Saturday, September 13, 2008

I’ve Never Been to Williamsport

Every August the sound of aluminum bats clanging as they hit baseballs makes its appearance in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Little leaguers from around the world gather to play in the annual event known as the Little League World Series. Back in 1961, we still used wooden bats, so the clanging was more like loud cracks when the bat struck the ball. As a 12-year-old boy in Zweibrucken, Germany, like 12-year-olds everywhere else, I grabbed my glove and headed over to the baseball diamond which was situated down the hill behind the Officer’s club. Our team was called the Orioles and was made up of kids whose fathers were in the military stationed in Zweibrucken - which means two bridges. My teammates included Frank Mills who played first base, Hector Conde at second, Tommy Doyle at third base, Joe Harmon on the mound, Robert Ames catching, Joe Hauser at shortstop, Ricky Westerman in Left, Richard Johnson in center and I was in right field. We practiced every chance we got and we were pretty good.

Our coach was a baseball fanatic who taught us how to win as a team, and we did. Anytime our pitcher who might have been Joe Harmon, Joe Hauser or Tommy Doyle, walked a batter, our catcher Robert would throw the ball to Frank at first. If the walked player was a hot dog and took an early lead, Frank who had the ball would just reach over and tag him out. (This is known as the hidden ball trick.) That season we only got one player out with it but the anticipation was always fun and made us concentrate on the game.

Coming of Age in Zweibrucken is a book now available from Amazon and describes my experiences living in Europe during the Cold War.

We didn’t win every game that year, but we won enough to qualify for the playoffs to see who would represent our area in Germany at the little league world series. It all came down to a final game in Pirmasens against our cross-town rivals. Tom Doyle was hit in the face by a curveball in that game but since our team was short players, had to play through the pain with a swollen face. Some of us missed the game because we were at a Boy Scout Jamboree in Giessen leaving our teammates to survive without us. Much to our chagrin, we lost and Pirmasens went back to Pennsylvania and lost three games to the team from Taiwan. I earned a few merit badges that summer including knot tying and my swimming merit badge. We had to dive down to the bottom of the deep end of the pool on a chilly morning in Germany and retrieve a rubber weight. By the time we got back from the Jamboree, I had toothpaste all over everything and a terrible ear infection which required a waxy shot of penicillin in the buttocks and a week’s stay in bed trying to recover.

Some of my fondest memories are of organized athletic activity. The first one I remember, I was 8 years old and signed up at the YMCA in Berkeley, California for swimming lessons. After our first or second lesson was over, on the way to the dressing room I decided to try jumping off the diving board. Why I don’t know. I survived; dog paddled over to the side, got out and proceeded to the dressing room. Life has been like that. Trying things most people don’t -- because they know better. I played organized basketball at Meadow Homes Elementary school. On one Saturday morning, I recall the coach who was refereeing the game asked for the ball when I threw it to him, it hit him in the face. Boy was I embarrassed.

The summer between the 5th and 6th grades, I got my first taste of organized baseball. I remember playing catcher and the father of my best friend, Steve Marcoux, was umpiring. Unprotected, without a face mask or chest protector, he wasn’t happy with my catching skills, or lack thereof. He used pebbles to keep track of balls and strikes and made comments under his breath when I missed the ball. He was in the Navy while my dad was in the Army so Steve would get the best presents when his dad came home from sea duty. Of all my teammates, Steve had the best glove. His dad picked it up on a voyage to Japan. Sometimes those memories come flooding back and make me smile. Funny, isn’t it, how the small things make such a difference in our lives.

Coming of Age in Zweibrucken is a book now available from Amazon and describes my experiences living in Europe during the CVold War.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Plebe Parent Weekend 2003

We arrived at JFK around 6:00 PM on Thursday and got to our hotel around 9:00. We only got lost twice and accidentally stumbled into our hotel in Nanuet, NY. On the way, we were hungry and stopped at a McDonalds in Nyack. A very funny customer there who resembled Bob Marley and had eyes for my daughter Michelle. I was teasing her about the Rasta Farian man when he snuck up on us. He was harmless but really got Michelle going. I also think he was a bit off. He kept flinging his dreadlocks back and forth like he had water in his ears or something, quite humorous.

Friday morning we were up at the crack of dawn (which was like 3:00 AM our time) to get to the West Point main gate before the lines backed up for the security check. We went to the uniform factory where Shelley and I bought wool winter coats like the cadets wear. We rode the shuttle bus back to the museum and visitors center and wandered around until lunchtime. We were able to meet Kevin at 1:00 PM at Macarthur’s statue. Shelley and Michelle went to Kevin's history class while Brian and I went back to the car to take a nap. We got back together around 5:00 and had dinner in the gigantic mess hall where they feed 4000 cadets 3 times a day. We brought Kevin back to our hotel (30 minutes south) and I fell asleep while the family went to the lounge and played pool. Kevin got a ride back to West Point from another cadet's dad.

Saturday we got to West Point at 7:30 AM and attended the Commandant’s briefing at 8:30. There was a wonderful parade at 12:30 put on by the Plebes. We walked to the academic open house in Thayer hall then had lunch in Kevin's company day room before the TAC briefing at 2:00. After listening to Kevin's military advisor, we toured his barracks for about half an hour. Then we drove back to the hotel to change into our formal wear for the banquet and "hop." Brian and Michelle begged not to go so we let them sleep. We should have insisted, but we were too tired to argue anymore (we had been arguing non-stop for 2 days by then).
Shelley and I drove back to West Point at 5:00 and walked to Washington hall where we met Kevin and his friend Ryan Mehan. We attended the banquet and then walked over to Eisenhower (Ike) hall for the reception and hop. We stood in line for the reception for about 60 minutes and decided to go downstairs to have our picture taken. We stood in that line for another 45 minutes and finally got the picture taken. It was 11:00 PM by then and we just wanted to get back to our room so we said “good night” to Kevin and limped the mile back to where we parked for the drive back to Nanuet.

We slept in on Sunday. We were all very tired from the walking and flights of stair climbing. Who says I don’t get any exercise? We set off for USMA at 10:30 picked up Kevin and Ryan and visited the cemetery. Kevin just wanted to get out of Dodge so we drove to Piermont on 9W south and had lunch at a very nice restaurant on the Hudson. From there we drove to Nanuet and went to a movie at the mall. There were a lot of cadets there too. We had dinner after the movie and went back to the hotel to watch the 49er game. Shelley and I drove the cadets back to WP and got back to bed around 1:00 AM.

Monday we got up and out of the hotel by 10:00 and met Kevin at Trophy point around 11:00. We drove around and Kevin showed us where he throws the shot put. We visited the museum and gift shop and had lunch at the Park restaurant in Highland Falls. After lunch, we drove down to the south dock and sat by the river. Around 2:00 we drove back up to the barracks and parked in front of the Supe's house, chatted and took some pictures. Kevin needed to start on his homework so we thought we would get an early start back to the airport.

We got lost on our way to JFK of course. So I had to have my required upset and get us back on track. My wife finally asked me to meditate quietly - so I did.

We got to the airport with 30 minutes to spare before our flight, poured ourselves onto the plane and sat for another 6 hours before arriving in Oakland at 9:30 PM. It took an hour and a half to get the car and finally going on the hour ride home. We got in around 1:00 AM our time (3:00 AM EST) and crashed into bed, exhausted.

Acceptance Day 2003

I'm quite less a fan of flying since my weekend trip to NY Saturday 8/15 to see my son at school. Friday was the day after the Big Blackout Back East. The heat was bad but man, the humidity was worse. I rode with another couple from Santa Rosa from the Newark airport to the school. On Saturday, after the Acceptance day parade, I waited at Trophy Point until my son was released. A very nice young lady from Cleveland struck up a conversation and I discovered what trauma the power blackout caused hotel guests in NYC. She and her party were awakened in the early hours and evacuated from the hotel.

It wasn’t long before Kevin walked up and I gave him a big hug from his family. I took a couple of photos, we chatted for a few minutes and then 2 more cadets appeared. My son, his cadet friends and I walked into town, had lunch in Highland Falls, and walked back onto the post. It was brutally hot and humid, so sitting in Tony’s air-conditioned restaurant was a pleasure. Ray is from El Paso and he fenced last year at USMAPS. The other cadet had a very Russian sounding name and a wonderfully inquiring mind. My son lost 24 pounds during Beast. The others lost weight too. Although each was in a different Beast company their tales of the rain and problems it caused were consistent. All three agreed the march back was hard on the body and the mind. Kevin explained his was not the honor company but had won the Warrior Forge competition.

Sitting among the cadets at West Point was truly a treat for me. At lunch, waiting for the shuttle bus, on the bus, and waiting for it to leave again, I overheard so many interesting stories and experiences from their view. We went to the PX (post exchange) where they purchased their $65 printers and $8 cables to go with their new Dell D900 laptops. Kevin bumped into many of his new friends there and outside while we waited for the shuttle bus back to his barracks. The jovial banter bordered on hilarious, as they told stories of their experiences from the previous 6 weeks. Kevin and I returned to the barracks and I waited at the Macarthur statue while he put his printer away.

We walked over to the 4th class club in Ike Hall, a 5-story performing arts center with a built-in cafeteria, big-screen TVs, arcade video games, juke boxes, stage, and sound system. Big, and this was just a side hall, not the main auditorium with a very nice view of the Hudson River. I tried to re-hydrate (I was boiling) and just relax for a while. I let my feet rest about half an hour before another of my son’s friends parents agreed to take us to dinner so we went off-post and had a wonderful meal, after a long wait, at the Hacienda in Highland Falls. While we were waiting, an upperclassman came over to quietly tell my son’s friend something. As they were talking the stares our cadets were getting from two other upperclassmen dressed in civilian clothes were fatal if not dangerous. I was not the only one to notice. After they left, Ryan returned to our conversation to let Kevin know some “correcting” activities were going to happen in a certain place, and he should make sure he did not go there. After I got home and called Kevin, I asked him if there had been any incidents in the foretold place. He said no, it was just a spoof.

Thankfully, Ryan's parents offered to take me back to my hotel room in Newburgh. A hailstorm damaged the power lines where I was staying, which made finding the hotel challenging. We tried this way and that but were turned back by the police barricades or yellow tape strung across the roads. We happened upon another driver in an SUV who asked where we were going. We followed them back to the main road and to the hotel. When I got to my room it was about 11 PM, but no electricity and no light. Without which I could not find my medicine nor did my C-Pap machine work (for sleep apnea). I just slept on top of the bed with my clothes on until 4 AM when I awoke. The alarm clock was flashing 12:00 so I called the front desk and asked what time it was. A Power Engineers convention and a couple of baseball teams were also staying at the Clarion. The evening before, when we had electricity, the kids were running all over the place till 3 AM. The night of the storm, the kids were all very quiet from 11 O’clock on. It was the engineers with their flashlights walking by the rooms every few minutes...

Sunday at 7 AM I was determined to avoid any more brownouts, blackouts, or blowout weather hassles, so I called a cab for the Newark Airport (1.5 hours away). $145.00 (including gratuity) and 50 miles later, got to the airport fine, checked my bag and settled in for a 5.5-hour wait. An hour before my flight I checked to confirm I was in the proper place and all was well with the world. And ye verily they said it was! Then a few minutes later, an announcement, my flight was delayed and then another few minutes, announcement, canceled. So I scurried around the large Continental terminal/mall trying not to panic and find a new way home. I did. It was the flight from hell so we won't even go there.

The balls of my feet were throbbing by then so I took my shoes off for the 5-hour flight home. My wife picked me up in Oakland instead of San Francisco and the luggage was? No one knew. When I got home I took off my shoes and I had torn open one of the blisters I developed trying to keep up with three Plebes at West Point and doing the mad dash from terminal to terminal. Standing in one line and then another. Definitely worth the trip to see my son, but I think I’m going to do a few things differently next time…

Friday, September 5, 2008

On the Blog Again

Well, now I'm a blogger. I never thought that would happen. What's the harm right? This should give me an excuse to get my writing chops back. I'll start by providing a rundown on what the kids are up to.

Brian is looking for work and now realizes he shouldn't be so cavalier about quitting a job he isn't madly in love with.

Kevin is engaged to Natalie Messina an old high school friend. Here's a photo of them. Kevin is stationed at Ft. Lewis and the wedding is planned for April 4th here in Santa Rosa at St. Rose church.

More on this as the event nears.

Michelle graduated from SRJC with honors and is now applying to Nursing schools throughout California.