Monthly Archives: May 2009

We Got Us Some Game!


Jay, Craig and the smartest, most talented, atheletically gifted kids in the whole wide world!

I may have mentioned I am not a fan of balls (footballs, baseballs, etc.) but I am a fan of my children.  At least that’s what I tell people.
Because I raised my two older kids as a single parent, I got away with whispering in their ear that team sports were only for the “weird” kids.  And there was no one to tell them otherwise.  Not so this time around.  Max and Sam have kicked and thrown and run their way from the hospital, in which they were born, all the way to this year’s basketball league champions of the Inverness Park District.  All with the overwhelming support of their father.

This is what I get for thinking

I originally thought the basketball thing would be a good idea because the boys would be gone for practices and games.  The added bonus was that as their coach, Craig would too.  Now, if I give you the impression that I don’t care to spend quality sports time with my family, then I have hit the mark.  It’s true.  After 28 years of raising kids and another 11 to go, I value the little privacy I have.  If I can steal an hour or two to catch up on Rock of Love Bus Tour (with Brett Michaels – no less), I unabashedly take it.

Our community is fairly small so most of the kids on our “Turquoise” basketball team were either classmates or friends, and Roger and Jay, the other two coaches, are neighbors.  But, what started out as a friendly instructional league, (think wiping away tears and kissing boo boo’s) turned into an all out gladiator battle complete with a fight to the death.  Worse, I wholeheartedly admit that I became part of the mob scene rooting for the lion to tear the limbs from the nine-year old boys on the opposing “Fuchsia” team.

2-4-6-8 Shout!  Chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out!

This is somewhat surprising as I usually could give a rat’s fig as to who wins any game.  But I think I smelled blood and this stirred some primal instinct, hidden under layers of latte’s and biscotti, that rose to the surface and spurred me on to places I’ve only imagined.
This didn’t happen overnight.  During most of the season, I held court with Sue and Liz in the coveted “coaches wives” section, not paying a whole lot of attention.  We shouted out the obligatory “atta boy” every now but spent most of the time catching up on the latest gossip.  But as the season progressed and the “turquoise” team rose in the ranks, we couldn’t help but be drawn into the web of excitement that surrounded our athletically gifted young boys.

We ran with the exhilaration that our husbands emoted.  During the week, emails flew back and forth between the coaches, twenty, thirty, forty, a day, discussing the various pros and cons of the “picks”  the boys could set (I have since learned that “pick” is a fancy name for a rehearsed “play”) .  To throw off the other team, Jay and Roger cleverly decide to name the picks after animals and more than twice, I would hear Craig saying something like “Let’s do the Capuchin monkey after the Bengal tiger.  I really like the monkey.”  They would meet at the local watering hole to discuss in-depth, the strengths of the various third-graders who could best execute the orangutan or the snow leopard.

You don’t win the silver, you lose the gold!

Their hard work paid off and the boys finished in second place.  But hold on to your hats gang – the best is yet to come.  And that would be the playoffs.  I am usually morally opposed to any playoffs because I hate them, but not this time.  I found myself grilling my exhausted boys at bedtime, pushing them to recite the moluccan cockatoo parrot pick just one more time.

The day of the big game was cold but sunny.  Anxiety hung in the air and I found myself snapping at Craig and the boys for no reason other than the joy I felt at their discomfort.  The nervous energy exuded from my pores and I cleaned the refrigerator in record time while the cookies baked in the oven.  I realized, in my own special way, I was putting on my game face.

I knew we had a good chance at winning the semi-final game, but it was the championship against the dreaded “Taupe” team that had me eating Oreos two at a time.  They were good, but it was their coach that really burned my basket balls.  All the parents disliked the loud obnoxious dad that had the nerve to scout the other teams, which by the way, is clearly against the rules.  When Roger and Craig and Jay went to see teams with none of their sons on them, it was always out of pure love for the game.

Get in there and win, damnit!

The boys easily won their first game due to the fact that the other team’s best player was in the parking lot, vomiting.  Liz, Sue and I expressed our sympathies to our friends from the other team whose sons just couldn’t keep up without their star, but silently and gleefully jumped for joy at the good fortune that had fallen our way.
The championship game was a close one.  The lead went back and forth but at half-time we found ourselves down by eight points – unacceptable by any stretch of the imagination.  Liz and I decided that this wouldn’t be the case if we were coaching and we criticized our husband’s ability to do even the simplest of tasks correctly.  Meanwhile, Roger and Sue were on the sidelines engaged in a heated discussion and when she returned to the stands she commented that there was going to be hell to pay that night.  Things were not going well.

The second half was a nail biter – I literally chewed off two of my acrylics while our boys amazingly made the four baskets needed to tie the game.  The din of the cheering parents grew increasing louder as the tension sky-rocketed and I barely managed to utter a few words of advice to the ref before he looked at me, put his finger to his mouth and pointed to the door.  But we were not to be deterred and I firmly believe that it was our incessant screaming that drove the boys to victory that cold spring day.

Pain is only temporary, but victory is forever

Then there were the parties, the ice cream, the trophies, and the trip to the emergency room for Sue and Roger.  Apparently their son had broken a bone in his foot, but like any gladiator worth his salt – he carried on.  My husband repeated every play of the game to anyone who glanced in his general direction and after hearing it myself four times, I reminded him I was there.
We still cherish the memories but I’m back to generally despising balls and any game in which they are used.  Until next year’s championship.  Then I’m in for the kill.

Fear of Flying

So I’m flying back from LA and I end up sitting next to a real live hippy.  A throw back from the seventies, complete with a bushy salt and pepper beard, small round glasses, a Grateful Dead shirt and yes, there is a story here.

This is Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead

This is Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead - the original hippy!

If you don’t already know this about me, I despise flying and only do so when a number of conditions have been met.  First, I must have a gun to my head.  Second, I must be fully medicated and lastly, I must do so alone – as a general rule,  Craig and I don’t fly together.  I have passed on weddings in Hawaii, bar mitzvahs in Cleveland and spring breaks anywhere we can’t drive.  I’m lucky my husband has more phobias than me or I might find myself on eharmony once again.

My seat-mate is starring straight ahead, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he will soon be puting his life into the hands of complete strangers.  I notice he orders his first drink before we even begin the safety instructions and it is crystal clear to me that I will not be able to count on him should I need oxygen or help with my seat cushion/water vest.  When he throws that drink back and orders another, I make a bold decision, one I have not made in years, but one I know is the right one – I decide to not take my medication.  Not only might I be called upon to assist in a search and rescue mission and need to have a clear head, but I am taking a big step, one that my therapists (yes plural) would be proud of.  I reluctantly put the valium away.

Could I fly this plane?

I keep myself very busy with Sudoku through the takeoff, but it is an extremely nerve-racking time and I’m not happy.  I’m convinced the pilot has violated his vow not to drink during the last 24 hours and I can’t get the picture of him staggering around a strip-club out of my head.  It’s only when we reach 36 thousand feet, well past the threat of geese, that I can even begin to work on my goodbye message, the one I leave my children when the engines quit.

It’s a long flight from LA to Chicago and inevitably you must speak to your neighbor, either as you climb across his lap to use the bathroom or as he leans across yours struggling to see the Grand Canyon.  I broke the ice first.

“So where you from?” I ask my flying partner. 

He’s mumbles he’s from LA and something else, but I can’t make it out.  I nod my head like I agree and wonder if the co-pilot is a dope fiend that has managed to slip through the system, undected.  I mention good-naturedly that I don’t care much for flying and my neighbor says it “don’t bother him a bit, been doing it for years”.  I ask him what he does for a living and when he speaks it’s slow and deliberate. 

Hard to believe they're in their sixties!

Hard to believe they're in their sixties! It's called living la vida loca, baby!

He tells me he’s the tour manager for the  Billy Joel and Elton John  Face2Face concert tour.  This surprises me.  Having been in the “business” for a number of years and met my share of tour managers, he did not fit the stereotype of a sharp, astute administrator, who was generally the only one not drunk or high.

Another Conundrum

But this is good for me.  I have a puzzle to figure out – one that is forcing me not to dwell on the flight attendant’s ditzyness (I can’t belleive she’s qualified to react in an emergency situation,  Where’s Sully and his crew when I need them?) and I dive right in.

“Really,” I say.  “What exactly do you do?”

Well, he mumbles, he’s not the actual tour manager.  He’s the assistant.  He’s the assistant, but really more like a personal assistant to Billy Joel.  He’s been with him for years, been in the business since the late sixties.

Now things are making sense to me.  He’s a glorified gofer.  I can easily see him in this position, picking out scantily dressed women from the audience, running to get more sequins for a costume, directing the caterers to pick out the brown M&M’s from the candy dish.  But as benign as he appears, it’s apparent what living forty years of a rock n’roll life-style have done; he has that detached personality of one who sees the world revolving around aging men not willing to give up wine, women and song.

Sing me a song, Piano Man

Nevertheless, I have nothing against the “Piano Man”,  and his assistant and I share war stories.  He shows me the official tour book and points out when they will be in the Chicago area.  Somehow talk turns to Van Halen’s former lead singer, David Lee Roth, and the “bimbo brigade” he has paraded through his dressing room after his show (three lucky girls get to stay!).  

Billy doesn’t do that, he tells me.  But he does have some hot girls picked from the nose-bleed seats and moved to the reserved area directly in front of the stage.

“Really?” I say encouragingly.

“Well,” he continues,” Billy’s married.  It’s not for him”
“Of course not,” I reply.  I do know his current wife is his daughter’s age.

“It’s for the guys in the band.  He does it so they can play to some pretty girls.  You know, they’re on the road for weeks at a time and he just wants them to have something nice to look at.”

“That’s so thoughtful,” I tell him.

“He’s that kind of a guy,” he replies.

“Sounds like a dreamboat.” I wondered how many times he’s been married.  “You should write a book,” I tell him, thinking all kinds of devious publisher thoughts.

“A what?”

“A book.  You  know, share the great stories of all the legends you have worked with.”  My mind was spinning with the possibilities.

“I do have some doozys,” he drawled,  ”I remember this one time, I was working with Joni Mitchell, and we were on a plane…”

I cut him off.  “Is this a scary plane story?”

“Yeah, we almost crashed.”

“Um, we’re going to have to put that on hold until we land,” I said, clenching my teeth.  “I don’t care much for flying.”

“But it has a happy ending,” he added, coughing that scary throaty cough.

“Evidently.  But I’m not interested in hearing it now.  Really.   Maybe when we land.”  I was jerked back to reality and it occurred to me that I could be spending my last few minutes with the roadie next door.  Would we hold hands and pray together?

He was quiet for a bit and it was obvious our relationship had changed.  When lunch was delivered and I asked him a few more questions, he told me point-blank he wanted to eat undisturbed.  Ouch.  I guess that’s one book deal that we’ll never get.

But that’s par for the rock-star course.  I’ll never meet Billy Joel unless I happened to get plucked from the nose-bleed section and I have a feeling, even though I’m a number of years his junior, I’m still too old for him.

Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll

My first impression of Rosemary Russell was that of a sweet grand-motherly type.  She was a bespectacled, rotund lady with an engaging smile and tight curly gray hair.  I later found out that it was a wig – the result of numerous chemo treatments, but at the time, she was just my new friend, Kelly’s, mom.


Rosemary "Potty Mouth" Russell

Kelly had offered me a ride home from school one day in ninth grade.  When her parent’s car pulled up and I saw Rosemary, my initial thought was that she was Kelly’s grandmother – she was that much older than most of the mom’s I knew – certainly mine.  But Kelly had been born when her mother was almost forty-three, ancient at that time, and had an older sister, Char, who was fifteen years her senior.

 I was even more astonished when Kelly opened the driver’s door and told her mother to “move your sweet ass over so I can drive.”  I waited in shock for Rosemary to morph into a gargoyle and swallow Kelly’s head, but she just smiled good-naturedly and slid over.  As we cruised to my house, I listened in amazement as mother and daughter carried on a less than g-rated conversation, fraught with just about every four-letter word I had ever heard.   Apparently, swearing was not an issue in the Russell household.

I am not a prude.  I enjoy profanity as much as the next gal, but I was much more selective in choosing my audience.  Hell, when I was eight, we even had a “swear swing,” that required the user, as they pumped to the highest heights, to change the words of popular tunes to reflect every four-letter word they knew  (A few that spring to mind – “Raindrops Keep #&^*ing up My Head” and “Bridge Over  *$#& ed up Water”).

But my parents were never big on “potty mouths” and swearing was frowned upon in our household, more as a rule of etiquette rather than a decree of morality.  And it wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that I had the courage, as I was driving away in my VW Beetle, to yell  out the  window,  “F$%# off!” to my angry parents.


Party on, Wayne!

What did bother Rosemary were drugs and alcohol.  She was fervently opposed to any contraband and her rule was that none was to be allowed in her house.  Now, I will vehemently deny that Kelly and I were involved in any alcohol or illegal substance activity, but I will give up the fact that my boyfriend, Dan was.  He was a pot-smoker, and one night he left his pot pipe in the cushions of the couch after an all night party at Kelly’s that many of our friends had attended.
Kelly and I were working furiously to get the spilled candle wax out of the rug (place newspaper over the mess and use a hot iron on the paper – soaks the wax right up), when Dan knocked on the door.  Rosemary, an RN, had just returned home from the night-shift at the hospital, and was relaxing on the couch with a cup of Earl Grey as she watched me and Kelly iron the carpet.

I knew what Dan had come for.  The pipe was his favorite piece of paraphernalia and he wanted it back.  The trick would be working around Rosemary’s imposing figure.

“Good Sunday morning, Dan.  How’s your mother?” Rosemary smiled sweetly as she took a sip from her cup.

“Uh, she’s fine.”  I could feel Dan’s eyes on me as he looked for support, but I kept my head down and focused on a particularly stubborn hunk of wax.
“You’re up early.  Here to help with the carpet cleaning?”
“Um, no, but um, I think I left my . . . wallet, yeah, my wallet, here last night.  Did anyone find it?”  Again I felt Dan’s eye’s on my back.  Again, I ignored him.

“Feel free to look around,” Rosemary offered.  “What does it look like?”
“You know – just normal.  Black I think.”  Dan began to crawl around the room on his hands and knees peering under the sofa and behind the plant.

“Where do you think you left it?”

“I guess it could be anywhere,” Dan continued, as he lifted a pillow from a chair.

“Could it be in the sofa?” Rosemary said.  “Could this be it!”

She dramatically reached in the folds of her nightgown and pulled out the pipe then triumphantly thrust it into the air.  “Is this what you’re looking for?  Is this your wallet, Dan?”  She glared at him over her silver cat-eyes.
By this time, Kelly and I had sat back on our heels, absorbed in the cat and mouse game playing out in front of us.

He looked at me but I just shrugged my shoulders.  I wasn’t about to get involved in this situation that would most certainly entail a protracted discussion on the evils of marijuana.  He was on his own.

At that point, Dan must have decided that the best defense was a good offense.  “That’s mine, Rosemary,” he said in the bravest voice he could muster.

“Not anymore, mister.  You know how I feel about doing the pot.  You broke my rules.  It’s now my marijuana … smoking … thing …”  She tucked the pipe in her ample bosom.

“But, Rosemary,” Dan protested.  “That cost ten dollars.  It’s my best pipe – I got it in Mexico.”

“I know dear.  I’m sorry.”  But she didn’t look sorry.
She waited patiently for a moment before Dan lost the stare down, then she closed the deal.  “Dan, will you please give your mother my regards when you go home?”

Dan got the hint and left, mumbling under his breath, knowing that not only had he lost his best pipe, but that Rosemary had gotten the best of him.

“You girls need to finish up,” she said cheerily as she drained the last of her tea.  “We need to have another little chat about the rules.”

We groaned, but knew we were getting off easily.  There was so much more that she didn’t know.  If she did, a lecture wouldn’t be the punishment.

After a drawn out fight, Rosemary Russell lost her battle with breast cancer and passed away when I was twenty-three.  She always wanted us to remember the happy circumstances of her life, rather than the sad ones of her death.  This is a Rosemary story that always cracks me up.