Monthly Archives: January 2012

Groundhog Day 2012

It is almost here, folks.

Groundhog Day.

And a good portion of the population will have their ear tuned to the prediction that some half-sleeping rodent will presumably foretell.

Know thine enemy

As much as I hate to admit it (because I don’t like rodents, especially groundhogs), I too, will be listening for the flea-bag’s prediction.  But I’ve learned a thing or two about the groundhog’s method.  It would seem that if the rodent sees its shadow (like on a freak, sunny, mild day), then 6 more weeks of winter is due.  The clichéd ‘calm before the storm’.  A cloudy day, however, equates to no shadow, a content rodent and a sooner-than-expected end to this mud-slop-rain-snow-ice garbage.

How timely that the greasy, grimy gopher should choose the mid-winter thaw to awaken from his sleep and stumble to the surface for a snack and look-see around.

And if the rodent’s timing is off, well, there are a bunch of guys in top hats that will probe the groundhog’s den, snag the critter by a leg and drag it up to the surface in what amounts to a forced prediction.

Put me down, you asshats!

In preparation for this event, I usually festoon the rodent hole next to my shed with barbed wire and drop large rocks into it. On occasion I have been known to park a load of firewood on top.  All in the name of keeping the fat weasle’s head down in the sub-soil, away from any shadow producing light.  This year, however, a badly timed ACL injury is keeping my ass firmly planted indoors.

                                                          

But that won’t stop me from bitching about it.

  • I don’t like groundhogs.
  • I don’t like people extracting slumbering groundhogs from their hidey-holes and using them to predict the remaining grip of winter.
  • I don’t particularly like the word ‘Punxsutawney’
  • Not big on ‘Phil’ either.

It is around this time that I make my annual prediction on the arrival of spring. This year, I am going to say that spring will come early.

As always, I must state the caveats, to ward off potential criticism.  I am NOT saying that it won’t get cold again, or snow, or sleet, or ice.  It is still winter and those are the inherent characteristics of the season.

I am also NOT saying that any/all of that crap can/will fall from the sky after spring officially arrives (March 20 at 1:14 am, the earliest time in 116 years).

The seasonal weather, unlike the expiration date of milk, is not exact.  Although your milk will immediately turn to sour cream at the stroke of midnight of the date stamped on the container, the seasonal weather tends to ebb and flow before becoming fully settled.

What I am saying is that the weather, in general, will turn milder and proceed positively in that direction more sooner than later this year.  And by ‘sooner’ I mean somewhere in early March.  I also think that by April, we will be experiencing some nice weather.

I think this is a good time to trot out my proposal to eliminate the month of March all together. I’m sure we can all agree that March is a crappy month. It is a transition month, when the seasons change and as such runs the gamut of snow, ice, cold, rain, wind, mud and groundhogs.  Occasionally there might be some sunshine.  Or a dead skunk.

It’s a difficult month to deal with.  Sure, spring officially arrives in the third week, but you would never know it by the weather. The only bright spot on the calendar (besides your birthday, Mom) is St. Patrick’s Day.  And how exactly did that glorious feast day land in such a miserable month?  (maybe so the beer stays cold??)

My proposal is simple.  Delete the month of March entirely and distribute its 31 days to more favorable months.   Slap ten days on the ends of September, October and April.  Kinder, gentler months.  Add the last day onto the end of May, so we can have a really decent weekend holiday.

When you think about it, the only thing holding us to this ’30 days has September, etc.’ hoopla is the fact that a bunch of high shaking Roman heads got together and named months after themselves.  And what the fark did they know?  Lounging around in the warm Tuscan sun, snacking on olives, drinking wine and throwing toga parties is a hell of a way to make a living.

How many times do you think they had to shovel the chariot out of a snow bank, squish across the lawn in their sandals to retrieve a waterlogged news scroll or sit in traffic along Hadrian’s Wall because the lazy-ass DOT-R (Department of Transportation-Roma) wouldn’t salt the viaduct?

Damned few.

When you think about some of the other mind exercising variances we put up with (Daylight Savings Time, Leap Year, right turn on red, meat/no meat?), what diff would it make to have a 40 day April, September and October? I even made up a new rhyme –

Thirty days has November,
but not April or October
and not September
Winter sucks,
and March does, too
So we moved things up more close to June

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OW! That’s hot.

OW! That’s hot.

No, I didn’t repeat myself; it is all the same sentiment.

I have to give credit to my good friend Chris Bach for enlightening us with that phrase.  You see, boys have a tendency to not register certain cues in life. There are others beside the pain response, but I am not interested in psychological dissertation.  I am interested in observation.

It would seem to me that boys, especially (but certainly not limited to) adolescents, don’t make the mental connection between pain and ‘don’t do that’ the first time with certain things.  A lot don’t make the connection between avoidance and a verbal warning.

Yellow-jacket nests, fireworks, certain animal encounters, electricity and fire come readily to mind.

Yellow-jackets, or any damned flying-stinging insect for that matter, have a low tolerance for being messed with.  Unfortunately for the boys and the bees, anything short of an outright attack by the latter does little to deter the former.

Fireworks are an important right of passage for boys, every bit as important as sports, girls and driving.  And getting your ears rung and fingers burned go a long way towards enlightenment.  Hopefully all of that happens prior to (and instead of) losing anything personally valuable.

Animal encounters.  This I can write volumes on, because I was the primary animal antagonist in my area of operation for most of my life.  Not any longer, because I am soft-of-heart these days (which pisses me off).

Dogs seemed to be the primary dividing line.  Some boys are afraid of dogs.  I was not.  In fact, if a dog presented itself in such a way as to make me think that the balance between man and beast was being upset (like a junk yard dog, or a particularly mean dog on someone’s porch), I would conspire to teach said animal a lesson.  And I had a whole book full of lessons to teach.

Damned dogs.

Electricity, because it cannot be seen, poses an even greater sense of (threat) exploration (testing).

Take, for example, this common dialog between two youngsters poised over something electrical:

“Is it live?”

“I don’t know, touch it and find out.”

“OK”.

frrrzzzzZZZAA-AAPPP!

“Yeah, it’s live.”

“Are you sure?”

“Hold on…”

frrrrzzzzZZZAA-AAPPP!!

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

“Ok, let’s stay away from it.”

There are some interesting opinions on this behavior and how it relates to our (human) development.  It all makes a lot of sense to me, too.  Taking risks results in rewards, builds tolerance, experience and the like.

But none of that is funny.

You may have noticed that I left ‘fire’ for last.  With good reason, as fire tends to be the ‘make or break’ item on the ‘I should have known better’ list for a lot of boys.  I am not sure why, but boys seem to lack the understanding that the skin on their fingers is not comprised of asbestos.  My grandmother had asbestos fingers, but she attained them after a lifetime of cooking and baking.  A twelve-year old playing with matches does not.

The problem with fire is, although a powerful lesson-teacher, it tends to affect others besides the one being schooled.  And that’s a problem.  Bees, electrical sockets, firecrackers and mean dogs direct their attention to the antagonist (and, occasionally, the next closest person).  Fire, on the other hand, can be like letting a genie out of a bottle.  It spreads far and wide until something bigger, smarter and better equipped puts an end to it.

Like your ol’ man, if you’re lucky.

Or the local Fire Company, if you’re not.


The Liberty Tavern – Revisited

I had occasion to visit one of my favorite bars yesterday evening, the illustrious Liberty Tavern.

The Lib has changed a lot from when I first discovered its dimly lit and sparsely stocked, mint green painted interior.  Changed for the better, to be sure.  I would say it has brightened up a bit (but not too much), food is available (proper pub chow) and you can expect to be in mixed company (so watch yer manners, boy).

Some things I noticed last night on the plus side of the equation:

  • The pool table is still there and center stage (for uninhibited play).
  • The jukebox has a fine selection of good ol’ rock music.
  • The shuffleboard table is in place, properly blessed with whatever it is they bless it with;  and free.  Bravo.
  • There are still some moldings and door jambs with the original mint green paint.
  • A great bartender.  Thanks for the shot, Ron.
  • A good representation of locals.  Nice to meet you, Mikey T.

Some things on the minus side:

  • The phone booth looks to be more of a prop or storage for holiday decorations than a working device.
  • The dart board was down.

I am quite fond of the old neighborhood bar.  A place that has been there since forever, that everyone knows, is comfortable, low key, always has a cold beer on tap and a shot waiting.  The kind of place where your dad, and maybe even his dad used to hang out.  A place that has witnessed the changes of the neighborhood around it, while keeping its hallowed status.

I’m sure you will join me, as I raise my glass and toast the Liberty Tavern.  A fine drinking establishment.  SLAINTE!

Some regular readers will recall the post below that I cut/pasted from the 2011 page.

The Liberty Tavern

As long as we are on the subject of imbibement and our favorite establishments for imbibing, I felt it only respectful to mention the Liberty Tavern, or The Lib, as it was know to those of us who imbibed there regularly.

The Lib was very much your typical local tavern. Indeed it had been there since the ol’ man’s younger years. A stalwart of the neighborhood, it was the kind of place that opened at 9 am, to accommodate the night shift.

It was circa 1981. I remember coming home, shortly after moving to our new home in Onion, NJ and regaling the ol’ man with tales of this great place I found.

“Oh, the Lib? Yeah, I used to drink there when I was your age. Are the walls still that same color green they use in the high school?”

Actually, yes, they were, at the time. I was drinking there for years before they painted them.

The Lib was a great bar to cut your teeth on.  It was easy walking distance from home, safe, low-key and cost effective.  But it was not the place where you would go to meet girls.  In fact, it was years before a female within our age range walked in.

When the ‘crew and I first began frequenting the Lib, a 6 oz. glass of Pabst Blue Ribbon draft cost ten cents.  No, I didn’t miss-key.  Ten cents.  And every third glass was on the house.  Where the hell are you going to find a place that does that anymore?  There were other perks, as well.  If the drink or shot of booze you ordered was the last one out of the bottle, it was free.  Between that and other patrons buying me drinks, there were times when I have went into the lib with $10, walked out a few hours later, puked in the parking lot and still had change in my pocket.

In the beginning, the choices of libations were few.  There was Fleischman’s gin and vodka, Calvert whiskey (which sucks), a few cordials and schnapps, maybe bottle of VO or Canadian Club.  Booze from another era, to be sure.  But the clientele was of the older crowd.  I was the first to ask them to stock Jack Daniels.  Then, as time went on and more people my age found out about my little hideaway, the liquor choices grew.  The Lib may have started out as an ‘old man’s bar’ but by the time the ‘crew and I were done it had transformed.

As far as entertainment went, there were three things constant – the pool table, the shuffle board and the juke box.  Pinball machines, video games and the dart board came and went.  But at least you could count on the two standards.  The juke box didn’t contain a song, not one, which I wanted to hear.  In fact, I didn’t recognize most of the artists listed.

The pool table was an old 6 foot bar table.  It’s exactly what you would expect in an old bar.  The felt was green/blue faded to gray, but in good shape.  The frame was scratched and worn, but sturdy.  And this was one of the few bars where you could find a queue that was straight.  Smacking the queue on the side of the table because you screwed up a shot was frowned upon.

When I first frequented the Lib, there was an old guy, Eddie that would play one handed and beat you, or anyone else, every time.  He would even use the short stick for fun.  Unfortunately this was well before the snooker playing era in my life.  The lib was a nest of very good pool players and I could have learned a few things.  My friend Ziggy, however, would jump right in and battle for his every shot.  Zig did learn a few things from those old guys.

There was a tiny, smelly bathroom with an undersized window that was always opened, even in the winter.  The walls were cracked plaster, painted over about a dozen times and the floor was little squares of white and black tile, also cracked.  There was sticker on the mirror from the town Health Department commanding that ‘Every employee must wash hands before returning to work.’ Every word was crossed out except for ‘Every employee must work.’

This was where I first encountered the ‘ice filled urinal’.  I just couldn’t get that.  Why did they put ice in the urinal?  Sure, it was a welcome distraction, blasting the individual cubes to their demise, like some kind of post-consumption video game, but I couldn’t see any other purpose.  And what bar or bartender is going to be thinking along those lines anyway?

“Let’s put a scoop of ice cubes into the urinal to give the boys something to do while they’re standing there.”

Not likely. A few years later that I found out it was a way of keeping the smell down, albeit not a very good one.

The Lib had a phone booth.  Not just a pay phone on a wall, but an actual booth where you could sit down, close the door, light up a smoke (you were allowed to smoke in bars back then and the booth had an exhaust fan) and jot down notes (there was also a small shelf).  The phone book was even in good enough shape to use.  It had a working phone number, so you could also receive calls.  You could order a pizza and have it delivered to the bar (Again, this was back in the 80′s, well before cell phones had been conceived).

Eventually life took me away from Onion, NJ and the Lib.  Once in a while I would stop back in, on my way back from the airport or to meet up with my friend Ziggy.  Of course, the bar had changed considerably.  Even the shuffle board was removed. The pool table was still there. The clientele had completely switched over to a younger, louder crowd, complete with girls.  Even the bartenders are younger than me. Blenders whirl, fruity bullshiate drinks are the norm and you won’t find any old dudes in the corners hunched over a shot and a beer.  There is not a bottle of Calvert or Fleishman’s anything on the shelf.

If you are flying past the town of Onion on Route 78 east, about a mile after the Maplewood exit (whatever number that is) and you look through the break in the sound barrier that is the entrance ramp, you can see the neon bar signs.  If you’re so inclined, stop in sometime.  Tell them you know me.  They won’t know who the hell you are talking about, but it might get you a laugh.


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