Sunday, October 31, 2010

Youthful Adventures - Sweaty hands and a rotary phone Part II

As promised, published a little early, thank you for sharing and commenting too....

When we last left our Hero, he had been marred by an adolescent  crush, and his inability to move the relationship forward.  How does he extract himself from this predicament?  Does he somehow gain insight into a deeper meaning because of it all?  We need only to dial the years forward a little to find out (just like that rotary phone).....

     Years passed, I married a local girl, but not the cheerleader.  She married her high school sweetheart, not me.  We ended up working together on one of the high school reunions and as luck would have it we both arrived early one night for a planning session and had a few minutes to talk.  We both were happily married and exchanged stories and pictures of our kids and their exploits.  At some point, I reminded her of my call to her, and she had no recollection of it, ouch.  What she said next, however, was a total shocker.  She said that she had been shy in high school, not very athletic which was why she cheered (the sport now barely resembles cheering like we knew in the 70's and 80's). She said that she suffered the same teenage angst as I did.  If I got the story right, she dated 2 times, and married the second guy she dated.  What an epiphany I had at that moment!!  Wait, ALL kids have teenage angst?  Popularity doesn't stop it?  Good looks don't prevent it? Money doesn't solve it?  This was huge information, too late for me to use in high school, but not too late for me to share it with my children and the world.  And share it I did.

     I told my daughter, Molly  Prior to high school and during those years I reminded her of this.  I think it helped her to get more comfortable in her skin.  Ironically she became the smart, athletic, popular and beautiful cheerleader.  She reached the upper echelons of popularity in her school, but was unaware of it.  Her social circles and dates included kids from all over the social pyramid in the school.  I used to accuse her of bringing home strays.  All through her life, she picked up these kids, like some people collect cats.  What a kind heart she had, and has.  She did it all with a confidence that I did not know at her age.  In 3rd grade she opened a chorus concert in front of a packed auditorium singing a few lines a cappella, and never missed a note.  In her last couple of years of high school, prior to cheering for the basketball and football teams, she would go to center court/field and sing the National Anthem.  She amazed her mother and I.  She graduated near the top of her class, earned a great merit scholarship and is now pursuing a nursing career at the University at Buffalo.  The nursing profession will benefit from her, of that I am sure.  For the last year, she has dated a non-athletic guy who is kind of geeky, imagine that (we like him too).  Anecdotal as it is, it seems that the advice worked.

     I told my son Dan.  Dan is finishing up his last year of high school now, and he is, quite simply, tearing it up.  If I listed all the accolades he has received, you would swear I was making them up.  The partial list includes N.H.S., Boys State, President of Leadership Class, and Eagle Scout.  Last week he got voted Most Likely to Succeed (incidentally I got voted most talkative, I lived up to expectations, we'll see how Dan does).

He is not as humble as Molly, that is not his nature.  He loves a good debate and is leaning towards law or political science. He hasn't dated as much but is currently dating a sweet girl, and I've never seen a high school student that handles relationships with the maturity and respect that he does. He also casts his net wide with his circle of friends.  It seems, the advice has helped him too.

     I told my son Nolan.  Nolan is 10.  To say Nolan makes friends easily is to vastly understate his ability.  Nolan can interact with any person, of any age, in any setting.  He makes a point to walk down and visit his Grandmother, unprompted, on a weekly basis.  Last week we visited Molly at college and Nolan got along so well with some students that he got invited back to a college party (He was pretty upset when Mom wouldn't let him go).   Two weeks ago he was elected to lead the Hall Boy Scout Troop, and he is the youngest member of the Troop. He is the most comfortable in his skin of all my kids, and it's a little scary to think where this will take him.  He has been "dating" a girl for a little over a year now.  Sufficed to say, it seems to have helped him too.

Nolan in Richmond this spring
     I told a complete stranger on a plane back from Dallas at 20,000 feet one time.  A mother placed her teenage daughter next to me on the plane and for a long part of the flight I listened to her story of entering high school and the trials and tribulations that she had thus far endured.  It was wrought with raw emotion and angst.  When she finished, I told her my story, and she seemed to accept it as fact.  I could visibly see some of the worry leave her face as she pondered the new data.  As I was leaving the plane, her mother thanked me profusely.  The Director of HR for Paychex was sitting adjacent to us, and handed me his card as we left the plane.  He invited me to come in and interview for a sales position.  I politely declined and handed him back his card (I like that company, but they are a little stiff for me). 

     So I suffered a little hurt long ago, but because my cheerleading friend shared her story with me, I have been able to help friends, family, and strangers alike.   It's a bargain I would make again any day....but wait it gets even better.  My wife and I found ourselves attending a wedding a little while ago, and my cheerleading friend and her husband attended also.  At one point we were all on the dance floor and they started inviting couples that were married for certain lengths of time to remain on the floor.  The 5 year mark passed, the 10, the 15, and even the 20 and the 4 of us were still dancing.  It turns out that we all have been married for 23 years now and very happily.  There weren't many other couples on the floor as we left, which I found a little sad.  We count this couple among our friends now and we try to get together for dinner now and again, but it seems like it is never often enough.  They are raising two beautiful girls, and it is clear to me, from the outside looking in, that they have found their soul mates.  How cool is that?

     I think I made out pretty well myself.  I married a beautiful girl who was kind of shy.  Over the years we challenged each other to stretch our comfort zones.  I watched her take leadership roles on committees and in organizations like Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.  She's the humble one in our relationship.  My second epiphany happened only a short time ago, when I reflected what it has been like to be married to me.  I'm flirtatious, opinionated, egotistical, and a little divisive. This combination can cause conflicts with people, but every time it does, she has my back.  I've even had a couple of periods of unemployment in my life and during each of them, she stood steadfastly behind me (even when I gave the card back to the Paychex guy, when I wasn't working).
Friends celebrating in the Garaj-Mahal

Last year, I won an award at work that was under-celebrated, and my wife, realizing my efforts and my love of attention, organized a surprise party for me. What an absolutely perfect life partner she has been for me.  So in closing, you know, years ago I failed to get the date I wanted, but years later, there is no doubt in my mind that I ended up marrying my biggest cheerleader.  Come to think of it, my hands were sweaty that day too.

Char and I dancing this summer.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Youthful Adventures - Sweaty hands and a rotary phone

I didn't date much in High School. My brother Ace, who was 4 years older than me seemed to have an endless parade of girls coming to the house on a regular basis, but that wasn't the case with me.  It took me a while to get comfortable in my own skin, a truth that most people who have met me as an adult will struggle with, but it is the truth nonetheless.  I could have been uncomfortable with my social status, or insecure with my looks, or just plain unsure and uninformed on how to start this process called dating, hell it could have been those red jeans of mine, but the point remains, I didn't reach out much to the opposite sex in my first few years of school.  When I did, however, boy did it make a nice blog.

     Towards the end of my sophomore year I had developed a nice group of friends in school. Although I never reached the pinnacles of popularity at Canandaigua Academy, I could see it from my house (Thanks Sarah).  My circle of school friends intersected at a couple of spots with some popular kids, and in my eyes, that was enough.  Truth be told, from where I started in my social status, with almost no one knowing me, to where I was that year, with a few popular people knowing my name, it seemed a huge leap.  Only years later did I realize how ridiculous these self-perceived barriers were, but also how common and widespread the belief or misconception, but I digress...   I'm 2 paragraphs in and I haven't even introduced the main character, Jeez I'm slipping.

     I had met her in a few classes in my freshman year, and wound up at a table during study hall with her most of my sophomore year.  She was better friends with my best friend Dan, as they grew up down the road from each other, but that year, I got to know her better with that 45 minutes each day.  Our group would frequently be gently chastised by the school librarian for laughing a little too much, or too loudly, but honestly I think Mr. Chapman liked overhearing our stories or jokes, so the rebukes were short and well spaced.  It was during this time that I developed my interest in this girl and started my plan to try and move our relationship from friendship to something more.  It was a huge risk and a move seldom tried in high school, as she was at the top of the popularity pyramid, and I was still placing my blocks at the bottom.  I was a geeky, non athletic, poor kid, who wore red jeans and smelled like a fry cook.  She was a smart, beautiful, head cheerleader, popular girl, who came from a fairly affluent family, and she smelled like flowers.  It was an epic mismatch (in my eyes), and the ending of this story surely writes itself, or does it?
     The end of that school year I started to ponder the best way to approach
Not me, not her, but you get the picture.
her.  My options for a first date were limited, I had little money, no car or license, and she lived out of town and I lived in the center of it.  She didn't seem the type to accept a ride on the handlebars of my bike, although she was athletic enough to do it.  The months passed and no good opportunity presented itself, or my lack of courage stalled me from moving forward with my plan.  The summer came and those months started to ebb away too, until finally it was August and my church festival was a week away.  It then dawned on me that this could be the perfect first date.  Hadn't I seen her at the festival before?  Sure I had.  It was walkable for me, and her family would surely be attending.  It was well within my budget and it had rides like Ferris Wheels, that would put us in close proximity.  If I could get her there, with me, couldn't I charm her enough to start this dating thing?  I thought I could, I only had to reach out and invite her..... over the telephone!

     You need a little background on my parent's house and the telephone technology that existed at that time.  The phones of the day were heavy and had big dials on them. You would put your finger in the corresponding number and dial it to the end, and then release it to turn back so you could dial the next one.  You hated people that had 9's in their numbers.  My parents had one phone, mounted on a wall in the center of the house, with an upstairs vent conveniently placed nearby to deny any user any semblance of privacy.  It was at this phone that I found myself one evening, with hands so sweaty that it was tough to get the friction I needed to turn the rotary dial.  I had put this off long enough, I was now determined to do this thing.  No guts, no glory I thought, and a hundred other idioms that would give me courage.  I lifted the receiver, listened for the the loud dial tone and dialed the first number.
"WHO'S ON THE PHONE" bellowed my Dad from the living room.  "I have to call a friend for a minute"  I yelled back, my voice cracking slightly.  I dialed the second number (dammit, a 9!).  The dial took forever to come back from that one, and meantime a brother entered the room.  "Who ya calling" he asked, "just Dan", I lied and he passed through on the way to another room.  I dialed the 3rd number, man was it hot that summer?  And so it went for the next 15 minutes, with me starting to dial the number, hanging up, restarting, answering my siblings inquiries as to my intentions, and then finally when the coast seemed clear, I got the whole number dialed and it started to ring.  My heart was beating as fast as it ever had at that point in my life, and wasn't its position supposed to be lower that my throat?  Her Father answered and I squeaked out a "Hello, is *** there?  The dining room was suddenly full of my curious siblings, with the all knowing smirks on their faces (you know I have 11 right?). OK, they weren't all really there, but it seemed like it.  When she came to the phone, I stuttered through my well thought out semi-soliloquy (I had to get it all out before she could say no, right?) It went something like this..."

Hi  ***, listen, I was wondering if you were going to the St. Mary's festival this weekend, I think you've gone before, right, I was planning on going there too, and was wondering if we might go together and catch up since we haven't seen each other since June, if your folks could bring you in, I can meet you there and we can hang out and maybe do some rides, and games, and I don't have a curfew so we can stay until the end if you want, I can pay of course what do you say?"   

This may well have been the longest run on sentence of my life, over a hundred words tumbled out and they did it all in a matter of a few seconds.  The pause that followed was equally as long.  Her voice that came back was sweet, polite, but ultimately firm and she said " Oh, I don't think we are going this year, but thank you for asking".  We finished with some small talk and the obligatory "maybe another time" but my words were no longer rushed and my heart had moved lower into the pit of my stomach.  The crowd around me dissipated and then the worry started about whether I had endangered a friendship that I enjoyed by trying to move it further.  I went to the festival and saw her across the midway, but carefully avoided her all night to save us both the embarrassment of seeing each other there.  When September came, it took a little while for our friendship to return to it's previous position, but it happened, and this call became a distant memory for me, painful as it seemed at the time.  High School is like that, every emotion seems overwhelming, every event the most important one, and yet years later try to recall them all, and you can't.  How so many of us survive it is amazing in itself. 

     Now I teased a possible surprise ending to this story earlier, and maybe it is coming, but if it is, it is coming in Part 2 of "Sweaty hands and rotary phones"  If I get over 20 comments on Part 1, I will post it sooner (Yes, it's blackmail, but I like an interactive blog better).

To be continued......

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Swine Time.

Special thanks to my cousins Tim and Denise Mascal for all the pictures that they provided for this blog, and for their photogenic children.

     My family, over time, has instituted a lot of activities that force us to spend time together, we call them traditions.  Included in the list are, Guys Night Christmas Shopping, Thanksgiving, The Yarger Memorial Golf Tournament, The Progressive Dinner, and The Family Corn Roast and Reunion. The list is extensive, but incomplete as I have left out my favorite, which is the subject of this blog and is, my sister's annual Pig Roast. 

The Beaver (Beefer) Barn

     As usual in this blog, I will not name my siblings to shield their identities (For reference see "They call my brother Aquaman"), so this sister will forever appear in this blog as Meter Maid. She lives just south of Ithaca NY on a small 1,000 acre lot. Meter Maid started her Pig Roast over 12 years ago.  I suspect if she could have envisioned how it would have grown over time, she would have put the thought out of her head of ever starting it (well, at least her husband would).  She had the idea of a Fall day celebration where we would give thanks, allow the participants a chance to leaf-peep, and have the fellowship of her friends and family.   It worked, except her friends and family commandeered the party, expanded it to a weekend, and invited ourselves to stay for it's entirety.  A few years in, our relatives from the Boston area started making the trek in and staying.  In full swing, the event looks more like one of Hoover's Shanty Towns than anything else, but that's what you get when you invite some people to a party, especially Yargers.  This is all tongue in cheek as my sister is the most gracious hostess you will ever find and no one loves this event more than her, but as long as I am embellishing, I'll finish this paragraph with an exaggerated comparison.  Were you ever a member of the Columbia Record and Tape Club in the 70's?  No shame to admit it, after all they were marketing geniuses and we were teenagers.  For a penny you would get a ton of 8 tracks, records and tapes and only be obligated buy 12 more in order to fulfill your subscription.  Little did you know that they couldn't get the latest releases until 6 months after the traditional retailers, so you ended up with the likes of Shaun Cassidy and Leif Garrett in your collection.  You didn't really like them but you had to buy something; you were obligated.  I am proud to say that I am the Leif Garrett in my sister Meter Maid's, Pig Roast collection. 

The back view at Meter Maid's house
      My function at the Pig Roast has always been the same, cook and set up crew.  I can't remember the year that I didn't come down the night before and help secure the needed party items.  At first it was tables and chairs from the church, borrowed pots and pans from friends, and the always risky borrowing the pig cooker from a local redneck.  This particular gentleman had an affinity for drinking booze at the local American Legion on Friday afternoons.  We would arrive frequently to find an inebriated guy with a loaded shotgun demanding to know why were on his property in the dark and taking his pig cooker.  My brother in law spoke redneck a lot better than I did, so I would always defer to him to help diffuse the situation, Oh and he would stand between me and the shotgun, which I liked also.  Over time my sister invested in the items for the party, and my brother Ace and I invested in our own pig cooker, thereby saving the trouble of bothering the local redneck for his. We likely saved a pair or two of skivvies in the deal as well.

Ace's cooker front view open
 The cooker my brother built is worthy of a paragraph in itself.  He found a 13' former Army missile carrier in a scrap yard in Lodi, and he envisioned a pig cooker.  He carved out the missile housing and built a firebox on the end.  Above that he mounted a 4 foot restaurant grill and then he put the whole thing on an axle and installed a winch system for the cover.  It cooks as good as it looks, and I am a proud contributor to it's upkeep and maintenance.  I can't tell you how many whole hogs we have cooked on this bad boy, but I do know we never cooked a bad one.

So a typical Pig Roast now starts around 2 pm on Friday and finishes at 2pm on Sunday.  Since we don't have to run around to get the needed items, Friday night we help to set up the decorations, tap the keg, build a bonfire, drink from the keg, and so on.  Late in the evening, we put the pig on the grill and commence the cooking.  We are low and slow cookers (no jokes about mental aptitude or height please), we take about 14 hours to cook a whole hog.  Wood fire only for us.  We roast the pig, skin on, and cook it until the fat melts into the meat and becomes pulled pork.  We used to have to check the fire every 15 minutes, but we bought some electronics and some fans to help control the temperature, so we can now get 2-3 hours between checking and stoking the fire.  This means only one us technically has to stay up all night...NOT IT!  My brother Ace generally takes the bullet and it seems like less and less I stay up for the entirety of the cooking.

The Mascal children with the guest of honor at the Pig Roast.

The cooking crew pulling the pig.
  So Saturday rolls around, it's normally about 35 degrees when the morning starts and the dew/ice is thick when we awake.  Breakfast is fast on Saturday and we start the final preparations for the food.  The menu consists of pulled pork, chili, ham soup, clam chowder,pasta, beans, salt potatoes, salads, rolls, and all kinds of interesting dishes that the locals bring.  One time after cooking a pig we consecutively cooked a bear and a deer on the pig cooker, true story.  We serve between noon and 1, 100-150 people show up, and then the festivities start.  There is pumpkin decorating for the kids, a hayride, a cake wheel (bet on 9 the wheel is heavier there, trust me), music, a pinata, and the piece de resistance, a "Pink Pig" auction.  This developed over time and involves folks either wrapping a real or gag gift and then donating them to the auction.  For the better part of an hour people bid and outbid each other, only to unwrap a collection that could come from any garage sale on any block.  I swear one time, I got my own 8 tracks back (I knew they were mine cuz they had Shaun Cassidy singing Da Doo Ron Ron in them).  I never mind losing, as my sister, true to her nature, donates the proceeds to local charities (This year she donated $1,000, not too shabby).  I did mention the Pig Roast was free, right?  There is laughter and camaraderie, and another bonfire and we talk well into the evening.  The event has gone on so long, I remember one drunken argument with a nephew of mine about where he should attend school, and now enough time has passed that I have adopted his side of the argument and he has mine. He made it through graduate school a few years ago.   Good times.

Another view in back and a few of the participants.
Sunday morning comes and we generally wake up to the smell of country sausage and bacon.  Meter Maid's friend Jim and his family insist on sending us out with our bellies full, so we eat pancakes, sausage, bacon, home fries and eggs until we burst.  We waddle around pretending to clean up but actually load our vehicles with pumpkins, apples, gourds and homemade jams that Meter Maid has left conveniently around for us.  I almost got a weedeater this year, but was caught loading it in my car.  I always come away with more than I bring, but I don't know if that is the same for everyone or just me.  That's  how I roll. 

I always leave with the same two thoughts....   Why don't I visit my sister more often (it's an hour and a half away from my home), and how soon until the next Pig Roast?  The best parties always leave you feeling this way.  I'll finish with this invitation... If you ever find yourself in the Ithaca area (Wilseyville NY) on Columbus day weekend, and you smell some pork cooking, follow your nose and come join us for my sister's Pig Roast.  Meter Maid surely won't mind and hell, who knows, you might end up with a full stomach, a few laughs, a beer or two, and a great deal on some Shaun Cassidy 8 tracks.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Night of the Skittle Pancakes!!

I honestly don't know how it happened.  She grew up in a house where meals were cooked at multiple times each day.  I have been in the food business all my life and my wife is an excellent cook.  Molly passed by us both while we were chopping, peeling, battering, dicing, brining, roasting, sauteing, baking, and tasting.  Our trash can is not piled high with pizza boxes and styrofoam takeouts.  For 17 years she watched the process, but here she was about to go to college, and my daughter couldn't (or wouldn't) cook a thing.  So I simply asked her to plan and cook a meal for the family, once a week until she went away.  OK, I "asked" her like I "ask" my kids for anything, which is telling them to do it and expecting full and complete compliance. You've met me right?  In the house I grew up in, you had two choices for dinner, what was served or you went hungry.  Not surprisingly, my "request" was met with resistance and counter arguments.  I remember these classics, like "I'll just marry someone who cooks"  or "I'll just make enough money to hire someone to do it for me"  or the dreaded, "I will just eat Ramen, and pizza".  Now I could have backed down, but it's not my nature.  In a stubborn match I will win, and quoting from my son Dan, "You don't negotiate with terrorists", so the edict stood  (Dan is going to be an excellent parent, because he gets it already).  Which brings us to Skittle Pancake night...

     Day 7 of the first week had arrived and I was home from a trip.  I asked Molly if she had cooked for the family while I was gone, and the answer was no, so I "suggested" tonight would be the first night then.  After the obligatory rolling of the eyes, sighs, grunts, and assorted noises meant to show her displeasure, she arose from the couch and entered the kitchen.  I gave her space, less I squash her creative thought process.  I listened to the cupboards opening and closing, pots and pans clanging, drawers opening and closing, all mixed with the constant muttering.  I can't say for sure what she was saying, but I swear I heard things like "if he thinks I will ever..." and "I'll show him".  The word stupid got muttered a few times for sure. I read my paper, and laughed recalling the same type of deals with my Father, in which I was the mutterer, and he was the smug adult watching me do all the work.  You see, that's how it's supposed to work, they teach you how to parent, and you parent the same way.  Minor variations allowed.  I gave her space and after it sounded like she had started the process (PRO-cess, for my few Canadian fans who read this blog), I sauntered in for a preview. I knew we were in trouble when there were only 2 things on the counter, pancake mix and Skittles.

I hate breakfast for dinner, and she knew this.  I think it's cheating, and doesn't qualify as actually cooking dinner.  I know more than half of you are saying...  "oh, I really like that when we have pancakes, and waffles and stuff for dinner, it's so cute..."  Quit it. It's my blog, and my story so get with the program and hate breakfast for dinner too, or the post won't be near as funny.  There yet?  I'm waiting...  You did read up top that I win stubborn contests, right?  OK, good.  To continue.....

     I couldn't say anything, because she was following the rules I had set.  She had planned the dinner and was cooking it. I now felt compelled to watch.  She dutifully mixed the batter, and poured it onto our non-stick skillet, smirking all the while.  She then liberally sprinkled Skittles into the pancakes and let them melt.  It looked like a clown ate a box of crayons and threw up on my stove, but I couldn't say anything, because she was following the rules.  After the first couple, however, they started to stick.  The sugars caramelized and then burnt, and each subsequent Skittle pancake that came off the griddle, had less and less of a pancake shape and more burnt sugars attached to them.  It looked like a clown, ate a box of crayons, threw up on my stove and then spontaneously combusted.  It took the better part of an hour to make enough to feed the family, with the spatula getting a better workout each time. The last skittle pancake that came off of my formerly non stick skillet looked more like a pile of disassembled parts of something, than a pancake, but it was now time to serve dinner.
What I should have been eating, but at breakfast and sans Skittles.

The family gathered at the table with the multicolored discs set in the middle, yet no forks moved towards them.  Dan looked around for the hidden camera.  Nolan just stared.  Char looked back at me with a look that clearly said "Do you have to be like this? Now look what we have to eat."  I started loading my plate, and did the same for the rest of the family.  I took my first bite.  I'd like to say how delicious they were, how my daughter, on her first attempt at cooking had found the perfect mix of ingredients, to make an incredible dish, but I can't.  They were as horrid as you would expect them to be.  They tasted like a clown ate a box of crayons threw up on my stove, spontaneously combusted, got cold and congealed, and then jumped into my mouth.  They went together like Yoko Ono and singing.  Forks dropped around the table, with family members either offering false compliments or exclaiming how they had forgotten how big and late a lunch they had.  I, on the other hand, finished my plate.  I then asked for seconds.  You see in a stubborn contest, I will win, no matter if they might have to pump my stomach later, or not.  I also made Molly clean the dishes after.

     So she learned a few things whether she had intended to or not.  She eventually accepted the loss graciously and even bought me a chicken wing kit for us to cook together that summer.  By the next year, she started the "Sunday Night Supper Club" on her dorm floor where each room had to cook a meal on rotation for the other rooms.  Another time, I came home to find the house full of sauteed garlic and onion smell and Molly standing at the stove.  This week, she invited me to her home in Buffalo and cooked me a delicious meal.  You have to have to have some mad skills to make Tofu taste good, and now she does.  So, ending with a lesson, like I like to do, keep the faith, they do come around eventually, even if you have to choke down a Skittle pancake or two to make your point.

     I dedicate this blog to the cast of the original TV series Wild Wild West.  It was one of my favorites growing up and I loved that the titles always started with " The Night of...", as did this blog, this time.