Sunday, September 28, 2008

Clothes Make The Man (and Woman)

It is true that as a youngster, I adored my maternal grandfather, Andy Ponzurick. And right behind him was my maternal grandmother, Mary.
Andy and Mary had one son and four daughters. Andy, Margaret, Evelyn, Patty and Helen. My aunt Patty moved to Cleveland, Evelyn to Pontiac, Michigan, Margie (my Mom) and Helen stayed in Smock and "Junior" was killed in World War II. So what's this have to do with clothes? Nothing. I just wanted you to meet my family.

Each month, Andy received a pension check. My grandmother would cash the check and give "Grandpap" about 10-15% of it, which he would immediately pocket and head down to Bortz's Tavern, one of the very few retail establishments in Smock in the 1950's. In those days, you didn't see many women down at Bortz's unless they were "bad". But prior to going to the "beer garden", Grandpap would perform an interesting ritual. He would take a bath, wash his hair in a barrel behind his back porch which collected rainwater, shave using a tan colored Remington electric shaver which he would then clean with a small bristled brush. He'd collect the whiskers in an old Marsh Wheeling cigar box, put on a clean white shirt followed by a suit AND tie. And a hint of Old Spice. Just to go to Bortz's.

While there, he would drink Kessler's whisky chased with an Iron City beer. Some call these drinks "boilermakers" while others called it "a beer and a bump". He knew that he was finished drinking when he realized that he was almost unable to walk. Then, Morris Bortz would call my Aunt Helen and eventually, I was usually nominated as the escort service to walk him home, even if Helen's rather mean-spirited husband had a perfectly functioning car. The walk was about a half mile. Uphill. Our walks home were GREAT. Grandpap would talk about so many things. Work, growing up, Mary's pierogies and how nice Mr. Gatey's lawn was. We had time since the uphill walk was usually pretty slow. That time also allowed me to appreciate the white straw hat in the summer and the grey felt hat in the winter. Sometimes he'd let me wear his hat.

Today at church, I looked around at all of the brushed denim and cargo pants that are worn to attend services. And the T-shirts which said any number of things. (All Steelers shirts are excluded from this observation.) Two 14 year old girls walked by moving rather slowly so that all could admire their fashionable shirts and skirts which left practically nothing to the imagination. I asked them, "If you girls were going to meet boyfriends, would you dress like this"? Their answer was "Oh no, we'd really get decked out and put on our really GOOD clothes." Really good clothes.

So in my mind, I thought that these kids now would get "really" dressed up for a school boy but not for church. Our society has been changing of late based upon convenience. Not to mention texting while standing in line for communion.

So what's important anymore? Andy Ponzurick used to mockingly be called "mayor" since he dressed up just to go to an old broken down coal miner's bar in Smock.

So dear reader, this is more of a rant than a blog today. We can dress up nice for a date but church and work takes second and third place in the wardrobe department.

But I still have to ask why did Andy Ponzurick put on a suit and tie EVERY time he went to a local bar? Tradition based upon childhood? A hidden agenda? (Remember, there were no women at Bortz's.) Maybe a way to show that he was better then the rest of those guys? He worked in the mine, shoulder to shoulder with them so that could not be the reason. What was it then?

I think that he WAS better than those guys. And better than all of those today who think that levi's and a t-shirt that says "Nike" on it is within the fashion limits for attendance at the local church. Or bar.

Often when I close my eyes, I can see Andy walking down that "ramp" toward Bortz's with that grey suit and that gorgeous white straw boater hat with the black silk hat band. Why did he look the way he looked?

Respect. Respect with just a hint of Old Spice.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Outside influences

One of the best things about growing up in a small and rural town in the 1950's is the lack of influences from the "city". And we're not talking Pittsburgh. We're talking Uniontown.

Let me give it to you straight. Most of the families in Smock never had television. Oh, we all had radios since the Eleventh Commandment was "Thou shalt listen to the Johnnie Simms Polka Party on Sunday afternoon from Latrobe". It was pretty cool to walk up and down the street and hear one radio fade away and another get louder, all being tuned to the same AM frequency. I think I learned the first four lines of Ja Parobec Z'Kapusan thanks to Johnnie Simms.

So how did we entertain ourselves and each other? Since we were boys, we played male exclusive baseball, softball and football. However, we also played hide and seek, catchers, and a middle European form of hide and seek called Lie Low Sheepy. Girls could join us on these.

Cut The Pie was a winter sport. It really was catchers played in the snow. The first kid out in the field behind our house (which was always cut with the lawn) would make a big circle in the snow. Then there would be two diameters; one going North and South and the other East and West. What you then had looked like a snowy representation of a big Bayer aspirin. Then catchers was played. The game was to strictly adhere to the established pathways in the snow. If you strayed from the pathway, you "cut the pie" and then you became "it". Easy.

Because of the lack of television, radio, and other things electronic, we actually read books and used our imaginations. I remember a big mound of finely crushed coal near my back yard that doubled nicely as a pirate ship, a drainage ditch that became a battlefield, and a specific apple tree that became a rocket ship. My secret can finally be let out that I fought more battles, sailed more seas, and navigated galaxies in those mental vehicles that I created.

Thanks to Father Fabian Oris, Pastor and Chief Disciplinarian at St. Hedwig's Church, I saw my first color TV, first wall-to-wall carpet, and first actual Frigidaire automobile air conditioner. But since Father Oris was a priest, he was exempt from being looked at in those days as "uppity".

If you talk to one of the old gang from Smock today, you'll find out something that some might call odd. The casual observer might detect the personality of a dreamer or a person who likes to do things their own particular way. These individuals truly are what they are. Some of us became writers or computer wizards or pilots. What qualified them for these important occupations was that in their youth, the machines and factories where they had their first exposure to these honorable occupations were no more than trees or a mound of dirt or a baseball diamond that sloped uphill with a pretty big ditch in left field.

My dear friend "Junie" (he was born in June) and I spoke about this recently. I said that I thought that we were fortunate that we did not have outside influences; influences from Uniontown or Pittsburgh.

"Bobby, we had lots of outside influences. We were outside all of the time when we weren't either in school or sleeping."

I stand corrected.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Something for FREE

My dear friends, I am going to tell you something personal. I am a most single man and haven't been on a "date" for about two years. Oh, I could say that I'm very busy but more likely it's because I'm just unlucky. Which is why I jumped when I heard that the web-based Yenta, eHarmony was allowing me to plough through the depths of the Pittsburgh dating world for free this weekend.

And, I have learned a lot.

Many people use cute aliases like "Daisy" and "Rosie" and a myriad of other flowers instead of their real names. I believe that this is a tactic to entice the unsuspecting bachelor into a web of terror unlike any known before.

Then there's "The one thing that (lets call her Violet) is passionate about is ____". I have read answers like money, power, travel, movies, walks in the park, dogs, squirrels, and taffy. But no one was passionate about God or friends or doing good things. They probably ARE passionate about these things, but they're not going to expose themselves to just anyone.

"The three things which Violet is most thankful for are ____". Pork, beer, and chocolate. And I'll bet that she eats and drinks all three TOGETHER. With her seventeen cats.

"The most influential person in Violet's life is ____". I've seen mother, grandmother, priest, neighbor and best friend. These are good. But I've also seen gynecologist, tarot card reader, Dear Abby, my psychotherapist, my ex-husband and Delilah.

"Violet's friends describe her as ____". You can simply recite the Girl Scout qualities since the Girl Scout Handbook is where she got these traits. Besides, who in their right mind is going to say gossipy, cheater, liar, maniac and even a BIGGER maniac.

"Three of Violet's best life skills are ____". Dealing with her ex-husband, handling my dysfunctional mother and finding new ways to pay the monthly rent. A close second are not getting pregnant, maintaining a perfect attendance at AA, learning to trust after HE did me wrong and learning how to not hate my lousy lying neighbor.

"The most important thing that Violet is looking for in a man is _____". Boy, I simply don't have room for these. We can start by re-writing the Girl Scout character traits followed by money, stability, being punctual, that he changes his underwear regularly, thin waist, liberal piercings and tattoos that are spelled correctly.

"The first thing you'll probably notice about Violet is her ______". One woman actually said "butt". Another said "chest". Then there were smile, eyes, hair, nasal septum post, personality, neck, scars and "my ability to put my legs behint my neck". Honest.

"Violet typically spends her leisure time _____". Bowling, cleaning, talking on the phone, driving my school bus, getting hammered (drunk), riding my Harley, dancing, calling my lawyer, or spending time with my "ex".

And finally, "The things Violet simply cannot live without are _____". Chocolate, Pringles, my 17 cats, my warm up suit, my Pontiac "Feeerio", my I-Pod, a man in my life and Starbucks "Macchiatos". (Do they sell cars now?)

OK, I'm not being stereotypical and I am not representing that a lot of women who live in Pittsburgh and get on eHarmony are co-dependent addicted psychopaths, but let's think about this. Many say, "Well, I'm not going to some BAR to find a man". Gotcha. Or "I just don't like the whole dating scene today". Yep.

Haven't these people heard of meeting people in SAFE places like church, friends homes, private and company parties or neighbors? Ohhhh, that's right. They're not all atheists, unemployed loners and sociopaths, right?

I actually spoke to one of these people this weekend on the phone. After 2 minutes, I knew that I had to look further. And when I told her that I didn't think that the "chemistry" may be there, she actually said "Ohhhhh, that's where you're WRONG."

Help.