Pass the “S.O.S”

It’s Thanksgiving week, and my thoughts normally turn to turkey and all the trimmings.  But my son Josh, who lives and works in Japan is coming home for Christmas for the first time in two years, and since turkey is one of his favorite meals, we’re postponing our meal until he joins us.  I make a pretty good pot of chili, so that will be my feast for the day.  I won’t have turkey sandwiches the next day, but I will have chili dogs.

One of my favorite meals however, which I haven’t had in over FORTY years is lovingly referred to as “S.O.S.”, a delicacy from my Air Force days that I truly miss.  You can find “Chipped Beef” at some stores (Stauffers frozen) and very few restaurants.  But these all contain dried beef.  The Air Force variety was made with good old ground beef.

Poured over toast and served with coffee, it quickly became my all-time favorite breakfast.  I’ve tried a LOT of different versions since I got out, but NONE compare to the simplistic taste from my Air Force days.  Don’t tell World War Two veterans of  my happiness, they hated it.  I keep telling myself that perhaps the Army just couldn’t cook as well as the Air Force.

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It’s A Bird…. It’s A Plane…

I was scheduled to be inducted into the Army on July 1, 1966.  Instead, I decided to sacrifice two more years of my life and enlisted in the Air Force and went in June 30th.  I often rue the extra two years, but I was convinced that had I gone into the Army, I probably would NOT have made it back home.

The interesting thing about those early days was the amazing cross-section of personalities I was exposed to.  We had college guys, thugs, service brats and mostly, guys like me – from all over the country, just trying to survive.

One of the guys I’ll never forget was Steve Lansing.  He loved airplanes, and though just a lowly enlisted man, dreamed of being a pilot.  I would look up in the sky and see a silver glint against the sun.  Steve would see the same moving speck and tell you what type of plane it was, the serial number and whether the pilot had shaved that morning.

I’m exaggerating of course – but you get the idea.  I didn’t have a super power like this to share with my fellow Airmen.  I had superficial knowledge of both sports and music, but lacked the confidence to speak out about either subject.

After 3 short months however, I realized my niche.  I had a bit more common sense than most of them.  That knowledge and keeping my mouth shut served me well.

 

 

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All The Way To Yesterday…

One of my all-time favorite songs is “Rhythm of the Rain” by the Cascades.  The lead singer, who also wrote this marvelous tune is John Claude Gummoe, and like me, he grew up in Cleveland.  I got to interview him many years ago, when I still had a show on a commercial radio station in Cleveland.  We kept in touch over the years, and a few years back he recorded a new CD with some of the songs from the original Cascades album and a new song that just completely blew me away.

As soon as I heard “All The Way To Yesterday” I knew I was listening to a hit… unfortunately, the times have changed, radio has changed and for the most part, the world has been deprived because they haven’t heard this song.  I’ve done my part, as it’s been on the play list (in high rotation) on TUNEDEX MEMORIES for the past three years.

John left Cleveland for the Navy and never came back.  His tour took him to California and he never left.  In fact, he had never performed in his home town.  I am happy to say that I provided some assistance in getting him here, and he took the stage 2 years ago at Solon High School.  He gave a marvelous performance and when he sang his “new” song, I was one of the people in the audience who could sing along.  Before the concert, I got the opportunity to hear him rehearse and sing the song acappella.  Afterwards, my wife Sue and I had dinner with John and his music director (and guitar player extraordinare) Chuck Crews.  All in all, quite an experience…

The song is about going back home… recalling old friends… daily life… schoolboy crushes… in general, a wonderful excursion to recalling your childhood.  My daughter Jill turned a “special” birthday recently, and we surprised her with a birthday breakfast.  On the way to the restaurant in Cleveland, I stopped by the house that my Grandfather built, the place I spent many years and the street where I got to play so much wiffle ball.

His house is still there, but the surrounding area was like visiting Iraq.  Sporadic empty fields dotted the street where houses used to be.  The building that I “pitched to” from the curb for so many years was completely gone, a massive fenced in area of high grass in it’s place.  The garage which provided the backdrop for those wiffle ball games was gone as well, and while I can’t remember the address, I’m not so sure my friend’s house remained either.

As I turned down Madison Avenue, making my way down to Detroit Road, I saw  empty building after empty building.  The Royal Castle where I discovered Birch Beer, Rose Drugs, all the little stores where I bought baseball cards and comics, the bakeries, the dry cleaners – even the gas stations were gone.   When I got down to Detroit, it didn’t get any better.

We had a wonderful breakfast in a restaurant which was converted from an older home.  This once vibrant area and big part of my youth is now “rebuilding”…

I’m in the twilight of my life, so I didn’t expect that things wouldn’t change, but I had no idea how devastated the area has become.  Thanks to John’s song and my own memories (at least for now)… I can listen to the words and see the neighborhood through the eyes of a 12 year old.

I learned to play hearts and canasta in that neighborhood.  Played a LOT of baseball, swapped oh so many baseball cards, and purchased (with the help of my Grandmother) my very first 45… “Oh, Oh, I’m Falling In Love Again” by Jimmie Rodgers…

If you can’t make it back to your old neighborhood… please listen to John’s song… preferably on TUNEDEX MEMORIES, but you’ll also find it on YouTube.

Don’t EVER forget where you came from…

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Good Grief!

While I don’t think about dying, I know it will happen.  It happened all too early to my Mom, which probably put death in perspective for me.  I miss her always, but I don’t “grieve” for her, or “mourn” her death.  I simply accept that it happened, and I couldn’t have changed anything.  Even though I was very young, I knew she was sick and I know I helped her as much as I could.  When I was told she had died, it hit me, but I wasn’t devastated…. I was angry.

To my children and friends, I ask you to remember me in death just as you do in life.  Remember my love of music and sports.  Hopefully, the station will live on after I’m gone as my musical legacy.  Even if the station goes quiet, I will live on in my children, as they are becoming aware how much of me lives in them now.

I don’t want my kids to celebrate my death, but I don’t want it to interrupt their lives any longer than it has to.  While my mom has been gone for over 50 years, she holds a place in my heart that I will take with me when I die.  Think of me as I do her.  I remember her good times and bad, but I prefer to dwell on the good times.

Don’t get me wrong, I do NOT think death is fair.  I observed my best friend deal with the death of his wife, and I honestly felt pain when he did.  She had a zest for life and was  a good person.  She didn’t deserve to die before her time, and once again I got angry.  When my friend “Tom from Garfield Heights” passed away, I was truly sad.  But it angered me that I didn’t know him longer, because I think we would have been great friends.  He kept in touch with me as he lost his battle with cancer and while I know he wasn’t afraid to die, I also know he wasn’t ready to leave his wife and kids behind.  He was a strong man, who fought his disease with honor and dignity.  He lost his battle, but went on his terms.  I was so touched to hear that one of my shows was playing in the background when he passed, surrounded by his family.

I intend to be cremated.  I hope to find little jukeboxes so my kids can all have some of my ashes.  I’d like a portion scattered over my Mom’s grave, and of course I want the rest of me to be in a “side by side” urn with my wife eventually.  During the ceremony, please don’t feel like you have to rush to get it over.  Please convey your honest feelings with the people that show up.  Don’t feel bad for me, and above all, don’t feel bad for yourself.

Be assured that my love for my friends and family is and always has been, genuine.  When you hear a certain familiar phrase or see something that reminds you of me, don’t be sad… remembering is a good thing!

 

 

 

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The cost of stupidity? PRICELESS!

Politically, I consider myself a Moderate.  I see good points and bad points from each side of the spectrum.  I don’t like big Government, and I realize that entitlements, despite great intentions must be paid for.  However, I support many Government regulations because I want to know that the food we eat is safe, the air and water is as fresh and clean as it can be, and we’re not killing species and destroying the planet in the name of profit.

Differing opinions are healthy.  They are intended to provide the checks and balances I believe our founding fathers had in mind.  But the “Hatfield and McCoys” brand of politics that’s been thrust upon us is absolutely ridiculous.  Factor in the over-zealous, out-of-control media and the blather we are bombarded with daily and the result is a divide worse than in Civil War times.

A perfect example is the furor created by our local media about water rate increases.  These systems need to be maintained and they have NOT been.  I can’t remember a winter in Cleveland when there wasn’t a major water main break flooding downtown streets.  Since the pipes are close to 100 years old, I’m not surprised and neither should anyone with a shred of common sense.  Is that the way the story is presented?  Of course not.  If you want water, sooner or later, somebody has to pay to maintain the system.  Cleveland is raising the rates only because they’re being threatened with a law suit if they don’t.  Yes, there’s one of those pesky regulatory services FINALLY doing their job.  We can create a “sin tax” to pay for stadiums, but we don’t want to pay for the bridges, roads and sewers costs that we’ve avoiding for decades.  Do we really need for a bridge to collapse or for every basement to be filled with sewage to get the message?

While the media blowhards on both the left and the right pontificate and provide unwanted opinions over and over and over, the problems remain stagnant and go unsolved.  When politicians of both parties aren’t quoting party lines, they’re campaigning to be re-elected.  And why not?  Why wouldn’t you want to be a Congressman or Senator?  Amazing benefits, great pay and all you have to do is show up once in a while and back your parties latest agenda item, or “speak” to your constituents often enough so they don’t get restless.

We’re borrowing money just to pay the interest on our National Debt.  The average person is told that if they’re $10K in debt they might as well file bankruptcy, because the numbers say you’ll never pay off your debt in any reasonable amount of time.  Shouldn’t there a plateau for the Government?

The current attempts to decrease our debt is almost child-like.  Common sense says that entitlements MUST be somehow adjusted or they will cease to be due to lack of funds.

Please think about this as a MAJOR contribution to our debt problem.  What does it cost to maintain the Government on a daily basis?  The cost of paying all the politicians and staff with benefits must run in the Billions if not approaching Trillions.  If they do NOTHING, as they have been, what are we as taxpayers getting for our dollar in terms of value?  The same NOTHING that they provide.  States and Cities face the same financial crisis and yet elected officials can’t or won’t work together.

If we as citizens can pull together to fight what we consider unfair legislation, why can’t we propose a bill to be passed by the vote of the PEOPLE to provide ACCOUNTABILITY?  We elect our officials to do our work.  If they’re not going to work (and bi-partisin rhetoric stops most of them now), then they should be fired, as any other ineffective employee and PAY US BACK the money they’ve wasted.  It’s not like they can’t afford it, most of them are already Millionaires. Of course, this vice grip of ineptitude will never be loosened because most of them are also attorneys.  What a Country!

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Religion and Politics…

My children know me well enough to keep me away from anyone discussing either of the socially “taboo” subjects.  Of course, I got them in the long run, because I ALWAYS encouraged them to follow their own beliefs and be their own person.  They all are, and I wouldn’t change any of them.

I am a hopeless romantic, and I embrace the concept of the succession of souls.  I’m a real sucker for stories and movies that propose concepts of star-crossed lovers who just look at one another and feel a cosmic connection that transcends time.

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of organized religions.  From the nut job that predicted the Rapture we just lived through recently to the powerful Catholic church covering the sins of it’s priests, I’ve been dismissing religious “structures” as far back as I can remember.

My best friend growing up became a Baptist minister.  As much as I loved the guy, I could never understand why his choice of religion was the best one, and in the eyes of any Baptist, the only one.  What makes one better than the next?

While I consider myself a man of science, I realize that whatever it is we occupy, it just didn’t start… something or someone had to create it.  I believe it’s beyond my comprehension as a human being and leave it at that.  I’m not all that concerned about “seeking the truth” and have even less desire to spend time on any cyclical basis listening to other human beings droning on about what they believe in.  I am not looking forward to death, but I accept it as a part of life, namely the end and nothing more.

Religion would have you believe that after life there is some kind of judgement,  but I’ve never embraced the concept of heaven and hell.  Science would have you believe in the space-time continuum where space and time are the same entity.  There are people who dismiss one or the other, and also some that are devoted to one or the other.  I think if you devote your life to either, you’re missing out on the day to day mysteries that make our lives so unique.  I believe we are all meant to experience highs and lows, struggle and survive, and cope with love and loss.  We as individuals don’t need a final judgment… if you near the end of your life and recognize your mistakes and savor the balance, you’ve probably led a pretty good life and the satisfaction of knowing is your reward.

Now about politics… don’t get me started!

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Da plane… Da plane…

I am self diagnosed with obsessive compulsive behavior.  I have had the “collector” thirst in me since I was just a little guy.  Over the years it’s been baseball cards, comic books, records, albums, tapes, CD’s and now digital files.  But I think I began displaying my first symptoms in the second grade.

I remember finding a book at the grade school library that fascinated me.  It was a book about airplanes and had page after glorious page of 3D outlined views of just about every kind of aircraft you could think of.


I purchased a Rainbow tablet at the corner candy store for a nickel.  It was great – five different colors and stacked so high it seemed I would never run out of paper.  With my trusty (class required) Laddie pencil, I would daydream through class after class by tracing those planes.  Each page had a top, front and side view.  I labeled them all carefully and really had no idea why I was doing this or what I would do with all the tracings when I was done.

The kids at the desk around me thought I was crazy because there was no obvious use for my artwork.  I think I even knew that back then, but if nothing else, I got pretty good at identifying aircraft.  I begged for and received a set of Tootsietoy die-cast metal airplanes.  I flew them around imagining all sorts of exotic destinations and fake battles.

You might think that this led me to my decision to join the Air Force, but trust me, that wasn’t it.  First, I have been deathly afraid of heights as far back as I could remember and the thought of flying in ANY plane freaked me out.  Second, and remember this was during the Vietnam conflict, I had been drafted and would have gone into the Army anyway.  I gave up an extra two years of my life to enlist, but as far as I was concerned, I was alive because I avoided the Army.  So much for childhood dreams…

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A horse with no name

I never met my real father.  I have ONE picture of him standing in my grandparent’s back yard with my Mom.  I met my stepfather somewhere between the age of 5 and 6.  Just before I turned 11, I lost my Mom forever.

I have two very vivid pre-adoption memories. The first is one I will never forget and might explain my aversion to haircuts to this day.  I mentioned that my Aunt Marge lived next door to my grandparents.  Her first husband,  Uncle Ray was the family barber.  I think I was four or so, and had lovely ringlets of hair and everyone decided it was time for my first haircut.  I can still hear those clippers and my screams of terror as I saw my hair falling on the floor around me.  Now remember, I went in the Air Force and had my head buzzed, but I was prepared for it.  The trauma of that day helped me decide to keep my sons as hairy as possible before they had to be subjected to the horrible cyclic ritual involving scissors and clippers.

My second memory is much better.  I’ve written in previous posts that my Grandfather worked up the street.  I can never remember him having a car.  I do recall however, looking out the front window each day watching for him to be dropped off.  As soon as his ride’s car door began to open, I would run for the dining room table and hide.

Perspective is relative I suppose, but my Grandfather was a big man.  I’m  guessing at least 6′ 4″.  To a four-year old, he might as well have been a GIANT. He knew I was hiding, but every day he followed the same routine.  He’d plop down his lunchbox and started to pretend to look for me, asking “now where could Chuckie be”?  When he sat at the table I smelled the distinctive aroma of his workplace.  I would learn later in life though my own experiences that the smell was of metal shavings and oil.

My Mom’s family were true Irish Catholics.  My grandfather apparently did his share of living up to the his nationalities reputation while in his youth.  But while I do remember him drinking a shot of whiskey every day, I never saw him drunk.  While he certainly got angry, I never saw him out of control.  I never adopted his drinking habits and made every attempt to never lose control of my inherited Irish temper.

I must have been between 5 and 6 when my Mom married my stepfather.  I never went to Kindergarten and instead went right into the first grade.  My grandparent’s got the Saturday Evening Post and I taught myself how to read. I was way ahead of the rest of the kids with regard to reading comprehension and found myself leading groups of readers with the blessing of the teacher.

 I never met my stepfathers Dad, but I very much remember his Mother.  I remember walks with my Mom from our home on East 57th Street to a butcher on East 65th, right across from Morgana Park, home of the some of the best softball in the United States.  My Mom would pick out a duck and they would cut off its’ head and drain the blood into a white container which would be the main ingredient for the Polish delicacy known as Czernina. My Polish grandmother made delicious noodles but I hated the “duck blood soup” she made.  She lied to us and told us it was “chocolate” soup, but in addition to that container of blood we brought home, the other ingredients were vinegar and prunes.  Sure took away the glory of those wonderful noodles!

I do not remember exactly when she died, but the house must have been built by her husband, who I never met, and my stepfather.  Despite being a Polish neighborhood, I didn’t know of anyone else that had a yard like ours.  We had mulberry trees, plum trees and a crab apple tree.  Quite plentiful for the size of the yard.  Just beyond the back porch sat a plaster fish pond with plaster toad stools around it.  I really don’t remember the fish, but I do remember it being filled in with dirt to become a nice flower garden.

Just beyond that, under the crab apple tree was a plaster horse that had to be about 5 feet high.  My sister tells me the father sculpted all these items and also how the horse met its untimely demise.  I’m inserting a painting by Van Gogh of a horse, but you’d have to have seen the horse to believe it.  It stood on all fours, had fake jewel eyes and actually for little kids, was quite a sight to behold.  As I got older and got the job of cutting the grass, I rued the day I had to push that mower through the avalanche of dead rotting fruit and around that plaster maze in the back yard.  There was no “weed wacker” invented yet, so I had to use hand clippers to do the trimming.

I left home at the age of 16 and went to live with my grandparents.  Of course, I never told anyone at school and even though it took me an hour and a half each way, I didn’t miss out on graduating friends, some of which, I had known since grade school.  I enlisted in the Air Force about a year after graduation and it must have been about this time the horse met its’ fate.

Miscommunicated instructions led my Sister and Brother to take hammers to the plaster horse.  My stepfather came home from work to find the last vestiges of HIS childhood had just been destroyed.  My Sister doesn’t remember when, but apparently the fish pond/flower garden soon followed and the unique plaster art was soon gone for good.  And to think that I’ve watched made for TV movies about neighbors suing each other over eyesores in their respective yards.  If the producers only knew…

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Fried bologna and ping-pong

I began Junior High School in the fall of 1960.  Entering the 7th grade had enough challenges, but in my case I had a little more pressure.  After my Mom died, my sister and brother and I got passed around like a sack of potatoes from one well-meaning Aunt and Uncle to the next.  I also missed graduating from the 6th grade with my friends.  Instead, I wound up going to a school near my Grandparent’s house.  There were no kids from their street in attendance, so I had to make all new friends. Worse, this was a feeder school for either West High or West Tech High school, so I knew I would probably never see them again.

My step-father remarried, which is what prompted our return to the South East side of Cleveland.  I attended Myron T. Herrick Junior High, which was near East 55th Street and not too far from St. Alexis Hospital on Broadway Avenue.  Mound, my old Elementary school was just one of the two feeder schools.  So I got to see old friends I hadn’t seen since my mother had passed and became aquainted with a lot of new people also.

I have no idea why, but I decided to join the band.  After a skills test, I was assigned to be a Baritone player.  I really liked Band, and because I joined, I met and became best friends with Keith, a newly ordained trumpet player from Tennessee.

Keith lived with his sister near the school, and I soon found myself walking to his house each morning (while listening to WHK on my transistor radio) and then arriving at school together.  We both started playing ping-pong after lunch and it soon became an obsession.

A ritual had been born.  I got up early, devoured my piece of toast, gulped down my cup of instant coffee, grabbed my lunch bag and made the 15 minute walk to his house as quickly as possible.  Keith’s sister was busing preparing lunches for him and her two daughters.  The girls were watching Clutch Cargo, a syndicated cartoon show, and Keith and I were attempting to play serious games of ping-pong in her kitchen while she was frying bologna.

The smell of that fried bologna would stay with us all the way to school.  He always seemed content at lunch, but now that I’m older and realize what happens to greasy food when it gets cold, I simply don’t know how he enjoyed those sandwiches.  I soon began lugging my Baritone case home with me.  Often, I’d stop with Keith and we’d practice for a half hour or so and then it was back to the kitchen table for ping-pong until dinner was almost ready and they threw me out. On the walk home, my Baritone case seemed to weigh fifty pounds or more.  But I would eat dinner, do my homework and before I knew it, once again ping pong balls were flying and bologna was frying.

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The Coal Bin

As far back as I can remember, My grandfather had an electric furnace.  Not so at home.  We burned coal primarily and also the garbage.  Do you remember the movie “A Christmas Story” when the dad was swearing in the basement and smoke was coming out of the heat grates?  He was complaining about the “clinkers”.

Burning soft coal in our furnace produced dirty, sulfurous smoke and clinkers, or big chunks of fused, ashy rock.  Soft coal contains slate, which under heat fused into a rock-like mass ranging in size from about six inches to nearly two feet across.  Handling clinkers was a twice-a-day job.

Before going to bed, I had to use a “poker” to break up the clinkers to ensure a good flame in the furnace.  The next morning, dead clinkers had to be removed with a three pronged claw.  The poker and the claw were always next to the furnace door.  Also nearby was a large galvanized tub to hold the hot clinkers and irritating ash the soft coal produced.  The ash was removed with your coal shovel.

The coal still burning inside the furnace was then spread out and new coal laid over it to produce a good fire.  Once the clinkers and ash in the tub cooled, I carried the tub outside the back door and dumped them into a special can.  The City of Cleveland actually came to the back yard, and took the cans in the front to the truck and left your cans on the “tree lawn”.  There was always a day when only clinkers were removed.  At the bottom of our clinker can there was always some fine ash residue which could be used as a traction helper if the car got stuck trying to get up the driveway.

The coal we burned was delivered.  A truck would back into the driveway and one man would toss blocks of coal through our basement window from the truck to another man in our basement standing in the coal bin, a wooden structure with a door that housed the coal.  He stacked the coal against the far wall and it was my job to “feed the furnace” with as many blocks as it took to keep the fire burning.

I’m not sure how old I was, but my step-father bought an automatic stoker from the Iron Fireman company.  It was a green machine that held a hopper of crushed coal which was automatically fed (on a timer) by a huge auger/screw combination.  The coal we burned was now delivered through the window by a chute, which resulted in a large pile of crushed coal right in the middle of the coal bin floor.  My job was now to shovel the coal from the pile directly into the hopper of the stoker.  The biggest irony of all this is that my grandfather worked at Iron Fireman and helped to build these machines.  My Grandfather and stepfather didn’t get along very well, especially after my Mom died.  But this device was a part of my life that was touched by both sides of my family.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all on YouTube, along comes a fascinating coincidence.  A man discovered an old stoker that had been stored for FIFTY years and it still had coal in it.  This 3 minute video shows you how quiet it ran, how well built it was and I can attest that the green color of the stoker was the same color we had.  It is truly a small world…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=py49seodBPU

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