An old friend

An old buddy stopped by my house the other day. He came over because I got in touch with him due to a series of challenges I had personally taken on. This task was to contact an old friend. Just connecting with him was an undertaking because he had dropped his land line which was the only phone number I had for him. I checked his Facebook page to no avail but finally found his brother’s number. I talked to his sister-in-law who gave me his new cell number. Now we were cooking.

I have known him for over four decades. Donna and I used to go to his home on weekends to go swimming in his pool. He and I had built a deck off the back of his house. This had a platform that overhung the side of the pool for diving. We used to have cookouts for dinner and the two of us would go out to a farmer’s field and pick corn for roasting. I hadn’t seen this buddy in quite a few years so we spent about two hours catching up with each other.

We talked about the weather and the recent wind storm. If you are from Western New York, you always talk about the weather. I showed him our new bedroom addition on the back of our house and he loved it. He appreciated the fact that it looked as if it has been there forever. He liked the floors, the en-suite bathroom with a walk in shower and elevated toilet. He loved the walk in closet, the pocket door, the number of outlets I had the electrician put in (22 of them in the bedroom alone) and even the magnetic doorstop. I put in a lot of thought when I was designing this space.

His son has now grown and has given him a grandson and his son lives just around the corner from my son, small world. My buddy is a very proud grandfather. His grandson is as cute as can be and looks just like his father. We told him about the exploits of our own grandchildren, discussed our children and many other things.

We talked about banks and online banking (he is for it, I’m not). According to the FDIC, the national average interest rate on savings accounts currently stands at 0.09% so I don’t see any compelling reason to keep money in a bank.

He is a Vietnam Era veteran just like I am but we didn’t discuss politics. Politics and religion are the two subjects I refuse to discuss.

We chatted about what we were doing now. About how I blog and write articles for newspapers and even get a few of them published internationally. I told him about the article I had written, a sarcastic piece on the song “Baby it’s cold outside” and the radio stations that refused to play this classic winter song. It caused such a turmoil that I no longer write for the online paper where it was first published. However, it was distributed elsewhere without a problem. This song has gotten a politically correct remake this year by John Legend and Kelly Clarkson.

My buddy now drives a school bus and boy, did he have a few stories to tell! My wife asked him about passing a stopped school bus and did she ever hit a hot button! He told us about the people that blast past his bus as he is discharging kids and indicated his experience was not uncommon. We must have chatted about this subject for at least a half an hour.

According to the New York State DMV website, a majority of school bus related injuries and deaths happen when children are crossing the street after being dropped off by the bus, not by collisions involving school buses. There is nothing you are doing, there is no place you are going, that is worth injuring a child.

He wasn’t aware that a mutual friend of ours had passed so we informed him about it. It’s sad how we lose track of our friends and loved ones over the years. I also updated him on another person, Ed, which we both knew. We go out to dinner with Ed monthly.

Our twin grandsons were spending the day at my house due to the schools being closed and were playing upstairs but you wouldn’t know it. I called them down to the living room and they introduced themselves and shook my buddy’s hand. After they went back up to play, my buddy remarked what polite, well behaved young men they were.

Our visit was very, very enjoyable and when he left it was like we hadn’t lost any time at all. Unfortunately, he had to leave and go do his afternoon bus run. I hope he comes over again soon and often. Next time I encourage him to bring his son, his son’s wife and of course, his grandson.

Mariner’s Landing: Olcott

As appearing in The Niagara Falls Gazette 11/25/19

Another weekend another restaurant. This time my wife, my buddy and I decided to hit up the Mariner’s Landing restaurant in Olcott. It had been about a year and a half since I had been there so it was about time for a return trip. They have been open for over 18 years at their present location. It is unusual for a restaurant to be open this long so they must be doing something right. We entered the restaurant and saw the décor hadn’t changed much since the last time we were there.

They had paneled walls, a couple fireplaces and ample windows that would let in sunlight during the daytime. They also had a nautical based motif with several model ships, lighthouses and sailor figurines on the high shelves that went all around the dining room. There were a few fish tanks with several small fish swimming around to add to the calming atmosphere.

The hostess told us to sit anywhere and we selected a table near the door. The table was set with real tablecloths but they ruined it by having paper place mats. I haven’t seen a tablecloth in a restaurant for several years and it was a nice touch. The server brought our menus and took our drink order. My wife had her usual water with lemon, Ed had a glass of wine and I chose a Coke with light ice (2.50) and she headed off to get them.

When she returned with our drinks, she took our order. My wife selected the fried oyster appetizer (8.95) for her dinner and Manhattan clam chowder (3.95). Ed selected the salmon special with a bourbon/maple glaze and sautéed vegetables. I selected the New England clam chowder (3.95) and the Fried Seafood Platter (23.95). This contained shrimp, scallops, a stuffed clam and a 10 OZ piece of Icelandic cod. I had an option of several sides and selected a baked potato with sour cream.

Shortly after we ordered, the server showed up with a basket of warm bread and some butter. The butter was soft which I highly appreciate

My wife’s Manhattan clam chowder had a robust tomato taste and her fried oysters were scrumptious. She also asked for a cup of cocktail sauce on the side. The oysters were moist and tender and the coating did not fall off of them. I could have eaten them all night.

My clam chowder was very creamy and rich with diced potatoes and chunks of clams throughout. Everything on my Sea Food Platter was delicious. Everything was cooked properly and I even had to bring some home for lunch the next day.
Ed’s salmon had a maple glaze that blew my mind. The pairing of the tender and flakey salmon with the maple glaze was phenomenal. I would have never thought that it would work so well. Ed pronounced it perfect. Dinner was delish.

Our server was the Lisa and was quite pleasant, quickly answering any questions I had about the menu. She stopped by frequently to see if everything was OK with our meal.

The food was great, the ambiance perfect and we had a good time. Prices were reasonable and portions were ample. We would have liked to have tried desserts, but we were too full from the meal. We are looking forward to returning and trying other menu items, but I will probably always order the clam chowder.

However there was one downside. I had occasion to use the men’s room and this is definitely not ADA compliant. The first door had a knob on it and when I turned it, it felt funny. As I opened the door I found out why. There was no latch mechanism or even an inside doorknob, just holes where they should have been. This door opened into a small vestibule with another door. When I tried to close that door, it kept hitting on the first door’s automatic closer arm, bad planning. When I opened the stall, the only way you could enter was to step over the bowl. Talk about the bathroom from hell. If you plan on dining there just, don’t plan on using the bathroom.

Mariner’s Landing;
1540 Franklin St in Olcott, New York.
Phone number is (716) 778-5535

Their hours are:
Wednesday and Thursday 4 – 9 PM
Friday and Saturday 4 – 10PM
Saturday 12 – 8PM.

I give them an 8 out of 10 spoons because of the bathroom.
I am looking forward to our next dining adventure.

The Club 747

NORBERT RUG

In the 60’s and 70’s, the drinking age was 18 in New York, which meant I was sneaking into bars when I was 16, and I was not the exception. Live music was everywhere. I learned a lot about life, love, music and myself in places like The Inferno, and other bars that are long gone. 

On a Saturday nights in Buffalo, New York there were several discotheques where young adults would go. The crowd headed to The Club 747 a disco in what looked like a Boeing 747 jetliner. This was situated right across Genesee Street from the Greater Buffalo International Airport.

WKBW Radio disc jockey “Super Shannon” was “in the cockpit” playing records and bringing plenty of energy to the microphone and atmosphere. The Club 747 was so trendy that it was written up in Billboard magazine in 1978.

It became the blue print for quite a few discotheques throughout the country.Up to 5,000 people a week were hustling their way through this airplane-themed club. In the first three years it since it opened, it had already been renovated to the tune of $100,000. This was done by the exact same lighting crew that did the lighting in “Saturday Night Fever.”

In the late ’70s, you would buy a “boarding pass” to gain entrance to the club. This cost $1 or $2 on Saturday nights. This sounded better than a cover charge. People were expected to be properly dressed. Dancers were expected to be dressed appropriately, no sneakers, sweatshirts or “non-dress jeans” (remember, this was the ’70s) were allowed. The men wore dress shirts and pants and the women wore dresses. 

Club 747 was a part of the Executive Inn complex. This also included a Playboy Club (yes Buffalo had a Playboy Club). It was renamed Kixx Nightclub throughout the 1990s and was torn down to make way for a Courtyard by Mariott hotel in the mid-2000s.One of Buffalo’s hotspots of the 1970s disco scene was Hertel Avenue’s, Mulligan’s.

There was a little of everything there. The place was like ones recommended by Stefon on “Weekend Update,” a city correspondent of sorts who gave quirky recommendations about clubs and destinations in New York City. It was even the scene of a mafia hit in 1974.

When a renovated Mulligan’s opened in 1975, it was billed as “a dancing and dining emporium modeled to suit the far ranging and capricious fancies of all who enter its doors.”A trip to Mulligan’s might include a sighting of any number of national celebrities known by only their first names, like Cher or OJ, along with Rick James and his girlfriend Exorcist’s Linda Blair.

Today Uncle Sam’s is the name of a Buffalo surplus store, but back in the 70’s it was first a disco known for its reverse dance floor and later became one of the earliest punk clubs in Buffalo.

Uncle Sam’s was on Walden Avenue. They actually booked some big name groups. The Pretenders, The Ramones and the Plasmatics played there. Uncle Sam’s was featured in the July 19th  1980 edition of Billboard Magazine 

The Inferno was “the” premier place to go to hear music from 1965 until 1968. I spent many lost weekends there. My favorite drink there was a gin and tonic. Not because I liked it but because it glowed an eerie pale blue under the black lights they had. After about a half dozen, it didn’t matter what you were drinking anyway. Many was the morning I would wake up with my head pounding like bass drum at a rock concert. 

On Wednesday nights, long lines of people formed through Glen Park and even over the Glen Avenue bridge, many of them waited for hours to get into the Inferno. The Inferno was formerly known as the “Glen Casino”.The nightclub was noted for featuring the bands like Wilmer & the Dukes and Raven on a weekly basis. This would help launch their careers. Additionally, national recording acts like Ike & Tina Turner, Sly and the Family Stone, Wilson Pickett, Junior Walker & the All Stars, The Butterfield Blues Band, The Bob Seger System, The Esquires, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, Wayne Cochran & the CC Riders, and Arthur Conley also played this famous nightclub.

Ironically The Inferno, was destroyed by fire. The Inferno is one of the largest fires in Amherst in terms of equipment used at the scene. An estimated 13 fire companies and 200 fire fighters were there with 25 trucks before it was extinguished.

Bullying

October is National anti-bullying month. As a red head I was bullied when I was a child. Even today I can still hear the chants “Red head, red head fire in the wood shed”. This is the only one that was yelled at me that can be printed in a family newspaper. One involved the anatomy of a male dog and another involved my parents and a rusty pipe.

No wonder I was a loner.

While I was growing up in Buffalo, there was a family across the street that had 4 or 5 bazillion kids, or so it seemed. I remember them jumping me, punching me and sitting on me so they could pound my hands into the dirt. It always concluded with the threat that if I told anyone the next time it would be worse.

I was constantly tripped, pushed and kicked by the bullies in school but I suffered in silence because I knew if I reported them, retaliation was going to be quick and harsh.

In elementary school, I did manage to retaliate against one bully and gain some respect though. When we were sitting at our desks, he would reach across the aisle with his leg when the teacher wasn’t looking and kick me. This would cause the classroom to laugh.

One day I had enough and waited until he extended his leg, ready to torment me again when I grabbed his foot and gave it a yank. He ended up siting on the floor. When the teacher turned around and asked him what had happened, he stood up and said he just fell out of his seat. The laughter was the loudest I had ever heard. It seems he was bullying many of my classmates and they appreciated someone getting even. He never did it again and him and his “bully buddies” left me alone. Elementary school went pretty good after that.

We moved to the north towns in time for junior high school where I developed a small circle of friends. By the time I got to high school the bullying reached its apex. My books would get knocked out of my arms and I would get body checked into the lockers. I started carrying my books in a duffle bag so my stuff would not get scattered all over the place.  The school administrators would always look the other way because the perpetrators were primarily members of the football team. They were untouchable and they didn’t want to have to discipline them with suspensions. I was the victim and that, like designated seating, seemed to be my place in the school pecking order.”

I rode the bus to school. Seeing as I lived so far from the school the bus was virtually empty when I got on it so I would sit in the back. One day, on the way to school, I was “pantsed” by a couple of the motor-heads to the delight of all the other riders. On my way off the bus, the driver told me I had to sit in the front seat from now on. I now realize he was trying to protect me but back then I felt like I was the one being punished. Nothing ever happened to them.

One of my major tormenters was the son of Russian parents (or so he said). Finally enough was enough. One day we happened to be in study hall together in the school auditorium where he was messing with me. The person in charge saw this and moved them to the front row, but I knew that after the study hall the bullying would continue. Time to devise a plan.

I got the restroom pass and headed to my locker. Once there, I grabbed an old notebook and filled it with a bunch of loose papers. When I came back, I walked in front of him and “tripped” throwing the notebook in the air. Of course the notebook and papers flew everywhere. The teacher looked at him and me and asked what happened. He replied he didn’t know and I said I didn’t know, I tripped over something. The teacher made him pick up all the papers and I had no more problems with him.

I had started to work at a local company and once again I was the brunt of abuse. One day I was in the bathroom and a person started lobbing balls of wet paper towels over the wall at me. Time to make a statement again. There was a spray can of germicidal spray so I grabbed it. I sprayed it under the partition and lit it with my lighter. A three foot flame came out towards toward him. No more problems. I had gained the respect I deserved.

Today’s lesson is this. You never want to be the type of person that gets yanked out of their chair, gets blamed for tripping someone or has fire coming towards them. Let’s make sure nobody has to remember that October is Anti-Bullying Month.

Norb is an independent journalist from Lockport.

Halloween in the 60’s

Looking out my window one morning recently, watching the falling leaves fluttering by and waving goodbye to summer, my thoughts turned to Halloween.

Surely most of us have warm memories of Halloween from our childhood. It was the one night when you could be whatever you wanted to be, and be given candy and treats just for asking. I used to ring doorbells and yell “Trick or treat! Smell my feet! Give me something good to eat!”

The phrase “trick or treat” used to be an implied threat: give me candy or I’ll play a trick on you. As young children, we didn’t mean it literally. But eventually, as adolescents, we outgrew trick-or-treating and used Halloween to pull off pranks and light forms of vandalism.

I used to go down Bailey Avenue in Buffalo the day after tricks-or-treats night and see all the store windows waxed and soaped up. I never used wax myself, but I did use soap. There were quite a few raw eggs thrown around, too. In residential areas, homes and trees would get TP’d. This would turn into a real mess when it rained.

Sixty years ago, children dressed like horror legends such as Frankenstein or the Mummy, policemen, soldiers, firemen and sports figures. I had three basic costumes back then.

One was hobo. I’d grab an old, well-worn shirt out of the “rag bag” and maybe shred it a bit more, pair this with a worn pair of dungarees (this is what we called jeans back then) and take scissors to them, maybe sew a patch or two on the pants, and rub burnt cork on my face to simulate whiskers.

My second go-to costume was cowboy. I’d dig into my toy box and pull out my best toy cap gun, holster and a cowboy hat.

Ghost was another. This was the best one because nobody could see your face. I’d get an old sheet from my mother, cut two eye holes in it and voila! Instant costume. None of those store-bought outfits with the plastic masks for me, thanks.

In the 1950s and 1960s, trick-or-treaters took whatever treat they were given. Every neighborhood had a house where a kindly old lady allowed us to pick our treat from a plate full of homemade candies, cakes or cookies. Back then, families would permit their children to go out trick-or-treating with their older brothers, sisters or even the neighbor’s children.

My loot bag was an old pillow case and if I didn’t fill it at least twice, it was a bad night. I donned my costume right after dinner and headed out to pillage the neighborhood in ever increasing circles. Once my bag was filled, I returned home to dump the contents on a newspaper in the dining room, then headed out for another round.

While I was out, my parents would sort my treasure, separating out the fruit and anything homemade or repackaged. I was only allowed to keep individually wrapped, mass-produced candies, and I wasn’t allowed to eat anything until my parents had examined my loot. For some reason, peanut butter cups fell into the “suspicious” category and they were always gone when I returned, never to be seen again.

I read that this was because of paranoia about contaminated treats and was the result of unsubstantiated urban legends involving razor blades in apples or poisoned treats. Wikipedia says that no child has ever been killed by eating Halloween candy from a stranger. Snopes collected an impressive array of rumors about adulterated Halloween treats and found them all to be untrue.

One year I had a Halloween party in my parents’ basement. I produced “touch boxes” where my guests would reach through a hole and feel things while I told a horror story. The few things I remember are a bowl of raw chicken livers, a natural sponge covered with Karo syrup (to simulate a brain covered in blood) and peeled grapes to imitate eyeballs. My guests and I also bobbed for apples and played a few other Halloween-themed games.

I hosted this party when I lived in Buffalo and had to discontinue it once we moved to the country. As people moved to the suburbs, they found that their new neighborhoods weren’t very favorable for trick-or-treating. Sometimes the lack of sidewalks forced children to walk on the street. Many suburban neighborhoods boasted large lots and this caused the kids to walk long distances going from house to house. In rural areas, where the trek between houses is even longer, parents would sometimes pack up their children and head to more urban neighborhoods, where the homeowners might quickly run out of candy. 

Nowadays, children aren’t very familiar with their neighborhoods. Combine that with the dangers of traffic and it is best that parents accompany trick-or-treaters. A fairly recent trend is “trunk or treat” gatherings, in which people hand out candy from their Halloween-decorated cars in parking lots.

Halloween sure has changed since I was a kid.

I got up early

I get up early almost every morning to see if anyone has published any of my work. My articles usually get published around 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning. It wasn’t yet dawn but the sky was beginning to get brighter. I grabbed a banana, a glass of vegetable juice and my laptop and headed for the back porch.

The air still had the nighttime crispness to it. The kind of freshness that you only get in the late summer/early fall. The birds hadn’t started their morning song yet but the crickets and frogs were going full tilt. I love hearing the crickets and frogs.

There were a few other sounds in my neighborhood, My a dog barking in the distance and the low quiet hum of traffic passing a few blocks away. The neighborhood was quiet until my neighbor started his car to go to work. Other than that it was fairly quiet and I was enjoying it. Our neighborhood is comparatively serene. A few of my neighbors are retired and they don’t have anywhere to go that early in the morning. I would say it is a sleepy little neighborhood.

 Another advantage to where I live is that you can’t get anywhere by driving through it. The only cars I see belong to residents and the people who are lost.

The light from the moon was augmented by the street light filtering thru the leaves of our maple tree.  Between the two sources, there was just enough light so I wouldn’t step on something. The leaves of the trees hadn’t started to turn yet, but I knew it would not be long before their stately mantle would be on the ground, being strewn about by the wind.

I watched a cat slink across my back yard, looking for a meal when it spotted me. It froze hoping I wouldn’t see it and stared at me, watching to see what I was going to do. When it decided I wasn’t a threat, it continued across my yard, under my fence and disappeared behind my neighbor’s house.

A cool breeze kissed my face and sounded the wind chimes I have on my back porch. Listening to the wind chimes is very soothing to me and we leave some of them out year round. Unfortunately, the gentle breeze brought the pungent odor of a skunk with it. The skunk wasn’t nearby so it was only a slight wisp of a smell though.

I’ve been trying not to listen to those people who are talking about the end of summer, trying to pretend they are wrong, that these long, lovely days will never end. But in the early mornings, I can smell, hear and feel fall coming.

It is still light out enough evenings to fool us all into thinking that we have more time. And my wife and I will delay dinner until 7 p.m., to take advantage of that time. Playing cards outside until dark, but then we have to move inside until bedtime. Gone are the nights sitting on our porch swing until 10 o’clock.

Very soon it’s going to be time to change the clocks. Finally the clock in my car will be right once again. I never did learn how to set that damned clock. How does the axiom go? Is it fall back or fall forward? We must have 12 to 15 clocks that will need resetting: vehicle clocks, alarm clocks, a clock radio, the clock on the stove, clock on our phone and one on the microwave. The list seems endless and that’s just downstairs. It’s an all-day job. Everything else resets itself.

As I think about it, I am retired with nothing to do, why do I need so many clocks? The only room in my house that doesn’t have a clock is my bathroom. I get up when I am awake, eat when I am hungry and go to bed when I am tired. But I digress.

These late summer days won’t last long, I know that. The older grandchildren have gone off to college and the younger ones will be back at school before long. They won’t be spending all day with us like they did over the summer, until the next school vacation.

The leaves will soon start turning a kaleidoscope of colors signifying the shorter days and longer nights. Soon, I’ll all be switching the position of the lawn mower and the snow blower in our garage.

But that’s all for later. Right now is a good time to put off whatever it is you wanted do inside until after dark, step outside and just smell the air. Soon we won’t be able to breathe the fresh air outdoors without bundling up against the cold.

So, step outside. Look at the trees, look at the sky, and enjoy the scents of late summer. Take advantage of the daylight and walk through a park if you can — or just walk around the block. Fire up the grill, cook the last few hot dogs of summer and eat your dinner outside.

But, as we all know, these days won’t last forever. Winter is coming, with its cold winds, snow, icy roads and slick sidewalks and then it will be time to put on our boots and snow tires. Norb is a freelance journalist from Lockport NY.

Celebrating a half century of true love

As appearing in the Niagara Gazette and the Lockport Union Sun and Journal

8/11/2019

Last Friday, my wife Donna and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary.

A half-century ago, we were a pair of young, clueless kids. We went out into the world with everything we owned in the back of a Volkswagon “beetle” and drove 500 miles from home to establish a life of our own in Newport, Rhode Island. If it weren’t for wedding presents, we wouldn’t have had enough money for gas to get to Newport, which was my ship’s home port while I was in the Navy.

We first moved into a fleabag motel. Living there depleted our funds quickly so we scoured want ads in the local papers, looking for a cheap apartment. We didn’t have much money but we had our love to keep us going.

Then a shipboard buddy told us about some inexpensive apartments in Fall River, Massachusetts, just across the state line. We moved into this welfare development where your rent was based on your income. I was earning $64 a month back then. Our rent was $32 a month. Fortunately our rent included the heat and electricity. After I paid the rent, I had $8 a week left over for our phone bill, food, gasoline and auto insurance. Heaven forbid my car would break down. All the money we had left from our wedding went into cheap, pressed wood furniture. We still have some of that furniture today.

We were living without the benefit of family nearby so we had no safety net and we had to do whatever it took on our own to survive. We learned more about self-dependence than we had ever known. It made us reliant on each other.

I was proud of Donna the first time I went to sea. She didn’t go home to her parents. The apartment we shared was now home to her, and with the help of a few friends who were close to us, she was able to stay in our place. I am thankful to our next door neighbors, Millie and her family, for helping Donna out. Tony, Millie’s youngest, would spend more time at our house than his own keeping Donna company.

One of my friends, Cole, a bosun’s mate and mountain of a man, would check in on her to see if she was OK during my absences and if she needed anything.

The neighbors would share their food with us and showed us how to apply for a monthly allotment of surplus food that the state gave to low income people. Every month we would have a food exchange in the common area of the complex. We would meet up with whatever free food we didn’t want and swap it for food we did.

It was during this time we had two of our children. How crazy were we to do this? I don’t know. We figured, “How expensive would it be to have children?” Of course, this was in the days of cloth diapers, rubber pants and diaper pails.

As I look back on those times, I have to wonder just how we made it. Foolish as we were, we managed to survive. We were from the generation that believed when you made a promise, you kept it.

I think often about how much in love we were. How our marriage was made stronger by having to make it on our own in the early years. How we couldn’t run home to our parents when we had differences of opinion. How I learned the four phrases that helped keep us together: “Yes dear,” “You are right,” “I understand,” and most importantly, “I love you.”

Now, 50 years later, I think about all the problems we overcame together, standing back to back with our guns drawn, ready to take on whatever came at us.

I now send my wife a cheesy text every morning, professing my love for her to make her smile and to let her know that I am thinking about her. I also try to keep fresh flowers in the house just because. She is the best thing that ever happened to me and I love her with all my soul.

The first time I saw her, my heart whispered “That’s the one.” Imagining my life without her is impossible and I am so lucky to be able to spend my life with her.

Norb Rug is a writer from Lockport. His email is nrug@juno.com where he welcomes comments