Sunday, August 29, 2010

Youthful Adventures - Avoiding the Curfew...

Right off the bat, you need to know that I made this right with my Dad before he passed away.  He had long since forgiven these indiscretions, and his only comment was something to the effect, "What goes around, comes around".  So far, he's wrong, my kids seem to follow the household rules much better than I ever did, but then again there are far fewer of them (rules and kids).  On to the story....

     The house I grew up in was a house of rules.  As you might imagine, when raising 12 children, it is far easier to establish hard rules and then bend them when the situations warrant, than to parent on a case by case basis.  Some of our rules were just understood, like Dad getting the biggest piece of meat, or a slice of cake from the middle of a square pan (you know that they are the most moist).  Other rules were actually written so there could be no arguing of ambiguity later. For me in 1981, my curfew was like that.  It was hard and fast with no ambiguity, and I almost never made it home before it. 

     In my defense, I followed the other rules, I went to church, I had my laundry down on my day, I did my chores and contributed around the house, but I just couldn't see eye to eye with my Dad on the curfew.  I was supposed to come home on the weekends by 12, or immediately after work.  I worked at a local pizza place (Papa Franks -Woot Woot !) and it was open until 12, so I was expected within 15 minutes of actually finishing for the night.  When I came home, I was supposed to be quiet and go to bed.   This is really difficult to do for most people, it's natural to want to relax, and wind down for a little while after finishing work, but my curfew didn't allow this, so I justified breaking it each weekend. 

     My parents normally turned in around 10 or 11 o'clock.  They would leave a key under the mat in our outside foyer, and a list on the table with the names of their kids that were still out that particular evening.  You were supposed to sign in with the time you came home, and if you were the last one in, turn the light out.  I always turned the light out.  I really enjoyed sitting with my peers, playing cards, having a few beers (the drinking age was 16 back then), and relaxing.  I frequently would find myself walking home at 2, 3 or 4 in the morning.  The list wasn't really much of a deterrent.  Since Mom and Dad went to bed before I was supposed to be home, I could just sign in erroneously at 12:18 or so, and turn out the light.  Case closed.  The only failing to the plan was if you woke them when you came in, so in turn I became an expert at not waking them. 

     I kept the doors hinges well oiled, I memorized the squeaky stairs so I could avoid them, I moved like a cat past their room, and up to mine each night, no matter what my condition when I came in.  It was a survival game after all.  I even taught the new dog not to bark at me when I came in at night.  Well, technically I taught the new dog not to bark at anyone who came in at night, but who's counting?  I was the Master at avoiding the curfew.  I never got caught coming in late, ever.  My Dad, however, did suspect me, and tried his best to catch me.  It was a chess match of epic proportions. 

     One night he awoke at 3, and saw I was the only one out.  He took the key in, figuring I would have to ring the doorbell.  Wrong!  I came in the back door, and didn't sign the list or turn out the light.  In the morning I told him I came in prior to my last sibling, but had forgotten to sign in.  Check!  He didn't really believe me, but he couldn't prove me wrong either.  The next time he did it, he locked both doors, so I used the Bilco doors in the basement, without ever disturbing a soul.  Check!  Another night he locked all the doors, figuring he had me, and went to bed.  That night I climbed in the front window, crawled across a table, and flipped into a living room chair, all noiselessly, intoxicated and with the family dog watching my every move.  Check, again!  He countered the next morning by waking me up at 6 and taking me out to my Uncle's farm and working me all day. I really didn't mind, at least I had had my fun.  This really never changed with me, I like to work hard, but I love to have my fun. 

     The closest time I ever came to getting caught was a particularly fun night of debauchery that ended near 6 am.  I remember talking of going to Canada that night, but in the end we just did the usual stuff, but much later than usual.  I was halfway in the front door, when I heard the downstairs toilet flush and I realized that my Dad was already up for work.  I was screwed.  He had wanted to catch me for months, and quickly assessing the situation, I realized that he had me.  He had half the number of steps to come out to see the stairs than I did to make it up them, and even if I made it, I couldn't climb up the stairs that quickly and quietly.  I then had this epiphany.  I couldn't make it up the stairs in that time, but I could make it DOWN the stairs in that time!!  I rushed over to the stairs, quickly climbing 4 or 5 stairs, turned on my heel and I started down them again, just as my Dad came within sight of them.  I walked to the coffee pot (hands shaking), and started to pour myself a cup.  Dad said "What are you doing up so early?"  Thinking quickly, I replied " I thought I would take up jogging".  My Dad shrugged and started to peruse the paper, and I finished my coffee quickly and went jogging for a half an hour just to make it look good.  Checkmate!  Shortly thereafter, I turned 18, and my Dad thought it would be a good idea if I found a different place to live other than his house, so I did.  Our relationship improved tremendously after that. 

     So at the end of this story there really should be a deep message or moral, but for the life of me, I can't find it.  I am thankful that my kids are so much better behaved, I chalk this up to my wife and her excellent parenting.  I felt guilt for a long time, until that talk with my Dad, and he made me feel better about it.  So maybe that's the message here?  Maybe there is nothing you can do to your Father, even breaking his commandments that he has written out, that he will not forgive.  You only need to come clean and ask.  I love you Dad.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Of Beards and Men

As I write this I am sporting a 3 day old beard.  I took a few days off last week at a cottage and on a whim, I started the beard.  For most of my adult life, my face has been devoid of hair.   My forays into facial hair have all been short-lived and widely spaced.  It's not because I can't grow a beard, I grow a great beard.  In my youth I could go from clean shaven to full beard in about a week.  I had a full mustache by the middle of the 8th grade (Any St. Mary's girls want to back up this claim of mine?).  I always attributed it to the enormous amount of testosterone that must flow through my body (I blame this for a lot of my actions). It will be interesting to see this time, how long it takes, and honestly how much comes out gray.  I normally keep my face clean shaven, for my wife, my job, and because I look younger without facial hair.  This week, however, screw the job, screw looking older, and with apologies to my wife, but I am growing a beard.

     The question that now begs to be asked is what kind of beard to grow?  Full on fully bearded?  Chin Strap? Goatee or Van Dyke?  Burnsides?  While they each have their individual merits, for me, I always default to a chin strap style ala James Brolin in Hotel.  It says "Classy" to me, and for those of you who remember the TV show, he went out with Connie Sellecca every night, so it must be a rocking beard.  It's more maintenance than most beards, and you have to get the trimming right, but I think it's worth it. 

     I could go full on bearded, I've got the genes to do it.  My facial hair comes in fully everywhere.  I had a brother who used to try and grow a beard, but it would come in, in patches, like a badly seeded lawn.  Not a good look on anyone.  He eventually opted for just a mustache, which didn't look half bad.  The best quote I have ever heard on growing mustaches came from my Father.  I asked him one day why he he didn't grow a mustache, because presumably he could grow a great one (That's where I got my testosterone from).  His reply was this...  "Willie", he said "I never saw the need to cultivate over my lip, that which grew wild in the crack of my ass! ".   I miss my Dad, he was one of a kind.

     So why not go fully bearded?  For me, it's because I know too soon, I would start to resemble another TV star from my youth, Grizzly Adams.  Now Dan Haggerty was a helluva  guy, I mean he lived with a bear!!  He chopped his own wood, caught his own food, loved the land and all, but he was missing a key piece.  I haven't met the bear yet that can hold a candle to Connie Sellecca.  Done deal, can't do it.  Given time I could see myself fully bearded ala Papa Hemingway, but I think I am a few years away from being able to pull it off.  I do spend a lot of time practicing the drinking part of being Papa Hemingway, or so say a lot of my friends.  So no full beard for me for now.

     I have no comment on Burnsides, but I do have a severe opinion on Goatee's and Van Dyke's.  I have lived 43 years and I have found only one single advantage of having this type of beard.  It certainly isn't for attracting women, or to look more intelligent.  The single use of this type of beard is to instantly distinguish yourself from your evil counterpart, if you are ever transported to an alternate universe by an ion surge during a space storm (Star Trek episode # 33 Mirror, Mirror).  That's the only one.  Trust me. 

     I hope you get the opportunity to see me when I can still pull off the beard, but as I said when I started, these whims are usually short-lived.  You may end up having to wait for the Hemingway phase of my life, or who knows, maybe I'll follow my old man's advice.  It's done well for me for so long now.

TUNE IN FOR NEXT WEEK'S BLOG:  "Youthful Adventures - Avoiding the Curfew"

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My friend Eileen.

I lost a friend a year a half ago today.  Her name was Eileen.  I make friends easy, but please never discount the importance of a friend made easy, or the impact that they can have on you, or you on them.  Eileen impacted my life, and I met her at our planning meetings for our 20th High School reunion seven years ago.  Some people carry an energy with them, or a courage that is palpable.  Being near them you become better for having seen it. That was my friend Eileen. 

     I actually remember her in High School, which is funny, because I don't think that she would have thought she was memorable back then (along this line, I actually once had a friend's employee ask me to borrow the tape from my 10th H.S reunion.  This request I found very odd, until he said that he had graduated with me.  I had no clue).   The Eileen I remember was small and mouse-like.  She clung to the walls with her books clutched to her chest and seemingly the back and forth motion of them in her arms pumped her legs forward propelling her from class to class.  Or so I saw it.  We didn't have a class together, I thought she might have been special needs.  Back then in my town, there was no mainstreaming, so my notion wasn't illogical, it was just wrong.  Eileen was special, but she wasn't special needs. 

     We became reacquainted when we started meeting as a group to plan our 20th reunion. Eileen came to every meeting, she vigilantly hunted down our classmates, she had thoughtful and insightful input.  She did all this while battling cancer.  She did all this with half a face.  Her cancer and the subsequent and frequent surgeries had taken a large portion of her jaw.  She couldn't chew solid foods, or drink alcohol as far as I knew, but each time we met in a bar, having cocktails, potato skins and mozzarella sticks, there she was.  She never complained to me, and she was more vibrant than the rest of us seemingly healthy adults.  She simply amazed me.  The reunion was a much heralded success, and I remember mid-way through someone pointing out to Mike Riccio and I that we had charged Eileen for a full ticket, and she could neither drink nor eat.  You tended to forget her disability when around her, and I offer no apology for it.  We shame-faced presented her with a refund which she graciously accepted. 

     I next saw Eileen at the planning of our 25th reunion 2 1/2 years ago.  She had lived a cancer free life for a while, but had just found out that there was a recurrence.  She was impactful, and insightful and contributory at the meetings, except that she had no voice.  She had lost the ability to speak, so she either wrote on a pad or typed on a machine that spoke for her. I was once again amazed.  I like to give presentations in front of large groups, but could I do my job with 1/2 a face and no voice?  Eileen could.  She continued to work regularly at her job, and I have since met many of her peers, who she impacted in the same manner as me.  I, for the second time, was able to look beyond the disability and see her for the amazing person that she was.  I liked to take her machine and type lewd things into it, like "Bill you are so hot!!".  I would then feign embarrassment and ask her to try and keep her impulses under control, while we conducted our business.  Most times she would type back a zinger and set things right. She searched for our classmates dilligently, and was single handedly responsible for the great turn out for the 25th. 

     My friend Eileen passed away on February 17, 2009.  We met as a reunion group and attended her wake together.  I remember feeling uncomfortable at one point because her parents, and brother and I got laughing so hard at a recollection, that is seemed inappropriate for the venue.  It wasn't.  Eileen lived with laughter, and fun, and I even found out that night that she was an accomplished clogger!  We met back at Eddie O's to commiserate some more, but unbeknownst to me, my wife had planned a large surprise party back at home for a sales award that I had recently earned, so I was dragged away too quickly under false pretenses.  I don't think Eileen would have minded.  Another friend got to spend the last few days with her, and she said she remained playful right up until the end.  What a gift they both got. I'll close with that thought, what a gift Eileen was to me and to so many.  God gave her struggles and adversity, and she gave back a strength and courage not seen in her life prior to her illness.  She made a difference in the world, and in her friends's hearts, even those of us who only knew her for seven short years. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

They call my brother AQUAMAN!

I have a brother, well actually I have 5, but this tale is about only one of them, my brother Aquaman.  The reasons for calling him Aquaman, are twofold, one will become apparent as you read through this story, and the second is, if this blog ever gets picked to become a book, movie, sitcom, or a psychiatric case study, I can screw him out of the royalties.  You will need a little background on Aquaman to set up the story, so I will start with that.

      Aquaman was born in the middle of the Yarger boys, he has no twin, in fact he has no equal.  He was not born intellectually gifted, but he was born with a kind heart and an unparalleled work ethic.  For instance, for a long time, he held 2 full time factory jobs, working 8 hours at one and then walking across the street and working another 8 hours at the second.  He likely had other jobs even during this time, as is his nature.  I've known him to deliver Chinese food and pizza, clean bathrooms on the Thruway, mow lawns, bankroll a friend's restaurant, detail cars, and most recently work at a local marina in Canandaigua.  He has the most endearing qualities, like signing his full name on your birthday cards.  I never ever received a card from him that did not end with "your brother, Aquaman E. Yarger" (this was obviously done to separate himself from my other brothers, Aquaman C. Yarger, and Aquaman H. Yarger).   He is quick to give of his time, talent, and even money, and has been taken advantage of over the years a time or two, but he quickly forgets that.  Superheroes are like that.  This story could be about the time he ate a can of peaches before he drank beer, so he would not get sick from drinking.  A "kind" friend had told him that "fact", and amazingly it had the opposite effect, and for a while we called him Peaches.  This story, however, is about his recent adventures as AQUAMAN.

     I first heard of the legend of Aquaman, from another brother who had heard I closed down the Sandbar in Cdga one evening.  While I often resemble that remark, in this instance I had been traveling and it was impossible to be in 2 places at the same time.  I wondered which brother had impersonated me, as I am the barfly brother.  I got my answer within a week, as a ran into my brother Aquaman at one of his other jobs and he recounted the tale.

     When asked if he happened to be at the Sandbar that evening, he freely admitted it, and added that he had swam over there from the marina (He even swims to Squaw Island).  He explained that people who own boats sometimes buy him drinks after he finds their valuables in the lake.  He hung his head sheepishly and said "Yeah, they call me Aquaman there because I can dive for so long and am so good at finding things"  He continued to tell me of an instance that had just happened the evening before.  I ran into a guy walking down the dock, he said, and the guy said he was looking for Aquaman.  My brother replied that he indeed was Aquaman, and asked how he could be of assistance.  The gentleman told him how he had lost his keys under his boat and had searched for two hours but could not find them, and someone had told him to go in the marina and ask Aquaman for help.  I've noticed that people are reluctant to ask superheroes for help, and this case was no different, it took a while longer for this man to seek out Aquaman.  My brother quickly offered his assistance, and although the gentleman was skeptical, he accepted it, and into the water my brother dove!  Within 5 minutes he emerged and popped up on the dock with the set of keys firmly in his hand (I actually picture dolphins assisting my brother out of the water and him flipping in the air to land standing next to the guy).  Another successful mission for Aquaman! The gentleman was extremely grateful and I am sure told the Aquaman tale to many of his friends. 

     The next adventure, I heard from my sister, and this one is entitled "Tim McGraw meets Aquaman". It seems Tim was in the area for a concert this year and my brother had the duty to check him out of his slip at the marina with a rented boat.  The conversation follows....

Aquaman:  Everything looks in order, just be sure to have it back by 7.
Tim McGraw:   No, buddy, I'm going to bring it back by 8:30. 
Aquaman: Sir, that's not our policy, you really need to return it by 7.
Tim McGraw:  Sir?  Son, don't you know who I am?
Aquaman (checking his clipboard): Yes, you are Mr. McGraw, so Mr. McGraw, please have the boat back by 7.
Tim McGraw (wearing his trademark hat):  I'm not familiar to you at all?  (Sings a few lines of a few songs) How about these?
Aquaman:  Mr McGraw, they are nice, but no they are not familiar, and you still need to have the boat back by 7.
Tim McGraw:  Maybe you could check inside and let them know Mr. McGraw needs it for a little while longer.
Aquaman (running down the dock in short shorts likely): OK, I'll be right back....
Aquaman (After returning from a short conversation with his boss):  Alright, Mr. McGraw, they said you could keep it out a little longer. 
Tim McGraw:  Thank you son, would you like my autograph?
Aquaman:  I'm not sure what I would do with it, but sure go ahead.  (I am surprised that my brother did not offer to swap autographs at this point, because clearly Aquaman's autograph would be more valuable that Mr. McGraw the boat renters)
   And as Tim McGraw motored out into the sunset, Aquaman returned to his patrol on the dock.

     So ends these tales of my brother, Aquaman. You can be sure that further adventures await, but as I close I invite you to see the wonder of Aquaman yourself.  If you find yourself some evening, enjoying a cocktail at the Sandbar, and you here splashing in the distance, find Aquaman, invite him up, and buy him a beer, but hold the peaches. 

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Time served -Adventures on the altar

I missed Mass Sunday.  Well I went, parked the car, and sat in the pew, but I zoned out for a whole part of the Mass.  I guess I got up in my head a little too deep, and when I returned, I had missed a whole part.  Does this ever happen to anyone else? During my wanderings, I remembered my time as a Altar Server at St. Mary's and thought I would share those musings....

     I served on the altar from around the 4th grade right into High School.  I approached this duty as I did a lot of things back then, irreverently, half-assed, and with as little effort as possible.  I usually served with my brothers, Rob, John and Rick, but for some reason Bill Scharr and I got teamed up quite a bit too.  Bill and I usually got the 6 am Mass duty together.  We quickly figured out that 2 servers was overkill for the usual attendance.  We devised an every other day swap schedule for this Mass, so one of us could sleep in while the other served God.  My mother, of course, would never allow me to shirk my duties like that, so I would pretend to leave, go around the house and reenter in the basement and watch Felix the Cat until enough time had passed to make it seem like I had gone to church, served, and come back (I can imagine a lot of folks after reading this are shaking their heads and saying "Oh that's how he turned out like that, more cartoons than catechism!", and they are right).  The single server plan was brilliant and it helped create some of the following memories.

     As much as I hated to get up for 6 am Mass, there was another person who hated it more.  We had a priest for a while, that had some issues with the bottle, and he was no fan of any morning, much less the ones that started at 5:30.  He was miserable to serve for, always barking orders, and making you feel inadequate in your service, no matter how you performed.  I've had bosses like this too, but probably dealt with them better than I did back with this priest.   One of our first duties, upon arriving, was to count the number of parishioners in the pews, so Father could count out and consecrate the correct number of hosts.  Canon Law says that the consecrated hosts must be "renewed frequently and consumed properly", so Father would have to finish the hosts that remained after the last parishioner had taken Communion. I've had my share of mornings with dry mouth, so I can imagine why he hated the chore of finishing several bland wafers at the end of Mass.  He hated it even more when I would purposely exaggerate the count of the parishioners (sometimes by 10).  To my 12 year old mind, this seemed like a reasoned response to his verbal abuse, because after all, wasn't he getting more of Jesus in him?  I still feel bad about this (Catholic guilt), although I did hear he was able to get sober later in life.  One of the funnier moments from the 6 am service was the time I kicked the bell trying to get up from kneeling.  We rang a bell during the consecration in those days, so it had to be near you.  I went to get up and swept the bell with my foot and launched it in a perfect semi-circle pattern, loudly clanging all the way.  Because it was heavier on one end, it rolled in the large arc, but then came right back to me, where I picked it up and placed it down like nothing had happened.  I was sure that the 11 people in attendance that morning were convinced the Rapture was upon them, but probably not as much as the people in attendance the time we smoked out the church.

     My brothers and I were called upon at the last minute one Saturday to serve a Benediction.  None of us had ever served one, so we were given some hasty instructions on what to do, including loading the thurible (incense carrier).  We were told to light the charcoal disc, and then to put a spoonful of the incense crystals on top.  We did as instructed, but no smoke came out.  So we added another spoonful, then another, then another, then oh wait it started to smoke.  We hung it up behind us and the priest and started to serve the Mass.   It was used mid-service so there wasn't a reason to get it prior to then.  Within a few minutes we could sense from the faces in front of us that something was amiss.  We saw worry, fright, fidgeting and even the beginning of panic.  The priest stopped Mass and turned to look behind him and us.  The charcoal had continued to get hotter and ignited all the incense we had shoveled in.  There was an immense wall of smoke that had formed.  It completely obscured the view of the altar and everything behind us (Anyone ever see Backdraft?).  Apparently one spoonful would have been enough, six caused the priest to send us out to the parking lot to dump the thurible and to open the side doors to evacuate the smoke.  It was the last Benediction ever served by the Yarger Boys.

     I had many other humorous incidents involving my service.  Try as I might, I never caught a dropped Eucharist with my gold plate on a stick, but I did scar some people.  I stole the emergency candy stash of a diabetic priest on a field trip one time.  There were numerous trips and falls and dropped items (You would be surprised at the number of things that clang when they are dropped on the altar).  I guess the way I served God on the altar was probably a good indicator of how I would serve God in the future.  I get the instructions wrong a lot, I judge by my own standards, not his, I try but sometimes fail, but I attend regularly (unless I hear Bill Scharr is going).