Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Ghost of 1988

One of the weird things about hitting a milestone age is when you can compare it to where you were when someone else hit the same age.  When I turned 50 last weekend, I couldn’t help but think of when my dad did as well.

It’s like, “Oh my God, I’m the same age as when THAT happened!!”  At 50, my dad was the Elder Statesman of our tribe.  Whatever was going on, Dad would know how to fix it (or make it go away), and that went for family and our extended network of friends and neighbors.  Our house (and Barn) was the nucleus for the entire neighborhood and that wouldn’t have been possible without the permission and oversight of my mom and dad.

And now I’m that age?  Geez, where’s all the wisdom?  Does it creep up or does it drop on you all at once?  I’d hate to be walking down the street and then all of a sudden, WHAM!  A generation full of knowledge hits me full blast.  I’d probably end up wandering into the street from the impact and get run over by some typical Maryland driver who is texting and eating an Egg McMuffin at the same time.  Or a sharp-eyed Ratbirds fan.

So when Dad turned 50, we hatched an insidious plan to throw him a surprise birthday party in Pittsburgh.  I think it was his sister’s idea.  Mom was in on it too.  But we were living all over the place, so meeting up in Pittsburgh was going to take some coordination.  And first, we needed cover stories.

See, all Dad wanted for his birthday was to get his family together in one place and go out for a nice Segnari’s fish sandwich.  You may remember that the Big Fish Sandwich is a staple in our family.  We never pass up a chance to catch one when we’re in town.
You can see why…

My brother, sister and I all formulated cover stories that made it so that we had to miss his birthday on the Friday, but could make it to Pittsburgh the following day.  And we all gave work-related excuses, knowing that he would want us to fulfill our working obligations.  I was managing a record store in Cleveland so I had a million excuses on hand.  I think I said that we had a home office exec coming in for inspection.  I don’t remember what my brother and sister said, but it was something similar.

We also put the word out to our old neighborhood friends and invited them out.  I think it really said something that 4 young adults made a 4-hour trip from Toledo just to come to a neighbor-dad’s birthday party.  That tells you something about the bond we all had.

Anyway, since none of his children could “be there” on his birthday, Mom and Dad were going to go to my Aunt Grace Ann and Uncle Ange’s house.  Uncle Ange was going to pick up a bagful of fish sandwiches and they’d have a quiet dinner ‘in.’ In reality, the house was stocked with family and friends, with an entire Italian buffet spread laid out in the garage.

Also, as it happened, Ohio State was playing at Pitt that Saturday, and between my cousin Nikki who was attending school there and her Dad (Uncle Ange) who had connections, they were able to get a fistful of tickets for the game.

The big moment finally arrived.  We were all huddled downstairs in the den when Mom and Dad came in.  I heard Uncle Ange say, “Yeah, the fish sandwiches are downstairs…”

Dad came downstairs and then, “SURPRISE!!”
I think this was the last time Dad didn't wear a beard.

There stood his evil children, old family friends and every aunt, uncle, niece, nephew and cousin in the Pittsburgh area.  And what was his reaction to all this?

But where are the fish sandwiches?

I’m not totally sure if he was kidding.  But it’s not like he didn’t get a good birthday meal…

There were tables set up in the garage and we had quite a feast.  I was concerned, however, that the Toledo delegation had not yet arrived.  Knowing how difficult it is for the uninitiated to get around Pittsburgh, I was quite certain they were on a ramp somewhere, sailing off in a direction that they didn’t want to go.

But before long, our friends Margaret and Jennifer rolled in and totally surprised the guest of honor.


There was another surprise as well, as someone had arranged for a traditional belly dancer to come provide entertainment.

It was not a surprise, however, that my buddies Rik and Brill came in right behind the belly dancer.  Rik said he saw her on the street and knew that she had to be going to the party.  I suspect he was just being polite, and would have followed her to any party she was attending.

The rest of the night was filled with eating, drinking, dancing and assorted carrying on.
The Young Guns.  From L to R, Margaret, me, Nikki, Rik, Jennifer, Brill and my brother Ed.  And that’s Mom lurking off to the left.

Geez, we were so freakin’ young.

The next day, Mom, Dad and all us young’uns went to the Pitt/OSU game, which was the first college game I’d ever been to that wasn’t in Ohio Stadium.  And the kicker was that as a birthday present, Dad got a pair of tickets to Sunday’s Steelers/Bengals game.  Ed had been to a Steelers game in Pittsburgh before so I got to go to this one.  It was my first football game at Three Rivers Stadium.  The Steelers were kind enough to win it for us too.

It’s hard to believe that now I’m the very same age that my dad was on that occasion.  The differences in our accomplishments at 50 are distinct.  At that time, he had three children spun out of the house and on their own.  He was accomplished professionally and was living a comfortable life.

I sit here now in a 2-bedroom apartment with many failed relationships and a busted marriage in the past.  While I’m doing OK now, my job history has been checkered.  I don’t have kids so the closest I have to a legacy is, well, you!  And I thank you for that!  Writing this blog has been the most fulfilling thing I’ve done since I can remember.

So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.  It’s funny, though, because even way back in 1988, we were making jokes about sending my folks to go live in The Home.
It's always good to make your retirement plans early.

I don’t think I’ll be able to afford The Home.  I’m planning on retiring to my friend John’s garage.

The Mojo Boogie
My Steelers haven’t looked to good lately, so I’m shaking some things up.  First of all, I banished the Steelers Gnome back to his earlier spot on my desk.  Next, I’m digging out one of my old game jerseys, the old black 86.  When I got it, it was an Eric Green jersey.  But at the time, I never had a name put on the back.  A couple years ago, I finally had Hines Ward’s name put on.  I believe he wore the jersey with the block numbers for one year, as a rookie, before the Steelers switched number styles.

Anyway, I attended a whole butt-load of Steeler games while wearing this jersey, so maybe there’s some mojo left in it.  And maybe there’s some left in Hines too.
Black Hines jersey with throwback long-sleeve tee, white Steelers sweatpants and the Steelers socks.


Late Update:
The old mojo worked like a charm as the Steelers whupped up on the Titans 38-17.  Unfortunately, I picked the Titans in my weekly picks.  In fact, I got killed in the early games on my picks this week, going 2-6.  (And the late games haven't started out my way either.)  It's tough because I make my picks without thought to who I would want to win, otherwise.  That leaves me in a hard "rooting" position, as I can either root for the team I like (or would help the Steelers) versus the one that will make me "right."  It's uncomfortable rooting to be wrong.

16 comments:

  1. Great blog about great subject matter. THE HOME you refer to was under construction and we moved before it was completed. It was going to be a place to keep an eye on. BUT Fla. is even better. Had a fish sandwich two weeks ago at Segneri", still the best. Dad

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  2. Great post, pictures and memories. When were we that young. Little Brill looks so pleased.
    Dad still wants his fish sammich, thinks he's one low.

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  3. Dad,
    I know how you like when I writes posts about YOU. I was going to include this story in my original birthday posts, but realized it needed its own.

    Thank you for leading the way.

    Mary Ann,
    I'm sure Dad has caught up on his fish sammiches. I know I have...

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  4. So point-on about how strange that we could be the same age as our parents were for particular events that seem just yesterday. Time just flies by, whether or not we're ready for it...

    We had a 50th surprise party for my dad, too. Sadly (hate to be a buzz-kill here), he was gone just three years later. I guess I realized that 53 was a young age to die, but that fact is really hitting home this month, as I turn 50.

    On a lighter note, I love some of these hairstyles, glass frames and fashions. Damn, did we think we looked good...

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  5. Sherry,
    So sorry about your dad. My mom mentions that kind of thing from time to time, now that she's past the age that both of her parents passed. Me, I'm hoping to be like Grandpa, who's 95 and still a pisser.

    As for the clothes... hey, it was the 80's. Everyone looked like that... Probably from all the cocaine.

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  6. Looks like your pop had a great party, and a lot of great people to share it with. Can't say that I've ever had a fish sandwich like that, but if that's hot sauce I see slathered there, it looks damn good. I'm glad to hear blogging has been good for ya. We enjoy reading it. Yours is one of the best written blogs we follow, because you've got an honest voice, good stories, and always write well. Cheers!

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  7. Brandon (Beer),
    Thanks for the kind words... I really appreciate them, especially coming from a blogging rock star like you and Bryan. "A Beer for the Shower" is never anything less than hilarious.

    Yes, in Pittsburgh, a fish sandwich is an amazing experience, and you have to put hot sauce on them. If there isn't 3 inches of fish poking out from each side of the bun, you got gypped.

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  8. What a great story. I love surprise parties!

    And that photo of your parents in front of the sign is fantastic. What a great sense of humor and fun your family seems to have.

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  9. Jessica,
    Yeah, where do you think I get it?

    My sister took that shot up in Green Bay, the year after Dad’s party. There’s a companion shot to it, with my sister dragging my dad by the arm, like she was taking him to The Home. The family joke has always been that the “Home” option was preferable by far to the alternative… living with my sister.

    (Just kidding, Annie! Love ya!)

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  10. Bluz, there are some days that I would really WELCOME The Home!

    O.k, so you're 50, and you think you don't have the smarts that your dad did at age 50, but actually you have a different set of smarts! So don't put yourself down, Bluz. We all adore your and your snappy wit, AND your socks!

    xoxo,
    Your Hot Arizona Auntie

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  11. Judie,
    Remember, Dad was playing with a handicap... three kids in 5 years! But thanks!

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  12. I read your blog a lot and always enjoy your stories and posts. This one hit home for me in a parallel universe. I turned 50 last December and I spent a lot of time thinking about my mom and where she was at in her life when she turned 50 and drawing the analogies to my life. We were 30 years apart. I have very vivid memories of my impression of her at that time and then comparing those memories to my present day perspective was powerful and humbling. Yeah, I definitely thought I knew it all back then and listened to Mom's advice with half an eye and struggled to see her as a person in her own right and not just my mom. This was a great tribute to your dad. Nothing like turning 50 to take stock of your life, huh? Then something like Steve Jobs' death occurs and I read all these very prolific things he said and it renews my determination to live a meaningful and enjoyable life with lots of laughs. P.S. I found you via Cassie's blogroll. I wish I was a blogger so I could meet up with all of you because you seem like a lot of fun!

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  13. I still have that shirt they say fashion trends come back every few years !!!!

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  14. Deb K,
    First of all, thank you for coming ‘out of the dark’ and commenting. I love it when new commenters appear; it’s like finding a new playmate. Please feel free to comment and participate in the conversation, going forward.

    I’m especially glad when something I’ve written hits home. I know it always helps me when I realize that other people have gone through the same or similar experiences that I have. Makes me feel more connected to the world.

    It’s so cool that you found me through Cassie’s blog. If you’ve read either of us for very long, I’m sure you see the affection we have for each other and the rest of the “cast of characters” that shows up. And with that, I officially welcome you to the party! If you’re up to travel, we can invite you to the next Darwinfish Fry we throw… One doesn’t have to actually write a blog in order to be included. Non-blogger but frequent commenter “DG” was at our first affair and would have been at the second, had she not been committed elsewhere.

    Hope to hear from you again soon.

    Reeik,
    Lucky for me, a polo and khakis never go out of style. But I don’t think I could fit into any of that stuff now, even with a shoehorn and an industrial-sized can of WD-40.

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  15. You're a whole lot wiser than you think, Bluz.

    And dude, you and your dad have the EXACT same smile.

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  16. Mrs. Bachelor Girl,
    That's because we both smile at the thought of fish sandwiches.

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