ClickClickKnow

So there I was last night, re-watching the opening episode from the fourth season of the HBO series Westworld just before the second episode of this new season was to debut, and…

(We interrupt this post to advise readers in order to get the point of this post you do not…repeat do not…have to know anything about Westworld. If you don’t know what’s going on with Westworld that’s just fine, because none of us who have watched it from the very beginning know what the hell is going on either.)

…at the end of this re-watch episode I was reminded of a beautiful piece of instrumental music playing towards its conclusion. I had initially figured it was original music recorded for the show and probably not available just yet. However, I really liked it and was determined I should try to research its origin on the chance I could get a copy somewhere. I know there are websites which list background music used on movies and shows…but that info isn’t always made available immediately and I wanted to know now.

I searched #westworld on Twitter from the week prior when the episode first aired…and what-do-ya-know…a Twitter user had in fact tweeted out last week how cool it was Westworld used an instrumental from Lana Del Rey’s song, “Video Games.”

So, then I was off to iTunes to confirm that was in fact the same piece. Yep, it was. Then, over to Wikipedia to see what if any entries were there…and what-do-ya-know…it had a new entry stating an orchestral cover of “Video Games” was played at the end of the Westworld episode, composed by Ramin Djawadi. I was familiar with him, as he is known for a slew of famous movie and television scores including Iron Man, Game Of Thrones…and Westworld. I was also familiar with Lana Del Rey, but was way less knowledgeable of her work. I wound up listening to a number of her songs and was impressed. She could be an artist I’ll be doing more “in-depth” research on.

And…it is in moments like this where I find myself giving silent thanks I’m living in a world with such instant access to information…as well as all the various communication platforms we have at our disposal.

I was not only born pre-Internet, but pre-Fax machine (Google “fax machine” if necessary…). It is truly mind-boggling to think back occasionally to how very little we had in all our information and communication toolkits then, and how recent technology advancements have propelled us to where we are now.

The super-basic takeaway from my research to find what that music was all about…was simply how very little research was needed.

Westworld?

I don’t think any amount of research will ever determine what it’s all about.

 

Picture Courtesy HBO

No Way Four-Way Highway

I come before you to plead my case for elimination of four-way stop intersections. This has been a silent crusade of mine for a while now. Many are unable to process the requirements of successfully navigating the Mother Of All Driving Dilemmas…four-way stop intersections.

All my wife and I were trying to do was get home with our takeout Chinese food. We were not in a particular rush as the local establishment manages to pack out orders at temperatures equivalent to the surface of the sun…which is fine because we like the food hot…and it does re-enter the atmosphere of safe eating by the time we get home.

Yet, there are multiple four-way stop intersections without lights in our path. Why this is I don’t know. Some degreed sadist in charge of “urban planning” perhaps.

On the way home as we were navigating these four-way stops, I commented to my wife how many people seem incapable of knowing who is next to go based on common sense and decency…not to mention who gets to the intersection first.

As I approached the final four-way stop before getting home, I encountered only one other car. Sweet. We and our flaming food would conquer this last hurdle and get home without incident.

While I clearly was the first car to arrive at my stop sign, the driver of the other vehicle pulled up a bit before theirs, but then began to roll into the intersection.

It was MY turn.

Instant replay would have confirmed it. I was first to my stop sign.

It was MY turn.

I rolled out into the intersection as well. I mean, if you don’t at least try to train these people what hope do we all have?

The other car made a full stop at this point. Success. I felt they had learned their lesson and proceeded forward once more…but alas, they did also. It was like they were toying with me.

Both cars were now parked pretty much in the middle of the intersection.

History will show the first obscene gesture was made by the driver of the other car. I point that out with pride, because what I did thereafter will not go down as one of my finest moments…at least that’s what my wife told me afterwards.

I returned the obscene hand gesture with one of my own. I then locked eyes with my new-found enemy – a woman with a cell phone attached to her face – and rattled off a stream of obscenities clearly audible outside our car regardless of the windows being up. Regardless of the decibel count, the other driver would not have to be a lip reader to get the context.

I then sped off, clearing the intersection first. Flush with adrenaline and filled with the sense of victory…I then heard the honk of a horn in the distance. I guess it was her way of trying to win the war even if the battle was lost. I should have taken the high road on all this at this point…but I couldn’t.

I honked back.

A lot.

Discussion while enjoying the cooled-down Chinese food was how I needed to be cool. Take it in stride. Don’t get upset. I’m not a road rage fellow at all. I yield. I take pride in not putting pedestrians on my hood. I’m a damn good guy behind the wheel.

Yet, I have come to the conclusion we need to see the light and install lights at each and every one of these four-way stops.

Then…maybe I’ll start to lighten up.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

All Hands On Deck

 

Ah, it is indeed an age of sequels and reboots, isn’t it? Some are good ideas to revisit. Some…not so good. There are occasions when doing something really, really well the first time around should probably be the last time around.

In my college basketball news feed this AM:

“Gonzaga and Michigan State are now finalizing plans to play a neutral site game on an aircraft carrier in San Diego on Veterans Day.”

Back on Veterans Day 2011, a college basketball game was played aboard the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego between Michigan State and North Carolina. Carolina won 67-55 in front of over 8,000 fans and military personnel, including President Obama. Seeing two national basketball powers play in such a majestic, inspiring setting was very cool. A second court was set up in the hangar bay just in case, but the weather held up its end. Temperatures were in the 60’s and there were calm winds. This game was absolute television eye candy, although it was not great hoops…the teams managed to miss 77 of their combined 123 shots.

It turned out to be the highest-rated November college basketball game on ESPN in 19 years.

College basketball’s next season featured four games on the national television schedule from carrier settings as part of Veterans Day ceremonies. One woman’s game was slated between Ohio State and Notre Dame, with the men’s games to be Ohio State-Marquette, Georgetown-Florida and Syracuse-San Diego State.

The sequels that Veterans Day weekend did not quite live up to the original…

Ohio State-Notre Dame: On the USS Yorktown in Charleston, temperatures were still in the 50’s when the women began their game…but the temperature dropped as soon as the sun did. It was a poorly played game, with both teams combining to miss 71 of 109 shots from the floor. Notre Dame won 57-51.

Ohio State-Marquette: The second game of a scheduled doubleheader aboard the now-chilly Yorktown, it found the teams’ warm-up time occupied by coaches and players staying warm working towels and squeegees to try to get condensation off the court. The game never took flight and was canceled.

Georgetown-Florida: On the USS Bataan in Jacksonville, a badly-played first half concluded with Florida up 27-23. However, similar to the situation in Charleston, condensation got to the court. During halftime, the game was canceled.

Syracuse-San Diego State: On the USS Midway in San Diego, a threat of rain pushed the game out two days. Played during the day (instead of at night as originally scheduled), there was no rain…but it was very windy. It was also a poorly played game, with both teams combining to miss 77 out of 119 shots. Syracuse won 62-49.

Playing basketball outdoors – on an aircraft carrier – is not like playing basketball indoors in an arena. Weather takes center stage away from the players. You are trading great optics for great basketball.

And, you are also compromising player safety.

No amount of television appearance money is worth that.

Back in late February of this past college basketball season, Xavier and Providence played a thrilling, triple-overtime game. Yet, with just under three minutes left in regulation, those in charge were talking about the possibility of having to gather up the players and coaches and bus them to Providence’s practice facility to finish the game due to a leak in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center ceiling.

You can’t play basketball on water. It might be fair to ask athletes to take aim with no background behind the basket, to shoot into the wind, and to even play with a sweatshirt underneath the jersey…but it absolutely isn’t fair to ask athletes to play when there is even the slightest chance of the court not being pristine.

Since that debacle of a weekend, television and college administrators have been successfully staging Veterans Day games – indoors – from various military facilities. They’ve done a great job with them and as you might expect, the quality of play was improved.

I think people should think long and hard about pursuing sequels, especially if the original is so perfect.

I also happen to think people should learn from their mistakes.

 

Picture Courtesy US Navy/Roza Arzola

Trying Baseball

Major League Baseball has many challenges ahead of it as it tries to stay relevant for young and old alike. While the average age of who calls themselves a baseball fan or viewer hovers just below the 60-year mark, I do know a number of people that age or older who don’t give baseball much time anymore. They are indifferent to the sport. There are also enough survey results to conclude baseball doesn’t exactly strike a chord with younger folks.

Baseball has tried in vain to tinker with its rules, and will some more, in order to stabilize its freefall from once being known as “America’s Pastime.” But alas, I don’t think any of those current or proposed changes will ever make a difference. Its time at the top passed long ago…for a host of reasons which have been discussed in great detail elsewhere.

Of course, I have always felt it might help at least a little bit if the majority of baseball fans felt in Spring Training their rooting interest had at least some chance to make the playoffs, let alone win a World Series.

Try: Verb – make an attempt or effort to do something. Noun – an effort to accomplish something; an attempt.

Six MLB franchises are on pace to lose 100 or more games. According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, that number would be the highest ever since the league expanded to 30 clubs back in 1998. The previous high for a season was four teams: 2002…and  as you might expect, the two most recent full seasons in 2019 and 2021.

Quite frankly, many fans know their baseball season is over before it has started, unless they care only about the journey and not the destination. Some franchises are flat-out mismanaged; some are solely focused on profitability instead of perfection.

We’re just at the end of June, and in the National League there are basically eight teams competing for six spots…and it’s six only because MLB expanded its postseason by two teams to try and keep more owners interested in actually trying to get there.

Over the weekend, the Phillies’ Bryce Harper took a 97-mph fastball to his left thumb, and the hopes for the hometown team have taken an equally forceful hit.

But, we in the Philadelphia region are lucky because ownership has been aggressively trying to produce winning baseball in recent seasons.

For other fans, no try…just means another trying season.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

Thinking Christmas

The Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel has already started their “Merry Movie Week,” and the “mothership” Hallmark Channel will be rolling out a whole month of “Christmas in July” starting at the end of this week. When we aren’t streaming or watching sports, one of the Hallmarks is usually on our television this time of year.

You’ll see Christmas pop up here more frequently as it gets closer, but I wanted to offer three disclaimers about my outlook on the holiday itself before I/we get there. To me…

  1. Hallmark Christmas movies reflect about 15% of what real life is all about. (The % may be a bit higher for their non-Christmas fare, but not by much…)
  2. Christmas can be a truly miserable time for many people, in some cases the lowest they’ve ever felt. Others don’t acknowledge or care about it. People who go all out for Christmas should keep that in mind.
  3. I myself l-o-v-e Christmas, even though I’ve only had one or two extra-memorable ones myself.

For that matter, any holiday or “celebrated” day on our calendars can be a time of soul-crushing sadness for others. Deaths, illness, separations. They don’t follow any calendar. Much like hearing a piece of music can transport us back to a certain place in time, the calendar may do the same.

The arrival of July signifies Christmas is less than a ½ year away. Then again, several networks (including Hallmark) fire up their Yuletide offerings Halloween week (!)…which no doubt makes those who don’t enjoy the Christmas season feel worse. I myself love Halloween…and Thanksgiving…and like to give those holidays total attention before then focusing in on Christmas.

Each July, when these films come on with their over-the-top messages of Christmas, I do find myself being a little nicer to folks, a little more considerate, a little more forgiving. The movies act for me as a mid-year reminder…a reset…to aspire to be the best human possible…even within the never-gonna-be-perfect-life we all reside within.

In the real world, I think all of us should never take a holiday from trying to understand what others are going through, where they are coming from, and how we can make both their day and ours a good one.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

A Bridge To Nowhere

My home state of Pennsylvania is a very old state. It is certainly not unique in that regard – there are other ancient states in the United States – but in fact a lot of stuff we use each day here is quite…old.

Pennsylvania has the third-highest number of bridges in the country. For as long as I’ve been alive, the subject of its aging bridges has been at the top of the planning agenda each year when the Commonwealth’s Department of Transportation reviews what structures need immediate attention, reshuffling the priority deck based on traffic flow, the repairs needed, etc. to best determine where repair crews should head next.

And of course…as long as there is money in the budget.

And of course…if one of our major cities is involved, whether or not some or all of the funds should come from the city or state budget…if the money is even available.

This topic will be staying atop PennDOT’s agenda for a long, long, l-o-n-g time…at least as long as some of these bridges have been in existence…bridges people drive across daily. Pennsylvania has as of this writing north of 25,000 state-owned bridges. There are almost 7,000 locally-owned bridges which the PA Department of Transportation also takes inspection responsibility for. Many of the bridges are of modest size, helping drivers get across small streams and rivers, but when they are shut down or closed…traffic Armageddon can be the result.

Several years ago, a plan began where vehicle owners were required to pay an additional charge when their annual Pennsylvania vehicle registrations came due. It was explained at that time the plan was to help fund bridge repairs and reconstruction within the County you resided within. The funds being generated would be for bridges deemed as “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete.”

It should be noted we’ve been assured by our transportation experts these classifications don’t mean the bridges can’t support traffic. Ok, but…I don’t know about you but the use of “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete” works much better for me when we’re talking Jenga or Legos instead of supporting structures for cars or trucks.

The life span of the bridges is generally considered to be 50 years. Five years ago, of the 95 bridges reported to be in existence in our Chester County at that time, 57 of them were over 75 years old…31 over 100 years old.

Chester County has been trying to keep a goal of restoring or replacing at least a couple of bridges per year. Two. Since 1980, there were twelve years where no bridge work was done in the County at all.

I don’t think we’re gonna get caught up, folks.

Recently, one of the smallest bridges in Chester County was deemed unsuitable for traffic and taken out of commission completely…in our neighborhood.

Without getting out my tape measure, I’m thinking the bridge area stretches about 75 feet long, designed for two-way traffic just off an intersection which gets high volume usage. It lies just a short distance from two major highways.

Hurricane Ida, which did take out a handful of the state’s bridges completely, was the reason for our local bridge being taken off-line as well. (Side note – I think some people relax when they hear a Hurricane has been downgraded. That’s for the wind. The moisture and its fury is often a bigger culprit, at least in our region) The Ida damage took place in early September, 2021. The structure has since been judged to need a total replacement. If all goes well, the current estimate is the new bridge will be completed…in March, 2023.

Unless of course, other bridges deemed more critical to traffic flow become unable to be used in the interim. Unless of course, the money isn’t there, no matter whose budget gets tapped into.

You may have heard about a bridge collapse in Western PA in January of this year. Pittsburgh made headlines when the Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed with a bus and several cars on it. Since then, there have been calls for more information to be provided to the Commonwealth’s residents as to the current condition of each and every bridge in the state. The goal would be to have a database for all to reference. As it turns out, the state was previously displaying inspection notes about bridges on its website, as well as names of the inspectors involved…but when the Pittsburgh media began asking questions about this information post-Fern Hollow, the information was taken down. Hmm.

So we’ve got it all now, the perfect storm of too many bridges that need help, not enough money to address all the work needed, and uncertainty as to whether or not our current inspection system is actually, truly keeping the citizens of the Commonwealth safe.

As for the arrival of that new bridge our area needs to return to normal…we’ll cross that bridge when they get to it.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

My Laser Focus

In my earlier post about the bullet points of my life while I was away from blogging, I failed to offer up if you ever need advice on what to expect when your retina falls out of position…I’m your guy.

Final week of September 2018. I woke up one morning, looked outside…and the view from my left eye made nearby homes look a little like the bending buildings you see in movies like “Doctor Strange” or “Inception.” At first I thought it had just been a rough night of sleep, but once I got oriented to being fully awake it was obvious something had gone a little sideways…

…like my left retina.

At the time, I somehow convinced myself it was not an emergency situation and started to go about my day. After all, I had cataract surgery a few years ago on the same eye. There were “floaters,” which happened off-and-on both before and after the cataract work, so they did not alarm me. I actually waited awhile, somehow convincing myself the eye would simply reset itself. I had also just gotten my annual eye exam three months ago and was judged to be just fine. It simply couldn’t be anything super-serious and I was planning a fairly busy week.

I eventually did research the Internet (where I always go first for my medical advice). Oops. This could easily be a medical emergency…and my first introduction to the words “retinal detachment.”

Off to the eye doctor, who confirmed the Internet’s diagnosis.

I was immediately booked into the eye surgery center (where I had my previous cataract surgery), scheduled for a next-day, 6 AM procedure. I was told I would actually be operated on at the same time as a couple other folks. They squeezed me in to their schedule, and all I could think of after hearing the confirmation was…1) it’s a super-early hour of the morning and I hoped everyone associated with my procedure would be fully awake, and 2) if there is going to be more than one person operated on at a time, what if they get distracted and work on the wrong eye? I wasn’t sure if I would even be awake to see they corrected the correct one.

Both of those concerns were resolved once things got rolling. Everyone in the room seemed to be awake and ready to go, and I also would not need to be “out” for the surgery. In fact, the surgeon not only announced what eye they would be working on, he had me confirm which eye needed an intervention before digging in.

I will say the surgery itself could not have been easier, or gone better. No discomfort at all – local anesthesia. The vision immediately thereafter was not 100% like before, but it was judged to be 20-20 and I judged myself to be lucky. My doctor (and the Internet) did note not only getting older, but having a cataract removed previously, might increase one’s risk for a retinal detachment.

I did have to go back to the surgeon for a couple post-operative visits. These visits were the only time I felt any discomfort or pain at all. The reason? The surgeon also had equipment in his office which allowed him to go in with his trusty laser and “burn-in” what was needed to further ensure the original surgery was a success. There was no local anesthesia.

The pain was like…like…someone was using a laser on your eye and you had no local anesthesia.

Ouch.

After the second post-op visit – and just an hour later at that – I actually had a job interview (for the role I eventually held until I retired last month). I could still feel that laser’s “touch-up” effects while trying to be calm and collected.

Flash forward a couple of months to the first week of December 2018…I had just started that job a couple of weeks earlier after having to delay my acceptance to fully recover from the surgery. Early in the morning one day, I thought I was back in the movie theatre again…

…out of the SAME eye.

Once more…well before the sun came up…you-know-the-rest. The medical explanation as to why we had the do-over was the first go-round fixed the tear present at that time, but the other side had now torn. Lucky me. The procedure itself was once again a breeze. Everyone at the eye surgery center seemed to be very surprised and quite sympathetic I was back again – so soon – for the same eye. Once more, a couple of post-op follow-ups…and the chance to visit with the laser again.

Ouch.

I still have “perfect” vision in the left eye chart-wise, but the view is a little weirder than after the first reattachment. In all seriousness, I recognize I am fortunate considering there have now been three operations on the eye overall.

Hopefully, the right retina stays upright.

We shall see.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

Horrible Bosses

The worst boss I ever had…was also the best.

This subject came to mind when the hometown Philadelphia Flyers named John Tortorella as their new Head Coach earlier today.

Tortorella has significant National Hockey League experience in such a role, having carved out 673 wins at four different stops. He has won NHL coach-of-the-year twice, and led the Tampa Bay Lightning to a Stanley Cup in the 2003-04 campaign.

He is equally known for his in-your-face, confrontational, critical relationships with management, players, and the media. His “blow-up” history is easily reviewed courtesy of the Internet.

And today, he also made me reflect about a former boss of mine…who for purposes of this post we’ll call “John 2.0.”

John 2.0 was only my boss for about a year. The company I was working for at the time had some operational challenges which made it imperative they consolidate locations, and our location was closed just about a year after I started there. This event was impossible to predict, quite unforeseen, and losing this position frustrated me because I truly enjoyed my time there.

John 2.0 contributed to my liking the work environment at that organization…to some extent…although my full enjoyment probably didn’t come until I was several years removed from that role.

I say to some extent because John 2.0 absolutely demanded his workers work hard, and work smart. If you made an error he’d call you out on it…sometimes not in the most flattering way. But…he always verbalized his unhappiness behind a closed door. He always made sure anyone he had to have a word with (which was always more than one word…) was done off the floor…and behind a door.

I appreciated that because I had prior supervisors who didn’t have that filter, who would criticize and call you out for a mistake in front of others. John 2.0 was a demanding leader who expected his reports to do their job well, and he’d let you know when you did not. Oh, you knew it.

Yet, the reason why John 2.0 was also the best boss I’ve ever had is because when other departments in the organization tried to paint any of our group in a bad light, or tried to dump projects and work upon us instead of taking ownership themselves, or if another supervisor made unflattering comments to us directly and he learned of it…he couldn’t have been a more vociferous supporter of his section…and its workers.

He would push back, and push hard when he felt our group was being undermined, overtasked…you name it. If we did something in error, he’d work it out with us directly, but if another department head spoke to us about any issue and he found out, he’d go to that person and make sure they knew the next time they had a problem with someone in our unit to come to him to discuss in private. He supported us no matter what.

I had prior experience with bosses who were the exact opposite, and it was refreshing to know this one had all of our backs when it came to interaction with others in the organization. Looking back on it now, John 2.0 did get the very best out of us via his aggressive management style.

It was funny…others in the organization would come up and ask how I could possibly like working for him. In those moments, I would acknowledge it was not for everyone but there was good with the not-so-good. After all, other supervisors and their reports didn’t see this individual as we did. They only saw one component, one side of John 2.0.

John Tortorella is certainly not John 2.0. The two appear to be quite similar in demanding excellence, but the Flyers head man is also known for calling out his players in public, ripping into the media for trying to do their jobs, etc.

Yet, for a franchise that has not won the Cup since the 1974-75 season, the selection of this individual to run the team at this particular moment in time may just be a winning move. If he can motivate (and bring in) enough players to buy into his playing style – and handle his management style – maybe this is exactly what this organization needs right now.

I admittedly would like our new hockey hire to be a bit more like John 2.0. I know at times I am not going to be thrilled with Tortorella’s public personality. However, in my experience John 2.0 was a rare breed, a one-of-a-kind. If Tortorella wills the Flyers to achieve excellence as much as John 2.0 did, this franchise might finally end this l-o-n-g dry spell and win another Stanley Cup.

 

Picture Courtesy Pixabay

Wiffle Reminiscence

This week, in many school districts in and around where I live, the last day of class for the 2021-22 school year is taking place.

The very, very best days I ever spent in all my elementary, junior, and senior high school years was always the last day of each school year.

I hated school. I loved summers. (I love winters now, but I digress…)

In my youth, there was no Internet. Kids actually went outside and did stuff. It was all we knew. Parents sent us outside. Go. Get out. Play!

For me, there were a couple of summers growing up where the focus was solely upon Wiffle Ball…pretending to be a big-league baseball star…on a ball field perfectly suited for such a summertime occupation.

And…it had a swimming pool.

For two summers, my friend Jebby and I role-played major league baseball. (Jebby’s given name was Joseph, but I don’t recall ever knowing the genesis of the name Jebby…) His favorite team was the Pittsburgh Pirates. Mine was the Oakland Athletics. Of course, we followed our hometown Phillies…but they lost way, way more than they won back then, so it was easy for a couple of young kids’ attention spans to pivot towards teams having more success playing ball.

Once school let out these two years in question, we “helped” our parents plan our transportation routes so we could get together at our chosen ballpark to play live games in our Wiffle Ball League (WBL). I use the word live because in our WBL, we also had contingency plans for another way to play games…via a deck of playing cards. As we couldn’t meet in-person every day at our League’s home field (family obligations), and because weather was not always our friend, we designed rules for a card game so the WBL could be played daily.

The first order of summertime business was to determine which two teams we would have in our League besides the afore-mentioned Pirates and A’s. We each had to select another team to represent. (It didn’t matter because, deep-down, we both knew it was inevitable any WBL World Series would likely feature Pittsburgh and Oakland…)

Now, I wouldn’t go so far to say when we weren’t playing face-to-face these off-site, remote card games were “fixed” in any way to give the Pirates and A’s built-in advantages against the other two teams…but it was amazing how well our favorite teams did in those circumstances. We built into the rules “strategy” calls to make depending on certain game scenarios, and perhaps we were slightly more aggressive in making potential, strategic run-scoring decisions for when both Pittsburgh and Oakland were at bat.

(OK, maybe “the fix” was in…)

However, the best part of the WBL was when our transportation schedules were coordinated so we could both be driven to my mother’s work place…a work place that featured our Field Of Dreams.

And…a swimming pool.

My mother worked for a guy who was well-off financially, owning a residence which was at least eight acres in size. He had two structures on the property. One was his actual home, which to lower middle-class kids like us seemingly contained a thousand rooms…although in reality I suspect the number of rooms was much lower.

The other, much smaller building on his property served as an office for himself and his staff of three – one of which was my Mom. The “catch” was both he and the other two employees had residences in other states – they didn’t use this office regularly – so most summer days it was just Mom, Jebby and I spending the day there.

Shortly after 9 AM, the WBL games we had scheduled to be played that day commenced. Again, it was amazing how often the schedule for our head-to-head Wiffle Ball games featured the Pirates and A’s. They were often scheduled to play at the very least a doubleheader – if not a three or even four-game series – which was often a crucial one because these teams somehow always seemed to have permanent residence at the top of our four-team standings.

The office structure and the swimming pool were separated by an eight-foot high, wooden fence. At one end of the fence, it was bordered by a number of pine trees. At the other end, the fence was bordered by the home residence. Between the fence and the swimming pool, there was a wide section of immaculate yard – always meticulously groomed as the landscapers must have cut the grass on weekends – which served as our official Wiffle Ball field.

The designated left field foul line/pole consisted of one of the pine trees. The right field “foul” pole area was deemed as anything that hit the home. The swimming pool was just a short walk from home plate (a rock borrowed from an undeveloped property next-door; rocks also served as our bases). Once the WBL schedule was concluded each of these days, the rest of the day (until Mom got done work) was gloriously spent poolside, listening to the songs-of-the day on a radio, working on our tans.

It was truly amazing Jebby and I stayed close friends throughout our Wiffle Ball careers, because the batter in our League always got to call balls and strikes, as well as determine whether a ball was hit fair or foul. Now, our strike zones were reasonably consistent. We often swung at the first thing we saw during each at-bat anyway. However, there were situations where we differed on fair vs. foul, especially down the left field line.

But alas, we didn’t have umpires…or replay.

Hold that thought.

Now that I think of it, that swimming pool not only allowed us to cool off between or after games, but also to cool off from vigorously debating calls. For a couple of kids who lived in row homes, WBL days were the best part of those two summers. On a giant property all to ourselves, in the sun, playing what was then the national pastime, and being able to cool off in that pool whenever you wanted.

Mom was good enough to make sure we were fed at lunch time. (For the uninitiated, you can burn a lot of calories playing multiple, highly-contested Wiffle Ball games…)

The fence was a great fixture and feature of our field. Aside from the occasional home run sailing (just) over the top, we learned over time to deftly play caroms off the fence and keep each other from advancing to an extra base.

As I recall, Jebby’s Pirates won the WBL World Series in our inaugural season. The second summer, it was my Athletics who prevailed, winning in their last World Series at-bat. The clinching hit for Oakland was a screaming, towering shot I struck which hit the appointed foul pole tree…or not.

Jebby expressed his displeasure immediately and loudly about my calling it a home run. He felt it actually hit another one of the trees, which would make it nothing more than a foul ball, and keeping his Pirates’ hopes alive for back-to-back titles. Of course, in these instances we always defaulted to the real-life, major league rulebook…

“Batted balls that directly strike either foul pole on the fly, or leave the park on a fly to the right of the left-field foul pole and to the left of the right-field foul pole are considered home runs.”

With no umpires or replay technology in my mother’s employer’s back yard, as the batter at that moment in time…my call stood.

A’s win.

It would be the last game in the short, yet memorable existence, of the WBL.

For a couple of summers thereafter, Jebby and I competed with and against each other in real-life baseball. He went on to be a three-sport star in high school and a solid junior college football player. I went on to be a one-sport non-star in high school, and an all-star intramural basketball player at a couple of different colleges.

I don’t know where Jebby is today. Yet, each year when the school year ends and summertime officially gets underway for kids, I sometimes think about those couple of Wiffle Ball summers and smile.

And Jebby, if by some chance you are reading this…that ball was fair.

 

Picture Courtesy Pixabay

The Intermission

In the time since the creative part of my brain once again regained the wheel from the analytical section…and I started a new blog…I have been reading what other folks have been up to in the interim through their prior posts.

It occurred to me as well all of you…many of you…some…OK, perhaps ONE of you may actually be curious as to what’s been happening with me since I last lived on WordPress. So…in chronological order:

February 4, 2018: The Super Bowl

The hometown Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl, which was also the franchise’s first championship since 1960. It was oh-so-hard-to-believe then…and I STILL can’t quite accept this really happened. In a season where Carson Wentz (playing at an elite level) suffered a season-ending injury in mid-December, they still managed to win it all. This one really snuck up on me, as I feared the worst when Wentz’s knee exploded all over Los Angeles. But Nick Foles, who was considering retirement during the prior off-season, crafted a magical underdog story which ended in a Super Bowl MVP nod.

April 2, 2018: The NCAA Championship

The hometown Villanova Wildcats won their second national title in the last three years. This one was a shade easier to believe because of winning it all in 2016, but I wonder if everyone who lives outside of our region understands just how small a community the Wildcats reside within. It’s positively surreal to see how Villanova has become an annual national championship contender over the last few years. Of course, with Head Coach Jay Wright’s retirement, time will tell if they can retain their lofty standing in the college basketball community. Wright was always a great dresser and recruiter. Eventually, he put all of the X and O pieces together, and will likely be adding Hall of Fame Coach to his resume in the near future.

March 13, 2020: The Pandemic 

My wife and I were sent home from work. Our positions converted overnight to remote work. We were/are blessed to a) have a roof over our heads, and b) have a house which allows us enough space to each have our own mini-home offices. It has also been a blessing no one in our family has had – to the best of our knowledge – this illness as of this writing.

October 28, 2020: The Roof

Even though we did not experience any issues with our roof, it had been in place at this point for enough years we judged it would be a solid, pro-active move to replace it. Prior to getting it installed, and having never been a part of such an event, I went online to research what one could expect from a replacement roofing install. There were several comments recommending you get out of the house for the day because it can get quite noisy. My wife and I figured there’d be a decent amount of noise, but felt we would rather stay in/with the house while it was being worked on.

Good Lord, GET OUT of your home if you are replacing your roof. The hammering started at 7 AM, lasted until 4PM…and to this day I still think I’m hearing tiles being put into place.

December 20, 2021: The Barber

This greeted me 5 days before my pre-Christmas haircut. Bill was my barber for approximately 30 of his 58 years in the business. He had two dogs in my time visiting his shop, and they were always with him while he was busily cutting away. Bill is truly one of the nicest people on the planet, and after finding this posted on his shop door, I made it a point to send him a thank-you card for his service…and friendship.

I have since found a great barber shop fairly close to home. It started operating a few years ago, and I always figured if Bill ever did stop working I’d wind up…at none other than “The Grumpy Barber.” As soon as I saw their sign go up, I figured I had to go there at least once…and they are not grumpy at all.

April 29, 2022: The Cold Brew

A long-time Caramel Macchiato drinker, Dunkin’s commercials touting the Cold Foam Cold Brew finally wore me down. Figuring I never would enjoy cold or iced coffee, I finally gave in and tried one…and another…and another.

At this point, hot coffee is in the rear-view mirror. A medium Cold Foam Cold Brew with three pumps of Caramel start my day each day. That being said, I do need to fire off a letter to Dunkin’ to ask them to get some part-time traffic police to manage the area surrounding the one establishment of theirs I most often frequent. Due to the Pandemic, not only this location but a couple of others nearby have not re-opened their doors, continuing to only serve thru drive-thru. With the price of gas these days, maybe that will knock down those lines a little going forward. In any event, it can get crazy when there are multiple pathways to get into one line.

June 1, 2022: The Next Chapter

So…when Bill The Barber hung up his shears in December…that got me thinking…

June 1 became the first day of my first retirement. I refer to it as such because who the hell knows what the future holds for any of us. For this moment in time, it seemed like the right time.

The “honey-do” list is of such length, I figured I’d better get started on it now…

 

Picture Courtesy iStock