Monday, October 1, 2018

What I Did On My Summer Vacation: 1982 Edition

The summer of ‘82 has been in the news as of late — don’t worry, not going there — and as it turns out, that particular window in time was a significant turning point for me. I didn’t keep a calendar and wouldn’t
swear to the accuracy of my recollections in court, but a few moments from that summer stand out as impacting my attitudes about life, my taste in music and my feelings about tiny flying mammals.For me, the summer of ‘82 kicked off with the completion of the final exam of my sophomore year at Ohio University. My best estimate is that it was either Wednesday, June 9th or Thursday, June 10th. OU was on a “quarter” system back then and the academic calendar was a little weird. The Fall Quarter started in mid-September and ran through Thanksgiving. We had a Holiday Break from Thanksgiving until New Years and then Winter Quarter ran from early July to late March. After a week off for Spring Break, Spring Quarter began in early April and ran through mid June. The negative thing for me, and one of the factors influencing my decision to transfer to Bowling Green in 1983 was that summer jobs in my hometown ran on a “tourism” schedule from mid May until late August and the late ending date made it hard to find employment. In the month leading up to that summer, I had been aggressive in my job search and had interviewed with and, I thought, secured a retail job at Sears in Sandusky over Spring Break and a subsequent visit home in May. When I arrived back in town, though, the store manager said they decided they couldn’t “wait for me” and had hired someone else a week earlier. This was a pretty significant development since I was paying a fair portion of my own way through college and by the end of my sophomore year had pretty much exhausted my financial resources. I spent a good part of those first couple of weeks out job hunting. I must have filled out 50 applications for jobs ranging from grocery store bag boy to house painter. In my off hours I mowed a couple of lawns for pocket money and hung out with my friend Carl.

Carl worked summers at a prestigious yacht/golf club called the Catawba Island Club, or CIC, and he encouraged me to put my application in there, so I did. Like many of the other places I applied I was told that they were fully staffed for the summer, but would keep me in mind if anything opened up. By the last  week of June, I was feeling a little depressed and beginning to doubt I was going to find anything. Carl,
his older sister Jo and I went to see the movie Ghost Story at the drive-in. It was a pretty forgettable film about a bunch of partying college kids who accidentally kill a girl and then cover up the crime. As you
might guess from the title, that ultimately does not go well for them.
A week or so later, on July 5th, Carl and I arranged to meet up with our high school buddy Jeff. Jeff had opted not to go to college and instead had taken a manager’s job at the Great Scott grocery store in Port Clinton and had moved into a small apartment in downtown. There was going to be a full lunar eclipse around 1:00 the morning of the 6th and the plan was to have a few beers and watch it from the roof of the store. When we got up there, though, it was kind of nasty — dirty and wet — so we decided to go to an eclipse party that one of Jeff’s neighbors was throwing back at the apartment. That went well enough until the girlfriend of the host went off with another guy on a “beer run” and didn’t return. Jeff, Carl and I then got caught up in a “posse” to track them down. It’s probably worth noting, for the record, that our participation in said posse wasn’t completely voluntary and we were pretty concerned about what might happen if we actually found them. Fortunately, we never did and just wound up running around town and spending the night at Jeff’s place.

The next morning, after about 2 hours of sleep, we got up and headed over to Carl’s house. Carl’s family had a small sailboat and we decided to take that out on the lake. We had a great time sailing around off Catawba Island; wherever the wind would take us. And that was a crucial point because none of us actually knew how to sail, so when it came time to head back we came to the somewhat disturbing observation that we were a mile or two offshore and the wind was continuing to blow us toward, well... Canada. We pulled in the sail and started paddling with our hands. Jeff, who had been on the swim team in high school, tied a rope around his waist, jumped in and pulled us along behind. At one point a motor boat, seeing our situation, pulled up alongside and asked us if there was a problem. Not wanting to look stupid, we claimed that no, we were just enjoying a fine summer day on our sailboat with our friend having a swim at the end of a rope. It took us most of the afternoon to get the boat back to shore, by which time we were exhausted, sunburned and embarrassed. It was also the very last time the three of us would do anything as a group.

When we got back to Carl’s house, Carl’s dad asked me how my job search was going. His dad was the superintendent of schools and well-respected in the community. With all the excitement of the preceding 24 hours, I had sort of forgotten about the depressing prospect of another 2 months sitting at home with nothing to do. I told him dejectedly I was still looking, but hadn’t found anything yet.

I went home that night, rubbed Noxema on my sunburned face and extremities, collapsed into bed and slept until noon the next day when my mother woke me up and told me I had a phone call, somebody named Mark from the Catawba Island Club. I jumped out of bed and ran downstairs. It was Mark Grabowski, the
dining room manager from the CIC. They had a busboy quit and if I could be there at 5:00, I had a job!

Was it a coincidence that I got the job a day after telling my tale of woe to Carl’s dad, who was a member of the club? Maybe, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I think a call was made. If so, I owe Carl’s dad a huge debt because that job changed my life. 

I will say, though, my time at the CIC didn’t start out that great. At a country club, there are pecking orders, even among the staff, and I was definitely the peck-ee. The other busboys had been working together for at least a few weeks and were “led” by a couple of grade-A jerks, one of which was the starting QB for Oak Harbor high school. If there was a crap duty, I was the one who got to do it. Things started to turn around, though, when I got my first check. I had never worked for anything more than minimum wage and was so grateful for the job opportunity that I hadn’t bothered to ask about the pay. It turned out that busboys earned minimum wage PLUS they split 1% of the waitresses tips for that shift. That was a nice little bonus that amounted to about $50/week. Things went from looking sort of okay to looking pretty dang good. Then came the night of the bat.

My family lived in an old farmhouse. We didn’t have air conditioning and the window screens were old and ill-fitting, but we kept the windows open because it would have been too hot to sleep otherwise. I woke up one night that summer to high-pitched squeaks and the fluttering of leathery wings. A bat had gotten into my room. I started yelling and shooing at it with a pillow. Eventually I was able to get it back out a window, but the event bothered me a lot and I was not able to sleep soundly through the night for the rest of the summer.

In late August, my college roommate called and we went over plans for the coming year. We were moving to an off-campus complex called the College Inn and we would need some things we didn’t have in the dorm. He was bringing the stereo and fridge and I was responsible for getting a toaster oven. By that time, Carl had already gone back to school, so I drove over to Kmart in Sandusky by myself and picked up the oven and a new alarm clock. As was my habit, I also checked out the music department and decided to buy Jackson Browne’s Running On Empty. At that time, I didn’t own any of his albums, but was familiar with the title track and "The Loadout/Stay." When I got home and put it on the turntable, I was surprised by how good every song was and played it more or less constantly for the rest of the summer.

By the time Labor Day weekend rolled around, I was getting more comfortable in my job at the CIC and had put away several hundred dollars. That Saturday was the last crazy-busy night of the summer season in the dining room, but I wasn’t feeling well. Lack of sleep and long, long hours had caught up with me and I spent a good bit of my shift shuffling to the employee restroom. Not a pleasant way to end the summer.

I probably worked a couple more uneventful shifts before packing it in and heading back to OU, but that Labor Day Saturday was the last thing I recall with any clarity until arriving at the College Inn. What could have been a depressing, difficult break had miraculously morphed into a transformational experience. I returned to school with greater confidence and resolve. My experiences at the CIC had taught me how the other half, well the other 2% actually, lives. I would go on to work two more summers at the CIC, eventually rising to the position of "Caller," one of the more coveted and well-paying positions there, and I still credit my experiences that summer as the root of the success I have had later in my life. 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Cowboys or Saints; Who To Hate Most?

The NFL kicks off the 2018 season tonight in Philadelphia, and the Panthers play the Cowboys Sunday afternoon in Charlotte. I really, really don’t like the Cowboys, but, honestly, it’s been so long since they were relevant that they are no longer my most-hated team. That “honor” goes to the Saints. How I came to dislike those teams so intensely is the topic for today’s blog post.

On October 3rd, 1988, I sat down in the living room of The Little House on the Highway to watch Monday Night Football. The game was between the Dallas Cowboys and the New Orleans Saints. In previous years, that wouldn’t have been much of a matchup. The Cowboys had been good since the late 60’s, while the Saints had been horrible since they came into existence in 1967. The Saints had, in fact, posted their first winning season in franchise history the year before, and that was the weird strike-shortened, replacement player season. Still, there was a sense of a “changing of the guard” in the NFL that year and many believed that the Saints were improving while the Cowboys were on the decline. To an extent, this would prove true as the Saints, behind USFL refugee QB Bobby Hebert, would win the game 17-14 and go on to a 10-6 season, narrowly missing the playoffs, while the Cowboys would slide to 3-13 that year. It would be Tom Landry’s last Monday night game.

At the time that game was played, I sort of liked the Cowboys and was ambivalent toward the Saints. Growing up in a household of Steelers haters, the Cowboys were the anti-Steelers and the only team that consistently gave them resistance during the latter part of the 70s. Roger Staubach was a stand-up guy and Tom Landry was the classy gentleman under the fedora. The Saints had been a non-entity for so long that, lacking any particular reason to dislike them, you sort of rooted for them as sad-sack underdogs.

Neither the Saints nor the Cowboys did much of note to finish out the 80s, but things would change dramatically as the new decade started. In Dallas, a complete jerk bought the team, fired Landry, hired an equally big jerk as coach and then swindled the Minnesota Vikings out of numerous draft picks which were almost immediately turned into Hall of Famers. Overnight, they went from “America’s Team” to something more akin to the Yankees; you loved ‘em or you hated ‘em. I hated them.

The Saints took a little while longer to make my poop list. When the Panthers entered the league in 1995 we were placed in the same division as the Saints and the Falcons, but at the time the Falcons were by far the better team and served as Carolina's primary geographic rival. The first Panthers game I ever attended was against the Saints, a Panthers win at Death Valley in the expansion season. For the first few years, the Saints were essentially good for an easy win or two, making it hard to hate them. But then... Katrina.

On August 23, 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, inundating New Orleans. It was a tragedy of epic proportions. The Panthers were scheduled to open the 2005 season with a game in Charlotte against the Saints. Despite having gone 7-9 in 2004 due to some major injuries, the Panthers were considered playoff contenders and were heavy favorites against the Saints. With the game coming so soon after the devastation, however, the Saints had become something of “media darlings.” The Panthers offered free tickets to many New Orleans residents who had been displaced to Charlotte by the storm. I was at the game and seated near some of those ticket recipients and it’s then that I got my first taste of what Saints fandom was really like. When the Saints were introduced, the Panthers crowd skipped the usual “rough” welcome and instead clapped politely. Conversely, the Saints fans talked trash, and nasty trash at that, incessantly for the entire game. The Saints went on to a surprising 23-20 win, which was hailed by the national media as the greatest thing ever, because, well, that's what the media does.

The Panthers went on to a successful 11-5 season and made it all the way to the NFC Championship game, but the ugliness of those Saints fans always stuck with me. Then, a few years later, the Saints were implicated in “bountygate,” a scheme in which New Orleans coaches paid players for hits on certain opposing players which resulted in injury. One of those select players was Panthers QB Cam Newton, and that pretty much solidified their place as the team I hate most.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Ancient Artifacts, Huntersville Edition

On Saturday, I replanted a flower bed near my garage. I have been trying to grow lavender and creeping jenny there for the past few years and the results have been underwhelming. I decided to pull everything out, double-dig the whole bed, add some peat to improve drainage and replant it. About halfway through the process, my shovel hit something metallic. Looking down, I was able to make out the remnants of some sort of cylindrical object. Believing that I might have stumbled onto a major archaeological find, I proceeded slowly, carefully removing the accumulated dirt and debris from around the object.

Although it was now badly deformed and in two pieces, it was immediately clear to me that the artifact was originally a single tube-like structure, about five inches tall and two inches in diameter. It was made from a light, flexible metal and painted in bright red, green and white shapes. Although the condition of the object made it difficult to ascertain what the design might have originally meant, it appeared to relate some a graphic description of the contents. The size and shape of the artifact suggest that it was probably a vessel used to hold and transport a liquid. The unusual metallic composition along with the bright colors and intricate design of the outside indicate that it likely had ritual or spiritual significance.

Although I am awaiting the results of the radio-carbon dating for verification, my initial estimate of its age places the artifact as mid-90s, a time when this part of North Carolina was mostly virgin forest with only a few scattered outposts of human habitation, mostly semi-nomadic tribes who fled south during this period seeking warmer weather and an abundance of purple and teal. It's fascinating to think about who the original owners of the artifact might have been, how they used it and how it came to be buried deep in a flower bed only a stone's throw from my garage. I guess I'll never know the true story, but I have a gut feeling this artifact is related somehow to the two-by-three-foot piece of foam insulation and the "Bic" firestarting device discovered during a dig in the same vicinity more than a decade ago.

Huntersville is an ancient place, full of mystery and intrigue, strange native cultures and Starbucks. Sometimes on a still night, I can sit out on my back deck and hear the rhythmic thumping and frightening whines of long-departed spirits echoing through the trees. Or maybe it's just the cars on I-77; you know they kind of sound the same.           

What I Did On My Summer Vacation: 1982 Edition

The summer of ‘82 has been in the news as of late — don’t worry, not going there — and as it turns out, that particular window in time wa...