Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Thanksgiving Story

While duly employed in another line of work more than two decades ago, my boss, Richie, spied a couple of our customers, George and Sally, dining in a Nathan’s fast-food restaurant. At the time, he was cruising down the well-traveled Central Avenue in Yonkers and noticed them—courtesy of the place’s paneled glass windows adjoining the busy thoroughfare—seated at a table. Were it not for the fact that it was Thanksgiving night, this sighting wouldn’t have been worth mentioning.

Often a cynic, Richie nonetheless found something poignant at the spectacle of this married couple eating at Nathan's on Thanksgiving. After all, George and Sally were pleasant enough people who spent a fair amount of change shopping in our store week after week. George was retired and a lot older than his wife. They had no children. That is, if you didn’t count their menagerie of pets, which included through the years everything from minks to ferrets to monkeys. And, yes, they had multiple cats and dogs as well. Anyway, Richie thought it would be a nice gesture to invite George and Sally to the business’s forthcoming Christmas party, which he did. They happily accepted and a grand time was had by all.

Fast forward twenty-five years and George and Sally are still among the living. They are, however, experiencing financial woes. Money troubles that George never envisioned possible when he called it quits after a rather successful working career. Considering George and Sally’s sizable brood of animal friends through the years—and the amount of money they spent on them for food, supplies, and medical care—we were all convinced that old George had quite a tidy nest egg and would never, ever be sweating the bucks.

Last winter, however, George turned up at Richie’s new place of business. He requested a helping hand—i.e., a cash allowance to pay off a large and long overdue fuel bill. It was a brutal winter and Richie, who hadn’t seen George in years, didn’t have the heart to say no. It was actually a rather distressing tale of woe that a former professional and proud man—who was now closing in on ninety years of age—would not have enough money all these years later to pay basic household bills. George told Richie that the economic meltdown of several years ago did a real number on his retirement portfolio. It’s a cautionary tale, I fear, that all too many of us may be facing in retirement someday—if we make it that far and almost definitely when we are pushing ninety.

Looking back on it now, I suppose that George and Sally’s past Nathan’s Thanksgiving repast was a happier, less stressful dining moment than the one they’ll be having this year. As a postscript to this story: That sprawling, iconic Nathan’s restaurant was bulldozed a few years ago to make room for yet another strip mall. There is a much smaller, decidedly pedestrian Nathan’s in the mix of stores on the old spot, so George and Sally can dine there this Thanksgiving if they so desire and if, of course, they can afford it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Swinging the Bat

I swung a baseball bat an awfully lot as a boy. I didn’t even have to be involved in an organized game of any kind to do it. In fact, for a few years running—I’d say from the ages of eight to ten or eleven—most of this swinging of mine was done all by my lonesome. For the record, I never swung the Louisville Slugger that I received at a New York Yankees’ “Bat Day” promotion—with its Jake Gibbs facsimile signature on it—at anyone’s head or any such thing. Rather, I played a singular version of fantasy baseball—it would seem—in the alleyway that separated my house from a next-door neighbor’s. And I wasn’t pretending to be Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee, or Ed Kranepool. No, what I did in that alleyway all those years ago was completely original and a figment of my imagination—imagine that.

I would just go out and “swing the bat”—period and end of story—for anywhere from several minutes to a couple of hours. I remember alerting my mother as to where I could be found. “I’m going out to swing the bat,” I’d say. And that’s not only what I said but what I did. The time of day didn’t matter a whit, either, but it was a seasonal thing. I’d swing that piece of lumber morning, noon, and night, too, in the summertime by and large. An older neighbor of mine—an affable dullard of a teen as I recall—was positively bewildered when he witnessed me one summer’s eve exiting the house with my bat in hand. “He’s going to play baseball in the dark!” he exclaimed. And the doofus was right. I didn’t need the light of day to play whatever it was I was playing.

Recently, I thought about “going out to swing the bat” as a kid, and wondered how that sort of thing might be received today. First of all, a kid in a Bronx alleyway with a bat in his hand—most especially at night—would be frowned upon. After all—just as they shouldn’t play with fire—kids shouldn’t play with baseball bats, either. That is, unless they are being swung under the supervision of an adult in good standing. 

I also don’t know how the act of swinging a baseball bat for hours upon hours—all alone—would be perceived on the contemporary psychiatric front. My behavior might very well be judged as aberrant, and my parents alerted to this noxious bat-swinging compulsion of mine. I’d quite possibly be prescribed some drug du jour to calm me down. You know: to take that unhealthy desire to swing the bat away from me. No more fantasy baseball. Just be a lump, stay indoors as much as possible, stare into a smart phone…and everything will be hunky-dory.

(Photo from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)