Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Arnold Palmer

The world is divided into two groups – Golfers and the rest of us.  Within the latter group are those who have of necessity mastered the art of zip-lip.  “Do not talk about this particular sport, especially along the lines of negativism, as in “it's like watching grass grow.”

Arnold Palmer brought a group of non-golfers to appreciation of the sport by mastering a combination of technical skill and likability that no one else could achieve. How could you not like Palmer, whether you were part of his “Army” or just a general sports fan?

There is also the Pennsylvania tie for us. Arnie was proud of his Pennsylvania roots, so we were kinsman from that standpoint. Surrounded by wisecracking New York Giants fans in our retirement world, this more than offsets criticism that our state has little to be proud of beside the Liberty Bell. Aficionados genuflect in the direction of Arnie's hometown of Latrobe (which is, as you probably know, is about 10 miles northwest of Ligonier) home of Rolling Rock beer. A panelist on a beer judging contest once noted that RR had the “distinct aroma of goat urine.” No matter, 19 year old collegians playing shuffleboard at Dave's bar considered RR the nectar of the gods. It was ever so.

Tributes to Arnold Palmer, king of the links, showcase a recurring theme - his personal graciousness to everyone. He was a model for the Golden Rule of “do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.” Golf lessons and endless talk about birdies and bogeys, hooks, shanks and whatever else fascinates golfers will have their moment, but one thing is for sure, the ever-lasting tribute to Arnold Palmer will be our memory of his warm smile, good manners on and off the course and respect for everybody else.

He taught a life lesson not just for golfers, but for all of us.                            

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Done In by Dining Out

For many Americans dining out is a pretty big deal.  On paper at least, it holds the promise of something different, a break from the routine. There are the attractions of not having to clean up, wash the dishes, or at least get them into a dishwasher, put away those items that call for putting away.  For sure there are couples among us who welcome a “date” highlighting dinner.  Families find that the kids can frequently put aside their bickering long enough to have the attention given to them by ever-patient servers.  Plus, ordering whatever they want!

Yes, there were positive, bright sides to dining out in the old days. Today, not so much. Time marches on for sure when servers greet diners as if we are all part of one big frat house. The first time one asked “Do you guys want anything to drink?” I felt it insulting to my attractive wife and replied “Does this lady look like a guy to you?” Only that cool Guinness calmed me down.  No sense fighting the inevitable in our constantly dumbed down world.  Roll on.  There are enough hurdles challenging your digestion already. “Tipping” being one.  My wife and I don't go out for dinner all that much, but when we do I don't feel a need for a course in mathematics. Suggesting percentages for gratuities is an invitation to increased blood pressure. Still I don't want to go totally negative by being done in by dining out. There are certainly more reasons to go out once in a while than there are staying home 100% of the time.

Some dining out experiences are burned in my memory.  One such involves the officers club at the old Philadelphia Naval Base where I dined frequently with my good pal, the late Rear Admiral Jack Sweeney. Our friendship was forged in teenage years when he was caddying at the golf club in Somers Point, New Jersey, and I was setting up chairs and umbrellas on the beaches of nearby Ocean City. I respected Jack's rank but our long ago years were by far the strongest tie that bound us.

Most of the servers at the officers club were Irish women. And Sweeney, Irish to the core, loved the club's mashed potatoes that seemed to be part of every menu.  The Irish waitresses hovered around Sweeney like so many mother hens constantly asking him, “Admiral, would you like some more potatoes?” Sweeney never refused.

When my wife and I dine out and mashed potatoes are on the menu, I order them in memory of Admiral Sweeney.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The U.S. Tennis Open

Now that the 2016 Open is in the history books it's a good time to reflect on memories and some of the changes that have taken place over the past half century in the tennis world. 

Philadelphia has always been a great tennis town. In earlier days private clubs dominated the scene ranging from World War One with the immortal R. Norris “Dick” Williams (a survivor of the Lusitania disaster) to the 1950s and Davis Cup stalwart Vic Seixas. Both were Merion Cricket Club members. The tennis legend Bill Tilden played out of the Germantown Cricket Club where he had a private court for play and practice. Nowadays the club's swimming pool marks that site.

My own love of the game started when my tennis-playing Aunt Catherine gifted me with a wooden Bancroft racquet purchased from Mitchell & Ness, the mecca for sporting goods. It was strung in gut, the best possible in the late 1940s.  Aunt Catherine was a take-no-prisoners player due in part to the fact she had to work even as she raised her son. A rarity in those times. That weapon served me well during my collegiate career on the courts.

I started officiating matches in the 1950s along with two other guys from suburban Philadelphia, Brooks Keffer and Don Belcher. Our umpiring duties took us to the West Side Tennis Club in the Tudor styled neighborhood of Forest Hills, New York. The U.S. National Championships were held there prior to the opening of the new Billy Jean King tennis complex. You can't compare the two venues. Apples and oranges. The national center is a concrete giant of ever-expanding wonder; The West Side Tennis Club an intimate setting. Keffer and I used to take the train from 30th Street Station to Forest Hills and the tennis aficionado's paradise. We'd return tired and suntanned at day's end. All the big names played in the championship of course so we had ample opportunity to see the Greats in action. The environment of the West Side Tennis Club setting also gave us easy access to the players in addition to sumptuous luncheons and what amounted to an open bar.  These perks more than offset the meager $8 we were paid for a full day's work calling lines.

Brooks has since departed for the Great Tennis Court in the Sky, but my memories of Mr. Keffer and the championships at Forest Hills are evergreen. Never more so than at this time of year when the U.S. Open is in full swing.