April 12, 2022

Gifting Art

Gifting Art 

By John R. Greenwood 



Art savoring his gift, brings a wide smile to the artist 


In my last post, I wrote about a painting I received as a gift from artist Chris Leske. It was a painting of my past life delivering dairy products in the city of Saratoga Springs. It was a ten-year span that made me rich. Not monetarily rich, but rich in the friends, stories, and experiences I amassed in the decade of the 80s. I now enjoy looking at that painting every day and seeing those years through a beautiful 8x10 window. 

That gift was doubled today when I witnessed another friend receive his own painting from Chris. Along with my milk deliveries, Chris had equally fond memories of a coffee truck that pulled up in front of the Manle Auto Parts store every weekday morning. Manle's (now Scallions) was located on the corner next to The Parting Glass, where Chris worked. Art Bullet and his red truck with the stainless cap would circle the city, stopping wherever a group of workers could be found. Manle Auto Parts was locally owned and predated all the auto part chains of today. It was a daily ritual to see a large group gathered around Art's truck, getting their morning coffee and donuts. Chris recently captured that image in a beautiful watercolor painting. From the minute he rediscovered Art via Facebook, he had a vision of that truck parked on the corner.

You got more than something to eat and drink when Art showed up. He was a stand-up act that came right to your door Monday through Friday. In a pre-politically correct era, you were sure to be entertained by the coffee-truck comedian with a devilish grin and a dirty joke or three. It was his signature and his success. You didn't have to be hungry to look forward to hearing that unmistakable horn coming up Lake Avenue. You'd show up for the raucous laughter surrounding the truck for the next ten minutes. With money to make, a schedule to keep, and another twenty stops to get to, Art would pull down the hinged sides and take off down the road. 

Art bought dairy products from me throughout those ten years, so I was speechless when Chris showed me the painting he'd done of the coffee truck. When he said he wanted to surprise Art with it, I knew I had to be there.  

We all texted back and forth about getting together for some laughs and a cup of coffee. It took a week to coordinate a time and place to meet. We decided on a nearby Stewart's. Chris and I rode together while Art showed up on time as expected. Within minutes laughs were flying out of the corner booth like fireworks. There were almost forty years between those laughs, but they hadn't changed one iota. What followed was a three-way ping-pong of stories, jokes, and do-you-remembers. We roared when someone mentioned we'd become those same old men we used to kid about sitting in the Stewart's booth for hours.

Eventually, we ran out of steam, and Chris pulled out the painting. He'd posted a photo of the artwork on Facebook previously, so Art had seen it, but he had no idea he was about to be its owner. When Chris handed it to him, he froze like I did the week before. You could see those 80s running through his head like a runaway train. The three of us sat there in silence, soaking up the moment. The picture of the three of us wouldn't have made a great cover for a Hallmark Card, but the emotions associated with it could have sold millions. 

This piece attempted to put into words the impact an act of kindness can have on someone. It was a gesture that couldn't be measured with any machine or gauge. It was an act straight from a generous heart brought to life with a paintbrush and fond memories. A perfect example of life being better through the gift of "Art."



Art's Coffee Truck 




March 31, 2022

Caught Off Guard

Caught Off Guard 

By John R. Greenwood 




“Hey Johnny, I got something I want you to have.” 


That was the text message I received on a random Tuesday afternoon. It was from my friend Chris Leske. 


Minutes later, we sit down for a quick cup of coffee in the maroon booth at the corner Stewart’s. Chris and I had been collaborating on a magazine article that would be a snapshot of his life as a musician, cook, and artist. It came out days earlier in the Simply Saratoga Spring 2022 Edition. I wanted others to see what makes Chris and his story worth reviving and sharing. Read it, and you’ll better understand the connection we shared and the time lapse between then and now. 


With two fresh coffees and another ten minutes of story swapping, neither of us could wait another minute. I’d been staring at the parcel wrapped in brown paper lying on the table between us. I’m far from Sherlock Holmes, I’m more of a Get Smart tripping on the clues type, but even I knew the package in front of me was a painting. 


“Well, go ahead, open it!” 


As I peeled off the masking tape and pulled back the paper, I had the same look as Ralphie Parker opening his Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot, range model, air rifle with a compass in the stock. 


“Wow” 


I was overwhelmed and speechless. 


I was looking at ten years of my life rolled into one not-so-simple watercolor, all of it passing before my eyes like a Rolodex of scenes. Instantly, I envisioned those early morning milk deliveries to Lou’s/Comptons, Shirley’s, and the Spa City Diner; the long dark hall leading into the cellar of Lillians, and the steep decrepit stairs under the Tin & Lint; my Friday afternoon finale at the Parting Glass, Madame Jumel’s, Hatties, Mother Goldsmith, and Caffe Lena. It was a flood of warmth and nostalgia, a flash of joy, and a tinge of regret that it didn’t last longer. 


This was more than the gift of a painting; it was an artist’s look into my heart and soul. Our conversations and recollections over the last few months had manifested themselves into Chris's paintbrush and creative eye. It was his way of thanking me for my writing, while all I wanted was to convey how grateful I was for him opening up his artistic mind to me. 


For me and many, these are the snippets of life that make the dark days worth muscling through. It can be hard to wrestle away the negatives, but when that sun comes out, boy it feels good. It takes a unique eye to decipher the needs of others and then place them on a piece of canvas or in a musical note, and many of the people in my life have that skill-set. 


Banjo Man Chris “Lee” Leske is one of them, and I want to thank him for the gift that will keep on giving. 




My "Clem" painted Price's Dairy truck loading at the
dock of the now extinct Saratoga Dairy on Excelsior Ave. 

Photo is from Bill Barton's 
Facts and Tidbits of Saratoga's Dairy Industry From 
Early 1800's To 1988 

_________________________

The Painting  

By John R. Greenwood 


colors are secondary 

to the story shared

the gift, a painting 

wrapped in brown paper


years stacked neatly 

in a old red milk crate 

revived in an instant

the hours, the work, the friends


an artist’s gratitude 

overwhelms the receiver

memories framed and hung 

in reverence 






February 26, 2022

Did He Really Say That?

Did He Really Say That?
By John R. Greenwood


On Father’s Day 1979, my wife gave me a small 5x7 Hallmark plaque with a photograph of a man and a boy fishing off the end of a dock. The inscription in the bottom right-hand corner read: 

“Try not to become a man of success but rather a man of value.” —Albert Einstein 



My sons were only one and four at the time, and I’d just taken a huge leap of faith by purchasing Price’s Dairy from Victor Price. My wife and I were in our early twenties with little money and even less business experience. Basically, it was the Price’s Dairy name, a milk route, and a few old trucks. We had nothing to lose. The next ten years were the hardest and most rewarding years of my life. I amassed a lifetime of friends and memories in one decade, and although it was heartbreaking to see it end, I never regretted one day of it. 

The little wooden Hallmark plaque graced my desk throughout the Price’s Dairy years. When I went to work for Stewart’s and earned a management position in the Hauling Office, the plaque came with me. It would remain on my desk until I retired in 2019. It’s in front of me right now as I write this. Although the quote has been my mantra and roadmap whenever I sought the answer to life’s meaning, I always wondered whether Albert Einstein was really the source.


Several weeks ago, I was looking for something to write. I’d been neglecting this blog, and it deserved a little nourishment. I set out to prove or disprove whether or not my buddy Al was as proficient with his prose as he was in his calculations. Where do I start? Google has yet to let me down—this was no exception. When I typed in the quote and asked whether or not Albert Einstein was indeed responsible, Google directed me to a May 2, 1955 issue of Life Magazine, which contained an article titled “Death of a Genius.” The article appeared one month after Einstein’s death and a month before I was born. Now all I needed was to find the quote. Thanks to the power of the internet and Google, I could page through the entire issue. In the process, I was able to locate it. One of Life’s editors, William Miller, his son Pat, a Harvard freshman at the time, and Professor William Hermanns, a friend of Einstein’s from Germany, visited Einstein some months before his death. During the visit, the four men discussed the importance of staying curious. 



Einstein explained, “Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day. Never lose a holy curiosity. Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value. He is considered successful in our day who gets more out of life than he puts in. But a man of value will give more than he receives.” 



Finding the roots and context of my mantra for the last forty years helped me understand its significance. As a man constantly searching for signs to guide me, this felt like confirmation that maybe I’d been on the right road all along.

Thanks to Zubal Books of Cleveland, Ohio, I now have an original issue of that May 2, 1955, Life Magazine, and I couldn’t be happier.

                                 Life’s simple pleasures.


Einstein's Desk 




January 02, 2022

Anti-Aging Medicine


Anti-aging Medicine
By John R. Greenwood

Simply open your phone, and you're flooded with advice on how to look and feel younger. I'm starting to think that my phone is the main reason I'm on a fast track to aging. One thing that does keep my mind from rusting is maintaining a sense of humor. Eating well and exercise is crucial to staying fit physically, but in my opinion, keeping your laughter tank topped off is the key to enjoying the ride. When it comes to placing all your eggs in the exercise basket, comedian Ron White explains it best. He once talked about a man in Florida who tied himself to a tree ahead of an impending hurricane. At 53, the man felt he was in good enough shape to withstand hurricane-force winds. Ron questioned the man's thought process by explaining it this way, "It's not THAT the wind is blowing, it's WHAT the wind is blowing. If you get hit with a Volvo, it doesn't really matter how many sit-ups you did that morning."

There is no one size fits all answer to fighting the aging process. No one gets out alive. I hope to go as far as possible with a smile on my face and compassion in my heart. As I headed out on my latest bottle release mission, Mrs. G. simply shook her head and said, "Be careful." Knowing I run a little off-balance, she says it multiple times a day. To see her husband of 47 years leaving the house to place a quote-laden bottle in some random location probably has her questioning her life choices.

If memory serves me correctly (it rarely does) this is bottle #10 to be released into the wild. 


"Age does not diminish the extreme disappointment of having a scoop of ice cream fall from the cone." - Jeff Fiebig





Every paycheck of mine since 1974 has relied on a company whose bottom line was based on ice cream. I have witnessed parents, grandparents, teens, toddlers, and even a Labrador or two, lose a scoop off the cone. I've seen it from Saratoga to Plattsburgh, Watertown to Newburgh. The faces that follow those tragic drops could bring tears to the most hardened soul. It's not the cost. It's the immediate blow to the taste buds. It's the hard-brake to the happiness engine that makes losing a scoop to the parking lot such a downer. 

On the opposite side of Bottle#10 is a truth that we can ALL finally agree on.

"In a dream, you are never eighty" - Anne Sexton

As I read the quote aloud, I realized I hadn’t considered the ninety-year-olds out there.

Now that my bottle deposits have surpassed double digits, I'm not sure I'll continue this random act of insanity. 

But if I do, you'll be the first to know.


Happy New Year!




RI