Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Times They Did A-Change

So, as I may have mentioned in previous blog entries, my return to Delaware County to resume permanent residence has been chock full of different. All kinds of different. 

And that kind of surprised me.

Naturally, I assumed the home I left would evolve. It’s just that I was under the impression that evolution took millions of years. Thank you very much, Mr. Darwin.

I now realize it happens much faster with places than with species. If I had known I’d have taken more pictures. So here is just a partial list of the Delaware County mutations I’ve discovered so far:

My drug store is different (Thrift Drugs magically turned into Rite-Aid).

Wawas are different (gas stations?). 

The MacDade Mall is different. 

The Sharon Hill Acme is different (something called Amelia). 

My barber moved to Prospect Park.  That was different.

Delco politics are different. Democrats can win now?

The high schools are different.

The Eagles uniforms are different.

The funny pages in the Daily Times are different. (Even the mom’s hairstyle on the Family Circle is different. Thankfully, Mrs. Lockhorn remains traditional.)

We have gained a Ruby Tuesdays, two Walmarts, an Appleby’s and even a Sonic.

We have lost The Springfield Inn, Septembers, Grants, Maltz Brothers, The Wild Irishman, and about a million Fotomats.

But most distressing of all, Hennessy’s Tavern is now a drug store. Back in the day I liked to sit right at the far bend of the long, beautiful bar at Hennessy’s so I could see everyone come and go. On a good day I’d make witty remarks to myself about each of the customers who wandered in. The more beers the wittier the remarks. Finally, when I was just too witty for words, I’d walk home.

Today that exact spot is approximately one-third of the way down the drug store’s “Feminine Products” aisle. I checked. Very quickly.

At least Leo’s Steaks is the same and as good as ever.

Of course, all this is a very roundabout way of getting to more changes that have taken place in those closest to me. Thankfully, my immediate family is intact. But we lost quite a few aunts and uncles over the past 18 years. Again, that’s to be expected. But it’s still hard. Somehow, being home again makes me miss them even more than I did before.

Not all different is bad though.

One of the very bright family changes is with my sister, Patti. When I left Delaware County in 1996, Patti was happily married and hoping to get a good job as a nurse while caring for her beautiful 2-year-old daughter. She always wanted to be a nurse, and we all hoped that she was going to get to live her dream.

Well …

It’s 2014 and Patti is a top Operating Room nurse at a local hospital. (Ever wonder why they still call it an operating room when I hear that everything is “a procedure” these days? Sorry … just had a Seinfeld moment there.) She is still happily married, and raising a 20-year-old college student and a 16-year-old high school junior. Both of them are beautiful young women, too. Time does not stand still, does it?

(By the way, rumor has it that Patti keeps them smiling as she goes the extra mile at work, too.)

I’ve saved my sister Jayne for last. That’s because she has undergone both the most and the least change. In some ways she hasn’t changed a bit in all my time away. (It’s just occurred to me that “my time away” sounds like I was incarcerated or in a special home. I should probably work on another term for that.) 

Jayne is still married. Still happy. Still working for the same company, and still looks 10 years younger than she is. She still keeps track of every niece and nephew, and seems to know exactly how to make them love her, sometimes no matter how shy they might be or how moody or how disinterested they seem at first.

Resistance to Aunt Jayne is futile.

But Jayne has experienced the most change, too. She was a lifelong Delco resident when I left. Since then, multiple promotions have taken her all over the country. She’s had homes in Neenah, Wisconsin … Dallas, Texas (never stopped being a Cowboy hater) … Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania … Minneapolis, Minnesota … and back to Appleton, Wisconsin. And the higher she rises in her company, the more down-to-Earth she is. No big-timing, no superior attitude, not a hint of conceit in her. She is always just my little sister to me.

I could not be more proud of these two accomplished, fascinating young(er than me, at least) women. I’m thankful every day that I’m their brother.

Sometimes different can be really, really great.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Who Are You Again?

When I moved away from Delaware County 18 years ago I was known far and wide (well, wide at least). And everyone I knew knew me as Jack Huber.

Simple enough. Nothing strange about that since Jack Huber is my name. Well, the truth is that my formal, official name is John Huber, but we should save that topic for another day.

Now that I’m back, I find that the simple truth of my name has changed in many circles. In my time away, people have come to know me (or more accurately, to know of me) by a different name or description.

I’m known as “Eddie’s brother” or even “Eddie’s other brother.” Some people actually address me exactly in that manner, as in: “Yo, Eddie’s brother, settle a bet for us here.” Or indirectly, “Let me ask Eddie’s other brother about that.” It’s like when you were a kid and you asked your friend’s mother, “Hi, Tommy’s mom, can we go on your roof and get all the balls we hit up there?” (A question always followed by a rapid “no.”)

Not that there’s anything wrong with being Eddie’s brother.

It seems that while I was hobnobbing with the social elite and scratching my way to the middle there in Our Nation’s Capital, my 10 years younger brother was making quite a name for himself.

You may think that a brother of mine might become notorious in a “we-don’t-like-to-talk-about-it” way … or well-known for setting some kind of tavern game record. But that’s not the case. Not at all. Not that I know of.

Eddie runs a backhoe.

In fact, I’m told he’s one of the best at running a backhoe that there is. That might not seem like a way to become popular in a community, but think about all the times over the course of a couple of decades that someone needs to get to a power line outside a home, or dig for a septic tank or pool, or knock down a dangerous wall, or plow snow from a parking lot or schoolyard, or …

You get it. They call my brother.

That’s his job, but Eddie’s fame comes from the kind of guy he is. He’s the total stranger who stops to give you a jump when your battery is dead. He’s the go-to dude who knows how to fix your flat tire or your clothes dryer … and is happy to do it. People really like that kind of thing. Or so I’m told.

But I don’t want to leave the impression that “Eddie’s brother” has become my only new identity.

Among almost as many people -- most notably in Delaware County it’s St. James alumni and fans -- I’m “Dan’s brother.”

Dan is the one who has gotten “Eddie’s brother” most often in Delaware County until now.  He’s the reason why the “other brother” description has occasionally fallen to me.

[I know this is all a little confusing, so you may want to pause here to re-read the last few paragraphs. I certainly had to.]

Dan lives in Delaware, so he had the advantage of location on me, which I have now reclaimed. Also, he makes some amazing videos as part of his business … and one of his best was about our home town, utilizing lots of local talent, which you can see here (and which is another unfair advantage in getting known locally, but, as Tony Soprano used to say: Whattaya gonna do?).

Also he was an outstanding athlete at St. James, captaining the football team and being named All-Catholic in baseball.

But enough about them.

I’m on a mission to reclaim my identity. I thought about trying to make a big splash by winning the Wing Bowl -- the World Series, World Cup, Super Bowl and National Championship of Gluttony – held every year at the Wells Fargo Center.

However, I realized just in time that, sure, I’m a very talented amateur when it comes to stuffing my gullet, but I’m no pro. And I was right about that, too. It seems that Molly Schuyler, a 5-foot-7, 125-pound mother of four, gorged a hard-to-fathom 363 wings over 30 minutes to win the crown. To put that into perspective, that's 181-1/2 chickens that could no longer fly, if chickens could fly in the first place. She’s probably thankful that it’s a crown and not a belt.

So I’m still working on that reclaiming my identity thing.

If I sound bitter I’m not. Really. Honestly. No kidding. For sure. (No, I am NOT protesting too much, thank you!)

[NOTE: A sentimental paragraph follows here. If that sort of thing makes you uncomfortable, please skip to the next one.]

To tell the truth, “Eddie’s brother” or “Eddie’s other brother” or “Dan’s brother” are just about the coolest things you could call me. They remind me how lucky I am to have Eddie and Dan as brothers and lifelong friends.

Now with my sisters Jayne and Patti, it’s a whole different story. Their circles of friends didn’t even know they had a brother so much older (11 and 13 years) and, in fact, very often think I’m lying about being their brother for some mysterious reason.

More on that later.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Who You Callin’ “Prodigal”?

So, I’m back!

Did you miss me, Delaware County? 

(No need to answer. I know I was greatly missed in at least a few bars and all-you-can-eat restaurants, while not so greatly missed in a single church.)

I was away, living in the Washington, D.C. area, for nearly 18 years. I loved living there. 

It’s a vibrant, diverse city where I made many great, life-long friends. (Also, it’s pretty cool living so near the capital of a big country like this one.)

For most of those years I had a job good enough to afford me the $7 pints of Coors Light that the local pubs have the unmitigated gall to charge. (By the way, have you ever met anyone with mitigated gall? I hope to one day.) I suppose the prices are so high there to keep senators and congressmen from accidentally bumping into their lowly constituents. Be that as it may, as I said, I really enjoyed living there.

But without a doubt, no matter how much you like a new place … there is something about coming home.

I came back to live with my parents in a sort of mutually beneficial situation. Mom and dad are elderly (dad resists that term, but come on … he’s 82, it was practically invented for him). They each have some health issues that I hope to be able to make easier. I help out with a few bills, cooking and some of the physical chores and they return the favor by putting me in the exact situation I have always greatly desired to be in …

Rent-free living!

(One day I may be willing to disclose the ridiculous amount of rent I was paying until recently, but for now my therapy team thinks it’s best that I try to push it to the back of my brain … back deep, with the late-night drunken phone calls to old girlfriends and the fuzzy memories of my infancy.)

I’m even sleeping in the same room I slept in when we moved to Delaware County almost 50 years ago. Now, instead of sharing it with my brother Dan, I share it with a desk, computer and printer in what I like to call a “home office.”

It’s all very 21st century in here.

So I’m sort of back to my original premise for this blog after all these years. I’m finding that the home I’m finding is not exactly the home I left. And it just now occurred to me … that’s what Thomas Wolfe was talking about when he said “you can’t go home again.”

Nicely put, Tom.

Just the same I am going home.

I suppose the borders of each town are pretty much as I left them (although I suspect that Prospect Park may have secretly annexed a small portion of Norwood, but that’s just between us, okay?) However the places, themselves, have changed.

And so have I.

So I guess that’s what’s supposed to happen, right?

I hope to be pointing out some of those changes in the coming weeks and months. Or it’s just as likely that my mind will wander to topics like Mars, the state of the Phillies, or why a morbidly obese man will never be elected president again.

I hope we’ll find out where this goes together.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Relocating Baby Hitler, and Other Stuff …

It's been a while since I've written on this blog, partly because a whole bunch of useless ideas have been ruminating in my head, blocking more productive thoughts.

So I thought I'd try to express some of those ideas in the hope that the process of writing them down will clear out some room in my head.

Please bear with me.

Relocating Baby Hitler
I have always been obsessed with the notion of time travel.

I think I've seen every movie ever made on the subject, from the Back to the Futures and the surprisingly good Time Cop to the unbelievably horrible Battlefield Earth. (That last one may not technically be a time travel movie, but it deserves mention in any discussion of very bad film experiences.)

Thoughts of time travel always wind up focusing on ways to change the world for the better.

And inevitably those thoughts turn to … killing Adolph Hitler.

That's kind of a no-brainer.

He started World War II, which resulted in about 50 million deaths. His regime set new standards in organized human depravity. He … actually, I guess I don't really need to make the case for Der Fuhrer being a bad guy, do I?

Anyway, the next step is figuring out at what point in his life you kill him.

Certainly not as a baby or child or teen. He's an innocent at those points in his life. Years later he serves the losing side honorably in World War I, but that's probably your best opportunity. Still, he hasn't done anything heinous yet.

But once the atrocities that warrant his death begin, he's too well guarded.

Another conundrum ... the average person will have trouble taking a life no matter how justified.

So here's my solution, which I recommend and freely give away here for any of you who ever get the chance to travel back in time.

There is no need to kill Hitler at all.

The way to go is to kidnap baby Hitler just days after he's born, and whisk him off to rural Canada to be raised by a nice farming couple who can't have their own child.

It would be sort of Clark Kent situation, but this time using old-fashioned homespun values to prevent pure evil instead of a means to promote truth, justice and the American way.

There in early 20th century Canada, he is almost certain to be no worse than a dirty hockey player, scurrilous curling sweeper or tainted food provider. And in the off chance that his megalomania is genetic, he's in a place where he could not possibly impact world events.

Okay, now that's off my mind.

Silly Singulars & Preposterous Plurals
Who decided, and what possible reason could there be for words in the English language being the same plural as they are in singular?

Is the word “deers” so offensive to the ear? (Particularly since “dears” seems to be just hunky dory.) Will the world suffer to hear me say that I saw three “deers” and two “mooses” during my walk in … I don't know … somewhere where deers and mooses hang out together? (“Where" isn't really my point here.)

Also, there is that one item that's always referred to as two … scissors, as in “I'd like to buy a pair of scissors.” Really?

This reminds me of the poker scene in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Each cigarette represents a dime, but Martini (Danny DeVito) keeps breaking them in half and betting “a nickel.” Finally, a frustrated, R.P. McMurphy screams at him, “This is a dime! See that? Cut it in half and you don't have two nickels … you have [expletive]!”

Take a pair of scissors. Cut them in half. What you have is not a scissor and a scissor … what you have is [expletive]!

Ditto for “pants.” A pant should have two legs and cover one's front and rear unlookables. You should not get just one item when you buy a “pair of pants.”

Fish, aircraft, species, you (except in East Coast urban areas, where “youse” is perfectly acceptable) … I could go on and on, but you get my drift, right?

Why are no political parties backing language reform? Is it too much of a hot potato? (Oh, and there is no good reason to add that extra “e” to pluralize “potatoes,” either.)

Do you think Mr. Quayle still has some pull to get this movement started?

Various Leftover Brain Bric-a-Brac
Why won't the Wordscraper game on Facebook take “ZEN” as a legitimate word?

Why is the least good Law & Order show (I won't say “worst” because I like them all) the only one they still make new episodes for?

Eli Manning is as good as Peyton Manning in the same way that Janet Jackson is as good as Michael Jackson.

Two liter sodas are $1.79, but only $1.59 if you buy at least six. Six Two-liter bottles. C'mon. Do I get a caddy with that?

In that Allstate commercial about living on a tight budget, I had to look up what “ramen” noodles were. Is that a new word, or are simple TV ads getting to complicated for my aging mind to comprehend?

Well, that opens up a little more space in my head for now. I hope I can fill it with more useful information in the future. (But let's not hold our breath on that.)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Fantasy Football Confessions

Let me start out by confessing that the fantasies of my younger days were certainly more interesting, and infinitely more embarrassing, than any that mere fantasy football could possibly provide.

(Although my choice of Duce Staley in the sixth round after he had already retired a few years ago continues to be a substantial source of embarrassment to me, and more fun than a barrel of Dolphins for everyone else in my league.)

If you have known me for a long time, and are female, a millionaire, or both of those, you may even have been a part of these earlier fantasies. Those I will keep to myself.

The years wear on and we take our thrills where we can get them, don't we?

And there are thrills to be had in fantasy football, I can assure you. I have won a game that I had trailed at one time by 26 points when my kicker hit a 55-yard field goal as time expired in the week's last game on Monday Night.

I have lost a game when my opponent's tight end (playing for the Steelers) stepped in front of my wide receiver (playing for the Steelers), and caught a touchdown. That's my six points taken from me and added to him. You can see this coming, right? I lost by ten points.

As a die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fan, I am keenly interested in what takes place within the NFC East division. That has always been the case. Pre-fantasy football, I was only slightly less interested in the rest of the NFC, since those teams stand in our path to the Super Bowl (so far, except for two years, they have stood there very successfully).

Pre-fantasy football, you could measure my interest in AFC teams like the Buffalo Bills or the Cleveland Browns (oddly, both of those teams are named after people, but I digress) with a teaspoon.

That is no longer the case. This year, one of my two starting running backs is C.J. Spiller, who plays for the Buffalo Bills. I was not exactly sure just who C.J. Spiller was, but my brother Dan, who is my co-owner/co-coach/co-general manager (I prefer those titles to co-nerd or co-geek) liked him. C.J. Spiller scored a touchdown on the opening week of the season.

Go, Dan! Go, Buffalo!!

Fantasy football also allows the common fan to show a little sentiment.

As an Eagles fan, I had gotten my mind all set and my brain all washed to welcome in the Kevin Kolb Era last year. He was going to be the quarterback to take advantage of the quick reads and short passing game that had been Donovan McNabb's weaker points for the past decade.

I bought in 100 percent. I was happy to see him seem to show those qualities early on. However, in the first game of last season, Kolb got crushed by a Green Bay linebacker, and second-team quarterback Michael Vick took over.

Kevin, we hardly knew ye.

Vick turned out to be rejuvenated and too remarkable a talent not to play every week. Kolb recovered but was relegated to the bench. It was the right move for the Eagles, no doubt, but I felt bad for the guy whose only mistake was getting injured.

So this year, Dan and I drafted Kevin Kolb (who was eventually traded to the Arizona Cardinals) as our back-up quarterback.

On The Bonecrushers (our team is named after the real-life football team that our grandfather played for), he's still second-team behind Green Bay's star QB Aaron Rogers … we're sentimental, not stupid. But at least we feel like he's one of “our boys.”

So I guess I've come to the confessions part of “Fantasy Football Confessions.” Here goes …

As a guy who played some actual football a couple of generations ago, I think I almost … kind of … more or less … prefer the fantasy kind. I know that playing on the field is a lot of fun, and it provided me with some of the most thrilling moments that I have ever experienced in my life.

That's all on the good side of playing the game. But I'll leave you with the one advantage that fantasy football has over actual football, that actual football can never overcome …

No practice.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Your Godfather Glossary

As hard as it may be to believe (and it certainly is for me), 2012 will mark the 40th anniversary of the release of Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather.

Before this landmark film, almost no one had ever heard of Pacino, or Caan, and Brando was considered box office poison after his eccentricities had begun to outweigh the profitability of his films.

Just before he transformed himself into author Mario Puzo's fictional Don Vito Corleone, Brando made a movie called The Nightcomers, a prequel to the Henry James classic “Turn of the Screw.”

Ever hear of it? That's what I mean.

Besides resurrecting or sparking the careers of a generation of Italian-American actors (plus Robert Duvall as Irish/German adopted Corleone, Tom Hagen). The movie became more than a movie. It became part of our lives.

It was almost as if Clemenza's adult education course, “Basics of the Whack 101,” (“I left the gun noisy. That way it scares any pain-in-the-ass innocent bystanders away.”) or Vito's last tango among the tomato plants were imbedded into our own memories.

Where women (and some men) have Gone With the Wind; men (and some women) have The Godfather.

And a major effect of a movie that weaves itself into the culture is that it can change that culture forever. That is indisputably the case with The Godfather, as evidenced by how many lines from the film became part of the American English lexicon.

So as a service to the younger readers, who may have only a vague notion of what these expressions mean or where they originated, (and to beat the 40-year anniversary rush) I offer just a few examples of terms that were either invented or changed by the film:

“I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse.”
Vito's answer when family friend singer/actor Johnny Fontane tells him that getting the part in the movie that he wants is impossible, because the head of the studio hates him.

Before the Don tossed off these words (and we saw what he meant a short time later in a little incident with a horse's head), “an offer you can't refuse” was usually a good thing. It meant that something almost too good to be true was offered. Maybe free tickets to a ballgame or a sublet to a rent controlled apartment.

After, and forever since, any benign meaning was completely lost. The most common reaction to hearing this sentence these days is to pack up the loved ones, change your identity and skip town.

“Leave the gun; take the canoli.”
Pete Clemenza to Rocco, after they have killed Paulie for conspiring with Sollozzo in an unsuccessful attempt to have the Don killed.

Loyal Corleone capo Clemenza was always teaching. Here he sets priorities for a whack done in a professional manner. Even four decades later, very few of us can hear the word “canoli” without thinking of this scene. Go ahead, try it next time the word pops up.

Also, when asked by Sonny later how Paulie was, Pete uttered the immortal words, “Oh, Paulie … won't see him no more.”

“Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.”
Clemenza explains that Luca's bulletproof vest, delivered with a deceased fish inside, means that Vito's most loyal soldier is dead.

Note how much better this sounds than the more common “sleeps with the fish” would. Maybe that's why it's caught on so extensively. Today you can hear people use the phrase in ways that Clemenza would never have dreamed.

“Remember our Science teacher, Mr. Linden? I just heard he sleeps with the fishes.”

“That promotion I was up for? Looks like it sleeps with the fishes.”

“Who ate that pie I was saving in the fridge??!!”
“Oh, that pie sleeps with the fishes.”

… and even “We went away on vacation and now little Tommy's goldfish sleeps with the fishes.”

“Today I settled all family business.”
Michael to his brother-in-law Carlo, who he knows set up Sonny's execution for the Barzini family.

“Settling all family business” has become a colorful (and slightly ominous) way of saying that you're not taking any more crap about the subject at hand. This might be anything from:

A literal interpretation: “Today I settle all family business. I want a divorce, you take the kids and I'm moving to Marlon Brando's old island near Tahiti.”

To managing the Washington Nationals: “Today I settle all family business, Ankiel is back to pitching, Werth shaves and it's three hours of infield practice every day.”

“I hope that their first child is a masculine child.”
A nervous, tongue-tied Luca Brasi to Vito Corleone at his daughter's wedding.

It might be politically incorrect these days to hope for one gender over the other, but Luca was what you might call old school. You would think that he meant to wish the Godfather a grandson, and just mixed up “masculine” with “male” or “boy.” But even when he was rehearsing he said “masculine” … so it seems like he was wishing the Don a Sonny-like grandson as opposed to a Fredo-like one.

This quote is guaranteed to get you a laugh and a pat on the back when spoken to any fan of the movie who is expecting a child or grandchild.

“Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me.”
Vito Corleone to Bonasera the undertaker, who wants revenge for his daughter's brutal beating.

Did anybody really think that day would never come? But how the undertaker evened the score is one of the most touching scenes in the film. Not by stashing a body. Not by switching corpses, as Bonasera must surely have expected.

Instead, Don Corleone tearfully asks him to use his skills on Sonny's body after he's been shot about a hundred times, so his mother doesn't have to see him like that.

“You've gotta get up close like this and bada-bing, you blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit!”
Sonny explaining to Michael that killing Sollozzo and police Captain McCluskey won't be like killing people from far away in a war.

The strip club in The Soprano's wasn't named the “Bada-Bing” by accident. Whether that expression was an Italian thing, or a New York thing or a mob thing … now it's an all-over-the-world thing.

It translates to something like “voila!” or “there you have it”! Dictionary.com defines it as “an expression used to suggest that something can be done with no difficulty or delay.”

So today you can hear statements like:

“Sure, my brother gives dance lessons on the side. Just call him up and bada-bing, you're doing Swan Lake by Friday.”

Or …

“Vote for me for U.S. Senate, and I promise that bada-bing, you get a balanced budget ... no questions asked.”

Of course, these are just a very few of the quotes you'll recognize the next time you see the movie. There are quite a few to be found in The Godfather II, as well. But take my advice, and skip the third installment if you love the first two.

I say that for many reasons, but the easiest to explain is that when Coppola could not convince Robert Duvall to reprise his role as Tom Hagen in the third film, he brought in a new character played by … George Hamilton.

I think that's all you need to know.