Monthly Archives: May 2015

I just had a run in. . .

. . .with a person that made me wonder,

“Why is it called common sense when it’s so uncommon these days?”

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Traditions

When I was a kid, I’m not even sure if I was in school yet, an uncle grabbed me off the street and took me to a bar. Now don’t worry, I wasn’t being auctioned off to the highest bidder or made to wash dishes because he was short on his bar tab. He wanted me to shake somebody’s hand.

At the time it was just a crazy uncle doing crazy uncle things. But this time, even at that young age, I knew there was a purpose. It wasn’t that he wanted to show off whatever pool trick he’d taught me. I could tell there was something behind the urgency. He practically dragged me up to this guy. A guy even older than my uncle, if you can believe that.

He was your average ruddy faced Irish guy. Well, average for the area we lived in. He didn’t seem like anyone special. I didn’t recognize him from my baseball cards or the post offices wanted posters. Like I said, an old, average guy.

“Shake his hand.” My uncle said in a manner that wasn’t demanding but I knew it’d be better to do what he said. So I held out my tiny hand. The man laconically turned as he took the beer mug from his face. He looked at me with eyes that held many truths. And probably more lies.

He put his beer mug down in a gesture that told of the seriousness of this event. He wiped his right hand on the weathered work shirt and glanced down on me. It was a proud look. I found that odd. I’m just shaking some old guys hand, after all.

“Go on,” my uncle said. “Shake it.”

I don’t know how big he was nor accurately remember how small I was. But I clearly remember that he took my hand forcefully and engulfed it. In my minds eye he swallowed it. A hand shark. And he pumped my hand three, maybe four, but it was surely no more, times. And just as quickly released it.

In a flash he had his right hand back around his beer mug as my uncle pounded me on the back and shoulders.

“There ya go.” He said. “You’ve just shaken the hand of a man who’s shaken the hand of John L. Sullivan.” He turned me away from the bar. “You’ll remember this day forever.”

He ushers me out of the bar and deposits me back in the street. I stand there for a few seconds. Mostly spent looking at my hand. Although I don’t clearly remember it I have to assume I was thinking,

‘What the hell just happened back there?’

It turns out, in some circles, shaking the hand of a man who shook the hand of John L. Sullivan is a big deal. When I actually learned who John L. Sullivan was and heard many times after how monumental what happened that day was I was still a little fuzzy on the historical significance.

But my uncle was right about one thing, I have remembered it forever.

The true significance of it didn’t hit me until years later. I got a call asking if I’d play tennis with a guy who was preparing for a tournament. I was often called as a sparring partner so we settled on a price, I was told where I was to be and when.

Arriving at the club I was amazed. This was a big money establishment. I’d been in some pretty fancy tennis clubs by then but this was beyond anything I’d seen up to that date. To say my friend and I were in the crappiest car in the parking lot was an understatement. We actually parked as far away from everyone as possible. Between us we knew we couldn’t afford to scratch any other car.

Bring up your idea of the most sumptuous club. Now add hot and cold running gold and serifs floating around passing out aperitifs. Yeah, sort of spectacular. The courts themselves were very well maintained. They were clay courts that looked as if they were swept between points. I go to the court I was told to go to and I wait.

I’m sitting there looking around and the most striking thing to me was the animals. Not in squirrels and chipmunks and robins. I’m talking cows and goats and shit. All perfectly quiet but all roaming around the grounds freely. At first it was sort of odd to have a cow stop by to check out your game. But after awhile I had to admit it was rather cool.

About five minutes later this old guy showed up. I figured he was the guy’s grandfather or something. But he nods to me and gets on the court. I slowly get up wondering what kind of tournament he’s getting ready for. The Methuselah and over?

He tells me what he wants me to do and I do it. He tells me he wants to work on drop shots.

“Run those old bastards into the ground.” He says.

He chips most every shot but they’re too high. We talk for a second and I give him a piece of advice. He takes right to it and he starts to execute flawless low chips.

“Just like when I was young.” He says. And he seems to really believe it.

When our time is over we sit courtside. Out of nowhere some guy arrives and takes our food and drink order. I could get used to this. We start talking about tennis. I let him do most of the talking. Mainly because he kept talking but the things he said fascinated me.

It turns out he’s been a rather accomplished amateur player all his life. Traveled the world. Played with everyone you’ve only seen in black and white. Then he told me some stories about Bill Tilden. You can argue who the greatest tennis player of all time is (and unless you say Rod Laver you’re wrong) but, no matter what, Tilden’s up there. And the ‘legends’ I’d heard about him this gentleman confirmed.

All in all it was a magical day.

He’s walking me back to the car when something hit me. I told him the shaking hands story and he laughed.

“Now you’ve also played tennis with a man who played tennis with Bill Tilden. Together that’s an even more exclusive club I bet.”

It’s when I realized how important keeping a little piece of the past is.

“What did you get for Mother’s Day?”

I innocently ask a friend.

“A postcard from my daughter from where she’s on vacation.”

Came back the withering reply.

Happy Mother’s Day to those who have kids who actually care.

Proposal

As you may have expected, for most of my life I’ve pretty much said any damn thing I’ve wanted. I don’t go out of my way to hurt people’s feelings (more than necessary) but much of the time I’m time constrained or just don’t want to be having this conversation so I don’t mince words. I’m not saying that’s always worked out the best for me but it’s how I handle things.

Then there’s the point where things just come out of my mouth. I’ve got to say I’ve said some things that have made me wonder where it came from. And, truthfully, questioned my thought process. But it’s not like I blurt things out at inopportune times. Like I wouldn’t yell, “Sir! Cover that! There are ladies here!” at a bris.

But I might think it.

I know the difference between my indoor voice, my outdoor voice and my keep that one in your head voice.

I was in a store when someone called my name. I didn’t recognize the woman. I’m good with faces but if I haven’t seen you for a long time you’ve got to cut me some slack. Me, on the other hand, people seem to recognize. Which only leads me to believe I was one old looking fucking kid.

She reminds me who she was and I remembered. Sort of. Slowly a few things started coming back. She was, and from the looks of it still is, a very Irish woman. I’ve known many Irish people but this one tops them all. She even worked in an Irish store. Really? I’m part Irish but, really? There’s a need for that? How come we don’t have a German Superstore? A New Zealand Land? Seriously, how many shamrock appliques does one need?

She’s telling me about her life and I’m listening. To the song on in the store. I know I should be paying attention to the details of life but unless she says, “Oh yeah, and little Seamus looks just like you.” How interesting is it going to be for me?

Then she asked if I remembered what I said when she asked if I was ever going to be interested in marrying her. Truthfully, I didn’t. I don’t remember having a combative relationship with her so I would have guessed I left town for work and when I came back just didn’t call. I traveled back then so was gone for long periods of time. I’d often find a girl I was seeing would be seeing someone else by the time I got back.

But she reminded me and told me she alternated between crying and laughing for a couple weeks afterwards.

We’d been seeing each other for six months or so. I was always going away so it may have seemed longer to her. We’re at the tennis club and she asked if I was ever going to settle down. She was older than me so maybe it was more urgent for her. I probably gave her some flippant response and ended the conversation. From my standpoint. She wasn’t willing to change subjects as quickly.

Slowly bits of it came back. We were in the car and she was agitated. I told her we hadn’t been dating for that long and that I wasn’t willing to put anything ahead of my career. I guess she was feeling bad so there was a heavy silence in the car. Finally I broke the ice and said,

“Look at us. Look how pale we are? We could never get married. Our kids would be invisible.”

And that’s why we hadn’t seen each other in all those years.