Bye-bye summer and hello glorious autumn. As I write this week’s blog, I am looking out my third-floor office window at some changing elms, maples and birch trees. Just beyond them are some golfers wearing sweaters and wind breakers. My window is open and I can smell the fresh fall weather. Love it.
Today is Labor Day.
Fun Fact: “Observed on the first Monday in September, Labor Day pays tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers. It was started by the labor movement in the late 19th century and became a federal holiday in 1894. I hope you are having a good one. Three-day weekends are wonderful inventions.
Many of you will be going on picnics, or boating, or just hanging out in the yard with family and friends cooking something wonderful on the grill. Been there, love that, but not this year.
Our son-in law is a stand-up comedian. He had a gig performing at Zanies Comedy Club 7 days in a row this past week in Chicago’s “Old Town”, so my wife and I joined my daughter to catch Mike’s set Saturday night. He was one of two featured comics along with an MC and headliner.
Mike was on fire. I had seen him perform many times, but he really got the audience going. When we congratulated him afterwards, he said that between dong his day job and 9 comedy sets all week, he was so exhausted that he just let it flow.
My wife and I stayed at my son’s apartment, as coincidently, he was up in Milwaukee with his girlfriend for a Brewer’s game, and they stayed in our apartment. It worked out great, as we took care of each other’s cats.
On our way home Sunday afternoon, we decided to go downtown to Milwaukee’s Public Market for some sea food. What a great idea. We had a dozen raw oysters some fried clams, calamari and a nice dark porter to drink. We also picked up some lobster tails to go, and are making lobster rolls for dinner tonight. Happy Labor Day to Me.
To honor all the hard-working Americans, here’s a couple ticklers from Reader’s Digest’s “All in a Day’s Work”:
The best comeback I’ve ever heard occurred at our store. A customer was complaining to my supervisor about the employees. He was spouting off about how terrible we all were and insisting our company hired only idiots. That was when my boss looked him in the eye and asked, “Would you like an application?”
My daughter’s coworkers threw a Biggest Loser contest to see who could shed the most pounds. Jessica wasn’t really interested, but she tossed her $10 into the pot anyway.
“How much do you plan to lose?” I asked
Jessica muttered, “About $10.”
Now for Chapter 11 of Pinky’s Drive-In:
It was getting late and the weather cleared, so one by one, my old friends, my best friends, began to leave for home. Many of us exchanged phone numbers, home, business and even some email addresses. Ken sent Gina home and pulled up a stool behind the bar. There were just a few of us left and all switched to coffee or some other non-intoxicating beverage, so we decided to move to the game room table, and play a little poker.
Have you ever noticed that when you go out with friends or relatives, or perhaps host an event, that there are always the same few people that seem to hang around to the bitter end? As usual, the same few were still here.
Jeff, Pat, Ted, Shawn, Ken and I hung around a while longer. As we sat and talked, we came to realize that we still had many of the same concerns that we had when we were forming our current selves. Will the Cubs ever be in another World Series? How will the country survive with the current asshole in the White House? The price of gas, the cost of living and the price paid by those who have left us for good.
Ken brought out his best bottle of Napoleon brandy and six small cordial snifters. I held up my hands in calm surrender at the thought of another round, but Ken wouldn’t be denied as he walked over to the juke box and played “Love me Tender” by Elvis Presley. We all realized what it meant.
“To Spoolie,” we said as we downed our last shot.
Spoolie had not made it out of the Pinky’s Boys’ era. His death was an unpublicized tragedy. We always remembered him as quiet, and a little more troubled than most of us, almost like James Dean in “Rebel without a Cause.” He usually sat quietly and drank his beer, until it gave him enough courage to speak his mind, or act out one of his Elvis impressions.
We didn’t know what happened to him for several years. He just disappeared in the early 70s. We knew that he got serious over a waitress who worked in the bowling alley restaurant, which was out of character for him. Due to his shy, quiet demeanor, Spoolie rarely dated. Word got around that the waitress denied him when he offered her an engagement ring, and he was devastated.
His body was discovered several months later in the north woods of Wisconsin during the spring thaw where his father, younger brother, and he would go on hunting trips. A farmer found him propped up against a tree, holding the ring. His discharged rifle had fallen to the side, and was lying next to an empty gin bottle.
That final drink went down hard. The warm Cognac lost all its smoothness as it passed over the lump in my throat. We sat quietly for a moment as we listened to the ballad on the jukebox and remembered our fallen brother.
Spoolie was our first loss. I recall the strange feelings I had when I heard the news of his death. It seemed unreal that one of the Pinky’s Boys’ was gone. Weren’t we immortal? With all we’d been through, I thought for sure that we would all be together forever. How unfair it was, that fate, could steal a young man’s dreams so early in his life.
Spoolie and I became friends playing football on opposing teams in the Boy’s Club in 1962. We were about 10 or 11 years old. He was a fullback on the Giant Stags and I played middle linebacker on the Green Hornets. He was a powerful runner and hard to tackle. We were both voted onto the All-American team that year.
When we were in high school, Little Tony, Spoolie, his younger brother and I would all meet up in Spoolie’s basement, and walked to school together. The four of us were also on the cleaning crew at school to supplement our tuition, and of course, we all hung out at Pinky’s at days end with the rest of the boys.
I’ll never forget the seemingly carefree attitude Spoolie displayed. I never knew that he was troubled deep inside. He always greeted me with a ‘How ya doin good buddy,’ when we met. That’s how he will always be remembered by me, as a good buddy.
It was a long time before we lost another brother. Bugsy passed away just a few years ago from acute empyema. He lived in California for many years working in the printing industry. I was unable to attend his funeral, but with today’s technology, I added my sympathies to the long list of mourners on his online remembrance book.
We all switched back to coffee after our toast to Spoolie, and the conversation took on a bit more serious tone as we remembered the Viet Nam War era. That was a tense time for us. As we graduated from high school and turned 18, we had to sign up with the Selective Service System and acquire our draft cards. We Pinky’s Boys hated the anti-war demonstrations. Right or wrong, it was our country and she deserved our loyalty. I remember being proud to get my card. It was a symbol of maturity.
Ken, Shawn and Pat enlisted in the Marines. They heard about the ‘buddy system’, which allowed them to go through boot camp together. They were eager to get into the fight, and this seemed like a good way to start their military service.
I also had some real choices to make back then. I could continue my education, join the work force, or, like my friends, become a soldier and defend my country in an unpopular war. I chose the former and enrolled in college. However, my higher learning was shortened greatly, as I became ill with Tuberculosis and had to drop out during my freshman year.
In those days, TB patients needed to be quarantined. I was infirmed in the Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium of Chicago, and was put on a triple cocktail regiment of Streptomycin, PAS, and INH, for ten months. After undergoing a lobectomy to surgically remove a cavity from my left lung, I was released as an outpatient for six more months. I viewed that ordeal as my Viet Nam. No disrespect to those who served.
I never did go back to college, but in those days a high school education still opened a lot of doors, so I was able to find work in the fast-growing computer industry and parlayed it into a good career.
I recalled the night before Pat was to be transported to boot camp.
“Hey, Pat, do you remember the night before you went into the Marines? I said. Before Pat could answer, Jeff slammed his mug down on the table.
“I sure do!” said Jeff. “That’s the night we got into a fight in Old Town, on a black Monday!”
“What do you mean, we got into a fight?” said Ted. “I believe it was I who did all the fighting, while you guys stood by watching.”
Chicago’s Old Town was a 4 or 5 square block area located just north of downtown. It was popular for its bars nightclubs and restaurants. It was an unwritten law in the early ‘70s, that on Mondays, Old Town was heavily occupied by black gangs from the south side of the city. I never knew why it was that way, but it was best to steer clear if you were white.
Pat was 19, and was going into the Marines the next day, and we wanted to send him off properly, so we went down to the Rialto Burlesque Hall to see the strippers. There were a group of black dudes crossing the intersection, that were strolling much too slowly for Pat’s anxious demeanor. He leaned out the rear window and yelled, “Move your ass!”
We never did get to see the strippers that night. We parked along the curb and, just as we exited Jeff’s car, we found ourselves surrounded and out-numbered 3 to 1 by the same group of fine upstanding, young, black gentlemen to which Pat aimed his not-so-polite retort. Oops!
The first to exit the car was Moose, 6’9”, and then Jeff 6’3”, me at 6’1”, Pat at 5’9” and finally Ted at 5’7”. Ted was the lucky winner. A tall skinny black dude stopped Ted, not realizing that he had the wrong guy, and said, “You wanna tell me to move my ass now?”
Ted calmly answered, “Move your ass outta my way!”
What Ted lacked in height, he more than made up with in brute strength. He would quite often drink for free merely by putting all challengers down in arm wrestling. The black dude did indeed pick the wrong guy to mess with.
The black dude threw a punch at Ted. It missed its mark as Ted quickly ducked, and pushed the dude in the chest with both hands, causing him to fall backwards onto the sidewalk. As Ted waited for him to get up, the dude was handed an empty beer bottle from one of his partners. He charged awkwardly at Ted and swung the bottle wildly! Ted grabbed his narrow wrist and twisted his arm behind him, forcing the bottle to fall and crash to the pavement! Ted then lifted the dude off the ground and threw him down like a sack of potatoes!
As I watched the encounter, I realized that the patrons, all black men, emptied out of the adjacent bar and surrounded Jeff, Moose, Pat and I. This could have easily been the end for all of us. However, it was 1970 and a one-on-one fight was just that. As long as we stood our ground, so did they.
The dude on the ground knew he, met his match, and held up his hands as he said, “Okay man, you win.” It was over!
We almost couldn’t believe it as we slowly, but not at all sheepishly, backed into the car and took off. We dropped Pat off at home. The next day, he was off to become a lean mean fighting machine.