Excursions

A boxfull of Sundays ….

 

To the outside world, it was a Sherwin Williams van.

During the workweek Dad used it to call on customers; hauling paint and carpet to businesses and schools all over Fayette County.

But on blue-sky-breezy, sunny, summer Sundays like today, that van became our magic carpet. And its cargo was simplified to an afternoon’s essentials: him, me, and the tall cardboard box that sat between us, whose contents I was solely responsible for.

It was my solemn duty to keep the box filled to overflowing with our basketballs, footballs, bats, balls and gloves.

Climbing into the van, we never had a destination mapped. That was always part of the adventure. We’d drive until we found a court with good nets and space to throw. Our drives might take us up the road to the Junior High, or over to Boyle School, or across town to Oliver playground, or sometimes up and over the mountain to Jumonville.

Dad always let me pick the location and the order of events. Whenever and wherever we’d arrive at a field, court or playground, I’d initiate the proceedings by dumping the tall cardboard box of its contents.

The majority of the time, basketball batted lead off. We’d warm up with make-it-take-it, then transition to Around-The-World, and then customized variations of H-O-R-S-E. He’d let me switch the name to don’t-tell-mom-swear-words. “S-H-I-T” was a personal favorite … because the loser was obligated to say it aloud (ha).

In his day Dad was more of an underneath guy on the basketball court, more meat-and-potatoes than finesse. But he had a good hook shot in and around the paint, which, of course, I practiced and practiced and practiced when he wasn’t looking. I still remember this one Sunday afternoon at Jumonville when he chased down one of my missed shots to the other side of the basket, caught it in stride, and in one motion, spun his body and flipped the ball, no-look, over his shoulder with his right hand … kissing it perfectly off the backboard. The ball went in just as a car was driving past, prompting the windows-down passenger to yell out, “Nice shot!”

Yeah, that’s my Dad, I remember thinking.

When basketball winded us, we’d break out the gloves. He’d let me pitch, humoring me by calling for curves, sliders, changeups and fastballs, though they all pretty much behaved the same coming out of my left hand. After I’d retire a side (thanks to a most generous strike zone), I’d back pedal to an outfield distance and yell, “Make me run, Dad.” He threw PERFECT pop flies. He had this gift for aiming just enough to my right or left to summon me to a full sprint and a leap, reach or dive. And whenever I’d rescue a ball inches before it sailed over my head or hit the ground, it was hard to tell who was more excited, him or me.

In those days, there was no greater feeling in the world than chasing down a pop fly and swallowing it with my outstretched, oversized, Reggie-Jackson-model, waffle-pocket Rawlings (“The Finest In The Field”) that Dad bought, already fully broken it, with the best $25 he ever spent. The glove was ridiculously large, and so broken in I could single-hand clap with it.  

Our Sunday afternoons had no clock. The setting sun told us when it was time. Depending on our ambition and energy, we’d sometimes flee to another park or playground in the same outing. Often we’d cycle through sports a couple times. We’d just play ourselves tired and hungry, then pile back in the van, re-filling the tall cardboard box that sat between us.

And, since Mom unapologetically never cooked on Sundays (she more than earned a day of rest with her efforts during the week), it gave us an excuse to make a pit stop before returning home. Among our favorite haunts was this deli-slash-convenience store across town. I can’t remember the name, but the ritual of our dinner menu is forever etched in memory. We’d pull tall, glass bottles of Pepsi from the cooler, order a pound of Swiss Cheese from the deli, then retreat to our magic carpet, sipping and munching contentedly in the parking lot, while I’d crack open fresh packs of Topps cards in search of Pirate treasures. We convinced ourselves that the finest Swiss Cheese in the world could be found at this specific convenience store in Uniontown. I’d still testify under oath to that fact.

Around dusk Dad would whisk us home. As we pulled to the curb in front of our house on Mullen Street, our magic carpet transformed back into his Sherwin Williams van. I’d remove our tall cardboard box to make room for the week’s paint and carpet deliveries.

And patiently wait for the next sunny, summer Sunday.

__

We came home very late last night after a brief, but nourishing, family vacation. The good (and, these days, too-rare) kind, where the days didn’t have a clock. In her typically inspired, herculean, and meticulous packing efforts, Karry reserved room in a basket for our football, basketball and gloves. Surprisingly, I didn’t have to twist Peter’s arm. Honestly, he coaxed me on a couple occasions to throw some baseball (which, as he’s gotten older, we don’t do very often). I believe we actually passed ball three of the days we were away.

And without any prompting from me, he made a rule. Whenever we played ourselves tired or hungry, he’d direct me to aim a pop fly to his left or his right, so he could give chase and make a leaping, diving, or shoetop grab before we were allowed to call it quits. And when he’d rescue a ball from hitting the ground or from sailing over his head, it was hard to tell who was more excited, him or me.

We got in so late last night, we saved our unpacking for this afternoon. I found myself removing the basket with our balls and gloves, and thinking about that tall, cardboard box that sat between Dad and me in our magic carpet.

And on our second Father’s Day since his passing, I find myself raising a metaphorical glass bottle of Pepsi to a boxful of Sundays.
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Excursions

One small scoop for man ….

 

I’ve heard it said that great adventurers often had the sense that they were making history in the midst of their adventures.

Though I’m not sure why, I have the strong feeling that family history will want to record that on the glorious morning of June 17, 2017, we ate chocolate ice cream for breakfast.

And that history may have the kindest words for the one of us who didn’t even bother with a bowl.

Here’s to Saturday mornings scooped straight from the carton.

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Excursions, Postcards

Best Pizza Ever ….

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It’s probably slightly north of coincidental that the best pizza I can ever remember tasting in my life is associated with a last-day-of-school memory.

I was 11 years old.

And within minutes of the #12 black and yellow bus spitting us out for the last time as sixth graders at Hatfield Elementary, my buddies and I were mounted on our bikes … report cards in our back pockets and the whole of summer laid out before us (exactly) like an open road.

We left the neighborhood by way of Dawson Street (the sweetest, straightest avenue on our hill) down to Jamison, to minimize our time on busy Dixon Boulevard. Then, practicing a patience paid for in countless quarters at the Frogger table, we waited for the traffic to quiet enough on Dixon to allow us to skooch across the short bridge over Jamison Creek so we could hug the right side of Lebanon before ducking into its calm side streets. From there, it was just one single traffic light across Morgantown and a handful of stop signs before sneaking up behind the Uniontown Shopping Center and our pilgrimage’s DUAL destinations.

We locked our bikes together outside the Station Arcade and opened its door to let the glorious 8-bit symphony of all those beepy soundtracks wash over us. Without a hint of hyperbole, it was the 11-year-old, early-80’s equivalent of the Pearly Gate’s trumpets.

Pulled our report cards from our back pockets and presented them to the owner for inspection. He was a tall, black t-shirt wearing middle-aged mustachioed man with a receding hairline and a fat jangly ring dangling from his back pocket that held the keys to The Kingdom. As far as we were concerned, he was also The Most Powerful Man In The Universe.

Get this: for every single A on our report card, he rewarded us with a token. Doing the math, four nine weeks + a final grade = 5 possible tokens per class. So, a conscientious, black-and-gold-with-Mag-Wheels-Huffy-riding-straight-A-student could fill both front pockets of his (proly) Ocean Pacific shorts with 40 or so tokens.

To this day, I’m not sure I’ve come across a more powerful illustration of the importance of hitting the books than the sweet jingle of two pocketfulls of Station Arcade tokens.

Far from amateurs on the arcade circuit, we could more than make those tokens stretch across an entire afternoon. Galaga and Dig Dug were among my drugs of choice. I’d camp out at one until I wearied of it, lining up quarters on the bottom left of the screen to secure my spot for the next ½ hour or more. In my 11-year-old-prime, leveling up was as much memorization as hand-eye coordination.

After a few hours carving our initials across more than a few leaderboards, we pressed pause on our assaults and made the short walk across the alley (location, location, location) to the day’s other main destination: Pizza Town.

Owned by an Italian husband and wife who spoke broken English and exquisite pie, the humble establishment was little more than a counter, a handful of non-descript tables and a wise-old pizza oven that breathed piping hot crusty truth by the slice.

New York-style. Generous triangles served on tiny paper plates that made the pizza seem bigger and more appetizing. They made the pizza in advance, then added the toppings fresh before the husband slid the slices into that magic oven on The Big Wooden Paddle with a whoosh followed by the reverberating smack of the oven door closing behind.

I was and remain such a sucker for the human mastery of actions performed in daily repetition. (Washington peeps …  tell me there’s a more mesmerizing sequence than the lunch guy at Shorty’s dropping toppings in perfect measure onto the hot dogs lining the length of his forearm).

As an 11-year-old, I remember marveling at how the owner didn’t need a timer to know the precise moment to pull the pizza so the cheese was bubbly perfect, never burnt. And how he wielded his paddle like a ninja — sliding it one-armed under the pizza to rescue it from the oven and then, in the same motion, yanking it from under the crust to leave a single triangle perfectly squared on its tiny paper plate. Evidently, the owner knew from memorization and hand-eye coordination, too.

I can recall my exact order that day: two slices with pepperoni and the anchovies my parents would never let me get; large Coke served in an eponymous paper cup (the kind that always made the Coke taste better) with the tiny, chewable, kind of ice-machine ice chunks. Paid for with allowance money pulled from my back pocket, since both fronts were still token-stuffed.

While decades have fogged my recollection of the precise flavor profile of that exquisite pie, I can tell you with 100% certainty exactly what it tasted like to my 11-year-old self: freedom.

Achieved only via riding our bikes across town. Earning an afternoon’s worth of tokens. Paid for from money pulled from my own pocket. With toppings of my own choosing.

The experience is as vivid in my memory as it is incongruous with the present moment … Peter and Emma’s last day of 10th and 6th grades, respectively.

When I shared the above recollection with my wife Karry, she couldn’t believe our parents would ever allow us to do such a thing. I could’ve explained it a million different ways, but I just told her that we feared our parents exponentially more than any evil that might have befallen us on a cross-town bike ride to the Shopping Center.

I’m not sure we were any safer in those days. We just didn’t have as many digital media sources scaring us into believing we were in any appreciable danger.

Ignorance? Perhaps.

Ignorance as bliss? I’ll order it off the menu every day.

I don’t spend much time wishing my kids could have experienced my childhood (really I don’t).

But, if I could give them just a taste … I’m pretty sure I’d offer up a slice of Last-Day-of-Sixth-Grade-Biking-to-The Station Arcade-With-Your-Best-Friends-From-the-Neighborhood-To–Spend-a-Report-Card-Earned-Afternoon-Topped-Off-With-Paid-From-My-Pocket-Pizza-Town-Pizza.

To summer vacation.

And hoping the present generation carves their initials on its leaderboard as indelibly as their parents did.

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Excursions

T.S.D.T.M.T.D.U. #117: The Dishes

Spent most of Easter Sunday afternoon in the kitchen. The majority of it at the sink.

In the 46 years I’ve logged so far on the planet, I’ve never lived in a  house with a dishwasher.

So, on the other side of every meal prepared at home, has been some version of this:

dishes

One would think that, with all those years of practice under my belt,1 I’d be good at it.

My wife, in particular, is one such one.

However, the dishes are just another item among the T.S.D.T.M.T.D.U.

(Things She Doesn’t Trust Me To Do Unsupervised.)

The list is, um, robust.

The reason why The Dishes has its mail sent to the T.S.D.T.M.T.D.U. is that my wife and I have different strategies for how to do them.

My strategy can be summed up as follows:

Wash the dishes.

When I went to deploy the above strategy Sunday afternoon, Karry actually said, “I can’t let you do that. It’ll make me sick to my stomach.”

1under my belt? Does that even make any sense? Seriously, what’s under my belt? My too big pants. “With all those years of practice beneath my too big pants.” What the hell? Stop saying that. All of you.

Her strategy, by contrast, is more nuanced. I’ll do my best to explain it here, but, in full disclosure, if I truly understood it, then I could probably lobby the listing agent for the chore’s removal from the T.S.D.T.M.T.D.U.

Near as I can tell, her approach relies heavily on pre-production. An awful lot of pre-production. I think there’s a lot of pre-rinsing and stacking involved. I can hear what sounds like water running and plates bumping before I’m summoned (read: allowed) back to the kitchen to behold the evening’s dirties perfectly aligned in an order apparently harmonized with the cosmos.

I would contend2  that her meticulous organization is unnecessarily time consuming. And, let’s face it, I’m a busy dude. The more time I spend doing dishes, the less time left for arguing with the teen ager, yelling over top the teenager as he argues with his 12-year-old sister, or fulfilling my true calling, getting on my wife’s last nerve.

That said … even though I know that the rational side of my brain will find the eventual owning of a dishwasher as delicious as any Amish family would … I can honestly say that, even after all these years, the perfunctory chore is not without its juice. Once she has properly prepped them, and I’m left to do them by myself if it’s a divide-and-conquer evening, I curate an accompanying soundtrack. And it speaks well to the timeless transcendence of what poured from the horns of Paul Desmond, Johnny Hodges and Coleman Hawkins that their sounds can elevate even my ritual cleansing to the sublime. I would be the most content ditch digger the world has known as long as long as I could listen to good music. I inherited this trait from my Dad, who logged even more years than me at the sink (a single sink, no less), drying and putting away after Mom washed and rinsed.

2 If I chose to use the limited capital in my possession for arguing this point … which I am smart enough not to, recognizing that there are dozens of offenses I will be committing very shortly that I will only become aware of after the fact, and even then, will most likely not fully comprehend their precise nature.

But the point above notwithstanding, jazz is not the best company I’ve found. Karry is. Even though she usually has to burn off a couple exhales at the mere prospect of my accompanying presence.

Don’t get me wrong … we complain just about after every home cooked meal, and sometimes (read: more often than we care to admit) find ourselves deterred from home-cooking a meal by pre-calculating the dish tax.

But here’s the thing. I’ve realized over time that the mundane act is a bit of a Trojan horse.  Held hostage by the sink, we ask each other about our days, remind each other of schedules, share family updates. And since she is not a morning person (or, um, technically speaking, an evening person), it’s our best, and sometimes only, window to just catch up. Further, no matter how jacked she is at me or how frustrated she might be with what the day has thrown at us … the splash and clank of a sinkfull reminds us of our basic contract: that there remains work to be done (always work to be done) … that we’ve chosen each other to share the work (for better or worse) … and that things (for the most part) go better when we’re tackling them together.

At the end of the day, no matter what the world has thrown at us, or what remains of our daily climb up Have-To Mountain, she knows that if she organizes and washes, I’ll rinse, dry and put away.

And there’s something in that. Not a big something. But an important something.

And I’ve learned (and am still learning) that over the course of a long friendship, it’s the little somethings that provide the steadier fuel after life gracelessly burns off the tinder of youth.

I’m confident that when/if our home finally does make room for a dish washer, she won’t miss it one single bit.

For the record, I totally will.

Even though a dishwasher would give me my best chance yet in 20 years of marriage to successfully lobby for the removal of an item from the T.S.D.T.M.T.D.U.

Yep … peeking at the list, everything else is pretty much carved in stone.

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