Tuesday, October 31, 2023

There’s a 113 year old schoolhouse at the foot of my sister’s backyard

My sister Shawn & her husband Jim have spent a small fortune painting, installing new windows and adding a new roof to the 1910 schoolhouse on their property.  The structure is put to good use, with plenty of space for tools, vehicles and other equipment.  Still… there’s something about it that spooks me.   

I knew it!

Friday, October 27, 2023

One of our Friends is no longer with us

Note:  This was written the day before the death of Friends actor Matthew Perry and has nothing to do with his passing.  The title is just a sad coincidence.
Last night my friend Elisa (who I worked with for 10-11 years at the Allegheny County Dept of Aging, and now helps manage the Senior Center) texted me and wrote “I’m sure Kim already texted you but in case she hasn’t, Terry Cavallo died yesterday.”

I assumed she was talking about someone at the center.  Who was Terry Cavallo?  I texted back I didn’t know the name, but the moment I pressed SEND, it hit me: Kim as in Kim Hall from the Dept of Aging?  Terry as in Terry Kavala?

Before I could ask, she sent a link to his obituary.  Oh Terry.  My heart sank.  He had been wrestling with blood disease, and his latest treatment was the same given to leukemia patients.  His heart couldn’t bear the strain.

For as long as I’ve known Terry, he was always lean, fit as a fiddle.  He never drank or smoked.  He was only 63 years old.

I sat here and thought about him all night, and our many years together, and it hit me, we were Friends before Friends.

There was a core group of 6 of us, all close in age, who worked at the Dept of Aging and met for lunch everyday for 10-11 years, from 1990 to 2001.  There was 3 guys—Terry Kavala, Jerry Duch & myself, and 3 girls—Carolyn Galvin, Elisa Eyer & Kim Hall.

We sometimes had a couple of older guest stars like Joanne & Darlene join us, and a younger guest named Janet—but it was the 6 of us who met Mon-Fri for lunch in the Nurse’s Room, our “Central Perk”. 

Terry was like Ross, the funny but melancholy academic.  Jerry was like Joey, the cute Italian guy who was always cracking everyone up.  I was Chandler, the neurotic with the job the rest knew little about.  (They just knew I worked with computers.)

I’m not sure how I’d match up Elisa, Carolyn & Kim to Phoebe, Monica & Rachel, I’ll have to ask them what they think.

I don’t know if it’s too soon, the poor man has just passed.  But it’s been a long time since I last saw or spoke to Terry, and I’ll always carry this one memory of him with me.  I had bought my mom a ruby garnet ring (that was on special for Mother’s Day) from Kaufmann’s, a big department store right across the street from our office.  When I showed it to the group at lunch, Terry remarked how much he liked it and wanted to get one for his wife. 

I told him to make sure he asked for the wife’s ring, not the mother’s one.  Men weren’t being careful and were ticking their wives off. 

From the expression he gave me, I assumed he knew I was just being a goof.

However, the very next day at lunch Terry was nowhere to be seen.  Afterwards when I was back at my desk, my phone rang.  It was Terry, who said he’d just spent his lunch hour at the jewelry counter at Kaufmann’s insisting there was two versions of the ruby ring they had on special.

When I said oops my bad, he calmly said “Douglas I’m coming for you next.”  

I literally ran down the hall to Carolyn Galvin’s office and told her I was a dead man if she didn’t save my hide.  I can’t remember what happened after that, but I’m still here so… I only wish Terry was.

Goodbye Terry—you deserved so much more.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Photo of the Day: Here’s an oldie but a goodie…

Do people still use that expression?  “Here’s an oldie but a goodie…”  You used to hear that all the time, on the radio at least when they played an old hit from the 50’s or early ‘60s in the 1970s. 

But I wasn’t necessarily talking about the Ray Charles song on display on this contraption, but the contraption itself.

I bought this MP3 player in December 2009 on Amazon, a Sony Walkman.  It has 8GB storage—I have over a thousand songs on it and there’s still room for 500 more.  I kept it in my workbag, it was only used in the office and the bus ride there & back.

It’s not very big; a quarter inch thick, and that’s the actual size of the thing at the top.  Frankly I’m surprised it’s discontinued, the technology still amazes me.

The reason I’m showing it here is because of recent events at the Tiffany (where I live).  I may not look it, but I use the exercise room in our building’s basement at least 4 days a week.  There’s a large flat panel tv on the wall, and while on the treadmill or stairclimber I’d have that Roku tv on, watching an “Oldies” music channel of rock n’ roll from the 1960s-1980s.

But several days ago, the television stopped working—well, stopped streaming.  It turns out one of the tenants in the building was paying for the service down there, but moved out.  No one else has stepped up yet to keep it going.

I was having trouble with my daily exercise routine with nothing to listen to, and was debating bringing my bookshelf radio down there when I remembered this MP3 player from my pre-retirement days.  I dug out my old workbag, and there it was.

But I hadn’t turned it on in 8 years, would it still work?  It sure did, after I plugged its USB cord into my laptop to charge for a couple hours.  When it came on I laughed out loud; it was still at the midway point thru Patty Duke’s ‘Funny Little Butterflies’, what I’d been listening to while cleaning out my desk my last day in the office.

So a couple nights ago, finished with my workout downstairs, I got on the elevator to come back upstairs and it stopped on the first floor (where the lobby is) and 2 young men got on.  I’ve seen them here before, they’re recent move-ins on the 6th floor.  They’re both at least 6’3” and can’t be older than 19-20, and look very much alike.  I’m sure they’re brothers.

I was still wearing my earbuds, but the device was turned off—so I heard the first one behind me say “Can he hear us?” and the second one said “I don’t think so”.  This is what I heard after that.

“What’s he holding, is that a Walkman?”  “Nah, Walkmans are bigger. They play tapes.”  “Is it a radio?”  “Maybe he’s listening to the Pens.”  “Maybe he’s a Swiftie.”  “Haha ask him if he even knows what that is.”

Anyway, I was facing the doors and biting my lip to keep from laughing.  But it amazed me that they didn’t know what I was even holding; is an mp3 player from 2009 an antique already?  I saw on the news recently that 9 out of 10 people under the age of 20 own iphones or ipads only.  I know Apple is premium tech but that still blew me away.

And for the record I know what a Swiftie is, and I’m not one of ‘em!  But 40 years ago when I owned a Walkman that DID play cassettes, I listened to blondes like Stevie Nicks, Olivia Newton-John, Mary Hopkin, Belinda Carlisle and Stacey Q.  And I still do.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Welcome to the neighborhood, I think you’re going to fit right in

Last week, I got one of these cute door plaques for my front door.  20 years ago if my mom had asked if I wanted something crafty to hang on there, I would’ve said no thanks, door decor wasn’t my style.  What happened?  I got old, that’s what happened.

Anyway, I was going to get a nifty one of a human skull that said “NOT WELCOME”  (you know, for Halloween) but then it occurred to me I had a new neighbor moving in this week and I didn’t want to make a bad first impression.  So I got this wooden pumpkin instead.  I actually like it.

No one knows, but since my neighbor Lonnie moved out August 31, I’ve been a secret nervous wreck.  Who will my new next door be?  When you live in an apartment building like mine it’s very possible to hear your neighbor’s tv, music and everything else they’re up to thru your living room wall.

Back in April, a young maestro from the PMT Conservatory moved into the studio apt by the elevator on my floor.  Do I mind hearing him singing I am the Phantom of the Opera while I’m waiting to go downstairs?  No.  Do I want him singing in the apartment next to mine?  Hell no!

Do you remember my blog about the skinny little man on my floor, who lived here 5 weeks and complained about his apartment (because it got too much sunlight, for starters)?  I wrote about him here.  He pleaded with our landlord to let him move if an apartment became available in the rear of the building.  They told him he had to wait 6 months.

He finally got the chance a couple months ago.  The lawyer who lived down the hall from me announced he was moving out.  Skinny Man (Bob) signed a new lease that same day.  So what if the rent was $75 more per month.  So what if it contained no carpeting.  (Bob liked carpeting.)  So what if the all-white kitchen was too feminine for Bob’s taste.

So what if he was giving up a great neighbor, a quiet guy named Joel.  He’d get to live in the rear of the building!

Now—do you remember me writing about that lawyer?  His neighbor was a lovely young Afro-American woman, Chantilly.  (I wrote about both here.)   She likes to play music, have friends over, and have late night laughs—a lot.  Hey, she’s only 24 so that’s to be expected.  And it’s easy for me to say that, I don’t live beside her.

Bob does now, and he’s miserable.  He’s also stuck.  (Steiner said no more moves unless it’s out of the building.)  Walking away from new carpeting and a maple kitchen is one thing, but a quiet neighbor too?  That’s crazy!

So who was moving in next to me?  I didn’t have a clue.  And then this past weekend I heard a plop outside in the hall and when I opened my door, saw this in front of my neighbor’s door.

That’s a pretty welcome mat, and a good sign.  Guys come with loud music, loud voices, loud videogames but usually no welcome mats.  What if it was a woman over 50 too?  Would that be asking for too much?

I think luck was on my side.  Three woman soon arrived, all wearing work-clothes and said they were friends with my new neighbor Dee (who was on her way here with the movers, and running behind schedule). 

Bonnie, Lisa and Dina said she was 69 years old, low-key and did a lot of reading.  (Reading is good.)  They said Dee was retired, and wanted to live someplace “long-term and quiet”.  Better & better.

Dee finally arrived a couple hours later, and was polite but dismissive; I think she’s serious about maintaining boundaries.  I can dig it.  She has a gravelly voice and looks remarkably like Imelda Staunton from the 2004 movie Vera Drake.

Well, it’s been a couple days and all is calm.  Aside from some thuds and clatterings that first day, I’ve hardly heard a sound.  Dee I hope you enjoy your new home here and live beside me a long time. 

If you can outlive me, all the better.  I don’t want to have to go thru this again!  

Oh and for the record—I got that skull plaque after all.  It’s hanging in my bedroom for Halloween, we’ll see.  I don’t want to give Dee any ideas!

Saturday, October 14, 2023

The Narcisi Winery: It’s like having a little piece of Italy, right in your backyard

Two days ago, several of us from the Primetime Center took a little road trip to Gibsonia, roughly 40 minutes north of Pittsburgh—and home to the Narcisi Winery.  The weather could not have been more perfect, around 60F and not a cloud in the sky.

It’s a family owned business, and the buildings (restaurant, winery, ampitheater, assorted gazebos & grape arbors) made it feel like we’d arrived in Italy.  It was beautiful.

Based on reviews I read online, I was all set to order the Roasted Eggplant Parmigiana; but once we were seated, I wound up eating half the warm bread at our table and was carb’d out.  (It was delicious, served with olive oil, parmesan cheese & crushed red pepper for dipping—I think we went through 3 loaves!)

The server recommended I try one of their dinner salads, and said their steak salad got high praise.  I said I had difficulty with most steaks because of a jaw dysfunction, but she told me it was very tender, a cut between a ribeye and filet mignon, and the chef would cook it special.  I said okay.

Hands down, it was the best meal I’ve had this year.  And probably the best steak salad I’ve eaten in my lifetime. 

Afterwards, a few of us did some wine tasting at the taster’s bar, and the sommelier was so kind finding me a wine I enjoyed, I wound up buying a bottle to take home.

Here’s a couple pics of our outing: 

My friend Evvie & myself, waiting for our food to arrive and doing what we do best (chatting and noshing)

This isn’t a great picture of Geri, but I wanted to include everything behind her—a tremendous stone fireplace and tapestries of Italy that adorned the stucco walls
Here’s that steak salad I talked about earlier, the greens were delicious in a peppery garlic marinade. It was pretty much perfection
After our meal and after the wine tasting, we went outside to explore the grounds.  Do you remember that scene in ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ where the kids and their parents are let loose in the factory, licking fruit-flavored walls and eating candy flowers and such?

I was reminded of that here, with half the seniors in our group exploring the arbors, stuffing their mouths and purses with grapes!

And finally, here’s that bottle of wine I brought home.  Given current events, I may open it this weekend, and do some reflecting.  Stay safe, everyone.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Uncle Mike, I just wanted to say thank you and goodbye

Last week my Uncle Mike died.  Born in February 1943, he was 80 years old.  He was my dad’s brother, 5 1/2 years younger in age.  It’s not a lot, but it never occurred to me they were that far apart in age.  They were very close, played music professionally together for many years, loved and respected each other.  They were brothers in the truest sense of the word.

When Dad died in February 2001, I often wondered how Uncle Mike dealt with the loss.  I wish I’d reached out and just asked, but in 40 years I can count on one hand the number of times I saw Uncle Mike, let alone spoke with him.

I loved the man, we just never got to know one another.

My Uncle Mike was married to my Aunt Sandy for 55 years, and they raised 3 daughters; Emily, Amy & Michael.  I haven’t seen the older two in many years (Em lives out west, Amy in Florida) but I love them dearly, they’re wonderful people.  And honestly, their mother is a trip.  From the first time I met Aunt Sandy (when I was 6 years old) to the first time I’d seen her in 18 years just a couple months ago, she has always been funny and dear and outspoken. 

At my niece Sophia’s graduation party in June, Uncle Mike & Aunt Sandy were there.  (I hadn’t seen them since Sophia’s first birthday party, she’ll be 19 this week.)  Anyway, Aunt Sandy said “Doug why don’t you come down and stay with me & your Uncle Mike for awhile?  You can smoke in every room of our house!”   It was such a sweet offer, I didn’t want to tell her I quit smoking many years ago.

From 1979, the original Morris brood:  Uncle Mike on the top left, Dad, Aunt Terry, Uncle Shane, Grandpap Morris on the bottom, Grandma Morris, Aunt Dena

He certainly was a good looking man.  My mom (who was a couple years ahead of him in school) often told us how popular Uncle Mike was with the girls, and how he became the brother she never had after she married Dad. 

I have a couple memories of my Uncle that I’ll always hold close to me; the first is one I’m not sure I should even be sharing.  In the fall of 1966 when I was around 5 years old, I was showing my sister Shawn the “barbershop” Dad had set up in the basement for my older brother Duke & me. 

The next thing I know, Shawn was in the chair and I was clipping her long tresses. 

She went upstairs to where Dad was in the kitchen with Uncle Mike.  Dad pounded down those steps and (in a moment of temporary insanity) began beating me.  I mean he was crying and frantic, I think he was scared Mom would come home from the store, see most of Shawn’s hair gone and have a heart attack or something.

Anyway, I just remember Uncle Mike running down those steps and yelling at him to stop and pulling Dad off me.  I never heard my uncle yell or raise his voice again. 

My second memory is from February 2001, when my old man died.  After the service, I stood alone in front of my dad’s casket and cried pretty hard.  It went on for quite awhile too, and the entire time my Uncle Mike stood behind me, his hands on both my shoulders.

It brought me so much comfort, him doing that.  I’m just glad I was able to thank him a few years later.  Rest in peace, Uncle Mike.

Friday, October 6, 2023

A road trip to Mineo’s with the Golden Bachelor and some wonderful ladies

Recently I headed up to the senior center for our next outing to Mineo’s, a pizza house in Allison Park (and rated one of the ten best in Pittsburgh).  The shuttle wasn’t scheduled to pick us up until 11am, but you’re expected to be there 30 minutes early just in case.

After I arrived, said hello to everyone and got a cup of water, I sat down at one of the tables in the Community Room.  Gary got up from across the room to join me.  Oh no.  He’s a nice person, but a little soft in the head if you know what I mean.  He’s also very hard of hearing.  You have to SHOUT when you talk to him.

He says “Hello, are you going to Mineo’s today?”  I say “YES GARY.  I AM GOING TOO.”  He says “My name is Gary—what’s yours?”  Ugh—on our last outing together to Mt. Washington, no matter how many times I told him my name, he called me Chuck.  I say “IT’S DOUG, GARY.  DOUG.”   He says “Jeff?”  I say “DOUG!”  He says “Stan?”  I say “DOUG!!”  He says “George?”   I just stare at him.  I’m done.

He says “I worked at Heinz for 45 years, but I’m retired!  I got a pickle phone, a pickle clock, a pickle watch, a pickle tie-clip, a pickle PAPER clip, a pickle paper weight, a pickle—“   I say “YOU GOT A PICKLE BALL, GARY?”   He says “What? There’s no such thing!”

No offense, but I had enough of Gary.  I decided to wait in the vestibule with the ladies for our ride.  I don’t know why they all stand out there, it’s not like first come first served.  (When the shuttle arrives, the driver calls your name from a clipboard.)  Anyway, there’s a bench in the entrance where Geri, Pearl & another woman are sitting.  A dozen other ladies are standing there talking quietly, when one (Rose) says “I’m going to stand next to the man with all the girlfriends.”  

Rose pats my arm and says “Can you handle one more?” and winks at a couple of the other ladies, and they laugh.  Rose says “So how many girls do you have?”

I said “It’s really not that many.  Evvie, Geri & Pearl.  But Pearl is more like a big sister, she’s my neighbor at the Tiffany.”   One of the ladies says “What about the one you refer to as the widow?”  I say “The Widow Marple.  She lives in West Virginia, so I don’t see her often.  She’s an old classmate.”

Rose says “I suppose you’re going to tell us you like all these ladies the same?”  I say “Oh no.  Evvie comes first.  Then Geri, then the Widow Marple, then Pearl.”   Geri says “Well, at least I’m second on his list!”  Pearl says “Hello, did you forget Elaine?  She’s coming today and I thought you liked her best!”  I say “I love Elaine!  Okay, Evvie first, THEN Elaine, Geri is third now, then the Widow, then Pearl.”

Without saying a word, Geri gets up from the bench, walks over to me, slugs me in the arm, then sits back down.  The other women burst out laughing.  Right then, Elaine walks in and (in her soft voice) says “What did I miss?”  and the women laughed even harder.

Here’s some pics of these terrific ladies mentioned above:

This is Evvie who I love dearly; no matter what mood I’m in, she makes me happy the moment I see her

Geri is in the center of these two little Indians from our trip to the Pow Wow. She’s teeny-tiny, funny as she is feisty, and I’d give anything to have half her energy

Here’s my friend Diana aka the Widow Marple, from our tour of a West Virginia asylum in July. 

(She didn’t go with us, but she WAS mentioned up above and I’ve been looking for a reason to share this nice photo of her)

My neighbor Pearl, standing in this odd little “hobbit house” behind Mineo’s.  It’s faux rock (like they use in movies) and even Mrs. Mineo doesn’t know who built it or why!  Pearl looks ready to move in

Alas, no photos of Elaine.  She’s a very private person.  (Try to imagine a pint-sized Jane Wyman with salt n’ pepper hair, Ked sneakers and an oversized denim jacket.)  At the restaurant, she saved me the seat next to her and it made my day.  

Here was my lunch order, a “John’s Special”—homemade sausage, gouda cheese, green peppers & big mushrooms.  I ate 2 rich slices and brought the rest home for dinner for 2 nights.  

It was certainly tasty, but Scotty’s Pizza in my old hometown is still my favorite pie!