Twenty Hits of Viagra and a Bottle of Gin

Road Warrior, I  have travelled enough for work to earn that title. This may come as a surprise but the experience is not as exciting as the moniker may lead one to believe. I have never ridden in a hopped up Ford Falcon with an Aussie sidekick who strangely speaks with a dubbed in voice.

I have logged hundreds of thousands of air miles crisscrossing the country and sometimes the world. It is not glamorous but I have accumulated a large collection of stories to tell.    Add a stolen credit card number to the  pile. You never know the tastes of those stealing your credit card. Their purchase could stay on your permanent record.  If I had a choice it would be someone charitable or a person who would not be in need of anything embarrassing.  You can probably see where this is going but don’t spoil it for the others.

Now I have a theory as to how this came about,  in short it probably was the  result of an accidental credit card swap during a dinner with colleagues and a less than honest gas station attendant believing my card was already stolen. I returned to the home office a few days later and was greeted with a message from the credit card company on my voicemail. Calling them back I fully expected to have to explain some of my coworkers charges. It turns out that was just the tip of the iceberg.  According to the customer service rep there were some questionable charges on my card. “That’s interesting tell me more.”

The first charge was for a small amount incurred at a retirement community near where I was staying.  Strange I thought.The next charge was for $400 dollars at a drugstore again near where I had been staying.  I was on the edge of my seat, the plot was thickening and things were getting interesting.  Sorry, out of clichés.  The third item on my card  , and the one that tipped off the credit card company was another charge at the afore-mentioned drug store. This time for $200 and finally it was denied.

Initially I was at a loss for words, something that has not occurred with much frequency in my lifetime. Check with my friends and family they will concur that the longest time I have gone without speaking were times that I was under anesthesia during various medical procedures. No , a lobotomy was not one of them.

When I had gathered my thoughts they were as follows: “What the heck was a retiree doing with my credit card number and what could they buy for $400?” My first thought was antihistamines for meth production . Sure a little late in life for Grandpa to start climbing the ladder towards becoming a  drug lord but maybe it was on their  bucket list or perhaps they were supplementing their social security checks or even inspired by Breaking Bad.  It was then that I remembered that the real stuff took an ID and signature . That means they would have had to purchase in person and since it was only my number that was missing, that was not possible.  Then I thought ,” if I were in a retirement community what would make me  popular with the ladies?” A million dollars in cash and a bag on my head. Ok , now I was just being silly . Then I hit on the answer. Viagra. From what I hear*, it can be expensive. I also figure that by then I will have acquired a taste for gin, I don’t see how but it is probably cheaper than Single Malt Scotch.  Yea, that combination could ring up a $400 credit card charge.

So far I have not heard whether the authorities have caught up to this character but how hard could he be to find?  “…so and so retirement community can I help you?”  “Yes , this it the local police department. We are looking for an older guy, playa type , smelling of gin, may be showing signs of extreme fatigue but still manages to smile all of the time. Does this match any of your residents?”

* No really , word gets around, people talk, you hear things.

The Stick Figure of Uncle Bingo (with a nod to Oscar Wilde)

If you have followed my adventures here, you know that I kind of look like everyman *. What you may not know is that I have often been thought of as being much younger than I really am. I am about to reveal my secret, so keep it to yourself folks.

In the summer of 2000 my niece came into the world and a few years later she gave me the nickname of Uncle Bingo**. Her reasoning was “I don’t know just because”. Well who was I to argue. A while later, after it looked the nickname was going to stick, I received a picture from my niece. It was a wonderful rendition of Uncle Bingo in Colorado.  The mountain peaks were jagged , the grass was green and Uncle Bingo was stick like. It was beautiful and I proudly displayed it upon my refrigerator.

Over the years the picture has remained on my fridge but is in less than pristine condition. Through cooking sessions, yes I cook and quite well ladies, late night snack raids and early morning breakfasts without my glasses, the picture has become slightly stained, smudged and encrusted with barbecue sauce , juice and yogurt. Yes in that order , it documents my path to a healthy lifestyle.  Stick Figure Bingo did not fair well and could not avoid the “crustification”.

When surprised to find out my age many people have remarked that they thought I was at least 10 years younger. If I were to estimate the age of the picture it would be around 10 years. A coincidence perhaps but it’s not as if I have lived a healthy lifestyle my entire life. I certainly had some misspent years during my youth and there was also my “pool hall “ period. No, I am sticking, no pun intended, with my story. My nieces picture has frozen me in time. It continues to “crustify” and I continue to appear ten years younger.

Go ahead, don’t believe me. You’ll change your mind when some time from now the blue, green and flesh-colored crayon succumbs to time and spillage and my physical appearance transforms from Uncle Bingo to stick figure Bingo. At least I won’t be confused with anyone else.

* see


Growing Up Catholic

I was raised Catholic in a Polish Neighborhood in Chicago. I also went to a parochial school of the Catholic variety. What occurred at the school was most of the major trauma that would shape the rest of my life.

I fell in love with reading from the minute I was exposed to the perils of Dick and Jane.  That series soon lost its luster due to the thin plot lines and it was not long before I graduated to reading more sophisticated material. When my reading level had reached to two years beyond my grade I was inducted into the Great Books Club. It was a national program designed to encourage excellence in reading. The club was like any other book club in that its activities consisted of reading assigned selections and then analyzing them. What was unique is that the reading material was purposefully beyond the traditional level of its participants. I was a member in my first year of eligibility as a second grader and the next year as a third grader.  I was looking forward to making it my fourth year.

Sister Leonard Ann* had been teaching fourth grade at my school since forever.  She had actually taught my father and his brothers.  I am not sure I ever heard a good story about her. She was a hateful soul from year 1 and by that I actually mean the first year after Christ died. She was that old. I think Jesus sensed she was on her way and feeling the futility of the future turned himself in.

I entered the fourth grade looking forward to the fifth grade. I just had to survive Sister Leonard Ann.  It soon became apparent that for that to happen I had to have luck on my side. It also became apparent that I was not lucky.

I had heard about the sister’s teaching technique from my father and uncles but nothing can really prepare you for the book throwing, knuckle smacking and ear pulling she employed. Well nothing short of a 3 Stooges marathon in 3D. The one thing I had not heard about her was her ability to psychologically break a kid down. I soon became convinced she must have been used to interrogate prisoners during the wars. Yes its plural, I meant all wars.

It was after the first month of school that the Great Books Club members for the year would be announced.  I expected this year to be no different. “.. Walter Praczek, Susan Shirzinski and Alan Vostek. Well congratulations children.”  My face matched the writing paper on my brand new Big Chief Notebook, pale and blank. I had no idea why my name was not called and I was losing a battle to prevent tears from flowing.  Glancing around the room the Sister’s shark like gaze fell upon me. “So tell me Mr. Szybinski.  Why did you not make the club this year?” “I, uh, I don’t know.” Then the dam broke and I could see nothing through the refraction of the tears. A few moments but what seemed like hours later the Sister announced that I had indeed made the Club. I first felt relief but that quickly morphed into anger.

Why had the bitch humiliated me? Well, I would have thought, “bitch”, if I used the word.  The vocabulary of a nine-year-old Catholic schoolboy in 1970 Chicago generally did not consist of the word bitch. The only word I had at my disposal was wench. A strange word for a nine year old boy but I read a lot. Maybe it was Nathaniel Hawthorne. The author did not matter; the point was she was a wench.

That experience has stayed with me all of my life but time has helped smooth that wound over. I had told this story to my mother a few years back and she was surprised I did not tell her and dad, “Your father would have marched right over to that school and straightened her out.” I bet he would have. I would have loved to have seen it. I had never considered telling my parents at the time. The “good” Sister was a nun and an authority figure and I just figured I had done something wrong.   The experience now is pretty much just a story to tell although from time to time I find when something good happens I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I guess this experience is not done with me or I it. I sense the need for a cathartic book in my future.

*The name has been changed to protect the innocent (me).

Something Different for Father’s Day: Fathers Day Blues, Soon to be Brights.

It will be my eighteenth Fathers Day with out my father. I woke up feeling a bit sad. Yes, I still miss him. I always miss him. Feeling the need to express my self in a more mournful manner, I picked up my guitar and began to play some blues progressions. I usually begin too fast and slow down as the moment takes me. I was starting to reach the proper tempo where the feeling in my soul begins to resonate with the notes but before that happened I stopped and decided that I needed to look at his death with a different perspective.

I put down the guitar and thought about this. I thought about my sense of loss but more importantly my father’s sense of loss. My father was a type one diabetic almost his entire life. He was diagnosed at a time when the only self administered glucose test was a urine test. Use of the urine test is kind of like using a history book to predict today. It reflects the amount of blood sugar of the past not the present. It also does not reflect low blood sugar levels.  Because of this it was very hard for diabetics to be accurate when trying to maintain normal blood sugar levels. It’s the extreme rise and fall of blood sugar in a diabetic that causes major damage to many of their organs.

My father’s body was no exception. By the time he was in his mid 50’s, the blood circulation in his legs was poor and several procedures to increase blood flow showed minimal success.  It became very hard for him to walk and his vision was very poor.  This was difficult for me to witness, I can’t imagine how hard it was for him to live through. He had been very active his entire life and he was now unable to take part in many of the things he loved.

I look back at  the direction my dads body was headed, with blindness and amputations just around the corner, and I know that it was a blessing that he never got to that point. I have suspected this as truth for a while but I was hoping that full recognition of  this would help me become more at peace with his passing.

I went back and picked up my guitar, hoping I could now play a happier tune. I strummed a few chords to the Eagles “Take It Easy” but they just didn’t hold together. I thought that my soul was not ready for such an upbeat tempo so I then tried “Teach Your Children” by Crosby , Stills and Nash. Still it fell flat. I then went back to the blues and my soul hummed in harmony with my guitar as my fingers danced along a blues progression in E.

I guess I will be a bit selfish for a while longer but the good memories I have and the knowledge that he is at peace will help me to strum a less mournful tune someday.

If you liked this story, or not ,  please give to JRDF:

Review of “A Life So Far” (a writing exercise)

Location: The set of a local access TV show 

Welcome to ”Back in the Stacks “the show that reviews books that are long forgotten or still in development. Yes I know we don’t get many books that meet that latter criteria but we’re on local access for a reason.

I’m William Parchemine the former book reviewer for  “Slush Pile”  the Semi-Periodic about lost books.  Joining me is Frederic Scribner the author of  “Dusty Stacks – The Reader’s Guide to Books you didn’t know you owned”. Today we are actually reviewing a  book still in development entitled “Tommy Szybinski – A Life So Far”.

“So Fred what is your take on “A Life So Far” so far?”

“Well William, as I have mentioned since the beginning of this show four years ago I prefer Frederick. As for the book, I think the beginning was predictable with the birth of Tommy Szybinski but it drew me in as it moved along.”

The early years showed lots of promise in priming him for the life of a Renaissance Man. It emphasizes Tommie’s Catholic upbringing on the Polish streets of Chicago. Now here is my first problem with the early chapters Bill.  It does not explain the difference between a Polish street or any other one in Chicago. Does that mean there is a Kielbasa vender on every street corner?”

“Fred , I think it  means the street he lived on was in a Polish neighborhood.”

“Could be Bill but I wish he would have explained that.”

“You say Its only been four years Fred? Sorry, please continue.”

“Well Bill, as I said the early years laid the groundwork for the pursuit of several interests in Tommie’s  life thus the term Renaissance Man.”

“Yes I think the audience got that Fred. Please go on.”

“Well after a period of Catholic schooling long enough to mess up any kid, his father is transferred to Topeka Kansas, talk about a culture shift Bill. The next few chapters deal with the effect of the move on Tommie’s later years. This is where I had another problem with the book Bill. There was no mention as to how Tommie’s life had been affected by the lack of Kielbasa in Topeka. I mean, I don’t know anything about Topeka but It doesn’t strike me as a place you can get good Kielbasa.”

“ I don’t know about that Fred but my take on your Kielbasa controversy is that it is not germane to the story.”

“Oh there you go with your fancy words Bill. I take it you mean it’s not important to the story but I disagree.  I kept wondering how Tommy was going to feed his polish sausage habit but that was never addressed.”

“Fred, there was no indication that Tommie had a Kielbasa habit and I would like to drop this line of discussion.”

“To each his own Bill. The book did address how Tommy dealt with being the only Polish kid in a Smith and Jones world. You liked how I put that?”

“I liked how you took that from the book.  This is the part of the show where I cut in to make a dramatic point.  Do you mind if I take over here Fred?”

“If you stop calling me Fred I wouldn’t mind if you dated my wife Bill”.

“Ha ha, Good to hear that Frederick,  really , I am.  We have come to my favorite part of the story, the moment when Tommy’s fifth grade teacher explains to him that projectile textbooks are not part of the approved methods of the Topeka school districts.”

“Projectile Textbooks Bill?”

“Yes, the technique of throwing books at the student to correct chalkboard math mistakes. This was a favorite technique of one of the Chicago nuns.”

“Oh yes, now I recall.”

“Yes Fred you should, that was also from the book. This comes as a relief to Tommy and he soon gets rid of the case of chalkboard shoulder he had developed in Chicago. “

“Yes Bill, I like that term he coined to describe the pain he developed from holding up his non writing arm to block incoming books”.

“I’m glad you liked it Fred. Where was I? Oh yes, now that Tommy has no reason to fear school, learning becomes enjoyable. It was at this point that his parents buy a set of encyclopedias. You remember those Fred?”

“Oh yes I do Bill.  Misty water-color memories.”

“That’s special Fred. Anyway this is convenient timing because Tommy is slow to make friends in Kansas. Instead of friends he turns to the encyclopedia set, all 26 volumes.”

“ I believe that was 28 including the yearbooks Bill.”

“Sharp as a tack Fred, sharp as a tack.  In lieu of friendships, Tommy reads all 28 volumes, including the yearbooks, to fill his time. This fuels a thirst for knowledge that drives him the rest of his life. It also makes him great at trivia games.”

“ I’ll take it from here if you don’t mind Bill. Well there are events that fuel Tommie’s interest in science but I will leave those for the reader. Lets skip to the college years where Tommy has no particular major in mind.  I like the foreshadowing that occurred when a writing instructor suggests that he has the talent to become a writer. We get a nice view into his mindset at this point when he says “not until I have lived enough”.  Tommy, influenced by his dads work in data processing, decides to major in computer science. This is a perfect outlet for Tommie’s scientific propensities.”

“Oh now who’s talking fancy Fred”.

“I’m just try to keep up Bill. Upon graduation Tommy gets a dream job writing real-time operating systems. The problem I had here Bill is that I have no idea what that means.”

“No surprise there Fred.”

“Anyway, at this point in Tommie’s life his career is going along nicely.”

“And this is where I have a problem with the book Fred.”

“How so Bill.”

“Well his love life at this point has not set the world on fire let alone causing smoke anywhere.”

“I disagree with that Bill. There were mentions of a few girlfriends along the way. There was also the reference to the girl who Tommy let get away in college and the occasional allusion to regret.”

“That’s true but I would have loved to have seen things end differently with that one.”

“Yes but Tommy let that go Bill. Why can’t you?”

“Well put.  So what do you think of how the books third act is shaping up Fred?”

“Well Bill , I had hoped the growth that Tommy had shown in the previous chapters would  set him up for a rousing third act. Being honest though , I just don’t see it. He relocates from the east coast to Colorado and while this change has made him much happier his love life is still an empty wasteland”.

“Ok Fred I hate to cut you off here but I am not really sure you really payed attention to the last part of the book.”

“You caught me Bill. I admit it . It just looked like an intellectual type book that would impress the ladies at the pool.”

“I thought so Fred,  let’s get back to Tommy who has rediscovered writing. Finding it quite fulfilling he takes classes and eventually begins writing a book of fiction”.

“How does it turn out Bill?”

“Well Fred this is where the book leaves off”

“Leaves off?”

“Yes Fred. That’s why we called it an unfinished story”

“Oh, that makes sense. If you were to ask me, I would say I don’t think it’s going to end well.”

“Good thing I didn’t ask you Fred. Unlike you, Tommy is a glass half full kind of guy. I think his positive outlook will carry him through life. If he continues his dedication to becoming a good writer I have to believe his story is only going to get better.”

“I hope you’re right Bill, In the meantime this is Frederick Scribner”

“And this is William Parchemine hoping you find a few treasures in your book stacks”

“Book Stacks?”

“Its a figure of speech. Say good night Fred”.

“Good night Fred.”

My Funny Factor had been Functified

“She had heard good things about him including ,“ he just did not have any luck in the love department.” She could buy that. Life was like that for some people.”  I stared at that last sentence for hours before giving up and going to bed.

I couldn’t finish the story, it was going nowhere. It had no edge and it was not amusing. It was official, my funny factor had been functified.  Someone had stolen my platform shoes with the goldfish in them. I hope they were getting fed because my funny factor was starving.

I was up before the crack of dawn as usual  to do some writing*. I stared at the story I had started a few days earlier and thought ,“where is this going? How can pull something funny out of this? My funny factor has done been functified baby.“ In the past no matter where the story was going I was always able to pull some grins out of it. I considered myself the Houdini of humor. No matter how bleak the topic looked I could pull out a funny ending. This time however, things looked grim.  The goldfish were locked in tight, there was no food in sight and a water escape looked impossible. Not giving up yet I plodded onward and continued typing.

“He was getting ready for one more shot at love. His track record up to this point was less than stellar. The problem as he saw it was that he ..”  “Auchentoshan,” I screamed nonsensically. “Where did that come from ? Well other than the sound of frustration it also is the name of a nice single malt scotch,”  I thought. It also was the sound of defeat. This story had taken the bullet train to nowhere.

I was becoming desperate. How could I get my funny factor back. “Ab Ripper X**,” I thought. I threw in a DVD and was soon grunting like an oldie. Fifteen minutes and a possible hernia later I planted myself in front of the laptop and still nothing. While the endorphins surging through my body made me feel better , my humor  was still missing and the APB I had just put out for it failed. My funny factory was still functified.

“Functified ,“ I repeated. It was a Eureka moment. I  ran to my aging sound system and threw in a few CDs. From DVD to APB to CD. The acronyms were running hot now. Cranking up the volume introduced the neighbors to the sounds of the seventies. Bootsy Collins and The Ohio Players meet the neighbors. Neighbors meet some righteous dudes wielding some wicked bass lines. My platform-less feet began tapping and soon one right after another the rest of my body parts joined in. It was official , I was in a groove now. The temptation to break dance was suppressed by the imagery of broken bones. Butt shaking would have to suffice. Dancing around the room I soon noticed a pair of shoes had appeared in one corner, platform style, complete with goldfish. It was coming together now.

I danced over to my laptop and began typing furiously. I could feel it now, a brand new story was taking shape. A scant thirty minutes later and my story had come to its conclusion. I had gotten my groove back . My funny factor was no longer functified.

The secret I thought lay in music: James Brown, Bootsy Collins, Aretha Franklin, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club , Son Volt, Johnny Cash.  It didn’t matter what the genre was but it had to have a soul. “Music with some soul,”  that is the secret. That and to stop writing love stories. They have to write themselves.

* Yes cliché but apropos and no comments from the gallery.

* *No not a promotion but if that Tony guy wants to throw some coinage my way I won’t complain.