11-25-2004 Road trip

Itís the night before Thanksgiving. Mom is coming up. I have to get home early after the show and mark all the levels on the liquor bottles.--David Letterman

The hiatus has come to an end. I returned to work on Tuesday, albeit, for light duty only. I also rolled the Rock Stomper out of it's underground bunker for the first time since September. I left the house before the sun came up, and it felt really good to be cycling again. I guess all the walking I did during the past seven weeks paid off, because the ride to work and the hills between here and Ashley did not faze me one iota. I had wondered about that sort of thing while lying around popping pills for weeks on end.

As it turns out, the physical therapy I'm still undergoing actually helped. I was skeptical about whether it was really needed, but once underway, it quickly became obvious that the interconnected muscles on my right side had atrophied to some degree. I wouldn't have thought that possible in less than two months of inactivity. Once at work and while prepping for my first day back, I was talking to one of our techs who was involved in a vehicle rollover a few years back. I asked him if he was wearing his seatbelt and he said that he had been. It didn't matter. He also said that he had never been so mucked up in his entire life, and wondered aloud how anyone can survive a serious motor vehicle accident without wearing one. I freakin' hear that. After the fun and games I've been treated to recently, I'll never drive to the next corner without wrapping a seatbelt around myself twice.

So I rolled to work on the Stomper, worked a less than physically demanding seven hour shift, and rolled back to the adobe on the bike. And afterwards, I felt only very mild discomfort on my right side. Basically, I'm back. But I wouldn't want to take a good shot to the ribs just yet. Take a number and please wait patiently. You can get your shots in soon enough.

Dere's a...whole lotta disrespectin' goin' on.

The Leader story: In pension war, W-B fires back got my Thanksgiving off to a great start. A couple of great quotes were attributed to Carl Frank, the solicitor for the city's Non-Uniformed Pension Board.

The people of Wilkes-Barre should be grateful that a man of Tom Leighton's knowledge and acumen is willing to serve the city.

If you're successful getting the mayor's pay cut, we could end up with a mayor of the caliber of the people who are complaining.

The first one is obviously a glowing endorsement of our current mayor that I, and many others not seething with abject negativity and bitterness bordering on hostility, happen to wholeheartedly agree with. The second quote almost had my morning tea rushing to flush my nostrils. OUCH!!!

And who was Mr. Frank directing his caustic comments towards? None other than our recently fired towing subcontractor who has now reinvented himself as our newest greed fighting activist super hero, Pension Man. Jeez, oh Pete. There's certainly no shortage of self-appointed super heroes running loose in this city as of late, sans the sexy capes. Although, it's well-nigh impossible to determine exactly what their overall contribution to the cause is, other than stirring up angst and controversy where none would otherwise exist.

Some say that by reducing the size of our council, we will be realizing significant savings for the taxpayers. I say that move amounts to little more than peanuts in the grand scheme of things. And I am correct in that assertion. We've got one super hero claiming that council folks need possess no more than a high school education to lead this city forward, and that paying two less of them will be a bonanza for the struggling taxpayers. And in the very next super hero breath lauds the resulting savings of $30,000 as proof of her determinate legislative prowess in a city with a $35 million budget. (?) If incongruity passed as intelligence, Wilkes-Barre would be home to the smartest super heroes this side of Anal Retentive Falls, Iowa.

I offer no proof, but I suspect that quite a few of these super hero malcontents may have been involved in some serious LSD experiments gone terribly wrong. Maybe we should start testing these folks for trace amounts of ergotamine tartrate before gaining admittance to our council chambers. Where once they sought to expand the collective mind of society as a whole, now the failed counterculturists have been reduced to poisoning the collective mind of Wilkes-Barre proper.

Nearabout as I can tell, the vexing Haight-Ashley folks who couldn't save the world as a whole so long ago have taken to planting the counterproductive seeds of discontent on a much more grass roots level. '60s idealism lives on in these vociferous ninnies, whether we want it or not. They just can't help themselves. Rather than working within the system for the change they so desire, they have to tear the system down in order to make it work. For them, life is one long hideous deformity always in need of the ultimate fix. A fix that they alone can deliver, to hear them tell the tale. And some still swear to this very day that phychedelics have no long-lasting efects. To this knower of few things, their trenchant excrement offered to us as expertise above repute is almost as infuriating as their predictably off-kilter countenances. Although, I could be misjudging them.

The fact of the matter is, the current crop of elected folks in this city have done a bang-bang job this year. And anyone who tells you differently is probably hawking some faded copies of "Zap!" magazine on Ebay.

Road trip!

My brother and I took a ride to Connecticut yesterday. Well, for the purposes of this exercise, let's identify him as being my step-brother. Us step-siblings have never used that "step" word. We grew up together and suffered through all sorts of struggles together, so we never thought of each other as "step" anything.

Anywhooey, my step-dad is getting on in years and can no longer handle his pick-up truck that he described as being "very, very high." He told my brother he'd sign it over to him for one dollar if we'd make the trip to Ansonia, where he now resides. So we loaded up the car, and we headed to Ansonia.

Step-dad, Leo, and my mom separated so many times, I could navigate the trip from Connecticut to Wilkes-Barre, or vice versa, around the time I was eight years-old. And that was before Route 84 was anywhere near being completed. My job was to get us from Thompson Street to Woodlawn Street, and point out the nifty landmarks of historical importance that had anything to do with our family way back when. It was a fun trip for the both of us.

It was a straight shot other than one bathroom/gasoline stop in Newburgh, New York. I stopped there on purpose so that Ray could take a gander at Stewart Air Force base. He was amazed. He had never seen a C-130 before, or a fighter jet screaming overhead, for that matter. We hit some miniatured "gas 'n' go" type mini-mart so popular in that neck of the woods. Ray pumped the gas, and I headed inside to visit the inattentive Pakistani f**k behind the counter. I quickly realized that TastyKakes were not on these shelves and grabbed two boxes of "Mike 'n' Ikes" for Gage Andrew. I approached the counter and it started. I remember this circle-jerk, foreigner bullspit all too well from my trucking days.

F**k: "You pay for gaz."

MC: "No, he's (pointing outside) paying for the gas."

F**k: "Gaz hass be paid."

MC: (Pointing again) "He's paying for the gas. I'm paying for the candy."

F**k: "Gaz. Who pay gaz?"

MC: "HE IS!"

F**k: "Gaz separit?"

MC: "Yeah. Gas separate. He's got the gas."

F**k: "He pay gaz?"

MC: "He's paying for the f**king gas, you f**king idiot!!! Do you see how f**king big he is? Do you want me to tell him you don't f**king trust him? Do you? You f**kin' f**k?"

F**k: "Tree dollah plez."

And with that, the guy waiting patiently behind me started laughing.

And the moral of this very brief story? Sometimes you just gotta go "Serpico" on these immigrant numbnuts. Sez me.

Ray paid for the gas and we bid numbnuts adieu. We motored across the Newburgh Bridge, and before you know it, we were being welcomed to Connecticut by a sign. I did notice that the weigh station at Danbury was closed. Where in the hell was that when I was truckin' through here every week? You'll never run across a more overzealous bunch that the Connecticut DOT. Whatever, man.

Traffic in the Danbury area was slowed to a crawl, but we eventually came across our exit and shot down Route 34 towards the old stomping grounds. With each passing mile, another near forgotten memory came eeking back into my mind from somewhere. We passed Zoar Beach, which was the site of my first ever serious injury requiring immediate medical attention. And we rolled past Indian Wells State Park on the opposite shore where my sister learned to swim one sunny afternoon circa 1968, or so. This is a very weird story.

She was deathly afraid of large bodies of water, and no matter how they tried; Leo and my mom could not teach her to swim. At the time, this kinda twerked me off. I remember all too well when I first learned how to swim. Leo took me to the farthest point of the dock at Sandy Beach and tossed me into Harveys Lake. Swim or drown, boy! Step-dad's tend to go much easier on their "real" kids. Trust me on this.

So we were swimming and cooking out at Indian Wells some 35 years ago, and my sister would not even get her foot wet without carrying on like she had been repeatedly stabbed. Out of nowhere came this twenty-something guy, he somehow befriended her, and then took her in his arms and headed out into the river. Both Leo and my mom looked on intently, but they were not concerned in the least. Back in the sixties, pedophilia hadn't been invented just yet. It took the muscle-bound guy a couple of hours, but he stuck to it and had my sister swimming on her own. Her proud parents were more than appreciative and buried the guy in gooey verbal niceties. As dusk neared, we packed up the car, waved goodbye to the kind stranger and headed home.

Two days later, or thereabouts, I wandered into the house looking for a drink of water and found my mom crying while staring at a copy of the local newspaper, The Evening Sentinel. In a weird twist of fate, the kindest of strangers that finally taught Suzie to swim that day had drowned in those very same waters after we had gone home. That's not the kind of thing one ever forgets.

Finally, we arrived in downtown Derby. Ya'll remember going to a thriving downtown Wilkes-Barre with mom, or grandma, and so do I. But being that my boyhood years were split between two cities, I also remember what a bustling place downtown Derby was years ago. To say that it is a shell of it's former self would be giving it way too much credit. It's devastated. It's delapidated. It is beyond any possible repair. It's depressing. It's depressing to pass all of those crumbling buildings and remember all of the good times we had there so many years ago. Downtown Derby needs to be bulldozed, while the Home Depots and the Wal-Marts of the world have sprung up within spitting distance.

If you think downtown Wilkes-Barre has problems, you really need to see what has happened to Derby's downtown. Is anybody up for a road trip? I'll be your navigator. Well, for a nominal fee. Seriously. We didn't stop for pics, but to put things in perspective, consider the difference between a burned-out Yugo and a brand new Hummer. That's what we're talking about here. It's awful. And after seeing that wreckage, trust me, Wilkes-Barre's downtown offers much to build upon. We're in better shape than we knew.

I just had to drop by the old homestead and take a picture. While my mom was doing battle with Leo for years on end, we moved all over the place. But there was one adobe where we settled in for a few years, and during that relative time of tranquility, I was never happier as a boy. Whenever I harken back to my days at 124 Direnzio Heights, I remember how great that feeling of normality felt like. And it was good to know that Godzilla had spared the place after I escaped to Pennsylvania under the cover of darkness.

On the left: 124 Direnzio Heights

So we made this trip to Ansonia to pick up my brother's free truck. But the one thing Ray has learned over the years is that his dad is a bit goofy at times. I knew as much long before Ray was even born. And I've got the scars to prove it. Ray's biggest fear was that we'd drive all the way to Ansonia only to learn that the truck was in need of being crushed. And soon. His dad promised him that this truck was a keeper, but Ray had his doubts.

And as we pulled up in front of the senior high-rise where Leo now resides, we were confronted by a thoroughly beaten pick-up truck that looked as if Iraqi insurgents wouldn't waste an IED on it. It was a bondo-bomb for sure and it was leaning to one side. Ray gave me that look that I know all too well that signals that someone was about to get hurt. And as always, when he is just about ready to explode and end someone's life, his neck begins to twitch. I reassured him. I told him that couldn't possibly be the truck Leo was talking about, and I crossed my fingers. If it was the truck in question, there was no doubt in my mind we were only minutes away from meeting most of the Ansonia police department.

Ray parked the car, we crossed the street and Leo appeared at the front door. I swallowed hard as I climbed the steps. As we neared the front door, Leo swung it open, pointed to a monster truck down the street a ways, and said, "What do you think?" Whew! No skirmishes with the cops on this monsoon of a day. Whew!

Turns out, the truck is a gem. A 1982 Ford F-250 with a four-barrel carbuerator, and a newly rebuilt engine. It's got tires bigger than John Goodman, gigantic orange springs and metal steps leading up to the nosebleed seats in the cab. It's got a new cap, a Radio Shack CB and a narly car stereo. Leo had the keys in hand and gave us a quick tour. Ray looked as much relieved as he did happy. I, of course, was really happy for Ray, but equally happy for Leo. I didn't travel back to Connecticut (back in time if you will) just to live through yet another ugly family incident after all of these years had passed. Ray more than approved of the monster truck and we headed indoors for a bit of paperwork.

Leo and Ray

And believe it or not, Leo pissed me off as soon as we entered the building. We encountered a rowdy bunch of senior chickies and Leo set about introducing us to them. He referred to Ray as being his son, and he referred to me as his step-son. I really didn't understand the need to make that distinction at this late stage of the game. Wouldn't it have been much cooler on his part to just refer to the both of us as being his sons? Nah, many years ago, he made it crystal clear to me by the way he treated me that I was not his son. I guess some people can't turn it off no matter how much they are mellowed out by the aging process. Always the idiot, bastard step-kid. No matter what.

The strange thing is, I lived with the guy for a decade, and his son never did. I was thirteen years-old when they finally divorced, and his son was a newborn baby. The closest thing he ever had to an actual son was me. Yet, he pretends that the son he never knew at all is his proudest accomplishment in life. He never watched this kid open a single Christmas present. He never sang "Happy Birthday" to him. He never accompanied him to the emergency room when he scraped himself up. Early on, he contested the obvious fact that this kid was even his. This is my son? Spare me. A free truck doesn't make up for a kid having to grow up without a father. Luckily, with the onslaught of old age comes the ability to bite one's normally flapping lips. They took care of their paperwork exchange and I spied the scene from afar. Right where Leo always made me feel I belonged.

It was abject stupidity on my part to even think that seeing the rapidly aging step-dad again would be neat. I don't know what I was thinking, but it doesn't matter in the least. I see this weary old man, the man that used to terrorize me and my mom, as a failed man. He wasn't there for his "real" two children much younger than me when they needed him the most, and now, years later, he tries to make things right by passing out a few goodies. But way back when, forty years ago, he had the chance to do right by someone who called him "Dad," and he failed miserably.

We eventually said our goodbyes and we rolled that bitchin' monster truck all the way back to Pennsylvania.

And today just happens to be Thanksgiving '04. This is not a holiday I normally get too excited about. I don't eat turkey, and I could do with a little less Dallas Cowboys, thank you very much.

But I am feeling pretty good about myself this year after visiting the old homestead for the very last time. Wifey's got all sorts of tantalizing foodstuffs in and on top of the stove. She's got the pumpkin pies ready to roll. Cheesecake up the wazoo. And the makings of a lot of mixed drinks to boot. I've got wifey here at the adobe. I've got the kids on the way to the adobe. And I've got the grandkids on the way to the adobe.

And Leo?

He'll spend Thanksgiving alone with his Lucky Strikes.

He has no idea how bad he screwed up.

Have a good one.