Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve At Koos?

On Wednesday December 24, 1975, 6:00 AM came much too early. Besides being ungodly cold, it was Christmas Eve and I was sitting on a picnic table in the filthy Jap Shack at Koos Inc. Something was wrong with this picture. 

Let me recap for you. It was way too early. It was bitter cold and I was working in an old and decrepit building with no heat. And most importantly, it was Christmas Eve morning. Yikes, how was I supposed to handle spending Christmas Eve at Koos?

The solution was simple. Drink alcohol.

Before you get the impression that I was some sort of juvenile delinquent with a drinking problem, please keep two things in mind. First of all, in 1975 it was legal to consume alcohol at the age of 18 in the state of Wisconsin. Secondly, isn’t it traditional to celebrate Christmas Eve by having a party featuring adult beverages? See, it makes perfect sense.

There was only one small detail. I was at work.

Admittedly, drinking while at work isn’t the brightest thing to do. Okay, it’s a pretty idiotic thing to do, but I wasn’t alone in this stupidity. It was actually a plant wide event that was planned the night before at Slim’s Tap after a city league basketball game. Everyone was instructed to bring their favorite spirits.

Hey, I was young and impressionable and everyone was doing it. Honest. Well, almost everyone.

On that particular Christmas Eve, everyone in the plant at 4500 13th Court was consuming alcohol; even the supervisors. Everyone, that is, but the iconic Arno Schubert. It seems the crusty old Kraut had picked the holidays to go on the wagon. Who would have guessed? 

After punching in, the group of us trudged across the ice-covered yard armed with brown paper bags that concealed every type of booze imaginable. Beer, wine, whiskey… You name it, we had it. My contribution to the party was my favorite flavor of beer – Pabst Blue Ribbon.

At first we tried to be discrete around the bosses, we weren’t quite sure how they would react to us drinking on the job. We were afraid of potential repercussions. Those fears quickly disappeared when bagging supervisor Russell Thompson offered us a hit off of the bottle of Wild Turkey he pulled out of his coveralls.

The party was on.

Eventually all of the liquor we smuggled into the plant was consumed. That however didn’t stop the crew at Koos. We simply passed the hat and sent Sven Sievert over the railroad tracks to the Beer Depot on Sheridan Road for pints of blackberry brandy. When those were polished off, the process was repeated. Sort of like shampooing your hair. 

Over and over again…

Ultimately the intoxicating refreshment took its toll on the employees. Forklifts were traveling a little slower and production began to sputter. The only one who wanted to work was the tee-totaling Arno. But as drunk as we were, nobody really was paying any attention to the foul-mouthed German.

At one point, Harry Leipzig turned to me and announced that he was going to the Jap Shack to take a piss. He never returned. Later he was discovered passed out on a picnic table. Without Harry, Line 3 needed someone to seal bags. Munk Ekern graciously volunteered to help out to keep production going. 

Regrettably, the result of the gallant gesture was less than spectacular because Munk never actually sealed any bags. You see, I was the bagger and looking back, the whole scene was somewhat comical. The conversation went something like this:

Drunk Puddles (me): “Okay Munk, here they come.”
Drunker Munk: “Wait Puddles, you seal.”
Drunk Puddles: “Okay, but who’s gonna run the bagger?”
Drunker Munk: “You are.”
Drunk Puddles: “Okay, then who’s gonna seal?”
Drunker Munk: “You are, Puddles.”

That nonsensical exchange went on for about five minutes. Eventually, Munk would stumble off to join Harry in the Jap Shack. Did Line 3 ever start up again on that drunken Christmas Eve at Koos? I honestly don’t remember. Things were kind of fuzzy at that point.

Before you knew it, it was almost noon and the second shift crew was arriving to a plant full of intoxicated first-shifters. There were guys spread out all over the plant, a small number were standing, others were sitting and a few were laying down. But nobody was working.

Not even Arno. By this time he had given up hope of getting anything accomplished. He was just standing against the wall fuming with his arms folded across his chest and a crooked frown on his face. He was so upset he wasn’t even cursing anymore.

When the clock finally hit noon, we wobbled out of the plant and went home, having spent Christmas Eve at Koos. Remarkably, the alcohol impaired six-hour shift ended without incident. Although not much work got done, no one got in trouble or was hurt. Everyone was fine.

Until the following Monday. 

Despite the supervisors being cool with our impromptu Christmas Eve party, plant manager Frank Niebling was not. No one was quite sure how he found out, but he did. And he was furious.

Determined to show us that this type of behavior was not acceptable, he called our union steward, Danny Fliess into his office. He immediately told Danny that he was going to make an example of him and proceeded to suspend him for a week with no pay.

When Danny objected and tried to plead his case, Frank exploded. Pointing a finger in the startled union steward’s face, he blurted out, “Don’t think for a minute that you guys can get away with this shit just because I wasn’t here!” Unwisely, Danny explained that nobody know he wasn’t there on Christmas Eve. 

Just like that his suspension became 2 weeks without play.

I hope you enjoyed this Koos Inc. masterpiece. Each time I read one of these classics, memories are sparked. Ugly, horrible, twisted memories. Working at Koos Inc. with people like Arno Schubert will do that to you. 

Please have fun at your Christmas Eve parties and be thankful that you’re not at Koos working. Merry Christmas to all. Until next time…from the booth.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Koos Christmas Story

On a bitter cold Saturday night, late December in 1976, the men of Koos Inc. gathered in the backroom of Mario’s Red Arrow Club on Sheridan Road in Kenosha. The reason for this get-together was a Union Christmas party. UFCW Local 73A was good enough to sponsor the much-appreciated gathering for the workforce from Koos. This night was going to be an event to be remembered. This celebration would be a first. Never before had the Union workers at Koos Inc. had an official Christmas function. 

Tonight that would all change.

The year before, not only was there no party, the employees had to work until 11:00 o’clock on Christmas Eve morning. Of course the beer that was smuggled into the plant created a somewhat cheerful atmosphere, but it still wasn’t a party. Not even the numerous pints of blackberry brandy purchased from the nearby Beer Depot could do the trick. It just wasn’t a party.

The people in management always had a nice little soiree each year, but nothing for the guys in the Union. This year was going to be different. The guys in the plant were finally going to have a bash of their very own.

And what a bash it was!

The backroom at Mario’s Red Arrow Club was dimly lit, long and narrow, with a chest-high wall at one end that separated a small kitchen from the rest of the hall. This might have been the back of a smoke-filled neighborhood bar, but it was perfect for this inaugural event.

The good people from UFCW had provided the guys from Koos with enough money for the hall, food, a keg of beer and a couple of bottles of hard liquor. Several of the guys had even brought festive holiday deserts. What more was needed? Let the party begin!

Because we were new to this Christmas party thing, most of us had neglected to bring a date. What did we know? The only females present for the event were Ziggy Gutowski’s wife and the aunt of Danny Fliess who brought her two daughters. Other than that the guest list was strictly male.

It was still going to be quite a shindig, trust me.

While the sloppy joes warmed in the crock-pot and the hot dogs simmered in a large pot of boiling water, we decided to start playing cards. As Ted Nugent blared through the speakers hung on the walls, the collection of partygoers broke into two separate games of cards, one at each end of the room.

Located at the east end was a boisterous group of Koos veterans, consisting of Danny Fliess, the legendary Arno Schubert, Jim Weber, Munk Ekern, Harry Leipzig, along with several others. They were playing poker for cash and the shots of Wild Turkey were flying.

Joining me at the other end of the hall, near the kitchen area, were Chuckie Haubrich, Chuck Huck and some of the newer employees. Rather than gamble, we had opted to play drinking games where the loser had to guzzle a beer. The card playing was sloppy, but the suds were cold.

The party was in full swing and everyone was having a high-spirited time. That is until our group spotted a humongous can of black olives. 

As we were attempting to get the can of olives open, the group from the east end informed us that they wanted some of the olives. The diminutive Chuck Huck put a handful on a paper plate and brought it over to them.

Evidently this was not good enough. They wanted more. Much more.

Several members of their contingent made their way over to our table and demanded the whole can of olives. We would have no part of that and we all grabbed a big handful and told them that they were all ours!

Seeing that we were not giving up the olives peacefully, the “east-enders” grabbed the can and made off with it and the remaining olives in it. We were outraged and shouted, “You want all the olives?” With that the war was on. Olives were flying from one end of the hall to the other.

Unfortunately, the airborne olives were only the beginning. Soon cups of beer were being flung across the room. Being near the kitchen area, our group decided to escalate the battle. We kicked it up a notch. Using cooking tongs, we began plucking hot dogs from the boiling water and used them as projectiles in our efforts during this now epic battle. The frankfurters were flying!

This insane melee resembled a scene from a Three Stooges film. At this point it was pure chaos.

Then something happened that momentarily brought the frantic food fight to an abrupt stop. For some unknown reason, Chuckie Haubrich grabbed a big handful of raw ground beef, wadded into a lump the size of a baseball and hurled it across the hall at Arno Schubert’s oddly shaped head.

Before I go on, for those of you who don’t know Chuckie Haubrich, he possessed an extremely strong throwing arm. The man could throw a ping-pong ball through a brick wall.

Now back to the story.

Splat!!!! The sphere of uncooked ground beef had found its’ target – the right side of Arno’s scarred face. Chuckie Haubrich would have made Nolan Ryan proud with that toss.

Seeing what happened, we started chuckling as Arno staggered while trying to regain his bearings. It didn’t take long before everyone in the room was roaring with laughter. Well, everyone except for Arno.

With the glob of raw meat still stuck on his face, he picked up a pan up of orange Jell-O topped with whipped cream. Fuming, with the desert held at shoulder height, he unsteadily made his way over to our end of the room.

As he got closer, he spat out, “You think it’s funny?” Everyone continued to snicker, wondering if he would actually retaliate against Chuckie Haubrich. After all, he was the one who had tattooed him with the beefy missile. When he finally reached our cluster, Arno walked right by the 6’4” 250 pound Haubrich.

Instead, he turned to the 5’7” 150 pound Chuck Huck and hissed yet again, “You think it’s funny?” At that point you could have heard a pin drop.

Huck stared the irate German right in the eye and blurted out, “Hell ya it’s funny!”

You guessed it. Chuck Huck was now wearing the pan of orange Jell-O and whipped cream all over his head. Needless to say, the war was on again. Only, now cakes and various other creamy delights had been added to the arsenal.

When all was said and done, the backroom of Mario’s Red Arrow Club was declared a disaster area. Food was not only on the walls and floor, but on the ceiling as well. As we scraped our holiday meal off of our clothes, the manager of Mario’s kindly asked us to leave. Okay, maybe it wasn’t so kindly. He told us to get out and never come back.

We did just that. We made our way over to the King’s Den; where the party continued. The details from that point on are hazy. I do remember that at one point, Arno was wearing a Santa Claus suit. Or was it Huck? I’m not sure. Yours truly had consumed far too many Pabst Blue Ribbons for such details.

It should be noted that the Union didn’t get the deposit back for the hall. And there was never another UFCW sponsored Christmas party. That Christmas party was the first and last for the Union guys at Koos. It was the only Christmas Party. Ever.

But what a bash it was!

May you all have a Happy Holiday season and a very Merry and Blessed Christmas. Until next time…from the booth.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Stay Hot Toaster!


During the Golden Age of slo-pitch softball in Kenosha, my 400 Club team made an annual journey to La Crosse to participate in a tournament. It was a fun-packed weekend and a road trip that the entire squad looked forward to making each year. With family and friends included, it wasn’t unusual for the caravan to western Wisconsin to number over thirty people. It was such a popular event that players from other teams often offered their services to the “Club”, so they too could be part of this yearly bash.

One such player was Larry Tostrud, otherwise known as “Toaster.”

Before going on, let me make it clear to you that Toaster, like most of the guys who played for the 400 Club, was quite a character. 

Toaster was a young, up-and-coming softball player when he joined us in La Crosse. In the years that followed he not only became a regular member of the 400 Club, but also went on to develop into an outstanding hitter that played for many top ranked teams. Over two decades later, he is still playing at a competitive level. 

Although it was always referred to as the La Crosse tournament, over the years we played in many different small towns in the area. Cities like Stoddard, Sparta and Brownsville have all had the honor of playing host to the rambunctious 400 Club team.

No matter what city we happened to be playing in, we traditionally stayed at the Bluff View Motel in La Crosse. Because of the distance that we had to travel, we were never scheduled to play on Friday night. This allowed us to check into the motel and carry out another time-honored tradition, going downstairs to the Anvil Lounge.

The Anvil Lounge was your typical motel bar, 12 stools and three or four small tables in the corner…and one large iron anvil. The first time we visited the Anvil Lounge, our first baseman Mark Montague felt compelled to head-butt it several times. But that’s a story for another time; this particular Friday night belonged to Toaster.

It was about 9:00 p.m. and most of the team had been enjoying adult beverages for a couple of hours. Our star pitcher, Danny Llanas, had just instructed our lovely bartender, Joan, on the fine art of mixing “root beer” shots. The first batch was making its way down the bar when Toaster made his entrance.

And what a spectacular entrance it was.

He bounced into the motel lounge grinning from ear-to-ear, clad only in a t-shirt, gym shorts and a pair of flip-flops. The problem was that his shorts were pulled down in the front and therefore were exposing his package. You know, his junk was showing. 

Hearing the snickers, the fetching Joan looked over from behind the bar and noticed that little Toaster was making an appearance. Undaunted, she smirked at “Toaster” and commented, “That’s nice, but it’s not hard.” A hush fell over the Anvil Lounge. 

Then Toaster, not to be outdone, smiled broadly and pointed at the attractive bartender saying. “Baby, that’s where you come in!” The bar erupted in laughter and a blushing Joan put her head down and starting mixing another batch of “root beer” shots. 

After making himself decent, Toaster proceeded to do serious damage to the alcohol supply at the Anvil Lounge. Feeling a bit cock-sure (pun intended), he asked me what position he would be playing tomorrow. I informed him that the regulars would play the field and he would be the designated hitter.

When he loudly informed me that he hadn’t come all this way just to be the DH and sit on the bench, the hair on the back of my neck began to stand up. Before I could say anything, Jimmy G tapped me on the shoulder and quietly said, “That’s okay Paul, I will DH. Let the superstar play rightfield.”

Telling Jimmy G that I appreciated the gesture, I then informed Toaster that he would be playing rightfield. Satisfied, he went back to his mission of becoming extremely intoxicated. Shaking my head, I again thanked Jimmy G and made my way up to my room, after all, we had a 10:00 a.m. game tomorrow.

The next morning, the pounding rain on my room’s window woke me up well before I had intended to get up. After muttering a few expletives, I got dressed and rounded up the squad to head to the ballpark. It was no small undertaking, because first I had to convince them that there was a chance we would play.

Driving through a downpour, I thought that there would be no way we would be able to play. Much to my surprise, when we arrived the games were being played despite the standing water on the field. Catching the attention of one of the poncho-wearing umpires, I asked, “Are you kidding?” “Rain or shine, buddy. Rain or shine” was his reply.

Resigned to the fact that we were indeed playing, I started making out a line-up. Gathering the team, I called out the batting order, “Okay, Red – 2B, Eddie - LC, Hollywood - SS, Munk - C, Ronnie – 3B, Toaster – RF…” Before I could say another word I was rudely interrupted by, “That’s okay Paul, I will DH. Let Jimmy G play rightfield.”

Wiping the rain from my spectacles, I looked up from my rain soaked scorebook to see a very hung-over Toaster clad in an orange Hawaiian shirt. Before I could reply to him, the normally congenial Jimmy G blurted out, “F*ck you Toaster! You go out there in this slop. You wanted to play rightfield, I will DH.”

Despite the weather, I beamed as I finished reading the line-up and we played softball in a constant shower. I think that we won the game, but I’m not sure. I do know for sure that Jimmy G was the DH in that game and sat next to me on the covered bench. Meanwhile, Toaster slid and flopped around in the mud, all the while struggling not to get sick all over his orange Hawaiian shirt. 

Now you can see why the annual 400 Club La Crosse tournament was a tradition that the team always looked forward to and why players from other teams would want to be a part of it. Stay hot Toaster! Until next time…from the booth.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Who Wants Pizza?

If the title didn’t pique your interest, I’m sure the scrumptious photo did. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy pizza? Personally, I can’t think of a single person I know that doesn’t like pizza. Granted, some of us relish a delicious pie more than others, but I have never heard anyone say anything negative about this culinary delight. That would be heresy.

After all, pizza is like sex. Even when it’s bad it’s still pretty good.

Based on the premise that all pizzas are at least pretty good, there are some better than others. And everyone has an opinion on whose pizzeria makes the best pie. Ask a group of people and you will get at an abundance of assorted responses. Plus, a lot of hemming and hawing to go along with those responses.

Two years ago I posted a “Best Pizzeria in Kenosha” poll and the initial response was quite brisk and varied. I didn’t have to elaborate or set parameters, people immediately began casting votes.

For those interested in the details, the poll consists of my top ten pizzerias (at the time) in Kenosha. I had to draw the line somewhere, that’s why there are only ten. Reluctantly, I had to leave off fine establishments like Tenuta’s, Rosati’s and Rocky Rococo.

Looking back, I should have included Rocky’s in my top ten instead of Renzo’s. The only reason Renzo’s made the list is because they make the best pizza turnovers in Kenosha. I know, technically a turnover isn’t a pizza, but they are soooo good. And, besides, it’s my poll.

Other local pizza joints that did not garner a spot on my poll were Frankie D’s, Antonio’s, Toppers, Little Caesars, Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Nick-N-Willy’s, Slice of NY Pizzeria, Papa John’s and Papa Murphy’s. 

Some of these didn’t make it because I have never tried them and others because I had tried them. Enough said.

One pizzeria that didn’t make my list because I have not tried their pizza yet was Luisa’s Pizza. Located in Salem, Wisconsin, according to a 2011 Kenosha News poll, Luisa’s has the “Best Pizza West of the I.”

The only reason I haven’t tried their pizza yet is because of its location. Unfortunately, I don’t travel so well these days and Luisa’s is located at the corner of Hwy 50 & 317th Avenue in Salem.

I have heard nothing but wonderful things about Luisa’s and some day, some how, some way, I will try their pizza. That pledge goes out to my Facebook friend Paul De Luisa, the owner/operator.

A couple other restaurants that would have made the poll had they been in Kenosha are situated right over the state line in Illinois. They are Pizza House on Sheridan Road in Zion and Quonset Hut on Grand Avenue in Waukegan.

Pizza House was a favorite haunt of mine during my halcyon days while working at American Air Filter in Zion. Whether it was something for lunch or a pie picked up on the way home, I was never disappointed. The double-decker from Pizza House was good for a minimum of two meals, even for a veteran trencherman like me.

The Quonset Hut was a popular place to go after a Kenosha Flyers hockey game played across the border in the land of Lincoln. The pizza and Italian bombers were top-notch and it didn’t hurt that they served me beer when I was only 17. Hey, don’t blame them; I was big for my age.

While we are still in Illinois, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the iconic pizzerias there. Places like Lou Malnati’s, Giordano’s, Pizzeria Uno, Connie’s, Gino’s East, Aurelio’s, Home Run Inn and Edwardo’s come to mind.

So far, I haven’t had the pleasure of sampling the much-ballyhooed fare from any of these restaurants. Lou Malnati’s offers mail order pizzas that are partially baked, flash frozen, ready to be baked and eaten. I was tempted to order a pie from Lou’s, but the price quickly quelled my desire to place an order. $57.99 for two 9” deep-dish pizzas is a bit costly, even for a pizza devotee like me.

Based on the poll results, not everyone agrees with my tastes. Like I said earlier, if you ask a group of people what their favorite pizzeria is, you will get a multitude of answers.

Here were the poll results:

Carl’s – 25%
Valeo’s – 17%
Pa’s – 16%
Casa Capri – 15%
Luigi’s - 8%
DeRango’s - 4%
Infusino’s - 4%
Jimano’s - 4%
Renzo’s - 4%
Ruffolo’s - 3%

Surprised by the results? I must admit there were a few eye-openers. 

While I am making lists, here is my personal 2014 Top Ten list of Kenosha pizzerias:

1. Valeo’s
2. Sal’s
3. Pa’s
4. Luigi’s
5. Casa Capri
6. DeRango’s
7. Rocky Rococo’s
8. Infusino’s
9. Jimano’s
10. Renzo’s

Maybe, if there is enough interest, we could run another poll on this blog site. Let me know!

Until next time…from the booth.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Happy 30th Anniversary Play Ball

This summer marked the thirtieth anniversary of the Play Ball newspaper. The eight-page tabloid was the effort of publishers Glen Marescalco and Jack Ostrowski. During the first two weeks of the free publication’s short existence, Don Cox and John Rampart assisted them. The paper was published bi-monthly beginning May 29, 1984, with the last issue coming out August 21 that same year. As you might have guessed, the paper was devoted to all levels of Kenosha softball and baseball. Although it only survived the one-year, it was a must-read periodical.

The cover of the inaugural issue featured team pictures of both the 12” men and women Kenosha City champions from the previous (1983) season. Current Kenosha Mayor, Keith Bosman penned an article about the upcoming city tournaments. A regular feature, the “May Beverage Player of the Week”, debuted in this issue. Larry Keating garnered the honor, winning an Old Style cap and t-shirt along with a case of Old Style beer. Other regular features were the standings from The Bullpen and Finney’s West.

The second issue not only spotlighted the local softball scene, but also concentrated heavily on hardball. Tremper High School’s baseball team made the cover, celebrating their trip to the state tournament. Play Ball also featured two regular columnists, Dudley Blue and Xavier B. Harding. These pen names were used by a couple of softball “heavyweights” who liked to offer their spin on Kenosha’s favorite sport.

As could be expected, getting team and managers to contribute information and results was Marescalco and Ostrowski’s biggest obstacle. So much so, they put themselves on the cover of the June 26th cover pleading for contributions. Mayor Bosman added a second article, this one concerning the upcoming 14” tourney. Tournament results were peppered with the usual array of pictures featuring Kenosha’s men and women in action.

The July 12th issue of Play Ball ran a column by Xavier B. Harding that pondered the future of softball in Kenosha. It was interesting to go back and read the column and see how Harding’s opinions have played out, as softball progressed. Maybe, if there is enough interest, I can “reprint” that 1984 column in the Daily Kenoshan. I found it very interesting. That was the beauty of Play Ball. It was about people and things that you knew and cared about. Heck, it was about you!

The cover of the next issue of Play Ball had 1984 women Rotary champs Pasquali’s on it. A comprehensive article was featured along with an ad congratulating them on their back-to-back Rotary titles. Speaking of ads, they were another great part of the paper. Not only do they bring back wonderful memories, like The Ranch, Uncle Munchies and Hoff’s Players; but also the paper had coupons! The Times, Video Unlimited and The Fon Tan Blu were just a few that offered great deals when you patronized their establishments. Many a Thursday night, my team made the short trek across 22nd avenue from Hoff’s to The Times to use the free drink coupon we had tore out of the latest copy of Play Ball.

The final issue had the 14” City Tournament champions, The 5th Amendment, on the cover. The 5th’s pitcher, Rick “Cardo” Bloomquist, was honored as the last  “May Beverage Player of the Week”. The tabloid was fortunate enough to have Kenosha softball luminary Al Gajdos author an article about the legendary Strang Siding’s women’s team. Jon Naumann, Steve Spizziri, Tom Jaehne, Tammy Nelson and umpire George Becker had the privilege of having their pictures grace the back page of that last issue.

In that last issue of Play Ball, Jack Ostrowski and Glen Marescalco wrote, “We hope you enjoyed each and every issue of Play Ball. We’ll be back next year – bigger and better!” Unfortunately, they weren’t back the next year. But please rest assured that I, along with countless others, did indeed enjoy each and every issue of Play Ball. Until next time…from the booth.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Hey! It’s Brian Noble!

First things first - I have been a Green Bay Packers fan all of my life. I was blessed having parents that brought me up that way. My love affair with the historic team from northern Wisconsin began in 1962. My favorite player was running back Paul Hornung. The reason I was so fond of the future Hall of Famer was that we shared first names, he wore number five and I was five years old at the time. Therefore he was my favorite. Hey, it made perfect to sense to me.

You might have noticed that I said my “parents” brought me up to be a Packer fan, not just my father. That is because my Ma provided me with one of my most vivid memories of the 13-time World Champions. It was on December 31, 1967. Bart Starr had just scored the go-ahead touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys in the legendary “Ice Bowl” game and Ma was sitting on the floor hooting and hollering. She was on the floor because she had fell off the davenport with a loud cheer the moment the Packer quarterback scored.

Of course, it is a given that my Pa directed me down the straight and narrow when it came to which football team to support. His brothers, my uncles John and Joe were also there to lend a helping hand teaching me what was right and good when it came to football. It was always the Green and Gold for the Vagnoni family. But Pa was always the number one guiding force when it came to the Packers.

That is why Pa was the first one I took up with me to watch the Packers train in July prior to the season. That was in ’88 or ’89, I’m not quite sure, all those championships have somewhat blurred my powers of recall. The next year I went with my brother Mike. The following year, the Fishers joined us. After that, it was Reenie, the Szalapskis and various other friends adding to the group. It had become a tradition. And this was well before attending Packers training camp was the avant-garde thing to do. We were definitely trendsetters.

It was always a good time visiting Green Bay to watch our favorite team working out, preparing for the upcoming season. We had certain customs we observed every year, but like I said, my recollection isn’t what it used to be and the years have begun to run together. However, certain events will always stick in my mind.

It was the fourth or fifth year. The group was larger than usual. People came and left at different times. It was on a Sunday when the remaining women decided that they had had enough and they were heading back to Kenosha. Brother Mike, Vern and myself decided to stay one more day. The ladies said fine.

Except for Reenie. She wanted to stay.

The trio of us told her that we didn’t have a problem with that, but we planned on going to a “gentlemen’s club” after dining at Bart Starr’s restaurant. Her response was, “Ya, right! You guys ain’t going to a strip joint, I’m staying!” We said no problem.

After the Kenosha-bound friends had left, Reenie and the three of us went to have dinner at Bart Starr’s place. Afterward, we informed our female companion that we were now going to the Body Shop. The gentlemen’s club. The strip joint. When she realized that we weren’t joking around, she sheepishly asked us to drop her off at the motel. We obliged.

When Mike, Vern and I arrived at the Body Shop, we weren’t impressed. It wasn’t much more than a big neighborhood-type bar. The crowd was mixture of young and old “gentlemen”. There was even a table of older couples in attendance.

The dancers performed on top of the bar, stripping down to a G-string or a thong. Nothing too tawdry. Enjoyable, but not tawdry. While Mike and Vern were transfixed with the entertainment on the bar, I happened to notice three large men entering the bar. You see, I have very good peripheral vision for my size.

Upon further observation I noticed that one of the men was none other than Packer linebacker, Brian Noble. The other two I didn’t recognize. They must have been rookies that Noble was chaperoning because they were definitely players. They dwarfed Noble who stood 6’3” and weighed 250 lbs. His two companions were several inches taller and a good fifty pounds heavier.

Anyway, after determining that it was indeed Brian Noble, I poked Mike and Vern and said in a semi-hushed voice, “Hey! It’s Brian Noble!” To which Vern said, “Ya, right.” My brother gave me the “don’t be yanking my chain look.” They went back to ogling the performer seductively making her way across the bar.

Again, I prodded my associates and told them, “Hey! It’s Brian Noble!” Mike didn’t even look at me this time, just telling me to shut up. When Vern turned to admonish me, he saw the three immense men taking a seat at the bar. After realizing who they were, he shouted out, “Hey! It’s Brian Noble!” Half the bar turned to look.

I was a bit embarrassed, but not my brother Mike. Although a bit star struck, he announced that he was going up to the bar to get us another beer. He then mustered up enough courage to belly up right alongside Noble and the two rookies to order our beers.

Mike returned smiling from ear to ear with three Pabst Blue Ribbons. Composing himself, he told us that he was listening to the Packers talking at that bar. I said that’s cool, what were they talking about? He said he wasn’t sure what the rookies were saying, but they were asking Noble something. When Vern asked what Noble said to them, Mike reported that the veteran told the rookies, “Shut up, I’m watching the girl.” It was so impressive the way Noble provided the two newcomers with that sage advice. Just one more reason that I’ll always be a Packer fan.

See what you missed, Reenie? Until next time…from the booth.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I Need A Real Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!

After throwing away two hours last night and another sixty minutes tonight, I have decided to pull the plug on NBC’s “I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!” Over the course of the next few weeks, I will undoubtedly tune in from time to time, but tonight is the last time I will waste any significant time writing about this horrible excuse for a reality show.

I am through having this show offend my senses. The only thing that made me even think about continuing to write about this ignominious failure was when Stephen Baldwin was “baptizing” the insipid Spencer Pratt in the river.

Unfortunately Baldwin didn’t do us all a favor and drown the slimy creep. Perhaps Baldwin can be granted a “mulligan” for “Slap Shot 2: Breaking The Ice”, but this cannot be forgiven.

You’re Not Celebrities…Get Out of Here!

Seriously, the Pratt Brats had to be kidding when they declared themselves “Super Celebrities”. In the “Celebrity Spectrum” they barely rank ahead of Frangela, who I had never heard of prior to this show and Sanjaya who I vaguely remember from American Idol.

The rest of the cast isn’t much better. Patti Blagojevich. Enough said. Sure Janice Dickinson was a super model - Forty years ago! Now she is more famous for appearing on shows like this.

Stephen Baldwin’s main claim to fame is being one of the acting Baldwin brothers and turning to God. After his performance on this show he had better ask for forgiveness.

John Salley, former NBA star, is still somewhat relevant in that he is currently one of the hosts of "The Best Damn Sports Show Period" on Fox Sports Network. Torrie Wilson’s “stardom” is a little dimmer since she no longer wrestles and hasn’t posed naked in quite a while.

For my money, the biggest celebrity on the show is Lou Diamond Phillips. Besides the considerable amount of films and TV shows that he has appeared in, he is also the subject of Punky Bruiser’s favorite joke.

Who is Punky Bruiser? 

She was my favorite performer on A&E’s Rollergirls. Rollergirls was a thirteen episode 2006 A&E Network reality show examining the personalities, antics and motivations of the women involved with the Austin, Texas Lonestar Rollergirls roller derby league. She skated (and still does) with The Holy Rollers.

Now that, my friend, was quality reality television. So much so, I even purchased the entire series on DVD and the complex Punky Bruiser was the best! A hardnosed competitor, she would have kicked Heidi and Spencer’s collective ass twenty minutes into the first program. She is one tough cookie.

Punky Bruiser

During Rollergirls we learned that outside of the rink, it was a different story for Punky. While roller derby had definitely boosted her confidence, she still felt a bit lost. She worked as waitress and had a part-time gig at a clothing store, but didn’t really know what she wanted to do with her life.

One particular episode revealed that Punky had a secret desire to be a standup comic. That’s when I first heard her favorite joke. I chuckle just thinking about it. I would be remiss if I didn’t share it with you.  Here it is:

Q: What did one Lou Diamond say to the other Lou Diamond?
A: It’s Lou Diamond!!!

Punky Bruiser. There’s a real celebrity. Where’s that Rollergirls DVD? Until next time…from the booth.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What’ll You Have?

In 1975 it was legal to purchase and consume alcohol at the age of 18 in the state of Wisconsin. And that’s exactly what I did, usually in the form of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Lots and lots of Pabst Blue Ribbon. The truth be told, I was consuming alcoholic beverages before the legal age of 18. Today’s blog deals with the warm summer of 1975 and involves the infamous Arno Schubert. 

Arno first graced this blog in “My First Labor Day”. After that he also showed up in “Arno: A Koos Legend”, “A Koos Christmas Story”, “A Special Secret Weapon” and “Attack Of The Chainsaw”. If you haven’t read these entertaining blogs, I encourage you to take the time to do so. They will help you to appreciate the enigmatic man named Arno.

Let’s get back to the summer of 1975.

I had been working at Koos Inc. for a couple of months when I finally felt comfortable enough to tell my co-workers where I lived. Keep in mind, this was the first time I was exposed to wild characters like Virgil Tucker, Ziggy Gutowski and of course, Arno Schubert. So, you can understand my reluctance in revealing such personal information.

When I first mentioned that I lived off of Highway C in Pleasant Prairie, just down the road from the Nobby Lobby tavern, my worst fears were realized. The words had barely left my lips before Danny Fliess blurted out, “No shit Puddles. Arno lives right by you!”

Great, I thought to myself, that’s all I need. And I was right. As soon as that crusty old German discovered where I lived, he was hitting me up for a ride home. So, for the rest of that summer I gave that foul-mouthed curmudgeon a lift home. Each and every miserable night.

At first, the 15-minute trips were fairly uneventful. A typical drive home consisted of me continually turning the volume of the radio up in an attempt to drown out Arno’s incessant cursing. I’m not sure if he ever even noticed.

Then it happened. After a particularly hot day, Arno climbed into my car and announced that he was going to start compensating me for giving him a ride home. I am quite sure he didn’t use the word compensate, but you get the idea.

All right! I wondered just how much he was going to give me. Five bucks would be nice. Ten would be even better. Well, it wasn’t ten and it wasn’t even five. Nope.

The compensation came in the form of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

As soon as I had turned on to Washington Road, Arno instructed me to turn into Andy’s parking lot. Andy’s was a small neighborhood bar located right behind Big Star’s parking lot.

As I pulled in, I quickly informed him that I had no intention of sitting in a bar stinking of fertilizer. He promptly told me to shut the “f#ck up” and jumped out and ran inside. Moments later he appeared with a brown paper bag and a toothless grin going from ear to ear.

While I pulled back onto Washington Road, Arno reached into the bag and produced an ice-cold bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. I shrugged my shoulders and accepted the payment for my transportation services. Arno, still grinning, removed a bottle for himself, cracked it open and started gulping it down.

Well, at least he wasn’t swearing. If there was one thing that Arno enjoyed more than swearing, it was drinking beer. And I enjoyed the quiet. The beer wasn’t bad either.

By the time we turned onto Highway HH we had finished the six-pack. It was at this point that Arno gathered up the empty beer bottles and began to hurl them out the window into the ditch by the cornfield.

This didn’t last forever, a couple of months I think. But every night for those two or three months we stopped at Staral’s so Arno could buy that six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon for the ride home. And every night he tossed the empties out the window into that ditch by the cornfield.

There must have been over 400 bottles in that ditch before I finally stopped giving Arno a ride home.

I know, I know. Not only was I drinking while driving, Arno was littering as well. What can I say, I was young and dumb and Arno was… Well, Arno was Arno.

That was 39 years ago. For the next ten years I continued to consume Pabst Blue Ribbon on a regular basis. Sometimes on a “more than” regular basis.

However, on August 4, 1985 that all came to an end. I was in the booth announcing a morning league game at historic Finney’s West when I decided that I had had enough. And I haven’t touched a drop since then.

Happy 39th anniversary to you Arno Schubert, wherever you might be. More importantly, happy 29th anniversary to me. Until next time…from the booth.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Rest in Peace Elsie

Today is my birthday, but that’s not what I am writing about. Today when I first opened Facebook at 7:00am, I saw over 30 messages. Most were birthday wishes. However there was one message that really struck was from my friend from Great Britain, Bev, and read as follows:

“Sorry to say mum died 4:15am xxx”

Without going into great details, Bev’s mother had been in failing health recently and her family had been at her side for a while. Nonetheless, this message brought tears to my eyes. Over the years, this wonderful little lady had become a part of my life. Every time Bev and I would Skype, we would ask each other how our mothers were doing. And now Elsie Taylor has passed away.

Here is something I wrote about Elsie and the rest of her amazing family back on September 12, 2010:

Today a very special dinner took place around noontime in England. The dinner was to honor Alfie and Elsie Taylor’s Wedding Anniversary. Among those in attendance were their children; Sue, Hazel, Christine, Margaret, Beryl, Carol, Debbie, Barry, David, Don and Keith. That’s right – eleven children! That alone should indicate that this was no ordinary anniversary celebration. This gathering marked the 60th Anniversary of this charming couple.

Because Great Britain is six hours ahead of us, the historic event had already taken place when I went on Facebook at 7:00 this morning. However it didn’t take long to be reminded of the event.

Granddaughter Louise Cooper  wrote “Celebrating my Nan and Granddads 60th wedding anniversary today with a surprise meal. Can't wait to see the look on their faces when a quiet meal for 4 turns into the usual Taylor madness! xxx”

To which daughter Margaret replied “Housework done, garden done, showered hair washed. Already for Mum and Dads 60th anniversary surprise meal, and yes Louise they will be shocked when a quiet meal for 4 turns into a Taylor outing ha ha…”

Another daughter, Sue  chimed in with “Looking forward to seeing Mum and Dad for their surprise 60th Anniversary lunch and to seeing ALL my sisters and brothers. Roll call in the restaurant before Mum and Dad arrive!”

As Husband and Wife, after 60 years

you still say "I love you" in many different ways.

May your lovely family remind you,

you share a special happiness life gives to very few.

It was evident by these Facebook remarks that the event was a success.

Louise  said “Safe to say Nan and Granddad were very well surprised; wasn't a dry eye in the room! Happy 60th anniversary Nan and Granddad!

Daughter Beryl added “They cried, so shocked.”

Brother David commented ”7 daughters and 4 sons all together for the first time in 9 years.”

Saying “May God bless you” would seem redundant, because it is obvious that Alfie and Elsie Taylor already have been; with eleven loving children and many adoring grandchildren. And those children and grandchildren have been blessed with two incredible parents and grandparents. Happy Anniversary Alfie and Elsie Taylor.

* * *

Not long after I posted that blog, I received this card in the mail from Elsie:

 I kept the card all these years because it was special to me and because Elsie was special to me. Rest in peace, Elsie.

Dear God, please remember our brothers and sisters who have gone to their rest in the hope of rising again; may you bring them and all the departed into the light of your presence.

Until next time…from the booth.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

From The Rubble

The remains of "The Booth" - photo courtesy of Gregg Hansen
 Thursday of this past week, my friend Stewie posted on Facebook, “Puddles, your booth is down to the wrecking ball. Just saw it.” My immediate reply was, “No way!” Then after letting it sink in, I added, “I’m shedding a tear.” And wasn’t being totally facetious. After all, that booth is the namesake for this blog. Now it’s gone. I’m sort of devastated.

When I mentioned to my good friend Patty 4-Names that “the booth” at Finney’s West, she remarked, “I saw that!” She then made the sad face and added that I will have to change the name from my blog to “From the Rubble.”

She might have a point…

The booth first came into being in 1977 when Sam “Finney” Perry and current Kenosha mayor Keith Bosman, along with several silent investors opened Oakwood Park adjacent to Smitty’s Tavern in beautiful Somers, Wisconsin. The state of the art softball complex was the first of its kind in the area and featured all the amenities; in-ground dugouts, an electric scoreboard, cyclone fences complete with warning tracks, and a concession stand with the iconic announcer’s booth above it. At some point, both the ballpark and the tavern became Finney’s West.

It is now 2014 and it is called Scores. And the concession stand with the announcer’s booth above it no longer exists. It has been reduced to rubble.

However, I only have myself to blame.

I should have been more proactive. As my friend, Kool Papa, stated on Facebook, the demolition of the Finney’s West booth is a travesty. He feels that it should have been preserved under the historical registry. Because the Kenosha Softball Nation dropped the proverbial ball, the all-too-real wrecking ball actually dropped.

Kool Papa astutely noted that because this iconic structure is gone forever, no one will ever be able to say, “See that overhang up there? That’s where an umpire jumped when an irate Ken Pflugrad chased him out of the booth window!”

Yep, we blew it. The advocates for the Southport Beach House were wise enough to organize in an effort to restore and preserve the historic building that was established in 1941 and is located on the shore of Lake Michigan. They are to be commended for their passion.

Southport Beach House
Now, because I and the rest of Kenosha Softball Nation lacked this passion and, more importantly, foresight, the historic building that was established in 1977 and is located on the corner of highways E and 31 is no more. It has been reduced to rubble.

And this is very sad.

While the Southport Beach House might have been around 36 years longer, it has nothing on the booth at Finney’s West. There have been just as many cherished memories and historic moments in that rickety wooden booth as there have been in that classic building on the beach. And, I guarantee there was a lot more alcohol consumed in that booth. I can personally attest to that fact.

Nevertheless, there is no use crying over what was. It is a moot point now. The booth is gone. It no longer exists. Although it has been reduced to rubble, I will not change the name of this blog to “From the Rubble.” There are far too many memories for that.

With pride, I say, until next time…from the booth.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

More Fun From The Booth

Leon and Paul - Tag Team Champs of the Booth

There was always something going on in the booth. Besides the announcer and scoreboard operator, there were always visitors. Players that had played earlier, players waiting to play, random Finney’s West employees, and general friends of the booth. And, like I wrote earlier, many of them were characters. That’s why we had so much fun up in the booth. Well, most of us had fun. Let me share with you an example.

Remember when I said that the booth was a clubhouse, locker room, saloon, and comedy club all rolled into one. This was never more evident one particular night. On this night hilarity ensued. It was a laughfest. Except for Jason.

At the time, Jason was primarily a scoreboard operator. He was also an aspiring announcer. He was learning the ropes by doing an occasional 2-game stint on the back diamond. The back diamond was smaller, had no lights and had a small shed complete with a bar stool to announce from. Needless to say, it had nowhere near the prestige that the main diamond with “The Booth” had.

On this evening, I was announcing on the main diamond with Jason operating the scoreboard. Also in attendance were the owner/operator Leon, Cardo and Kool Papa. With this group, it was inevitable that some sort of nonsense would take place. And it did.

With a couple of games under our belt, popcorn, hot dogs and adult beverages were being consumed. The hot dogs at Finney’s West were excellent and I had just finished noshing one between innings. Kool Papa was enjoying a bag of liberally buttered popcorn. Leon decided that it was time for another round of drinks.

With a used lineup card and pen in hand, Leon announced, “What’ll you have?” After writing down the order, he turned to Jason and asked if he felt like going downstairs.

He didn’t have to ask twice.

You need to know that Jason fancied himself somewhat of a ladies man. He thought he was hot stuff. So when Leon asked him to go down to the concession stand to get the drinks, he jumped at the opportunity. In Jason’s mind this served two purposes. One he could act like a big shot and pretend he was buying the drinks. Secondly, he could make an appearance to the females congregating around the concession stand.

Armed with the drink order and Leon’s money, Jason decided he looked hotter without his glasses and took them off. He left them next to the scoreboard. Hey, he had to look good for the ladies. However, this proved to be a big mistake.

As soon as Jason left the booth, Kool Papa reached over and grabbed Jason’s spectacles. Keep in mind that Kool Papa was enjoying buttered popcorn and his fingers were greasy. They were very greasy. He then proceeded to rub his slimy fingers all over Jason’s eyeglasses. By the time he was done there was a thick translucent film coating both the inside and out side of the lenses.

I told you Jason had made a big mistake.

Upon returning to the booth, Jason put his glasses back on. I’m surprised they didn’t slide off of his head. I’m not sure if he was aware of the snickering going on. He was too busy trying to get his glasses clean enough to see through. Our snickering had turned into full-blown laughter. Jason just muttered, “What the f*ck!”

I know. What a bunch of mean pricks. But it was fun. And we weren’t done. Now it was my turn.

Evidently Jason hadn’t learned his lesson. After the jocularity surrounding his buttered glasses died down, he did it again. Jason announced loudly to the occupants of the booth, “I get to go visit my dad in jail tomorrow.” Apparently Jason’s father was a bit of a ne'er-do-well and had run afoul of the law and was doing some time in lockup.

Not being a total jerk, I feigned concern and asked Jason how long he was in for. Jason said that he had been in for a while and was looking at another couple of months. He then used language spiced with an expletive deleted here and there to describe how much of a hassle it had been to get regular visits set up.

This is when I stopped acting like I was concerned. It was time for some more fun.

“Wow, Jason, that really sucks!” I then added, “You can’t let those people push you around like that. You have rights.” Jason replied, “F*ck ya, they ain’t pushing me around no more! I have rights”

Noting his emotional enthusiasm, I went for the jugular. “That’s right, Jason, you have rights. Are they allowing you conjugal visits?” Honest. I said that.

He said, “No they didn’t! What’s that?”
Doing my best to keep a straight face, I shot back, “Never mind what it is, it’s your right! You tell them you want a conjugal visit”
Jason was now steaming. “Hell ya! If it’s my right and I want it! Tomorrow I’m demanding a conjugal visit with my dad!”

To their credit, the other guys in the booth didn’t let on. Sure there was a lot of smirks and heads shaking, but Jason was none the wiser. Man, that’s an understatement. We might have been a bunch of rotten scoundrels, but we sure did have a lot of fun in that booth.

Until next time…from the booth.