hallway by rules and regulations.
People should be able to see their doctor for the flu. Not a hospital. People all people should be able to ask for help. Documented, undocumented, uninsured, insured. Who really cares. I know this is idealistic and stupid and naive. But maybe we need to go back to that.
There was a young man in the hospital named Eric. He greeted patients by name and engaged them in a real way. He made them feel like he could help. He helped cut through red tape and talked to doctors and nurses to make things move along. How sad it was only one man and not an entire hospital.
God Bless men like Eric and God Bless the women who cared for Johanna and gave her solace and goddamn the stupid rules and regulations and bullshit that stand in the way. If you vote over the next months vote for people that care. Vote for a country that cares for all it's citizens, not just the well to do or the privileged. We are a rich nation built on hope. Vote for hope.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Spring et al in Wenonah

Wenonah in Spring is always beautiful. When I was in 5th grade my father and mother would give my brothers and sister Easter gifts. Just one and a piece of clothing along with our coconut egg and jelly beans. In 5th grade I got a Sears fishing rod and reel. I'd used fishing tackle as a boy down the shore but this was different. It was a spinning reel. In this case, closed face. I also got line and some hooks and a bobber and a lure or two.
My father knew pretty much nothing about fishing. That meant that my brothers and I took to reading the instruction book and practicing in the back yard with the rod and reel. I mustered a few casts and then it was off to Davis Lake to catch some carp. In Wenonah there were about two fish you could catch. Carp and small mouth bass. None of us caught small mouth bass. That's probably because we just put balls of wadded up bread on a hook and tossed it into the lake. Oh, sometimes you'd get an eel or a minnow but mostly you caught carp. Carp are basically giant goldfish that grow in little lakes. They eat vegetation and that's about it. They are not, repeat, not, sport fish.
They do struggle a bit when you hook them but pretty much any idiot with a hook can catch one. What you do with them after you catch them is somehow unhook them and throw them back in, only to catch them again. For all I know there is only one carp in all of Davis Lake and I caught him dozens of times along with my friends.
Under a certain age you don't need a license to fish so we were able to stand there like idiots for free and catch carp. Once in a while we'd go to Sutton's Lake or down to the Mantua Creek. The creek actually had fish in it you might eat. There were catfish in the creek and they were catchable and if you were ballsy enough you could skin them and cook them and eat them. I never got past the trying to skin them phase. Catfish for those of you who didn't grow up in a rural or semi-rural environment are some weird prehistoric fish like sharks without scales. You have to peel their skin off them. This is neither easy nor pleasant and they are not happy about it. They're ugly, nasty, and don't like dying. Pretty much like every creature on the face of the earth.
So there we were in the middle of the woods, lines in the stupid little lake, waiting for carp. All around us the dogwoods and peach were erupting in bloom. The scent of blossoms, lilacs and hyacinths and a thousand other flowers filled the air. We didn't notice. We were looking at a muddy little pond stocked with ornamental junkfish and trying to be like the men we read about in Boys Life.
There is a horrible lesson to be learned here. I do remember at times forgetting I was fishing. Just lying back in the new grass on the shore of the creek and breathing in the air in the warm spring breeze. That might have lasted for twelve minutes. It should have been savored. Perhaps it still is.

Monday, February 04, 2008


One word: Giants! Two words Gi Ants! Three words: New York Giants! The best superbowl ever! Yes! Never bring your super model girlfriend to the game.