You know, we all are really like a piece of malleable iron. Life’s experiences mold us, shape us, prod us, squeeze us, as we go through the refiner’s fire of life. This shaping process makes us what we are as adults and forms our basic personalities. A lot of this happens during the formative years of our lives. Take for instance when I learned to swim as a boy. I took lessons and was pretty good in the shallow end. When it came time for the test, I was afraid of the deep water. My mother who was sitting in the lounges with all of her girlfriends in hysterectomy row, as the lifeguards called it, was observing the proceedings. She instructed Don Geyer the pool manager to throw me in much to the horror of her friends. She said,” ladies- that water is going to get deeper and deeper every year.” Don threw me in and I swam to the side and with jubilation I said to my mom, I did it! My mom said,” Patrick- you can do anything you want to do in life.” With that, Don dropped me off the low board and eventually the high board and I passed the test.
A few years later, I swam in the winter for a team at the Northside YMCA and witnessed a lot of interesting happenings in the bowels of the city. One night while we were waiting to be picked up, two guys came running into the lobby where we were, wielding knives as two city police officers chased and eventually apprehended them. I told my parents what went on that night and my mom said,” Patrick- life is not the suburbs. It is good for you to see the other side of life and how tough it is in the city.” I would learn to appreciate that as I was bullied and had to defend myself with city kids. I held my own and usually was invited to their birthday parties after a few punches and pushes in the pool gained their respect. I was not a fighter but the refiner’s fire of the Northside forced me to defend my adolescent position in life. I worked most of my young life because my dad thought it was important for me to learn to be responsible to a job. Lots of molding, shaping, prodding, squeezing in those days.
Other lessons were learned by our daily routine at this time of year. Touch football on the Nicolette’s front lawn in our neighborhood. We had a posse of kids. Richard and John Nicolette, Cliff Forrest, Glen and Ron Zankey, Carl Shultz, and our hero- Rick Cuneo who was dating Jane Nicolette at the time and was headed off soon to Vietnam. Rick was an amazing athlete and every day after school, we all would play on the slanted, tight field which was the front yard of the Nicolette family. There we tested our athletic prowess every day with Rick proving to us all that he was the superior athlete much to the admiration of Jane as she watched the games. So, one day Rick goes off to Vietnam and we were a little shaken until we got a letter back from him stating that he was teaching surfing in Chu Lai which was a base on the ocean. Not too bad a duty for our star athlete. But Rick had prepared us for the annual challenge of the older kids from Woodland Road across the street from our neighborhood. Every Thanksgiving, we had the Toilet Bowl and the challenge was always paramount in the minds of all of us. The guys from across the street included the Rose brothers who skateboarded down a very steep Woodland Road on each other’s shoulders. They had a little screw loose which made them dangerous at bowl time. The Fisher brothers were good athletes and some of the other guys brought their friends who were freshman football players from Slippery Rock University. I remember clearly after all the trash talking, having a clear shot at the quarterback only to be knocked into the middle of next week by the pulling guard from SRU. As I sat dazed and confused, the plays went on and once again the boys of Richmond Circle were defeated by the Woodland Road gang. As we made our way back across Siebert Road, we were taunted by a couple of hoods- Buster Livingston and his sister. Both sported leather jackets and those cyclone fence climbing pointy shoes with the Cuban heels. They didn’t play but they made sure we knew they were badasses and that thier posse had beaten our posse.
The Toilet Bowl went on for a few years and then faded into the memory of all of us as we made our way to college.Thanksgiving football games are really popular and these days there are even official tournaments for Turkey Bowls and Toilet Bowls as we all prepare for the eating and the subsequent snoozefest that is the Thanksgiving feast. A lot of the games are a little too organized for me as I see these types of official tournaments, teams and leagues that are common among the youth of America. What happened to the old pickup games? Everybody today has to get a trophy, a uniform, and accolades from adoring parents and coaches. The old days of the pickup baseball games and football games seem to be fading like the setting sun. Some of that refining fire took place when you picked teams, learned how to take it if you were the last guy picked, got into scuffles, and played all day until your parents went crazy calling you home for dinner. Touch football in the neighborhood taught me how to take a hit, how to grin and bear it when you cut yourself and got stitches, and basically got clean fresh air until the time change forced the early ending of the neighborhood clashes on the Nicolette front lawn.Those guys from Woodland Road always got the best of us but we always were up for the challenge which taught us how to compete with older kids who relished taking their aggressions out on the younger guys from Richmond Circle. We gave them a run for their money one year after Rick returned from his tour of duty and they balked at his participaton. But all was fair when we brought Rick and they brought their testosterone heads from SRU to play. Even the hoods shut up on those days. Yes- the Toilet Bowl and the neighborhood games were another part of the molding of the 58 year old kid. I wouldn’t change a thing and I am happy the way that the refiner’s fire spit me out. Thanks for reading and get ready for the Bird. He is coming soon.