Monthly Archives: June 2014


Tidbits. That’s kind of a funny word, isn’t it? I do prefer tidbits over slices, chunks, and crushed when it comes to canned pineapple, but that’s not what I’m referring to at the moment. I don’t have a whole lot to say on a few recent issues making the news; hence, the clever title, “Tidbits,” but I certainly do have an opinion on Bowe Bergdahl, the Washington Redskins, and even World Cup Soccer. Let’s begin with President Obama’s decision to make a trade for Serviceman Bowe Bergdahl. How much is one life worth? Everything! What should the United States trade for the life of one of their own? Nothing! I know that sounds harsh, but the reality is the recent deal our President made does set a precedent for future unwarranted negotiations with terrorists and any other group, organization, or individual who’s deranged enough to take on a hostage.

I can hardly imagine being captured and possibly tortured by anyone, and I undoubtedly have compassion for those who find themselves in that predicament. However, our government simply shouldn’t deal with the likes of those people, especially when it is in exchange for an American Soldier, and it makes no difference whether the enlistee is a decorated war hero or has been labeled a traitor, by many in his own country, as seems to be the case in this situation. I assume all military personnel are forewarned about the enhanced risk of captivity when joining the Armed Forces. Therefore, they are more likely aware of what possibly lies ahead for them than the average vacationing tourist does. Only time will tell how damaging President Obama’s trade, for Mr. Bergdahl, may be to the security of the United States. Let’s hope and pray nothing ever comes of that mistake.

Another interesting tidbit making headline news I would like to discuss is the renewed push to force the Washington Redskins, of the National Football League, to change their team name. I guess some people, although I’m not sure who or how many, feel that the word “Redskin” is disparaging to Indians. Unfortunately, the U.S Government has gotten involved because the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently canceled the team’s trademarked name. They claimed it subjected Native Americans to, “contempt, ridicule and disrepute.” Frankly, with how things have been going in D.C., since the “Tea Party” came aboard, I think I’m more offended by the word “Washington” than anything else, and that sentiment is coming straight from the mouth of an American-Indian. Well, partially anyway. I’m somewhere in the vicinity of 1/32nd, or 1/64th Cherokee.

I am also a traditionalist in most cases, and this happens to be one of those times. This world would be a much better place if we weren’t so sensitive about every single thing and if we didn’t always strive to put political correctness above all else. I usually don’t have much use for the outspoken radio host, Rush Limbaugh, but I do like the conservative’s idea, if push comes to shove, of changing the Washington Redskins’ logo to a potato (obviously of the red skinned variety). On the other hand, I don’t know how exactly one could create a tough looking logo out of a potato. I suppose it would take a marketing genius, but maybe it’s worth a try. I do think our government should absolutely stay out of this controversial debate.

Unlike the current “Redskin” issue I am finally at peace with the government’s earlier involvement in forcing everyone, who did not have either cable or satellite programming, to purchase a converter box allowing for their continued television viewing. My wife and I now have several more channels than we did before, so we’ve been able to watch the Men’s USA Soccer Team compete in the World Cup for free (albeit in Spanish). My wife suggested we watch the matches in closed-caption, but I’m not talented enough to focus on the action and read the captions at the same time. Besides, “Goooooooal!” sounds pretty much the same, I imagine, in any language. I recently read a tidbit of news somewhere that professional soccer already exceeds the popularity of the National Basketball Association and is expected to surpass the fan support of Major League Baseball in the next few years. I find that somewhat difficult to believe because everyone knows baseball is America’s pastime.

I haven’t been much of a soccer fan in the past, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I only know the name’s of two professional soccer players, Pelé and David Beckham, from the entire history of the game for Pete’s sake. I think Pelé was the Michael Jordan of soccer, and I only know of Mr. Beckham because I’ve seen his face plastered numerous times on the cover of magazines, but more importantly I know about him because he’s married to my favorite Spice Girl. This past weekend I finally realized I had to get with the program after my own son showed up at church wearing an official USA World Cup jersey. The one thing I noticed immediately, when watching the World Cup, was that every player on the field was an athlete. Not even one pudgy person in sight – unlike some pro golfers, bowlers, and race-car drivers I’ve seen. Yes, I know those other “sports” take a certain set of skills, but professional soccer players might very well be the best conditioned athletes in the world.

My recent interest in World Cup Soccer can be filed under the category of “don’t knock it ’til you try it.” I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching the USA Team advance in the tournament, and I have a newfound respect for the sport although I don’t think the National Football League has anything to worry about anytime soon. Now, if you’ll please excuse me, I’ve got a sudden hankering for some pineapple.


My Hometown

The longer I live away from my hometown the less familiar it seems whenever I go back to visit. Sure there were some changes here and there and store closings every now and then, when I was a citizen of Newton, but with each passing year the town’s transformation becomes more apparent to me whenever I venture back to the place I use to call home. One leisurely drive through Newton, on the city’s main street, and you’d know what I mean. The Tastee Freeze where I use to buy the majority of my baseball and football trading cards and where I would receive either a free parfait or a banana split, for every homerun hit during a Little League baseball game, is long gone. All that remains of the once thriving ice-cream joint is a shell of what it use to be. The empty rundown building, sporting a shingle-less roof, taped-up windows, and with its once packed parking lot now filled only with glass and debris, replaces the fading memories of the “grumpy old man” behind the counter whipping up a perfectly shaped ice-cream cone. It was almost a miracle when on the rare occasion the owner of Tastee Freeze would crack a smile. However, owning one of only two ice-cream parlors in town, for so many years, he was able to take that sour personality of his all the way to the bank.

Creative Touch and Mac’s Compact Disc Shop are also gone. The side by side hair salon and music store, my wife and I owned, was located just off the town square and brought both of us great joy for several years. I remember Mark, the UPS guy, routinely coming through my store’s front door, wearing those ugly brown shorts (no matter what time of year), with his jubilant demeanor and that predictable smile on his face when bringing me a package of merchandise. I always felt like a kid at Christmas, opening the box of inventory I had ordered for the week, even though I already knew of course what goodies were going to be inside. I also remember my dream of Mac’s eventually becoming a chain store, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. After five years of only doing slightly better than breaking even, and with the downloading of songs off the internet beginning to catch fire, I sadly but rightfully made the decision to close my store. My wife was forced to close her thriving business, several years later, when we decided to move to Arizona. It has now been seventeen years since I went out of business. Numerous other businesses have come and gone in that same old building over the years, but high above the door’s entrance remains the visible remnants of stained glue, which long ago held the letters spelling out Mac’s Compact Disc Shop, for everyone in town to remember that “Mac was here.”

The town square, where young adults customarily would scoop the loop on weekends, appears to be the same. The Courthouse, sitting smack dab in the middle of the square, also looks the same, but many of the storefronts surrounding the government building are now different. Long ago the public could always count on seeing large glowing crosses, adorning all four sides of the Courthouse, and a manger scene displayed on the courthouse lawn during Christmastime. That is until some atheist, or other person with an unconventional religious belief, felt compelled to complain about the Christian decorations; therefore, ruining the traditional scenery of the season for the rest of us. The high school where I graduated from, located a mile or so south of the square, looks very similar but on a much larger scale than when I roamed their halls over thirty years ago. Boy, I must’ve received my diploma even before hitting puberty because I know I can’t be that old.

Several years ago Newton’s projected number of future high school students was significantly on the rise, although I don’t know what genius came up with that prediction, so the city put forth a bond proposal, to its taxpayers, for funding a major addition to the school. The proponents of the bond measure continuously hounded the town’s citizens with the ridiculous threat of, “having to teach our children in broom closets,” if the proposal failed. They also shouted the predictable, yet nauseating cry of, “let’s do it for our children,” until the proposal got passed and a costly addition to the high school was built. Now many years later those inflated, projected numbers have still not come to fruition, and if anything the number of students have tapered off instead. I cannot help but wonder, “Why does the school have broom closets anyway?”

Brown’s Shoe Store was the only place in the entire town where one could buy brand name tennis shoes, and it was a town square staple for as long as I can remember. Although I hardly ever shopped there it does seem strange that it is no more. When I was a starting forward on Berg Junior High’s eighth grade basketball team I was practically the only member of the squad who did not wear a pair of Nike high-top basketball shoes purchased from Brown’s. I wore K-Mart Trax. The following season I begged my father for a pair of those sweet Nikes, with the familiar tantalizing “swoosh” on the sides, so I could be like everyone else. Although he thought it was ridiculous, to spend that kind of money on a pair of shoes, my father did offer me a deal. He was willing to pitch in the amount of money he would have spent on a cheaper brand, but I would have to make up the difference from my own funds. The only money I had at that age was usually received as gifts from birthdays and Christmas, or earned from the occasional snow shoveling job, so I’m almost positive I went broke attempting to fit in with my peers.

I was beaming with excitement when I showed up to the first practice of my freshmen season wearing my prized Nike high-tops. That is until I noticed everyone else had moved on to either Adidas, Converse, or Puma basketball shoes, and the few who were still wearing Nikes had upgraded to the newest year’s model which looked nothing like what was attached to my feet. Lesson learned. That certainly may have been the point in my life when I stopped trying so hard to fit in with others, and I became perfectly content just being “What I Yam.” My newfound creed seemed a bit irrelevant though after my son was born. I realized I had his self-confidence to consider, and I recognized the world’s unfair view of the correlation between materialistic things and one’s self-worth. We tend to want to give our children more than what we had growing up, so I decided why not start from the get-go. My wife and I purchased our son’s first two pair of shoes at Brown’s Shoe Store when he was only an infant. One pair was red and white, and the other was Hawkeye colors (black and gold), but both pair of the tiny high-tops were of course Nikes. They were on sale, and probably the previous year’s model, but as a parent I made the decision early on there wasn’t going to be any K-Mart Trax for my boy.

I no longer have a voice in the happenings of Newton, but I do continue to care for the wellbeing of the town I called home for so many years. It was a good place to raise a family, and I have many fond memories of the time spent there. I simply outgrew the small town in Iowa, some time ago, and I’m glad I made the decision to move away. My hometown will always have a special place in my heart, but most importantly the town still holds my family, and that will always be enough to bring me back.

Trying To Fly The Friendly Skies

Here we go again. I’m on yet another flight with my wife, from our home in Arizona, and headed to our old home in Iowa. Literally. My mother-in-law now lives in the house we use to call home for ten years, prior to moving across the country, and as usual that’s where we’ll be staying while we’re back in Newton. Albeit “mom” has made many changes and a few improvements, to the ranch-style dwelling since we left, so “our home” is hardly recognizable to me at this point, especially since my wife and I sleep in what use to be our son’s room, but there certainly still is a familiarity with our temporary living arrangement. The view of the sunrises from the back deck are still breathtaking, and relaxing in the nearby hot tub is like reuniting with a long lost friend.

We love our family immensely, so we return to the Midwest every Christmas because it’s a promise my wife and I made to each other before moving away. Why else would we be willing to sacrifice the comfort of Arizona’s typically sunny and 70* weather, during the month of December, for Iowa’s blistery winter conditions? The snow, ice, sleet, slush, and freezing cold, so prevalent in the Midwest, doesn’t seem to make Iowa an attractive destination during the winter months. If truth be told I actually do like the state’s bitter cold and fresh fallen snow but only at Christmastime and only for about a week.

My wife and I recently decided that seeing the clan only once a year was no longer adequate, so we planned an extra trip to the Hawkeye State, during the month of June, and most of the family knows nothing about our upcoming visit. We are going to just show up on my parent’s doorstep and holler, “Surprise!” Every time we head back to Iowa, we fly the friendly skies. I cannot imagine using any other form of transportation for the thousand miles-plus journey. I think taking a cruise ship could be nice once in awhile, but I don’t know exactly how that would work with so much land in between the two states. I suppose I could check out a map to see if it’s at all possible, but as usual – I’m too lazy.

We have flown many times before, so you’d think it would all be routine for us by now, but there always seems to be some sort of occurrence to make the experience a little more interesting than it should be. Even our first Christmas, coming back to Newton, we had the customary but unfortunate experience of losing a piece of our luggage. Luckily, we had arrived a couple of days earlier that year, so we did have some time to recover the lost bag before the 25th. It’s a good thing the airline was able to track it down because most of the presents we had purchased for our loved ones were in that bag. There have been a few times when we have had to rush through the airport, for fear of not making our flight, although our pace was nowhere near the extent of frenzy, compared to the McCallister family, as seen in the classic Home Alone movies.

Last year I was stopped on the freeway by an Arizona Highway Patrolman while heading to the airport. I knew I wasn’t speeding (not too much anyway), so I respectfully kept changing lanes to let the approaching officer get by me; therefore, allowing him the opportunity to capture whatever fiend he was pursuing. I couldn’t imagine why he insisted on staying directly behind me, but when he eventually flipped on his siren I then knew I was the fiend. The officer explained how my annual registration was overdue by a couple of days, but the patrolman was nice enough to only give me a warning. I did tell him how I had not received a bill in the mail from the Department of Transportation, as I had every single time before, so I honestly was unaware I had been driving illegally.

After our vacation was over I contacted the D.O.T. about the incident. Their lame response to my untimely situation was that they weren’t obligated to send out reminders but they sometimes would simply as a courtesy. After five straight years of the Department being “courteous,” and my becoming dependent on the annual notifications I had been receiving each year, I guess they ultimately had me right where they wanted me. I quickly came to the realization that their suspicious policy, of being inconsistent with the public, was probably a newfound way of generating some easy income by preying on responsible yet unsuspecting drivers.

All was going well this time, unlike our previous traveling experience, at the start of our Summer trip back to Iowa, until we took some ill-advised advice from a shuttle driver. He had just driven us from the parking lot to a free baggage check-in service located a great distance from the actual airport. He insisted the lines inside the airport would be much longer than the line, consisting of about eight fellow passengers, formed on the sidewalk right in front of us. We reluctantly took his advice, and after a twenty minute wait the man behind the counter informed us his computer would not allow him to check in our bags since it was now less than 90 minutes until our scheduled flight. Well, that certainly wasn’t the case when we first got in line.

Besides, wouldn’t that have been a perfect reason why he should have accepted our luggage, and sent us on our way, instead of making the check-in process so challenging? The seemingly long ago leisurely start to our trip had now become another chaotic dash through the terminal. Five minutes! It took us a measly 5 minutes (less actually) once we finally arrived at the spot where we had intended to go in the first place to check in our luggage. We then got to the airport security checkpoint and again encountered somewhat of a line. This time though it appeared the line was manageable enough, so we felt like we no longer needed to worry if we’d be arriving at our boarding gate destination in time.

However, airport personnel suggested almost immediately, for those of us towards the back of the line, to go to a different security checkpoint because the wait time there would be significantly shorter. Sound familiar? He also said the wait would be approximately 30 minutes or more if we remained where we were. I didn’t even consider, for one moment, taking the airport employee’s suggestion at that point. I am so glad I know and trust in the famous adage, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” Fifteen minutes! That’s all it took for us to get completely through security. A mere 15 minutes and not the threatened amount of twice that time. I’ve learned to expect the unexpected with our flying endeavors, so I’m not too surprised anymore whenever our carefully planned itinerary eventually goes awry. My parents, on the other hand, were utterly surprised when we “just showed up.” The priceless expressions alone, on their faces, made our summer trek to Iowa worth the while.


This summer marks the 30th Anniversary of Prince’s career-defining Purple Rain, both the album and the movie, so in commemorating this special occasion I would like to share a portion from a paper I wrote, about the eccentric artist, during my one year of college. It’s titled, “Rock’s Majestic Years.” It is not a coincidence I have chosen today to post this blog, but it is in celebration of Prince’s 56th Birthday. I hope you enjoy this essay whether you’re a fan of the legendary artist or not.

It was the summer of 1984, and my beautiful girlfriend and I were making our usual date night plans consisting of dinner and a movie. After hearing my girlfriend’s preference as to which movie she wanted to see I reluctantly responded with the question, “Isn’t that the one with the short, gay, black guy?” I was correct, at least about his stature and skin color, but as a teenage boy with raging hormones I figured honoring her request would be in my best interest. That evening the star of Purple Rain became my favorite singer, musician and performer, and as the movie credits scrolled down the screen I insisted we stay and watch it again.

Prince Rogers Nelson, named after his father’s jazz trio, entered the world on June 7th, 1958, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to his awaiting parents, John Nelson and Mattie Shaw. When Prince was seven years old his musically-gifted father left the family, but fortunately he left behind his piano which the young boy then used to teach himself how to play it by ear. At the age of fourteen Prince moved in with his friend, Andre Cymone, and the teens taught themselves to play several instruments. The talented teen added guitar, bass, and drums to his repertoire, and the boys performed at school events and small local venues as the band Grand Central . In 1976, Chris Moon, a little known promoter and record producer, invited Prince to his house to experiment with a four-track recording desk that he kept in his basement. Realizing the budding artist’s talent, but not having the resources to sufficiently expand his career, Mr. Moon referred Prince to Owen Husney, a key figure in the Minneapolis advertising industry.

Mr. Husney founded a management company, American Artists, after meeting Prince and listening to his demos, so he could enable his client a clearer path to success. He then negotiated a guaranteed, three album, six figure deal with Warner Brothers in 1977. Owen Husney insisted Warner Brothers allow Prince, although he was only 19 at the time, to produce his debut album on his own because he thought Prince should be presented as a prodigy similar to how Stevie Wonder had been marketed. His first album, For You, was released in April of 1978, and credits Prince as the album’s producer, arranger, composer, and performer (something that has continued throughout his entire career). In addition, the debut album’s credits confirmed he played all 23 instruments heard on the recording, and the album itself was later credited as introducing the “Minneapolis Sound” (a distinctive synthesized horn sound) to the public.

Prince Rogers Nelson has been an electrifying, and many times controversial, entertainer since the beginning of his well-documented career. His very first tour featured a simulated sex act between a white woman and a black man which fueled the taboo fire since mixed relations were extremely frowned upon during that era. Adding more contention to his reputation, after performing on American Bandstand, Prince refused to answer any questions from legendary host, Dick Clark. In 1981, the Rolling Stones invited the “Rude Boy” to be an opening act on their tour along with George Thorogood and The J. Geils Band. This was viewed as a great opportunity for him to attract a wider audience, but on opening night, in front of over 100,000 restless and unimpressed Stones’ fans, Prince left the stage in defeat after only twenty minutes. Two years later Prince found the success he was aiming for with the release of his fifth album, 1999. The double-album contained the hit single “Little Red Corvette” which is thought of as the song that changed the dynamics of his audience from a predominantly black fan base to a much more multiracial one.

Prince finally reigned over the music industry beginning in the summer of 1984: after “When Doves Cry,” the first single from the forthcoming album, Purple Rain, was released. The song eventually became his first U.S. #1, selling over 2 million copies, and remains the best selling single of 1984. Likewise, the album, Purple Rain, erupted worldwide as it spent an incredible six months at #1 in the United States. The movie, Purple Rain, (a somewhat authentic depiction of the life of Prince) opened nationally on July 27, 1984, and eventually grossed almost $70 million. A trio of other tracks emerged triumphantly from the album with “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Purple Rain,” and “I Would Die For You” obtaining the #1, #2, and #8 positions respectively on the U.S. Charts. The success of everything Purple Rain is even more amazing when considering Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Lionel Richie, the other legendary performers of that time, were all competing for chart success as well.

Contrary to his justifiable reputation as a sexually expressive artist, both lyrically and on stage, Prince unveiled a portion of his religious side to the public with his album, Lovesexy, released in May of 1988. “Lovesexy is the feeling you get when you fall in love, not with a girl or a boy, but with the heavens above,” was his quote professed on the inner sleeve notes of the album. Controversial once again, he posed naked on the album’s cover, although not explicitly, and his supporting tour was dubbed as a combination of lust and salvation. During the numerous band personnel changes, throughout Prince’s career, one constant has always remained: he strives to have a racially mixed band made up of both male and female musicians (even if they’re not the best musically) because he appreciates diversity, and he desires to maintain fans of every race.

On June 7th, 1993, his 35th Birthday, Prince announced he had changed his name to an unpronounceable Symbol. It was suggested by some that the name change was a strategy on his part to void an unprecedented, multi-million dollar contract he had recently signed with Warner Brothers; however, Prince claimed it was God’s idea. He then added his own suggestion to the media that they should now refer to him as “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince” or “The Artist,” for short. Say what you will about Prince, Symbol, The Artist, or whoever, but he has purposefully maintained his visibility in the music industry, through creative and clever marketing, for many years.

Prince is not only a musical genius, but he’s also an entrepreneur, innovator, and has written countless songs including the “Uhh-huh” song used as a jingle by Ray Charles in a Diet Pepsi commercial. Prince wrote the rock ballet, Billboards, performed by the Joffrey Ballet, is a designer of clothing and jewelry, and was the first musical artist to issue a cd-rom, “Symbol” Interactive, in 1994. Borrowing a famous quote from the movie, Forrest Gump, I’m inclined to say, Prince “is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” Prince Rogers Nelson has been a deserving recipient of numerous awards including seven Grammy’s, an Oscar, and in 2004, his first year of eligibility, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Thirty years have now passed since that incredible date night, at the movie theater, during the summer of 1984. My hormones are still raging, that girlfriend is now my lovely wife, and Prince is still one of my favorite singers, musicians, and performers of all-time.

Clarke, Duncan. The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.
Connecticut: Longmeadow, 1995.
Nilsen, Per. Prince: A Documentary . London: Omnibus, 1993.
Michaels, Scott. Find a Death . Rick. 28 Sept. 2009.
The Smiley Group. 2004-2009. 20 July 2009. 28 Sept. 2009.

My Friend

My friend passed away about a year ago. He was actually a good friend of my younger brother, for over 30 years, so he was really only a friend of mine by association (at first), but as we all got older, and my brother moved away, Charlie became an outright friend of mine as well. His given name was Cyril, but most people called him either Charlie or Chuck. I almost always referred to him as Cyril, but I affectionately pronounced it like Cereal (as in Lucky Charms) which he didn’t seem to mind one bit. Sadly enough I’m sure he had been called worse things throughout his lifetime since he was a large child, and he grew to be an even larger adult. The six foot-something Charlie, weighing in at upwards of 400lbs., was an easy target for unkind words, but those of us who actually knew him would commonly describe him as a “big teddy bear.” The clean-cut “big man” would do anything for anyone at any time because that’s just who he was. I wonder if he purposefully bore no tattoos or piercings and was always clean-shaven because he didn’t want to further add to his already intimidating stature.

I spent many summer vacations hanging out with my brother, who was six years younger than me, and his friends which of course included Chuck. We’d play Monopoly in our basement all morning long. We would then head upstairs to play Atari in the afternoon but only if my mother wasn’t watching her soap operas since we only had the one television set. We’d usually spend the rest of the day outside playing basketball, whiffle ball, or some other sport. I guess I didn’t have many friends of my own, or maybe I just liked being the influential leader of the “gang.” Cyril persisted throughout the years, and up until the day he died, that I was the cause of his chewing tobacco addiction by one time forcing him to take a dip from my can of Copenhagen. I guess I possibly could have been the culprit behind Charlie’s love affair with snuff, but more likely he was the one who begged me for a pinch of the substance. He was probably just trying to be cool like me. I know I began chewing tobacco partly because I played baseball but mostly because I wanted to be like my Grandpa McCleary who partook of the nasty stuff.

I do freely admit to one time suggesting Cyril try eating a few different products meant only for our canine friends, but don’t worry because I did offer him some money if he could successfully complete the challenge. What kind of guy do you think I am anyway? I think at first I offered him a whole dollar if he could eat an entire strip of rawhide, but after several minutes of trying and trying he was only able to consume about a fifth of the hard substance. He even tried soaking it in water for awhile, but we soon found out those things are almost impossible to digest if you are not a dog. I told him not to fret because I was still willing to pay him that glorious buck if he could devour seven Milk-Bone dog biscuits in one sitting. Charlie ate one, and then another, but the pace he had set for himself was excruciating slow for all of us. I was kind enough to allow him, at his request, to drench the remaining dog biscuits in catsup (we couldn’t afford ketchup), so he could disguise the flavor some. He continued laboring over the task at hand, for about an hour, but ultimately gave up after consuming a little less than five of the mandatory seven “tasty treats.” Although he did not meet the requirements of the challenge I did decide to give Chuck fifty cents out of the goodness of my heart.

In the mid-1990’s I owned a compact disc shop, and Cyril was one of my best customers. The only problem was his motto at the time was, “retail is for suckers,” so he rarely brought in enough money to cover the entire cost of his purchase. It was only on the rare occasion he was in a hurry that I knew for sure I’d receive the full amount due since he wouldn’t have the time for our traditional debate. Charlie typically would plunk down onto the counter an assortment of paper money and coins in an attempt to pay for the merchandise he had selected. He customarily was always within a dollar of the amount due but rarely to the plus side of what was owed. We’d then spend the next half hour negotiating an acceptable amount of tender while “shooting the breeze” in between time. Many times he’d have to place a special order since he had an unusual taste in music, so I learned to give Chuck the “special friend’s rate” by marking up the price of his cd’s by a dollar, so I could recoup some of my earlier losses.

Cyril normally would use the opportunity as my customer to offer me a dip from his can of Copenhagen. He tried non-stop over the years to lure me back in, after I had quit chewing, by offering me a pinch of tobacco every single time our paths would cross. I always humored him by accepting the can while gripping it between my right thumb and middle finger. I would then tightly pack the tobacco inside of the can to one side by using the timeless tapping method, with it’s familiar relaxing sound (only chewers worth a spit know about), before finally removing the lid and taking a gigantic whiff of the delicious substance. I would never go any further than that to Charlie’s dissatisfaction. When my Grandpa McCleary eventually quit chewing I remember finding myself somewhat disappointed in him because I was still addicted to the stuff, so I can imagine Chuck probably felt a little betrayed himself when I finally kicked the habit but left him hanging.

Cyril and I played racquetball practically every week for quite some time before I moved away to Arizona. He was unbelievably nimble, especially for a big guy, and did not hesitate in using his size to his advantage. He’d strategically place himself directly between myself and the wall whenever I was attempting to return a shot. I nearly won every match we played, and he almost always left the court with at least one welt on his backside which he’d half-kiddingly accuse me of doing on purpose. I suppose he wasn’t totally wrong with that assessment. Charlie was certainly able to unleash a slew of four-letter words, faster than Ralphie from A Christmas Story could blurt out, “I want an official Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle,” during our time on the court, but he always looked forward to our rematch the following week.

After moving to the Southwest from Iowa, I kept in touch with Chuck through Christmas cards, but it wasn’t the same. I also sent him a congratulatory note when finding out he had bravely decided to open his own business. He had been a longtime, loyal employee of an appliance store in town, but the store closed shortly after the Maytag Corporation left the state. Charlie had literally been the “Maytag Repairman” of Newton, for many years, and opted in continuing that role and providing the town with the much needed service all on his own. Watching the “big man” bend, squat, lift, and fit into the tiniest of spaces while repairing appliances was a sight to behold. He provided excellent service to his customers and was the most personable repairman you could ever meet.

I believe the last time I saw Cyril was during one of our annual Christmas visits back to Newton. My wife, son, and I met him at our favorite Chinese buffet restaurant for lunch. The establishment undoubtedly lost a fortune by allowing Chuck and I through their doors that day. After we had finally finished gorging ourselves, and were cracking open our fortune cookies, Charlie informed us he had already paid for our meal. Not wanting to take advantage of his generous nature I secretly purchased a gift certificate, for his future use, and hid it in his coat pocket when he wasn’t looking. We were all heading towards the exit when we heard some sort of commotion going on amongst the employees, and I was shocked to learn that the ruckus being made was directed right at us. It turns out our lunch companion had only paid for himself. I guess he wanted to find out how close my family could come to either receiving a free meal or doing some jail time. Chuck thought the precarious situation was hilarious (he was kind of strange that way) and continued laughing the entire time while settling the bill with the confused and angry staff behind the counter.

Shortly after we got outside Charlie found the stashed gift inside his pocket while reaching for his winter gloves. He seemed a bit overwhelmed with the gesture and maybe realized I had appreciated his friendship, during the past 30 years, as much as he had appreciated mine. When we said our goodbyes that day I didn’t know at the time I would never see Cyril again. It was the first time I can remember ever hugging my friend, and he truly was a “big teddy bear.”