John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: December, 2022

Don Larsen, Sanita Hills and Me

One morning, not too long ago, WCBS News Radio informed me that the former baseball pitcher, Don Larsen, had passed on New Year’s Day at 90. Both this announcement and his obituary deserved proper recognition as Larsen had pitched a perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series.

Curiously though, this announcement also took me back to the weekend following his perfect game. I was twelve at the time and 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.

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 ceased operations in 1940. Called, “Pullmanettes”, they populated the camp providing indoor living spaces for families that included, “…a central-kitchen-dining area, a master bedroom and a two berth children’s room.”

Running water, an electric refrigerator and a tiled bathroom with shower topped off these rural laps of luxury.  

But, 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 as being different when 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.

But, not on 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 before offered to me. I wasn’t one of Mr. C’s favorites so 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 bit of 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.

“On the Outside Looking In,” will not publish in January 2023 while I recuperate from knee surgery.

I look forward to resuming our connection as soon as I am able.

Meanwhile, let me take a moment to thank you for loyal support and for the nice things you say about me and my blogs. I am forever grateful.

May you enjoy Christmas as appropriate or your choice of holiday and a healthy and beneficial 2023.

The Lake Umbagog Blues

I can’t believe I’m here. Didn’t I vow that I’d never do anything again that the Army made me do. That included being awakened at insanely early hours, playing with guns, marching, climbing telephone poles and camping. But, no! Here I am staring out from inside of a tent while rain generously falls into our camp grounds on the New Hampshire side of Lake Umbagog.

Except for carrying a gun, I’m with three other jackasses, my buddy, Mike Cruise, who talked me into this mess and to whom I’m currently not speaking and two guys he knows who organized this outing, Lou, a yenta and a general pain–in-the-ass and Brubaker, our self-appointed leader who thinks he’s a Green Beret or Navy Seal and tries to treat us like plebes. He carries a shot gun that he affectionately calls “my alley cleaner” and insists that we paddle our two canoes this morning in the rain across the lake to our next campsite on the Maine side.

I prefer to wait, but Lou is Brubaker’s toady and Mike put this whole thing in motion so the next thing I know, the vote is three to one in favor of pressing on and I’m alternately paddling a loaded canoe in miserable weather or bailing it out. This is insane. I could easily be home at our camp in Marlow, NH watching television, reading, playing a game or taking a nap. Damn, that’s what my wife and Mike’s wife are doing at this same moment. (Later, Mary Ann tells me, “We thought of you and Mike out there in the rain having to schlep tents and gear and we agreed, ‘rather you than us.”)

One evening, following another of Lou’s horrible meals, Brubaker assigns Mike and me to KP. As we un-ecologically wash our pots, plates and utensils in the here-to-fore pristine waters, we watch in horror, the birth of a nation as hordes of mosquitoes rise-up from the shoreline attacking us with the viciousness of a sworn enemy. We hurry to finish our task, collect our gear and retreat to our tent, spraying the entrance after zipping it closed.

This all happened in the summer of 1999, but, I didn’t think about writing my story until something similar appeared in the August 4, 2016  Escapes section of the New York Times entitled, Paddling Through a North Woods Refuge, by John Motyka.

Take my word for it, Motyka left out a good bit of reality as he waxed poetically about Lake Umbagog (pronounced um-BAY-gog). Oh sure, there are lots of loons and their call is haunting, moose sightings are not uncommon and, with luck, we saw eagles. But nowhere in his writing does Motyka discuss, much less even suggest the existence of this creature that controls the lake before dawn and after dusk, the mosquito.

Motyka also omits any description of the sanitary facilities available at the camp site. So shall I, but let the potential camper beware.

Of course, Motyka didn’t have to contend with Lou and Brubaker. Lou had no problem indulging my cigars or Irish whiskey until I cut him off. In return he treats us to his cooking until we also cut him off from serving his abominations,  especially his breakfast special, and his piece-de-resistance, eggs and Wolf’s Kasha. He brags about it for days and when he ultimately sets the finished product before us, Mike and I look at each other silently asking the question, “Have we been conned or his he nuts?” The look of pleasure on his face is not that of a practical joker but rather, a man pleased with his creation. “Yup, he’s nuts.”

Our last campsite is on an island where we stay for two days. Brubaker explains that a ranger warned that a female bear with a yearling is possibly occupying the island. Great: This is when females are at their most dangerous as they still protect the cub even though the cub is active and could easily be attracted to our camp. “Don’t worry; my alley cleaner is ready and so am I.”

“Swell, Brubaker, the great white hunter.”

The island is in sight of our final destination, the campsite where we parked our cars. On the first morning, after we arrive, Mike and I have had enough of Lou, his cooking and Brubaker. We  announce, “We’re going to paddle to the car and drive to the closest town, Errol, NH (pronounced Erl) for breakfast.”

I don’t remember if they protested but I know I didn’t care. The local café serves an Errol McMuffin. I could have eaten three. When we return, all Lou and Brubaker want to know is what we brought for them. We are savvy enough to bring them some cold beer and two Earl McMuffins. Their need for fast food ends the seemingly endless cycle of their trying to be the tough guys.

Fortunately, real or conjured up, we never see a bear and the next day we say our good-byes to the two of them. “Next year, let’s do this again,” Brubaker remarks. “You guys ain’t half bad and I know a trip we can make on the Delaware River.”

“Fantastic,” I reply.

As we pull away, I ask Mike, “You ever hear that old joke about the woman who learns how to politely respond to her neighbors’ exaggerations about their kids’ achievements?”

“No.” he replies.

“She learns to say ‘fantastic’ instead of ‘bullshit”

My Missing Passport

My here-to-fore hidden problem, a problem I didn’t even know I have, explodes on the morning of my scheduled departure from Bermuda in 1998. I am preparing to leave the Southampton Princess for my ride to the airport when the realization hits me squarely between the eyes: I don’t have a clue where my passport is.

“Oh shit, oh damn, oh Christ Almighty; f***, f***, F*** me!” I was operating in full panic mode. “Damn, damn, damn, I know I had it when I cleared Immigration to enter the island and I haven’t used it since my arrival. Where the f*** can it be? Damn, damn, damn.”

Finally, I calm down enough to retrace my steps; nothing. With everything packed, I call the front desk from my room to explain my dilemma. Of course, I stupidly begin by asking the clerk on duty if someone had turned it in. They are courteous enough to send up a manager who accompanies the housekeeper who serviced my room.

It becomes obvious to me that this is a waste of time, so I say, “Thank you both for coming, but what ever happened to my passport was my doing.”

The manager asks, “What do you plan to do?”

“Go to the airport. I am a long-time frequent traveler and they should have a file on me. I believe I can convince US Customs to let me fly back to New York.”

I thank them for their troubles and apologize for any disruption I may be causing. In the cab, I go over my game-plan to put the US Customs Agent on my side. First off, I decide to aim for a woman. The odds are, she will be more empathetic and caring than a male agent.

Plan A works. The agent enters  all my information into her computer and validates my clearance to leave the island and legally board my flight back to JFK. Since I clear US Customs and Immigration in Bermuda, I don’t have to repeat the process at JFK. I thank her for her assistance and her parting words are: “First thing when you arrive home, cancel your passport so it can’t be used for nefarious purposes.”

(I think to myself as I walk away, “Wow, nefarious is a big word and its meaning is even bigger!”)

The flight is uneventful, but my day isn’t over when I arrive at JFK. I had made a commitment to attend a black-tie dinner honoring my colleague at the New York Hilton that night. My tuxedo is hanging on the back of my office door, so, instead of going home, I grab a taxi to take me to my office.

Once in the office, I hang my sports coat over the tux and close my office door. I call my son to tell him what had happened in Bermuda: “Michael,“ I begin, “You won’t believe what happened to me…” As I say these words into the phone, I find myself staring at my sports coat.

Suddenly, I realize what had happened… “Hang on a second, Michael.

I stand up, and exclaim, “Son of a bitch.”

I already know what I will find and where. Sure enough, there it is in the right inside pocket of my jacket, my passport, exactly where I put it on arrival in Bermuda after the immigration agent returned it to me after adding his official stamp of approval for me to enter his island nation.

I shake my head and tell my son what happened. Now that I was once again a relaxed and a happy man, I could enjoy a good time at dinner where I tell the story of my day’s adventures until exhaustion overtakes me and I retire to my hotel room where I sleep like a baby.