John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: January, 2020

My Third Life

Tessie (As imagined by John Delach)

Once Ria hooked me up to my harness and took hold of it, she took control, and I was all business. My sole purpose was to guide and protect her. My love for Ria and my training propelled me to perfection and observers soon knew me to be a serious guide dog.

Off harness, Ria knew I’d steal an occasional mouth lick or a treat. But on harness, I had her complete trust.

Our time moved on. Strange things began to happen in the spring of 2018. What always came naturally to me now become a chore. I did my best to serve Ria, protect her and guide her but it was becoming harder to do. I knew I was in trouble, but I didn’t know why. Ria noticed too. We continued our activities, but it seemed Ria was correcting me more and more.

My gait had changed upsetting our routine. Ria suffered as a result. I couldn’t perform my part in our dance seamlessly causing her to compensate. Ria suffered new pains and strains to her arm and shoulder. I accompanied her to the doctor several times where she sought relief.

By June, the truth became obvious to both of us; at nine years old, I was wearing out. How sad – my life mission was to serve and protect Ria. Like it or not, I could no longer tolerate the intensity of my job. Age had diminished my skills.

Ria began to confide in friends and even called the trainers at The Seeing Eye. Tom came from New Jersey to Port Washington, discussed everything with Ria and put me through my paces.

“Ria, my sense is the same as yours. Tessie is wearing out and it is time for you to consider retiring her and begin to think about a new guide dog.”

Not the best day of my life or Ria’s. Ria cried and in my own way, so did I.

Sadly, we all knew the truth but still, Ria was perplexed. You see up until the beginning of the year, Thomisina, Ria and I all lived together in a big house, but we had moved into a two-bedroom apartment that was more manageable.  Previously, when Ria retired her other guide dogs, they continued to live with her in retirement. The big house accommodated all of them, but Ria feared the apartment was too small.

Ria decided to ask her friends, Mary Ann and John to adopt me. John had become Ria’s regular driver and Mary Ann took us shopping and walked me. I had already accepted them as my friends.

 From the smell of their cars and clothing, I knew they lived with a dog, most probably a boy Golden Retriever by his odor. I would learn his name was Max, two years younger than me.

They jumped at the offer and agreed to let me meet Max in a park to see if we were compatible. The meeting went well. Max and I took to each other, did our share of sniffing each other then returned to our own activities, sniffing everything in sight and licking the dew off the grass.

A few sleep-overs at Max’s house followed. He had a great collection of toys that he was willing to share. For my part, Ria sent me over with my own food and Max saw that my menu was superior to his.

We soon realized that we could play together. It began when we both grabbed a toy at the same time. This led to a tug of war that escalated into a play fight full of barred teeth and fake snarls. What great fun. He liked it as much as I did, and we’d go at it whenever one of us was in the mood.

Nobody is ever hurt in these wrestling matches. Odd items like an unlucky cup, plate or other object have been knocked over during our shenanigans as we wrestle and roll on the floor with our monster tails wagging to beat the band.

Ria, Thomisina and I celebrated my tenth birthday together. Afterwards, we spent a few tearful, nights together before I left for what would become my third life.

Ria wanted me to experience a life of play in my senior years and so far, so good. John and Mary Ann are both retired, so they are around most of the time. We also travel to New Hampshire and last summer I learned how to swim and retrieve tennis balls. What a hoot!

At home, we live close to Ria’s apartment letting me see Ria and Thomisina on a regular basis. It makes me happy to visit them and I am happy to return home to Max too.

Every morning I wake up happy, hungry and glad to be alive. I watch for a sign, any sign that one of my humans is awake. When I catch a sign, I pounce onto their bed so we can begin the next best day of my life.

Sometime Max follows me. Sometimes he’s ahead of me. Either way, those days are special as we try to out-fox each other to get closest to our people and wake them up. Often this leads to a tussel right there on the bed.

Life is good. Every day is a new day and another opportunity to love and be loved. I take joy in everything I do and everyone I meet. C’mon over some time so I can cry out loud,  love you and lick you on your lips.

My Three Lives

Tessie (As imagined by John Delach)

Oh boy, oh boy, I just arrived. My name is Tessie. I’m a Yellow Labrador girl dog. If we ever meet, I will greet you with more than a simple hello and I really, really want to meet you. My heart will be racing, my tail wagging furiously and I will lick your face if you give me the chance. You see I was born with the absolute personification of living in the moment. Each moment I am alive is the best moment of my life.

My life began at The Seeing Eye’s kennel located in Morristown, New Jersey. Supposedly, my brothers and sisters all had names beginning with the letter “T” and I became Tessie.

My first life began with the separation from my Mom. Off I went to a puppy raising family whose role was to love me, stop me from peeing inside and do their best to steer me toward becoming a guide dog.

After about a year and a half, I left my first family to return to Seeing Eye for advanced training. There I met my trainer, Denise, who introduced me to my harness. I spent the next four months with Denise undergoing serious training. There was much to learn as she put me through my paces. It made me happy when I did well because it pleased her. I received her praise and treats which were the best part. I was good at this training as I understood what was expected of me.

One day my trainer presented me to a beautiful woman who simply gushed as I licked her on the mouth. It was love at our first meeting and I took to her almost as much as I’d take to my next meal.

We were paired and trained together with Denise’s help. After a couple of weeks of breaking in each other, we departed the school and returned to her house in Port Washington, New York.

And so, I began my second life. My new partner’s name was Maria, but I knew her as Ria. We learned from each other. I paid attention to her commands and corrections because I knew when I performed as expected, it made her happy and that made me happy. Treats for good work didn’t hurt either.

I really should not tell you this as it is boasting, but I was so good at my job that outsiders would fawn over me. One person, who I think was a doctor, would get down on the floor, pet me and allow me to lick him then give me treats.

Ria also had another doctor who had a reputation for being cold and impersonal. Not so much after I arrived. I melted his heart and that too was the best day of my life.

Life is uneven and we had bad times too. My worst experience happened when we were taking our evening walk along Main Street. Suddenly, Ria stopped and dropped my harness. Off harness, I did as trained; I stopped moving. Little did I know that she had just struck a leafy branch that kids had pulled down. She began to back up to dislodge leaves that had become stuck in her hair when she tripped over a misaligned ankle-high concrete barrier. 

OMG! I had failed her. I covered her body to protect her until the EMS arrived. Thankfully, the senior responder raised guide dogs, so she insisted I accompany Ria to the hospital. That was not a good day for me. I was afraid and ashamed.

I lived with Annie, Ria’s sister until she returned home. That day was the happiest day of my life. Ria was so happy to see me and our cat, Thomasina, and we celebrated the reuniting of our wonderful little family.

The second worst day of my life was when I became as sick as a dog could be and lived to talk about it. It began when I threw up in a doctor’s waiting room. Afterward, I became woozy and disoriented. Ria took me to Doctor Berkowitz who, after taking my temperature, told Ria to get me to the Emergency Room at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. The staff put me on an animal size gurney and rushed me to ICU. For three days I ran a bad fever, but I don’t remember much except they took good care of me and I rewarded them with love when I began to feel better. I was a happy and a hungry dog when my fever finally broke.

Ria had a rich life and part of my job was to get her to where she had to go. Different destinations demanded different skills. I was good, and I got it, but I had to catalog each one of them so I could recall where I was and where I had to guide her the next time.

This wasn’t easy as Ria had to use different people and ways to get to and from her destination. Many times, we had to go by taxi with indifferent drivers. I had to adjust my navigation skills to correct their differences and obliviousness. Other people were always a problem. Many times, they didn’t make room and blocked my path. The worst were the so-called do-gooders who only blocked our way especially those who wanted to pet me. They also distracted Ria by trying to tell her about their dogs. They just made our partnering that much harder.

Thank the Lord Ria understood when I was in trouble and forceful enough to command the humans to stand down. My confidence grew as I knew my partner had my back. We were a great pair!

To be continued.

Don Larsen, Sanita Hills and Me

WCBS News Radio informed me that the former baseball pitcher, Don Larsen, had passed on New Year’s Day at 90. Both this announcement of his passing and his obituary deserved being noticed as Larsen once pitched a perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series.

Curiously though, this announcement took me back to the weekend following his perfect game when I was twelve. At the time I was an active First-Class Boy Scout in the Rattlesnake Patrol of Troop 178 then domiciled in PS-81 on Cypress Avenue in Ridgewood, Queens.

Although I was aware of Larsen’s accomplishment, I was more excited about our upcoming weekend camping trip to Camp Sanita, located in Holmes, NY. The camp had been developed years before by the Department of Sanitation as a summer getaway and vacation spot for department employees and their families. It had been recently seeded to the Boy Scouts.

Rustic, even by the standards of the day, it would be considered uninhabitable by today’s campers except for the most adventurous. The camp’s main attraction was fifty former New York City elevated subway cars that Sanitation had salvaged from the hundreds scrapped after the Manhattan els had been torn down. Called, “Pullmanettes”, they populated the camp providing indoor living spaces although I doubt if they had running water, toilets or decent kitchen facilities.

What excited me most about this trip was that my father would be joining us. He was then a Major, stationed at Homestead Air Force Base in Florida, at that time, home to B-47 bombers belonging to the Strategic Air Command.,

John Sr. made periodic trips to Long Island to see his sisters, Ann and Joan, his brother, Marco and me. When he informed me of his upcoming visit, I explained that I was supposed to go on this camping trip that weekend and I asked if he could join me. Surprisingly, he said yes. The sequence of how this all came together is lost to history, but I do know that it worked out and he joined me as one of the adult supervisors.

I was ecstatic that he would be there with me, for me.

Understand, back in 1956, divorce was rare in my blue-collar neighborhood. Husbands went to work, and wives were homemakers. My father was absent, and my mother went to work. I stood out and no twelve-year-old wanted to stand out as being different. I was a kid without a dad.

As much as I tried to explain who John, Sr. was and what he did, I felt diminished each time I did so. Other kids’ fathers were real flesh and blood and they were present be they office workers, beer truck drivers, construction workers or mechanics. My father was nothing but an idea.

Not that weekend. Once John Sr.’s participation was confirmed, our scout master, Bernie C, (a Polish name that included complex consonant combinations like “CJZ”) invited my father and me to ride in his 1953 monster Chevrolet station wagon. This was a high honor and one never offered to me before. I wasn’t one of Mr. C’s favorites and reveled in this honor.

The weekend didn’t disappoint. My old man charmed Mr. C and the other fathers as only he could do. John was a slick fox and a snake in disguise.

As for me, that radio report of Larsen’s death awakened my memory of the moment when I knew that John’s being there finally validated my standing as a member of our troop.

Mr. C was driving on 69th Street in Maspeth, Queens about to turn onto the service road for the Long Island Expressway when my Dad turned toward Mr. C and the three of us in the back seat.

He put his left arm on the seat and said: “I hope you all appreciate what happened in Yankee Stadium last Monday. Don Larsen threw a perfect game. Twenty-seven men up at bat, 27 men out and he did it in the World Series. This was the first World Series perfect game ever and you will probably never see the likes of that performance again in your lifetime.”

Don Larsen’s perfection and the old man’s eloquence allowed me to become a made-kid at Troop 178, at least for that weekend.

RIP Don Larsen.         

And The Beat Goes On

Someone once asked me what it was like to be a Giants season ticket holder for 58 years? “Well,” I replied, “It has given me that opportunity to see a lot of lousy football.”

On Sunday, December 29, the Football Giants lost their 12th game of the 2019 Season, 34-17, at home to the Philadelphia Eagles. Had the Giants won this game, they would have played the role of spoiler denying the Eagles a place in the playoffs.

Most of the faithful, including me, made a poor showing in support of Big Blue. The odds were long, the weather prediction, awful and when coupled with a 4:25 game time start, the idea of attending became even less appealing. Eagles fans gladly invaded the stadium buying unused tickets for the chance to see their team get into the playoffs.

On Monday morning John Mara and Steve Tisch, the team’s owners fired their head coach, Pat Shurmur following two unsuccessful years at the helm of their football team. The General Manager, (GM) Dave Gettleman, managed to survive to fight or to be fired another day.

I once introduced my wife to Ernie Accorsi, then the Giants GM in a hospital elevator. “Mary Ann is an Assistant Principal in a NYC school.”

Mary Ann said, “You have a hard job.”

Accorsi replied: “Yes I do. You are evaluated once a year about how your school is doing. I get evaluated every week during the season.”  

The survival rate of head coaches in the NFL has been reduced from a more comfortable wait and see tenure of three to five years regardless of record to two and out if the coach doesn’t achieve a winning season. Things are so bad in Giants land that Shurmur’s replacement will be our third coach in five seasons. Their cumulative record in that time was 29 and 51.

Shurmur and Gettleman were anointed to return the team to its former glory following the demise of their predecessors, Ben McAdoo and Jerry Reese. McAdoo and Reese slid from being our greatest hope to being bums as has Shurmur.

And so, a quest for a new head coach began once again. Mara and Tisch said all the right things accepting their share of the blame. Gettleman supposedly agreed to embrace analytics hiring here-to-for unwelcomed computer geeks and adopting a state-of-the-art analytical system. His announcement looked like a shotgun marriage to me.

Each day, the press, columnists, reporters and radio talking heads speculated on the supposed strengths and weakness of different candidates. Curiously, each candidate was gobbled elsewhere. Rivera by the Skins, McCarthy by the Cowboys and Rhule by the Panthers. On the tenth day Big Blue’s brain trust rested after selecting Joe Judge from the Patriots.

I’ve been down this road too many times before to believe the brain trust really knew who to select. Try as hard as they will, luck will decide the outcome.      

Pete Rozelle demanded that the Giants hire George Young as their first GM following a disastrous 1978 season.

Young cleaned house but, even with a new coach, the team went 10 and 22 over the next two seasons.

Everybody knew Lawrence Taylor (LT) would become a star even though most of us didn’t realize that LT would become the best defensive player in the NFL of all time. The Giants picked second in the 1981; the New Orleans Saints, first. LT would have become a Saint if Bum Phillips, their coach and GM, so desired, but Phillips picked, George Rogers, a star running back from South Carolina.

Young got lucky and LT became the Giant who led the team to a new era of Giants glory. Luck, my friends, pure luck. Here’s hoping the Judge turns out to be lucky as well as good. 

Once Upon a Time in Dedham, Maine

What now seems to have happened a long time ago, our good friends, Geoff and Judy Jones invited us to the wedding of their son, Greg to a sweet young woman named, Amie. Many of the details have faded away, but I do recall that the event took place just after Labor Day and that we drove from our vacation home in Marlow, NH to Dedham, ME, the location of the Lucerne Inn where most wedding guests were staying.

What I don’t recall is why we brought, Maggie, our Looney Tune Golden Retriever with us. Usually we arrange other accommodations for our dogs, but not this time. Again, I’m not sure if we snuck her into our room or kept our actions above board?

The Lucerne Inn wasn’t near the site of the ceremony and reception, but our hosts provided bus service to and from the inn.

We had several rough moments with Maggie, especially on Friday night when she broke out of our room and crashed a wedding reception in our hotel. Fortunately, no damage or injuries happened, and we successfully coaxed her back to our room.    

In one respect, this trip afforded Maggie one of her best experiences ever. Maggie loved to swim, and we discovered that Phillips Lake was not far from the hotel. Saturday produced a glorious early autumn morning, so we decided to walk Maggie down to the lake. Since it was after Labor Day most homes were vacant and the lake was practically uninhabited. When I let Maggie off leash, as expected, she immediately took off water bound. Maggie had a glorious time swimming in the lake then racing back to us only to repeat her circuit. She continued in and out of the lake while we walked along a dirt road that provided access to the lake houses.

Maggie reveled in her freedom while we took in the autumn scenery.  

An abandoned railroad that ran parallel to the road caught my attention.  It seemed to be intact and useable for the most part, but no longer in service. On one of her return trips Maggie flew right by us barking as she made her way to the tracks.

We followed wary of what had disturbed her. On reaching the tracks, we were surprised to see a group of railcars coming toward us. We leashed Maggie and watched them pass. What a hoot.

I had read about this unusual activity in a magazine article explaining how rail fans were buying these old diesel and gasoline powered railcars. Historically, railroads had used these machines to carry inspection and work crews along their systems. They were nothing more than a square box, low to the tracks with a motor that could transport two occupants to their assigned destination.

The major railroads eliminated them years ago in favor of pick-up trucks, but some short lines and tourist railroads still utilized them if they operated on rights-of-way off the beaten track and away from serviceable roads.

Six of those railcars in convoy approached us, moving slowly to avoid obstacles along their path. I was mesmerized by their appearance seemingly coming from nowhere. We stepped aside to let them pass. The occupants were too preoccupied to acknowledge us or Maggie.    

I could see why, the tracks had dangerous areas. One I had previously noticed was a grade crossing that had been paved over. I watched as the first railcar approached it. The middle-aged couple knew what they were doing, they shifted the rail car into low gear, stepped out on either side, and expertly steered the unit across the pavement and re-railed it on the other side. They hopped back in and continued on their way.

I love trains and I love railroad history. What these people were doing seemed to be a natural fit. But I demurred. The operators were too intense, and I learned that these machines required extensive tinkering to keep them running while my mechanical ability is zero, point zero.

I let that gleam of an idea evaporate as we returned to the road, unleashed Maggie and watched her resume her joy.  

Still, I too can dream.