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Sunday, August 24, 2014


For decades, my family has labored under the ludicrous belief that I am a bumbling goon. They have even taken to referring to me as “Clark”, not in reference to Clark Gable; no, it is homage to the fictional Clark W. Griswold, Jr.  To which I offer a hearty “Horsefeathers!”

I began this line of thought after wheeling into the bank-in-a-box to grab some quick cash. Of course, the person at the machine ahead of me was attempting to apply for a mortgage via the keypad of the ATM.  Twenty minutes later, I was on my way. This caused me to think of the absurdity of some things.   Not the least of which was the above assertion. Such a comparison leaps entirely over “Sublime” and lands squarely on its keister in “Ridiculous”

It certainly could not have been from the time I was striving to get our young daughters off to school. Of course, it was a time fraught with pleading, cajoling, even bribery, to get them all into the car at the same time. While backing out of the drive, someone announced they had left something in the house. I put the car in park, shut off the engine, and took the key. I told the girls to “wait here, I will be right back, and DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING.” I was a young father then; I did not realize “don’t touch anything” translates into “goof around, push buttons, do what you want.” One of the things our daughter Char opted to touch was the garage door opener. As the door was open at the time, its list of options of what to do next was pretty limited.

Now, this was not a “hip style” door, which is a series of horizontal sections, hinged to flex and roll up or down within the confines of its track; nice and orderly. No, this was a “Marquis De Sade” style door, a single piece of steel, slightly less formidable than an Abrams tank. It was not hinged; it did not roll up and down in a confined track. No, this monstrosity would swing out, up and back to open. Closing was the reverse; the mammoth slab of steel would move forward, down, and swing inward to close.

While walking at a pretty good clip, I suddenly felt a tremendous pain in the center of my forehead, saw a brilliant white flash, and heard the sound of the door continuing to close.  I sported a dandy gash and bruise in the middle of my forehead for some time.

Naturally this brought to mind the Great Luminaries Incident.

 Back in the late 1980’s softly glowing luminaries were quite the in things.  This was prior to the ubiquitous empty plastic milk jug being repurposed. These consisted of a nifty translucent paper bag, about the size of a brown paper lunch sack, some clean kitty litter and a votive candle. At times, various designs, such as snowflakes, or Christmas trees, would be perforated in the sides of the bags, making a charming display.

The children and I carefully assembled the bags, and set them gingerly along our walk way. In eager anticipation, I struck a match, lowered it toward the candle, and exclaimed “Golly gee! That is kind of warm!” or something to that effect; it was apparent, the candles were too low to reach with a hand held match or lighter. Attempts to extend the reach by grasping the match with a pair of pliers proved to be rather futile.

It was at that time I was seized by a flash of brilliance; why not use a propane handy-man torch?
In retrospect, I can give you a fairly sizable list of “Why not”, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. 

Seized by the prospect of a quaintly illuminated walkway, I cast all aside. Some of which included the basic laws of physics, and thermodynamics. 

Thrusting the brass tube and tip of the torch in the bag, I triggered the ignitor. I chuckled as I saw the needle sharp blue flame burst forth. I became a tad concerned when I saw the tip of the flame curling upward, riding upon the current of hot air rising within the chimney of the bag. I reached the “OH NO” point as the bag began to darken, smoke, and finally ignite. The kids arrived at the “DAD! It’s burning!” point simultaneously.  The unlit candle was nestled snug and secure upon its bed of kitty litter.

Did you know that burning paper bags can spread from one to another when they are placed in close proximity? Especially when a brisk December breeze springs up?  Neither did I.  What we did learn, though, was snow makes a dandy fire extinguishing media.  When it was all over we had the most picturesque pile of sooty snow, frozen kitty litter, and randomly placed candles you could ever hope to see.

This also brought The Christmas Tree Caper to mind.

Years ago, one of my customers was a Mom and Pop hot-dog and ice cream stand. In order to increase traffic and sales, the owner would sell colorful hanging baskets in the spring, perfectly shaped pumpkins in the fall, and Christmas Trees in December. Wanting to support one of my loyal clients; we loaded up our Chevy van and went to get our tree.

The van was a humongous white Chevrolet conversion van. I referred to it as Moby, an unaffectionate reference to Moby Dick, the great white whale.

After enjoying some hot chocolate, chit-chatting with the owner, we found our tree.  The young men working in the lot tied the tree to Moby’s roof.  With a beep and a wave, we headed for home. 

Turning on to the freeway, I accelerated up the entrance ramp. Thirty-five, forty, forty-five….suddenly a scraping sound from the roof of the van indicated that all was not well. Our daughter Aubrey exclaiming the tree had fallen off confirmed my suspicions.   Glancing in the mirror I saw the tree rolling and bouncing along, trying vainly to catch up to the van. Adding a bit of comic relief was a stream of vehicles playing dodge-em with the tree.

I pulled over, and carefully backed down the shoulder about a hundred feet until we were within a reasonable distance of the tree.  For its part, the tree simply lay there, beckoning us to come to the rescue.

LB decided it would be easier to thrust the tree into Moby’s rear-end rather than wrestle it to the roof.  She flung the rear doors open as Aubrey, Gabe, and I went to recover the tree. I didn’t realize Cleveland had so many friendly people; as we were dragging it across the on-ramp, so many folks beeped and waved as they sped past. I am not sure what or who they were saying was #1 though.

We trotted to the van, and began to jam the stupid thing in Moby’s open maw. If you have ever considered stuffing a pine tree into the back of a van, don’t do it. Trust me, it doesn't end real well.

The kids were providing forward motive power for the lousy bush while I was attempting to guide it between the captain’s chairs. At some point, the combined force of two overcame the calm, reasonable, analytical efforts of one. I found myself ensnared by the grasping tentacle branches of this vegetative monster, being pulled into Moby’s gaping rear.

Surely, I would have been lost, were it not for the back of my new leather jacket fortuitously snagging on a door hinge. With the gut-wrenching cry only ripping leather can emit, the brave jacket gave of itself to save me.

After much frenzied pushing, shoving, and cramming we got the bush from Sheol half-way in the van. We were encouraged by the cheerful honking and waving coming from the weaving vehicles passing us. We pulled the doors as closed as they would go, and then tied them securely with the remnants of the dental floss the lot guys had used, and went on our way. A snow squall roaring in off Lake Erie provided some additional levity.

Various events coursed through my mind;

The time I was on the platform at church and realized I had a pair of black and brown loafers at home perfectly matching the pair I was wearing…
The time I traveled to Florida for a week-long business trip on a Sunday evening. Imagine the smile of delight on my face come Monday morning when I discovered the only shoes I had were the deck-shoes  worn on the flight…

I recalled a business seminar in Chicago.  LB had accompanied me. Our plan was to meet with a friend at The Berghoff downtown. As I hurried along, saw what I thought was a hallway and did the old “bird-into-a-window” trick. Much like a bird’s, my beak was also broken.

LB and our friend were amused beyond words by the constantly changing colors of my nose and eyes. My heart was warmed to know I had provided them such joy.

My little mishaps also extend to the great outdoors. It is no secret that I am very fond of woods, mountains, and fields. My skill level is a very well kept secret. For example, while conducting a refresher course in black-powder for our son Gabe and son-in-law Eric, I decided to see if they were paying attention to the proper loading technique. I cleverly loaded in reverse order, placing the lead ball prior to loading the charge of powder. This was to test their powers of observation, which both young men failed miserably. The error was confirmed when the percussion cap "snap" was not followed by the rifle’s "boom".  They did learn the proper technique for tugging, yanking,and  pulling a stuck ball from the barrel of a muzzle-loading rifle.

I pulled my Jeep into the parking spot at work. I shook my head while chuckling at such a silly notion my family insists upon clinging to. I retrieved my coffee cup from the console between the seats. Bemusedly, I watched as the cup separated from the lid in my hands, splashing hot black liquid upon the console, the passenger seat, and my khakis.

You know…they may have a point after all.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I Still Got It

The other day while straightening up from the drinking fountain at the office, a young co-worker asked if I tweeted.

Somewhat embarrassed, I told her I was sorry- at times sounds do emanate from me, but no one has ever used “tweet” as a descriptive adjective.

“No” she said. “Do you Twitter?”

The light began to raise much like a Cleveland morning on a gray February morning. It took a bit for me to decipher the new terminology. I mustered up my most suave Sean Connery/James Bond smile and Marty Feldman eyebrows, patted her paternally on the shoulder, “Well, I am very flattered, but I am very happily married to my Lovely Bride.”

She gave me a forlorn look, and stomped off.

Poor lass, she couldn't help it. She had simply become ensnared in the “Ol’ Hopkins Mystique”.

See, for as long as I can remember, females have been drawn to me. Not in a “whoa-check-out-that-guy” way; it is more of an “Awww-that-poor-guy” way. It is the same response as seeing a baby bird which has fallen from the nest. They take one look at me, and BAM… the whole nurturing, help the poor injured bird thing kicks in.

While I certainly don’t attempt such an image, it is just sort of there. There is something about either my expression or demeanor which causes people, particularly women, to assume I am either in distress or hopelessly lost.

I recall being a youngster shopping at the Super-Duper Market with my Mom. You may remember the type, with a staggering 8 or 10 aisles. She was down the cereal aisle from me, pondering which jar of Kretschmer’s Wheat Germ to purchase. I was transfixed by the image of Tony the Tiger exhorting the greatness of Sugar Frosted Flakes. My hope was Mom would pick up my telepathic message, ditch the Kretschmer’s, and stock up on Frosted Flakes.

However, my concentration was shattered by the strident, nasal voice of a matronly woman saying “Are you lost, little boy?” Little? For crying out loud, I was ten!

I tried to explain that my Mom was right there, I wasn't lost. My words fell upon deaf ears. This do-gooder tried to drag me off to the store manager, so he could blab over the loud speaker to the entire store about the little lost boy who wasn't.

Fortunately, Mom heard the commotion, calmly told the woman I was not lost, although I tend to look that way.

We returned home, I carefully hid the wheat germ behind the spare tire in her Pontiac Tempest, and then sought out a mirror. With two sisters, the search was pretty easy.

It only took about 10 seconds to realize the problem.

See, I used to wear these super thick, pop-bottle bi-focal glasses. It had to do with having been a preemie, getting cataracts, having cataracts removed…blah, blah, blah.

The result was these ridiculously thick things gave me a wide-eyed, deer-in-the- aircraft-landing-lights look. I perpetually had an expression of extreme shock and dismay on my face; even when laughing hilariously at the Pink Panther.

Add to the above effect the fact my physique (until my late teens) would make a stick-figure look beefy. To top it all off, I was about 5” taller than all my peers until about 10th grade when I quit growing, and they didn't.

All combined, the net effect was that of a baby bird which had tumbled from its nest.

Oh it attracted females alright. Typically the girls who wanted to be nurses, veterinarians, or social workers; they all wanted to help, help me find my parents, help me find my home-room, help me find a book at the library.

It was disgusting. All this attention and not a speck of it like the Man from U.N.C.L.E. got from women. Of course, at 10 I had no idea what to do if that were the case. I guess we would walk hand-in-hand to Connor’s Ice Cream parlor to get a hot dog and chocolate phosphate. For years, I lived with this particular albatross about my neck.

I bugged my parents about getting me these new things called “contact-less lenses”, which could be worn in the eye! What a country! But, they refused, saying my eyes were still growing. Looking in the mirror, I would think “Good grief! They get much bigger, I won’t have a face! I will just be a big pair of eyes walking around!”

However, toward the end of my Senior Year of High School, my dad relented. We went off to my old eye surgeon, Dr. Kazdan, to be fitted for lenses. Finally the big day came; the doctor carefully inserted the lenses in my eyes, I looked in the hand mirror presented to me…. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. “Halloo, Ladies.” My appearance improved dramatically. Adding about 40 pounds didn’t hurt anything either.

Except….my face must have gotten stuck in that “Help! I fell out of my tree!” look.

While not being quite so alien looking, I still found myself being approached by females wanting to help me.

Was I hungry? We could go get dinner, she’d buy.
Was I lost? I could go to their place.
I looked worried, would I like a nice back-rub?

I responded with my ingrained suaveness; 
No, I am not hungry. 
No, I live a couple blocks from here. 
No, I don’t want a back rub. Are you weird or what?

And so it went. No matter where I went; it got to be pretty depressing after awhile.
Which is why I am eternally grateful on the day I asked the future LB to go out, she didn’t act like I was in immediate need of assistance, she simply said “Sure!” ,with a giggle, her blue eyes sparkling.

 I chuckled as I thought of the young lady at the drinking fountain; poor thing.

Say, would anyone have any idea why HR is calling me??

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Baseball and Honor

My…. What a summer this has been. It seems this could be the “Summer of Nothing Really Monumental”;  yet so many things have happened.  

Let’s see… Ike turned a year old in April. Ike has been with us nearly 14 months. Mimi will be 11years old in a few weeks. There have been no devastating floods in town, despite there being some real gully-washing rainstorms. Bess, my old Jeep, rolled 200,000 miles. She now sports a commemorative Chrysler 200,000 Mile Club license plate frame.

Our oldest Grandchild turned 22, and the youngest one turned 4.  

Just for chuckles, the artery in my leg decided to narrow again, necessitating a return to the hospital. Fortunately, like most summer sequels, this was not as intense as last summer’s original release, and I was home the same day.

Yet, to paraphrase James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams: The one constant through all the years…, has been baseball.

My Lovely Bride and I have been very fortunate in that we have been able to attend several games of our own Lake County Captains.

Yes, I know they are a minor league team. Yes, I know they are part of the Cleveland Indians farm system. I know players may be here this week, and traded or moved up next week. None of that matters.

See, I love baseball.

The Caps are our hometown team. They are part of the fabric of our town, as integrated as the Chagrin River flowing through town, as constant as the waves of Lake Erie upon our shores. Recently, the relationship between town and team has vastly improved.

All of which leads to LB and me to standing in a line with several thousand of our BFFs for hours before the ball park gates open; in the hopes of being one of the fortunate 1,500 people to receive a Jobu bobble-head. 

For a primer of who Jobu is, search the film Major League. You will also see a much younger Charlie Sheen as well, albeit I can’t make any claims for his emotional state at this time period.

While I have no warm feelings whatsoever toward Jobu (in fact, my feelings are rather cool toward Jobu), I did have a purely capitalist reason for wanting one. LB and I determined we were going to sell that sucker for the best price we could get that night!

But, I digress

As we entered through the gate, after each receiving a Jobu, we were handed a program by none other than Peter Carfagna, owner of the team. I have never attended an Indians or Cavs or any other game where the owner was at the gate welcoming people. But, that is the type of man Peter is.

For Peter, owning a team is not a mere business venture. It is a passion of the man’s. He sees more than people at the turnstiles; he sees young children coming to their first real ball game. He sees loyal season ticket holders, many the same who bought packages for the Captain’s inaugural season in 2003.  He sees families coming out for an enjoyable evening.

Peter knows baseball is the great equalizer, the great unifier of America.

He also knows baseball truly is America’s sport; as much a part of our nation’s fabric as the myriad of cultures that make America who she is.

Peter also has a quiet, reserved respect for the sacrifice of our young men and women who volunteer to serve in our armed forces. Volunteer; think of that for a moment. We have no compulsory military service requirement.  We have no involuntary draft. Our service branches are made up of men and women who volunteer to put their lives on hold for a period of time to ensure our lives can continue in peace. 

Therefore, no matter if every ticket is sold, an empty seat will be at our stadium. A seat, located directly across from the main gate, overlooks the batter’s box and the start of the third base line. Black in color, it stands out from its royal blue companions. A chrome chain extends around this particular seat. As one draws near, the words “Reserved POW-MIA” are seen.  In partnership with Rolling Thunder, Peter and the Caps have ensured that while these unfortunate ones cannot be at the game, they yet have a place of honor.

Amongst the give-away, the Cleveland Sports heroes of the past signing autographs and the News-Herald’s prize wheel (hint; go to look for Captains August 1 prize wheel photos. You just might see yours truly and LB), there was a more somber moment.

The singing of the National Anthem was somewhat more special than usual this evening. A young Marine, a local boy, who had been killed in Iraq on August 1, 2005, it was his sacrifice, his memory, and in his honor the Anthem was sung that night.

The Men’s Chorus from this young patriot’s home church gathered about home plate, his father standing ram-rod straight in the second row. As the first notes were sung, from our seats 14 rows above the plate, the man’s tears could be seen coursing down his cheeks. The father of two Marines, he sung on; strongly and proudly.  

I stood, trying to choke out the words as thoughts of “What If?” ran through my mind. What if… our son’s submarine experienced an unforeseen hull failure while submerged? What if…his boat (yes, subs are referred to as “boats”) had suddenly, inexplicably gone missing? What if… being a rescue swimmer, he was lost while trying to save a shipmate? Any one of the hundreds of ways a person can lose their life at sea danced evilly in my mind. Would I be as steadfast as this man before us was?

The strains “… and the home of the brave” echoed into silence around the stadium.  The crowd remained standing as the giant flag was carried from the field by a score or so of local youngsters. The umpire called “Play ball!” and life continued.

As the game progressed, I would think of that empty seat above us. I would think of a young Marine, who gave his all that LB and I could enjoy a Summer’s evening without fear of terrorist attack. I thanked God for America, and for the American Spirit which still lives on.

Following a fireworks display, we rejoined our BFFs making their way to the parking lot.

The Caps had won 8-1.

Oh yeah… we sold the two Jobu bobble-heads.