Oh Joe? Sadly, Won’t See Him No More…

I wrote last week about my relationship with my father-in-law…how he learned to tolerate me…even accept me into his family and treat me like a son…and how he laid in a hospital gravely ill from some undiagnosed illness…

They finally got around to diagnosing it last Wednesday…West Nile Virus…and last Friday, an hour after removing him from his ventilator, he passed away…peacefully and with his family by his side…the way a true family man would have wanted…

Joe was an interesting study…part engineer, (the featured image was something he was working on…even in his final days)…he was part pack rat, he was a fiercely loyal and protective father…each one of his kids probably has a story of Joe vs. the school system on their behalf…and maybe even for his own satisfaction too…I think sometimes he would take the contrarian view just so he could try and prove it to you…I remember a long, circular discussion/debate(?) I listened to between him and a family member who was a state trooper about the concept of Implied Consent…check your drivers license if you’re not sure..God love him, no one would ever Deny he could debate the living hell out of an issue when he wanted too…

I remember when my wife and I bought our first house…Joe took me to this old warehouse near where he lived…it had all kinds of what I might think of as trash, but what Joe and others might consider treasure…Joe suggested that there were certain sized screws and nails that I should have…in bulk… around the house when I wanted to construct or repair something…”you mean to tell me the contractor/repairman won’t have his own bulk stash on his truck?”…it wasn’t long before I figured out that Joe probably wanted them there for his own use when he came over…he also insisted I have a good workbench…and so I built one, I over-built one he told me, not that he was complaining…

Joe and I finally put all those nails and screws to good use building an 8’x12′ shed in my backyard…and it was here that Joe might have made several mistakes…first of which was truusting me to have the area leveled off so we could start right in on the construction…what looked good to me was actually off about a foot from the front to the back and don’t even get me started on side to side…but after a couple of hours and multiple trips to a nearby construction site where we grabbed rocks of all shapes and sizes, we were able to lay a somewhat questionable looking foundation…one he thought  might be a problem in the future…but it never was, at least not while I owned it…

Joe’s second mistake, and one we laughed about often, or at least Joe did…was to leave that weekend before the shingles were laid on the roof, leaving that job to me and me alone and maybe repaying me for not having the ground leveled off…I did alright though, at least the roof never leaked nor did any shingles blow off…but it took me longer to finish than I thought it would…and for one stupid reason…if you’ve ever seen an asphalt shingle before it gets laid, you may have noticed that clear strip of plastic on the back that covers over the glue line?…it was a pain in the ass peeling off all those plastic strips…my pants pockets were filled with them as I worked…finally, I was frustrated enough to call Joe and complain and wonder aloud how roofers get anything done with all that plastic to be removed…I got what I deserved…at first absolute silence…then the laughter on the other end of the phone told me I was about to become the punch line in some family joke for years to come…I persevered, finished the roof…maybe not as well as Joe would have, but good enough for government work…

I had some good times with Joe…taking my son, his only grandson, fishing for the first time was one…Joe was smart enough to take us to the fish hatchery where my son was IMG_0505sure to catch as many fish as he wanted…the only thing Joe didn’t plan on was that Joe would be the first thing my son would hook with his first cast…this time it was my turn to laugh…it was a great moment and one I’ll never forget, the way he never forgot my shed roofing escapades…and half an hour later, my son was sitting on a bench eating our bait…we were only using mini-marsh mellows…apparently the fish love them…

I have many other stories of times with Joe…we all had them…vacations to Disney World, Bush Gardens, and Mexico…some were good, some maybe not so IMG_0506much…sometimes all together, and sometimes one on one…because if there was one thing about Joe it was that he loved to have family around…coming from my family it felt a little suffocating at times…but in the end Joe raised one hell of a tight knit clan…really, really tight…

Joe was Italian, what I might consider old-world…a man who loved his Italian heritage and all the traditions such as the 7 Fishes on Christmas Eve dinner that come with it…I’m pretty much a mutt…some different things from my father’s side, and Irish from my mom…so I’ll leave Joe with this old Irish prayer…one that I like and I’m sure he does too…

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand

 

 

This One’s For You Dad…

I’ve had a tough time this week…I came to the realization that it more than likely is time for a change in jobs…doing the same job for over 16 years makes it difficult  to leave and finding something new at 57 won’t be easy to do…not to mention I work for someone I consider a friend and who may be reading this in the middle of his latest bowel movement…but that’s okay, I respect him and at least he reads whatever self-important thing I happen to be driveling on about…

But this really isn’t about me…this is about someone who I’ve known for over 30 years now…and as of this moment lays in a hospital bed hooked up to a ventilator…in a hospital that is struggling to find even the slightest of reasons why he’s in his current state…don’t get me wrong, I’m not accusing anyone at the hospital of malpractice or anything…but it sure feels like they’re over-matched right now…and it has become harder each day to watch my wife’s family deal with the frustration of not knowing…and seeing my father-in-law survive thanks to the tubes he’s hooked up to…

I met my future father-in-law Joe when I helped his daughter, now my wife, move from her apartment in North Philly to one in South Jersey…the logistics of my relationship being my best freind was dating her roommate and they introduced us one intoxicated Saturday at the Jersey Shore…I don’t know, maybe it was just me who had over-indulged…anyway we got along pretty good and yadda…yadda…two weeks later I was renting a truck to help her move…not because she wanted to be closer to me…she had finished pharmacy college and got a job with a pharmaceutical company in South Jersey…

of course Joe liked me right away, helping another guy move, or in this case his daughter, is a big step in any manly friendship…and in the 30 plus years I’ve known him we’ve never had a cross word…even though I’m not really sure I would have been his first pick to marry off his daughter to…this was clear to me when I asked him in the frozen foods section of a supermarket if I could marry his daughter and his first response was, “What?”… we all know when someone answers a question with what that they’re stalling for time…further evidenced by his call for help to his wife further down the aisle, “Uh, Peg, (future mother in-law) come here please!”…the trepidation in his call for help obvious…but we worked it out, we were able to buy all the frozen seafood we needed that day, Joe agreed to let me ask his daughter, and I left the supermarket with the uneasy feeling that Joe liked me, but he thought his daughter could do better…story of my life…

Joe has always treated me like a son since I married into the family…I on the other hand have never felt comfortable calling him dad…I always felt my actual father was only deserving of that…usually it was just Joe, or Hey, uh, or So, uh, as in “Hey, uh, did you see the Penn State game?”, or “So, uh, how you doing today?”…and you know what?…I was wrong not to call him Dad…after 30 plus years of treating me like a son, of always being straight with me…making sure I knew when he was proud of me…making sure to always Pamper my kids, his grandchildrenhe’s earned it…I only hope I get the chance to tell him…

A Presbyterian In Catholic Purgatory…

I didn’t know I could do this…as a Presbyterian, the last thing I thought I would ever find myself doing is bringing up the bread and the wine for Communion in a Catholic Church…I mean, is that legal or even covered under canon law somewhere?…I’m pretty sure over in South Jersey my long-departed parents turned over in their graves…don’t get me wrong, my parents didn’t hate Catholics…to be honest, they didn’t always get along with our neighbors who were Methodist…I think they just thought Catholics were a little too showy…too in your face…always the nicest church…a crucifix instead of a cross…the best carnivals…

Anyway, my wife and I (me?) went to the late Mass a couple of Sundays ago…and as usual, we arrived early…as we’re sitting there, my wife praying the rosary…me, using the time not to pray, but to stare blankly and judge the other parishioners now arriving in their best Sunday shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops…,at least I had the decency to rock a nice collared shirt…this guy comes up and asks if we would like to present the gifts for Communion…before I can tell him he’s got the wrong guy, my wife gladly volunteers us…

“I can’t do that”, I quietly protest to her after he leaves,”I’m not even Catholic.”…

…since mostly my wife, and somewhat me, have raised our kids to be good Catholics, which they make you do when there is a religiously mixed marriage…it’s become a standard excuse I Continue to use to get out of attending holy days of obligation…giving up cheesesteaks during lent…and working a booth at the church carnival….

“Won’t my Presbyterianism somehow spoil the Body and the Blood?”, I panicked. And my wife, in the snarkiest tone possible and with a look usually reserved for my 20-something year old son after one of his occasional transgressions says…”Don’t worry, the priest will transform it…pretty sure the congregation will survive you bringing up the wine.” It was about here that I realized we were doing this…so I chose this moment…this issue…to make my stand…”I’m not taking the wine…if I spill it on the rug, there won’t be a baptismal font deep enough for me to hide in.”

And that ended that…my wife had just gotten me to choose how I wanted to do the thing that I was fighting her about doing…

…after all these years…had she finally started me on the road to Catholicism?…and my eventual visit to Purgatory?

 

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I Know She’s Holding Out On Me…

My wife’s walk-in closet fell apart last weekend. Again…her walk-in closet, no longer able to endure the stress being placed upon it…collapsed.

Now, I don’t usually look into her closet, but when I heard the sound of broken shelving and twisted metal…not to mention her scream for help…I reluctantly went up stairs knowing exactly what I was about to see…

And still I was shocked. 

My wife has always been a working professional in the drug industry, so she has many suits and other clothing stuff that business professionals wear. When you combine that with clothes for different seasons, physical changes, age, and the fact that she is a self-admitted pack-rat…we still have the megaphone high school cheerleaders yell into sitting in my garage…that we brought with us from New Jersey…that she brought with her to our house in New Jersey…from Pennsylvania…after we got married…by now you get my point.

She’s bought more suits and clothing than I could ever think possible. I think she also suffers from paralysis by analysis when it comes to what clothing to get rid of, be it out of style, no longer fitting as it did when purchased…whatever…

As much as her vast wardrobe shocked me…nothing could prepare me for the shoes. The Imelda Marcos shoe museum should have so many shoes. Which brings me to the title of this post…she said she counted 208 pairs of shoes…I know there’s more…I think she only counted the ones in her closet and our bedroom…I don’t think she’s gotten around to the other rooms yet. I’m willing to go out on the limb of a shoe tree that she has over 300…

If you’re shocked by that number…welcome. If not, then you’ve probably wasted your time reading this.

Upon seeing the destruction and the hopelessness of her closet, I agreed to go out and help her get the materials needed to re-build a closet capable of standing up to such pressure…

While I was thinking local home center, 2×8’s, 3/4 inch plywood, hex bolts and drywall screws, she had a different idea…The Container Store…with it’s fancy wire racking, various types of boxes and containers…expensively fancy stuff…nice to look at…and not made of wood like I suggested…all the salespeople were closet consultants and not some guy wearing bib overalls like at the home center.

In conclusion…my wife took the opportunity to donate clothing and shoes to various charity groups in need of women’s clothing…something she admits she probably should have been doing all along…so I guess it all worked out in the end…

I just don’t understand why she’s giving me a hard time about my 8 pairs of shoes…hell, 2 of them can’t even be worn in the house…

Bailey and Us…I Remember When

I remember when we saw him for the first time…his ears too big for his puppy-sized head…his bark short and comical to hear…his hound voice yet to be discovered…his brown eyes and his birthday, both same as my wife’s sealed the deal…

I remember picking him up at the mall…that’s right, we bought him at a pet store, and after 14 years turns out he was a helluva deal…him and the kids went through obedience training, but it didn’t take…God love ’em, those kids were too crazy…

I remember the night we bought him home from the vet’s office…drugged up on pain medication…castration they called it on the bill…responsible ownership they told us…in the back of my mind I still think cruel and heartless…

I remember when curiosity got the better of him…an introduction to electricity and the hazards of chewing electric cords…so that’s what fried beagle smells like…it only ever happened once…I remember how he chewed the rug in our family room…the vote was close…should we replace just the rug?…or him too?…

We all had our nicknames for Bailey…Bailsey, Beagle, Baileydammit…the last one mine, reserved for those times he decided to take a run around the neighborhood…never said we were very creative…

I remember stuffed mallards, rubber balls, and any number of other toys he would fetch and wrestle over…the way he would shake those stuffed mallards as he ran with them…drop a ball at your feet and howl a beagle howl to go again…how he ran up the back stairs in the house, down the hallway to the front stairs, then down and around to the back again…throw it again he dared…

Bailey’s 14 this month…he can’t run the stairs and he only walks when he used to run…he’s come to some kind of agreement with the rabbits in the yard…they don’t even Scamper  for the trees at the sight of him coming out of the house anymore…he walks with a limp…sometime front, sometimes back(?), depends how he slept…he still has most of his teeth, just not all…and apparently there must be male-pattern baldness in his family, how can a 13-inch beagle lose so much hair?…

…he sleeps more now…but as always, there’s never a meal or a treat he’ll pass on…the vet says his heart is good, so we’re looking forward to another year of remembering Bailey when…

 

My Family…Caring And Supportive…Or Batcrap Crazy?

I’ve done more than my share of self loathing lately. But then, I’m what you would truly call a miserab, and disliking myself and my actions are all a part of the experience. But there are other reasons, external forces that help create and when needed, re-enforce my true miserable-ness.

So what is it that drives me batcrap crazy? It would be easy to tell you it’s the political shitstorm we’re all subjected to everyday, but that’s not it, at least not yet. Lack of friends, snooty neighbors…probably, but they’re for another day…

No, the number one thing on my list is family. Don’t judge me just yet, if you’re reading this I’ll bet you’ve said the same thing before, only to yourself and not in print where anyone in your family will read it. I can honestly say I have no worries there…no one in my family has ever read, or asked to read a single word I’ve published. But I’m not bitter. Let me introduce them…

My wife may be the smartest woman I know or have ever known, and it ain’t because she hitched her wagon to this horse’s ass. Her one major flaw…she doesn’t listen, or maybe it’s respect…a word I tell her. Sure she’ll ask for my opinion, but most of her time is spent performing this painful monologue where she speaks and I only move my mouth when she puts her hand in the back of my head like I’m some sick sort of wood dummy. On the rare occasion that I do spout a semi-coherent thought, she chipmunks it away in her brain, only to see the light of day again if someone she actually has respect for confirms it as a good idea. But then it’s, “(Fill in any name here) said this and it seems like good advice.” You’ll notice there is no mention of me as the original author of that good advice. But that’s okay.

Now, my wife, is also a mom, just ask my son. They have this relationship, and I swear they do it to annoy me, where one minute she’s the loving Italian mother talking to the son who would do anything for her, and the next minute I’m looking to hide all the cutlery in the house. It can turn that quickly. There is a saying that goes, “Pick which hill you want to die on”, and there isn’t a hill in our house, in our lives, that isn’t out of their war zone. They’ll debate his grades, his job, religion, politics, food, beer…anything, it’s all up for grabs, and I find it’s best to duck when the verbal bullets start flying. Things get heated and that’s when my wife drags me into the fray. I’m the human shield, I’m that thing that signals to my son that he can’t win this one, run and live to fight another day…and then like that, the relationship is back to loving mom and adoring son (kinda)… I’m left in a state of not ready to let it go yet…next thing I know, their off to a movie, to the mall, to grab a sandwich…and everything is right in their world…it’s me who’s left holding the bag labeled “Hostility”.

My son, God love him, is the most over-confident student currently on academic probation that I know. He’s also a bit of a beer Buff and there isn’t one he won’t try, which might shed some light on his academic probation status. But he has a dream, a vision of opening a brewery and cooking his own brand of beer, a part of society so underserved that as of last year there were only a mere 5,000 brewers in the United States. But I give him credit, it’s his dream and I won’t squash it, there’s already over 5,000 people in line for that job.

I also have a daughter. She was smart enough to move to Florida after graduating college, thereby avoiding all of this familial strife. It also allows us to take our show on the road a couple of times a year, possibly educating other families, especially younger ones, in new and sometimes brutal ways of dumping on each other. Now, my daughter, she’s truly crafty…she has made it known to each of us separately that she enjoys us coming to visit her…one at a time. It gives her more one-on-one time with each of us… and thereby avoids the hysteria that accompanies a full family visit. It’s her brand of divide and conquer strategy…and to be honest, it works like a charm.

I have a beagle. His name is Bailey and he’ll be 14 years old this year. That would make him 75 to you and me, and just like me, he’s got bad feet, he’s a little overweight for his size, and I think his hearing and sight are starting to go, and occasionally he’ll have a senior dog moment when he walks into a room with no clue as to why he wants to be there. He’s a great dog though, except he has his days and nights confused. I also think he has some separation anxiety as well, and nothing cuts into my sleep faster than a beagle howling for attention at 3:00. That’s A.M., after midnight, when we should all be asleep. So for the next half hour, we go outside, we might wrestle over a toy, maybe have a biscuit or two (him, not me), whatever it takes to settle him down.

There you have it, an attempted humorous look at my family, the folks who irritate me, promote self loathing within myself, and drive me absolutely batcrap crazy on occasion,  and with whom I couldn’t do whatever it is I do if they weren’t in my life…

 

Featured Image via from Dorkly via flimsyspoons

The Return of Darth Neighbor

Yes, the name Darth Neighbor is a cheap rip-off of Star Wars evil-doer Darth Vader, but when I was swinging plastic light sabers in the back yard against my 6-year old son and the neighbor kid, I was usually forced to represent the Dark Side of the force. No problem, we all know Lord Vader had the highest Midichlorian count in the Star Wars universe, so it stands to assume the Dark Side would have ruled my neighborhood as well.

Always cast as the villain, I created a dark Star Wars persona of my own, that of Darth Neighbor, the ultimate power not only in my back yard, but possibly in all of the Providence Ridge housing development.

My own interest in Star Wars ended with Return of the Jedi and the destruction of the second Death Star, however the release of The Phantom Menace inspired a new generation of fans in the franchise (not me though), and inspired the galactic battles that raged in my yard after I got home from work. And of course, only after those little Jedi nuts had finished any homework assignments for the day.

The battles usually took less time than it took the Millenium Falcon to complete the Kessel Run, were always un-choreographed, usually just me chasing a couple of pint-sized wannabe Jedi Knights around the yard, through swing sets, around bushes and trees, between cars, whatever obstacle they could run around or hide behind. But unlike Star Wars, in the universe called my back yard, the Dark Side always prevailed.

Just as Old Ben Kenobi had buried the memories of his days as Obi-Wan, I also forgot about my days as the ass-kicking Darth Neighbor. Until this year, when my daughter reminded me of those days when she sent me my personalized magic band for my trip down to see her at Disney World.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Katie is like a Star Wars historian, but she’s also a pretty good athlete. And she knew the one way to guarantee my attention was to pull out the hockey net and it wouldn’t be long before I showed up. To her credit, she also padded up and laced on her roller blades for those father/daughter games in our driveway; so how could I ignore that much effort? 

When my son and the neighbor kid played, the games deteriorated into watching two Tasmanian Devils hitting the ball everywhere but at the net. It was their own out-of-control brand of “dump and chase” hockey, and like two Unmoored ships in a hurricane, they crashed into each other often and knew no boundaries of any kind, and it went on until one of them slashed the other hard enough in the shins or on the hand with their stick. This usually sent the aggrieved party home or back in the house for first aid or to have a sandwich and a glass of milk or some damn thing, leaving just my daughter “Skates” and me to practice our slap shots and our triple deeks.

And when that box with the magic bands arrived, she also reminded me of the times when father/daughter fun was spent just shooting pucks at a net in my driveway…just the two of us.