Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Friendship’ Category

Didn’t seem to be a big deal. Fellow came by yesterday. We were sitting at the kitchen table, just chatting, and he asked, “Do you know those little Tedeschi stores?” I just smiled and nodded that I did know them. Maybe my smile gave something away, I really don’t know. However, he followed up with, “What, why are you smiling?

I had to ask, “Do you know the history of the Tedeschi’s?”

“No, whadda you mean?” he asked.

Well, you know me, I’m not one to let an opportunity pass, so I had to tell the story…at least as I know it, and so I began…

Years ago, gosh, I couldn’t have been older than six or seven, we lived on the first floor of a two story house in Rockland, Massachusetts. The house was on Belmont Street, number 51 to be exact. Down the street from us was a little neighborhood grocery store. It was actually attached to the residence, but it had a parking lot that was big enough for maybe six cars. The husband and wife who lived there were Angelo and Katherine Tedeschi. There were days when my dad would take his shotgun and some shells, walk down the street and into the store. He’d yell, “Hey, Angelo, get the dogs and let’s go hunting,” and Angelo would tell Katherine to mind the store, and off he and dad would go to hunt. Remember now, this was late 1940, early ’41. If they were lucky, they would bring home a number of rabbits. Angelo would skin them and put them in his freezer. I have to tell ya, this store was just a little big larger than a two-car garage, so when I say it was ‘neighborhood,’ I mean, if you walked in there, you knew right away who was shopping. They were your neighbors. They knew you. You knew them, and it was a gathering place for neighborhood gossip as well as for picking up that night’s dinner.

It was later in 1941, December 7th to be exact, that America changed. We were drawn into a Second World War. Angelo and my dad were too old to join up, but some of the Tedeschi boys, as I was later told, went right down and enlisted. Ralph, the oldest, went into the Army as an officer. He fought in Europe and was promoted to the rank of major. To his misfortune, he was captured by the Germans. Ralph’s treatment at the hands of his captors was not too good. He was severely beaten. He was urinated on, and a number of other rather vile and despicable treatments were his wont in the camp in which he was held prisoners. He was isolated and thrown in a cell that had a dirt floor. As I understand it, he found a small stick at some point, and that dirt floor of his cell and that stick probably saved his life. You see, Ralph would diagram on that dirt floor his ideas for a new kind of market that he and his family would build when the war was over and he could go home. Different stores, different designs, different this and different that…all on the dirt floor as he was recovering from his beatings and his interrogation. Eventually, Ralph was freed from his captors by Russian soldiers. He was reunited with his family, and he began to plan.

The first “supermarket” opened by the Tedeschi family was on Market Street in Rockland. Ralph’s family, including brothers, Sam, Nick, and Bobby, as well as sister, Etta, were all part of the team. There could have been other brothers, heck, I could never keep track of all of them. Anyway, Angelo and Katherine were able to retire and watch their boys build a small empire. Stores in Braintree, Hanover, and a couple of other towns followed. Eventually, Stop & Shop, another major New England chain of supermarkets took notice. They offered to buy out the Tedeschi’s, and Ralph, as I understand it, drove a pretty hard deal, one that resulted in reasonably good wealth for all members of his family. Oh, and there was another proviso in the buyout. Ralph was prohibited from opening any other supermarket with the Tedeschi name for a period of ten years. Hey, they were all now millionaires, right, so what’s the big deal. Well, not so fast. The Tedeschi family hadn’t gotten to the position they were now in by being lazy and sitting on their collective butts. Within five years, the supermarket bug that had bitten Ralph was back and chomping away. As a result he opened some supermarkets on Cape Cod under the name of his father. They were called, “Angelo’s,” and they were big! As time went on, Ralph turned the business over to his brothers and other relatives. Eventually, another chain came and, once again, purchased the stores.

That, however, is not the end of my tale. My own Mother and Dad were in Florida when Angelo Tedeschi died. They read of his passing in a paper, and Mom called me. “Will you please go to the wake and the funeral and represent our family?” she asked. It was an honor I couldn’t refuse…probably would have gone anyway. When I walked into the funeral home, there they were, all of the brothers, greeting people who had come to pay their respects to this wonderful man who, along with his wife, had raised some pretty damned good kids. Ralph walked over and asked, “Excuse me, but who are you?” I explained that my folks couldn’t come and that I was representing the family because someone from our neighborhood had to be there. I no sooner got the words out of my mouth than Ralph grabbed me in a bear hug and carried me into the room where Etta was sitting with her mother, Katherine. “Look,” said Ralph, “It’s Dickie Bishop!” [Gad, how I hated that nickname…still do]. I spent some time with the family and, really, it was old home week. It was also the last time that I saw Ralph alive.

Years later, my wife and I were spending a vacation in Bermuda. As I was heading for the water at our little beach, a lady ahead of me yelled out to her friend, already in the water, “Wow, not like Green Harbor,” – a beach on the Atlantic to which our my family and all of our friends frequently visited. Being the smart mouth that I am, I responded from behind her, “Not like Brandt Rock either,” another haunt of our neighborhood and right next to Green Harbor. We both laughed and went for our swims. On getting out of the water, I told my wife of the brief encounter which she thought to be rather amusing. About half an hour later, I noticed one of the women talking to a man on their blanket and point over toward me. “Ah, what the hell,” I figured, “might’s well walk over”…which I did and introduced myself. “I’m {can’t remember the first name] Tedeschi,” he said. To which I responded, “Whose are you?” This rather confounded them, and I asked if they were from Rockland. “No,” the man said, “We live in Norwell.” I repeated my question, adding, “Which one of the brothers are you the children of?” It was as though the lightbulb went off, and he responded, “Do you know my family?” I allowed as how I did and asked them what they knew of their grandparents. Turned out that both Angelo and Katherine had passed on before these young people were born. “Did you know my grandfather,” I was asked, and thus, once more, I had the privilege of telling some folks a bit of their own family history. Did I embellish just a bit? Of course, because Angelo and Katherine deserved to be embellished. They, along with their children, believed in and became the American Dream.

I write this not out of a need to tell a story. I write it because another fellow came by yesterday, sat at the kitchen table, and asked if I knew the name Tedeschi. This fellow, too, is an immigrant. He and his mom, escaped from the Soviet Union about thirty-five years ago. He owns a small business, and I can see in his eyes and in his work ethic, that he, too, is pursuing this thing we call the American Dream. I think he’s going to make it, maybe not the way Ralph or his counterparts did, but I really think he stands a good chance of realizing what just about every immigrant dreams of when he or she enters the shores of our United States of America.

Read Full Post »

Less than a month after graduating from college, I was walking down the aisle of a Catholic church in Waban – that’s one of the many villages of the city of Newton – marrying a beautiful girl that I had met seven months before in one of those quirks of fate ‘thingies.’ I had been exercising my option on a second major and doing some substitute teaching and on the first day on the job, was smitten with an arrow from Cupid’s quiver. She was smart, beautiful, and the weird part was…she liked me! I’d already had one bad breakup over this Catholic vs. Protestant religion idiocy, and while I wasn’t certain about spending a lifetime together, I was damn well certain that that would not get in the way with this girl.

Fifty years, three children, and nine grandchildren later, we buried the girl who’d become a woman, a mother, a grandmother, and my best friend. But as you would know had you read “The Dash” by Linda Ellis, it was neither the date of her birth nor the date of her death but that little line between them that made our lives together so wonderful. If there was ever any truth in the statement that “opposites attract,” it certainly applied in our case. She was an only child from a reasonably prosperous family and lived in a large city. I was one of three from a family that struggled mightily after the Great Depression and who, by comparison, lived in a rather small town. Finding one another as we did, well…you could only describe it as quirky.

The first seven years of our marriage was a series of highs and lows. The highs came in attending numerous shows in Boston, having a place of our own on the Cape and attending every performance that the Falmouth Playhouse had to offer; dining in some of the finer restaurants around and generally enjoying our jobs. She became Director of Admissions at Tufts Dental School, and I was slowly moving up in my job at Northeastern. We commuted together, tried new recipes together, did a few crazy things together that you don’t need to read about and in total, had a wonderful life. The lows came as we lost three children before they were born…and if you haven’t been there, it’s pretty low.

The first two children might have been called Irish twins, they were born so close together. The third came along a few years later. As those of you who are married well know, life with young kids is a life unto its own. They become the center of your universe. We were no different. Elementary school, Cub Scouts, Brownies, PTA, Little League, and a host of other activities combined to eat up that time formerly dedicated to plays, movies, and restaurants. In our case, swimming became the dominant focus. I swear that our car could have gone from Newton to the Brown University swimming facility on its own. As parents, we maintained our “slim” figures by sweating it out at day-long swim meets where the indoor temperature seemed well into the triple digits.

Then…she was gone. The kids, by now, were married with children of their own. The house…well, the house was empty…except for a man growing older with little to do. A few years later, a new lady came into my life…all the way from California. Life became worthwhile living once more. This love was different…and so was the lifestyle. From restaurants and shows, it became craft fairs and drives around New England. It was learning the history of this part of the country and teaching me the history of her part of the world. It was a renewed form of education. From Boston Duck tours to a helicopter ride.

The rite of spring became building of raised garden beds – she did the building – to watching seeds turn into summer squash, jalapeno peppers – wow, could they be hot – and tomatoes. I was taught about heirloom, pear, cherry, yellow, and beau coup other types of tomatoes. We had radishes – who the hell eats radishes – cucumbers, and even a season or two of green beans and peas. All of this was totally foreign to me and to what my life had been like. Other parts of the yard were taken over by a variety and abundance of lilies, sun flowers, forget-me-nots, and hyacinth. Roses included Mr. Lincoln, Queen Elizabeth, cocoa, roses-within-roses, yellows, reds, whites, pinks, and on and on. Flowers were planted that bloomed in early spring, followed by late spring, followed by summer. It appeared that color appeared from April through October. My new love sprayed with her own concoctions of both fertilizer and bug killer. Diatomaceous earth, normally used in the pool filter, became a barrier against slugs; lily beetles were plucked with tweezers, and tomato worms quickly learned the errors of their ways if they were gutsy enough to get anywhere near our plants.

Why do I tell you these things? Why would I lay a part of my life bare for all to know? There are many answers, but perhaps the most important one is directed at those who are widows or widowers. Life does not end when your partner dies. It does not end when the nest empties and only the two of you remain, often as strangers because so much of your time has been devoted to children rather than each other. You may have to learn to love again, but it will be a deeper love and yes, it will be a different type of love. And then, as I have said, you will be alone. Friends will come and they will go; few, if any, leaving the footprints on your heart that were already deeply imprinted. If you are as fortunate as I, and you may well be, someone will come along, and you, you will find a totally different world…again, just as I did. Remember, life is worth living to your very last breath.

Read Full Post »

It’s difficult to understand why law enforcement, city, state, and federal, as well as the President of the United States, took so long to state the obvious about San Bernadino. I just don’t comprehend what is so difficult about seeing this couple, dressed as they were, not being immediately identified as ‘terrorists.’ However you wish to slice it, this was a terrorist act. It certainly terrified the crap out of the people who were being shot and those ducking for cover. With the discovery of the ammunition and pipe bombs in the house occupied by that couple and their baby would indicate preparation for a ‘terrorist’ attack. So we’re at war. Is there anyone in the USA who doesn’t understand that? Are there actually people whose heads are stuck so far up…in the sand that they aren’t aware that Americans are considered by some people who actually live and work here, as the enemy. Take a look at Dylan Roof who thought that blacks were taking over America. Can you understand why an ignoramus like that would think such a thing? Who does he see on television when the President speaks? Who does he see when the Director of Homeland Security speaks? Granted, the kid is probably not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he’s probably just a wee bit prejudiced against black folks in the first place. Someone said to me the other day, “I saw a family of Muslims in traditional dress coming in the store and I didn’t panic,” as though that was a major friggin’ achievement. It’s clue time…this country is filled with all sorts of people; some came here to escape terrorism and want to live peaceful lives. Others are here but are nothing but crazy fucking assholes who are influenced by other crazy fucking assholes and who will go out and kill anybody they see who is not dressed or look exactly as they do. They do have sufficient smarts to make certain they kill at a gathering…just walking up and down the street is not going to give one maximum exposure nor maximize your kill rate…riiiight!

To top off our understanding that we are at war, we have public panic purveyors like Donald “I-can-fix-everything-but-I-won’t-tell-you-how-because-I don’t-really-know-what-to-do” Trump. I find it truly difficult to understand how this man became a billionaire. The only thing I can think of is that he bullied his way to riches; he was the loudest shouter in the room; his face got so red, his opponents thought he was going to literally explode and shit would be flying everywhere since he was so full of it, so they gave in. It’s all I can think of. He speaks such ridiculous bullshit that no one in their right minds could possibly believe what he says. And yet, what is he doing? He’s appealing to the frightened, the uninformed, people who don’t know, or care to know, understand or care to understand other cultures. These are the folks who believe that blacks eat only fried chicken and watermelon; they may see hummus in the store so that’s what “they’ eat; Asians eat only fish and seaweed or some other shit like that. They don’t know, and one who preys on their fears such as Trump becomes their hero. The media is proving to be just as gullible. Trump speaks; it’s a sound byte they have to get on the air before the competition. Don’t react; don’t cover, and see how long Trump stays in this race. The media are “feeding Seymour” and he continues to grow. If the media ignore him, Trump will be within his rights to demand an equal amount of time as is given to other candidates; that is his right. However, the minute his talk becomes inflammatory, as it has been through most of his campaign, cut off the microphone; he has overstepped his bounds.

On November 8, 2016, America will go to the polls to elect a new President. That is eleven months from this very day. Should this country, in its ultimate stupidity, elect Donald Trump, I will make every effort to move to Nova Scotia and to renounce my American citizenship. I have little doubt that the world will become a nuclear wasteland before his term of office has ended.

Lone wolf terrorists on American streets will become more identifiable and stopped as we move along in our war. At some point, they will be identified before they enter the country. ISIS or some offspring of it will continue to function in the Middle East. It is only when America says, “Enough, solve your own problems,” that we will be able to breathe easily again. If “secure the homeland” is a dirty turn of phrase, forgive me. However, I don’t want to see more gold star flags hanging in more windows than are already there. We can “preserve, protect, and defend” the United States of America by putting our own nation first and let other nations solve their own problems.

The United Nations appears to be a useless group of foreign representatives suckling at the American teat and little else. Let us move their headquarters to someplace like Belgium, Luxemburg, or Lichtenstein, and see how quickly they dissolve or get their collective acts together to solve the world’s problems. America is too rich and too developed a nation to be playing host to a bunch of spies and neer-do-wells. Is this laissez-faire attitude going to work? No, because it will never receive bi-partisan support, nor will Wall Street allow it to happen. It would be nice to give it an honest try; to attempt to make other nations wholly responsible for their actions. We can’t; we’re America. We’re the supposed 800-pound gorilla in the room. That’s why poor families raise cannon fodder and we cry crocodile tears when they’re blown to pieces. If we really cared about our young men and women, we’d be expanding our efforts to keep them out of harm’s way rather than putting them directly in its path.

We have a great many problems in our own country that are in dire need of solutions. We need solutions to our problem of poverty. We need solutions to our problem of racial injustice and profiling. We need a unified, national police force that is fully trained and fairly paid. We need to stop teaching our children to pass some damned standardized test and teach them what it means to be a citizen of this country. We need more, better trained, and again, fairly paid, teachers. We need term limits for members of Congress to weed out the do-nothings, hangers-on, and radical assholes who somehow find their way into Congressional seats every now and then. We don’t need equalization of wealth, because if you’ve got the brains and ideas, God Bless You for making the money you’ve made, but we do need workers who are paid above a poverty level to build what you’ve designed or to sell what you have made. We need equal pay for equal work. We need to stop treating women like second-class citizens by telling them what they can and cannot do with their bodies. Our problems are tremendous; they’re hard to solve and they will continue to get harder until and unless we take some positive steps to address them. However, remember this: Over half of the Pilgrims who made the voyage on the Mayflower died before a year had passed – OVER HALF – yet the rest didn’t just lay down and die. Seventy-five thousand colonists died in the Revolutionary War; that’s 1 in 20 what we now call Americans. Yet, the men who signed the Constitution didn’t give up and say, “Screw this; take it back England.” No, the problems of their day were no more or less complex than the problems we face today. Sure, the world’s a smaller place, and the problems are terrifying. Problems of the magnitude facing the Pilgrims and the colonials and that guy who lives down the street from you today are daunting, but they can be solved. That’s our job – yours and mine – to chip in and ask what we can do to help solve those problems. No, I won’t give you the Jack Kennedy tag line; you can do that for yourself. I will say a couple of things: “If you see something, say something,” and “Don’t listen to fear-mongers and loud mouthed know-nothings like Donald Trump, because he’s not worth your time.”

Read Full Post »

The gym rat is an interesting species and comes in many forms.

While most would consider the gym rat a person who is constantly working out, this is a fallacy. I have been in gyms where, when one opens a locker – generally a bottom locker and one that actually opens without the use of a pry bar –  a genuine, a-number-one gym rat will jump out and slink away, finding some hole in a wall that has either been kicked in or punched out. These particular gym rats are not sociable, have little to say, but they will feast on athletic gear that has been left behind for any period of time…including sweat socks and old jock straps. You might wish to consider moving away from this nominally-named gym rat at a rapid pace or send it on its merry way with a good swing of your gym bag. Do not concern yourself that this particular species will fight fair if it decides to challenge your authority; it does not work out on either cardio nor with free weights. Its only form of protection lies in its mouth…a rather nasty set of incisors which can cause a surfeit of damage.

There are many more species of gym rats, some to be avoided at all costs, and others to be admired from afar…or up close and personal if you have no fear of being torn limb from limb by some crazed martial arts specialist who’s just been dying to try out her newly-acquired-skills on some unsuspecting fool. It’s also necessary that you understand that species of gym rats vary from facility to facility and name to name. For example, at some establishments it is possible to see a species of gym rat known as “Musculature-excessivitis.” The male of the species can usually be found around the free weights rack, admiring both the free weights and the image of himself in the mirrors that abound in this area. If you should espy one at a time when he is using these free weights, you will note that the weight is sufficient to cause each vein in the body to appear that it will soon burst through the skin and send a torrent of blood skyward. In all fairness, it should be noted that all well-muscled members of the species are not steroid users, merely men so in love with their own musculature that they are constantly attempting to improve the way they believe men or women will find them more attractive. The female of this species is exceptionally deceptive for their manner of dress differs markedly. It ranges from the floppy sweatshirts and pants to spandex that appears to have been spray-painted on the body. The former are generally friendly and will offer suggestions if asked. The latter are usually too busy admiring their own bodies to be concerned dealing with yours.

The species or category of gym rat that I have found to be most common in the several gyms I have attended are the “Preservationists.” These are what I might refer to as “my folk.” They or we, whichever floats your boat, are the middle-aged to seniors who attempting to preserve some form of dignity with whatever they have left on their decrepit frames. Most of us have suffered through some life-altering experience that has set us on a long-term plan to not suffer such an experience again in the near, middle, or even distant future. The exercise pattern is not complex by any manner of means. It is a combination of cardiovascular exercise, accomplished by use of a treadmill, elliptical machine, stair stepper, rowing machine, or some other sweat creating torture device, with either free weights – those dumbbell type ‘thingies’ – or machines that, when first viewed, scare the living daylights out of the prospective user. In total, the preservationist may spend as many as two hours in the confines of the gym, a minimum of one hour of which will be spent chatting with others of their type regarding various aches, pains, and lack of sleep. Preservationists are harmless. Their desire is to live a bit longer than others who do not exercise or, as in the case of some, live just to see another sunrise.

Many gym rats are hybrids, the only thing classifying them for what they are being that they are consistent in their use of the gym. Six days a week, generally at the same time, you will find them exercising. For some, it’s a regimen for dropping pounds in order to fit into last year’s shirts and suits; for others, it’s wishing to fit into last year’s bathing suit or skirt. For almost all, it’s an attempt to look and feel better, both physically and mentally. From over 20 years of experience, I can say that on those days when I return from the gym, I feel energized, and I find that my mind is just a wee bit sharper than when I don’t exercise…wisecracks about my state of mind are always accepted!

Are there other pure, non-hybrid gym rats? Of course there are. To classify most of them, however, would be insulting. The “Look-at-me-look-at-me” and the spandex crowd are more pathetic than pure, and those who use the gym merely as a hangout for an hour or so are just comedic. I have been fortunate in my years as a preservationist. I have met men and women from all walks of life; from drug dealers to headmasters; from police officers to doctors; from prosecuting attorneys to those involve with homeland security; from teachers and nurses and everyday housewives just trying to stay in shape; all have been nice to me, and I’ve enjoyed my conversations with each and every one. The heterogeneity of a gym is remarkable, and I love every minute of my time spent there…rats and all!

Read Full Post »

You really don’t want to ask any questions. It’s actually spelled Gregory Canuzopoli, and if the expression, “crazy as a bed bug” is familiar to you, it easily describes ‘E-roe-gerg Lop-oz-u-nac. While not in charge of the produce department at ‘my’ A&P, Greg was the heart and soul of the wall of lettuce, carrots, egg plant and any other vegetable you might be seeking. This was long before the days of pre-packaged salads or even bottled salad dressings. It was the day of vegetables that came in from local farms, and if you needed any information about preparation, Greg was your man. I swear he had more recipes in his head than Betty Crocker ever had in her cookbook. He also had the remarkable ability to speak English backwards, including the names of everyone who worked in “my” store.

Nick Capizzi was the produce department head; however, it was difficult understand this. Nick was tall and lean, quiet and extremely efficient in his job. Greg was always the one giving orders here and directing traffic there, questioning this supplier, or telling another that his goods were…shall we say, not as good as they might be? I believe Nick tolerated more than enjoyed Erogerg because whenever Greg launched into a spiel, whether it was with a supplier, Sy, Dick, or an unwary customer, Nick would merely shake his head and turn his back – although I must admit to seeing his shoulders shake with laughter on more than one occasion. Greg could pronounce every employee’s name backwards and in a voice that could be heard throughout the store. At just over five feet tall, it was the voice that made up for the lack of stature. Thick coal-black hair and what was once called a “Moustache Pete” growth under his nose; Greg was the clown prince of produce. Did I learn anything from him about the grocery business? If so, it would have to have been, “Keep your sense of humor at all times because the customer may not always be right, but he or she is always the customer.”

Dana Parks managed the meat department. There were no pre-packaged meats. Frank Perdue was still a kid on his uncle’s farm in Virginia without a clue regarding the chicken business. When chickens arrived at the store, they came in boxes of a dozen, featherless, headless, and packed in ice. It was up to the butchers to chop them into their various parts and lay them out in the display case. The same was true for beef, pork and lamb. The beef came as quarters; the pigs were whole, and the lamb was usually split down the middle. Easter meant hams, sometimes fresh and sometimes canned, but compared to what one finds in today’s supermarkets, we were in the pioneering days. Fresh fish? Never heard of it. If you wanted fresh fish, you went to a fish store because it wasn’t part of the A&P’s product line.

Dana was one to always ensure that customers knew he was “the man.” Although I never saw him wield a knife in the “back room” where all of the butchering took place, Dana’s white smock was always blood covered, and he showed it off with pride. Tommy Cunniff, one of the other butchers, would joke about Dana not knowing one piece of meat from another, but never to Dana’s face. Perhaps the most humorous event that concerned me occurred when I was stocking shelves opposite the meat display case one day. I could hear Dana mumbling to a customer about a smoked ham he was trying to sell her. “Are you sure this is a good one?” the elderly lady asked. Without missing a beat, Dana replied, “The Dick Bishop hams are the best we’ve ever received.” I dropped the case of canned tuna, damn near peed my pants and made a bee line for the back room. The lady bought the ham. It was the first time I ever called Dana Parks a son-of-a-bitch, but it certainly wasn’t the last time he made me laugh.

That pretty much wraps up the cast of characters with whom I worked at the A&P on my very first ‘real’ job. I held that job for my last two years of high school, working full-time during the summers and part-time when school was in session. I held onto that job all the time I was in college, working Thursday and Friday evenings and all day Saturday. I watched the introduction of Swanson frozen dinners and a number of other innovations. At times, I managed various departments when others were on vacation…yes, even the produce department. For a period of several weeks, I actually managed the entire store, but I wouldn’t want to do it again without a bit more training.  I dealt with customers who were aces and customers who were asses, but in every case I always remembered that we weren’t the only game in town so the customer better leave happy.

It was always my contention that every high school graduate should have to work retail for a couple of years before heading off to college. It gives you a perspective it’s difficult to get elsewhere. You meet and begin to understand people from every social and economic stratum, and you learn; oh, man, how you do learn.

All of those colleagues are long gone now. When I think about them, I miss them. Yes, there were times I thought of them as miserable bastards. Had I been more mature, I should have regarded them as tremendous teachers and mentors for, in truth, that’s exactly what they were to a 16-year old kid who didn’t know his ass from his elbow.

Read Full Post »

This is part two of my friendship series. If you enjoyed reading about Sy, I hope you’ll enjoy these three characters.

It’s now possible for me to talk about Sy Sheehan without mentioning some of the other people with whom I worked. Since the A&P was the first real job I had, it also provided an opportunity to learn about the people who had committed their lives to the company.

Among my favorite people was Herb Foote, ‘Herbie’ to his friends. He was the bookkeeper, head cashier, and a real prick about having register tapes and money in the draw equaling exact amounts. Many was the time when Herbie would politely rant – he never raised his voice – about an overage or shortfall on the register. As I progressed through the ranks from bundle boy to shelve stocker, to taking in a load of groceries and marking them with the prices for other shelf stockers to deal with, I would also be called on to run a cash register now and then. Back then, as many as four people might use a cash register, but if you were the last one on it at the close of business, you were the one to catch Herbie’s wrath. He would quietly fault you and your acumen until you almost began to believe that anything wrong really could be your fault. Herb would always wind up his oration by admitting that it might not have been your fault, but you were the last one holding that cash register’s fate in your hands. Yes, there did come a point where it was all any of us could do not to laugh at Herbie’s rants and raves. He used words like ‘accountability,’ and ‘responsibility,’ and these are the words that remind me of him. He was meticulous in his attention to detail, and it’s very possible that Herbie Foote was another in my line of A&P mentors to whom I’ve never given enough credit.

Dick Murray was the assistant manager under Sy Sheehan. Tall, blond, ready smile, and a true ladies man, Dick was always ready with a witty remark for customers or fellow employees. He could stock a bakery faster than any man I ever saw. Loaves of bread, rolls, coffee cakes, and other assorted bakery items would literally fly out of the cases in front of Murray, but somehow, they always seemed to land in the right spot, right side up, and appearing as though they had been placed in position by loving hands rather than being flung there by Machine Gun Murray. Don’t get me wrong; Dick had his serious side and he could let you know in no uncertain terms when he thought you were slacking off.

The most terrifying experience I ever had with Dick Murray occurred about three years into the job. I was working at the speed checkout register; you know, the one for ten items or less. We were smart enough to make the aisle for that register sufficiently narrow that a shopping cart would not fit through. As I was busily checking the customers through, Dick came over and whispered, “The fire chief is going to come through your register. He stuffed four package of meat in his coat pocket and has one and a few other things to check out. I want you to ask him if he’s sure he doesn’t have four more package of meat to be paid for.” I whispered back something to the effect, “Are you shitting me; this guy knows me and my family; I practically grew up knowing this guy.” “He’s shoplifting,” replied Murray, losing his grin. “Just do it.” Sure enough, the chief came through with just one package of meat. Sure enough, I asked him if he wouldn’t like to show me the other four packages. Sure enough, he got pissed; and sure enough, there was Murray, placing his hand on the chief’s shoulder and asking him to step to the office. The last I saw of the chief was his coat flailing behind him; then I saw Murray walking back toward the meat department, four packages in his hand. The chief never came in the store again, and I realized that ‘hail fellow-well met’ Dick Murray was much more than a grin and a glad hand; he had a pair of the sharpest eyes in the store and could spot a shoplifter just as easily as he could stock a bakery. Dick  taught me how to pick up on the movements of those who would steal and how to approach them in a friendly manner while confronting them with what they were intending to do.

Bob Kenney was a quiet Navy vet who ran the deli counter. He kept the milk stocked, the cheese cut, weighed and priced, and even found time to grind the coffee beans for the customers. By chance, he also became a good friend. I said that Kenney was quiet. He’d nod but not speak unless spoken to; his mouth was always closed and straight across…no smile, no scowl. One day, I was cutting and pricing some incoming groceries in the downstairs part of the store. Muller’s macaroni came in a tightly packed cardboard box. If one wasn’t careful, it was easy to slice the packages as well as the cover of the box. Perhaps it was that caution that caused the box cutter to slip and create an inch and a half gash in my wrist. The blood was rather plentiful, so I went up to the meat locker to get some gauze. The funny part was that two butchers were busy slicing up hinds of beef when I walked in. Both took one look at my wrist and damn near passed out. Kenney had seen me come up, holding my wrist. He grabbed a clean apron and wrapped it tightly around my wrist. He took me to his car and then to Dr. Anthony Sabino, our family doctor. The nearest emergency room was in Weymouth, some miles away. Dr. Sabino couldn’t stitch the wound because of its diagonal cut, but he did manage to stop the bleeding and bind the wound.  I remember him saying that another eighth of an inch and I would have hit the radial artery. While I didn’t know what that meant, I have a better understanding of the dangers today. Kenney stayed with me the whole way. Driving back, we stopped at a drug store for a soft drink. It was at that point that the blood loss began to tell and Bob stopped me from sliding off a counter stool and passing out on the floor. He then got me home, helped into the house and told my mother what had happened. Bob Kenney and I were very good friends following that experience, but something I’ll never get over would be the look on the faces of the two butchers, aprons and hands covered in cow’s blood and damn near passing out when they saw my wrist.

Three good people, friends one and all. Thanks guys, thank you for the memories.

Read Full Post »

Sy

This is the first in a series of short essays about the people who have been an influence in my life. Is this of interest to you? I neither know nor do I really care. These are people who cared about me, and it’s about time I paid some homage to them. I invite you to read these stories, but if you don’t we’ll both survive.

As I lay in bed this morning, quite awake and wondering why I wasn’t heading to the gym, some things popped into my mind. These were the things that kept me lying there, and soon, the gym was really put on the back burner. These things are really of interest to anyone but me; however, should I drop dead today, they may give you some insight as to what can and possibly will happen on your final day on this earth.

I thought back to September 1, 1950, the day I first met Sy Sheehan. I had been hired, at 16, to begin work at the A&P in my hometown; Sy was the manager. It wasn’t that I was particularly interested in going to work. I was a sophomore in high school with all of the raging hormones and thoughts that most 16-year olds have. Work would interfere with any number of other, more pleasant activities, but – and here’s a hell of an admission – we weren’t a particularly well-off family. My folks had three kids to raise. Dad’s job at the Quincy Shipyard always seemed to be in some kind of jeopardy. Warships weren’t being built as rapidly as the period between 1941 and 1945, so as things slowed down, “The Yard,” as it was known, was laying off people on a regular basis.   My part-time job would become part of the family cash flow. I didn’t need much money; I was still in school after all and back then, you didn’t have to pay to play…it was certainly a different time. Better? Worse? Who am I to answer that question? Minimum wage was probably around seventy-five sense an hour, but then, bread was five cents a loaf. I ought to know that one…I stacked enough loaves on the bakery shelves to qualify as something on an authority.

Anyway, let’s get back to what I was saying about meeting Sy. He would be my boss. My main job would be to bag groceries for the cashiers – they weren’t called checkers then, and there were certainly no magnetic strips on products or at the counters. When things weren’t busy, I would stock shelves with goods that Will Owen or Tommy, his brother, had marked with prices “downstairs.” At night or when the store was closing, my job was to sweep the floor. We had a bucket of green “stuff” – only name for it – that I would toss on the floor to help pick up dust and dirt that had accumulated. I have no idea what this stuff is or was, but I’ll bet some environmentalist has had it banned for one reason or another. It smelled like Pine Sol, although that hadn’t been invented yet, and the fact that I just put my hand into the bucket and tossed it on the floor might well explain why I have no fingers – just kidding!

The first two weeks were enjoyable. I didn’t see much of Sy, although I later learned that he was seeing much to much of me. I’d bag, help people to their cars with their bundles…no tipping allowed…most folks couldn’t really afford to tip anyway; mine was not a wealthy town. It was not ‘hard scrabble,’ by any means, but neither was it all that much of a white collar community. Then it was back to the store for more bagging, stocking, or sweeping. That was the routine, and I was rather getting to enjoy it.

On Saturday night of my second week, Sy asked me to stay for a couple of minutes after work. Seems he had some things he wanted to tell me. I don’t rightly remember, but I’ll bet I was thinking he wanted to tell me how great I was and what a fine job I was doing. Ah, the fantasies of a 16-year old, unused to the ways of the world. You might well imagine that what was forthcoming was the antithesis of my hopes and dreams, and you’d be right. But wait, this isn’t really about me; it’s more about Sy. Picture, if you will, a man, a big man; a bit over six feet tall, with hands that could probably palm a wrecking ball and more than likely could throw it at a building causing severe damage…never saw hands like them before or since…just huge. A chest that was, to say the least massive…I’d seen him pick up four wooden boxes of bottled tonic water without a stress or strain. Now, we get to his face; certainly the most expressive part of the man. Aside from the map of the old country outlined by the red and blue veins, his nose was the most impressive feature.  Huge is much too bland a word to describe it, but man, it was the large economy size…and it could breathe fire…which it did that fateful night. That was Sy Sheehan, an Irishman who could curse in half a dozen languages, speak Italian and German like a native, and one scary son-of-a-bitch when he was mad.

“You’re an embarrassment to your family and to yourself. You’re a kid who doesn’t know the meaning of hard work and if I didn’t know your parents better, I’d throw your ass through that plate glass window without another thought. But I’m not gonna throw your ass though that window…yet. I’m going to show you what it means to really work and to be proud of what you’ve done. And I’ll tell ya something else; if I can’t turn you into a worker in two weeks, I will kick your ass out the door and down North Avenue right to the front of your door and I’ll tell your parents what kind of a little shit you really are!”

Stunned? Oh yeah. Ashamed? You bet. Confused? You could say so. I thought I was working. He knew that I wasn’t. I wasn’t thrown but I walked out the front door, and if I’d had a tail, it would have been between my legs…way between my legs. The next day was Sunday and stores weren’t open back then, but I had plenty of time to reflect on the reaming – today they’d call it being torn a new one – that I had received on that Saturday night.  Sunday afternoon, the “mads” set in. “Who does that son-of-a-bitch think he is?” ran through my 16-year old head. “I’ll show that bastard,” my tiny little 16-year old brain thought. The idea of quitting came and went so quickly that it was barely an entertainable thought. No, I would go back to work Monday afternoon after school and I’d work like no one had ever worked. He’d thrown down the gauntlet, and I was too stupid to recognize that it was nothing more than his version of a coach’s half time talk.

It worked. Sy Sheehan, that big Irish bastard, became my first mentor. I was truly blessed to know and to work for this man. He’s gone now, but every single night I will pray for his soul. He certainly knew how to train this 16-year old, and I will be forever grateful for our little chat on that Saturday evening.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »