WFB October 2016

Trick Or Treat

One of childhood’s greatest holidays is fast approaching, and kids everywhere are waiting with breathless anticipation for the great day to arrive.

Or at least I’m assuming they are. It seems that Halloween today is an entirely different event than it was when I was a kid.

Now I’m not really that old, I grew up in the exciting 70’s where those stupid plastic masks and flimsy vinyl bibs were all the rage. I don’t think you could find those anywhere in the country right now unless you went looking at an antique store.

Most of you reading this probably know exactly what I am talking about, I’m sure you can remember having a stuffy hard plastic likeness of Fred Flintstone secured to your head by nothing but a rubber band and a staple. Already I am getting winded just by picturing those atrocities in my mind, the little hole in the nose and mouth of the mask that were supposed to help you breathe and never quite lined up right so you either had to spend half the night in an oxygen starved state of dementia or give up the pretext that you are this cartoon character come to life, completely for the sake of normal respiratory functions and push the mask up on your forehead. This usually happened near the end of the night, you could look down any block and see scores of children, masks off, pillow cases full of booty dragging behind, beginning their long final walks back home.

After a while, a kid will outgrow those $5 costumes and actually make their own. In all honesty, it was more like having mom make it for you, but it was still your own costume. Back in my day, there weren’t a lot of things to dress up as. Cowboys were popular, and simple. A lot of kids went in their baseball or football uniforms, a pop gun and dad’s old army fatigues made you an instant G.I. Joe, and of course there was the easiest costume of them all, the ghost. How many bed sheets were forever ruined by having eyeholes cut into them? There was always some unfortunate kid who had to use an old pastel sheet with flowers on it, ridiculed for having a sissy costume and last on the pecking order on the good candy houses.

As I got older, my friends and I developed a strategy to get the best candy in the shortest amount of time. Usually there were between four and six of us, as we entered a new block we would assign different houses to different kids. After our “reconnaissance” we would meet up and examine the spoils. The houses with the best candies were noted and the ones that gave out raisins or those nasty peanut butter chews and even the occasional toothbrush were strictly avoided. This way we didn’t waste our time filling up out sacks with junk we would just give to our little sisters anyway.

Speaking of sacks, there was also a strategy for them as well. If you showed up with a big pillow case or garbage bag, people thought you were greedy and treated you as such, but if you had one of those cheap plastic bags with the handles that would break with any weight in it at all, then you tended to get a little more loot. So the trick was to have both. Leave the pillowcase under a bush in the front lawn and break out the sack!

We would practically have a free run over several square miles on that night. It was safe enough back then to let the kids lose for a night. There were usually two or three parents on every block who kept an eye out for trouble and let us enjoy ourselves, egging and toilet papering were still carried out with regularity (but only when we knew the coast was clear).

Things have changed today from what I can understand. It’s sad really.  What was once a fun, spontaneous thing is now a structured, commercial product. Parents have to keep a constant eye on the children because we don’t know our neighbors as well any more. There aren’t more sicko’s in the world today, they just get better publicity and it causes us to panic and overreact. It’s a vicious circle the more we react, the more one nut’s actions scare us. If we would just take the time to get to know the people in our neighborhood like we did back in the days before cable television and the Internet, we might make the streets safer without knowing it.

Memories of dad

You know, my dad was pretty cool.

I always knew that, but sometimes a memory pops up that really reinforces that fact.

Last night, while watching the Cubs playoff game I was discussing the obsession with the Cubs shared by me and my father, when I remembered something we used to do together every year while I was growing up in Wisconsin.

There is a banquet held every year in Appleton in honor of Richard “Red” Smith, a local legend who played professional baseball and football, and coached both sports as well.

From 1977 until 1985, dad somehow got tickets to the event and dragged me along as a birthday present.

I was too young to really appreciate the event, but as a kid I enjoyed the fancy food and the opportunities to get autographs from the guests seated at the head table every year.

Looking back at the programs and signatures I acquired over the years, I realized I never fully appreciated the notable names I had the pleasure to hand a pen to back then.

Hall of famers like Warren Spahn, Tommy Lasorda, Otto Grahm, Ray Nitschkie, and many more. My favorite program has Bart Starr and Ernie Banks’ signatures side by side.

Of course, I had no idea who most of the people were at the main table, so I asked everyone to sign my program. As a result, I have autographs from umpires, priests, high school scholarship winners and even executives from Miller (who co-sponsored the event). I still don’t know who half of them are, but it doesn’t matter.

The memories of spending time with dad on those special nights are what counts the most to me.

I always knew my dad was cool. Our bond was sports and we would spend most of our time talking baseball or football up until his last days.

I hadn’t thought about the banquet in such a long time until last night. A quick Google search shows the dinner is still held every January like it has been for the past 50 years.

Perhaps a trip back to my roots is in store some day soon.

I’m sure my dad will be sitting right beside me again with a big smile on his face.

Thanks dad.

Is this the year?

I have written about my lifelong affliction of being a Cubs fan several times now.

I have talked about the agony of seemingly constant disappointment, the eternal hope that next year will be better, and even the specter of doubt that seems to creep in when the Cubs are winning.

This year the Cubs have a better than average chance of making a World Series run for the first time since 1945. And a World Series Title chance, which would be their first since 1908 – a 108-year drought!

As a member of the Die Hard Cub Fan Club, I couldn’t be happier, especially since their come-from-behind rally Tuesday night.

But there is also a part of me that is waiting for disaster to strike. Every Cub fan has dealt with great disappointment before, and we are used to the inevitable dread looming constantly over our shoulder.

I was born and raised a Cubs fan. I was born in the year of the famous September collapse that knocked the team out of first place and the playoffs.

My father used to say I wouldn’t stop crying after they were eliminated from the post season, and he knew I would be a fan for life.

My dad and I shared a bond of being Cubs fans from that point on, and together we suffered countless losses, embarrassing seasons and optimism that things had to get better.

In 1984 the Cubs made it to the post season for the first time in my lifetime, and the first time since 1945. One of my favorite pictures is of my dad and me celebrating when the Cubs clinched the National League East for the first time.

That year the Cubs won the first two games of the National League Championship Series against the San Diego Padres in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, and were only one win away from returning to the World Series in 39 years.

Disaster struck when the games moved to San Diego. The Padres swept three straight and ended the run.

My dad decided we needed to take a family vacation after that and we spent the week hiding from televisions to avoid watching the Series.

Since then the Cubs have made it to the post season seven times.

In 1989 they lost to the Giants, in ’98 swept by the Braves. In ’03 they took revenge on the Braves, but lost to the Marlins in another heartbreaking series that further cemented the “loveable Losers” tag.

They made the playoffs in 2007 and 2008, but didn’t go far. I actually managed to get tickets to one of the league championship games in 2007, but the Cubs never made it that far and the unused ticket sits as a reminder of unfulfilled hope.

Last year was a fairytale season. The Cubs won an incredible Wild Card Game and crushed their rival St. Louis Cardinals in the Division Series, only to get embarrassed by the Mets.

This year is different.

The Cubs’ organization built a team designed to win it all. They amassed the best record in baseball over the regular season, and are the odds-on favorite to win the World Series.

After a dramatic win Tuesday night, it seems like this year is the one.

But, they are the Cubs after all.

I can only hope.

My room

Since I was 18 years old, I have been basically on my own. I moved out of the house and went to college. After that, I joined the workforce. In my years of “independence” I have developed my own style of decorating… it’s kind of a minimalist thing. I have never lived in one place long enough to settle down and truly make it my own. As a result, I keep most of my belongings in boxes just in case I need to disappear quickly.

Being a bachelor, I figure I can do pretty much anything I want to do in my house. If it means living like a slob and hanging posters on the wall… so be it. But I know someday that will change. A pretty little thing will come along and sweep me off my feet and before you know it, I will be doing yard work and “honey do” lists on my weekends.

When I do find Mrs. Right, and we settle down and get married I will make a deal with her. I will tell her she can do anything she wants with the house, I will even help…on the one condition that I get one room to myself. This will be my sanctuary.

A man has to have a place of his own. Guys, back me up here. We need to have some place in the house where we can scratch, burp and omit other gaseous emissions without fear of reprisal. We need a place where we can watch all the sports we want and not get cold stares. A place where we can cry when Old Yeller gets shot or the final scene in The Champ without embarrassment.

A friend of mine has a deal with his wife, everything above-ground – hers. Below-ground – his. He has transformed the basement of their house into the ultimate “guy’s room,” replete with a big screen TV, refrigerator, pool table and an old, beaten up couch that when you sit in it for any length of time – you stick to the cushions. A couch any man can respect.

My room will have to have a big comfortable recliner as its centerpiece. This is where I can sit and watch television, play my video games and just generally shoot the bull with friends. My computer would be there so I could work at home without distraction (unless a really good game was on). And of course I could proudly display all my “baseball junk” without having to worry about it clashing with the décor of the rest of the house.

My room would get only the barest minimum of cleaning. A light dusting every now and then and perhaps a spritz of deodorizer, but I would never want it to be spotless. I couldn’t stand to live in an immaculate house where I would be afraid to sit on a chair for fear of somehow crumpling the cushion.

Some people like homes like that, and I say “To each his own.” But it is not for me.