You Can’t Buy Friendship

February 7, 2011

I called this place "home" for 22 years.

I grew up with a group of guys in Pittsburgh. We were all within a couple of years of each other. Joey Geagin, Frank Sabash, Joey Stiger, Billy and Bobby Ault, Marvin Hess, Herb Gallagher, my brother Lewis, and me. A few of the guys lived on Hollywood Street; whenever we got involved in a  sporting contest with kids from another neighborhood, we called ourselves the Hollywood All-Stars. That sounded better than any name we could invent based on Stratmore or Steuben streets.

There were a couple of other guys who moved away while we were all fairly young – Donny Yarling and a kid whose first name escapes me… his last name was Vater; his father owned the local hardware store.

And then there were the two siblings that were never quite part of the gang. One was a girl. She was obviously ostracized until our teen years. By then, she no longer wanted anything to do with us.

Her brother, David, was another story. I’m not going to mention his last name, but the folks I named earlier will probably know who I’m talking about.

It’s my understanding that both of those children were adopted. I can’t say for sure. I just know David was approximately our age, but had a different attitude on life.

None of us were anything more than fair athletes… at best, but David was never interested in our games of softball, football, or basketball. He always wanted to do other things – ride bikes, go to the movies, or get into mischief.

The thing that sticks in my mind the most about David is that he always seemed to have money. Money was a scarce commodity in our neighborhood and David learned early on how to use money to his advantage. If we were playing basketball and he wanted us to do something different, he’d offer to treat us to ice cream or pop. That meant bringing our game to a halt and walking the six or seven blocks to the dairy store.

David stayed in his house a lot more than the rest of us. When he did come out, he usually had something novel to get our attention… or he came bearing gifts. Because he never wanted to do the same things the rest of us enjoyed, we soon grew to dislike him.

Depending on the mood of the group on any given day, we’d either let him buy us something or tease him unmercifully until he went home.

I can remember one time I told him directly that he could not buy our friendship. If he really wanted to be a part of the group, he needed to just join in. Nothing more and nothing less. That’s the last time he offered me anything.

I often wonder if he would’ve changed as he matured. Unfortunately, we’ll never know. When he was fourteen or fifteen, he stole a car, took a bunch of guys joy riding, and wrapped the car around a telephone pole. He was killed.

Fifty years later I still have no idea why he felt the need to buy his friends. Yet, as I look around, I see others who seem to have the same personality trait.

I’ve known people who spend lavishly on friends and relatives and find themselves deeply in debt. Yet they’ll borrow money from retirement accounts to maintain the image of a wealthy big spender. I can’t help questioning what they’ll live on when they can no longer work.

Some people might think my bride and I are poor or simply miserly. We drive old vehicles and live in a modest home. We eat most of our meals at home and don’t spend a ton of money on the latest fashions. But we do manage to take nice vacations and continue to put money in our nest egg so that when we finally do retire completely, we won’t have to move in with our children.

You can’t buy friendship. I’ve always figured that if a person doesn’t like me because of whatever, I’m not really going to change his or her mind by spending lots of money showering him or her with gifts.

That seems like such a simple concept. So why can’t our government understand?

Jimmy Carter believed he could bring peace to the Middle East by giving Egypt the same amount of foreign “aid” as Israel was receiving. Considering all the money the Middle East is receiving simply by selling us oil, why do any of those countries need “aid”?

How many trillions of tax payers’ dollars have been sent to governments across the globe? How many of those tax payers’ dollars have trickled down to the poor people in those countries? How many of those tax payers’ dollars have made foreign potentates ridiculously wealthy while they continue to blame all their problems on the Imperialistic Devils in America?

We send billions of tax payers’ dollars to Saudi Arabia and their schools teach their children to hate us.

You can’t buy friendship. If children can figure that out, why can’t our politicians?

The current congress, and President, claim they want to cut government spending. I don’t know how much of the budget is given away to foreign governments, but I’ll bet we could save a bundle by telling them we don’t need their friendship that badly.

And that is my rant for the day.

Let’s Pretend

February 10, 2010

My Childhood Home

I can remember sitting on our back-porch steps with my next-door neighbor. I was driving a 1952 Plymouth and he was tooling along in his 1951 Chevy. We were both about eight years old and never gave a thought to drag racing. We were just enjoying driving side by side through the colorful countryside.

Other memories include riding a bicycle and pretending it was a horse, or motorcycle… depending on the game we were playing at the time.

Most of the boys I grew up with had very few toys. The one exception was Donny Yarling. I think that was his last name. As I recall, he was big into Captain Video and had space helmets, ray guns, and numerous other space-related items.

Donny didn’t play outside much, and his family moved away when we were all very young. I don’t recall him ever letting us play with his toys, so we weren’t all that heartbroken when he left.

My parents didn’t allow us to have toy guns – except on the Fourth of July. Therefore, we pretended to have guns whenever we played “war” or “cowboys and Indians”. The cap guns we were given for Independence Day were only a small part of our arsenal. We were also given hammer type devices with feathered tops. We’d place a cap or two in the head of the hammer, press in the feathered top, and smack the hammer on a concrete block. That would cause the caps to explode and the feathered top to go sailing through the air.

Come to think of it, I’m surprised my mother allowed us to play with such things. We could’ve put an eye out!

The other Fourth of July “play things” were the sparklers. One of our parents or older sibling would provide the flame to ignite the stick. We’d then twirl it around and be dazzled by the light. We were easily amused. I’m not sure what I pretended as I flashed my sparkler around, but I’m sure my vivid imagination had me fighting a foreign enemy with a sword or something. Had “Star Wars” been around back then, that sparkler would have quickly turned into a light saber.

As an adult, I often wonder how much we relied on our imaginations simply because we had so few toys. I watch my grandchildren play with their toys (I should say their abundance of toys) and realize there is still a good bit of pretending involved.

One thing the children up north don’t have to do right now is pretend there is snow on the ground.

Some of my favorite childhood memories are centered around the many hills in Western Pennsylvania and the abundance of snow. We would ride our sleds for hours… on city streets!

I never measured the distance, but we had a course that would’ve done Olympic bob-sledders proud. We’d start at the intersection of Stratmore and Hollywood streets. We’d sled down Hollywood, across Arnold, and circle around to where Hollywood ran into Arnold a second time.

If we had enough speed, we’d make the turn onto Arnold and continue in the direction of Hollywood until our momentum finally died away. Then, we’d pull our sleds up Ford Street and walk along Stratmore to Hollywood and repeat the run.

One time, just to be different, I went down Ford Street with the intention of turning up Arnold. I missed the turn and slid into the curb. With bloody lips, I dragged my sled back up the hill and returned to the Hollywood run. By the time I got back to the top of the hill, the bleeding had stopped, so I just kept on going.

Often times, in the summer, we’d find ourselves really missing the snow and sledding. That’s when we would walk down to Bodnar’s Appliance store and get a cardboard refrigerator box.

There used to be a vacant lot at the corner of Stratmore and Ford. We never thought they’d build a house there because the lot was basically a cliff – great for sliding down the hill in a box or on a snow disc, but not really suitable for a home with a lawn.

Our favorite sport was to load five or six boys in the box, and then roll it sideways down the hill, Our bodies would be bouncing and rolling over one another until we came to a sudden stop at the bottom. Cut lips, bloody noses, and black eyes didn’t discourage us one bit. We’d drag the box back to the top and do it again… and again… and again… until the box was torn to shreds.

I just realized I’m pretending to be back in that box. Or maybe I’m sitting with my friend on the back-porch steps driving my 1952 Plymouth through the countryside.

Who needs reality!

The Purpose of the Trip

September 20, 2008
Stratmore Street Home

Stratmore Street Home

It’s always good to come home… even if the people now living in my childhood home haven’t the slightest idea who I am. The house in the above picture is the place I called home for the first twenty-two years of my life. In fact, after I was first married and living in a tiny apartment for several months, my wife and I moved back in with my father and continued to live there for about another year. Then we found a larger place to rent and I left my childhood home for the second time; this time it was for good.

There was a time when we’d make an annual trek to Pittsburgh. That’s when we still had a ton of family members living in the area. Now the numbers have dwindled; some have moved to other states, while others have moved on to a more spiritual state. My eighty-year-old brother and eighty-seven-year-old sister are still in the area as are a sister-in-law and various nieces and nephews. All my aunts and uncles are gone, as are many of my cousins. One might think I was getting older myself! Perish the thought!

In any case, I can’t honestly say I came to Pittsburgh to visit family. I will do just that, but visiting with kin folk was not my primary motivation. I’m here for the fancy dinner I’ll be attending this evening – which will be last night by the time people read these words.

After teaching special education for two years, I joined IBM in 1968. For six years I worked as a Systems Engineer. As such, I designed business accounting applications and then programmed various electromagnetic machines and computers to perform the accounting functions. In 1974 I took over the customer education training center. My official job title was ‘instructor,” but being as I was the only instructor, I also did all the scheduling, ordering of materials, and various janitorial duties as required. Finally, in 1977, the “I’ve Been Moved” motto of IBM came true for me. I was promoted to Atlanta to develop training materials for other instructors to use.

During those nine years working for IBM in Pittsburgh, I worked with some fine people. Tonight, I will dine with some of them and reminisce over the fun we had back when we were all young and ambitious. I almost said ‘young and foolish’, and in many ways that would’ve also been accurate.

Saturday I plan on roaming around some of my old haunts. I did a bit of that yesterday after having breakfast with about a dozen of my old high school friends. The home pictured below sits on top of the highest hill in my old neighborhood.

Haunted House on the Hill

Haunted House on the Hill

When we were in grade school, that house had been abandoned for a number of years and we children were convinced it was haunted. Some older boys found a way in and reported that it had dumb waiters and many other accouterments of wealth. Since I was one of the fraidy-cats who never went closer than the sidewalk, I’ll probably never know if there was any truth to any of the stories. What I do recall is that there was a fancy stone hitching post in front of the place. Obviously the home was built when people were still tying their means of transportation to something solid so their ride home wouldn’t wander off during a visit.

Sunday is a day I’m especially looking forward to since I’ll be meeting Bill ‘Punch” Golla at Station Square. Punch is my Big Brother from the Kappa Delta Phi fraternity at Edinboro State Teachers College. I haven’t seen Punch since autumn of 1965. We’re planning to walk across the Smithfield Street Bridge and see just how much the downtown area has changed since I last wandered around those streets.

After our tour, I’ll be heading for my nephew’s home to cheer for the Steelers as they play the Philadelphia Eagles. Of course, when it comes to the Steelers, I could probably don a jersey and my Steelers jacket and be welcomed at anybody’s home to watch the game. Pittsburgh is still Someplace Special to me.