November 03, 2015

Rooftop Victory

Rooftop Victory
By John R. Greenwood

I recently read one of Jon Katz's Bedlam Farm posts about the trials and tribulations of a common home repair. He had a tight storm window and wanted to fix it on his own. It was a post about weighing dollars against sense, learning versus surrendering . In the end it was the desire for independence that prevailed. Jon's story inspired me to send him one about a recent home repair of my own. These are stories about home improvement and self improvement. Not just learning how-to's but also learning about weighing capabilities against common sense. I find myself in a constant tug of war between wanting to do something on my own or being smart enough to acknowledge my limitations and ask for help. Sometimes the latter proves to be the more courageous choice. 

But not today...

Here is the letter I wrote Jon. As an author, teacher, and mentor his three word response to my letter was; "Share the story."

So, here it is:

Jon, I just read your post about planing the storm window on Maria’s Studio. It made me smile and at the same time I wanted to help. Knowing that’s not something you readily embrace I thought I’d share a quick story about something similar that happened to me. We had a new gas furnace installed around the time you and I first met a few years ago. The new furnace is vented with plastic pipe that runs out of the cellar and through the side of the house. This eliminated a need for the old chimney. Because the chimney extends up through the center of the house it isn't something easily removed. We simply left it the way it was. The problem is now we have this large opening running up through the center of the house. It was an open invitation to bats, squirrel’s, birds or anything else looking for a nice quiet place to set up camp. My plan was to cap it off with a cement cover. That was several years ago.

I’ve spent the majority of this summer working on my home and not much else. Fall was already fading. I was determined to get that chimney capped if it was the last thing I did in 2015. More than once I picked up the phone to call a contractor, only to hang up before anyone answered. I was a grown man with big shoulders and enough home repair experience to do this myself. My only fear was climbing on the roof. My agility and flexibility has left the building along with some testosterone. But, I’ve been trying to get back into exercise mode and my courage was abnormally high this past Monday. I left work early and set off on a mission. I drove to Home Depot and bought a $3.00 16”x16” cement paver and a tube of masonry adhesive and headed home. I changed my clothes and got the ladder. I collected a hammer, caulking gun, the paver, and my courage and headed to the rooftop. 

The first thing I had to do was hammer the center flue out and level off the top of the chimney. My adrenaline was pumping as I wailed on that cement like John Henry burying a railroad spike. It took a while but I finally had a nice smooth surface to set the cap on. I filled the caulking gun with the tube of adhesive and emptied it around the top of the chimney. The cement cap covered the opening like a special order. I let out a sign of relief and looked down below for someone to share my victory with. 

Nope, I was on my own.

Now I had to get back to that ladder without falling off the roof. A few years ago I would have walked down the roof like a Wallenda and climbed down. That ship had sailed. This time I was shaking and skittish. I backed down the roof like a toddler backing down a set of stairs. I got to the ladder tossed my tools to the ground and made my decent. When I finally stepped off the bottom rung I gave a private little fist pump and let out a hearty, “Yes!”

Minutes later I was on the back steps sipping a cold Miller Lite and enjoying the falling leaves. It was then that I realized just how great life is. It simply boils down to how you savor it. On this warm October day I sipped a little rooftop victory. I didn't break any windows, tools or body parts.

Cost of a contractor to do the same job = $200+???
Cost of a cement cap and tube of adhesive = $10
Savings by risking life and multiple limbs = $190? 
Being able to check one more thing off an endless list = "Priceless"

Yours truly,

November 01, 2015

A Halloween Text Message

A Halloween Text Message
By John R. Greenwood

The text message came from an old customer/friend of mine. It was none other than the humor packed, and perpetually smiling Ed Sakos. Ed was the owner of Saratoga's famous Mr. Ed’s Hot Dogs, a restaurant that fed thousands of hungry bar-goers and Broadway-walkers throughout the 1980’s. Ed was not only a good customer of mine when I was the proprietor of Price’s Dairy in those same years but he became a good friend. His love of antiques and dirty jokes made my milk deliveries and our daily visits something I miss to this day. Visiting Mr. Ed’s was an experience. The restaurant was narrow, deep and chock full of characters from all walks of life. Lawyers, business owners, policemen, drifters, and alcohol-soaked Skidmore students packed the place from 11am to 3am daily. It was a sad day when Ed escaped the high rent of Broadway and headed out Route #29 to the outskirts of the city and opened Mr. Ed’s Ice Cream Station. The city’s loss was the country’s gain.

Ed and I recently reunited via Facebook. We hadn’t seen each other in years so it was nice to be able to touch base on occasion even if it was electronically. It was 8am Saturday morning when I heard my cell phone buzzing. I was in the middle of something so I didn’t check it right away. It was 9:30 before I actually read the message. It was from Ed. It said, “FYI, there is a Price's Dairy milk box at an estate sale at 23 Elizabeth Lane off Lake Ave.”

I read it, then realized it had been an hour and a half since he sent his message. Damn! That thing will be gone for sure. People descend on estate sales like vultures. There’s no way that piece of Saratoga history will still be there. I showed my wife the message. She said, “GO!” I threw on my shoes, grabbed my keys and literally ran to my truck. I hit Northern Pines Rd like a volunteer fireman on a late night “fully involved” fire call. Vic Price must have been looking down on me today because every light turned green on my approach. I made the four mile drive in minutes. Elizabeth Lane was quiet. I didn’t see any activity at all. Not until I got toward the end of the street did I find a home with a “23” on it and a roll-off dumpster in the driveway. There were only a couple cars parked out front. Either the house was clean as a whistle or I was the luckiest man in town today. 

I headed across the lawn and still wasn’t sure if there was a sale or not. As I approached the house I saw a sign taped on the door leading into the garage. It said, “Come In”. There I found a man sitting behind a folding table and a woman standing there talking to him. I said hello and without hesitation asked if there was a Price’s Dairy milk box for sale. They both looked at each other unsure exactly what it was I was looking for. I quickly explained I’d gotten a text message from a friend who’d been there earlier. It took a second until it registered just what it was I was looking for. The women said,”Oh, the metal box! Yes, I know what you mean. I think it's in the cellar.” The man said he didn’t remember it going out the door so there was a good chance it was still down there. When I explained that I had purchased the business from Vic Price in 1979 and operated it for ten years they understood why I was so excited about the possibility of finding a remnant of my past. As I headed toward the cellar they both smiled and wished me, “Good luck.” 

The cellar stairs were narrow and made a sharp right at the bottom. I turned the corner and there in the dark shadows of #23 Elizabeth Lane was the end of the rainbow and my aluminum Price’s Dairy milk box. It was a lottery winning feeling times a bunch. I was grinning like a kid with a new bike. This time Mr. Ed had me smiling at something more than a man-walks-into-a-bar-joke. 

I wanted to yell out loud but instead I picked up the box and hugged it like a baby. When I got back upstairs to the garage the man and women were thrilled that I’d found my Holy Grail. The story’s ending got even better when I went to pay the $10 sticker price and was informed that everything was half price today! I did a internal fist pump. I couldn’t wait to send Mr. Ed a return text with a photo of my purchase attached.

I want to thank Ed Sakos for thinking about me today. When I asked why he didn’t buy the milk box when he’d been there earlier he replied that he figured I had a bunch of them. Even though I still had a handful of home deliveries when I bought the business in 1979 they were too expensive to maintain. When I went out of business in 1989 I didn’t have any boxes or home delivery customers left. Although I’m sad the era of home delivery has slowed to a trickle I am glad I was able to experience a taste of it. Now I can dust off my Price’s Dairy milk bottle and put it in the milk box where it belongs.
This was turning out to be a very “Happy Halloween.” 

Bonus! With our fourth grandson due in December this child's desk for $10 was the cherry on the top of my day. :)

*I would like to thank Ed Sakos for his text and friendship. I would also like to thank the folks at 23 Elizabeth Lane. In my haste I did not write your names down and in my excitement I could not recall them when I got home. I left you my card so if by chance you read this piece please send me your names so I can personally thank you for your hospitality and for being a part of my treasure hunt.

October 19, 2015

Moving Moment

Moving Moment
By John R. Greenwood

"The American Dream is alive and well"

Jeff, Jim, Kevin (my son), and Neil
When you you've been married for four decades, breathing for six, and you're the parent of two adult sons, you've done more than your share of moving. I swore at the end of a lot of those moves that it would be my last. I think I'll stop making promises I can't keep. On the other hand, moving furniture is better than everyones last move. In that move we're accompanied on two sides by six of our closest friends.

I spent Saturday helping my son's family move into their new home. On the glass half full side, it was across town not across country. Even better; we had one large 27' box truck, three pickup trucks and one utility trailer. My son also had two long time friends and one long time friend/brother-in-law; all with their own families and afternoon plans. Let's just say this move had no chance of being a drawn out affair. All five of us were raring to go and four of them had young backs.

Let's get moving.

The best thing about a short move with lots of equipment is you don't have to fuss too much. Pack it smart but don't over do it. We were able to do just that. When your son's friends have homes and families of their own, you know they've been through the process enough times to know the drill.

Grab and go.


Saturday came on the anniversary of my mother's passing in 2004. I kept thinking October 17th had a deeper significance than just the move. When I realized why, it caused me to stop and reflect on what life is all about. I began to think back to my grandparents and their immigration to the United States and what it must have been like for them to move into their first home. The freedom and joy of having their own farm to raise six children on must have been exhilarating. They'd achieved the American Dream and look what followed. My parents and all of my mother's five siblings enjoyed the same dream. My sister, her sons, and I all raised families of our own, and now they were enjoying the culmination of their hard work and had homes of their own. It made me feel good about the last sixty years and everything that I'd been fortunate enough to experience. It made me angry to think about people who have "theirs" and want to build a wall to deny others the same joy. There is no perfect answer, no perfect fix. Who am I to say it's my right not yours?

How fortunate I've been. How fortunate we've all been. I do not take it for granted. 

The only walls we should be building are living room walls to hang our family memories on. 

Mr. Trump I don't want you in my neighborhood. 

Maybe you should move.


Somewhere hot.