John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: November, 2017

Max’s Perfect Toy

Max turned seven on September 9, 2017 He came to live with us on November 10, 2010. He and his sister, Ruby, came to us via truck from their birthplace in Missouri. The delivery service with the unlikely name of PetEx Express transported these sibling Golden Retrievers in one travel crate as part of a shipment of puppies going to various destinations on the East Coast. Fortunately, both Golden Retrievers arrived clean and in perfect health. Mary Ann and our daughter-in-law, Jodie, lifted both pups up to tell who was the boy and who was the girl.  The boy, already named, Max, stayed with Mary Ann and me and Ruby went to her new home in Connecticut, a birthday gift for Jodie.


In many ways Max was great from the moment he arrived. Housebroken from day one, he never cried during the night and took to his crate like it was his second home. He was so laid back that when one of us went down to open his crate in the morning, he went through a series of stretches before deciding to begin a new day.  Feeding was easy; Max was born with a food alarm clock. Since we fed him both breakfast and dinner every day, his breakfast gong rang as soon as he was up, and his dinner alarm went off between 4 and 4:30 PM. Max loved treats, any time and all the time.


…And now for the bad news, Max was hell on wheels as a pup. He was all teeth wasting anything in his path. Fortunately, he never took to furniture, but he did take to objects made of cloth or fabric. This boy could destroy a tee-shirt, jacket or towel in the blink of an eye, but he was a hard-wired natural retriever. No matter what he stole or destroyed, he insisted on displaying it in front of us, so we could see how well he retrieved stuff.


His behavior became serious when he decided that kids were playthings and separating them from their shirts, sweaters and jackets was his retriever mission. He favored kids wearing sweatshirts with hoods, so called, “hoodies.” Give Max a kid running with a hoodie and he was off. (He now weighed about 50 pounds and he was young, determined and fast.) He’d come up behind his designated play toy, time his leap and grab onto the hood dragging them down. “Gotcha!” Now he tried to retrieve them by dragging them where he thought they should go. The poor kid now on his or her back usually didn’t take kindly to his shenanigans nor did their parents.


Not good, not good at all!


We had a serious problem. In so many ways, Max was a great dog, but kid tackling was clearly unacceptable. We were proactive, trainers, shock collars and anything that seemed to work. We even hired teenagers to act the part of, “flopping children.” Under the supervision of a trainer who used a shock collar they allowed Max to attempt to retrieve them so that our trainer could electronically reel Max in when he went after them. Our grandchildren, dog lovers all, volunteered to play the part for a price with mixed results. Finally, a dog-whisperer type trainer advised, keep up the work and he’ll outgrow this and turn his attention elsewhere.


He did finally outgrow this awful behavior, but it took five years before we no longer had to be on guard ready to leash and remove him when flopping children came to his dog park. Max will always be nose and tooth sensitive. But we cater to his need with treats and toys. Treats are easy, he’s a food hound. Toys, not so easy. One problem solved, replaced by a new problem, toy destruction.


Remember, he’s all nose, all teeth; give Max a toy advertised as indestructible…life expectancy, ten minutes. Absolutely indestructible; 12 minutes and, absolutely, positively indestructible with a money back guarantee; 15 minutes. I kid you not. We have bought toys in stores, on line, garage sales, and charity sales. Old toys from grandkids, used athletic articles; tennis balls, baseballs, footballs, hockey pucks, whatever; ole Max made short shift of their existence. The only object that he cannot destroy is not really a toy. It is a rubber coated solid steel door stop we use in New Hampshire that he steals when all else fails. We call it, “Max’s indestructible toy,” and his teeth marks on the rubber surface attest to his endless battles with it for dominance.


Last Christmas, we finally found a toy that he absolutely loves called Outdoor Dog by All For Paws (AFP.) Simple but hardly indestructible, it is a canvas covered tube 11 inches long with a diameter of three inches. Inside is a large plastic squeaky bladder with approximately the same dimensions as the canvas cover. Max instantly took to this toy constantly carrying it around in his mouth. After about a week, he bit the canvas seam opening it and over the next few days, he carefully extracted the bladder. He loved this plastic tube even more than the original toy and proceeded to carry this bladder everywhere while at home squeaking it as he walked along. We expected he’d bite a hole into it in a few days, but weeks went by then months and he left it in tact. Finally, one fateful day, visitors came and in a frenzy, he destroyed it.


Off to Pet Land, I purchased another and he was thrilled when he heard the familiar sound it made. His squeaky had been resurrected! This one lasted longer as we hid it out of sight whenever we expected company, but eventually the plastic wore thin and succumbed to his teeth. Obviously, this toy had a finite lifetime. Sooner or later Max would bite too hard or it would just give out.


We ordered five more from Amazon and when this supply fell to three backups, we tried to order more only to discover that it had been discontinued. Since then we have tried many different sources without success. Desperately, I contacted All For Paws and I hope to hear from them as Max has been reduced to one working Squeaky but only one left in reserve.


Otherwise, we are doomed. So now let us pray that we find a solution.







I Got the Jet Blue and Big Blue Blues

Two months ago, I vented my frustration with Jet Blue for radically changing the Estimated Time of Departure (ETD) for my family’s flight from Tampa, FL from 11:06 AM to 6 AM. A letter to their CEO followed by a complaint to their Customer Commitment (Center) rectified much of my misery. We re-booked on a flight out of Orlando leaving at 12:15 PM providing us with a civilized wake-up call of 8 AM as opposed to one of 3 AM.


My son rented a car from Hertz using his corporate discount and I made the case to my Customer Commitment Crewmember, Janet, that Jet Blue should reimburse me for the rental cost as part of our inconvenience. Without commitment, she asked me to submit my proof of expense.


Long story short, I submitted both the Hertz receipt for $132.60 and the itemized Amex charge for the same amount. Jet Blue responded promptly agreeing to reimburse me with a pre-paid Visa card in that amount. Game set and match!


So why the title? True, my Jet Blue blues have been lifted, but I like this title and it leads into the second part of this story.


When Michael, Drew, Matt and I made our fan trip to Tampa, our beloved, Big Blue, the New York Football Giants, were a dismal 0-4. They lost that game against the Buccaneers dropping to 0-5. Since then, Big Blue has lost four more games while winning only one making their won / loss record a horrendous 1-9.


On November 5th, the wheels fell off the wagon as Big Blue was obliterated by the LA Rams 51 to 17 on a rainy Sunday afternoon at Met Life Stadium in the Meadowlands. Brutal, a disgrace, players gave up, quit; shamed themselves. I have been a season ticket holder for 56 years, so I have seen more than my fair share of lousy football. Once, Big Blue’s unexpected collapse this season would have had me going berserk, acting like a lunatic. Fortunately, at 73, I take Big Blue’s triumphs and failures in my stride, calmer, much calmer than ever before. But, still, when it becomes obvious that the team is a train wreck, it’s time to let ownership know. This is what I wrote to John Mara, President and CEO of the Giants following the Rams debacle:


Dear Mr. Mara,

When my mates and I gave up the ghost and left the Rams game early in the fourth quarter we encountered other Giants fans burning their game tickets in the parking lot.

I believe that tells you everything you need to know.

Sincerely, John J. Delach; Football Giants Season Ticket H.O.F. 2013


Unfortunately, the following week Big Blue traveled west to play the winless San Francisco 49ers. How’d that work out? The Giants cratered once again losing by a score of 31 to 21 in a fiasco that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated.


On November 17, I received the following reply signed by Mr. Mara and dated three days earlier:


I have your letter. I feel worse than you do. When you are 1 and 8 there is not much you can say. We will evaluate everything after the season and make a decision about how to move forward.

Thank you for your many years of loyal support.


Next up, the Kansas City Chiefs at home in Met Life Stadium on November 19 at 1 PM. Ugh! Everything being equal, I’d stay home and skip it. But neither my friend Dave or his son could make it so he offered me his tickets. I asked my son if he thought grandsons Drew and Matt wanted to go and the answer was a resounding, “yes!”


Fine, count me in. Another quirk, my other buddy, Joe, couldn’t make it either so I chose to go by train rather than drive alone. The LIRR to Penn Station, NJ Transit, one stop to Secaucus then the dedicated shuttle to Met Life Stadium. Upon arrival at Penn Station, my heart dropped when I realized I had left my game ticket on my dresser. I texted Michael already in the parking lot: “All F***** up. Left game ticket at home! Do your best to scrounge a ticket for me. Worst case, I’ll enjoy tailgate and return home.”


Upon arrival at our tailgate, Joe Daniels, a regular greeted me with: “John, not a problem. I did the same thing two weeks ago only to discover that we have access to E-Tickets. Do you know your password?”


I did, and as if by magic, Joe downloaded my e-ticket to my phone.


Sunday should have been the Chief’s day. Ten points favorites, The Chiefs were well rested having had a week off and Andy Reid, their coach had a record of 16-2 coming off byes.


Once upon a time when the NFL was about to explode from an obscure after-thought to college football to the America’s top rated sport’s league, Bert Bell then the commissioner, made this remark: “On any given Sunday, any given NFL team can beat any other NFL team.”


New York and Kansas City went at it, going east and west in the swirling winds. NY went up 6-0 on a TD with a missed PAT. The Chiefs tied the contest, but late in the game the Giants kicked a field goal to make it 9 to 6. The Chiefs scored with two seconds left to make it 9-9.


By that time, I was on the train heading back to Secaucus. After boarding the connecting NJ Transit train headed to Penn Station, I discovered the Giants had grabbed their second victory of 2017 beating the Chiefs, 12-9 in overtime.


I was stunned. Overtime! I expected Big Blue to quit and KC to prevail. Make no mistake, the Giants are a bad team but for one autumn afternoon in November they upset a better team. There is a wonderful expression that gladdens rooting hearts and souls belonging to loyal fans. It explains how their underdog team can defeat the prohibitive favorite:


“And that’s why they play the game!”



Time and Again at Journey’s End

The rustic charm of Journey’s End spread by word of mouth. Young families mostly from Boston and New York City flocked to this unique country retreat for their two-week summer vacations. In some ways it became a middle class “fresh air” experience. Popularity grew and families began to book their next year’s stay during the two-weeks they were there. As families became comfortable with their cabins, they booked them for the same two weeks the following year. Margaret Rilling began her annual ritual of marking these reservations on a large piece of oaktag that she divided into a grid. Across the top, each square designated a different cabin and on the left side, each week was listed in a separate square from July 1 to Labor Day.


The price was right and remained so. Helen found a price list from about 1950. The smallest cabins, the Chickadee, Bobolink and Oriole cost $45 per week for two people, $50 for three. Three family-size cabins, the Robin, Cardinal and Swallow went for $60 for a family of four, $65 for five. (The Bobolink and Oriole would subsequently be enlarged to family size.) The price for the two big cabins, the Raven and the Whip-poor-will, that could accommodate six to ten was “based on size of party.” For the odd person who desired to stay in the main house, the price was $35 per week.


During those early years, guests were encouraged to swim in the Connecticut River where they had a dock and a diving raft anchored to the bottom. Fortunately, the current moved slowly because the river was dammed in the village of Guilford just south of Brattleboro. Bob recalled that the path down to the river was via a thousand-slate staircase difficult to walk on. “One year, we found some trees had been cut and Mr. Rilling had made a trail from the first cabin parallel to the river through the woods down to the dock. I think you just had to go down a few cement stairs, but it was shorter, and you didn’t have to go up or down all of those slate steps.”


Bill recalls that Helen was a good swimmer. “I remember the float as being off the end of the dock, somehow anchored to keep it in place. I knew for sure I was not going to attempt going out to it even in the inner tube I used as my personal floater.”


Helen respone, “I can’t believe I swam to it. Despite swim lessons, I could barely stay afloat for more than a few strokes. I do remember waving to the passing trains on the other side of the river.”


Bill, “Yes, I too remember the train crews waving back to us from the engine and caboose, as well as passengers from passenger trains particularly during afternoons when we were all on the dock swimming.”


Eventually, the Christman family discovered a beach on Lake Spofford open to the public. Spofford was about ten miles east of Rillings via Route 9. But that beach wasn’t nice and had a rocky bottom, not much of an alternative from the river. Bill recalls that it was Helen who found Ware’s Grove Beach. Both the beach and lake bottom were sandy and offered a gentle slope into deeper water making novice swimmers more comfortable. The large dirt parking lot was home to a drive-in movie by night for many years. The order of the day was pack up the car with kids, food, drink, blankets and floats to spend the better part of the day there. (The beach at Ware’s Grove is still in business but the drive-in is long gone.) At some point Charles and Margaret Rilling added a full-size pool that included a diving board and a separate kiddie’s wading pool, virtually ending river swims. But Ware’s remained a welcome alternative for adults and kids.


Rituals and traditions were quickly established. Fathers were relatively young and in good shape. So was Charles Rilling and this led to almost nightly spirited softball games on the grass field behind the cabins. Fast food was far from common and a Howard Johnson’s was one of a few alternatives, close by, just across the bridge in Vermont where Route 9 met Route 5. Margaret established a weekly spaghetti dinner on the handball court near the main house. Burgers, hot dogs and spaghetti with strawberry short cake for dessert.


Bob remembers the heavy brown cooler. “We had it for umpteen years. It weighed a ton and hurt your hand to carry. My father also brought his ‘portable’ radio so he could listen to NY Giants baseball games. It also weighed a ton. Two batteries powered it, one was 69 ½ volts. Of course, it had vacuum tubes as transistors were not invented yet.”


Somehow, their father fit the cooler, his radio and an outboard motor into the car. Helen reported, “Dad enjoyed attaching the outboard to one of the rowboats Mr. Rilling had tied to the river’s edge. Once or twice he took the boat down to the junction where the West River flowed into the Connecticut River, a place where cattails grew. He’d bring back a bunch. He’d take them home to dry out so that they would be ready the following year, dried out so he could get them smoking so we could enjoy keeping the mosquitoes away with last year’s cattails.”


“Dad also used his power boat to make ice cream runs.” Bill continues, “Once or twice during our vacations, Dad would motor to the Dairy Bar by the West River Bridge, climb up from the river, get plenty of their home-made ice cream, climb back down and motor back to the dock with a treat for everyone.”


Bill, “There were grocery stores in Brattleboro where we could re-provision as needed. But shortly after we checked in on Saturday, a local milk man came to the cabin to ask if we wanted delivery. Mom always said ‘yes’ as she didn’t drive back then. The milk came in glass bottles and unlike at home, the bottles had to be manually shaken to mix the cream on top. As kids, we didn’t realize the milk was not homogenized and thought of it unique to Journey’s End.


Bob, “One year, I was flying a kite in the ball field with my father and mother. The kite took a dive and tangled in some wires above the field. I remember my parents yelling, ‘Don’t pull the string.’ So, you know what came next, I pulled on the kite pulling two uninsulated wires together. Bingo, I knocked out the power for the town of West Chesterfield. The power company was happy that Mr. Rilling reported it as they did not have to search out where the problem was. I feared the police would be called.”


Bill provided a final thought regarding their packed car: “However cramped we might have been on the trip up, we could always count on at least two boxes of liquor from the cheap state liquor stores being added to the load on the return trip.”

Our 1976 Pacer: The Worst Car Ever

We took delivery of our red Pacer on a cold night in early March of 1976 from an American Motors Dealer (AMC) located on Metropolitan Avenue less than three miles from our Middle Village home. After a flurry of last minute salesman mumbo jumbo, attempted add-ons and proposed warranties, we finally signed the paper work, made the deposit and were handed the keys.


Before we left the dealer’s lot, I handed Mary Ann the paperwork bundled in an AMC folder to put into the glove compartment. Mary Ann flipped the opener and the glove box proceeded to fall to the floor. Even though Mary Ann quickly re-seated the box in its proper place; we should have quit right there and then.


We’d traveled no more than a half-mile in our spanking new Pacer when the heater motor went bang in a puff of blue smoke. The smell of burnt electrical equipment filled the air confirming the death of the Pacer’s heater. The dealer deftly pronounced his “mea culpas” and managed to find a replacement for our new car and sent us home in a well-used Matador courtesy loaner. For the next week all the king’s horses and all the king’s men tried to replace our heater. Airplane mechanics call planes that are in constant state of repairs, “hanger queens.” This was our first realization that our Pacer was a lemon and a garage queen.


“Why a Pacer?”


It was different, quirky and neat. The contours from every direction were curved making for a friendly look. From head on, it looked like a big dog except for floppy ears. The grill’s horizontal bars looked like a smile and, it seemed to say, “Hello.” Huge windows, lots of light, wide, big doors and a hatch back providing even more light; Mary Ann and I fell for this curious car. In other words, we were young and stupid.


Several design flaws soon became apparent. We knew the passenger side door was four inches longer than the driver’s side door to facilitate back seat entry from the curb side. What we didn’t realize was the problems a door this big could cause. The Pacer was short but wide, intentionally so to retain roominess. But that passenger door turned out to be a weapon that would cover a wide swath of territory capable of striking unsuspecting people, other cars, garbage cans and trees. It also could dig into lawns if the surface was too high. We quickly discovered that our Pacer was terribly under powered making acceleration from a dead stop onto a highway a frightening adventure. Climbing hills was a losing crap shoot and we quickly learned to move into the slow lane sooner rather than later. Lastly, lack of power and all that glass negated any chance that its puny A/C could be effective. Despite the inadequate engine power, with all that weight, miles-per-gallon were horrible.


It was only when I set out to write this piece that I discovered why the engine was so awful. It seems, the then AMC chairman, Roy D. Chapin Jr. had become enamored with the Wankel Engine then all the rage. He committed AMC to equip all its vehicles including the Jeep division with this rotary engine at the time the Pacer was being engineered. This grand scheme never worked out leaving the Pacer left with a hand-me-down GM six-cylinder engine.


Our Pacer suffered numerous breakdowns, big and small. One of the more curious defects involved the internal handle on the driver’s side used to exit the car. A simple steel device common to almost all automobiles; you pull the handle toward yourself with your left hand to close the driver’s side door. A basic tool, one we should expect to be free of failure. Not our Pacer, on two different occasions, this handle and its replacement broke in two as I pulled on it. I recall those visits to an AMC dealer, once in Queens and once in Manhattan. Both seemed to be expecting me, had the handle in stock and neither asked what had happened.


Under big problems, I submit the following: One Sunday night we were returning home from Mary Ann’s mother’s home in Flushing on the Long Island Expressway. I was in the left lane as we passed Flushing Meadows Park when, with no warning, the engine quit. Somehow, I kept my wits, shifted into neutral, turned the key and the engine restarted.


It turned out this was just the first of several stalling repetitions. That’s probably when we decided to rid ourselves of this cursed car.


We replaced it with a 1981 Ford Escort station wagon. I recall the sales man making conversation asking about the Pacer:


“My brother-in-law needs a car; do you think this Pacer would be right for him?”


I replied: “It depends on how you feel about your brother-in-law.”


For the record, he didn’t question my reply.


We also heard from the new owner who found a gasoline credit card receipt buried under the folding back seat. He called us in desperation…Mary Ann took the call. He asked if it was a bad car. She could think of nothing to tell him that would offer comfort.


My friend Geoff Jones and his wife also had a baby blue Pacer that worked alright until it wouldn’t start on the day they were trading it in. Geoff explained: Our local mechanic decided it was the solenoid but he didn’t have a new one in stock. He did have a bunch of old parts and found one that he thought would work a few times. It worked, allowing us to drive it to the Jeep dealer. The sales man took the keys and one of their shop guys went out to drive it into their lot. We held our breathes until the Pacer started. We completed our purchase and we left the dealer as quickly as we could.           





My Introduction to Richard L. Green

Richard L. Green passed away on October 23, 2017 after a lengthy struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. Dick was the finest insurance man I’ve ever known. He was honest, trustworthy and fair but exacting and demanding. It was both my honor and pleasure to work with him for almost twenty years.


I worked for Marsh & McLennan, Exxon’s corporate insurance broker. We placed a huge re-insurance policy for their in-house insurance company, Ancon, then located in Bermuda. Ancon insured Exxon’s world-wide operations. When I joined our Exxon team in 1978, Dick Green was one of Exxon’s senior insurance professionals. His office was in Houston, Texas, the headquarters for their largest and most important subsidiary, Exxon Company, USA.


Dick and his mates insured Exxon USA’s vast operations that included Alaska’s North Slope Pipeline. Exxon USA had its own insurance operation called, Petroleum Casualty Company (PCC.) Even so by 1978, PCC had been mandated by corporate to pass on their policies to Ancon. Nevertheless, PCC remained fiercely independent and maintained an adversarial relationship with Ancon and all doing business with Ancon including me.


No one bothered to explain this relationship to me. Too bad because one of my first tasks was to bring the PCC’s marine policies into line with Ancon’s. Someone at PCC had dissected the American Institute Hull Clauses (AIHC) a sacrosanct form not to be tampered with. They cut and pasted various clauses as they saw fit deleting those they found uninteresting or undesirable. (Could it have been Dick Green?) Changing the AIHC was akin to amending the United States Constitution. It is deliberately a difficult and complicated procedure.


Dick and his colleagues met with us in our home office at 1221 Avenue of the Americas as did Ancon’s people from Bermuda. Dumb and happy, I preached my sermon that the AIHC was not a term of art to be tinkered with, exploited, changed or deleted. Arrogantly, I noted that PCC was out-of-line and their policies had to be changed to reflect Ancon’s policies that accepted the AIHC in its entirety. Case closed, that’s the way it is.


Len Brown who worked for Exxon in several insurance capacities explained what happened next. (Note, Although Len wasn’t present in New York that day, he had his own experiences with the phenomenon that followed.) Len explained: “Every meeting would eventually get to a point where a voice would be heard from among the Exxon contingent uttering words in an Arkansas twang close to the following: ‘Just a minute, hold on, run that by me one more time will you? You gotta understand now that I’m just a little ol’ country boy, but…”


The speaker was Dick Green and what followed the “but” was a dressing down of biblical proportions. On that day it was directed at me. “Now, John, it seems to me that your position is based soley on your opinion. Do you expect us to roll over and make changes in our policy without any specific explanation of each change you are suggesting? I don’t think you’d appreciate it if I did this to you?”


I had no place to run and no place to hide as my arrogance quickly melted into humiliation.


Dick was relentless in his criticism and I saw my future slip sliding away. My only course for survival was agreeing to prepare a line-by-line analysis of the AIHC that I would present within a month to PCC at their office in Houston.


That meeting went reasonably well. I learned enough to listen to PCC’s demands as well as speak to them. The one exception was the so called “Continuation Clause.”  In plain English, it says that if a vessel is at sea when the policy expires, coverage continues until the vessel reaches a port.


Dick insisted this was a restriction while I maintained it was an extension. Back and forth we went, neither giving an inch until the day ended and we broke for dinner. I do recall it was a great evening at a superb restaurant (it well could have been Brennan’s Houston.)


Another lesson learned, Dick Green was a completely different person on and off the field. He could be a bulldog when business was the issue, but socially he was charming.


We went at it again the next morning. Finally, I said to Dick: “If you ask me to prove that the sun will rise tomorrow, I could gather scientific data from the US Geological Survey, newspapers and other sources to demonstrate that the sun will come up tomorrow. But, you and I both know that I can’t prove it. Guess what though, even if I can’t prove it, the goddamn sun will come up tomorrow!


That got Dick’s attention and he agreed to disagree and move on. I was exhausted, but I knew I’d survived to fight another day.


Twenty years later, we had been down so many roads, fought good fights, mostly on the same side and overcame the great SS Exxon Valdez disaster. We traveled roads to many places including, London, Paris, Bordeaux, Munich and Zurich.


One night in Paris, our host took us to a historical restaurant. He seated us in a large chair and explained that Napoleon and Josephine once sat there. Dick looked at me and noted; “John, here we are, you from Brooklyn, NY and me from Alma, Arkansas and we are sitting where Napoleon sat. Only in America!


RIP Dick Green.