Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Horror

Getting there is half the horror.

In my last post I went on and on about the terrible but adrenaline-filled few minutes getting to the airport for my last trip. But then came the actual journey. Now that all flights are always filled, people like me dread flying like medieval people feared the plague. I don't mean for the phrase 'people like me' to imply racial or demographic profiling, it's more like anatomical profiling.

You see, I'm tall.

And airplane seats are built for average people. I'm a lot of things, but I'm not average. As soon as I sit down, my knees are pushing into the back of the seat in front of me. I feel like I'm back at William Jennings Bryan Elementary trying to jam myself into those pre-pubescent seats. I sit down and quickly pull the twelve magazines from the seat pocket in front of me and toss them out the window. Every quarter inch helps.

Then the waiting begins.

I'm waiting for the monster to come down the aisle and sit in the chair in front of me. And it's never a little old lady who won't put their seat back. Oh, no, it's always some clown who feels he must collapse himself into the seat driving it back into my knees dislocating my femurs from my hip bone.

And I've noticed, these beasts never sit down in their seat, they fall into it as though they've just finished running a double marathon. Are they exhausted lugging themselves around all day? Or are they just unconscious about the people around them? I vote 'B'.

But who knows, things could work out. I could get an actual person to sit there, so I sit and I watch and I judge and I make bets with myself.

Uh-oh! There he comes. Man Mountain Monroe! Six years as a defensive lineman for the Dolphins. My heart sinks. He's still thirty feet away, but the old heart's in my shoes. It's him! He's going to sit in front of me and he's going to figure out some way to actually push his own seat back and crush me until I make popping noises like bubble wrap as you stomp on it.

Sure enough! As he throws himself into the seat with all the force of meteor strike, I quickly stand before he hits and it's a darn good thing I do. For as I attempt to sit, I discover I can't.

I could put my legs out in the aisle to be run over by the drink cart or I could become overly friendly with the Asian gentleman sitting next to me, but those are my only choices. So I split the difference. I put one knee jutting out into the aisle to poke anyone wandering by and the other is nestled into the thigh of my new best friend.

Sure, I've heard that people want to be tall, but like everything else in the world, there's another hidden face to all that - the forehead bruises, the extra work to find clothes that fit, oh, no, they don't tell you about that before you get recruited to go to tall school.

But, then, chicks really dig the tall guys. (Geez Louise, look at that dude's hand!)

And then as the high pitched buzzing that fear causes finally begins to drain out of my ears, I start to hear things. Bad things. Coughing. Sneezing. Hacking. Crying. Oh, wait, that's me crying. I try not to breathe, but that's going to be darned hard for two hours.

I take shallow breaths, perhaps the germs won't go all the way into my lungs. Perhaps they'll know my heart isn't in it and will take pity and infect some unimportant organ instead. I hear you can live without your spleen. Take that! Take my spleen!

If these people are so sick, what could possibly be so important that they had to fly somewhere? Well, perhaps it was a death in their family. If so, the person probably died after catching something on an airplane!

People come in to work sick and come to my office sick and they'll say awful things to me like, "Don't worry, I'm not contagious." What?!! How the hell do you know that?? And I throw them right out. But now I'm trapped, I have no control over this situation! When I squint, I can imagine I can see the little swine flu buggers floating in the air.

So I take myself to my happy place. I remember that things could be SO much worse. I could be William Shatner.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Flight of Fancy

I had to travel recently on business. Suddenly.

Travel is so exciting. It can be even more exciting when you don't have time to adequately plan. So, I was asked (!) recently to take the place of someone who had a customer visit planned. The person had gone and gotten themselves hurt (yeah, right), so I was sent in to absorb the wrath of a large and dedicated team of angry physicians.

Why me? Well, part of the fallout of working with the same customer base for thirty years is that people get to know you, remember your unusual name, you know the drill. So they felt comfortable yelling at me.

But I know how to do that, that's not the issue. It was the trip! The trip was a TRIP. I had the itinerary of the other guy, but I couldn't match the dollars because it was now about a day before I had to leave. So my trusty administrative goddess and I spent a couple of hours trying to figure out how to get from a large, metropolitan east coast city to a large, metropolitan mid western city at the last minute. Multiple, multiple attempts with various options including one that involved a stopover on the moon. It's not so easy, lemme tell ya.

But we got it done and I decided to go into work for a couple of hours in the morning before the flight because I HAD to get some stuff out of the way. My other work didn't just disappear because I was going to disappear. I recall my wife looked at me funny and implied she thought I was nuts, but hey, I'm a company man, it's my frickin' job, OK?

And it's a darned good thing I went in, too, because the Earth would have stopped spinning if I hadn't done what I was supposed to do. I mean, it's happened before.

So, I finished my work, picked up my travel paperwork to print off my boarding pass and happened to notice in an offhand sort of way, that the flight was going to take off in an hour and fifteen minutes! Holy crap! One of the many other flight options we had discussed had stuck in my head! The incompetence washed over me like a warm summer shower leaving me a little bedazzled by so quickly reaching Level 27 in the new Facebook game 'Incompetence Wars'.

Now, in the olden days, I would have had a hemorrhage or two and perhaps died on the spot. Ah, but not so, not any more. Now I have gone through the fires of hell and have had my mettle tested by a German colleague who was both a physician and a policeman. This crucible has burned away the impurities leaving a kind of shrunken but sturdy metallic outline of what I used to be. I survived that clown, this little thing was nothing! Nothing, I tell you!

So, I jammed my laptop and papers in my bag and hit the road. Now I certainly wasn't going to get to the airport two hours ahead of time, that was a chronological certainty. Sure I had a couple of other strikes against me, sure my luggage was still at home because I thought I would have plenty of time to pick it up on the way to the airport. Sure, I didn't have a boarding pass yet, but I did have a secret ace in the hole! Ha HAA! No, I won't tell you yet.

Once in the car, I call my wife. I ask her to try to print the boarding pass. Nope, too close to take off. She checks to see if the flight's on time. You BET IT IS! She checks for later flights, yeah, sure, but they're full. Deb says,"I wondered why you were going in to work, I couldn't see how you were going to make it." That explains why she looked at me funny, but what the heck, I give her LOTS of reasons to look at me funny, this is just one more banana in the bunch.

Now, it's thirty-five minutes from the office to get home and maybe twenty-five minutes to the airport. Then boarding pass, security, banging on the door of the plane. Pretty tight. Pret-ty tight! Deb drives me to the airport, there is no parking in this scenario, I arrive fifteen minutes before the flight leaves.

I rush in, breathless, expecting the worst... BUT, there's no one in line! The lady smiles at me at first and when she sees what flight I'm on she gives me a look that is an uncompromising blend of shocked pity and unutterable contempt.

She sums it up for me. She says, "You'd better hurry." No kidding.

I run up the escalator and into the motherless hands of... Security! I take off my coat, my shoes, my belt, my shirt and my pants and go through the portal in my socks and underwear. Hey, there could metal in that stuff! As I'm stepping through the portal, I remember I didn't take my little baggie of liquids and goo out of my suitcase. That's it! That's what will do it! My goo! My goo will screw the whole thing up.

But, no! The goo got through! The conveyor poops my suitcase out and the guard strikes me only once across the shoulder. Did you ever try to get dressed in a hurry? It's harder than you think. Shoelaces take an especially long time, so does lacing a belt. So does putting on your pants.

I get it all done, but OH MY GOSH! it's TIME! I glance at the monitor as I go by to confirm the gate and oh, look, a gift. They've moved the flight to Concourse B from Concourse C. Interestingly, we had driven by Concourse B to get to Concourse C. So, I run. I shouldn't run, I have no knees any more, but I run anyway.

Breathlessly, I arrive at the gate. The gate agent looks me over with a combination of derision and disdain. She says, "I guess this is your lucky day, we should start boarding in about a half hour."

You see, folks, this was US Airways. And US Airways was my ace in the hole. Even though the telephone agent didn't tell my wife the flight was late and even though the counter agent didn't tell me the flight was late, I knew, I knew that I could ALWAYS count on US Airways being late out of Philadelphia.

There are few things in the world that you can really count on. Mighty rivers may change their course, great nations may change their boundaries, even the sun itself will go supernova some day.

But you can rest assured that on the day the sun explodes, US Airways flights will be late leaving Philadelphia. This was just my lucky day.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

OK, NOW It's Mother's Day

The third part of a trilogy is supposed to be the best.
Yeah, right.

I saved the third entry in the trilogy about my mother for after Mother's Day. Somehow, it seemed appropriate because now we'll talk about her when I knew her. The previous two posts were about her life before her marriage and my brother and I coming into the picture.

Sophia Pawlak married Leon Kleylein on April 15, 1944 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. There don't seem to be any wedding pictures that are identified as such, but here's one where Mom has a hibiscus flower in her hair and my father has one of those short 1940's ties on. (Hmmm, I wonder if they'll come back?) Anyway, This could be it for all I know. Just for fun, let's say it is - OK, here's their wedding picture! They seem happy.

Here's another one where they seem happy. I like this one because it's so well worn that I presume they liked it as well. My father is wearing his auto mechanic's uniform and Mom is wearing the type of housedress that I remember her wearing all the time. That insignia on my father's shirt LOOKS like the old Amoco logo before they went red white and blue, but I can't quite make it out. Maybe I should use that special software that the cop shows have that clarifies an image even when there are NO PIXELS available. Oh, wait, there isn't any such software.

Here she is with my brother Dave in January of 1946. Look how handsome my brother is, my mother can't believe her eyes.

As I mentioned before, my mother was a maid all her life. She worked at the Holiday House on Biscayne Boulevard and NW 117 St. in Miami and at the LuRu Motel at Biscayne and NW 145 St. operated by Lou and Ruth Bruno (LuRu). Interestingly, the back of the Holiday House property was on the Dixie Highway (East Dixie - see previous posts) and the LuRu was situated right on what was once the Dixie Highway and the Florida East Coast railway ran behind it. She could walk to the Holiday House, but she had to take a bus to the LuRu and when we moved to Carol City, it was a long trip.

And then, here she is three years later with me at five months. She looks like she's been through the ringer, but I guess that's what happens when you have a ten pound baby.

As much as she loved my brother and me, I think she had a special love for my daughter Leah. The family never had more than two nickels to rub together, but Mom would have given everything she had to Leah with no hesitation.

I'm sorry Mom never got to meet Heather since Heather wasn't born until a year and a half after she died. I'm sorrier still that Heather didn't have the opportunity to meet her grandmother Kleylein. Imagine how hard it must be to miss memories you never had.

My mother was a good mother. Our clothes were clean, there was always enough food and neither my brother nor I ended up in prison for any considerable length of time. Sure, my parents smoked and drank beer, but so did everyone in those days, there wasn't any television to numb our brains. My brother and I learned how to work and you can blame it on genetics or culture, I don't care, it worked out for me.

Thanks, Mom.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

"M" is For. . .

No, it's not Mother's Day yet, but this is a followup to my last post about my Mother.

In my last post, I celebrated my Mother's 100th. birthday. Imagine if Sophia Pawlak were still alive! She was born in the first year of the presidency of William Howard Taft. To kids today, you might as well say "during the reign of Charlemagne." It sounds so distant, so foreign.

Look at this photograph, there's a lot to be learned. She was already a grown woman in 1931. She was in St. Paul, Minnesota and I don't know where she was going, but wherever it was - she was walking there. It was the Depression after all.

We also have a reminder of what was once a very common street scene - someone changing a tire. I've changed a few in my day, but not lately. It's not quite so common to see anymore, but even this friendly snapshot caught one.

Check out the sidewalk. Even in these circumstances, her shoes are nice, she knew where to put her money. The closer you look, the more impressive they are, they had soles on them and everything!

So, she had style, that's nice to know. At this point in her life, she was a live-in maid, so she didn't have a ton of money to throw around.

She was very frugal, very careful with money, but I must say, she continuously found 50 cents for comics for my brother and I even though I bet that 50 cents would have come in handy, you know for food and stuff.

Here's a shot of Mom with her brother, my Uncle Richard, when they were working for the von Neida
family on Normandy Isle in Miami. Mom was the housekeeper and part-time nanny for their grandson, Marc Beebe. I've been to the house in the photo (on Normandy Isle) and duplicated the photographs of the property, it's changed but still easily recognizable. I was able to stand in the very spot where they stood in 1937.

Working in the housekeeping industry around all that dust can end up giving you a really dry throat and a tremendous thirst. But Mom was able to identify a remedy for that. Beer. Or the occasional 'high-ball'. Why, I've even had one or two myself after a particularly tough housekeeping day.

I can't really say enough about the photograph below, you're really going to have to look at it in detail. I did, when I was figuring out where this bar was so I could track it down. That's Mom in the foreground and her friend Freddy holding a full sized mannequin on his lap. There must be a great story behind how he came into it's possession. Then there's the guy half standing in the center rear apparently wearing an earring long before they became fashionable. And the South American looking guy giving the side sockets to the drunk. And the prim looking banker's wife type who was probably drunker than all the rest of them. What a great photo. Party down!

Using my incredible detective skills, I was able to identify that this was taken at the Park Avenue Restaurant on Miami Beach, the site of which is currently underneath the Miami City Ballet. I bet they didn't see that coming. I wonder if occasionally some swan will be doing a fouetté rond de jambe en tournant and suddenly the ghost of drunkenness past would smack her and knock her on her ass. She'd look around to see what just happened and somewhere my Mom would be smiling.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Everybody Has a Mother

Today is my mother's 100th. birthday.

She's not still with us, however, she died quite a while ago. She died of complications from a perforated ulcer. Now, of course, we know that ulcers are caused by a virus and not the stress caused by raising two recalcitrant children. But we didn't know that then, so my brother and I figured that we had driven her to an early grave, or at least I did. If not for the stupid ulcer, she might still be alive. Sixty-six years old isn't very old for our family, everybody lives into their nineties. Except my father who died at eighty-nine after smoking and drinking his whole life. Sixty-six, boy, that's only a few years older than I am now! That's a sobering thought, huh?

That's Mom on the right with her younger brother Richard who has on almost as nice a dress as she does. She was born Sophia Eleanor Pawlak on May 1, 1909 on a farm in Silver Lake, Minnesota. These folks weren't well-to-do genteel farmer types, they were Polish farmers in a Polish community. And that community had most of their roots from a couple of small towns in Posen, Poland and they all grouped together and continued their lives in the United States.

So, she grew up working and that's what she did her whole life.

In this photograph, that's Mom on the right with her mother Wanda (Pokornoski) Pawlak, her brother Richard and her sister Delphine. Her youngest brother Edwin hadn't been born yet.

She did jobs like pick strawberries for extra money, but mostly, and for the rest of her life, she was a maid. I look at the photographs of her when she was a child and she's never smiling. In this shot of her at her confirmation, she's very serious with those eastern European eyes looking at us. What was she thinking? Was she making plans? Was she glad to be alive? Or was she already feeling old?

I can't ask her, because I never had the sense to when she was alive.


So, as soon as she was old enough, she got a job as a maid for a well-to-do family in Saint Paul, the von Neida family. At one point, all three older Pawlak children Sophia, Richard and Delphine all worked for the von Neida family. The family began wintering in Miami and that's where my mother met my father and you know how that turned out. Isn't it something how a seemingly small decision becomes a pivot point and everything that happens after that was dependant upon that one turn?

Here's Mom at twenty-one, she's very fashionable with that hair, huh? Remember, in 1930, they were very much in the Depression, I'm REALLY glad she knew enough to get some photographs taken.

But she also knew there wasn't going to be any college for Sophie. There wasn't going to be any 401(k) money to lose, there wasn't going to be any money, no trips to Tahiti, no ball gowns stuffed into the waiting limo. Actually, she never even learned to drive. No car, no reason to drive. Simple reasoning, huh?

But she came into her own, that's for certain! Perhaps I'll write about that tomorrow, you can't stuff a whole life into one post.

So, I'll leave you with a photograph of the four Pawlak childen in 1934. From the left is Edwin, the youngest, Delphine, Sophia and Richard. It might bore you almost to tears to learn that I was named after my Uncle Richard. They were going to name me either Richard or Kenneth. And that was one of those pivot points I spoke about, because Kenneth would never have lost his hair!