Frazzled Marc, half way through my 40s!

Frazzled Marc, half way through my 40s!
Frazzled Marc, half way through my 40s!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Tennis Anyone?

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered tennis again. John asked me if I wanted to play tennis up at the Lake Wynonah Lodge. Well, not particularly. My idea of a workout these days is a very regimented 30 to 45 minute cardio workout on either an elliptical machine, stepper, or treadmill IN THAT ORDER. I throw in weights too every now and then, but nothing too Arnold Schwarzenegger. And I hate treadmills, did I mention that? BORING ... even with "American Pickers" on the TV in front of me spouting their latest treasures.

Marc with Ankle Injury


I hadn’t played tennis in over 10 years. I think the last time was when John asked me to play as well. I played to appease him and get him off my back, didn’t particularly enjoy it. I think I really sucked. I will even go as far as to say it caused me great personal injury. OK, maybe I got hit by a stray tennis ball and blacked out momentarily.

It wasn’t like way back when … picture it, 1982. I was taking tennis lessons at the Wenonah Swim Club. Back then I was the star of my tennis class ... yeah right, anyone who knows me knows I was hiding somewhere in the back of the class to avoid getting called. Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe were tennis idols. Every guy wanted to marry Chrissy Evert. I was just trying to get by without getting hit by those damn stray tennis balls. At least waaaay back then, I had a smidgen of tennis talent (I think.)

John Looking Too Serious


Who are we kidding, I was playing tennis every day, attempting to serve the ball, tossing it in the air, and having it hit me in the eye every friggin’ time! If I wasn’t taking professional lessons … which I sucked at … I was playing with friends in flip flops stubbing my toes to bloody pulps on the courts. But nevertheless, my friends and I did have countless hours of fun hanging out on those hot tennis courts. Sometimes we played in bare feet standing on our pool towels, trying ever so carefully to hit it to each other without having to run across the hot court. What were we thinking? We were definitely NOT the perfect tennis players of the 80’s wearing matching preppy Izod shirts, shorts, and white sneaks!

Once again, I matched that opposite look playing tennis with John. There I was in my Rutgers t-shirt, Under Amour shorts, Skechers sneaks with stand out black socks! But luckily, no flip flops. This time, I actually and completely enjoyed myself. I think it has to do with my age. After 40, I just don’t give a flying *@&# how I look as long as I have fun.

Marc Flailing About

John and I had such a blast. He was great volleying the tennis ball right at the net. I was great hitting the tennis ball over the 30 foot fence ... hitting the house 50 feet behind the tennis courts several times. I never did get their name to apologize to them.

Anyway, I finally found my groove and we volleyed back and forth. I slowly regained my nonexistent serve after all those years. And I didn’t even hit myself in the face again! Several times I did look rather ridiculous on the court, but I held my own. A couple balls whizzed past me while I swung at them like a mad man. John said I looked like a disabled goose flapping about.

I will play tennis again. No, not an official tennis match, but I had a blast just hitting the ball back and forth. I rediscovered I have a pretty mean back hand too. John was even impressed with that! Don’t expect me to know the difference between love, ace, and match point. Don’t expect me to wear matching Polo shirt and short sets saying, “Thanks Buffy, that was a smashing set!” I will play tennis, make a fool of myself, look ridiculous sometimes, and probably have a better time than most people.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My Mentor Elaine

Writers block. I just hate it and have had it for the last week. It sucks. You just cannot figure out what to write about. Or, as in my case this week, I just feel uninspired. It's crazy, because I have lists upon lists of topics but nothing is just jumping out at me ... but wait, my memory has traveled back to someone very dear to me.

My mentor and former teacher from elementary school, Elaine Arbo, once told me that when you don't know what to write about, just start writing and see what comes out. You may find something. She is write ... LOL, I mean right. Ironically, I typed "write" when I meant the other word. I think I will keep it that way. :)

Elaine was my 2nd grade teacher at Wenonah Elementary School. She was a slightly eccentric and extremely creative woman with these huge glasses and brilliant silver gray hair. She was such a wonderful influence on me. Starting in 4th grade, Elaine taught a program on creativity for "gifted" students. I hated that term, by the way, "gifted." I never felt "gifted," just more like "geeked." I always thought that the eight of us were just kids chosen to this program to express ourselves in a creative outlet. It was voluntary. Elaine encouraged us to follow our passions, create projects, and write.

We brainstormed about ideas, came up with solutions, and even competed in a sort of competition called the Olympics of the Mind. I credit Elaine with fueling my passion and love of writing, art, and all things creative. Those 3 years with Elaine influenced me more than anything else save my parents and family.

The class was called ACE. I forget for the life of me what it means. If I remember, I will add a comment on the bottom. Anyway, we met a couple times a week. Elaine checked out progress on our projects. We were worked on these projects outside of class as well. My "project" spanning 3 years were stories on a grand race of friendly, clutzy aliens. I also wrote other stories surrounding my pets. I still have all of them to this day, tucked away carefully in a chest. My first pieces of writing are sacred to me.

The class ended when I moved onto 7th grade at Gateway Regional High School. Even though our contact is rare, I feel Elaine became a friend for life. I sometimes reach out to her and often send her updates on my blog. Our last week of ACE, Elaine took us to lunch at the Happy House Chinese restaurant near our elementary school. Even as 6th graders going onto 7th grade, I recognized the bittersweetness moment for what it was. Those were three extremely special years.

Thank you Elaine, for so far, a lifetime of continued writing and creativity.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Ta-ta's in the Trunk

Embarrassment. It’s a word that hides around the corner. When the opportunity presents itself, it willingly and eagerly jumps out of hiding to throw that curve ball into your day. Spinach in your teeth at a business meeting? Embarrassment is one of those people in the crowd laughing at you. Caught with your proverbial pants down? Embarrassment is probably the one that pulled them down.

With that being said, my good friend Renee knows that I have a small antique business on the side, nothing major, pretty small change … my fun money. I am frequently at yard sales, flea markets, and thrift stores, hunting for treasures to buy and sell. Renee lives on the lake and has a tiki hut lakeside with a life-size replica of the Blues Brothers holding court for all those to see when they sail by. So when Renee asked me for a mannequin as a lifeguard, I thought nothing of it.

Well John’s mom, I remembered, had a vintage dress mannequin and he offered that up for Renee. As a joke one evening, we dropped it on her door step and ran. It startled her mom Dottie when she was leaving, thinking someone was hanging out around the front door. Renee questioned me about it and of course I denied it at first but then with a big laugh, fessed up.

The mannequin was worn and really unsuitable for braving the elements out at the tiki hut. It soon ended up back at my house and thanks to Renee, it was wearing a pink Philly Eagles hat, sunglasses, a Hawaiian lei, and a pink shirt with enormous fake ta-ta’s underneath. These ta-ta’s would make even the most risquรฉ person blush, being nipplely and anatomically correct. Renee wore them last Halloween as J-WOW from the shameless MTV show the “Jersey Shore.”

Renee and her hubby tried to drop if off back at my place without notice but unfortunately, Renee is not the most stealthy type and was caught red … or rather pink handed. Gotta love her but James Bond would have fired this woman if she ever tried to be a spy.

John and I kept Ms. Pink Ta-ta’s sitting on our porch swing for a couple days and then moved her inside. I had planned to mail it all back to Renee but the mailing costs for a mannequin with huge ta-ta’s was cost prohibitive. Ta-ta’s take up a lot of box space, although they are excellent for cushioning your breakables.

The mannequin ended up being donated to a local thrift store and I dumped the ta-ta’s in the trunk of my car with all the other pink lady gear until I could get them back to Renee. One week went by. Two weeks went by. You get the picture. I was driving around with a pair of exposed ta-ta’s in my trunk. I came to forget about them and would push them aside whenever I needed trunk space.

A week or two later, I had stopped by our local liquor store to purchase some items for the private lodge where I manage the bar. It was a routine pickup for me, buying two cases of liquor and wine. I walked in and the clerk from the liquor shore said hi. She’s always so nice, I thought, going about my business.

That day, she offered to help carry out one of the two liquor boxes. I stated that although I appreciated it, it wouldn’t be necessary as they were not that heavy. Well we went back and forth for about a minute and I finally gave in to her help. I justified in my mind that she would feel better helping me.

The clerk took the lighter of the two boxes and followed me out to the car. Once we reached the car, I balanced one of the boxes with one arm and fumbled for my auto trunk opener on my key chain. After about 30 seconds, I finally clicked the opener with a sigh of relief and the trunk ever so slowly opened up. It seemed like forever. She went to place her box in the trunk and jumped back, “WHAT THE HECK?!?”

Staring back at her were two bright red nipples standing front and center on the fake ta-ta’s.

“Oh my god!” I exclaimed, “I am so sorry, they are my friend’s! She wore them for Halloween!” (Sorry to throw you under the ta-ta bus, Renee!)

“I don’t want to know!!!” She retorted dropping the box into the trunk on top of the ta-ta’s.

“No! Seriously, they are my friend’s! They aren’t mine!” I repeated red faced from embarrassment.

She ran inside the liquor store while repeating “I don’t wanna know, I don’t wanna know, I don’t wanna know!”

“But I don’t even own a pair of fake ta-ta’s!!!” I yelled after her but it was to no avail. Some old couple stood across the parking lot staring at me. I gave a nervous smile and got the hell out of there.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Country Roads

I travel 50 minutes each day to work on PA Route 78. It’s about 48 miles. It’s not a bad commute, kind of long and straight, through valleys, farmland, and woods until you get into the industrialized part of Lehigh Valley. The route follows the last ridge of the Blue Mountains before the Atlantic coastal plain. Scenically, speaking, it’s very pretty.

The traffic flows smoothly. Truckers, I find, are pretty respectful of drivers on the roadway. The usual problems come with idiots speeding to and from work in their sports cars. I usually tune out to NPR, Elvis Duran’s radio show in the morning, or pop in a favorite CD.

During these last three weeks, three separate accidents have completely shut down the I-78 corridor during the morning. The first, occurred on a Friday morning by the Kutztown exit. A man in a pickup truck went down the embankment and crashed into a tractor trailer. Poor guy lost his life. The second accident happened one exit down the following Monday morning. A tractor trailer overturned. The third accident happened this morning, when a truck caught fire and exploded between those two exits.

As with each time, traffic was detoured today onto old Route 22, also known as the Hex Highway, referring the colorful Hex signs adorning barns owed by the Pennsylvania Dutch in this part of the country. Old Route 22 parallels Route 78, so I could see traffic lined up for miles on the highway. Not a pretty sight. People with dogs, business professionals, and truckers were all out of their shut off vehicles hanging out chatting while my long line of traffic slowly snaked by.

As we weaved through small towns of sometimes no more than 10 houses, I turned off the radio and started enjoying the scenery. The window was rolled down, a summer morning breeze entered the car, and I smelled honeysuckle growing by the roadside. Birds chirped, there was the screech of a circling hawk, and cicadas were trilling in the trees.

I started looking at these surroundings, really looking. Farmhouses from the early 1900’s passed me. Sometimes, I passed an old stone farm house dating back to the mid or late 1800’s with a jumble of outbuildings surrounding it. Several houses stood abandoned or dilapidated, with weeds overgrowing around rusty swing sets from decades ago. The children have probably moved away to suburbs with Wal-Mart’s and Targets. The parents are elderly, doing their best to try keep up these large places where once families with 5 or more kids lived.

In one town, Lenhartsville, the Deisch Eck (Dutch Corner) family restaurant stands proudly on one corner. Further investigation online of this restaurant shows that it obviously specializes in Pennsylvania Dutch cooking and is one of the finest restaurants around. I have to have dinner there sometime. Plus, it has a gift shop, and I am a sucker for any place that has a gift shop. Growing up and traveling with my family may bring memories of the tourist attractions to my brother and sister but I remember with fondness, the Stuckey’s convenience stores that dotted the mid West with their large gift shops inside!

I go through another town, Krumsville, by the Kutztown exit, and pass and Dietrich’s Meats Store Country , another family owned and operated establishment (aren’t they all like this in the country?). Pulling into the parking lot, you immediately smell succulent meats smoking in the smoke houses around back. Inside, sausages, pork, beef, and poultry await you as well as penny candy, PA Dutch cook books, chow chow (a pickled veggie mix), and Dutch desserts like shoe-fly pies and whoopee pies.

Lastly, as I pass through the village of Grimville, following other modern day sedans and pickup trucks at a 10 mile per hour pace, I spy to my left an antique car restoration business. Taking this “back country” road, although running along the highway, has brought me through towns suspended in yesteryear. And now perfectly, I have the restored antique cars to go with these towns suspended in time. The stresses about being late to work leave me for a bit. I breathe in the country air, gaze at the horses or cows in the fields, and feel relaxed.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Yard-ly Wisdom From Charlotte

I completed a lot of necessary yard work this past weekend. Yard work is a lot like exercise. I hate doing it, but when I start and get into it, it’s not so bad. Then, after an hour or so has passed, I feel like I can keep going and going. This weekend included mowing, trimming bushes and trees, and general yard maintenance.

John and I have had bad luck with the forsythias this past year. We planted a row of five of them two years ago. The one closest to the house is growing like crazy. The other four always seems to be struggling. Branches die, we snip ‘em off, others grow in their place. The troublesome four never seem to get beyond the scraggly bush phase. A friend in the Lake mentioned that he thought it was the soil. I don't know, just give me something that grows like crazy with watering.

The pussy willow, on the other hand, is just crazy all over the place. I try and keep it trimmed back so that it doesn’t look so wild. Our butterfly bushes have come back since last October’s snow storm. Vibrant purple flowers are attracting a myriad of hummingbirds, monarchs, and bees.

I haven’t seen our rabbit since the other week. I think it was traumatized by John mowing the lawn. We also saw a baby bunny that same day that darted into the woods. As it turned out, the hollow that I thought was the rabbit den may be the back entrance of a gopher hole. Now I swear that we didn’t have gophers on this side of the Lake. My stepdad Barry has some, but he is all the way across the Lake about 1 1/2 miles away.

Now I haven’t actually seen a gopher, but after John and I debated about the nature of the hole (rabbit, skunk, or gopher?), we decided to bring our friendly neighbor Charlotte into the discussion. Charlotte, whom I have written about before, is a wonderfully eccentric 70 something year old divorcee. She is very good to John and I and is always dropping off random items of food to keep us full: baked goods, one can of Pepsi, chili, ham and pea soup, fake crab meat, hot dogs, bay scallops, and the occasional odd small cantaloupe the size of a softball.

Charlotte was on her deck watering her marigolds when I called her to come over to the back of our house. “Charlotte! Can you come over here? John and I have to ask your opinion on something!”

“COMING!!!!” she yelled and pretty much bolted up the small hill as quickly as her spry frame could carry her. She certainly has a lot of energy for a septuagenarian.

“We have a hole next to the back flower bed and don’t know what made it. I say a rabbit, John says a gopher. Do you know?”

Charlotte looked down into the hole and then looked at John and said grinning, “Ooooh, that’s a hole from a nice fat gopher.” She held her arms up apart giving its approximate size as if she were showing us the size of a prize rainbow trout from the Lake.

“Yes!” John exclaimed, “I knew it!”
I was still in disbelief. “That can’t be a gopher. I’VE never seen it!” I huffed. "And I've seen EVERYTHING in this yard!" I hate being wrong.

“Oh Oh yes, he lives under my shed down the hill. He’s a big one,” Charlotte claimed.
“Well, OK ..., “ I gave in skeptically. (I still think it’s the rabbits or a skunk.)
We stared at the hole for a couple minutes and then thanked Charlotte for her “yardly” wisdom.

She started back towards her house and then turned quickly. “Now boys, I don’t want to worry you, but I am going in the hospital for surgery.”
“Wait! What’s wrong?” we asked in unison.

Charlotte needed “something removed”, nothing too serious, in an outpatient procedure. She said her son would take her there, stay with her, and then take her home. We offered to help her out in whatever capacity she needed and she was grateful. She began to talk about her woes.

“My elbows are going, my knees are going, everything is going!” she declared matter of factly. “I have no cartilage left in my knees!” she declared pointing to her nobby white knees. “John, if you put your hands on them and I bend them, you can feel them crack! Put your hand on my knees John! PUT YOUR HANDS ON MY KNEES, JOHN, WHILE I CRACK EM! DO IT!” she commanded. John and I stared at her with our mouths agape.

“Uh ….” John began, pausing awkwardly, looking for help and not sure where this was going. I looked at him and began laughing. “Uh … no thanks Charlotte,” I said, “If the neighbors see, they might think strange things!”
She started laughing, “Yeah, I guess so!”

With that, Charlotte bounded down the hill back to her marigolds. Gotta love Charlotte!