Saturday, March 17, 2007

Erin Go Off The Bench

Top of the morning to ya, or as the good “Cardinal Egan” of Imus in the Morning says, “Good morning and God bless!” So it’s not actually St. Patrick’s Day yet, but it’s close enough. The Wife inspired me to do like her this week so everyday since Sunday I have worn something green. She has done the same thing. In my case, I was able to come with a different green shirt for each day. All in good fun, I guess.

Admittedly St. Patrick’s Day always comes with a touch of mournfulness, but it’s nothing that I dwell on. For it was on St. Patrick’s night in 1989 that we lost my father to a heart attack while watching, of all things, The Quiet Man. I had last seen him on the previous Wednesday morning, when my cat woke me up to let him out. As I walked to the kitchen, my father was standing there, eating his breakfast. Not a word was spoken between us and I returned to bed. That Friday, I was going to stay home, having not seen him to talk to in a few days, but The Wife (then, The Girlfriend, of course) convinced me to take her out. So after I left work in Rye Brook, I drove to the Danbury Fair Mall to do some quick shopping for her birthday, and then picked her up. Back in those days, a night out could be some cheap dinner and a drive somewhere, or maybe a stroll around some shopping enclave. On that night, we had dinner at a Denny’s in Newburgh, then took a drive down Route 9W.

I can’t tell you for sure what time we got back to her house but as we pulled up, her father came out to the driveway and told me that my mother had called and that I was to get home. I would later find out that it was not my mother, but a family friend at the time whom I called “Ma.” My heart skipped a slight beat, but I assumed it was regarding my grandfather, who at almost 93, was beginning to slow down. I prepared myself for a probable trip to Florida for his burial.

When I got home, the first thing that stuck out at me was that the house was empty and all the cars were still in their places. My father’s Nova sat in the driveway, while my mother’s Caprice Classic was in the garage. An ashtray was knocked over, but my father’s cane was still by his chair. This was all strange to me, but I still wasn’t prepared for the worst. Was it possible that my father was so upset that he knocked over the ashtray (it was one of those stand alone types) and somebody took he and my mom out? That would be very odd.

It was time for answers. Who better than the aforementioned “Ma?” Though it was late, they never seemed to sleep over there, and I needed to know what was going on. She answered and I began to question her. Initially she wouldn’t give me anything, only saying, “they’ll be home soon.” At 20, I was impetuous enough that I wanted to know, so I kept pressing. This only lasted a minute or so before she uttered the words that forever changed my life: “Daddy’s gone.” Before I could react, she hurried off the phone.

One thinks that they’re supposed to cry, but that wasn’t what happened. My mouth went dry, and I grabbed a glass of orange juice (which would later make me sick). Then I punched the refrigerator. From there, I put my socks back on, because I had taken them off in the car during the night. Amazing the stupid things you worry about. Then I set about dealing with everything. The family – my mom, brother and sister – would be home in a few minutes.

The next few days would go by in a blur. Personal matter would be dealt with on Saturday, and the first wake would be Sunday night. This was also the first time that I would see my father with my own eyes. We would receive literally hundreds of people, from all walks of our lives. Monday would have two more wakes. As we closed up Monday night, I thought that we would close the casket, and that would be the last time I would see my father. Finally I broke down and for a good 10 minutes, was the sobbing wreck that everybody wanted me to be.

Only one thing stands out to me as truly bothering me. Tuesday, March 21st was the funeral. That happens to be The Wife’s birthday. I know she was just The Girlfriend then, but she had been around my family for over a year by the time of my father’s death, and wasn’t leaving anytime soon (and nearly 20 years and one child later, she’s still here). I don’t think it would have made a difference if I had put up a stink, but it just didn’t seem right. To her credit, she was nothing but decent about it, and continues to be unfazed by it to this day.

I was one of two people who delivered eulogies at the funeral. I remember speaking from the heart, and having several people compliment it. It wasn’t about that though. It was about representing my family, and reminding everybody of what a good man he was and will always be. Mostly, though, I wanted to honor his wish of keeping things lighthearted. While many cried by the time I was finished, many also enjoyed some laughs. Most of all, I honored his wish of having “Free Bird” be a part of his sendoff.

Life, while never being the same, has carried on. I pretty sure I know where he is proud of me, and quite positive where I think I would have let him down. I also think he had a strong notion that The Girlfriend would one day be The Wife. Speaking of The Wife, I can never forget how supportive and amazing she was through that difficult time. All of this was heady stuff for a young woman who turned 19 on the day her boyfriend’s father was buried.

Needless to say, we never forget the great man who remains my father. There’s far more to life though on St. Patrick’s Day. Too many great things have happened as well. We were on our honeymoon one year, and in London another year, and have had or gone to countless fun parties. I know it rankles some Irish folks that St. Patrick’s Day is often treated as an excuse to party to excess, but I think it highlights the fun of the Irish. Tell me what pub is better than an Irish one? So remember – tomorrow, everyone is Irish!

Before we move on, I’ve got this little nugget for ya. Besides The Quiet Man, there are many other movies and pieces of pop culture dedicated to the Irish that are quite, to quote the “Guinness” guys,

So with that in mind, allow me to show you the edited version of The Commitments, Alan Parker’s “BRILLIANT” 1991 movie about “The Saviours of Soul.” Now I know we here at “Exit 55” have long believed in being cautious with our language. Yes, we have uttered the occasional “shite” and “arse” and a few other edited words, but can we possibly add “fook” to the list? Perhaps. Anyway, watch this funny bit courtesy of YouTube, if you can stand the language.

Anyway, have a happy St. Patrick’s Day.

So A-Rod goes on with Mike and the Mad Dog on WFAN and tries to be more forthcoming and honest than ever before. What does he get in return? Hammered by the media! This guy cannot win here. I heard the whole interview and thought he was good, except for his stance of not wanting to talk about Derek Jeter. The media as a whole has a problem with A-Rod, likely a result of the contract, his agent (Scott Boras) and the fact that he often comes off as a phony. I think what this legendary player needs to do is tell the media to go to hell, and play like a man possessed. Put up the numbers, be honest and real, and New York will love you.

So day one ends in the NCAA tournament. How did your brackets fare? Mine were so-so. If you focused on no upsets, you were fine. If, like I did, you took a chance here or there, you got burned. I wanted to take Virginia Commonwealth (where my friend Jon went to school) over the Dookies, but I figured, they’re still Duke. They have Dave McClure, one of the finest players I’ve seen in person, having called a few of his games when he played at Trinity Catholic in Stamford. Yet there they were, losing to VCU. So I lost that one. My upset was the Oral Roberts/Washington State game. I thought maybe ORU could pull of the upset and lost that one also. So I went 12-4 overall. Not great but I’ve had worse days.

Oh, not be forgotten is Torey Thomas, point guard for Holy Cross, and a former teammate of Dave McClure's at Trinity. I loved watching these kids play, and it's a thrill seeing them on the big stage now, just as it is to see John Sullivan playing center at Notre Dame. It's fun to say, "I broadcast their games in high school."

Yesterday’s coverage of the tournament on CBS was only so-so at best. Even the great Dick Enberg seemed like he was not at the top of his game, while Gus Johnson was in hyper SCREAMING mode!! Then there’s Kevin Harlan, who like the Barenaked Ladies and UB40, I just do not get the attraction to him at all. I’ve never heard a good word about Gus Johnson, but what do I know? Then there was James Brown, not the one who is now dead, but the one sportscaster that everybody likes. I like him also, but he was clearly lost as a play-by-play man yesterday. Of course sometime today we will get treated to Billy “I perfected basketball” Packer. Thankfully we'll also get some of Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery. One could argue that they should be the Eye network's number one hoops team.

Oh, in case you’re wondering, my Final Four is lame. I initially had Florida, along with Kansas, Georgetown and Ohio State. That makes three number one seeds and a number two. Since then, I’ve pulled Florida (the defending champs) and inserted Wisconsin. My championship game is Ohio State and Kansas, and I figure the best player in the tournament will reach the Promised Land. I have no real solid reason to think this, so I’ll take Greg Oden and Ohio State to win the national championship. I know, it’s lame.

Looks like the vagina furor has died down in Cross River. The Vagina Three, as the young women are now known, have had their suspensions dismissed. That is probably the wisest way to make the whole dopey issue go away. Time to move on.

Am I the only one who sees Al Sharpton on TV and is always reminded of the Tawana Brawley mess in 1987? I know people deserve a second chance, but creating racial undertones when none existed killed any credibility that Reverend Sharpton has, in my mind.

Popped over to my friend Mick’s blog to see what his weekly edition was about. He jumps off baseball this week for the most part (gives me some love – much appreciated), and talks a bit about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Thanks, Mick. You’ve inspired me!

First let’s head back to the Baseball Hall of Fame, which earlier this month chose to not induct any veterans. Shameful? Kind of. Dodgers fans will tell you that Gil Hodges should be in the Hall, while I will always pull for Roger Maris. What, there weren’t another 35 Negro League players that the PC Police could induct?

Anyway, the R&R Hall inducted their 2007 class the other night. I watched just a small piece of it, as Patti Smith sang, and just couldn’t stay with it. I know she is a seminal artist, but it was just painful to me. I would have liked to have seen REM, since original drummer Bill Berry was back for the night, and they have not been the same band since he left in 1997 after suffering a brain aneurysm. There is a new version of John Lennon’s “Number 9 Dream”, cut by REM and Berry plays on the track.

Mick’s main contention is that Rush in not in the Hall, and it’s a fair point. He also outlines who is currently on the outside looking in, and who is coming up for consideration. This hall of fame is perhaps the most irrelevant of them all. I made my pilgrimage to it in 1999, and it’s worth visiting, but it’s a very confused group. While everyone is celebrating the worthy induction of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, it ‘s worth asking that if there’s a Hip-Hop/Rap Hall of Fame one day, will Aerosmith be inducted? Or Blondie? They both worked with Rap artists at one time or another, and gave them large prominence. I’m just wondering.

A quicky before we end for the day. The Wife and I had a chance to dine at Bennett’s Steak and Fish in Stamford, owned by NBA referee Bennett Salvatore. Thanks to a one-hundred dollar gift card that we won at the WGCH holiday party, we dined on Filet Mignon, enjoyed the wine selection, and finished with Tiramisu. I highly recommend it.

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