The Toilet Bowl

QCBFL_-_Snow_Game_2011_Vander_Veer_Park%2C_Davenport_IowaYou 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.

We’re just different – and that’s ok.

photophoto My dad is gone from this earth 12 years this month and my mom 8 years in April. But the picture you see above is of them in happier times at my sister’s wedding 30 years ago. The second picture is of my dad and the one and only Honus Wagner who was the Hall of Fame shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Honus did a lot of clinics for the neighborhood kids in and around Pittsburgh after his career came to a close and this is a prized picture of mine of my dad as a youth. He is the guy in the middle with the black curly hair. You will notice the other fellows have ball uniforms on and my dad was most likely wearing his dad’s old pants and shoes. You see, my dad was the “accident” and had to live upstairs with his Uncle Charley because my grandparents did not have any more room. My dad worked hard after school and on weekends at his father’s tire shop in Bellevue,Pa and he and his folks, and my mom and her folks, were all part of that “Greatest Generation” that Tom Brokaw refers to in his best selling book of the same name. My dad put himself through Carnegie Tech on the GI Bill and eventually married my mother and became quite successful. My folks were the consumate entertainers and loved to have people around the house. My mom was a fantastic cook and my dad helped her in every way he could. The best part of their marriage was that they put each other first. My sister and I were secondary even though they gave us every opportunity. They got us into skiing, swimming, tennis and golf, all of which have gone by the wayside with the exception of skiing which is still my passion. My dad loved golf and wore yellow pants with bumble bees on them to his club and was a bit taken aback at my baggy shorts and running shoes. But I was interested in other things……and that’s ok. I can clearly remember telling my mother about the harrowing weather and conditions at Tuckerman Ravine in New Hampshire. The climbing and skiing up there is epic and when I told her about it, she remarked,” Oh that’s nice dear- would you like some more potatoes?” Talk about busting your euphoric bubble! But she really couldn’t relate and that’s ok. I would tell them about running down Commonwealth Ave in Boston at the end of the Marathon to the screams of thousands and my dad would say, ” Gee that sounds terrific, can you help me with this porch furniture now?” They were not uninterested but they just could not relate. As much as I tried to interest them in my outdoor exploits, they would be polite and certainly be supportive but their next party or their next dinner with friends was paramount to any mountain stories I had for them. But……..that’s ok.

Fast forward, I got my son Jack up and skiing when he was 2+1/2. It was probably more for me than for him but Janet and I had him out on the slopes early. We also taught him to ride a bike, a mountain bike, play baseball, swim and all the other activites that correspond to an active young life. He gravitated to basketball which was totally foreign to me but we went along. He is now out of basketball and has other interests which are foreign to me. I am getting better at remembering how it was with my folks and to let him pursue his own interests and not mine. He is the stong willed one and I can clearly remember times when I would explain how I would do things and he would say in a matter of fact confident way that ” I am not like you dad.” My ego didn’t let that sit too well and I thought to myself,” Well maybe he better be a little more like me if he expects to get along in this world.” But as the months and days have gone by in his 18th year, I am realizing that…….he is different than me……and that’s ok. I wanted him to be a competitor and a star athlete like all parents but it was not in the cards. He marches to a different tune. We are in the college search right now and it will be interesting to see where he wants to go and not where Janet and I want him to go. Jack will make his way in life and I am sure he will be just fine. We are different people but I need to respect that just like my folks did with me. I remember my mom standing on the side of the road in the first North Park Triathlon and seeing me suffer on the road bike up Pidgeon Hill. She had that look like the Blessed Mother at the crucifixion but the suffering was not nearly the same and her expression looked as if I was headed for the boneyard. She would have rather seen me on the first tee with some really swank Lily pants. But that was not to be. I wish Jack could have continued with his basketball and been the star of the show at his school and his last year in AAU. But that was not to be. We are different and ……that’s ok. Acceptance is everything and even though you try to steer your children in the direction that you think they should go, it is not always the path that they would choose.

I am 15 months from turning 60. I don’t feel that old but the 58 year old kid still has some things to learn. Parenthood is a challenge especially in the teen years. But my wife is a solid partner and maybe I need to take a page from my parent’s book and concentrate more on Janet and me than be obsessed with the boy. Their marriage and how they got to their stage in life is a great story. We all can have that great story if we put the right things in priority and live and let live. Am I on a soapbox or the old guy on the stoop again? Sorry about that. Have a nice week and thanks for reading.

The Good Old Fashioned Work Ethic

photo I have a friend, Jeff Mihalsky who laughs at me and says,” McCloskey, sometimes when you are on a roll, you remind me of an old man coming out on his stoop in his bathrobe and yelling at the kids to get off his lawn.” Now at the risk of such accusations and probable half truth, I will temper what I have to say with that image in mind. Yes, I am taking a little breather from the skiing, cycling, and hiking commentary and giving a little social commentary on this post. I hope you don’t mind and for most of you, it will ring a little truth bell inside you.

One of the more interesting, zany, stories and experiences of the 58 year old kid has been raising a teenager. A lot of you who follow this blog have been down this rocky path and there a a lot who will face it in the near future but teenagers today can be challenging to say the least. My son Jack decided that his competitive basketball days are over and much to my chagrin, I have been fretting over this decision but realize that it is his life and no matter what time, effort, money,coaching and instruction his mother and I have put into this activity over the last 7 years, we must move on because this is no longer his passion. However…………we have insisted that if this is the case, he must look for employment over the summer to learn about earning a buck and not just getting $20.00 leaves from the proverbial endless money tree. To Jack’s credit, he got a job at Shenot’s Farm Market in Wexford and also moonlights as a sitter for the two young boys down the street. He is learning what it is like to work and that is very important to us as he marches his way towards college and life in the next year and a half.

I have always appreciated what work experience as a young guy has brought me in later life. I will never forget my first bonus from our backyard neighbor who presented me with a very professional letter at Christmas time with a $5.00 bill in it. He said that in the working world, great effort is rewarded at the end of the year by way of a bonus. I was thrilled and so were my parents that he would do this for mowing his lawn. I had 11 lawns in the neighborhood when I was 12. I also shoveled their driveways when it would snow. Not to sound like the old guy on the stoop but do you ever see that type of effort today in any of your neighborhood kids? We live in an entitled society, I am afraid, and a lot of what is given to young people today is expected and not really appreciated. That is it for the social commentary.

I went on to caddy and park cars at my dad’s golf club and also did stints in the kitchen. I learned a lot about people in the club setting and became real worldly when I caddied for a group of real good golfers who drank hard at the turn and told some pretty sordid stories out on the course. Needless to say, if I wanted a good tip I laughed and always made sure their balls were never out of bounds if you know what I mean. “Wow Mr. Sutherland, that ball is barely in bounds and you have a good lie!” My summers in college were spend as a laborer at St. Joe Paper Company in McKees Rocks and working all three shifts you saw all kinds of people and faced a lot of interesting situations in the labor environment. My son who is starting to pontificate about his working experience cannot match the times I spent with a long wire brush routing out boiler tubes in 120 degree heat. All of this was good for me in later life as I was comfortable in labor situations and making my way around manufacturing plants and mills. I like to think that working as a young guy prepared me to deal with all kinds of people from labor to management with respect and a good work ethic. This is the experience I hope that Jack enjoys as he makes his way through the working world of summer and after school employment. There is so much to learn if you pay attention.( I am still in the bathrobe a little bit.)

Take a look at the sign above. Shenot’s Farm Market- since 1854. This establishment was in business before the Civil War. I pointed this out to Jack on the first day of his employment and said to him that these are the types of people who work hard and are really successful. They could probably buy and sell most of the posers in the suburbs of Pittsburgh and most places for that matter. They presented him with a manual that said among other things that he was to treat the produce like eggs. The Shenots value each and every piece of fruit and vegetable that they sell and they count on the workers there to engage the customer with respect, befitting the ethic that they wish to project. I told Jack he will learn a lot if he keeps his eyes open and works hard. This is his first job seeing that sports have taken up most of his time up until now.

I have seen a change in Jack where he is becoming a little more responsible. When he has berry picking duty before 7:00 AM, he goes to bed early and makes sure we leave in time for him to begin bright and early. He seems enthused when he tells me that he learned something new that day. Whether it is running the cash register, bringing in the kale( his name badge says,”Jack- King of Kale”), or running with the truck to get watermelons and place them in the bins for the day. He seems to like it and it is a new adventure for him and getting that first paycheck was a proud moment for him. I am a firm believer in kids working. They have to learn like we all did that money doesn’t grow on trees and that you have to save some for a rainy day. Have I missed any popular sayings of the time? I don’t tell him that in my day I walked up hill to school both ways but I do tell him stories of my past that included summer jobs and college employment. Teenagers need direction and sometimes a summer job with responsibility is just the ticket.

My dad was a child of the Great Depression. The stories he told were amazing and life during the great war was never easy. I always admired my dad for his work ethic. His generation was extremely exemplary and I make sure that Jack knows the history of his Pop Pop and why he was such a good man. My Uncle Jack( my dad’s brother) was a B-24 pilot in WWII and flew 52 missions over the Anzio Beach head. He used to tell us that every day, the mechanics would patch up the flak holes in the body of his aircraft and send him back out again the next day. He was shot down over Burma,and spent a year in a Japanese Prisoner of War Camp. The British bombed the camp, he escaped and made it back to Bellevue,Pa. alive. When I was his age, I was looking for my next cheeseburger. Read Tom Brokaw’s book,” The Greatest Generation” to see what our parents and grandparents went through and how hard work honed their amazing successes in life. We all have or will raise teenagers. We were a teenager once and understand. But it is so important in my mind to make sure that our young people appreciate the value of hard work. We can’t support some of the current ideas of entitlement in this country. We are not built that way and our country was not founded that way. Help your kids and tell them of your experiences. They will relate when they have to ………..bring in the kale. Thanks for reading and time for me to get off the stoop.