John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Category: Uncategorized

The Long Island Railroad’s Version of the Big Dig

The Long Island Railroad’s (LIRR) “Big Dig” finally commenced operations this past January with a soft opening. The initial service was limited to shuttles running between Jamacia and the new station to discover hidden bugs and gremlins lurking in the new physical plant before subjecting it to the chaos of twice-a-day rush hours. Next, a modified schedule followed until it was finally time for  full-service to be introduced in March.

This seemingly endless project to bring LIRR service to the East Side of Manhattan was first proposed in 1963, but didn’t get legs until the creation of the new super commuter operating agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in 1967. This super authority  subsumed most existing transportation agencies including the NYC Transit Authority, the LIRR,  Metro North and those operations of the New Haven Railroad into Grand Central with the cooperation with the State of Connecticut. Other agencies were also included particularly the Triboro Bridge and Tunnel Authority that built and operated all of the tunnels and toll bridges that cross the East River.

In 1968, New Yorkers approved a $2.5 billion MTA bond issue to fund its Program for Action that provided few details how the MTA would spend this money or the additional money they would also need.  Their top-priority project was a new four-track tunnel to cross from Queens to Manhattan along 63rd Street to carry a new subway line and give the LIRR access to the East side of Manhattan.

The planners decided to use a big chunk of the available funds to build the tubes under the East River. Rather than use traditional machines to dig out a path beneath the river, they contracted with Bethlehem Shipbuilding of Baltimore to construct four tubes in a dry dock like they were submarines. When each tube was completed, both ends were sealed, so that they could be floated out and towed to New York. The first tunnel segments were delivered in May of 1971, and by March of 1972, all four had been lowered into place. By that October, the two completed tubes and the middle land section on Roosevelt Island that included a subway station had been linked together.

Unfortunately, by the mid-1970’s New York City was essentially broke and when President Ford refused to bail-out the city: “Ford to NYC: ‘Drop Dead,” its ability to borrow money collapsed  All capitol construction came to a halt. NYC suffered through massive lay-offs. And massive default was staved off by a last-minute injection of cash from the Teachers Retirement Fund. Other forces finally convinced the Feds to intervene.

Still a period of hard times would freeze projects for the foreseeable future. Despite Mayor Abraham Beam’s public announcement that all work had ceased, Richard Ravitch, the MTA Chairman said the work on fitting out the tubes had to continue or they would deteriorate to the point of being unusable. Fortunately, he preserved the core of the project.

Finally, in 1989, construction on connecting the subway line resumed with a new target date for its completion to a dead-end station in Long Island City set for October. (This new subway “to nowhere” would remain unfinished until 2011 when new tunnels connected it to the main subway lines under Queens Boulevard.)

By 1999, conditions at Penn Station had grown chaotic thanks in part to the initiation by NJ Transit of their Mid-town Direct connection that allowed trains from their northern routes direct access into Penn Station rather than terminating in Hoboken.

In 2002, Congress passed a bill that allocated $132 million for infrastructure projects in New York State that included enough seed money to resurrect the East Side Access project.

Construction began when two tunnel boring machines began the one mile journey from the East River ends of the tubes west to Park Avenue and then south digging out two new tunnels to two new terminal caverns each 100 feet beneath the original Grand Central Terminal. Each cavern would accommodate two platforms servicing four tracks stacked on top of each other and separated by mezzanines. Theses mezzanines 0would house elevators and four stacks of escalators to take passengers 70 feet to a new LIRR Passageway 30 feet under the existing station. Those banks of escalators provided new exits at 45th , 47th and 48th Street. Additional exits connected to GCT, the subway at 42nd Street and the brand new skyscraper, One Vanderbilt Avenue.

Finally, East Side Access became a reality. All it took was 60 years and $12 billion to build this dream. Frankly, the only reason it was actually finished was it became too big and too expensive  to fail.

But be careful about your dreams. It seems we became so used to not having a choice where to get on and off the train in Manhattan. We now have to choose where to go and when. Schedules had to be split between Penn and GCT. The same train no longer went to the same place. Commuters are confused and annoyed.

The railroad also had to decide on how to divide service between these two terminals with their analysis fogged by the new work-from-home movement developed during the COVID 19 quarantine. Good grief, does this mean we didn’t need this new terminal after all?

And don’t even let me get started about what the LIRR did to their service to Brooklyn, the LIRR’s bastard son.

At least the railroad is reacting to the debacle they created and is working on changes to routes, stations, length of trains and timing. But this remains a moving target and they have a long way to go before Grand Central Madison can be declared a success.

On “The Outside Looking In” will not publish on March 22 and will return on March 29th

Thankfully, Life Can Be Absurd

John Delach

March 2023

The following message was forwarded to me by a British friend. He received it from his adult daughter:

Getting undressed last night, being all slinky for my new husband…

Seductively take off my bra…to reveal an unused dog poop bag stuck to my boob.

Always keep humor alive.

A New Hampshire Christmas

First Published December 2014, Edited February 2023

Christmas, 2010; Mother Nature was not a in a nurturing way for those of us living in the Northeast. Small as our family is, we seldom spend it together but 2010 was the exception. Besides Mary Ann and me, both the Briggs and Delach tribes trekked to Marlow, New Hampshire.

Tom, Beth, Marlowe & Cace Briggs, Michael, Jodie, Drew, Matthew & Samantha Delach, plus the granddame, Bare Delach, the elder Golden Retriever and Max & Ruby Delach, two, eleven-week-old Golden puppies, the male belonging to us and the female, a birthday gift to Jodie.

Six adults, five kids and three dogs, all made it in three separate vehicles having to brave through various intensities of a major snow storm old Ma Nature threw at travelers like us navigating the I-91 Corridor. Mike and his family caught the worst of it but, fortunately, the peak of the storm didn’t hit until after we’d all made it safely to that place we call Little House.

Loss of power is issue number one in rural NH. Issue number two is freezing pipes that closely follows issue number one. We do have two wood burning stoves for our primary heat and our wood supply was superb. But, if we lost power, we’d lose water and life gets difficult quickly when that happens.

Cut to the good news: the power didn’t fail: “Thank God Almighty; say halleluiah, say Amen!”

With power, everything is good even though we were snowed in.  We shoveled where we had to with joy. The two pups realized they were in Golden Retriever heaven being able to play with each other in the snow without adult supervision anytime they wanted. Mike and Tom laid out a challenging sledding run on the hill above us that became the major outdoor attraction until the town sanded the hill.

What could have been an ordeal, turned out to be a winter wonderland. The pups left their need for action outside in the cold, kids also exhausted themselves in the snow and the adults had a marvelous time. Each time kids came in they were relived of soaking wet snow clothes; hats and boots that were hung from every available hook, railing or most any other surface that could hold a hanger. The stoves were well-tendered and the clothing dried quickly enough to be available for the next onslaught.

Inside was non-stop action. Food was always being prepared whether it was bagels and eggs, hot chocolate, soup, or great dinners. Good cheer and entertainment of every kind abounded from simple board games to playing electronic games or watching TV or DVDs.

Of course, things still go wrong. At the time, I was driving a Chrysler Aspen that I parked at the bottom of our circular driveway. My plan was to use this SUV as the lead vehicle to open the way out of the 16 inches of snow the storm had gifted to us. Unfortunately, when I made my attempt to open the driveway, I judged the turn too sharply and put the left hand side of my rig into a depression. Mike’s van was behind me. Mike and Tom did most of the clearing around the wheels and dug it out enough to enable me to pull the Aspen out using low gear with the transmission in four-wheel-low. After I cleared out I walked my original route and told Mike, “If you put your left tire in the depression I made with my right tire and you will be okay.” He did so and got out easily.

Another time after the driveway had been plowed by a local fellow from a garage in Gilsum, one town away, I came into the top of the driveway too fast. We were returning from a small local ski slope where my passengers had gone tubing – Beth and Tom, their two and Matt Delach. As I went into the first turn by the house, I realized too late that I was on ice under the snow and I wasn’t going to stop. The house was on the right so that direction was not an alternative. Ahead of me where the driveway curves to the left was Beth and Tom’s Grand Cherokee so that wasn’t a good alternative either.  My only choice was to keep going straight between a bush and a tree; deliberately leave the driveway and drop down into a level snow-covered grass area below it. Not sure how much space this gap afforded, I aimed more toward the bush figuring that would be the path of least resistance. Hot damn, it worked. It all happened so quickly that nobody said anything. Good fortune, part two, I was able to drive through the snow and regain the driveway. Only then did we three adults begin to realize what just happened. It did occur to me what an old friend used to say, “Delach, you just cleaned out your locker!”

The City Kid’s Game

Peter King: September 2021

Edited and Amended: John Delach: February 2023

Excerpts from Peter King’s piece are in italics.

Stickball was the City Kid’s Game often played on local streets especially when the closest park or playing field was too far away, or it was located in another kid’s group’s turf. We learned early not to stray from our own neighborhood and to only play with kids we knew.

If we strayed too far, we ran the risk of running into aliens who were bigger, stronger, faster and meaner than we were. Then it could easily turn into an ugly scramble where it was every kid for himself as we retreated in every direction.

But played on own turf, stickball was a blast.

The rules might vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, but, “on the street the ball was hit on a bounce and the bases were sewers, manholes or parked cars. If there was no running, agreed upon boundaries designated a single, double, triple or a home run.

The block I lived on in Ridgewood, Himrod Street between Senaca Avenue and Onderdonk Avenue, had a moderate grade. By an unknown agreement, we always hit the ball in the uphill direction from the bottom at Senaca. The block had two manholes and any ball that was hit beyond the second cover was deemed to be a Home Run.

Stickball was entirely different from today’s world of travel team baseball. There were no expensive entrance fees or gloves, helmets and custom-made bats that cost many hundreds of dollars.

The only equipment needed was a broomstick and a Spalding (‘Spaldeen’) rubber ball. Most important there were absolutely no adults. Not one parent, coach or umpire. We had to make it work on our own and had no thought of being consoled if we gave up the game winning homer or struck out with bases loaded.

I was a mediocre ball player for most of my career and had a lousy record with longer broomsticks. I couldn’t bounce the ball and still get a long stick around in time to make contact. I was decent with a short sick and I always sort them out from the collection that laid on the street.

I should note that most broomsticks were cut to the owner’s preferred size. I use the word “owner’ lightly because wherever there was a stickball bat, there was an angry housewife lamenting over the destruction of her mangled broom.

Our greatest nemesis was cops in local patrol cars. Stickball was not illegal, but we were an urban nuisance to drivers and landlords. The easiest thing for the police to end a game was to confiscate our broomsticks and we all kept one eye open to spot the patrol cars before they spotted us. If we were lucky, we would see an approaching cop car before they spotted us, shove the bats under a parked car and scatter. The game would resume after they were out of sight unless some fink would make off with the bats before the rest of us returned to the scene of our game.

I did achieve a measure of success at 13 when I grew into the long broomstick. I could finally get the stick around fast enough to make good contact with the ball. With luck, I could drive the ball past the second manhole cover and become a two cover hitter.

E-Bike Result: Bike – One, Delach – Zero

February 2023: Originally published, October 2018

The young man who worked at the bike shop in the port town of Avalon on Catalina Island began his five to seven-minute tutorial as soon as we signed the waivers holding them harmless for all liabilities including injuries we could sustain by riding electric powered bicycles (E-Bikes) during the next two hours.

He walked us through how to increase and decrease the gear ratios to help us pedal the E-Bikes up and down the numerous hills we would encounter. He explained how to work the electric motor throttle and the front and rear brakes. “Remember, these are disc-brakes, not traditional hand brakes. To use them, don’t press and hold them. If you do, the bike will stop suddenly and you may go flying over the handlebars. Squeeze them gently, on and off.”

I knew he didn’t see the weird look on my face as he explained braking. As if by magic, his words transported me back to the summer of 1957 in Cutler Ridge, Florida. My father had put me on his Vesper motor scooter and was explaining how to brake it. The old man was bit more elegant but less P.C. than this young man, “John, touch the brake like you are squeezing a girl’s breast.”

Mary Ann returned me to reality with her worried question and plea, “Do we really want to ride these things?”

“Yes, yes, of course we do. C’mon, lets do it, we’ve been looking forward to this.”

I hoped my adamant reply concealed my own doubts or any panic in my voice.

Our guide raised more red flags as he took out a map and set out his recommended route. “Head out on the coastal road that gives you about a half mile to get used to the bikes. Remember, they weigh over twenty pounds so don’t make sharp turns or brake hard. Use your electric motor judiciously and brake easy and often on the downhills.”

When he warned us about watching out for other tourists driving rented four and six-passenger golf carts, I really became nervous.

Again, came the warning, “Do we really want to ride these things?”

Thanks to male ego and my stupidity, I assured my mate to stay the course with, “C’mon, let’s do this.”

And so, we started off. Leading the way, I had only gone about fifty feet when I was forced to stop for a woman inching a golf cart out of a parking area. Seeing me she stopped. I clearly had the right-of-way and began to move forward. However, she looked beyond me to see if the road was clear and pulled out. “Son of a bitch,” I murmured to myself as I jammed on the brakes to let her pass. From the back seat, one of her companions who witnessed this near miss said as he passed by, “Sorry, she’s a rookie driver.”

I learned what I could during that first half mile but any confidence I acquired evaporated as we climbed a series of switchbacks that led us up the side of a mountain, especially those stretches where we had to navigate on the outside half of the road. I was able to climb even the steepest hills by peddling while keeping the motor at full throttle.

But I had to force all my attention on keeping a line away from the edge while not straying out of my narrow lane. By the time we reached a scenic overlook, my state of mind was such that I really didn’t observe the spectacular scenery. The many houses that clung to the hillsides should have been impressive as well as the beautiful harbor filled with boats big and small. But my preoccupation with death trumped enjoyment.    

Realizing how high we had climbed only intensified my state of near panic. A group of twenty-something young adults took a photo of Mary Ann and me and asked us how we were doing? “Okay, so far, but we hate having to stay close to the edge.”

One young man responded, “You don’t have to, this road is one way. How do you say “relief?” “One way!”

We made it the rest of the way to the highest hill and down-hill back into town. Still in the lead, I decided to take a break at a stop sign to check our location and discuss where we could go next. After I brought my bike to a stop, I turned off the battery to prevent inadvertently using the throttle and stepped off to use the kick-stand. I moved my left foot onto the ground. Holding the bike steady, I lifted my right foot to clear the relatively low bar.

My right leg failed me. The combination of a seventy-four-year old knee, a replacement hip, the weight of the bike and gravity won out and over I went. First response: check all my body parts. All good, but my left leg was pinned under the bike held fast by my right leg that remained on top.

Slowly I lifted the bike to free my left leg. It was then that Mary Ann arrived. “Oh my God, are you all right?”

“Yeah. A few bruises, nothing of concern.”

I was able to stand and right the bike. We biked for a while longer before returning them. My left knee had the kind of blood wound that seven-year-olds regularly suffer on a baseball field.

God bless Mary Ann for remaining silent about the folly of our adventure. Instead, she accompanied me to a local pharmacy to purchase Neosporin and over-size band-aids to cover my wound.

We had a pleasant dinner before boarding the ferry for the return trip to Dana Point and our car ride home to Carlsbad. Final score: E-Bike-One; Delach-Zero!

Camp Sanita’s Saga

I promised George that I would investigate the place where he spent his happiest summer vacations during the early 1950s, Sanita Hills Camp. This is what I discovered:

Mayor Fiorello took office in 1933 as a reformer dedicated to cleaning up the ruins left behind by Jimmy Walker, who had been forced from office. However, the Little Flower’s greatest challenge was to take bold steps to lessen the stranglehold the great depression had on the city. He appointed men who dared to do great things. Robert Moses was his most effective commissioner, but another, forgotten today, was William F. Carey, Commissioner of the Department of Sanitation. “Carey demonstrated admirable concern for his workers known as the ‘White Wings’ for their white uniforms.”

Shortly after Carey’s appointment, he proposed to La Guardia that he purchase a Long Island estate for the exclusive use by sanitation employees. Morale was awful as the department had lower salaries than almost every other municipal operation. Carey explained to the mayor that he had a separate fund generated from revenue earned from a series of baseball games played by his department’s team against the Police Department in Yankee Stadium. The Little Flower didn’t object and encouraged Carey in his quest.

Carey purchased Oheka Castle in Huntington, Long Island. Otto Kahn, a Morris County based Jewish businessman, had bought the land in 1914 after being shutout one time too many for membership at one of the New Jersey golf clubs. He commissioned leading architects to design his mansion. Construction of the castle and the grounds including its own 18-hole golf course took five years to finish. When Kahn passed away in 1934, his estate put Oheka up for sale in a lean time when few “want to be” dukes or barons could afford such a luxury.

Enter Carey with a fist full of dollars who submitted the best offer on behalf of sanitation. The estate accepted his offer, the best they could expect. Carey deemed the new property to be: “Chateau Sanita.”

Huntington, even then, was an upscale community populated by influential families and individuals, so it didn’t take long for their quiet rage to force the castle’s estate to renege on the deal. “Sorry, old boy, but seriously, garbage men vacationing here. I mean, what’s next?”

Carey backed off. Hat in hand, he met with La Guardia for help to find a suitable tract of land in southern New York State to establish a vacation camp for his workers and their families. The mayor prevailed on both Eleanor and, her husband, Franklin, to help the city find the land he needed. With their help, “he was able to purchase land in in Duchess County, NY in the hamlet of Holmes to establish Sanita Hills Camp.

Information about the purchase or the development of facilities is not readily available so I have used what I could find and make assumptions about the rest.

“The property eventually had three camps; one for families, one for single men and a third for single women. The complex included a dining hall and recreation center. Four small lakes were expanded, cleaned up and beaches were created for swimming, sailing and other water sports.”

The problems associated with building cabins from scratch was solved by a fortuitous coincidence. At the same time that construction on the camp was beginning, the City of New York gained control of the old IRT and BMT elevated lines which they closed in preparation for demolition. Hundreds of wooden elevated cars were taken out of service. Commissioner Carey had the wheels removed from dozens of them and retro-fitted the units before hauling them upstate on flatbed trucks.

“The open-ended platforms were mounted on concrete supports, were fitted with simple wooden porches, railings and steps. Typically, this porch was shaded by a stripped awning and could be entered through a door cut into that side of the body. Referred to as “Pullmanettes,” Sanitation workers paid a nominal amount to vacation in Camp Sanita for as long as a week. Those Pullmanettes intended for family use had a center kitchen-dining area, a master bedroom and two berth children’s rooms. These interiors were trimmed with Philippine mahogany and equipped with an electric refrigerator and a tiled bathroom with a shower.

The camp had four lakes for fishing, water sports and swimming, the largest being Whaley Lake. Another, christened, Sunset Lake had separate lakeside areas for open air dancing, a theatre and communal dining and other recreational activities. A number of baseball and softball fields dotted the property as did courts and fields for other popular sports popular in those post World War II years.

Information about the why and cause  for an audit is sketchy, but apparently in 1943… “ it led to an investigation into how Sanitation was able to buy 1,100 acres of land and who authorized the requisition of city elevated train cars, not to mention the use of materials, supplies and city labor to build the resort.”

In 1943, The New York Times reported that Commissioner Carey admitted to authorizing  the project for the good of the department and the city. LaGuardia ordered the department to get rid of the camp, but this mandate was never made a priority as Sanitation employees and their families continued to make use of the property until the spring of 1956. In a ceremony conducted at the camp on May 18, 1956, then Commissioner of Sanitation, Andrew W. Mulrain, formally transferred the title of Sanita Hills to Boy Scouts of Greater New York Council.

Over time, interest in scouting diminished especially during the turbulent 1970s and the greatly reduced need for camps led to the shedding of unwanted property. Sanita was one of those casualties. Today, only past memories of past summer fun remains in those hill of Duchess County.             

Forgotten New York: Camp Sanita Hills

Late last year, I published a piece about a 1956 weekend camping trip to Camp Sanita Hills in upstate New York. What made the trip special was having my father join my scout troop as an adult adviser. (My father left my mother before I was one-year’s old.) Having my father there was very important to me as it validated his existence proving that I actually had a father.

Shortly after I published that piece, Ria called to tell me that George, her long-time friend from the East End of Long Island, had told her that he was going to head upstate to find out what had happened to the summer camp where his family vacationed during the early 1950s. He told Ria that those summers were the happiest vacations of his life. The place was owned and operated by the city’s Department of Sanitation for use by the families of their employees.”

“John,” Ria continued, “I am not certain about his details, but it seemed to be the same place you wrote about. He was quite sure his family lived in old railroad cars, but other than that, he can’t discover anything else about that place”

“Ria, that’s Camp Sanita.”

“He can’t find anybody who can confirm any details.”

“Ria, I can. Give him my number,”

George telephoned me a few days later. I told him everything I knew about the camp, but it became obvious that I knew very little. He asked why the NYC Sanitation owned the camp, why they lived in railroad cars instead of cabins and other questions.

I told him what I remembered as best I could. He asked where it was located? I told him that I had learned that it was in Holmes, NY.

 “Sorry, John, that doesn’t mean anything to me. I do remember that we made trips for groceries and treats to Pauling, NY.”

“Let me look that up on my I-Pad.” Sure enough, I discovered that Holmes is part of Pauling.

That mystery solved: George wanted to know when his family actually vacationed there. We are contemporaries, so that helped me to zero in. “That trip with my dad in 1956 was the only time I stayed in Camp Sanita.”

He asked how old I was and I replied, “Twelve.”

George now knew the basic facts about his family vacations to understand the location of the camp and the time frame for those vacations.

“John, What I do recall is that when my family vacationed there, the camp was part of the NYC Department of Sanitation. My father was in the FDNY, but my grandfather had a career with Sanitation. He booked our vacations at Sanita.”

George, shared some of his other experiences with me, but it became obvious that there was much about Sanita that I didn’t know. “George, so far, that’s all I can tell you, except for the fact that ‘Sanita’ is an abbreviation for ‘ Sanitation,’ but, leave this with me. Let me do the research and I’ll get back to you.”

I already knew that George has a place in the Virgin Islands where he escapes winter on the East end of Long Island. I’m sure the storm that struck the East Coast on December 23rd reinforced George’s desire to escape winter’s discomfort. This would give me time to complete my research, but I also needed this delay to recover from my knee surgery that was performed on January 9, 2023.

(To be continued.)    

Escape from the Hospital

The events, characters, people, places and anything else you can think of contained in this story are purely fictional.

Before beginning this story, let me note that as bad as it can be to be discharged from a hospital, it is an infinitely better ending to a hospital stay than the alternative.

I entered the hospital early on a Monday morning for a full-knee replacement and by 8:15 AM the old one was long gone. About 8 PM I was transported to a regular room without a roommate to begin transitioning to my hospital routine of blood pressure tests, blood tests, temperature checks, timely dosages of prescribed pills, chats with doctors, P.A.s, nurses, compilers of facts and information, dieticians, clergy, physical therapists all the while answering repetitive questions.

My roommate arrived almost two hours later allowing me to re-live this routine by witnessing his version.

The rest of the night was ruined by a semi-planned cavalcade of tests, bathroom breaks, etc.

My ultimate goal, getting released to go home, began to come into focus on Tuesday morning. My orthopedist had predicted that I would most probably go home by Tuesday night. This became my Holy Grail and anything I did, ate, drank or participated in was influenced by my desire to make it home that day.

It wasn’t too long before I was informed of two impediments that were coming into focus that would block the fulfillment of my quest; I had yet to demonstrate the ability to urinate on my own without the need to use a caterer and my body had to meet the minimum sodium levels. My minimum level was 128, considered low, and my count seemed to be falling.

That dear reader is the essential issue of this story which we are going to let unfold.

One of the doctors explained that morning, “You can’t get out of here until you achieve both goals, but right now you are receiving medicines to make you pee. Unfortunately, these same medicines have a habit of reducing your sodium level.”

“So, what you are saying is that the same medicines that will get me to pee will fail me on my sodium count?”

He replied: “That’s right.”

“Great, that makes me a Catch 22, I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”

I was failing on both fronts. They had to get the sodium count up and re-cauterize me for 12 hours to empty my bladder. At the end of the 12-hours, I was allowed to let the open channel do just that, then I had a four-hour widow to do it on my own. I failed miserably.

When my sodium count dropped to 126, my dream team decided to go in a different direction; use medicines to increase the sodium level while I took responsibility to make my body achieve free-flowing urine. We tried the cauterization / free flow route one more time with the admonition: “Don’t screw this one up, soldier.”

At first, zero! But that night after several dry holes, mother nature ran her course in her own sweet time that allowed me to produce enough liquid to pass their test. “Thank God Almighty!”

I texted my wife: “Peed! One down, one to go.”

On Wednesday morning a kidney specialist who let’s call Dr. Salt joined my dream team. He was greatly concerned about all my sodium issues and though he liked me, he didn’t trust my sodium production ability. Never-the-less, he prescribed a single dosage pill to fix me. Later that day when my sodium count came in at 128, there was joy throughout the known universe.

I had achieved lift-off. All of the responsible top docs signed off and discharge was only a review away until one last impediment raised its oily head. It turned out I was taking a water pill, a terrible no-no. After a lengthy delay of five hours, compromises and promises were made and I was cleared to go.

My nurse ordered a wheelchair from Transport. We waited and we waited sitting in my room. After about another half-hour had passed, Mary Ann got up and left without saying anything. I figured she needed to make a stop at the lady’s room, but not too much later she re-appeared pushing an empty wheelchair. “Let’s go!” she commanded. As we made it passed all sort of hospital personnel, I asked her, “What if somebody stops you?”

“I’ll tell them I’m certified to move patients.”

Turns out there is truth to that. In any event, no one said anything. With some help, I squiggled into the front seat of her Jeep Renegade and she drove us home without further incident.

The next day after everything had calmed down, I asked her why she did it. “I was about to explode. My hair hurt. I had to get us out of there.”

I for one am only too glad she did.

It is nice to be back, but at this stage in my recovery, I cannot say for certain that I will be publishing “On the Outside Looking In” weekly. Please stay with me and I will do the best I can.

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”