John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: May, 2022

“A Mike Fitzgerald Moment

We all own mental file cabinets. They are the place where we store all of the information that we acquire and decide to retain. The longer we live, the more extensive our filing cabinets become. One of the sad and crazy things about our filing system is the older memory files are the most familiar.

One of my favorite stories about recovering a little used item from her filing cabinet was told to me by my daughter, Elizabeth, who lived in Boston while in graduate school in the mid-1990s. “One night, I went to a party in Somerville and somebody at the party brought up the infamous 1978 playoff game where Bucky Dent hit a home run over the Green Monster that gave the Yankees the winning lead.

“Of course, they were all Red Sox fans and they gave me lip about being from New York.

“Yes, I admit, I am a Yankee fan and I watched the game on TV when Bucky Dent crushed your hopes.”

“Some guys challenged my sports credentials. So, I said, okay, how about I give you the name of every Yankees who started that game. They looked at me with awe as I accurately presented the Yankees players beginning with first base.

“As I repeated the team’s roll-call for that game, I had this strange feeling of wondering why I could recall this memory that I hadn’t thought about for almost twenty years and how I retained it. Even so, I didn’t give too much thought to why I had this power of memory. At the time, I was just glad to be able to put those obnoxious Red Socks fans in their place.” 

Both fortunately and unfortunately, the number of our filing cabinets grows and grows and senior moments occur with increased frequency. We learn to live with the frustration of losing immediate recall and learn to deal with this issue. One thing becomes obvious, “Don’t try to force it as that will only make it worse.”

Our best bet is to sit back, relax and let whatever that internal process is to work its magic until it can provide us with the correct answer. Of course, we hope it doesn’t happen at 2 am!

My friend, Mike Scott and I refer to this phenomenon as a “Mike Fitzgerald Moment.”

We named it after a chap who used to work for our firm in both the Minneapolis and Dallas offices. We both worked with Mike, but on different projects. Scott and I were riding on the Amtrak Northeast Regional on our way to Washington DC to see the sights and attend a Nationals baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Both of us hit a stone wall trying to recall his name. We went on to talk about many other subjects on the train, at dinner at the game and back at the hotel bar following the game. The next morning, as we were walking to a Metro stop, I blurted out, “His first name was Mike.”

“Fitzgerald,” Scott shouted back at me and we both stopped walking bent over in uncontrollable laughter. We toasted him later on at dinner.

On Mother’s Day, I had a Mike Fitzgerald Moment when I was talking to my son-in-law, Tom Briggs, about oddly named airports. “One of the curious ones is the Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City.”

But I couldn’t think of that historical entertainer’s name. Twenty minutes later, it came to me. I told Tom the name of the airport and then it once again disappeared from my memory. Rather than look it up which is the easy way out, I let my internal mechanism run with it. Before my memory of Will Rogers returned, I made stops at Chief Justice Earl Warren and the aviator, Wiley Post, (who ironically was flying the airplane when it crashed in Alaska killing himself and Will Rogers.)

Writing this piece should keep Mr. Rogers around for a while but I think I’ll say a little prayer for him that he remains resting in peace while he remains in my consciousness.

My latest happened last Thursday night at bedtime. As I laid down, I thought of the first American general to lead our troops in Viet Nam. I could see his tall and handsome image, his silver hair; but his name, not a clue. I told myself to go to sleep and wait for the morning. As I awoke, I silently demanded, “Who was it?” Without hesitation my mind replied, “Westmoreland, William Westmoreland”   

“Say goodnight, Gracie.”

“Goodnight, Gracie.”

(On the outside looking in will not publish next week and will return on June 8, 2022)              

“The Lady with the Braid”

I was delighted when Mary Ann told me that my cousin, Helen, had invited us to join her family for a week’s stay at Journey’s End located on the Connecticut River in Southwestern New Hampshire. We had heard nice things about this collection of cabins, the cost was reasonable even for us and we had no other plans. We jumped at the chance and Helen contacted the owner, Margaret Riling, to introduce us. 

That Spring of 1971 was one to remember. Mary Ann was pregnant with our second child, Michael, who was born on April 30th. Two weeks later, I lost my job as a cargo surveyor. This blow, shocking as it was, didn’t blindside me. I saw it coming but I hadn’t prepared for the obvious until it happened. Business had been slow for some time but ignorance is bliss. 

The culprit was the advent of containerization. For generations, cargo arrived at ports like New York on wooden pallets that were unloaded and stored on piers until delivery. Containerization changed that forever. By 1971 the number of surveys our firm conducted throughout the port of New York was halved from those we conducted in 1969. My boss, Don Lamont, gave me two week’s pay and agreed to pay me for two additional weeks if I didn’t find another job. 

My top priority was to find a cash and carry job to put money in our pockets while I sought a change in careers. I found an opening as a claims adjuster for Boyd, Weir and Sewell who represented a German steamship company, Meyer Lines. I interviewed with the claims manager, Henry Meehan, who was being swamped by a backlog of claims. My background fit but first, I had to meet with the principal of the firm, Mister Strauss. Strauss sat me down in his office but ignored my resume. He removed a yellow legal pad from a desk draw and began to ask me questions without looking up, jotting down my answers on the pad. When he finished, he put down his pen, looked me in the eye and asked, “Do you have a drinking problem?” 

I told him that I did not, and I was hired. Of course, I had no vacation days so, as our scheduled week at Journey’s End grew near, I confessed my dilemma to my boss, Henry Meehan. Henry was nice enough to give me off the Monday of the weekend we were to arrive and the next Friday when I would return to bring my family home. Henry’s offer exceeded anything I could have expected. I decided that I would clear up as much of their claims backlog as I could in my hopefully short time at the firm. 

Meanwhile, I had already begun my search for a real position. I applied to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for a position in their ports and airports division, the newly minted Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and Marsh & McLennan as a hull insurance broker. The first two never panned out but I did secure a position at Marsh where I began the last week in August.

The time came for our Journey’s End vacation. Mary Ann and I headed north in our Dodge Dart with Beth, then twenty-months old, Michael, an infant of two months and our four-year-old mutt, Woffie. The ride was not without drama. Mary Ann made an exciting discovery as we headed out of Springfield, Mass when she realized Michael’s first tooth had popped through his gum. Not to be outdone, Beth put her hand in her mouth causing self-induced choking followed by vomit. Once things calmed down and we cleaned Beth, she announced that she could be sick again by saying, “Uh-oh, more schokin.” Fortunately, it was only a scare. 

We settled into Cabin No. 4, the Oriole, and I joined Don for a booze run to the Vermont and New Hampshire state package stores to get the best price. 

The weekend went by in a flash. Mary Ann’s mother, Dorothy arrived on Monday together with her grandmother, Kate to help with Beth and Michael in my absence. I reluctantly hit the road home Monday at mid-afternoon after their arrival.

Then, a strange thing happened just after I left my family and headed across the Connecticut River into Vermont and the southbound entrance to Interstate 91. The local AM radio station began playing a song I had never heard before. Its lyrics matched my mood just as I was about to begin my southbound journey: 

Would you care to stay till sunrise?

 It’s completely your decision,

it’s just that going home is such a ride.

Going home is such a ride,

going home is such a ride,

isn’t going home such a low and lonely ride?

I didn’t know the song was Dory Previn’s “The Lady with the Braid” that had just been released. It would haunt me for years to come until I finally re-discovered it on one of MS Previn’s albums.

My ride was uneventful except for the number of young semi-hippie hitchhikers who had taken to the road in that “summer of love.”

The following Friday, I left Middle Village at four in the morning and arrived a little after eight with a box of fresh Dunkin Doughnuts giving me a full last day before we headed home on Saturday. 

That Saturday was brutally hot, our Dodge Dart was without A/C and I still remember that long, hot ride through an oven called Connecticut. The only folks noticeably more miserable than us were motor cyclist in their leathers. Any breeze they found felt like a blow torch. 

Then and there I vowed our next car would have A/C.

(This piece was first published in 2018. With the title: “Journey’s End 1971.”)

The 2022 Opening

Spring was nowhere to be seen this last week in April when Mary Ann and I made our first trip of the season to open our vacation house in Marlow, NH (Zip Code 03456, I kid you not). The weather was more like winter with early morning temperatures dropping to 28 degrees.

We made this first trip to assess what problems have manifested themselves over the winter and what we had to do to get them fixed before family and friends began to join us. Our local plumber, JPP. had re-opened the plant by putting on the electricity and turning on the water earlier in April. He gladly let me know that he didn’t find any problems at that time which is great news as any water left in the system when he drained and closed the house in January would have surely revealed itself with breaks and leaks.

We also hire a neighbor to clean and vacuum the house and she too didn’t report any problems. Even so, we knew before we arrived that there were several issues that had to be rectified to put our house in order for this season. We had a list of work we knew had to be done. My Number One issue was pumping out the septic system. Since this is a vacation home, I arrange for this service every two years. The time was up this spring so I booked the work for May 2nd.

We also have two pine trees close to the house that have to come down. One is dead, but the problem is the live one is locked together with its dead cousin. I called Donny M, our local landscaper who concurred.

Donny came by in his 1960 Willys pick-up truck, painted a Dodger’s blue, proud as a peacock.  We talked about things going on in Marlow, the high cost of gasoline, how bad mud season was this year: “You know, John, at its worst, the school bus couldn’t get up Marlow Hill! Those folks had to take their children down to Route 10.”

He gave me a price of $400 to cut down the two pine trees and remove the wood. “Sounds good to me, Don, and I’ll include another $100 dollars to cover the first mowing of the season.”

My 2022 opening issues were exacerbated by my left knee that had become a bear reducing me to walking with a cane. Unable to handle basic chores, we asked our son, Michael and our grandson, Matt, to join us to help with the heavy lifting. Our son, did double duty helping us while at the same time working remotely on a difficult May 1 insurance renewal, But, between father and son, the tasks at hand were successfully completed

April 30 was our son’s 51st birthday and we celebrated accordingly with excellent Rib-Eye steaks, cooked on our Weber gas grill. We also gave Matt an appropriate payment of cash money for a job well-done.

WIFI in rural America, like electricity, is a habitual challenge. Our present provider is Consolidated Communications, who replaced Fairpoint, who bought out Verizon’s northern New England system about ten-years ago. It seems that Consolidated has finally done what is needed to adequately provide proper band width, etc., and we should have had a smooth 2022 resumption of service.

We should have, but that didn’t take into account the human factor, namely me. When I suspended service in early January, I also suspended our Direct TV service. What I forgot was the Direct TV satellite service automatically resumed on a date I gave them, but I had to call Consolidated in advance of our first visit to resume telephone and internet service.

My failure forced Mary Ann to make a series of desperate phone calls that ultimately resulted in a resumption of service. Thankfully, I got off easily.

All this confusion over electronic communications made me reflect back on that simpler time in 1984 when we first purchased Little House, a time before satellite TV, cellular, much less, smart phones, a time without internet or even computers when all we had was a single land line and a TV that picked up one television station by way of a roof-top antenna aimed at a signal being broadcast from Burlington, VT.

We packed up for our trip back to Port Washington on Sunday morning pleased with the condition to which we had restored Little House during our visit. Finally, a the promise of spring greeted us. Winter still ruled the land, but the sun warmed us as we finished packing the truck after 9 am. Our last task was helping to board our two very best friends, Max and Tessie, in their quarters in the back of our SUV.

As we finished that task, Mary Ann asked, “John, do you remember what today’s date is?”

I replied, “May 1st.”

“Indeed,” she replied. “Look around, what do you see?”

“OMG, May flies! I don’t believe they are actually making their presence known today of all days.”

The usual rule of thumb in New Hampshire for the black fly season is Mother’s Day to Father’s Day.

“Oh dear, first a terrible mud season, now a long black fly season; I can’t imagine what else we should expect to encounter this summer?”                      

That Should Hold the Little Bastards

Part Five: Early TV – Gaffs: The Road to Ruin

The title of this piece originated in a well-known, often told story of how to destroy a broadcasting career. Granted it supposedly happened on radio instead of television, but it was too good not to include. “Uncle” Don Carney had a half-hour kids’ radio show that aired on WOR radio from 1928 to 1947. As the story goes, one day after concluding his daily broadcast, Uncle Don uttered those words as he passed a hot mic: “There! That ought to hold the little bastards.”

Just one problem, dear readers: It never happened. Still, a great line like that will live on despite being but an urban legend and I’ll bet some of you actually believe that you heard it.

Tex Antoine

Herbert Jon Antoine Jr. better known as Tex Antoine’s faux pas was all too real. Tex began his weather career 1n 1949 for WNBT, a predecessor of WNBC in New York City. He worked with a cartoon sidekick he created known as “Uncle Wethbee. His nightly weather report, “…was a wonderful mix of weather, cartoon art and storytelling. He would start his weather segment standing next to an easel covered by blank pages, and he would proceed to draw the weather systems that were pertinent to the nation and the area. As his hands drew in the lows, highs and fronts, his voice would narrate their past and expected movements, and what their effects would be.”

Rumor had it that Antoine enjoyed imbibing John barleycorn which may have helped his demise?

Antoine left WNBC in 1966 for WABC-TV. On the newscast of November 26, 1976. His weather report followed a story about the attempted rape of an eight-year-old girl. Antoine quipped: “With rape so predominate in the news lately, it is well to remember the words of Confucius: ‘If rape is inevitable, lie back and enjoy it.”

Say goodbye Tex – “GOODBYE TEX!”

Dick Schaap

Dick Schaap wore many hats while covering sports that included a stint as a local sportscaster on WNBC in the 1970s. Schaap was on duty during Secretariats triple crown run and victories during the 1973 racing season. After “Big Red” as the stallion was affectionally known won the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths, he was put out to stud and never raced again.

So loved by the public, Big Red’s celebrity status continued unabated. Sports writers filed stories from the stud farm on his progress. Unfortunately, the horse’s early attempts were less than expected and the papers were full of oddly written stories about Big Red and his mate, Riva Ridge. One night, Schaap had had enough so he noted during his broadcast that “Secretariat and Riva Ridge had become the most famous stable mates since Mary and Joseph.

The phone lines at NBC lit up after Schaap’s remark aired, but, fortunately, people still had a sense of humor in 1973 and cooler heads prevailed.

Jack Paar

For the record, the few times that I watched his incarnation hosting The Tonight Show, each time I walked away with the feeling that there was something really off about that dude.

On February 11, 1960, Jack Paar walked off the show in a huff that bordered on being hysterical confirming my belief that he wasn’t quite all there.

The flash point was a lengthy “shaggy dog” story he told the previous night that the NBC censors removed from the broadcast as being too risqué. A long joke made short; an English woman wishes to buy a house in Switzerland. She asks a local chap where the W.C. is located.

Failure to communicate leads the Swiss fellow to believe WC means a wedding chapel instead of a water closet (bathroom.)

The joke finishes with this Swiss person explaining that his daughter will be married there, inviting his British associate to attend her wedding and noting: “I shall be delighted to reserve the best seat for you if you wish, where you will be seen by all. Hoping to have been service to you, I remain, Sincerely, The Schoolmaster.”

A silly joke intercepted by stupid censors!

“Paar was really pissed off’ recalls hie then-sidekick, Hugh Downs. ‘He called a press conference the next day and announced he was going to do something really horrendous that night.’ Before the taping, Downs cornered Paar in his dressing room. ‘He was pacing back and forth, and finally said, ‘I’m leaving the show, Hugh.’ I assumed he’d tape the show and make a dramatic announcement at the end.”

“Paar had built his reputation on an ‘I-could-blow-at-any-moment’ emotionalism, and that night, he blew. After a three-minute skewing of NBC over the censorship, Paar, in tears, said, ‘There’s gotta be a better way to make a living,’ and walked off the stage.”

On March, 7th 1960, Paar returned to the show. He opened his remarks with, “As I was saying when I was interrupted…when I walked off, I said that there must be a better way to make a living than this. Well, I’ve looked and there isn’t.”

Paar left the show two-years later to be replaced by the best Tonight host of all time, Johnny Carson. Since then, all has been happy in TV land except for David Copperfield, Bill Cosby, Jamie Foxx, James Franco, R. Kelly, Matt Lauer, Les Moonves and Charlie Rose and Kevin Spacey, etc. etc. etc…’When will they ever learn…”