Friday, September 24, 2010

Reflections on Evans Field

For those not familiar with this small field in the center of my hometown, it has been in the news lately as the school district decides it's place in the athletic future of Canandaigua Academy....

     Fort Hill Avenue in Canandaigua NY was a great place to grow up.  My mother never drove when we were younger, so it was conveniently central to many places that were within walking distance. The list included St. Mary's School and Church, Canandaigua Academy, Papa Franks, Sonnenberg Park and Gardens, Downtown Cdga, and a whole host of others.  Back in the day, we could walk a lot of places, untethered, without cell phones or tracking devices, and we did.  The shortest place we walked to, however, was kitty corner across Fort Hill and was called Evans Field.

     The field consisted of a baseball diamond on one side, and a football field and a running track on the other side.  The path that we took into it, bisected them.  A sloped hill on the west side became a sledding hill in the winter and a popular perch during the football season.  The field itself was surrounded by houses, with fans that would host parties in their yards during the games, and on the south side stood an an older barn colorfully inscribed with well wishes to the  Canandaigua Braves.  In all my travels, I've never really seen a field like this, one so humble to look upon, but so grandiose during the athletic events played there.  It is truly one of a kind.

     I am sure that any football player that played on Evans Field, could write and talk about the place much more eloquently and emotionally than I can.  I never had the chance to don the Cherry and Gray, because my mother didn't let us play football after my older brother had suffered an injury doing it.  My perspective therefore has to be one of a Braves wannabee.  Statistically this should help me connect with the readers, as there are significantly more of us wannabees than actual football players.  Even without that experience, Evans Field and I had a history and these are my reflections of it.

     I walked on Evans Field almost daily.  I worked during high school at Papa Franks and the quickest way there was to cut across the field.  Each day heading to work and each night coming home, my feet would travel the same path as some the the legendary players at CA had and would travel.  As a wannabee, frequently I would run a pattern and imagine a perfect spiral placed right before me, and the inevitable touchdown that I would score after the reception.  My brothers, some sisters, and neighborhood kids would actually play football some afternoons on the Pleasant Street side of the field, but as the youngest of the group, I rarely distinguished myself in the plays, although I was pretty quick.  At one point one of my dreams of greatness intersected with Evans Field.  I had saved the extra rubber bands from my paper route and inter-connected them and made a big rubber band ball.  It weighed close to 10lbs and one day I spent the majority of the day unraveling it back and forth between the goal posts at Evans Field.  It easily went back and forth 20 times, and I was sure a Guinness Book record was in my future, until I actually looked up the record.  I wasn't really as close as I had thought.  Pictured here is the current record holder for those interested.

     I heard the sounds of Evans Field.  On game days, even if I couldn't go, (you see, back then kids were grounded, or had chores, so they sometimes had to miss events, oh the horror!) I could always tell how the Braves were doing based on the fan noise.  I could hear the crack of the bats, the announcements, the whistles, the cheerleaders cheers, the starter's pistols, the football players calls and grunts, and each one I can still hear clearly now. 

     I smelled the smells of Evans Field.  The Quonset hut that held all the equipment smelled of mildew and the sweat of generations of players that used the pads and equipment in it.  The concession stand smelled of the caramelized  sugars from the hot dogs on the grill.  The smell of thick coke syrup was prevalent there too, and your biggest worry wasn't the calories from the drink but the fear of ingesting an ever present bee from the paper cups.  I swear the grass on Evans field even had it's own unique scent apart from every other fresh cut lawn I have smelled.  Maybe it was the mixture of the paint or chalk lines added to it, but I can smell it right now.

     I spilled my blood on Evans Field.  Each winter we would sled on the hill and play King of the Mountain on it. One day, defending my position at the top of the hill, I leaped over my brother, and forgot to put my hands out to lessen the impact of the fall.  I fell face first on the icy hill and my top teeth and bottom teeth connected and severed my lower gum, clean through.  I absolutely gushed blood (as head wounds tend to do). My older brother scooped me up into his arms and he ran me clear back to the house, and behind him left a significant trail of my blood showing the path we had taken.  It is one of the few scars I have from childhood that still remain, and I earned it on Evans Field.

    I vandalized Evans Field.  On another day, we were flying kites there and we got hung up on the large scoreboard on the west side of the field. While throwing rocks at the scoreboard, we accidentally broke some bulbs on the board.  We liked the cool sound so much, my 2 brothers and I spent the next 10 minutes breaking many more of them.   Honestly until the police came and scooped us up, I don't think any of us realized that we were vandalizing the board.  We were run downtown, given a stern lecture, released to tell our father what we did (the worst part of the punishment), and made to pay restitution.  It was the last thing that I ever vandalized. 

     I rode in a Homecoming parade to Evans Field.  In my junior year, I was elected Class King for Homecoming.  I honestly don't know if it was a lark on behalf of my peers, or if I had started to gain some popularity at that point. That's the funniest thing about High School, is that you are never truly aware or comfortable in your social position while you are attending.  If it was a joke, the punchline was that I got to ride in a parade with one of the sweetest and prettiest girls that CA has ever produced (shout out to Stephanie Leuzze).  It was hard, but I mustered through.   I do miss the tradition of float building and homecoming parades.  Gathering in a barn to create the floats certainly does a lot to instill school spirit and pride. Sadly, my kid's school doesn't have this as a tradition.

     So my reflections on Evans Field contain sights, and sounds, and smells and memories, and a possible world record, and I never played a sport on the field once in my high school career.  It does make me ponder, that if I never did, and I love that place so much, how do the athletes, and parents of athletes that did feel?  Save Evans Field.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Travel Log - The Accidental Pick Up.

     A little background for those that don't know this, but I am a Flirt.  Given my druthers I will always choose to spend my time out with women than with men.  Men will inevitably turn conversations to business, politics, or sports.  I work in business, so I don't really want to dwell on it when I am relaxing.  My entire knowledge of all sports could fit between the last letter of this sentence and the period.  As to politics, I find these conversations really frustrating, so I like to avoid them. Women on the other hand I find fascinating.  They talk about relationships, their children, themselves, their jobs, food, wine, and the list goes on and on. Plus, they smell better.  I heard recently that it is healthier for a male to spend time in the company of women, versus men, and in fact it increases life expectancy!   What a wonderful benefit from doing something I already enjoy!  So this story deals with one of my many evenings out in the company of my choice, a woman.

     It was last October and I was on a trip to NYC.  I would have normally stayed in Secaucus, but my regular hotel was booked, so I ended up in a Homewood Suites in Edgewater NJ. The first night there I realized that this was an ideal location. The rooms were reasonable, I was next to an upscale mall with a Fleming's Steakhouse at the end of it, and I was an exit outside of the Lincoln Tunnel.  All in all, a wonderful place to stay. I didn't entertain on this particular trip, so I did something I rarely do, I ate at the Fleming's all 3 nights.  I sat at the bar, and noshed on some specials  they were running (see the surf and turf above), and got to know the bartenders pretty well. The story begins on my last night there.

     I arrived at Fleming's at 6:30 and seated myself at the bar.  It was the normal crowd of business folks drinking expensive cocktails, and reliving the big deals of the day.  I ordered some dinner and about halfway through an attractive African American woman seated herself next to me. She was in her 40's, had long full hair, was rounded in the right places, was wearing a blouse and a skirt and she smelled good.   She started to read a book she had brought.  I found her choice interesting, it was "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath.  I had read it and loved it some time before, so I struck up a conversation, and gradually the book was closed, but her life was opened up to me.

     Her name was Deborah and she was a regular at Flemings. She was a lawyer and she worked in the City.  She was engaged to a gentlemen who lived in Bermuda and she hoped within a year, to move there and join him.  She ordered dinner as well and we spent the better part of 2 hours talking about my family, her career, her plans to move, and of literature.  I found her to be quite articulate on a wide variety of subjects.  I can safely say that we both enjoyed each others company for the evening.  As we were about to finish, the bartender, Megin, came by and invited me to join her and her boyfriend later at a dive bar down the street.  They were having a Halloween party (Karen was going as Tinkerbell), and she thought it would be my type of place.  Deborah was also told about it, but immediately expressed some concern about the dive bar and whether there would be other Black people there or not (her words, not mine).  Megin couldn't guarantee it, but said it should be fun, it started at 11, and hoped to see us both there.  I told her I would try and I started to get up to go and to wish Deborah a good evening.  The conversation follows...

Deborah:  Bill, so do you think you will end up going to the party down there or not?

Me:  I really can't say, I'm just as likely to get caught up in my work and stay in for the night.

Deborah: Well, if you do go, would you mind calling me and maybe we could go over together?  I am not sure of the crowd. 

Me: Sure, if I go I'll call you.  

She proceeded to take a napkin, write her number on it, and fold it over once, and then twice.  She handed it to me and I put it in my shirt pocket, said my goodbyes and exited.  As I said before it was an enjoyable evening.

     I went back to my room, and hunkered down on the computer, pretending that my tortilla work was important.  I had emptied my pockets on the desk next to me and the napkin had started to unfold.  It unfolded once and then the other half unfolded a few minutes later.  I could make out a name and number in my peripheral vision, but along with it was a shape and color that seemed out of place.  I turned to look and could not have been more surprised to see a perfect pair of lips formed from lipstick kissed onto the napkin!

You could have bowled me over with a feather.  I have to say I have not been the recipient of many lipsticked kissed napkins, but I think I was correct in interpreting her action. She was not just looking for a drinking buddy.  I actually laughed out loud and tried to replay our conversations back in my head.  Let's see, I said I was married, I had my ring on (I always do) , she was engaged, I showed pictures of my kids, she showed me one of her fiancee, I think I had it covered.  I could think of no specific thing that I had said or done that might have been misinterpreted, but there it was on the desk. The fruits of my labor for the evening, the promise of the affection of a beautiful woman, and only a phone call away. Now to say I wasn't tempted would be a lie, I am human and testosterone driven.  How then did I avoid this temptation?   I can't say it better than the incomparable Johnny Cash did...

As sure as night is dark and day is light
I keep you on my mind both day and night
And happiness I've known proves that it's right
Because you're mine, I walk the line

There was no decision to be made, I threw the napkin in the hotel trash and missed a great party (I actually thought about bringing it home to show Char, so she could have a good laugh too, but then I thought, what if she finds it before I can tell her the story? So, into the trash it went).  I can be stupid, but I wasn't that night.  I can't think of a better way to end the story than with a link to Johnny singing the song.  Look hard at it, I swear Drew Carey is slapping da bass next to him.  Oh, and if you are ever in Bermuda, and you run into Deborah,  please offer her my apologies, Hell show her this blog, or better yet a picture of my wife.  Enjoy the link.

Johnny Cash - I walk the line

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My best magic trick EVER !

Do all Dad's do this?  I make no claim to being an actual Magician, having never studied, and having no specific talents, but all my life as a parent I have reveled in the art of making my kids think I am magic.  Admittedly this works better at age 7, than 17, but there are tricks for all ages.  I don't remember when I started to try to amaze my kids, but I do remember one of my first tricks.  I would frequently come home from trips with pens provided by a hotel I had stayed at.  I would find 2 pens from the same hotel and insert one in my left sleeve.  I would then call the kids over and show them the "trick".  I would take the hotel pen and put it into my right sleeve, and contort my body and shake my arms until the "other" pen fell out my left sleeve.  Then I would repeat it the other way around.  Inevitably the kids would think they could do it too, so I would give them one pen and watch the hilarity ensue for the next 10 minutes.  I wished I had videotaped more.  I sometimes "magically" guessed the endings of a TV show we were watching, as sometimes I had seen the show while on the road.  I actually have a great record of guessing the card turned over in Euchre to be trump.  I went 4/4 just the other night.  All my tricks were small slights of hand, or hyped up intuition, or a little pre-knowledge of a situation about to happen, but as a fun loving Dad, I always spun them as "Magic".  One day I almost fell victim to my own hype...

We had a family gathering at my mother's house in Bristol and about 6 of the smaller kids, my kids, and assorted nieces and nephews were playing in a back room.  I was reading the Sunday paper in the front living room, when I heard a loud exclamation from either Molly or Danny.  What I heard was the ending of an argument (short of the Nanna, Nanna, Boo Boo), and  they said "MY DAD CAN TOO DO MAGIC!".  This did not bode well for me, as previously mentioned, I have no actual magical ability.  What I did have, however, was the ability to quickly assess the next actions of a group of 7 year olds, so I immediately acted.  I scanned the room, leapt out of my chair, and grabbed a banana off from the counter, quickly concealing it in my right sleeve.  I put my paper back up and pretended to read just before I started to hear the tramping of 7 pairs of adolescent feet come down the hallway.  They gathered in a group in front of me, I was able to ignore them for a while, but then the interchange took place....

The Group:  "Uncle Bill, you can't really do magic can you?
Me:  "Who told you that?"
The Group:  "Molly and Danny"
Me: "Molly and Danny should know better than to tell our family secrets" (Paper going back up).
The Group (still skeptical, but on the verge of belief): "But, you can't really do magic, can you?"
Me: " Well, I am not supposed to show others, but tell you what, I will do one trick only, and then you are never going to ask me again, or talk about it again, Agreed?"
The Group: "AGREED!"
Me: (folding my paper onto my lap) "OK...what do little kids like?  Oh, animals, name me some animals...."
The Group:  "Lions, Giraffes, Bears, Gorillas..."
Me:  "Oh, I like Gorillas, what do they eat again?"
The Group (in squeaky unison): BANANAS!!!

So the story telegraphs itself a little, but the ending is still spectacular, with a clap of my hands and a loud TADA, a single banana suddenly materialized in my hands!  Every jaw struck the floor.  I quietly handed the banana to the nearest kid for them to pass around.  I put up my paper, and said "Remember our deal." 


      I didn't grow up with a magical Father, but if you want to know what it is like to, feel free to ask my kids. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Rest in Peace, Papa Frank

He wasn't my first boss, in fact I had a few jobs before our paths crossed.  I had worked for my Uncle selling his corn and vegetables at a stand, I had delivered papers, mowed lawns, shoveled snow, and even worked unloading trucks and bagging vegetables for the local produce wholesaler.  So I had other jobs, but I guess I will always consider my job at Papa Franks, my "first" job.  The Social Security Administration seems to agree with me when they send me my updates, because the first year they became aware of me, I worked for Frank. 

     I stalked him to get the job, I really did.  It was something of a family tradition for the Yargers to work at Papa Frank's in Canandaigua.  I think 4 of my siblings had worked for Frank prior to me, but in 1980 that was my only goal, to get hired there.   My brother would come home sometimes late at night from work and bring me a meatball sub that had been made an hour or so earlier.  The sauce had all soaked into the roll, the meatballs were tepid, and the cheese cooled, but I thought I was in heaven. I wanted to be part of that process that could produce such goodness, so I stalked the place.  I would go there after my produce job and hang out and play pinball.  Each time I would ask Frank if he needed anything done.  He let me paint one time, and shovel another, and finally since he couldn't really hire me, he let me fold the pizza boxes for a few hours each day.  After a few months of this, he had a need for someone behind the counter and I was almost old enough, so I got hired.  The lesson here Grasshopper is, if you want it, work for it.  This was my first lesson in perseverance.

     I won't canonize Frank, he was, put bluntly, an imperfect person.  He smoked cigars, he was not with his wife any longer, he infrequently went to church, he drank, he missed a few tax payments, he had a temper, and the list goes on.  For me it was easy to look beyond the faults though, because he treated me and everyone who worked there so well.  He was the most generous boss I ever had.  The first Christmas I worked there he handed me my pay envelope and there was an extra week's pay in it, in cash!  I had no expectation of a bonus, but there it was.  He was like that.  Sometimes he'd grab me and we'd go for a ride somewhere, maybe to a restaurant he knew or to look at a car he wanted to buy, but I was on the clock and he was teaching all the time.  When shopping for a car, he would tell the salesman to "sharpen his pencil once".  If Frank didn't like the price, he walked.  He would not entertain any other offers after that, you had your chance for his business and you had lost it.  The next time he came in you gave him your best price first.

      I remember having a crush on a woman that came in almost every week.  I worked in the back of the restaurant but if Frank spotted her, he's always call everyone off the register, call me up and let me ring her out.  What kind of boss would interrupt his business to let the greasy teenager in the back of the place come up and flirt with the customers? Frank would. He would let us play cards in his place after work.  He'd let me call the type of night.  He's say "Willie, do you think the balloon is going up tonight?" and I'd offer a yea or nay.  This was his colloquialism for "Are we drinking tonight"?  He lived vicariously through a lot of us, always asking about our happenings and wanting to be involved in the frivolity.  He was a fun boss.  No one there "had" to work Holidays, they "got" to work Holidays.  We would sometimes close early and Frank would fire up the stove in back and do fried smelt or pasta Aglio e olio (I still eat mine this way today).  We'd laugh and eat and drink and then "have" to go home.  I never wanted to, I was having too much fun at work.  I've heard the speech from bosses many times about their places being more of a family than a workplace, but the only time that was ever true was Papa Franks.

     My third summer there, he was going to put a hot dog cart in Kershaw Park and let me work it.  He took me to the City Council meetings to try and get the deal done, and to show me the political process, but in the end it didn't happen.  I had dreamed of watching all the bikini clad girls at the beach while working and I am not sure Frank wasn't more disappointed for me than I was for myself.  He was like that too.  One time I went into work and some girls had made me a sign that said "Willie's Wonderful Wings".  I had been promoted to the fryer early on in my Papa Frank career and got pretty good at it. Frank let me hang the sign and soon customers were calling in to order wings that way.  I learned about rewarding and recognizing achievement from Frank, even if it was as simple as a hand drawn sign. 

     I could fill pages with stories from these days, because each day was an adventure in itself.  I still keep in touch with some of my co-workers and I always stop and talk about the old days at Papa Franks when I see any one of them out.  In fact I sleep with one most nights, you see my wife worked there too.  We had talked about having a reunion some day, and I'm afraid we will, at Frank's wake.  I am sure each and every one of my Canandaigua friends have their own special stories of Papa Frank's from the other side of the counter, it was a great spot to make memories.  I wish you all could have worked for him, so you could have known him like those who did. 

     On this day I heard of my boss's passing, my wish is simple.  God, let Frank into your grace, for all he did, for all his generosity, for all he taught.  Please overlook his faults and grant him comfort eternally.  You won't regret it, he cooks great.  I'm in Hartford tonight, but I think the balloon will go up here in Frank's memory.  Rest in Peace, Papa Frank.