Sorry, Brooks Brothers. The ‘Uniform’ is History–My Tale of Sartorial Revenge

This is me in my closet with the dozen suits and sport coats that helped create “the uniform.” Remember, all the way back to February or January, before the pandemic hit and people still schlepped into the office wearing this stuff? Since semi-retiring four years ago, my uniform pretty much has been put out to pasture except to infrequent forays to business meetings or funerals.

Oh, they served me well over the years. Especially the one Brooks Brothers suit I splurged on when I was still a TV reporter. It pains me that BB, like other men’s clothing chains is going bankrupt, because, in the era of Zoom meetings, we not only don’t wear the uniform, we barely wear pants.

I have a lot of ties. See them whipping around on the little merry go round in my closet? Some, I’ve never actually worn. They are instruments of torture but pre-pandemic, they represented an often-compulsory punishment to our respiratory system in the name of adhering to a “dress code.”

Ah…the dress code. I also kinda got that wrong. When I joined CNN in 1981 I had come from a TV station in Tucson, Arizona where I was producing newscasts. Since I wasn’t on the air, I could dress like shit. I was joining CNN in a similar capacity and assumed “dressing like shit” was the dress code there too. On my first day I showed up in corduroy jeans, a buttoned-down sport shirt and scruffy shoes. I made an instant first impression because everyone else was wearing “the uniform.” My boss, who wore his own version of the uniform, featuring a crumpled white shirt and suspenders, kindly took me aside, smiled and informed me “we kinda have a dress code here.” Would have been nice to know in advance but with most of my wardrobe back in Arizona, I had to do some fast shopping.

Many years later it worked the other way. When I made the jump from journalism to corporate communications at then DaimlerChrysler, which is now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, I show up the first day in a pressed blue suit, white shirt and red tie. Damn! Missed again! Sure, there were a couple of guys with a shirt and tie and sport coat hanging on hooks, but I looked more like one of the German taskmasters looking to take over the company.

A couple of years later, the company was sold by the Germans to a U.S. capital management slumlord company from New York City. They all dressed up while they fired a large percentage of our staff as the company headed towards bankruptcy. I suppose it’s appropriate for the executioner to at least show some respect for the condemned by throwing on a decent tie.

It all changed again when the late, great Sergio Marchionne and Fiat took over the company. He never work a tie and rarely a jacket. His uniform was a black sweater or golf shirt, depending on the season and dark pants. He once explained it made his busy life less complicated by not burdening himself with daily wardrobe decisions.

From then on we felt we had permission to dress down a bit, but didn’t take it to extremes. I may not have always worn a tie but at least had a jacket handy in case we had an important meeting. I’d wear it into the office, then immediately take it off and hang it up until it was needed, or it was time to go home. You could always tell who the visitors were in the building–they were the suckers who were wearing suits and ties.

In my semi-retirement I’ve been working from home since I walked out of FCA for the last time on July 28, 2016, so there was basically no adjustment for me when the pandemic hit. I don’t mind Zoom or Google Meet meetings, and the only concession I make sartorially is wearing a decent shirt, but don’t ask me what’s covering my lower regions. To put your mind at ease, it’s, um, something, but I assure you it’s not the pants from that abandoned Brooks Brothers suit, nor is it a pair of pressed Dockers. It’s just something, okay?

Once this is all over and we’re compelled to meet in person again, I’m not so sure many folks will revert to a version of the uniform, having gotten used to being dressed more comfortably, and probably less expensively.

I do feel sorry for the abandonment my old work wardrobe must be experiencing. That’s why every once in awhile, I’ll go to the section of my closet where they suits and jackets and pants are hanging, thank ’em for their service, then hit the switch, watch the ties go round and round and round and round, hoping those now-useless instruments of torture are starting to feel a little nauseous. Payback is sweet.

Balking At Pitchers Mound Pitches

Aside from the foolishness of trying to conduct a Major League Baseball season during a pandemic, I can’t help but take issue with the little logos staring at me from the back of the pitchers mounds. It’s a curveball I didn’t expect and not sure I’m swingin’ with it. 

At first I thought some company actually bought the space and had their logo etched or physically placed on the back of the mound just to the right of the resin bag. Then I noticed the logo changing every inning or so and realized they were just super imposed in the spot. It’s the same way company logos are supered behind NHL goal nets. For some reason I don’t mind those ads. 

What I really wonder is how much of an impression a little logo that looks like it accidentally blew onto the field makes on a viewer. 

The one for Ball Park hot dogs would seem to make sense, but seeing the logo that small would only have me hankering for a pint size pig in the blanket wiener. 

But then there was the one for a regional health care system. I suppose if the batter hit a hot smash back to the box and nailed the pitcher I might wonder, “hmm..where will he get his stitches?” But I’m not sure that message will stick with me long enough to make much of a difference if I suddenly black out waiting in the Chick Fil A drive through.

The one for a big box chain is also a little problematic. What’s the message here? Hmm..if the pitcher reaches back to that area of the mound to pick up the resin bag, will that remind me I need to stop at that store to pick up some milk or sandals? That’s more than subliminal…it’s deep hypnosis. 

The bank logo sitting on the back of mound confuses me.

I suppose there’s a connection if the pitcher tosses a gopher ball and the batter DEPOSITS the ball in the left field bleachers. Oh yeah! I gotta go to the bank! I’m getting withdrawal symptoms..but losing interest. 

I’d love to see some research on the effectiveness of mound pitches. Maybe I’m completely off-base with my skepticism. But if you asked me if I’m swayed by them….I’d balk. 

My Personal Eulogy to John Lewis Begins in a Place Called Slave City

I didn’t watch John Lewis’s funeral. I didn’t go back to view any of the eulogies. That’s because I have my own. One that’s haunted me for decades. Oh yes, as a young reporter for CNN in Atlanta I had the opportunity to conduct a brief interview with Rep. Lewis shortly after he was elected. But this story reaches further back.

I was a school kid on Bloody Sunday. The images of John Lewis and the other brave souls who were violently stopped by the thugs who masqueraded as law enforcement officers flickered on our 19-inch Zenith black and white TV. It was the first time I’d ever heard of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in a town called Selma, Alabama. Indeed, for most of us, these are scenes that seem remote—something you see on TV or read about in the paper but certainly well out of our sheltered sphere.

Push the clock ahead to 1986. Working out of CNN’s Southeast Bureau in Atlanta, I covered the Deep South, as well as any other place I was sent. But on this day I was assigned to a story in Selma. Those past images played back in fast-forward as we neared the town. Indeed, our entire crew was tense. We knew the history.

Our assignment was to profile Lutheree Reese a Black woman who had lived for 16 years in a fetid slum known as Slave City. No electricity, no running water. Basically…one-story garrets. Concrete block shacks. The news was Slave City was finally being shut down and the remaining few residents would be moved to living quarters at a closed Air Force base.

Without the benefit of today’s navigation tools, we got lost and stopped to ask someone on the street to direct us to Slave City. The slack-jawed redneck just stared at us, then twisted his pasty face into a shit-eating smile and responded in his big ol’ drawl, “y’all wanna know wheah Slave City eeees? Just follow the (love juices.)” He used a much more graphic term. We rolled up the window and worked it out ourselves. Had Selma really changed since the 60’s? Did the efforts of John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesse Jackson and all the others fighting for basic civil rights go in vain?

When we met Lutheree at her Slave City shack she was gathering a few remaining items. She almost seemed wistful about leaving. It’s all she knew. Within 15 minutes we arrived at her new home. A tidy apartment. We captured her tentative entry through the door. She wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. Lutheree took a slow look around. When she found the first light switch she didn’t really know what it was for. After being told she flipped the switch on and off and on and off and on and off and watched the table lamp’s correspondent actions.

But the best was yet to come.

She found her way to the bathroom. After being told how the hot and cold faucets worked on the sink Lutheree twisted them a couple of times. Then came the toilet. Oh my, the toilet. We had to explain how that worked. She’d never used one of those before after a lifetime of squatting over holes in an outhouse. Lutheree lifted the lid on the toilet seat so she could see the bowl, and then she found the flush lever. She pulled it down once and stared at the action it triggered. Then she looked at us and asked if she could do it again. Of course. And she did. One, two, three, ten times she pulled that lever and every time her smile grew broader and broader and tears came to her eyes….and ours too. Such a simple thing, but so monumental when you’ve lived your life to that point deprived of even the most basic convenience.

After leaving Lutheree and still crying/smiling about her first, triumphant flush toilet experience, we ventured downtown to interview Selma Mayor Joe Smitherman. The same Joe Smitherman who was in office on Bloody Sunday—a then segregationist who later came around and appointed African-American citizens to various positions in city government.

The way to city hall took us over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. We drove slowly, taking in the significance of an infamous historic venue and imagined the horrific scene that took place on the span 20 years earlier.

Smitherman welcomed us, very comfortable with TV crews, and couldn’t help mentioning he’d once tangled with Dan Rather so a 34 year old kid like me wasn’t going to intimidate him. That wasn’t the point. I just wanted to know why—why was a place like Slave City allowed to last that long? He just sort of smiled, and with a straight face said Slave City just perpetuated the city’s infamous reputation but that “Blacks have made more social progress here than elsewhere in Alabama.”

On the ride back to Atlanta things were quiet for a bit as we let it all sink in. Now it’s risen to the top of my mind again as I think about the late, wonderful, brave John Lewis.

He gave everything…his body, his freedom, his life’s work fighting for the simple concept of equality for all of us, for someone like Lutheree Reese. Oh, Lutheree. That giant smile, those wide eyes, those appreciative tears…as she flicked on an electric light, turned the faucet for running water and flushed a toilet for the first time. The opportunity to finally live in simple, human decency…isn’t that what John Lewis was fighting for during his magnificent life?

That’s my eulogy to him.

Celebrating Four Years of Failed Retirement

Four years ago today I swiped my FCA badge for the last time, walked out the door, took a deep breath and realized, “Crap! I have no income…but on the upside, plenty of free time.” Or so I thought. 

Yes, we all look forward to retirement and I was lucky enough to pull it off at the tender age of 64. But as it turns out, I didn’t retire to a life of golf, traveling, learning needlepoint or getting fat sucking down beers on the back deck. Let’s be clear, I DO suck down beers on the back deck, but with moderation and only by alternating sensibly with the much less fattening Jack Daniels on the rocks. 

What I really retired from was office life, corporate nonsense and spending too much of my little time on Earth in a glass, enclosed office, that some believed denoted a “senior management” status, but to me represented the same confinement an unfortunate puppy would suffer in the window of a pet shop. Yes..some idiots would occasionally tap my window to get my attention. I only wish I could have emulated a puppy’s freedom to respond by lifting my leg and completing the task. 

I managed to be fully retire for three months before accepting a part-time job returning to journalism after an 11 year break in corporate communications. It was an OK job and helped me transition back to the career that will always be my first love. That little job lasted just under two years and ended at exactly the right time. Thanks to my great network, when I posted that news on Linkedin, two amazing opportunities were presented to me within 48 hours….and I took them both–as a senior contributor to and as an integrated media consultant for Franco PR–both prestigious organizations and a chance to use my skills on both sides of the fence. I recently took on another very part-time freelance gig ghost writing for executives at a financial services company. 

Perhaps one day I’ll retire completely but why would I? As I tell anyone who will listen, the greatest joy of journalism is that you get to learn something new with every story you cover and then have the enviable task of telling people about it. The work on do on the PR side is equally rewarding since I’m able to use my experience on both sides of the equation to help educate and support my younger colleagues. 

Amazingly, I still have tons of free time to spend with my family, go paddling, biking, hiking, desecrating my beloved 12-string Rickenbacker and yes, enjoying an array of satisfying beverages on the back deck…with sensible snacks, of course. 

Play Piped-In Ball!

I don’t know about you but I’m excited Major League Baseball is cranking up and it’s not only because of my love for the game. What’s got my juices flowing (and at my age they’re barely moving) is the artificial crowd noise they’re going to pipe into the stadiums since there won’t be any fans. 

The Dodgers went one better in a pre-season game with the Arizona Diamondbacks, putting up cardboard cutouts of fans to go with the piped-in din.

I got a taste of it during the telecast of a Detroit Tigers intrasquad game last week and I have to say, that as spooky as it was to see 40,000 empty seats but hear 40,000 disembodied voices sparked all sorts of inane thoughts. Those thoughts included suggesting to Stephen King he write a book called “The Stands” and registering for ventriloquism school to see if they could teach me to throw my voice…from third to first. 

But why stop at a simple din and occasional cheers? Why not create audio drop-ins that would include a cadre of unseen bots booing the crap out of an overpaid player who under-achieves or an ump who keeps missing calls? I’m sure the person running the audio could have at his or her disposal a number of disembodied bon mots that could include the traditional “you suck!” to the observant “balk!” to the erudite “you threw a fastball in a hitter’s count? Moron!”  It might be slightly hysterical, if not ridiculous to see the targeted player flip the bird in the direction of his ersatz harasser. Then get tossed. 

The Houston Astros are giving it a try through the use of a smartphone app that fans can access to express their sentiments. The info is monitored by the staff at the stadium who can them match the crowd noise to the percentage of fans rooting for each team.

Why stop with faux spectators? Every couple of minutes during an inevitable lull toss in the comforting sounds of a vendor hawking hot dogs, beer or an overpriced pennant, then quickly follow that with the sound of a fan hollering, “Hey! Two dogs, two beers!” To add a bit of texture, wait a few beats and toss in “where’s my effin’ change?” 

I see a situation late in the game when the tension building all night explodes into an unseen spat between “fans” on opposite sides. Bring in the sound of fists hitting flesh, then add “Pow!” graphics to the screen. Now you’ve got a multimedia experience! 

I know all this would really add authenticity to an otherwise inauthentic proposition and the players say they really feed off crowd noise so why not include as many elements as possible to make it seem as real as possible. 

Besides, if it works out, maybe they’ll start projecting images of imaginary fans doing the  Wave or even “catching” a foul ball or homer. I bet they can create holograms of fat guys with no shirt making their man boobs bounce in time with the music when they’re sure the camera is on them. 

It’s all gonna work out! I can’t wait to sing “Fake Me Out to the Ballgame!” 

Parsing the Avoidable Controversy Sung in the Key of Lady A

I’ll cut to the chase. The battle over the rights to use the name Lady A can be settled in one second. How? By the mega-selling country group admitting their original name was already stupid and hiding behind shortening one word to a single letter is even dumber.

By now you must know the players. The popular country trio that, until recently, went by the name Lady Antebellum, decided to officially shorten their name to Lady A, since the word “antebellum” harks back to the pre-Civil War days of slavery.

Contestant number two is a Seattle-based blues singer named Anita White who is royally pissed since she’s used Lady A professionally for more than 20 years—even before the country band existed.

She wants Lady A, the band, to change its name again since it’s pretty damned confusing to have two Lady A’s on Spotify. You see, the lady, Lady A, says her stuff can’t be found on streaming services like Spotify anymore because when you search for Lady A, the gazillion-selling group with two guys and a lady comes up, basically, as she puts it “erasing” her.

It’s not enough that the band, Lady A is rich and famous, they’re now suing the lady Lady A for the right to use the moniker after conversations between the parties failed to solve the issue. In the suit, the group insists they’ve been using the name as an alternative for years, but not as many as Anita White. They also complain she tried to get them to cough up $10 million to give up the name—money White, told Rolling Stone,would have been split between herself and donations to Black Lives Matter, a charity for seniors and youth in Seattle, and musicians in need of legal counsel.”
Indeed, the band wants to share the name with the singer. How silly is that? It’s like two companies that make Corn Flakes each calling themselves Kellogg.

The bottom line is “Lady Antebellum” was always a curious name for a group with members named Charles, Hilary and Dave. Now…if Hilary—the lady—was the main lead singer, I could almost see it. But Charles sings lead in almost, maybe more, of their songs. Dave mostly plays guitar and kinda sings a bit of harmony. Were they imagining that two men and a woman together create one “lady?” Think of it as a recipe. Add two parts guy, one part girl and voila! You get a lady? Mon dieu!

Had they given this some real thought the whole situation could have been avoided long ago if they had just chosen a name that makes sense, like, I dunno, “Mixed Gender Antebellum,” or, if they just HAD to have “Lady” in the name, “Lady Reconstruction,” thereby avoiding the inappropriate reference to a period before slavery was abolished. Then they could have shortened it to MGA or Lady R. Not bad, huh? Yeah..bad. The A still stands for antebellum which is the objectionable word in the first one so why try to hide it behind an initial, and the second one is just awful.

In the case of Anita White, the use of the letter A makes perfect sense since it represents her first name, which is not objectionable to anyone.

So former Lady Antebellum, drop it. Here’re your chance to correct your first mistake and find a name that’s more appropriate. Let the artist who had it first keep it, because PR-wise, you get an F, and this whole thing is making you look like group of Lady A-holes.

A Long Ago Tale of Fireworks Revenge

As I lay in bed last night attempting slumber, the sound of incendiary sorties shook my walls and led me to take cover as I imagined an errant rocket fired from a moron neighbor’s yard would soon crash through my window. Ah…tradition! Celebrating our nation’s day of independence by igniting expensive explosives made by Chinese children. Let freedom boom! 

Organized fireworks display? Love ‘em. Drunk neighbors challenging my otherwise long fuse? Not so much. It all reminds me of sweet revenge on just such a jerk I encountered as a kid back in Queens, New York.

We lived in a huge garden apartment complex called Glen Oaks Village. It still exists, although it converted to condos many years ago. One of the distinctive features of Glen Oaks Village is the number what they call “courts,” where a grouping of apartments surround an open space. Some are small, but the one next to our apartment, just outside a court, was huge–the largest in the massive complex. Running along the rear of the court was a line of apartments in a long row. 

On that particular July 4 in 1966 or 67, a guy named Spencer, who lived in of one of those apartments decided he was going to blow up stuff all night, much to the annoyance of every other neighbor. We had a history with Spencer. He was a 30-ish guy who prematurely lost his hair and, apparently, his mind, as he would chase us with his car when we attempted to play football on the court’s wide lawn. We didn’t like him. It’s not good for a guy if teenager don’t like you. 

Our little gang of pimply 15-year olds marched up to Spencer as he was about to light another fuse and told him he was an asshole and was annoying everyone. He laughed and challenged us to call the cops. OK. So we left, didn’t do anything, but came back a few minutes later and told him we did call the friendly NYPD and they’d be along shortly.

Spencer wasn’t a bright man and bought our ruse. He quickly stashed what was left of his cache of fireworks under the shrubs in front of his door and ran inside his house, but not before shouting at us, “they’ll never find anything! You kids are gonna get in trouble for filing a false report!” 

Once we determined Spencer was holed up for the night, we snuck up and stole his stuff from under the shrubs and hid it. The next morning, when Spencer thought the coast was clear, he planned to reclaim his stash from the bushes but, whoa! It was gone! Damn cops must have found, and confiscated it. Spencer was sad. Since, as I mentioned, he was an idiot, he never suspected us. But we weren’t done with Spencer since we had a more demonstrative revenge in mind.

Late that night, we returned with all his fireworks and waited until we were sure Spencer had turned in. We lit ‘em all up, took off like the bandits we were and got about 50 yards when the whole damn motherlode blew up right in front of Spencer’s door. We laughed our asses off when he ran out in his little PJ’s looking very distraught and confused. While laughing our mischievous asses off we yelled from our hiding spot, “guess you found them, asshole!” 

Spencer never bothered us again, and in fact, it wasn’t long before he moved..and sadly, left us no forwarding address. We were looking forward to Halloween. 

Lost in the Amazon

There’s trouble in Amazon-land and it’s not only holding my stuff hostage, but promising delivery of an item that’s already been delivered. Indeed, I know someone who works for the online sales behemoth and he confirms, “it sucks.” 

Now I’m quite aware all home delivery services are overworked thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic that’s kept so many people at home, for fear of encountering selfish and foolish cretins who refuse to wear a mask for fear of being identified as smart, considerate or a Democrat. 

Today’s Detroit Free Press, as well as a number of other news outlets, tells the story of an Amazon driver who was fed up with the workload and abandoned his delivery van full of packages.  The guy announced his, um, resignation on Twitter. He didn’t use nice language. 

Since I’m a semi-retired journalist, I won’t use that kind of language, but you can infer similar words when I relate my latest trip down the Amazon hellhole.

First, I order a CD. Go ahead, get it out your system, “Hello Boomer!” OK..don’t infer, accept my good natured, “fuck off.” Anyway, I keep getting notifications that it will arrive some time in July. That’s awesome. I actually received it two weeks ago. I wonder if I’ll receiver another one…just to share with another Boomer who may also still have an impressive collection of 8-tracks. 

OK..that one isn’t so bad. The one that’s hacking me off is my order for a new controller for my lawn sprinkler system. Yeah, yeah. First World problem. I ordered it on June 19th. Normally, even with Amazon’s slowest delivery option…aka “free” it doesn’t take more than a week. First I received an apologetic notice that it was “running late” and I could expect it this week…July 1. Then yesterday I receive another email giving me the bad news that “there is a delay in shipping some items from your order. We apologize for the inconvenience.” Aw…that’s sweet. The drone who wrote that must have been brought up with good manners. The bottom line, the “delay” amounts to basically an expected delivery a month from when I first ordered the thing. I’m glad I wasn’t ordering something more important…like a respirator…or Larry David edition of Mr. Potato Head. Maybe it’s on that guy’s abandoned deliver truck.

I know I’m not nearly alone in whining about my Amazonian experience. I know the U.S. Postal Service is under water as well and shipments are delayed due to huge volumes and understaffing. Honestly, a sprinkler system controller is not my idea of Chanukah in July, but you now how it is. Once you order something, you get anxious to receive whatever it is you wanted, even if it’s replacement vacuum cleaner bags. Hmmm…I need to order those too. Crap. …and those wet things you attach to a Swiffer…and a needle for my record player. No rush. 

A 40th CNN Reunion…in Boxes

I spent last night in a little box. I was in one of a thousand little boxes filled with faces of people with whom I once worked or who had worked in the same place as me at some point. It was billed as the CNN 40th Anniversary Virtual Reunion. Five years ago for the network’s 35th, we gathered in person and snacked on premium hors d’oeuvres in an Atlanta hotel ballroom while getting an up close look at how everyone’s aged, been preserved, thickened, thinned, dyed, dried, shrunk, grew, lost a step or lost their hair. 

On this night, through the miracle of Zoom and a Herculean effort by selfless CNN alumni who wouldn’t let a silly little pandemic spoil the party, we celebrated the network’s fourth decade.  

In the “gallery view” on Zoom it appeared as if this was the Brady Bunch open gone mad. I swiped through pages and pages of these little boxes trying to pick out familiar names with faces, in some cases, no longer familiar looking, but I was relieved to see my fellow relics still alive. 

I honestly don’t have much of a taste for reunions. I’ve never attended any for my high school or colleges, but I make an exception for CNN. You can say what you want about the network’s current programming, but as our former CNN president Tom Johnson implored us in one of the breakout chat room last night, “don’t bash the network in public.” But why would I? My 20 years there made everything possible after my employ there ended in 2001. The standards we held concerning accuracy, ethics, teamwork and unselfishness define who I am today. I’ve brought all those tenets to each of my subsequent jobs and to my life. 

We always say CNN is a family. Dysfunctional at times, chaotic at others, but always supportive, even after we’ve moved on. That’s because we know what we created. Before the media landscape changed with the advent of the internet, social media and the move by news networks to largely opinion and bullshit machines, we were all about telling stories…not just talking about them. I took great pride in my writing…still do. I wasn’t ever much of a TV personality and that was fine. But sending crews out to shoot, report and feed stories is expensive. Talking heads on a set to blab about stories is cheap and today cheap is good. The cost is the future of journalism–fairly and responsibly informing the public skillfully and effectively.

So it was fun to see old friends, even in little boxes, reminisce and trade some old war stories. For me, it wasn’t so much, though, to remember and embrace the “good old days,” but for us also trade the knowledge gained through our years at CNN and beyond, at some point you celebrate what we’ve accomplished together, knowing all that thinking outside the box brought us together inside them on this glorious night.

My Father’s Day Tribute to My Punning, Pranking Dad

My dad…Richard M. Garsten 1922-2007

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. This is my 36th year as a dad and the 13th year since I lost mine. Oh no, we’re not gonna get maudlin. We’re gonna have some fun, because that’s what my dad was. 

Actually, he was sort of sneaky fun. Generally quiet by nature and not nearly as outgoing as my mom who aspired to sing and act on Broadway, but gave it up to raise me and my brother. Some trade, huh? She would have had a shelf full of Tonys. 

No, my father was sneaky fun in a few ways. He was a chemical engineer by trade–not a profession generally associated with yukking it up. “Hey Al, hear the one about the constricted pipe nipple?” But he was a master punster who both loved to hear them and let one loose. Whether he was delivering or receiving, at the punchline, he’d grab his throat and make a choking sound. That was sometimes misunderstood by folks out of earshot and at least one time a concerned citizen ran over about to administer the Heimlich Maneuver on my dad thinking he’d swallowed an olive whole. Poor guy. Not only didn’t he save my dad’s life, he ruined his punchline. 

What was the pun? Oh, my father’s absolute favorite mocking of country music. The set up was, “Oh, I hate country music!” His victim would always ask, “how come?” The reply/punchline was always, “They have stupid titles like (and he’d sing it like Hank Williams) ‘He fell down the sewer and they called it sewer-cide.” Hand to the throat. Choking sound made. Victim suddenly remembers he’s late for root canal…and looking forward to it. 

One think my dad absolutely hated was cigars. Hated how they looked in a guy’s mouth and despise their smell. Back in the 60’s it was OK for folks to smoke in other people’s homes and we had an impressive ashtray collection to facilitate their early grave. Cigarettes? OK. Pipes? OK. Cigars? No OK. One night when the weekly poker game was at our house one of the players decided to fire up a stogie. My dad had laid down the ground rules many times, so he felt no need to repeat them. Instead, he simply whipped out a fat rubberband, made it tight around his fingers, and shot the cheroot right out of the guy’s mouth. The shocked guy knew he done wrong. All he could say was, “shit, I forgot the rule, but you could have just asked me to put it out.” Nope. My dad knew how to make a memorable moment…and his point, without uttering a word. 

Speaking of making his point wordlessly, that same guy who broke the no-cigar rule turned out, after awhile, to be quite the asshole and the guys wanted to kick him out of the game. They didn’t relish the confrontation so my father, ever the brilliant one, again came up with a way to send the message without getting into what would likely be an unpleasant verbal exchange. 

He shared his plan with the boys, whom he had arrive a little earlier than usual. When the jerk arrived at the usual time, he was greeted just outside the door to our apartment with 7 guys armed with seltzer bottles who drenched him in bubbly water. We never saw him again…and not a word was spoken. Told you. My dad was quiet.

I miss him every day and memorialize him by taking out my gee-tar and singing his “favorite” country song, afterwards reaching for my throat and making that choking sound. Oh, I’d never perform it in public. Would be professional sewer-cide.