The Inside Joke!

Humor is a wonderful gift. Being able to laugh and laugh often is essential to one’s well being. Laughter comes in all forms. Comedians, movies, books, are all ways to experience and appreciate humor. There is one form of humor that is particularly special, and that is the inside joke. It is a moment or occurrence that takes place among a select few, and those instances not only serve as a vehicle for laughter but as a source for great stories, and a common thread that binds those people for life.

I was on a trip to the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament in Detroit. We were at the hotel bar when one of my friends, named Bill, ordered a Corona. Rather than let him enjoy his beer I felt the need to educate him. In my role as a banker I had financed some breweries in the past and wanted to share my vast knowledge. I proceeded to explain that beer is best when it is served as fresh as possible, is not exposed to light, and was not subject to changes in temperature. I pointed out that Corona came in a clear bottle, was imported and shipped warm, thus making it older in terms of shelf life, and that it ranked low in consumption it it’s home country of Mexico. I finished by saying that it’s popularity was directly due to shrewd marketing. Even the lime wedge used in the ads was misleading in my opinion. Because of harsh water people south of our border would use citrus to disinfect the edge of the can or lip of the bottle.

Bill took it all in. When the waiter came back around to take orders my pal looked  up and without batting an eyelash said firmly “I’ll have a Corona.” Of course the whole table howled and from that point on Corona became a rallying cry.

Recently I accepted a job at a new bank that was a great opportunity for me. As part of the orientation process I went to the community where the bank was founded and visited with our Chief Executive Officer, a man I knew fairly well. Upon entering his home he greeted me warmly and asked if I would like a beer. Stating the affirmative I followed him to the kitchen where he opened his refrigerator and said in a joyful voice “How about a Corona?” Of course my friends on the inside got a huge laugh out of that one. The fact that my CEO’s name is Bill also made it even funnier.

On another Final Four Trip, this one in Indianapolis, we were having dinner at an iconic steak house in town called St. Elmo’s. Myself and my close friend Jay agreed to pick up the check. Our same friend Bill, (Mr. Corona), selected the wine. The wine he selected, Silver Oak, was not cheap. When Jay and I saw the final bill I got a little faint but we laughed about it too. Bill tried in vain to pay but we insisted on covering the tab. A few months later Jay invited me to dinner with some friends of his. He was the host but gave me the wine list. With as straight a face as I could muster I looked at him and said “How do you feel about Silver Oak?” To his credit he ordered it! Of course only he and I got that joke, and he got the bill! By the way if you like wine you should try Silver Oak as it is extremely good!

A few years ago my friend  Gary and I were having a beer at a New Orleans bar called The Mayfair. The Mayfair is very cozy and he and I were seated next to the pool table. A rather shaggy looking guy playing pool kept glancing at us and smiling. Finally he spoke. He said it gave him great pleasure to see a father and son out drinking together. Now my buddy is only three years older than me but he was already sporting a full head of gray hair. I almost spit my beer up laughing while Gary slumped in his chair. Composing himself my pal responded by saying “I would have been less offended if he had said I looked like a steaming pile of pig S&#@!” Of course from then on he was Dad to me and I was Son to him.

Once a month a group of us get together to play poker. The games are low stakes and range from Bourre’, a Cajun card game, to more traditional games like seven card no peek, seven card stud, and variations of those games with wild cards. Generally everyone takes turns shuffling the cards, except me. A neck surgery I had a few years ago left me with some dexterity issues in my left hand. After watching me shuffle cards just once I was relieved of that duty and renamed the Claw. Only our group gets it when someone raises their hand in clutched fashion. The bright side is I don’t have to shuffle cards now.

Of course if you must know I am holding back some of my best stories. After all what is the value of an inside joke if you blog about it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We Are Not Alone!

I have a very close friend who believes in UFO’s. While he has strong opinions on most everything I find this belief compelling because he has the courage to aver this publicly. I think all of us believe that given the size of the universe there has to be life out there somewhere. But my friend is absolutely certain of it and one night he tried to prove it.

Once a month I play small stakes poker with a group of friends. The ante is twenty bucks and a large raise is a dollar. We eat, drink, listen to music, watch television, and play cards. We meet in a fabricated “Club House” behind a business one of our group owns. It’s a typical boys night out. But not this night.

My friend who is convinced that we are not alone stepped outside to get some fresh air. He had folded his hand so the rest of us were still playing. Suddenly he reappeared, calm but with a glint in his eyes. “I just saw a slow moving object in the sky with red and blue flashing lights.” he said in a matter of fact tone. Then he went back outside.

We all turned to each other. Cards could wait. This was our chance to make first contact. We got up and ventured outside. As we went into the open air our friend was looking up  into the night sky staring at….the night sky. No red lights. No blue lights. No aircraft. Nothing.

He explained that in the time it had taken him to come tell us about the sighting the UFO had disappeared. It was too slow moving to have been a conventional aircraft but must have accelerated away.

Now my friend is a trained geologist and our whole group is well educated. We have a lawyer, CPA, banker, car dealer, petroleum land man, and a corporate sales executive. So it was only natural that observations would be made. But one question burned brightly. Why would a UFO visit a Shreveport Louisiana Auto Mall?

Me: “We are real close to Barksdale Air Force Base. They would have had to pick it up on radar. Where are the intercept jets?”

Our Friend: “They are probably coming right now!”

Landman: “There are no more jets at Barksdale. They were moved. They just have the big bombers.”

Our Friend: ‘They have jets! I have seen them come in on approach.”

CPA: “Maybe they are just refueling or there for repairs.”

Our Friend: ” Then that means they have jets!”

Lawyer: ” I don’t know why a UFO would come to the Shreveport Auto Mall? Maybe they want to steal a Toyota Prius and learn about our Hybrid technology?”

Me: ” Maybe we are being invaded! Like in the movie Red Dawn!”

Lawyer: ” I rented the Red Dawn remake on NetFlix. It was awful!”

Me: “The remake?” It never even made it to theaters! How bad was it?”

Lawyer: ” The new Red Dawn made the old Red Dawn look like Schindler’s List!”

In the mean time no UFO reappeared. We all went back inside but my friend remained undaunted, and honestly I think that is admirable. I’m not sure what he saw out there but in the face of unbridled sarcasm he stood tall and never wavered. He says he wants to go with them when they come back. That would be quite an adventure. My friend could teach them to play poker. But I would urge against watching the Red Dawn remake on the in flight movie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WHO DAT! ALL TIME!

On November 1st, 1966 New Orleans, Louisiana received an expansion franchise in the National Football League. It was All Saints Day so our new team was called, naturally, the Saints. I was seven years old, and a love affair was born.

Those first twenty years was a trek through the wilderness. Losing seasons and national ridicule was our onus. We couldn’t even make the playoffs yet alone win a playoff game. But after Tom Benson, a native New Orleanian who made his fortune in the automobile business in San Antonio, bought the team all of that changed.

Since Benson became the owner with a few minor exceptions, the years under Mike Ditka and right after Katrina, the Saints have been a solid and often elite franchise. When they won the Super Bowl in 2009 all the pain of those early years was erased.

Now in 2014 I find myself reflecting on all those Saints teams and the men who wore the Black and Gold. So I decided to come up with my all time team. It may spark some debate, but that is fine with me.

SPECIALISTS

Punter: Thomas Morestead

The Saints have actually had some decent punters. Lord knows many of them got to practice their craft more than the fans would have preferred. Tom McNeill was a league leader for the early Saints teams. But Morestead is the whole package. He can punt for distance. He can directionally kick and pin a team deep, and he also kicks off and holds on field goals. Foremost he is a football player. If he has to make a tackle to prevent a return for a touchdown he has no problem putting a hat on you.

Kicker: Morten Andersen

While I may have a soft spot for Tom Dempsey, who up until this year held the NFL record for longest field goal at sixty-three yards, the obvious choice is the Great Dane. A Hall of Fame nominee he is the all time leading scorer for the Saints and won numerous games for the Black and Gold on last second clutch kicks. Maybe the biggest faux pas of the Jim Mora era was allowing him to be picked up on waivers by the Atlanta Falcons. He ended up becoming their all time leading scorer as well.

Kick /Punt Returner: Michael Lewis

Local product Tyrone Hughes was an electrifying return man for New Orleans, and John Gilliam returned the first ever kick off in New Orleans Saints history for a touchdown, but the nod goes to the Beer Man.

Special Teams: Steve Gleason

These guys are special, and none more so than Gleason. The blocked punt against the Atlanta Falcons on September 25th, 2006 ensured that the Saints first game in the Superdome after Katrina would be a classic. But even without that play Gleason was a game changer on coverage teams. He is now battling Lou Gehrigs disease but with his No White Flags charity he remains an iconic figure for the Saints and the city. Curtis DeLoatch was good but Gleason was the fire in the belly guy every team should have.

DEFENSE

Safety: Sammy Knight and Gene Atkins

Dave Whitsell, Tommy Myers and Frank Wattelet ( yeah maybe the name had something to do with it), warranted being in the conversation but in the end Knight and Atkins were my guys. Undersized and not fleet of foot somehow Sammy Knight always found a way to get to the football. Atkins was a ferocious headhunter on those stifling Saints defenses in the late eighties and early nineties, hence his nickname Gene, the Hit Machine, Atkins.

Cornerback: Gene Howard and Dave Waymer

This was a hard one because in my opinion we have never had an all pro shut down corner. Some may argue for Eric Allen or Mike McKenzie but they did their best work early in their careers for other teams. Tracy Porter was given consideration as well, but Dave Waymer played solidly for years and ended his career as the all time leader in interceptions for the Saints. Howard was a standout on those early Saints teams. He played on woeful defenses but was a steady and solid football player. He knew that he would be making a lot of tackles against running backs and would have to cover longer because of a weak pass rush, but he always gave his best and never complained.

Linebacker: Pat Swilling, Vaughn Johnson, Sam Mills, and Rickey Jackson

Because Saints teams have played both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses I selected four players and I am thankful for that because I don’t know how you leave any of these guys off. They were the Dome Patrol. They anchored the league leading defenses of the Jim Mora era and were voted the finest set of linebackers in the history of the NFL. Swilling was a relentless pass rusher. Johnson could run and hit with ferocious intensity. Mills, aka the Field Mouse, was the leader and most cerebral of the four. Standing only 5’9′ he was never out of position, a superb tackler, and seemed immune to fatigue. Jackson was our iconic player. A defensive end at Pitt, he played in the shadow of Hugh Green. When he joined the Saints he became an instant star and second only to Lawrence Taylor as a linebacker in the NFL. They were first linebackers to ever make the Pro Bowl as a unit.

Tackle: LaRoi Glover and Bob Pollard

Glover was a superb and unstoppable pass rusher. Lightning fast he dominated everyone in his way. He was the best defender on Jim Haslett teams that were schizophrenic, explosive one game, submissive the next. Pollard is another homage to those early Saints teams. He was a stalwart on defenses that had few supporting cast members of his calibre.  Derland Moore and Norman “The Big Wiggle” Hand were also solid players but for my money Glover and Pollard were better.

End: Jumpy Geathers and Frank Warren

Joe Johnson and Renaldo Turnbull were solid and both capable of spectacular plays, but Geathers and Warren were monsters. Geathers was big, strong, and fast. He was also durable. Warren was an explosive player who could line up inside or outside, run around you or run over you. Both played the run well too.

OFFENSE

Tackle: Willie Roaf and Stan Brock

Roaf is the easiest pick I have. A perennial All Pro and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame he is not only the best tackle the Saints ever had, he may be one of the best  players ever for the Saints period. In a game on the road against Atlanta the Saints ran almost every run play to his side and on pass plays he handled his opponent like a rag doll. He had great strength combined with the balance of a ballerina. Brock was a solid player with a mean streak. On one televised replay I saw him extend his left arm against a pass rusher while pounding his opponent in his midsection will a balled up fist. Stan didn’t screw around.

Guard: Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans

There have actually been several players at this position who were notable. Jake Kupp, Conrad Dobler, Emmanuel Zanders, and Brad Edelman were all very accomplished. But the road to the Super Bowl went though All Pros Nicks and Evans. in 2009 the Saints ran the ball superbly and kept Drew Brees on his feet. Without Nicks and Evans we don’t bring home the big prize. Ben Grubbs, Nicks replacement, made All Pro this year so this ranking could change in time. Evans made All Pro again as well.

Center: LeCharles Bentley

This is another position where the Saints had some good players. Jonathan Goodwin, Jerry Fontenot, Jay Hilgenberg, and Jeff Faine were all excellent players. But for sheer dominance it was Bentley. He could blow you up or keep you out. He didn’t stay with the team very long and losing him to free agency was a major blow. The emergence of Goodwin into an All Pro player was not foreseen but fortunate for the Saints as they made their Super Bowl run in 2009.

Tight End: Jimmy Graham

Graham is not an all around tight end, as his blocking is suspect, but he is so good at what he does receiving that he goes to the top of the list. Henry Childs, Dave Parks, and Hoby Brenner were also stalwarts, with Childs and Parks also having the ability to go deep. But Graham is an All Pro and a phenomenon. With only a year of college football before he entered the NFL, if he stays healthy he will rewrite the record books. He was the top vote getter at his position for the Pro Bowl this year.

Wide Receiver: Joe Horn and Wes Chandler

Marques Colston is the all time leader in almost every receiving category for the Saints. Most of the records he broke belonged to Eric Martin. But none of them had the big play capacity of Horn and Chandler. In 1980 with Archie Manning at quarterback, the thunder and lightning combo of Chuck Muncie and Tony Galbreath at running back, Henry Childs at tight end and Chandler and Ike Harris at the receivers made the Saints offense one of  the most feared in the NFL. It was the first Saints team to have a non-losing season at 8-8 and many of those players made the Pro Bowl that year. Chandler was fast and acrobatic. He could outrun you and out jump you. He made spectacular catches look routine. Horn was a major free agent pick up from Kansas City. Arrogant, unpredictable, and controversial he was still a big time receiver who was unstoppable at times. With the strong armed Aaron Brooks at quarterback Horn stretched defenses like no other player in a Saints uniform.

Fullback: Hokie Gajan

Buford Jordan was outstanding for the Saints but Hokie was unusual in that he could break off big runs from scrimmage along with the ability to get those tough short yardage gains. His career was  cut short by injury but when he was healthy he was a total package. He could block and catch passes out of the backfield. His burst up the middle against the Dallas Cowboys resulting in a long run for touchdown is one of the most memorable plays I have ever seen from a running back wearing Black and Gold.

Running Back: Deuce McAllister and George Rogers

This is where it got tough. Dalton Hilliard was an all purpose back who could do everything and broke numerous team records. Reuben Mayes was an explosive runner with great speed and change of direction. Had he stayed healthy he might have made the list. Chuck Muncie may have been the most gifted running back to play ever with his combination of speed and power, that gift wasted by drug abuse. Even the early Saints had a one two punch of Andy Livingston and Tony Baker. Ricky Williams flashed signs of brilliance, but drugs were his bane as well. Pierre Thomas is also a football player who can do multiple things for an offense. But for sheer ability to run the football McAllister and Rogers stand alone. McAllister was fast and strong, but it was his resolve that made him special. Against the Falcons I saw him drive through several players en route to the end zone, some clinging to him on his back, using sheer force of will to score. He played hurt. He played with dignity. He was team player and he got yards when there was no hole to run through. Rogers led the league in rushing his rookie year under coach Bum Phillips when every team the Saints played knew who was getting the ball. Also a combination of speed and power he was hardly ever brought down by one man.

Quarterback: Drew Brees

If Archie Manning was playing for the Saints today I have no doubt that he would be ranked among the best to ever play the game. He is still my favorite player and always will be. Having said that Brees still gets the nod, and not just for his incredible statistics. After Katrina the city of New Orleans was a question mark. Many thought the team would move, and that was a real possibility until NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue stepped in and eliminated that option. But without Brees the Saints may have floundered for years. He only had one viable option in free agency but he not only agreed to come play for the Saints he committed to the city. Like Archie he bought a home in the city limits and became a true New Orlenian. He lead the Saints to the NFC championship game in his first season and a Super Bowl victory in 2009.

Head Coach: Sean Payton

You have to give a lot of credit to Jim Mora for leading the franchise to its first winning season and first ever playoff appearance. I also think some acknowledgement should go to Jim Haslett for coaching the team to a division title and first ever playoff victory. But there is no doubt that Payton is the best coach the team has ever had. Two NFC championship appearances and a Super Bowl title say it all. Another milestone was reached when the Saints finally got their first playoff win on the road. The best may be yet to come.

So there you have it. The best of the Saints. An intimidating defense combined with a blitzkrieg offense with a mastermind coach. Did I leave anyone out?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In Case You Didn’t Know…..

Over five decades I have noticed a few things and drawn conclusions from those observations. With the new year upon us I thought it was time to share some of these with my readers.

1) THE ELDERLY LOVE YARD AND ESTATE SALES: This is a total befuddlement to me. I continue to buy consumables, ( gas, clothing, food), and I upgrade my technology. But the stuff at these sales, (furniture, art work, knick knacks), I have all of that I need and more. I tend to believe people that are ten years older than me or more would have all the stuff like that they need. But apparently they don’t. And when they leave this earth that stuff will be sold at yet another yard or estate sale. And the cycle continues.

2) ATTENDING A SPORTING EVENT DOES NOT MAKE YOU A FAN: When I was growing up if you went to a football, basketball, or baseball game you were going so you could actually watch the contest. You knew who the teams were, who the best players were, and all the statistical data on each team. If you went to someone else’s house to watch a game you got a TV tray, and on that was a sandwich, chips, and a drink. You were there to watch the game. The people who didn’t like or understand the sport stayed home and read a book. Now you have parties at people’s houses and tailgates at the games. If you are part of the elite you can attend the game in a suite. Many of these “fans” vaguely know about the teams competing, the rules, the players. For them it’s just a big meet and greet and a chance to dress up in that team’s colors. God forbid the weather is anything other than 72 degrees and sunny! My family in Wisconsin go to Green Bay Packer football games in snow and below zero weather. They endure the same challenges their team does. But the party goer has gone home rather than get a little wet, and his or her seat is now empty.

3) LOVE MEANS HAVING TO SAY YOU ARE SORRY….A LOT: Like most people I am familiar with the tear jerker Love Story, where Ali MacGraw’s character, shivering in the cold, tells her husband that famous line about love and apologizing. Well it was a tender and heartfelt thing to say but if you want your marriage to last you better ignore it. I have said I’m sorry more times than I can imagine and I will continue to apologize as often as I need to. When you stop saying you are sorry that is when the trouble really starts. Most arguments are over stupid things anyway. Apologizing lets you move on, and get a hot meal..or more!

4) AS LONG AS WE ARE TALKING ABOUT TEARS..MEN DO CRY AT MOVIES: I have cried at movies, but when guys cry it’s for different reasons. I cried when Dennis Hopper as Shooter Flatch told the Hickory Huskers in the movie Hoosiers to not get caught watching the paint dry. I cried when Carl Brashear, played by Cuba Gooding  Jr. in Men of Honor, was trying to walk across a slick court room floor in a spun copper diving suit on one good leg towards Rober DeNiro as Master Chief Billy Sunday. As Gooding struggled Sunday barks “Cookie I want my twelve steps!” At that point I am out of my chair and on my feet with tears streaming, willing Brashear to report to his Master Chief! We don’t cry at sappy love stories. We cry when men or women take on severe challenges, and win. Shooter was an alcoholic rising to the occasion when his son’s team needed him. Brashear was an African-American diver who was discriminated against and wanted to come back to active duty with an artificial limb. Helping him was the very man that wanted to run him out of the Navy. Rudy when he sacks the quarterback in Notre Dame’s last home game and is carried off the field! Gale Sayers when he gives his Comeback Player of the Year award to Brian Piccolo! Niagara Falls!! All of those movies were based on real life stories, which made them even more compelling. Yes we weep, but they are manly tears.

5) WHEN YOU TRY TO PASS THE SLOW MOVING YAHOO IN THE LEFT LANE HE WILL SPEED UP: The left lane is for cars and trucks to pass other cars and trucks. If a vehicle gets in the left lane and drives slowly it really screws things up. But try and go around this oblivious motorist from the right lane and invariably that is when he will hit the gas! He doesn’t want to drive fast but he doesn’t want you to pass him either. Don’t confuse this guy with moron who rides your bumper when you are trying to pass the slow driver!

6) I KNOW I’M OLD BECAUSE I KNOW EVERYTHING: Yes I officially know everything. I have the experience and mental acuity to solve all problems. If you don’t agree with me then you are wrong. Oddly there are people older than me who think they know everything. But they are wrong. Now I don’t disagree with my wife, but between you and me she’s wrong too. If everyone just did what I told them to do everything would be so much easier.

7) DON’T TOUCH MY GRILL: Men have been cooking meat over a fire for eons. Outside, in the elements, just men, meat, fire, and secret sauces. Yet some people think they can pop the lid or pick up the tongs. Anybody who touches another man’s grill is asking for trouble!

8) EVERYONE’S NEIGHBORHOOD, TOWN, CITY, STATE IS THE BEST: I’m convinced nobody lives in a crumby place. If they live there it’s better than where you live. Statistics, crime data, unemployment, school ratings, taxes, none of that matters. If you live there it’s better than where everyone else lives…until you move. Then that place is better!

9) EVERY TOM CRUISE MOVIE IS THE SAME: If you watch any movie with Tom Cruise he will be cocky, he will get the girl, he will be running with his back ram rod straight and his arms pumping, he will have a scene where he gets mad and end it with a contorted face and a fist pump, and there will be at least one fight sequence where he can flip and have his hair fly in the breeze. He will also face adversity and have to reflect on his life. I liked him better when he was just a supporting cast member in The Outsiders but even in that movie he does a hand stand on a fence.

10) EVERY PHOTO OF A GROUP OF TEENAGE OR COLLEGE AGE GIRLS IS THE SAME: They have their outside knee bent, a hand on their outside hip, and their head bent to the side. Is this a rule now for photographs? Was there a meeting and instructions handed out?

I have  a lot more but ten observations is plenty. If you don’t agree with some of these go back and read number 6! Happy New Year!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yes I’m Thankful

Thanksgiving is tomorrow and like most holidays I tend to get lost in all the activities that have very little to do with the real reason for the celebration. But there are good reasons many of us should give thanks. I had something happen to me recently that really drove that point home.

First I would like to reminisce on something that happened a long time ago. My father was a pot room foreman for Kaiser Aluminum. Kaiser had facilities to mine ore and create aluminum located all over the world. My dad was often assigned to these various plants for tours of duty to train the local workforce to run the facility. Many of these plants were start ups. He and my mother went to West Virginia around 1955 and in 1959 I arrived. I was born across the Ohio river in a small town called Gallipolis. In 1961 we returned home to New Orleans. Shortly after coming home my father was slated to be sent to India for eighteen months. Because of this the whole family received innoculations to provide immunity to the broad array of diseases that were rampant in that country. Those shots made me very ill. So ill that the physicians administering those vaccinations wanted my parents to sign a waiver releasing them from blame should I succumb to side effects brought on by the vaccines. They refused, and my father had to leave without us.

I was age two when he left. When my father was due to return I was not yet four years old. I remember that we went to the airport at night and we were actually outside on the tarmac when my dad’s plane landed. It was cold and I was in a heavy coat with a hat on.

In the distance I saw a tall figure step down the stairs from the parked aircraft. He had on a long trench coat that was black. He seemed far away but I knew exactly who that man was. Without warning I bolted from my mother and began running towards the silhouette in the distance.

I heard my mother’s cries for me to stop but I just kept running. Apparently, because of dramatic weight loss, she did not recognize the man I was hurtling towards. But I was never in doubt. That man was my father.

As I closed the gap between us I could see his features come into focus. He stopped walking and took a knee as I leapt into his arms. I grabbed him as hard as I could and sunk my face into his shoulder. And together we rose up as one.

Last weekend I was invited to attend a football game in Baton Rouge. Due to a crazy array of events I ended up not getting to see the game in person and was irritable when I got up that Sunday to go home. My wife and I attend Catholic Mass every Sunday with our two autistic sons, but with me being three hours away I knew the odds of getting to their facility in time were not good. My only desire was to get there as quickly as possible. Had I been able to actually attend the game I would have been content getting to their school late, but to miss the game and not attend Mass with my family left me with a sour taste in my mouth.

I arrived at their school at ten o’clock in the morning. Just as I was getting near the sidewalk leading up to the chapel, the doors opened up. The first one out was my oldest son. He is twenty-three now and about six feet tall.

He looked up and saw me in the distance. Instantly he began to run in my direction. His gait was so familiar. His legs moving up and down like he was running in between tires on the ground and his arms raised upwards with his hands even with his head.

He hit me at full gallop, wrapping his arms tightly around me. His voice making the squeal that he utters when profoundly happy. He stopped, looked at me with a broad smile, and then hugged me tightly again. He then whispered Daddio, which is how he says daddy. It is one of a handful of words he can actually say aloud.

My mind immediately flashed back to that night in New Orleans when I expressed my love for my father the only way I knew how. My son was now giving me that same unconditional love I felt for my dad. I hugged him back, so grateful for him and what he had given me.

In 1970 I lost my dad. I was eleven. Over the years I lamented that I had been deprived the opportunity to have had meaningful conversations with my father as most young men do. When my two sons were born with severe mental disabilities, I lamented yet again, feeling cursed that I would never have father and son talks with either of my boys. But on Sunday I realized that what I have with my sons, and what I had with my father, was much more than any chat we could have had. I had a chance to show my dad how much I truly loved him and I was shown by my boy how much he truly loves me, in a way that spoke volumes.

And for that I am thankful.

 

 

 

 

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I’m a Cat Guy Now!

We have a cat. A little black cat named Spooky. And I love her. And that is saying a lot because I used to despise cats.

Cats to me were aloof, independent creatures that allowed you the “honor” of taking care of them. Sometimes they were even hostile. Finicky and arrogant, to me compared to a dog they were vastly inferior pets. My dogs are loving and devoted animals. I would never bring a cat into my home and put up with their quirks. Well never say never.

Almost two years ago my wife Jen called me saying she needed the pet carrier. There was a kitten living at the school that was missing a piece of her ear. The teachers had been feeding her but the principal made it clear that she was going to call animal control and have her removed.

Now I was dead set against this idea but my wife was adamant. Jen said she would be no trouble, that the cat would stay outside, that she would be responsible for her. I was not happy about it but I relented. We now owned a cat. I even disliked the name she gave her, but Jen thought it was appropriate since our new addition was solid black and it was close to Halloween.

The first week was as Jen said. Spooky stayed outside and came home to eat. But even though she was around ten months old she was little. And I was constantly going outside breaking up cat fights and running off the much larger felines that roamed our neighborhood. Spooky was game but she always got the worst of it, and it started to bother me. I found myself proactively going outside mad as hell, making it clear to the other tabby’s in the neighborhood that our house was off limits.

About the second week Jen informed me that Spooky was going to have to be spayed and would have to stay inside for a week. I warned her she would have to be supervised so she didn’t rip her stitches. And I also reminded her that Spooky had never been inside before and would be very anxious about that. I told her to stay with her in my office and be prepared for a long night.

Jen brought her home after the surgery and about 8:30 they went in my office. I have a bed, TV, computer, and a full bath in there so they should have been comfortable. About 11:00 that night Jen came in and woke me up. She said Spooky was uncontrollable and that she was unable to watch her. I got out of bed, grumbled about how I told her so, and trudged to my office.

When I arrived I found Spooky half way up my curtains that cover a series of windows floor to ceiling. I reached up and gently pulled her loose. She looked perplexed and angry. I looked at her and told her that I knew she was hurting but that we both needed to rest, and that I was going to lay down in the bed with her so we could go to sleep.

I then proceeded to the bed and we went to sleep. All night. She curled her paws around my hands and did not let go.

From that point on Spooky was my cat. She healed up and still spent hers days outside but every evening she came home and stayed by my side. She slept on my back, next to me, on my hands, even on my head sometimes. She also would not let the dogs come near me anymore, especially our poor little Chug ( Chihuahua/Pug) Otis.

If I left town for a few days Jen told me Spooky would walk around the house wailing. When I came home she would try and ignore me but finally wouldn’t be able to stand it and would come get in my lap.

If I am taking a shower Spooky waits outside the door. If I am at the computer she climbs up into the chair with me. Some nights she stays out after dark. Jen will call for her to no avail but If I go outside she will appear from the roof, tree, or a fence and walk up to me. She buries her face in my hands until I scratch her cheeks. At night I can feel her nuzzling me and putting her paw on my face, careful not to scratch me.

Now she is still a cat and has all those predatory instincts. Birds, rodents, lizards are all in jeopardy but she is being nicer to Otis now. In fact he is now allowed back in the bed with us. I wake up most mornings with Otis sleeping between my legs and Spooky curled up with one or both of my hands secured in her paws.

Now I’m not going to fill my home with cats. My overall opinion of them is still the same. But I have to admit that when it comes to Spooky I have to make an exception. She is one black cat I was lucky enough to have cross my path.

 

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We Went to Disney World….Again!

My wife and I just returned from Disney World. We took our oldest son to celebrate his 23rd birthday. We have been to Disney so many times I have lost count. As the parents of two sons with autism, Disney was a place that they could enjoy and we would not be so conspicuous. Still the boys generally made things memorable for us, and unfortunately others. In fact in my archives of this blog you can find a post that details some of the more, shall we say illuminating, experiences we had traveling with them.

But this post is not about my sons. It is more of an observation of all the other people that vacation at Disney World. After multiple trips I can spot them a mile away. If you have been to Disney some of these people you will recognize. If you have never been you might still find this interesting.

ROOKIES: These are the people with their map of the park in their hands. They look at the map, gaze up, and then look back at the map. If they are not looking at their map they are usually vocalizing the mission for the day. ” First we hit Space Mountain, then we need to get to the other side of the park and get on Splash Mountain!”

RUNNERS: They are the most excited. Once they get into the park they begin to dash to their favorite attraction. Runners are often rookies but not always.

POWER WALKERS: They want to run but are self conscious about it so they walk so briskly they can’t help but look silly. Combine a power walker with a rookie holding a map and you will have collisions with other guests.

SCOUTS: These are the people that leave their group to go check out the attraction they want. You would think these would be children but most scouts are dads. They want to lead.  You can often hear frustrated wives pleading with their husband to stay with the group only to be dismissed with a wave of hand or ignored altogether. Scouts often become….

LINE HOLDERS: These are often dads who get to the attraction in advance and then let the six immediate members of their family cut in when they arrive ten minutes later. Most folks ignore it but every once in awhile you will hear “What the hell?”

STROLLER PEOPLE: These are the young families who have small children. The problem is that 21st century strollers are the size of Buicks and these conscientious parents insist on rolling down the middle of walk ways as opposed to getting on the sides. Their strollers also have numerous attachments that often crash into you as they pass you. The worst are stroller people with kids old enough to walk. Their legs dangle awkwardly from these rolling tanks but we wouldn’t want six year old Johnny to get fatigued!

SCOOTER PEOPLE: The worst offense yet. Like many well intentioned ideas, (why deprive grampa of a family vacation if he is on oxygen), the scooter probably was incorporated as a value add with the best of intentions. Unfortunately many people riding these things have other issues that political correctness keeps me from stating the obvious. But you know who they are. They too ride right down the middle of he road and are also loaded down with bags, water bottles, etc. I saw a woman with a knee brace using a crutch to get around the park. Now she is a true hero!

THE OBLIVIOUS: These are the folks that suddenly stop moving for no reason and come to a dead stop in front of you. Rookies are big time offenders but stroller people and scooter people do it too. You would think that common sense would tell you to move to the side somewhere and get your bearings but not these folks. I saw a teenage kid sitting on the ground in front of the exit of a park who seemed to have no problem forcing people to step around him. Knowing incarceration would hinder my own vacation experience I resisted the temptation to put my foot in his chest.

TRAFFIC JAMMERS: The oblivious are the main culprits but large groups do it too. I saw a congregation of about ten people just stop and block almost a whole walk way. Disney security had to intervene and explain to these people that this was a bad idea. Unfortunately no one in that group apparently spoke english.

WE ARE THE SMITH FAMILY..WE ARE GIRL SCOUT TROOP 547, WE ARE…: What they are is a herd of humanity all wearing the same color shirt with some kind of logo or saying emblazoned on the front so you and everyone else in the park will know they were there and who they are. You might think they came up with this idea so they could split up and find each other later but they never split up.

HAT PEOPLE: I like a cap as much as anybody but Disney headwear is among the most ridiculous you will find. The only place a Donald Duck hat looks normal is at a Disney theme park. So while these folks look a little, pardon the pun, goofy at the park they will look a lot worse wearing that hat to the mall at home.

FAST PASS DISRUPTORS: The fast pass is a great idea. It allows you to schedule a time to ride a popular attraction and not wait an hour or more in line. It works great until the person in front of you waits to get to the entrance before getting their pass out. You wait while they dig around looking for something they should have already had in their hand when they got there.

THE INDECISIVE: Ordering food is a crap shoot. The best way to dine at Disney is to make a reservation at a sit down restaurant and eat like a civilized person. But if you venture into one of the counter service restaurants you have to guess right. Getting behind a single person is no guaranty of quick service if he or she is one of the indecisive. Despite the fact that menu is limited to maybe three choices this person waits until they get to the counter to start pondering their selection. The misery can be further compounded if he in fact is ordering for others. When he turns around and yells back at his wife, “Will Sally eat a hamburger or should I get her the chicken nuggets?” you know your fate is sealed.

BAD PARENTS: We know kids get excited at Disney World but they still need guidance. I saw a mother with two young twin boys. They were playing on the rails that divide the lines. They were sitting on the lower rung, holding the top rung and leaning backwards. It was no big surprise when one fell backwards and cracked his head on the concrete floor. He screams, she screams, and his brother laughs. She picks him up, calms him down, and then says nothing when they start hanging on the rails again. The line starts to move and she walks on. The kids hang behind, holding the rest of us up. Then they start weaving in and out of the lines. After about a minute she realizes her kids are gone. You also have parents who force a child to ride something they are afraid of. As the screaming echo’s  around the building you understand why this is the happiest place on earth.

THE REST OF US: Amid this sea of stroller people, scooter people, runners, and power walkers are the rest of us. We are walking calmly, waiting patiently, and are self aware.

On the drive back home my wife was saying how great our trip was. I think we will be seeing Mickey again soon. But next time I’m going to suggest we only go to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. They serve beer in those parks.

 

 

 

 

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The USA Is A Little Less Safe Today!

Appleton, Wisconsin is a paper mill town in Northeast section of the state. It is full of hard working people and achieved national recognition years ago when Sports Illustrated named it as the town with the most citizens per capita participating in athletics in the country.

It has three notable former residents. Harry Houdini, the master illusionist, was from Appleton. Willem Dafoe, who was in memorable films such as Platoon and Spider Man, also is a native son. Last but certainly not least was Rocky Bleier. A graduate of Xavier High School and Notre Dame, Bleier seved his country in Viet Nam and was injured in combat. Through sheer will he overcame those injuries and went on to win Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Appleton is the hometown of another individual of note. You have never heard of him and if you never chance upon this blog post you probably never will. His name is Greg Wilson. He is husband to Linda, father to Amy, Amanda, and Ashley, and he is an American hero.

Greg recently retired from the Air Force after 25 years of service. His full title was Colonel Greg Wilson Director Joint Test Location at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. But titles don’t tell the full story.

Greg’s modesty inhibits me to some degree to elaborate on his upbringing but to say he came from humble means would be fair and accurate. He was self sufficient at an age when most are still tied to their parents in a profound way. He worked hard and took responsibility for himself. His academics were such that he was able to gain admission and earn a degree from the Milwaukee School of Engineering.

I learned the rest of his story from Colonel William Reese, who flew in from Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany to preside over Greg’s retirement ceremony. The accomplishments in the various officer training schools and flight and navigation training Greg received were listed in detail. I heard how he excelled, always finishing at or near the top in his class, and how he earned the respect of his peers. I don’t have enough gray matter to describe what Greg’s contribution to our national defense were, but as I listened to all the accolades it was hard not to be overwhelmed. During a recent mission in Libya Greg detailed a plan on the back of napkin and it was implemented!

By his own admission Greg had thirteen near death experiences while in service to his country. Those events don’t include ejecting from an aircraft over a desert. Probably harder on him was the time away from his family. Military families are resilient and Greg’s is no different. Linda was a bedrock and her sacrifice was significant in its own way as she too put the welfare of our nation above her own.

As I met all of Greg’s Air Force friends, all of whom served with him, a reoccurring theme was evident. These men were humble but had swagger. They were serious and focused yet able to laugh easily. They smoked big cigars and drank single malt scotch. And they love our country. More importantly they love us. All of them treated me with dignity and respect that I didn’t deserve. They keep us safe despite budget cuts and politics that hardly ever make sense. They don’t look or sound larger than life but make no mistake they represent the best we have to offer.

How many of us would readily die for a cause? How many of us would endure the mental and physical rigors a military life requires? How many of us would separate from our families for months on end knowing that each day could be our last?

Greg Wilson made decisions every day that helped keep our country safe and secure. Of his 25 years of service almost all of them were at a time when we were in conflict. Serbia, Desert Storm, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, there was never any peace time to speak of. And now he is retired.

Greg deserves this time off. He has given more than most. He should be allowed to go to Florida State football games with Amy, watch Amanda play basketball at Niceville High, and be at Ashley’s 8th Grade graduation next year. Most importantly he should be able to wake up everyday next to his wife, who is herself heroic in her own way. But selfishly as a country we have lost something precious. A brilliant man with ramrod values. A combination of intellect, compassion, and humility is no longer looking out for us. As such the USA is little less safe today. I wish there was a way to let others know that it is people like Greg that should be put on pedestals, not athletes, actors, musicians, and certainly not politicians. But guys like Greg would not hear of that. As such all I can say is thank you.

 

 

 

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Pilgrimages: Coming of Age

As I grew from adolescence and gained more personal freedom I was able to venture to sporting events on my own. From my teenage years to young adulthood my love of sports was now in full bloom. My pilgrimages were now of my own doing.

The New Orleans Superdome: It took Louisiana politics to new heights but in 1975 the most glorious sports structure the world had ever seen, The Superdome, opened for business. I remember being so enamored with the thought of my home town getting this glorious building that one day on the Pontchartrain Expressway riding in the backseat of my Aunt’s car I exclaimed that if I was going to die I was glad it would be in front of the Dome, as my Aunt had narrowly missed colliding with two other vehicles. And the Dome was still under construction.

It was the home of the Saints, the Sugar Bowl, and the New Orleans Jazz. It hosted Super Bowls,boxing matches, college basketball games, concerts, conventions, and anything else you could think of. I watched my Saints win glorious victories and suffer gut wrenching defeats. I watched Pete Maravich sink jump shots, and LSU upset Georgetown on a last second shot by Ricky Blanton. I saw national championship and state championship football games. When my high school basketball team won the state championship in 1977 we were guests of the New Orleans Jazz. It was my home away from home and was only three miles from my front door. And after a wretched defamation during Katrina it was restored to to even greater glory. If they sold burial plots next to it I would be first in line. And why not, as it was constructed over an old cemetery!

Lambeau Field: The home of the Green Bay Packers is like no other football stadium. A perfect bowl there is not one bad seat. The building is a shrine to championships that date back to 1919, to a team owned by it’s community in a town of just over 100,000 people. They come from all over the midwest wearing Green and Gold and whether they are undefeated or winless they  fill the stadium and cheer with relentless abandon. They love the Packers unconditionally. Even if they lose they comment on the good things the team did. I have been there four times and each visit has been unique. After the game fans line the narrow drive that leads out the stadium to the street so they can pay homage to their heroes as they drive from the stadium. The cheers are just as loud in defeat.

Tulane (Fogelman) Arena: I loved college basketball in the 70′s and 80′s. New Orleans had the City Series with Tulane, Loyola, University of New Orleans, Xavier University, Dillard University, and Southern University in New Orleans all playing round robin games. Xavier, a predominately African-American Catholic school that competed in the NAIA had Bruce Seals, Donald “Slick” Watts, and James “Shirt” Williams. Seals and Watts went on to play in the NBA. Dillard had Billy Ray Hobley who played for years with the Harlem Globetrotters. UNO had Wilbur Holland who led them to the NCAA Division II national championship game and later played for the Chicago Bulls. Loyola played in the series for one year and then dropped sports. Their best players, Ernie Loesch, Gary Kardzionak, and Phil Hicks, all transferred to Tulane.

UNO played in a band box called the Chamber of Horrors but later moved to the state of the art Nat Kiefer Arena on the lakefront. Xavier had the Barn and SUNO the Castle. But for me no place was like Tulane Arena. Once again I was just three miles from my house to the tiny gym on Willow St. You could buy a ticket at the door and with only 3,000 seats the place was LOUD! Tulane played against nationally ranked teams such as Louisville and Memphis State in the old Metro Conference. Southern Miss was a big rival as was LSU. I remember watching Tulane play Marquette, a team that a year later would win the NCAA championship. My heroes were Pierre Gaudin, Bruce Bolyard, Arthur Bibbs, Tony Beaulieu, and of course the great Phil Hicks. Every Mardi Gras after Tulane’s first basket beads were thrown on the floor stopping play! And with beer sales encouraged lets just say it was a tough place to play. When Tulane shut down basketball in the mid 80′s over a point shaving scandal I was heart broken. When they brought the program back in the early 90′s I was a season ticket holder.

Death Valley: I know many of you think I am referring to Tiger Stadium on the campus of Louisiana State University and that is a special place. But while I root for LSU I have always been a son of the Crescent City with sentiment for Tulane and the Saints surpassing anything I felt for the Tigers. The Death Valley I am referring to was on the campus of Isidore Newman School in Uptown New Orleans. It was a hell hole gym that was home to the Newman Greenies.

A small elite private school Newman was a basketball powerhouse in the 1960′s and 70′s. I would go watch games at the Newman Invitational Tournament and later just regular games they had. I watched them play suffocating man to man defense and run a precision motion offense with relentless screens and backdoor cuts. But more importantly I was in awe of the atmosphere. Numerous pennants reflecting district and state championships. The mural on the back wall telling you what you already knew. That you were in Death Valley home of the Newman Greenies and they were going to beat you. I played there my senior year and it was no picnic. We squandered a nine point lead in the fourth quarter. I even blogged about it. That gym was a part of my coming of age in a decade where basketball was finding it’s feet and in 1979 two guys named Magic and Bird would change the game forever!

Wrigley Field: I was never a die hard baseball fan but I always had a sense of history and a love of nostalgia. When I was visiting an old friend in Chicago back in 1985 I decided to go to Wrigley. I have been back three more times and each visit is moving. I realize that I am sitting in seats and standing on ground that has been in continuous use for decades. Watching a scoreboard that remains unchallenged by progress. Sharing a common experience with fans that have long since passed on. If only they would just bring that goat onto the field and lift the curse!

I am no longer young but my list grows. I have watched the Red Wings play in Joe Louis Arena, visited Hinkle Field in Indianapolis where Butler plays, Hoosiers was filmed, and the real life Milan High School defeated Muncie Central. I even visited the Collosseum in Rome. But older eyes don’t have the vitality that young eyes do. You reflect backward as you get older, appreciating what you are seeing. But when you are young the world is waiting for you. Experiences are new and fresh. Possibilities are endless. You think you have all the time in the world. And you are right!

 

 

 

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Pilgrimages: The Early Years

All of us, if we are fortunate enough, get to visit places that not only have significance but also affect us in a profound way. For me many of those places are sports venues. Now for some sports is trivial, but for me the arenas and stadiums are places that allow us to gather and bond. By supporting teams we shared in their struggle. We rejoiced in victory and mourned in loss. Many sports venues are rich in legacy but the following are those that have left a lasting impact on me.

Tad Gormley Stadium-New Orleans, LA:  Built in 1937 and originally known as City Park Stadium it was renamed  after Frank “Tad” Gormley in the 1960′s. Gormley was a Massachusetts native who moved to New Orleans in the early 20th century to run a gymnastics club. He was also a trainer and coach at Loyola, Tulane, and LSU. Since most of the New Orleans area Catholic schools lacked stadiums it served as a de facto home field for them and the stadium served as a host for many of the finest prep football match ups in the history of the city. It also hosted the 1992 U.S. Olympic Track & Field trials. I was volunteering in the VIP section when number one world ranked decathlete Dave O’Brien failed on three straight pole vaults to miss the Olympics. Standing near me was Bruce Jenner, Bill Toomey, and Rafer Johnson. I also ran there as a middle school track athlete in New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD) city championship meet. The Beatles played a concert at Tad Gormley. But for me the biggest event was going with my dad to watch an exhibition game in the late 1960′s between the New York Mets and Baltimore Orioles. It was our first father-son sports outing and if I try real hard I can still smell the scent of fresh cut grass!

Tulane Stadium-New Orleans, LA: It was built in 1926 and torn down in 1980. It was the home of the Sugar Bowl, the Tulane Green Wave, and my beloved New Orleans Saints. It could hold 81,000 people and when it was filled to capacity no place was louder. The stadium had bones in the form of wooden bleachers that creaked with age as you trod them and screamed loudly when you stomped on them, adding to raucous cheers of the faithful that filled its bowl. As a young Cub Scout my love affair with the place began as I watched the Greenies beat Georgia Tech. I yelled the whole game through a cardboard megaphone my popcorn came in. I saw the Saints win their first game against the Philadelphia Eagles in 1967. In 1970 my dad was transferred to Germany with his employer. He said we could go watch the Saints play the Detroit Lions in an exhibition game or go to Chicago and watch the Cubs or White Sox play baseball. It was a no brainer. We watched the Saints. Four months later my father died. Returning home the stadium became a refuge. My friends and I ran its ramps going from level to level during Tulane games. I watched my hero, Archie Manning lead the Saints to victory against the then Los Angeles Rams in 1971. I went to my first Sugar Bowl and watched the Oklahoma Sooners beat Penn State. I remember sitting next to a young black boy during a Saints game when it began to rain. We shared an umbrella and we were the same..Saints fans enduring the same elements our team was. Later as a young teen I rode the streetcar to watch my first rock concert. ZZ Topp began to play and a guy offered me a funny smelling cigarette. I politely informed him that I didn’t smoke. I can still see the confused look on his face. I can also recall sneaking on the field with a football and a few friends after the new Polyturf was installed. We ran pass patterns and did play by play as we lead Tulane and the Saints on score after score. We then laid on our backs and let the sun warm our faces as we rested and felt the fresh turf beneath us! Heaven was close that day!

To be continued….

 

 

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