This is a guest post by author PAUL BENNETT
Roll Call for the Moron Hall of Fame Convention – a list of this year’s attendees:
- Jim ‘$6’ Irvine Jr.
- Tracy ‘Turtle Got Game’ Justice
- Mark ‘0 for 1966’ Winningham
- Ralph ‘Alley Ball’ Emerson
- Chuck ‘Sofa King’ LeFurge
- James ‘Paparazzi’ Shields
- Wing ‘Golden Dragon’ Tom
- Rick ‘Dog Lover’ Prince
- Paul ‘Road Trip’ Bennett
Special cameo appearances:
- Kerry ‘Bed Fixer’ Justice
- Sharon ‘Hot Chick’ Bartl
- Theresa ‘Are You Guys Here Again’ Prince
- Debby ‘The Knox Heartthrob ‘ Vassallo
Arrival: Thursday, June 11, 2015
This tale may ramble a bit from subject to subject; from episode to episode but hopefully will be okay by the end. Way back in the mid-70’s I lived in a second floor flat with two of my peeps and fellow travelers, one of whom was Mark Winningham who now happens to be a founding member of the Moron HOF and tonight he seems to have the parking lot greeter job as his is the first face I see upon arriving at The Pub Froggy in Roseville, MI. Way back in the mid-70’s, I noticed that when Mark was in the ‘realm of no pain’ that he would sport a very large and silly grin. When I stepped out of The Gray Wolf, after a marathon 16 hour trek from Providence, RI. Mark was sporting a very large and silly grin. It was 9:30 p.m. and the boys had been going at it for a few hours, shooting bull, shooting pool and having a few beers. Judging from the size of Mark’s grin he’d had about a pitcher or so and so would have the rest of the guys except Wing, who doesn’t drink beer, and Chuck who makes up for Wing’s abstinence 5-fold. I was greeted with a resounding, ‘Hey, he made it’ and spent the next few minutes extolling the magnitude of the trip I had just completed, though it should be duly noted that Mark supplied me with a freshly frosted mug and filled it for me before the press conference like q & a began.
Next thing I remember is being engulfed in a bear hug. We have slowly built up the ranks of the eastsiders and while he did attend last year’s reunion, I did not, so this was the first time I had seen Ralph Emerson in nigh unto 40 years. He was thinner back then and a lot less muscular though I am happy to report he still affects the style and verve of a child of the 60’s. We’ve reacquainted ourselves, over the last two years, via that cornucopia of nostalgia, Facebook, after finding each other on Classmates. When I look back I realize that Ralph was the second friend I ever made, the first being Harold Brem whom I met at age 5…I’m not sure when I met Ralph but I’m guessing 6 or 7. I lived on Lenox, Ralph lived on Dickerson, a few houses closer to Mack than me. Between our streets ran a lovely alleyway, a locale that has so many memories, not the least of which is that is where we first learned to play baseball. Using a manhole cover for home, a crack in the cement for second base and the corners of garages for first and third, we began our lessons in hitting and fielding. The most important hitting lesson was to learn to hit straight away as many of the backyards that lined the playing field were sort of off limits and we took some risk in retrieving a ball hit into them. One of the more important fielding lessons was to learn how to catch, while batting, any pitch you did not want to swing at. You see, we often only had four players so that meant that most of the time we did not have anyone catching behind the manhole cover. Not only did we improve our physical ability, we also, following a time honored tradition in baseball, improved our math skills by keeping personal batting statistics. I believe 100 home runs per season was typical.
Friday, June 12
Spent a restful night at The Turtle’s Bed & Coffee Inn. Well it was restful once Tracy’s brother Kerry helped $6 Jim put together his roll away bed. The first, second, third and fourth tries were attempted with the help of Chuck; word to the wise – beer is not a performance enhancer. One of the many perks available at The Turtle’s Bed & Coffee Inn is the backyard deck. It’s a perfect place to enjoy the morning coffee, to recover from the night before, to prepare for the day’s activities and to share a few moments reminiscing with Kerry about the old days when our world ended at 8 Mile Rd; beyond that was still covered with woods, fields and farms.
Today’s plan is breakfast at Dan’s Diner (omelets – oh my, you gotta try the country omelet covered in sausage gravy), followed by bowling and batting cages. After that it’s just a matter of finding a bar with pool tables and pretty barmaids; an observation – the barmaids got prettier with each pitcher of beer. J First up then, the Apollo Lanes for a rousing three games of a sport I have not partaken of in roughly 30 years. Not to worry, I used to carry a 150 average and am positive I still have the skill; this despite that I have a cantankerous right shoulder that will be rolling a 16 pound ball; yeah no worries.
For the record I rolled 110,133 and 90 but I was robbed on several occasions with direct pocket hits that left that damnable ten pin still standing. Those scores were good enough for a very convincing 4th place finish as I beat out Tracy by 3 pins and Chuck by 7. Mark and $6 tied for 1st and Wing came in third. That leaves Ralph; laughing all the way to last place, though I think I may have heard a few unmentionable words intermingled with the laughter. When Mark announced that Tracy beat Chuck by four pins, Tracy did an immediate turn to Chuck and pointing his finger, first at himself and then at Chuck exclaimed, ‘Good for me, bad for you!’ Before I move on to the next activity, I must say a word about the rental bowling shoes. They have certainly gone all out for fashion and comfort; a double strap Velcro closure with a sole that might be thicker than two sheets of paper and for this we have to leave one of our own shoes as a deposit. I was sorely tempted to keep the rentals.
Stepping outside after the bowling, we commenced a lengthy discussion on which batting cage to go to; the indoor one (it was threatening rain) or the outdoor one. For the unwashed masses, among the many activities we try to get in, there are the inevitable debates on what to do next, where to do it, who’s driving, who’s riding with who and do we need to get more beer (that particular debate lasts the shortest amount of time). We chose the indoor one but in the end we went to both; what the heck, my shoulder was still attached and my left knee had only buckled a little after the first set of cages. At first I was frustrated with my inability to hit a line drive, something that I was always able to do. The problem was two-fold; the pitching machine insisted on delivering the ball way inside off the plate, the other was my abysmal timing. Once I convinced myself to step out of the batter’s box and use that as home plate my timing got better and was able to get a few nice hits. That was on the slow pitch machine. I tried the fast pitch softball machine, think I’ll stick to slow pitch…took a few swings and misses to realize, ‘Boy, I better start swinging a bit sooner.’ Even then the results were not typical of my ability 40 years ago but that was the case for all of us; good thing we have our memories. As I told one of the other patrons, “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you, but this (pointing to our group) was the nucleus of a championship softball team in 1966.”
One of the mainstays of our reunions, besides beer and laughter, is shooting pool. A sport I was never really very good at. I blame it on the fact there is too much geometry involved and I was an inept mathematician. In fact the only two classes I ever failed were math classes. However, on this night I was on fire and with Jim Shields as my partner we won the 1 game knock out, 8-ball tournament in a devastating fashion. Now there are some who would question our overwhelming domination simply because the two teams we annihilated lost by scratching on the 8-ball. To this I say, ‘good for us, bad for you.’
I suppose I should elaborate on the catch phrase of the weekend. One of the salient features of all of our reunions has been an undercurrent of competition between Chuck and Tracy. Whether it is basketball, football, shooting pool or playing poker, Chuck’s mission was to beat Tracy, so the ‘good for me, bad for you’ mantra became the winner’s exaltation of victory.
Another pool tabled bar we visited on that day was at Colleen’s Pub in St. Clair Shores. We ended up staying there for a while and made that our dinner place for the night. Unbeknownst to me, Ralph had posted, via his phone, on Facebook that we were currently at Colleens and had tagged me in the post. I was sitting there lost in the reverie when a woman came up behind me and said, ‘what are you doing here?’ To my surprise I found myself looking at my very lovely sister-in-law, Sharon Bartl, who had noticed on her phone that I was sitting in a bar in St. Clair Shores. Don’t you just love technology? She was on her way home from work (her and husband David live in SCS about a mile from Colleen’s) and when she saw on Facebook that I was in town and she stopped in to say hi. Now, some of the guys were sitting at the table so I introduced her to them, but there were a few of the guys who were shooting pool and she departed before they came back to the table. One of them exclaimed, ‘who was the hot chick hitting on Paul?’ So, Sharon, to a bunch of aged geezers, you are a hot chick. Whether that is a good thing or not, I do not know. J
Saturday, June 13
If it is the Saturday of reunion weekend, then we must be at Rick’s basketball and poker emporium. Each year we try to minimize the physicality of our activities and this year was no different. It was decided that a friendly, non-contact game of around the world would be our version of basketball this year. It is strictly a shooting game only; no running or jumping or defending involved. Naturally, Tracy ‘Turtle Got Game’ won and also, naturally, we then morphed into a 3 on 3 contest and that does involve running, jumping and defending. It was an exciting and close contest that pitted $6, Ralph and Rick against Chuck, Tracy and me. About halfway through $6 needed to bow out (we are getting smarter I think) and Chuck took himself out to make the rest of the game a 2 on 2. At this point my tactical genius came to the fore as I designed the winning plays around a simple yet effective strategy, ‘Give the ball to Tracy.’ With Rick draped all over Tracy like he was The Turtle’s shell, I executed a perfect bounce pass under the menacing octopus like arms of Ralph. Then the genius of Turtle took over; with Rick expecting a jump shot (well jump may be overstating Tracy’s capability nowadays), he up-faked Rick out of position, ducked under Rick’s arms and made a beautiful game winning scoop shot. Now, if you are keeping score, that makes two significant victories for me, pool and basketball; good for us, bad for them. J
The picture above was taken by yours truly as I wisely chose not to engage in the following game of 21; another contest that involves a lot of physical action and contact because each contestant is playing against everyone else. You grab a rebound or loose ball and are then set upon by a Mongol like horde intent on your destruction. As you can see from the photo, Ralph paid the price for daring to take a shot. J
An interesting facet of our basketball follies is that Rick’s neighbors and even the mailman take the time to enjoy the antics of our group of aging hoopsters. Like those who watch NASCAR they are waiting for an accident to happen but instead are treated to a scintillating display of geezer ball as occasionally we look like we used to know what we were doing. Once again we foiled their ghoulish desires and came away unscathed, if a few bumps, scrapes and bruises qualify as unscathed. No need for a call to 911 or to use Mark ‘0 for 1966’ Winningham’s ever present jumper cables; the only required need was to drink a couple more beers in order to better remember another future Glory Days discussion, or perhaps more truthfully, to help deaden the pains of the bumps, scrapes and bruises. I can foresee that soon we will be regulated to shooting paper wads at a trash basket to satisfy our basketball jones and even then, Tracy will most likely win. Good for him, bad for us.
The previous reunions were mostly devoid of any female involvement except for Rick’s wife and daughter who risked coming into their house during the Saturday night poker games. This year we were practically inundated with women (a bit of hyperbole). In addition to the surprise visit from Sharon ‘Hot Chick’ Bartl, we finally got Debby ‘The Knox Heartthrob’ Vassallo and Theresa ‘Are You Guys Here Again’ Prince to attend some of the festivities. One of the more enjoyable things we did was to sit in Rick & Theresa’s living room and watch a video compilation of some old 8mm movies of Knox Church activities in the late 60’s. The movies were made by James Irvine Sr. ($6’s father) and then converted to DVD by John Irvine ($6’s brother) and included such activities as the boys basketball teams, snow camps and men’s canoe trips. My word, we did look young and vibrant in those days as opposed to the bumped, bruised and scraped geezers recovering from overly exuberant attempts to recapture the youth exhibited in the videos. Now, I am not saying that we aren’t still vibrant. No sir, we must still be vibrant to do what we do at these gatherings; it’s just a vibrancy rooted in wisdom and age; yeah, that’s my story and I’m gonna stick to it…good for us, bad for no one.
Enter The Golden Dragon
Wing ‘Golden Dragon’ Tom once again put his restaurant at risk by allowing The Eastside Kids and Moron Hall of Fame to descend upon it for a sumptuous banquet. As usual, the food was excellent and oh so plentiful; I think Tracy took enough leftovers to last him and Kerry a week (oh who am I kidding; Tracy will have the stuff devoured in a day.) J During the meal, a proposal was put forth to create an auxiliary branch of The Moron Hall of Fame in order to honor those of the female persuasion who influenced us as youths or who continue to influence us in our doddering years. The proposal was met with an enthusiastic response from the membership and from Debby and Theresa who realized at once what an honor it would be to be associated with us (again, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) Hopefully, by the time you read this we will have gone through the vetting process; although there is an undercurrent of thought that the vetting process for the Auxiliary Branch should be circumvented in the case for Debby and Theresa and that they immediately be enshrined. Alas, there is a faction in the Moron HOF who are sticklers for tradition and process and so we wait for the nominations and ratifications to go through. On a personal note; it was really great to see Debby again after all these years. She was and always will be my first unrequited love. J
While it is a glorious thing that we have reconnected with so many of the friends of our youth, it does present some challenges to our annual poker night. Eight players sort of negate any 7-card games or even 5-card draw and it certainly presented a challenge to figure out how to divide the chips in a manner that would leave all of the participants with $10 worth. Even with the less inebriated Morons, Wing and $6, working on the solution it took a very long and amusing time…well, amusing up to a point which when arrived at Mark and Ralph went out and after visiting three different stores finally returned with another batch of chips enabling the game to begin. The stand out hand of the night happened on the last one we played. It was Hold ‘Em and was between Ralph and me…I do not remember what my hole cards were, nor did it matter what they were, nor Ralph’s either for that matter…the five community cards were 3 aces and 2 queens and neither of us could do any better than that so we split the pot. It was an exciting way to finish the night and the weekend ($6 and me were due to depart very early the next morning) and what was even better was the fact that I didn’t lose any money as I broke even for the night. I can’t remember who won the most but it is my contention that with my victories in pool and basketball and by not losing any money in poker that I be named the MVP of the reunion. J Good for me, bad for the other Morons.