Fathers and Sons

Talking Cats ….

For the first 95% of my time to date wandering, mostly lost, around my very teensy patch of this planet, I’ve abided an unwavering animosity towards cats. 

For the most recent 5%, which I’ve spent in a complicated reexamination of my lifelong animosity, I’ve exercised a monk-like restraint to not be The Guy Who Talks About His Cats … at least while I’m in, you know, complicated reexamination mode. 

While I can’t say I’m on the other side of that process, I am here, this day, to be The Guy Who Talks About His Cats. 

This is Viktor. 

This is Viktor in the act of practicing mind control on weaker species.

Viktor is my dude. 

Even though he can be a major a-hole. Even though I’m not entirely convinced he’s not secretly plotting my demise, although I can’t technically prove it in a court of law … yet. (Sorry for all the negatives there … an unfortunate side effect of the complicated reexamination process). 

And by “my Dude,” I, of course, mean that he deems me his dim-witted, servile underling barely worthy of the honor of catering to his every whim.

Viktor along with his brother Roman are the ‘cats who live in our house.’ While I’ve done almost a complete 180 on my cat stance (let’s call it a ‘178’), I still stop short of calling them ‘my cats,’ … since I was not involved, or, technically speaking, consulted, in the circumstances that resulted in them taking up residency in my house. And since my own residency here is, shall we say, vaguely tenuous, I abide a general strategy of not rocking the boat wherever possible. 

I’ve come to appreciate Viktor over the course of our cohabitation because he’s the only member of the household who will indulge me in long conversation. 

Everyone else seems to be, you know, pretty busy. 

But Viktor and I … we are kindred spirts. Cut from the same cloth.  We’re what the historians call ’deep thinkers.’ We feel the weight of the world, sense the shifting of the cosmic sands. We know what the Powers That Be are up to. We call out the bullshit when we see it. We know when the forecast calls for melancholy. We like it when human beings scratch our heads. 

I’ll often find Viktor sitting in the dining room, staring out into the backyard, and can sense his mood.

A typical exchange: 

Me: How’s it going, Viktor? 

Viktor: (continuing to look straight ahead) Reeeeuhhhhrrrr! (“The universe is a meaningless void.”) 

Me: Yeah, I know. Things are f*cked. 

Viktor: (turning to address me directly) Reeeeeeeeeahhhhhrrrrrrrr! (“We must find those responsible and make them pay.”)

Me: Yeah, what can you do, though? 

Viktor: Reeauh! (“Exercise my plan for world domination and reign in power with The Queen Who Gives Me The Special Snacks.”)

Me: Oh, there is that, I suppose. 

Viktor: (turning back to the window) Urrrrrreeeeeeuhhh! (“Make no mistake, you will be the first to be eliminated, Sparkle Fart. Leave my sight for now Viktor must scratch things and nap.” 

Me:  OK, sounds like a plan. Good talk. 

I’m the only one he talks to like this. We chat all the time.  Actually makes Karry jealous.  

That said, our relationship is not all unicorns and world domination.

Viktor can be a real a-hole.

Case in point. Ninety-nine percent of the time, he shows zero interest in physical exertion. 

Until I’m working from home and he knows I’m on a call. 

Then, he’ll bat the tinkly ball down the steps and work on his ball handling. Smacks it off the walls, chases it down, launches it back across the room, whacks it into the corner. Whines incessantly when it goes under the shelves just out of his reach. Until I hit the mute button, and be like, “Viktor, what the f*ck?”

He pretends he doesn’t hear me.

And when he knows I’m on a video call? It’s like he’s training for the goddamn Tinkly Ball Olympics. Speed drills and sh*t. 

Oh, and there’s this other thing. Despite the fact that Karry has placed multiple cat accommodations of every type (blankets, pillows, beds, etc.) in front of virtually every window in every room in the house, Viktor insists on sleeping in my chair. 

Because he is a passive aggressive motherf*cker. 

When I call him out on it, sometimes he’ll open only one eye for a couple seconds, then close it again while I’m still yelling. I’m convinced that sometimes he hops in the chair when he hears me coming, and only pretends to sleep. I swear I can see him chuckling to himself. Karry tells me, oh no, he’s just ‘dreaming’ and to leave him be.

VikTurd.

Eventually, though, his conscience gets to him, and he’ll apologize later … bowing his head and rubbing it against my shoulder.  (translation: he gets hungry and knows he needs my opposable thumbs to open his adorably tiny can of cat food).

Of course, I forgive him, which is probably due to his mind control over inferior beings, but in my head is due to my unwavering support of his career aspirations. It’s Viktor’s dream (right after the World Domination thing) to become a calendar model. He puts in the work, has logged the 1,000 hours, practices his poses all the time. He’s a natural. Like the all-time greats, when he’s on his game, the captions just write themselves.

You think this is impressive? He knitted the goddamn scarf himself.

All he needs is representation. But in the cutthroat, big business world of cat calendars, it’s all who you know, evidently.

And Viktor’s not one to kiss anyone’s ass to climb the ladder of success. Not interested in playing The Game. He does not truck with The Machine. He is a master of the long game. I think he knows that once he subjects the universe to his will and reigns supreme over time, space and dimension, he can, you know, get some head shots taken … shop ‘em around, etc.

That’s probably the biggest thing that I’ve learned from him. 

Never give up on your dreams. 

Sincerely, 



T.G.W.T.A.H.C.

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Fathers and Sons, Righteous riffs

Wing Man

He’s always the initiator, as I’m reluctant to impose on the 20-year-old’s social calendar. 

Over Friday lunch he asks … “Drover’s tomorrow night?”

Me: You work? 

He: ‘Till seven. 

Me: (calculating drive-time) Might make us a little late. Proly crowded on a Saturday night. 

He: I could see if I could move my shift up an hour. Leave at six? 

Me: You can do that? 

He: I can ask. 

Me: I’m game. Just let me know. 

For the uninitiated, Drover’s is a most sacred place. 

The one constant on our family’s annual summer to-do list — its bona fides spoken of in unequivocal and reverent tones. 

Best Wings on the planet.

There is no debate. There is Drover’s. And there is everyone else.  

Consistently fried to crispy perfection. Every time. Never under- or overdone.  Sauces sublime.

 And part of a larger ritual born of, and bursting with, expectation. 

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Fathers and Sons, The Girls

Picture Day Redux – No Strings Attached

Mercifully (for me), this year, proceedings returned to their normal rhythms. Held at the respective studios. A two-day affair. Saturday = Waynesburg. Sunday = Washington. 

Last year quarantine forced the stay-at-home edition of Picture Day, whose gravity I was unable to escape. 

This year called for less desperate measures, leaving Karry and Emma to tag team this, their 12th edition of the annual amalgam of yelling, hair, make-up, costumes, and teenage angst. 

Preparations began weeks in advance. Came home one day to find Emma outside in the driveway with a pair of tap shoes and a can of neon pink spray paint. 

“Don’t ask,” was all she said. 

My Karry radar began ringing in my head. 

Me: You’re taking precautions, yes? 

She: I’m not making a mess if that’s what you’re asking. 

Emma has convinced herself that she rarely, if ever, makes messes. 

Her conviction is strong. She’d probably pass a lie detector. 

In truth — and I say this lovingly — she’s a disaster. 

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Fathers and Sons

Angels and the Outfield

He just brought it home one day after work and presented it to me. No set up. Not born of a previous request or conversation.

The Glove. 

Reggie Jackson model, waffle-pocket Rawlings. The Finest In the Field. 

Said he’d bought it from an acquaintance. Some guy he knew from the store. Paid $25 for it, used.  I remember him feeling shrewd about the deal.

It was huge. The finger holes were like catacombs. My 10-year-old digits barely reached.

And, oh, it was really used. The traditional method of breaking in a glove is to place a baseball in the pocket and tightly tie the glove closed with string so that you preserve a sweet spot for the ball. The Glove must’ve been given a Swedish Massage and then placed, empty, under the tire of a dump truck. Its pocket folded over its fingers like pages in a book. Its leather soft and pliant. It was so broken in I could clap with it. What padding it had was massaged into sweet surrender (presumably by the Swedes). But given that my fingers barely filled 25% of its real estate, padding wasn’t really relevant to the equation. 

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Fathers and Sons, Postcards

The world just went away there for a few minutes ….

April 3, 2020, 11:07 p.m.

A couple weeks ago Karry was violently cleaning out out the dining room, rooting through old drawers, filling garbage bags with stuff she didn’t want to think twice about. Of the two of us, she is, by far, the most qualified for the task. My wife is not the sentimental type. I, on the other hand, ensure that my wife will always have drawers to clean out. But in the midst of her editing, something gave her enough pause to seek me out downstairs. She tossed an envelope on my desk. “Yeah, you probably forgot about that one.”

On the outside of the envelope, my handwriting:

To: Peter

From: Dad

Christmas 2001

Inside, a letter. From me to my baby boy. Days before our first Christmas together.

Buried treasure.

I have no recollection of doing this.

Which is exactly why I did it.

I learned quickly during those eight months that time was no longer to be fucked with. From the moment Dr. Bulseco announced, “It’s a Boy,” we became unwitting passengers on a turbo steamroller, and would spend as much time under it as in the cab.

So, early on I made a point to mark time whenever I could steal a moment. Scribbles in a journal. Postcards from the road. Notes on a computer.

And evidently, letters to my baby.

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Fathers and Sons

The Quest for the Creek….

Note: found the below in an old journal, and it struck me as it did then … one of those moments that melts the world around you for a good, long moment … before it, itself melts. When we were kids we’d hold a snowball back and put it in the fridge to save it for summer time. Honoring that feeling by putting this old snowball right here ….

Saturday afternoon, after Peter snowblew the driveway, I shoveled the deck, and Em indulged neighbor kids who came for snow angels and “wheeeeeees” down the humble grade of our yard, the three of us donned our snowsuits, grabbed sleds and tube, and trudged through the woods behind our backyard.  Destination: the big hill that technically belongs to the American Legion but which we unofficially commandeer when there’s enough snow to test the wondrous law of gravity. 

We assessed the snow’s vintage —soft and puffy, in need of some packing. So, following Peter’s lead, we made investments with each run down the hill —and trudging walk back up —  kneading the snow like dough, a little longer, a little wider.

The tube, by far, was the conveyance of choice, offering the pure enchantment of spinning, friction-free descent. 

We spent a glorious hour outside, indulging in a good foot of soft powder and mid-20’s temperatures. There were tumbles, wipe outs, and even an inspired attempt to see if the blue sled would hold the three of us at once (um, it didn’t). 

But it was all mere prelude to the gifts of Sunday afternoon, when Peter and I returned for seconds. The intervening 24 hours had smoothed away the powder and added a thin crust of ice to the previous day’s paths. With our first couple runs, we glided farther, carving fresh prints into the untouched white. With each foray we pushed our ruts out a little farther still. 

After about 20 minutes I looked down from the top of the hill to where Peter had just tubed a new distance record and called out, “We should try for the creek”–pointing to the stream that separates the Legion’s field from the hill of houses on the other side. Even with his last run, we were probably a good 50-60 feet of untouched snow from the water.  

But now we had a quest.

And, where Sunday snow days are concerned, life goes much better with a quest. 

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Fathers and Sons

Ode to Joy….

June 4, 2016 

I have this indelible image in my head every time I think of the years (high school and through college) I was privileged to share a bandstand with my Dad when we were but two pieces (drums, first trumpet) of a 10-piece, big-band-style orchestra. Whenever Dad would take a ride solo, I’d steal a glance to my right, see him stand up from his chair a couple measures before, tip the mic up, draw the horn to his lips, bend his knees ever so slightly as he leaned back, close his eyes, and blow.

He always solo’d with his eyes closed, the music taking him somewhere else.

Unconsciously, I’d often close my eyes as well, and try to follow his horn like a compass to wherever it took him. He took great pride in never playing the same solo twice. Though they would rarely last more than a couple choruses, those solos were some of the best trips (of many) we ever took together.

Music has always had that bewitching effect on him (and me) … although it occasionally got him into trouble. He recalled one such instance for my sister Laurie and me when we visited with him on Christmas.

On their second date, Dad thought he would impress Maggie Johnson by taking her to see Les Brown (and his “Band of Renown”).

Best laid plans.

“She got so mad at me because she thought I was ignoring her,” he recalled. Technically speaking, he was totally ignoring her, such a slave his attention was to good music. Fortunately, she forgave him enough to entertain a third date, and the 60+ years of marriage that ensued.

With Dad confined mostly to his bed these days, it’s become more of a challenge to bring the kids with me for my weekly visits. Knowing how crazy the back-to-school schedule will be, Karry and I seized the opportunity Saturday to bring Emma with us to Uniontown.

I asked Em if she’d be up for taking her alto sax with her. I figured it would give her something to do (practice), and thought that Pap might appreciate it.

She’s only in her second year with the horn … but, much to our surprise, we don’t have to twist her arm to practice. She enjoys playing. Enjoys getting better. Seems to take a pride in it.

Dad was resting when we arrived, but a smile broke across his face when he saw Karry and Emma, two of his favorite faces. We weren’t but a few minutes into our visit when he asked Em, “Did you bring your sax?”

He’d never heard her play before.

I went downstairs to the basement and dug out his old music stand (it’s been only a few months since the 88-year-old put it away … for probably the last time), and Em pulled her horn from her case and set up in the next room since we didn’t know if she’d be too loud for him.

She started into some scales, and then some songs she’s been learning for her lessons.

Dad remarked what a good tone she had for a beginner (the brother knows from tone). We sat without speaking and just listened. She had played maybe a half dozen tunes … before she broke into Ode To Joy.

By the fifth note, Dad had closed his eyes, and another smile broke across his face. The music was again taking him someplace else. I closed my eyes too, and met him once again in that place.

After her last note, he opened his eyes, the smile still going strong, and said to the heavens … “This makes me feel good.”

His words were as much a gift to me as Emma’s notes were to him, and the lump in my throat I feel at the mere recollection of that moment bears testimony to those truths.

I find myself grateful for the lessons that still abound from the labored breaths of an 88-year-old sideman, who, though bedridden in failing health with a failing heart and a laundry list of maladies much too long to capture … still sifts the precious moments for joy yet and still.

Find myself grateful for music that can transcend the moment, the physical, the generations, and bring us that much closer together, and to the divine.

And find myself grateful that the old house on Mullen Street still has a few beautiful notes left in it.

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Fathers and Sons

The Things We Remember ….

February 8, 2016

I had the privilege of sharing a few words at Dad’s service on Saturday.

Told those who came that I knew exactly what Dad would say if he were physically able to be with us. 

I was pretty sure he’d have said exactly what he said to me about 8 or 9 years ago, under very different circumstances. 

(Some of you may have heard this story before. But, as some of you may also know, our Dad was not above getting great mileage from a good story – ha). 

He was scheduled for surgery … no, make that surgeries (plural) … on an aneurism in his stomach, and another one in his leg. It was scheduled for first thing in the morning in Pittsburgh, which, when you live in Uniontown, means that you have to get up in the middle of the night. And my sisters Missy and Kim, as they often did, shouldered the burden of getting Mom and Dad out the door and shuttling them to the hospital (no small task, given that Dad had to be early for everything, while our Mom, um, was not as meticulous about her punctuality). Laurie, as she always did, met them at the hospital and made sure they got checked in. 

By the time I got there, Dad was prepped, and was in a room waiting on the surgeon (who was delayed by some other emergency). Mom and the sisters were keeping him good company. After a while, Mom needed to go out for a cigarette (Gram always needed her smoke), and the sisters accompanied her, leaving the boys by themselves for a couple minutes. 

Think about what might be going through your mind if you were the 80-year-old lying in the hospital bed, after having to get up in the middle of the night, suffering that long drive down Route 51 thinking about your pending surgeries, forced into that hospital gown that barely covers your dignity, only to be asked to wait for goodness knows how long on the surgeon? What would be going through your mind? 

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