Scrabble, The “JANITOR” Tale

scrabble tilesOn those occasions when I find myself in the company of Jeanne by the Herb River, Scrabble games often break out.  The board appears on the screen of her iPad, and the tiles are doled out in the flash of a byte.  I must admit that I miss the sensation of retrieving seven wooden tiles from a bag that has been shaken, not stirred. I’m very tactile!

We have our way of playing.  There is much needling and teasing as well as the occasional exasperated comment about the collection of vowels devoid of consonant companions or vice versa. One of our playing requirements will remain between her and me.  (Keep it clean, people!)

Last evening’s match was particularly daunting.  Early on in the game, I played the letters J-A-(blank)-I-T-O-R on top of the word MAZES with the A above the M.  The Blank tile standing in for an “N.”  Because of the placement of letters on score multiplying spaces, my “JANITOR” swept up a tidy 95 points after collecting the 50 point bonus for using all seven tiles in my electronic rack.  An insurmountable lead, right?

Wrong!  Down by more than 100 points early on in the game.  Jeanne began to masterfully navigate the board as I sat back on my ridiculous, comfortable lead.  “DELFT,” “AVOW,” and “FURRY” are but a few examples of how a well-placed tile can eviscerate a ridiculous point gap held by an overconfident speller working that part of the board that does not multiply the values of numbers.

By the time we were down to our last tiles, Jeanne had easily attained over 300 points, and I was not going to come close to clearing that hurdle.  She had administered a master class, and we had a lot of fun while she was doing it.  In the end, I was 22 points astern of my partner.

I can’t wait to play again.  It is things like this, shared, that make time with Jeanne stand still.  I know a word played between us each day.

Love Scrabble

 

 

Whamageddon

Author’s disclaimer: There is no link or blog trick that will play the song “Last Christmas” by Wham anywhere in this post.  I give you my word that, if you are still in the game, you are not taking a risk of being Whammed by reading this post.  I swear on my reproduction first edition of A Christmas Carol, so help me Dickens!

It all began when we saw Christmas appearing everywhere on November 1st.  The remnants of Halloween candy wrappers still played in the breeze on Musket Court when the sounds of Christmas music began to assault our ears.  It was more than I could deal with.  We were not even through the Thanksgiving holiday and Christmas was pushing in the door.

WHAMMy sons take part in an annual game that is lovingly referred to as “Whamageddon“.  It is an international sensation with a huge following.   (It must be legit if it has its own website and a Facebook page!) I am convinced this is an international attempt to hold off Christmas until mid-December, where it belongs. The concept is simple.  You do whatever you have to in order to avoid hearing the song, “Last Christmas” by Wham. That is not an easy thing to do if you are paying attention. The contest runs from 1- 24 December. Once you recognize the music as the original version by Wham, you are out.  You have gone to Whamhalla. You self report and you are done.  It is just a matter of time before those who you love join you.  Covers of the song don’t count!  It has to be the original, by Wham (George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley).

I was all in on November 30th as I boarded a flight to Savannah.  My first year in the competition and I was ready to go, my Wham senses on full alert.  On December 1st, the first day of the competition, Jeanne wanted to go get wreaths for her house and pick up her decorations from her storage unit.  We set out down the Harry S Truman Parkway with her “to do” list.  At the first Christmas Tree tent by the Home Depot, she ran into a friend and they started chatting.  I was lost in my thoughts and mindlessly humming the barely audible Christmas tune playing above the din of holiday shopping, tree selecting and parking space jousting nearby when, on the second verse, it hit me.

Once bitten and twice shy
I keep my distance
But you still catch my eye
Tell me, baby
Do you recognize me?

Yeah, I recognize you… Damn it! At just before 11 a.m., Eastern Standard Time in Savannah Georgia, I had been Whammed.  Done, out, game over.  I had made it barely eleven hours into the competition.  Jeanne apologized for putting me in Wham’s way with a sly grin on her face.  It was over almost before it started.  I texted the boys with the bad news.   I returned to Virginia a few days later knowing that I could listen to any station on my satellite radio without fear of a Wham induced incidence of road rage.

Alex, who initially thought he was eliminated over Thanksgiving weekend, actually was Whammed by Pearl Harbor Day when some Zeros from the 1980s took him out.  Within my Whamily (I stole that from Nancy) my sons Matt and Scott, Nancy (Matt’s wife) and my ex were still in it to win it.

Scott was powering through the home stretch of exams and papers for his final semester at Old Dominion University.  Because of this I was delaying decorating the house and getting a tree. Setting off the Christmas bomb, as we call it in our house.  With his last paper submitted and his final exams in the books on Friday, 14 December we decided to go get a tree.  Alex, Scott and I piled into my Cherokee to head out into a light mist to find a tree.  As I started the car, Scott immediately questioned my choice of Sirius stations.  It was on a contemporary Christmas Channel.  He glared at me and uttered one word, “REALLY?!” I pressed the button on the steering wheel and landed on the “’80s on 8”.  Another incredulous glare.   “And what song was released in 1986?” is all he had to say. (He knew the year of release, I’m impressed) OK, we may be just a little hardcore about this year’s competition.  Pressing the button on the wheel again to go to “’70s on 7”,  Wham does not exist in that universe. Unfortunately, Disco does. We were able to get in and out of the tree lot on South Battlefield Boulevard without having George Michael as the ghost of Christmas Past appear before us.

Let me say right here that to intentionally play “Last Christmas” (Whamming)  to take out a player or players is considered bad form.  Is it allowed? Yes.  Is it a dick move? Absolutely!  If you can no longer take the pressure of the game (I don’t understand the stress, I was collateral damage at a tree farm stand in Georgia barely into day one), you should commit Whamicide quietly, preferably on sound canceling headphones in the privacy of your own home.  No need to make a big spectacle of it.

On Saturday, December 15th, Scott graduated from ODU, Magna Cum Laude (Yeah, I did that, I just bragged about my son destroying my undergraduate GPA.  I am sorry, not sorry.)   The plan was to have a big family dinner, including my ex, on Sunday evening at The Butcher’s Son in Chesapeake to celebrate my son’s accomplishment.

Around the large round table, clockwise to my left were Scott, Melissa, Nancy, Matt, and Alex.  Somewhere in the lively conversation, between the french dip spring rolls and the main course, I polled those present as to their status in Whamaggedon.  Four hands went up indicated that they were still very much in the mix.  Everyone except for Alex and myself.  The conversation drifted back to Melissa’s new digs, and Matt & Nancy’s planned NYC run on the infamous Chinatown Bus later this week to see the Harry Potter exhibit at a museum in New York.  Under the sultry gaze of the over-sized portrait of Hedy Lamarr on the wall by the bar, we were having a grand old time.  Scott was enjoying himself, which made me a happy papa.

Dinner was served and by the time the plates were cleared, I was ready to declare this a  successful evening.   The waiter pressed once again about dessert and coffee.  Scott was wavering on cheesecake.  Melissa and Nancy were discussing teaming up on a creme brulee. It was settled.  A slice of cheesecake appeared before Scott with “Congratulations” written across the plate in a raspberry reduction.  The girls had their spoons at the ready for the assault on the confection before them.

It was the sudden movement that caught my attention.  Nancy straightened in her chair, shoulders back, eyes widening.  She looked at me, something was amiss.  I scanned the dining room, nothing out of place.  Hedy’s portrait still kept vigil.  Then it hit me, they had changed the music. What was that drifting over the din of diners at nearby tables? Nancy had joined me in Whamhalla.  This was too much fun!  I was about to witness a group whamming.

It doesn’t surprise me
(Merry Christmas!) I wrapped it up and sent it
With a note saying, “I love you, ” I meant it

Matt had it next. As he realized what he was listening to, his eyes grew wide, an expletive may have passed his lips.  That triggered Scott, dropping his fork.  Finally, Melissa realized that they had been taken out in one Whamtastic swipe of The Butcher’s Son sound system.  Groans, and complaints from all at the realization that all had found Whamhalla.  Except, apparently, from me.  According to a post on Facebook from Nancy, I had a good, heartfelt laugh as the realization washed over the table.   Matt and Alex confirmed that I was not shy about showing my enjoyment.  To be fair, Alex thought it was pretty funny.

I owned it and the check for the evening. It was great fun while it lasted.  A silver lining, as pointed out by the fair Nancy, there is no more stress from listening to Christmas Stations on the radio, walking into Harris Teeter, MacArthur Center or a random 7-Eleven.  If you hear the staccato electric organ lead-in or if you stumble on the YouTube channel you can rest assured that you are already impervious to Wham.

Now that this is all over I can settle down to watch a nice family Christmas movie.  Any takers for Die Hard?

Last Christmas 1

OK, in my youth I was weak for Kathy Hill, the girl in the video. Sue me!

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Flopping

I purchased my current mattress after the break up of my marriage.  It was not supposed to be my forever mattress, only my transition mattress.  After eight years and even more lumpy spots, it had to go!

After weeks of procrastination, I went shopping.  The first few stores were not doing it for me.  In each, I was met by a sales associate who appeared in front of me as if dropped by a pneumatic tube associate dispensing system activated by opening the door of the store.  With each salesperson came a big toothy grin and a clipboard with sale flyers, credit applications and, no doubt, a list of everything the manager wanted the staff to sell.  The associates in each store stayed in close formation, chatting me up, looking for personal details to bond with me so I would make a purchase, preferably on my new store credit card.  The only thing they needed to know was that I was shopping for a mattress, I was there to flop, lay still and sort through the selection on my back.

mattress

The last store was different.  I slipped into the vast showroom unnoticed by the staff.  Perhaps their pneumatic associate delivery tube system was down.  The last time I was here, the mattresses were way in the back of the building, so that is where I headed, weaving through the confusing galleries of bedrooms, dining rooms, leather recliners, and couches.  When I finally arrived in the back, I was dismayed to find the former mattress gallery full of beach house offerings.  “Wicker (shuddering), so much wicker!”

I plotted my escape from the store.  Did they stop selling mattresses?  To find that answer I would need to talk to an associate. No, it was better to locate a way out as stealthily as possible.

20180818_122327As I weaved my way out it happened, a desk caught my eye.   I wanted a new writing table. It had to be hardwood, at least 60 inches wide, and a close match for the furniture in my bedroom.  As I was examining it, a strange feeling came over me, perhaps a feeling a wildebeest experiences when they sense a lion, with a clipboard, sizing them up.  I moved away, picking my route through the maze of galleries, increasing my pace as I went. I was using my peripheral vision to track the predator associate as I moved ever closer to the front door.

I moved left and stumbled on the entrance to the mattress gallery.  I darted around a half wall and there, in front of me, a sea of mattresses.  I flopped on the first one.  Wow, not too firm, not too soft.  The lioness approached, but the half wall obstructed its view.  She moved off slowly. There were more wildebeest to be had.

I checked out the selection and returned to the first mattress I had tried during my escape.  We have a winner!  Now I need to find an associate.  They are never around when you need them!

This is a blog post written for a class, Blog Writing I, I am taking with Gotham Writers Workshop

My Kingdom for a Low Beam

Cherokee 001

I made an appointment for Saturday, 5 May 2018, at Southern Chrysler Jeep Greenbrier in Chesapeake to have a low beam replaced on my 2014 Jeep Cherokee. I was told, while making the appointment, to show up at 7 a.m., and they would get to it and get me out the door. I had another commitment on Saturday, so time was of the essence. (At this point, with this dealership, the thought “I should know better” crept into my mind)

I arrived at 6:45 a.m. and was the 4th car in line in the maintenance lane. The service advisor checked the Jeep in. I thought this was a straightforward job of changing out the low beam bulb on the right side. That is what I was here for, and that was all I wanted. A little over an hour later I was called to the service desk.  The service advisor informed me that the low beam was expensive, around $70 (In fact, it was $55). I must have had a curious expression on my face.  I needed the low beam, I was aware of the cost involved.  What I did not understand was why the bulb was not already installed or why I was standing here.  The job should have taken 15-20 minutes at the most.

The service representative then started telling me about the 23 point inspection completed on the car. Excuse me? I was here for a simple (I thought) bulb replacement. Why were they wasting my time doing a 23 point inspection? Was it just like the one they did on 21 April 2018 (2 weeks earlier) when I was in for an oil change and tire rotation? I had that report in my maintenance file, and there was nothing to cause concern. He then mumbled about brake fluid color and how much it would cost me to have the work done. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I came in for a BULB REPLACEMENT!   Was I missing something?  Southern Jeep seemingly was taking this opportunity to try to make a little more money off of me.

I asked how long it would take to change the bulb. I was told by the annoyed service rep who was failing to sell me on another service, that it would be another 30-45 minutes. And an hour for the brake fluid, one more attempt to up-sell me. After repeating that I did not want the brake fluid service, I asked the service desk to do only the work that I had scheduled. That work could have been completed by this point had they not wasted time on the inspection that I did not authorize.

Almost 40 minutes later I was called to the cashier to settle my bill and get my keys. The paperwork I was given did not include the inspection report. Next time it will be Autozone and a YouTube video. I will do it myself.

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2001 Cherokee Sport

I have owned three Jeeps over the years.  My first was a 1988 Cherokee. I had to give that up in 1994 when I transferred to Japan.  My second was a 2001 Cherokee Sport that I put over 270,000 miles on before buying my current ride in 2014.  The first two Jeeps ran reliably and only needed standard maintenance, brakes, and tires. I loved both of those Cherokees.  In fact, I regret selling the 2001 Jeep after buying the 2014 version.  My current Cherokee had 11 factory recalls in the first few years, ranging from computer updates to wiring harnesses. I also have had to replace a bad alternator and battery and had performance issues with the 9-speed automatic transmission.  Compared to the performance of my first two Jeeps, it has been a disappointment   I may have purchased my last Jeep product.

Southern Chrysler Jeep Greenbrier continues to set the customer service bar low and then fails to reach it.

 

The Cat, My Nemesis

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Misty

We are rivals for the affection and attention of the same woman. That is where our commonality ends.  I am not a “cat person.”  My feline aversion has everything to do with allergy and very little with to do with animosity.  I think Misty, the cat, somehow knows this and is using it to her own advantage.

It all started a few years ago when I visited Jeanne on Dutch Island for the first time.  I knew I had an allergy to cats and I knew she had a cat in her house. It is her daughter’s pet. I figured that I would just avoid contact with the cat and all would be fine.  Besides, Jeanne is a doctor and would be able to head off any ill effects if they popped up.  What could possibly go wrong?

During the second day of the trip, I started sneezing and feeling a little itchy. But I was cool about it.  The crush I had on this woman all those years ago was manifesting itself into something more significant, and I was trying to avoid complaints or whines about the cat. That evening we were in her kitchen preparing dinner.  I was sitting at the counter while she was prepping something on the granite surface near the sink with her back to me.  The cat was surreptitiously perched on the stool next to me, presenting herself to be petted and looking annoyed that I had not already commenced that activity.  As the conversation progressed, Jeanne turned around. The look on her face changed immediately when she glanced at me. “OH, DEAR GOD!”  The shocked look and sudden exclamation were not exactly what I was going for in the “wooing my dear friend” plan.  In the few moments that it took for Jeanne to finish the task in front of her and then turn back to me, my face had swollen to the point where my left eye was almost completely shut.

What followed was a bit of a blur.  A search for Benadryl, checking drawers for allergy remedies, mutterings of “I am a doctor, and I have nothing to help you in the house.”  I was getting a little loopy.   We hopped in a car and went to the store for allergy meds. It was about 10 p.m. on a Saturday evening as we pulled into the Walmart parking lot. The sideshow that can happen at a Walmart anywhere in the U.S. was in full swing in Savannah.  I realized that my swollen face was a part of the act.

Now, when I prep for a visit to Savannah, I start popping Claritin D like M&Ms for a week before I go.  An uneasy truce between Misty and I exists, but not without the occasional reminder that while I am on Dutch Island visiting with Jeanne, I am in Misty’s world.  I avoid contact with her because not doing so will lead to hives on my forearms, watery eyes and an increase in the frequency of sneezing fits.

DSCN2264When I arrive, you can almost sense that the cat is looking at me and thinking “Back for more, little man?”.  She still presents herself to be petted.  I always ignore her.  She sometimes pays me back for the slight by nipping at me.  While I am there, Jeanne will close the cat out of the bedrooms. Those rooms are Misty’s favorite place to sleep at night after napping all day.  My nemesis does not appreciate the appropriation of sleeping spots by the interloper from Virginia.

If I am up early in the morning to walk Bella, Jeanne’s Vizsla, Misty will be waiting for me when I am done with the dog.  Mewing like she has not been fed in days she will follow me around, rubbing against my legs until I make my way to the kitchen to feed her.  If I am wearing shorts in warm weather, I am dancing to get out of the way of the feline contact.  Once her dish is full, she will harass me for treats.

Book

I laugh at your literature!

She has stepped up her campaign to get me out of the house and ensure she has access to her favorite sleeping haunts.  She will walk across the keyboard on my laptop or just lay upon it staring at me as random letters rush across the screen.  She seems to be almost taunting me to pick her up and move her off.  She will rub all over my computer bag, lay on my coat.  At Christmas, she seemed to be ridiculing me by using a book on cat training as a pillow. It was a gift for Jeanne.

While sitting with Jeanne watching TV, Misty has been known to walk across the back of the sofa and start forcefully rubbing her head on the back and top of my head.  I do so love hives on my scalp!

I have been told that the allergy may resolve itself over time with more exposure to the cat.  I think, if Misty had a vote, I would have been dispatched from my intrusions into her world long before any allergy was overcome.

IMG_4637On the last two trips, she has violated our truce by urinating first near and then on my shoes after I came back from walking the dog. A small rivulet creeping away from the stain on top of the slip-on and running along the grout in the front hall tile. Nearby, she sat on the stairs, cleaning her fur and occasionally glancing in my direction.  I think she is throwing down the gauntlet.  I have challenged Misty to a final battle in the marsh along the Herb River behind Jeanne’s house.  It is still in doubt which one of us would emerge victorious after such a clash.

For now, I will start the Claritin D a week before heading to Savannah.  I will continue to avoid direct contact with Misty, as far as I am able.  Shoes or anything else I bring along with me will not be left out to be insulted by my catty antagonist.  I can only wonder what Misty has in store for me on my next trip south.  I know she is waiting for me.

cropped demon cat

Rivulet

Finding Modoc Stash or How I Detoured Three Hours For an Old Geocache

Before I tell you my story, I should take a moment and explain that I am a Geocacher.  Geocaching is a hobby in which people use multimillion-dollar satellites to find Tupperware in the woods. That may be a flip oversimplification. A little more of a concise definition for Geocaching may be: hunting for and finding a hidden container, location, or event using GPS coordinates posted on a website. There are over 3 million Geocaches hidden, worldwide.  There are apps that you can use depending on what kind of phone you have. I use a Garman Oregon 450T, handheld GPS for most of my Geocaching trips.

GPSThe hobby became possible May 2, 2000, when the government turned off “Selected Availability” from the geospatial constellation of satellites that enable the Global Positioning System (GPS) to function.  On that May day, civilian use of those satellites became 10X more effective.  On 3 May the first “GeoStash” was hidden in Oregon to test the accuracy of the newly released satellite capability.

If you are not familiar with Geocaching, you can watch a quick Geocaching 101 video.

Now that you are caught up, I will tell you about my adventure.

I had planned a weekend trip to Savannah to see Jeanne in early April.  The weather has been a little crazy since March with some unseasonably cold weather; I was looking forward to a  warmer climate and some quality time with Jeanne.  I had taken a day off on Friday the 13th and planned to drive south.  Jeanne was going to be working; my goal was to arrive in Savannah for dinner.

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National Forest Map, South Carolina

While planning my trip, I was looking to see if there were any challenging Geocaches along the way to break up the seven-hour drive.  I have had my eye on the oldest cache in the State of South Carolina.  Modoc Stash (GCF4) was placed in December 2000 in the Sumter National Forest.  I have thought about coming here before but have had to change plans because of weather, hunting season or a lack of time.   The other issue is that an attempt to find this Geocache would take me over 135 miles out of my way, roughly a three-hour detour off my usual run to Savannah.

Why would a reasonably intelligent man drive 135 miles out of his way to find an ammo can in the woods? If you don’t have the Geocaching bug, you may not get it.  There were several draws for this hike.  First, it is a Y2K hide.  There are less than 175 of the original caches hidden in 2000 still active worldwide. On top of that, it is one of the rare remaining Y2K caches with a four place alphanumeric serial number.  Second, it helps me fill in some challenges.  I add a new county (McCormick) in South Carolina, fill in a new page for the South Carolina DeLorme Challenge (Page 42). This find qualified me for the April 2018 GeoChallenge of the Month.  Yes, I am a geek.

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The Trailhead along South Carolina Route 23

I left my house in Chesapeake just after 7 a.m. and began the trek south and west.  When I came upon the I-95/I-20 interchange in Florence, South Carolina, I went west on I-20 and started the detour hoping to get past Columbia, South Carolina’s Capitol, before Friday afternoon traffic became problematic.  Just after 3 p.m., I exited I-20 west of Aiken and worked my way along country highways until I arrived at the trailhead.   There is parking at this location and a geocache, Modoc Trailhead (GC7B2YZ),  is very close to the parking area.

I had a backpack with me with water, a couple of Kind bars, and some of my usual Geocaching gear.  I also had a walking stick. I usually do not use the Geocaching app on my iPhone for hikes like this one.  Instead, I had loaded my Garmin Oregon 450T with the coordinates for the caches along the trail.   I had the trailhead marked with the first cache that I mentioned in the previous paragraph, another along the path and finally the goal for the day, Modoc Stash.

I have some recommendations for this hike.  First, sturdy hiking boots.  Flip flops or sandals are not going to cut it on this trail.  Second, be aware of your surroundings.  This trail is shared with mountain bikers. You will want to keep a lookout for them.  There is also wildlife in the national forest.  There are over 48 species of mammals including bears, bobcats, beaver, and deer as well as a variety of venomous and non-venomous IMG_4623snakes. Finally, you need to stick to the trail until you get within about 200 feet of the cache location.  At the parking area, you will be about 1/3 of a mile from the target geocache.  That is a straight line reading.  You will not be able to do a straight line land navigation quickly.  Stick to the trail.  I know that switchbacks are a pain, but there are a few elevation changes and water obstacles to cross. Two of those water obstacles do not have bridges.  They are not difficult to handle. If you stick to the trail you will come on a geocache, Eclipsed in the Forest (GC7B2ZG), about halfway to Modoc Stash.  The hike to the old geocache is about 1.1 miles. One last point, I marked a waypoint where my Jeep was parked.  While I used the trail markings, I like to know the distance to the car on the way out.

stevens creek
Stevens Creek

 

water crossing Modo

The first crossing point

 

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Modoc Stash in hand!

The hike was fun.  Early spring in South Carolina with the trees budding and some species of wildflowers in bloom is lovely. If you are interested in birds, there is no shortage of variety from songbirds to the big raptors and wild turkey.  The cool temps, in the low 60s, with a breeze kept the bugs to a minimum.  Once I was within 200 feet of the cache location, left the trail to head to “ground zero.”  Going off trail here is not a difficult bushwhack.  Once I was within 20 feet, I switched from my handheld GPS to my eyes and my “geosenses.”  Within a minute of getting to the general area, I had the ammo can in my hand. I traded some trackable items and signed the log.  It was time to head back to the Jeep and get back on the road to Savannah.

 

 

IMG_4635

The trail on the hike out.

 

I took a little over an hour to complete the hike and find three Geocaches.  I actually had a strong signal on my iPhone that enabled me to do a preliminary log for all the caches and document the trackable items exchanged at the old cache.

From the trailhead parking area, it took about three hours to complete the trip to Savannah.  I was at my destination around 7:30 p.m. in time to get cleaned up and go out for dinner.

The next Geocaching road trip for me will be to collect a group of Y2K Geocaches in northeast Georgia.  One will require a boat to get me out to an island in Lake Lanier.  A friend of mine completed that grouping a couple of weeks ago.  That trip will have to be more than just a detour on the way to Savannah! Perhaps I can convince Jeanne to partake in a little Geocaching adventure with me.

Click here if you would like more information the trails in the Sumter National Forest.

Partake

 

The War At Home

My daily routine during the work week is pretty well established. I commute 22 miles from my home in Chesapeake, Virginia to my office on a Navy installation in Norfolk. I occasionally vary my route because of traffic reports or time of day to avoid congestion. If you are familiar with this part of the country, you will know traffic can be a challenge. Because of the river systems feeding the estuary that is the Chesapeake Bay, people around here are doomed to deal with a system of bridges, tunnels, and bridge-tunnels. Bottlenecks abound!

While I am maneuvering my ride along Hampton Boulevard in Norfolk as I approach the bridge over the Lafayette River, I stay focused on what is ahead of me and what is overtaking me from behind. I don’t notice the scenery or anything off the road if it does not have an impact on traffic. As a result, I am not aware of changes in neighborhoods, especially when it comes to the installation of art on public land.

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Larchmont Branch Library, Norfolk

On a Sunday morning, not too long ago, I was out indulging a hobby of mine. A friend with the same hobby pointed me in the direction of a new art installation around the Larchmont Branch Library in Norfolk. Located south of the bridge over the Lafayette River on Hampton Boulevard, it is a place I pass almost every day. Because it was early in the morning, no one was around, and the rising sun was casting long shadows on that brisk morning.

What I found was an installation of steel plates standing upright on bases positioned on the west and north sides of the library. On each one of those plates, an outline of a veteran was cut out. These were not random cutouts; the veterans represented here are among those who have committed suicide. The installation is called “The War at Home“.IMG_4450 (2)Mission 22, a veterans organization dedicated to combating veteran suicide is responsible for the installation of these memorial plates. Each is an outline of a specific veteran, a dog tag with the name of the lost veteran is placed at the bottom of each plate.

A plaque by the installation states:

This memorial is meant to remind us of our loss, to amend the past, honor the present and prevent this from happening in the future.

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On average, 22 Veterans take their own life each day. That is 22 too many. According to the Mission 22 website, “These memorials remind us of the sacrifice, honor those we’ve lost, and help tie civilian to soldier.” They want to thwart the epidemic of suicide.

The War at Home is a “temporary” installation. If you live in Norfolk or plan on visiting, I would recommend you come down and walk among the plates, among the lost. Over the last 15 years, we have asked a great deal of our volunteer force. They have been going into harm’s way more so than any other generation in American history. Perhaps installations such as this will serve as a reminder that more must be done to engage veterans and help them to live. Mission 22 is looking to find permanent homes for these installations.

If you want to help or get more information, I invite you to go to the Mission 22 website.

Like those steel plates, our nation is weaker because of what is missing.

 

Thwart

Parking Garage Photo Collection

I am absent-minded when I park my ride.  If I am heading to the airport, hospital, shopping mall, or a work location to give a presentation I usually space out where I left my wheels.  It is actually a little embarrassing.

I have had enough of walking through parking lots or garages with my hand in the air pushing the lock button and waiting for the horn to sound. Sometimes I end up hitting the panic button and waiting for the full cacophony of headlights and horns and discover that I am on the wrong level.  That leads me to my next mystery, did the sound come from the level above or the level below? I am hoping that someone reading this post is thinking “Oh yeah, I have done that!”

I have begun using the camera on my iPhone to record where I have left my Jeep.   This usually means that the clue to the location of my car is just a few swipes away in the picture folder on my phone. An example to the left is of the long-term parking garage at the Norfolk International Airport.  I snapped that on my last business trip out to San Antonio.  That was only an overnight trip, and I had to pull out the phone at baggage claim to remind me where I had left the Jeep the previous morning. (The airline made me check my small suitcase because the overhead compartments were almost nonexistent on the flight from Charlotte to Norfolk.)

On Friday, 22 December, I had an appointment at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth in Virginia.  I arrived to find the communal garage pretty full, even for the Friday before Christmas.

After circling the first and second levels for a few minutes, I finally found someone pulling out of a spot.  Once in the parking space, I mindlessly pulled out my phone and snapped a photo of the closest location sign to where my Jeep sat waiting for me. I heard a small laugh behind me.  When I turned around a woman, walking in the same direction as I, looked at me and smiled. I was busted getting my photographic waypoint before heading for my outpatient procedure.  “That is actually a good idea,” she said.  We chatted as we headed to the elevator about the joys of the times when we had not remembered where we parked.  It is easy enough to do in some of the larger parking lots or multiple story parking structures that have become ubiquitous in modern life.

As I waited for orthopedics to see me, I scrolled through my phone and found about two dozen shots of parking lot location signs from all over the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.  There are also shots of street signs and neighborhood streets in Savannah and Washington, D.C. where I have found on street parking.

You may think that I am a forgetful middle-aged man who is overly reliant on a photographic prompt to find my car.  But next time you are wandering from row to row trying to find your wheels in stormy weather or dragging luggage behind you, I will be making a beeline for my Jeep, currently parked on Level 3, Aisle D.  Safe travels, my friends!


Communal

Brooklyn Tour

It was my youngest sister’s idea. In recognition of our parents’ 60 years of marriage, we would return to where it all started. Brooklyn! The plan was pretty simple, Mom and Dad would come down from their home in Massachusetts with my sister and meet up with the rest of their children in Brooklyn. I cannot remember the last time we (Mom, Dad, and all six children) were together without spouses and grandchildren in tow.

We booked rooms at the Brooklyn Marriott and used that as our starting point for our tour.  My brother had arranged for a tour guide from Brooklyn Unplugged and a large luxury van to take us on a four-hour tour of the significant locations in my parents’ lives. Our tour guide was Jeff Stirewalt, and our van driver was a gentleman named Tito.

IMG_4002We boarded the van in front of the Marriott at 1 p.m. Our first location was the house on Dean Street in the Boerum Hill neighborhood that was the center of my mother’s family for generations.   As we stopped along the street, we, noticed the door open and an arborist coming out of the venerable old brownstone with the owner of the home.  My sister jumped out of the van and introduced herself to the owners, Bob and Carol.  As it turns out, they had purchased it from my great-uncle in IMG_39771989.  To our surprise and delight, they invited us into the house for a quick look around. The house has been restored over the years, but the architectural details, many of the light fixtures and some remnants of my mother’s family remained.   Our hosts talked to us for around 20 minutes.  We were even invited up to the third floor where my great uncle’s study had been converted to closet space for the front and back bedrooms.  It was in this room where my great-uncle had painted a map of a large section of Brooklyn with the Fire Department of New York firehouses, call boxes and equipment. When the closet renovation was done, the new owner could not bring himself to paint over the sections of the map that survived.

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Brooklyn Fire Map painted by my Great Uncle, Edward A. O’Connell

 

After speaking with the owners and reminiscing about our eccentric great-uncle, we offered our appreciation for their incredibly generous invitation to glimpse the house.  We left Boerum Hill and headed to Red Hook, the neighborhood where my father lived as a child. While this part of Brooklyn had gone through a dramatic transformation from the turn of the twentieth century when it was predominantly populated by Irish and Italian immigrants to a mostly Cuban and Dominican neighborhood, some of the places from his childhood remained.  The most emotional location was Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, my father’s family parish when he was a child. (Visitation is located at 98 Richards Street at Verona Street)

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Dad, as a Visitation altar boy, front row, center

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Visitation of the Blessed Virginia Mary, Red Hook, Brooklyn

48.visitation.church-506x380There was a social going on the in the yard next to the church when we pulled up.  The front door was open, so we got out of the van and went inside.  While we were inside the darkened church, a woman from the social came in and asked if she could assist us.   I told her that my father’s family had been members of the parish and that he was an altar boy here in 1940.  A smile came across her face, and she immediately offered to light up the church and illuminate the fresco behind the altar. Tears came to his eyes as he took in the sights of this grand old Gothic church.  I am sure memories of both his parents’ families came to the forefront of his consciousness.

We loaded back into the van and headed to Coney Island to the place where my parents met as summer camp counselors for the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO).  I would be remiss if I did not mention our driver, Tito.  He handled that Mercedes Van like he was in a car modified for drifting.  He maneuvered us around Brooklyn as if he was on rails, narrowly missing cars in traffic, pulling U-turns on city streets and squeezing into tight spaces with remarkable ease. His handling of traffic on the Belt Parkway was NASCAR worthy! He was able to turn the transits between stops into a thrill ride. Every time we loaded into the van after a stop I made sure Mom was buckled in.  As we traveled from stop to stop our tour guide, Jeff, filled in with facts about Brooklyn.  My parents, of course,  corrected him a few times! (I know my father is reading this so I will admit to chiming in a few times as well.)  While we were on the Belt Parkway the subject of beer came up, followed by an impressive display of classic beer jingle singing by my brother, Bob, who belted out the tunes for Rheingold, Schaefer and Ballentine Beers, respectively! We were all having a grand time.

Once we made it to Coney Island, we offloaded at the West 28th Street ramp to the boardwalk at Coney Island, this is the place where my parents met and got to know each other while they were working at CYO.

 

Lunch had to be at Nathan’s!  Tito somehow parked right in front of the restaurant.

 

My parents were full of stories about taking their summer camp charges to the pool and to the beach. Stories of their own adventures on the Cyclone, which turned 90 years old the day after we visited.  You could almost see the memories in their eyes as they took in the sights and sounds around them that day.

 

From Coney Island, we traveled to the neighborhood that I remember, Park Slope.  This is the area where my mother grew up in the big limestone on 4th Street, my father lived in an apartment on 9th street with his family, and I grew up in a brownstone down the street from my maternal grandmother.

 

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Liz knocking on the door on 4th Street

Tito, our driver, was able to park the van across the street from the house I grew up in on 4th street.  My youngest sister jumped out of the van and up the stoop to the front door of the brownstone.  Ringing the bell brought the current owner to the door.  I have no idea what she must have thought when she saw the group gathering on the sidewalk.  Liz asked for permission to take a group photo on the stoop.  Isabel surprised us all by inviting us in for a quick look at the house. Amazingly, for the second time today, we were entering into a house that was important to our family, welcomed by people who did not know us but were quick to offer a kind invitation to revisit memories.

 

We finally did get the photo on the stoop as we departed for our last official stop.

 

Tito dropped us at our final tour stop, St. Saviour Church on 8th Avenue. My parents were married here in June 1957.  This is the parish to which both sides of my family belonged in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.  It is the parish where my mother went to high school and where I went to elementary school.  My father and older brother sang in the choir here.  At the end of my choir audition when I was a child, the choir master looked at me and announced that they were also looking for altar boys. He pointed me to the front of the church.  This was the center of parochial life for the family.

 

We arrived at the church in time for five o’clock mass, which we had arranged to be said for my parents.  My parents seemed to be deeply moved by the service.  It had been over 40 years since the last time we sat as a family in this church.

Once mass was concluded, and my parents had spoken with the priest on the steps of the church, we made our way to the Stone Park Cafe for dinner.  Seated at a large round table at the front of the restaurant, we enjoyed a meal while talking about our adventure that day and sharing stories.  We could not believe how lucky were to have Bob and Carrol invite us into their house on Dean Street and Isabel welcome us into the brownstone that was our home on 4th Street.  Mom and Dad were ready to call it quits after dinner, so we made our way back to the hotel.  Once we bid them goodnight, the “children” headed for a nearby tequila bar.

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Around midnight, June 24, 2017

After a few drinks, someone came up with the idea to walk up onto the Brooklyn Bridge to check out the skyline.  We had been game for anything all day, so why not?  We ended up on the Brooklyn tower at midnight, taking in the sights of the New York skyline.

While looking at lower Manhattan, I had to wonder how many more times we would be together.  Was this the last time we would be in Brooklyn as a group?  Given how widely scattered we are from Massachusetts to southern Virginia I am afraid I know the answer to that question.  As we packed up the cars on Sunday morning, my brother handed off two big boxes of old photos and slides from my father for me to sort, scan and catalog.  I am sure that will keep me busy through the summer.  After saying our goodbyes, I started my trek south to Virginia.  While the family had moved out of the city years ago, I could not help but think at this moment we had left Brooklyn for good.

 

It was a fantastic day for my parents and my siblings.   It was a celebration of Regina Kelly and Jerry Baumann on the occasion of their 60th wedding anniversary.  It was a day I will not soon forget.

I want to thank my sister, Liz, for coming up with this idea and bringing my parents down from coastal Massachusetts.  My brother James for arranging the tour and the guide. My sister, Cathy, for finding a fantastic restaurant. My sister, Eileen, for finding parking in Park Slope and staging a car to get my parents back to the hotel after dinner.  I also want to thank Bob, the oldest of the siblings, for capturing the day with his camera and his encyclopedic knowledge of 1960 beer jingles.

For Bob and Carol on Dean Street and Isabel on 4th Street, your own kind invitations to come into your homes was astounding and much appreciated.  I think I speak for all of us in saying that going into the houses again was the biggest thrill of the day. From me,  from my family, thank you so very much!

Thanks to Jeff, our guide, and Tito, our driver, from Brooklyn Unplugged for an incredible afternoon!

 

 

A man with an umbrella is king in a downpour

May in the low country of South Carolina is subject to rapid changes in weather.  On this particular Saturday, I was attending the morning Commencement Ceremonies at the College of Charleston.  With scattered heavy showers in the morning, the event was moved inside to protect student, faculty, family, and friends from the potential of severe weather.  After the event, we were off to the condo on Kiawah Island for lunch and gifts for the graduate, the daughter of my dear friend.

After lunch, I was heading to the elevator with a full trash bag and my umbrella.  As the door opened to the elevator, a gentleman and two women were already aboard heading down.  They were impeccably dressed.  The gentleman was admiring my big, ratty umbrella. He jokingly offered to buy it from me.   I let him know the trash bag was negotiable, but the umbrella was going to stay with me.  I would, however, be happy to walk everyone in his party to their vehicle under cover of my ancient canopy.  He smiled and thanked me and said they were going to wait for a shuttle to take them to the location of a late afternoon wedding nearby.  I hopped off the elevator to head to the dumpster to relieve myself of the trash bag.  When I came back to the front of the building, there were about a dozen people standing under cover in semi-formal attire.

Their shuttle arrived in front of the building.  I started ferrying people down the steps and around the ponding water on the sidewalk that led to the shuttle.  I started with an elderly woman with a great sense of humor and her daughter. She asked me for my name and thanked me for assisting her.  I then followed with some of the other women in the party and a final walk through the downpour with two younger men.

I was soaked by the time I was done, and the shuttle pulled away to the wedding.   I thought it was pretty funny that these folks, none of whom I had met before, were so appreciative of the simple kind gesture of providing cover to keep them dry so they would be comfortable at the ceremony about to take place.  It cost me nothing but damp clothes to keep them mostly dry.

A casualty of all the divisiveness and tension in the country over the past year is civility.  My parents and my grandmother taught me manners as a child in the 1960’s. In today’s world, I think we would all be better off if we offered a kindness to someone who could really use it.  I know that ferrying people under my bumpershoot will not end the unpleasantness that is running rampant.  It is not going to solve climate change or bring world peace.  But maybe it will improve someone’s day or experience, and perhaps that spirit of kindness will manifest itself in a kind act paid forward by one of the passengers under my umbrella.

It can’t hurt.

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