Thursday, August 27, 2015

Jackie Cut Her Finger Off!

As I diligently plowed through the mountainous pile of paperwork, I glanced at my watch. It read 6:30 PM. “Wonderful, at least it’s Friday”; I thought out loud, “48 hours down and only 15 more to go.” Such was the life of a second shift production supervisor at American Air Filter in Zion, Illinois. I let out a deep sigh as I reminded myself that at least I had a job, it could be worse. Ten minutes later this self-fulfilling prophecy came to fruition with five words.

“Jackie cut her finger off!”

Those chilling words would turn a tedious and mundane evening into a hair-raising night of drama and mayhem. But not initially.

When Kathy burst into the small cramped office and shouted those horrifying words, I looked up from my work and said, “Kathy, don’t f*ck with me, I’m in no mood.” I honestly thought she was messing with me. Perhaps subconsciously I didn’t believe her, knowing what chaos would ensue if it was true.

She then shrieked a second time, this time much louder, “Paul, I’m serious, Jackie cut her finger off!”

Before I could respond, a quivering Jackie appeared in the doorway holding a blood covered left hand. A multitude of crimson splatters covered her white top and were an extreme contrast to the ashen hue of terrified face.

Evidently, while Jackie was adjusting the plastic film in a packaging machine, Kathy thought she heard her say to turn it on. When she mistakenly started the machine, the tip of Jackie’s left middle finger was chopped off.

I immediately guided the injured employee to a chair in the middle of the office. She was trembling and sobbing uncontrollably. Steve, my maintenance man, came rushing into the office and murmured, “Oh my God.”

As I attempted to get Jackie to hold her bloody hand above her heart, I told Steve to call 911. By then, a small crowd of employees had gathered outside of the office, trying to see what the commotion was all about. I quickly told them to take an early break.

Steve hung up the phone and told me that the rescue squad was on the way. Still doing my best to calm the panic-stricken Jackie, I directed Steve to go to the front entrance so he could guide the paramedics to our department when they arrived. As he was scurrying off, I barked, “Tell Victor to get over here!”

Moments later, Victor, the supervisor of the high-speed production area, skidded to a stop on his golf cart outside the office. “Holy shit” were the first words out of his mouth. My glare made him aware that I needed help, not added drama.

Kathy was providing all the extra drama I could handle at the moment.

While Jackie bawled hysterically and tried to catch her breath, Kathy was screaming at her, “It’s my fault, I turned the machine on!” Tears smeared her mascara as she continued to screech, “It’s all my fault, hit me, Jackie, hit me!”

Obviously this wasn’t helping the situation at all.

I instructed Victor to take the distraught Kathy to the lunchroom, get her a Coke or something and calm her down. I just wanted her out of there. Jackie was frantic enough without Kathy adding to the turmoil.

Thankfully, the paramedics showed up as Victor was escorting Kathy from the office. As one asked me for details, the rest of the emergency medical crew began administering first aid to Jackie.

As the EMTs tended to her severed digit, they also attempted to control her frenetic breathing. Seeing that they no longer needed my services, I grabbed a piece of gauze and I excused myself from the office.

As I briskly walked over to the machine where the accident had occurred, I kept my head down, eyeballing the shop floor. A quick inspection of the east side of the machine proved fruitless. Determined, I continued my search to the other side, just hoping…

Yes, there it was! I had found what I was looking for.

Bending over, I used the gauze to carefully scoop up the small portion of jagged pale flesh from the dusty floor. Wrapping it up, I noticed that the fingernail was still intact. Nice.

When I got back to the office, I asked one of the medical techs to step outside, making sure not to draw Jackie’s attention. She was somewhat more composed and I didn’t want to do anything to change that.

Outside the office, I discreetly handed the paramedic the small package containing the tip of Jackie’s middle finger. Somewhat surprised, he said, “Wow, you found it.” He then packed it into a small cup of ice and told me he would see what they could do, but it was probably too small to reattach.

Somewhat disheartened, I returned to the office. Jackie’s left hand was now heavily bandaged and she was being helped onto a gurney. Although her breathing was now under control, she was still trembling and had tears streaming down her freckled face.

As the EMTs wheeled her out of the office, Jackie asked me if I would go with her to the hospital and stay with her until Roger could get there. I said sure I would. Roger was her fiancé and worked in Racine, Wisconsin. It would him at least an hour to drive to St. Therese Medical Center where she was being taken.

The emergency people told me to follow them in my truck, that way I could return when Roger arrived. Before leaving I made sure that Roger was contacted and asked Victor to keep an eye on my crew until I returned. As harrowing and gruesome as this situation was, I was surprised that I had remained so composed.

That all changed the moment I got in my truck to follow the ambulance to the medical facility in Waukegan.

The gravity of what had just transpired finally hit me. It hit me like a brick. I didn’t cry. I didn’t puke. I didn’t pass out. But I did feel that I was about to do all three. I did hyperventilate for most of the 15-minute trip.

After I arrived, I was able to regain my composure and stayed with Jackie until her fiancé showed up. Thankfully, the remainder of the night was event free. On their way home, Jackie and Roger stopped by the plant to let everyone know she was okay. No one was happier than Kathy to see her.

Sadly, the doctors were not able to reattach the piece of Jackie’s finger that I had recovered. She did, however, receive a considerable compensation check from American Air Filter’s insurance company. Shortly after the accident, Jackie married Roger, albeit with a left middle finger that was now 1⁄4” shorter.

When all was said and done, I guess Kathy was right – Jackie cut her finger off.

Until next time…from the booth.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Rock ‘n’ Roll All Night

It was Friday morning at Koos Inc. and later that night I would be attending my very first Rock concert with Harry, Munk, Weber, Sluga and several other Koos luminaries. We were going to see KISS at the MECCA Arena in Milwaukee. The only problem was getting our supervisor to allow us to leave two hours early at 3:30 so we could cash our checks and wash off the Koos stink before the show. After much pleading and a promise that we would definitely be at work at 6:00 a.m. the next day, we finally got the okay. We were going to see KISS!

I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day…

Weber picked me up promptly at 5:00 in his small blue sub-compact with Harry and Munk already stuffed into the backseat with a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon. As I attempted to squeeze my large frame into the small vehicle, Munk shouted at me, “Where’s your wine Puddles?”

Smiling, I reached inside my jacket and produced a chilled flask full of Boone’s Farms finest. “Oh, you already put it in the flask!” was the response I received. With that, we made our way up I-94 with Munk and Harry attempting to pour wine into their flasks as we all chugged ice cold PBR.

I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day…

Forty minutes later, with the all the flasks filled and the case of beer consumed, we pulled into the enclosed parking structure just west of the MECCA Arena. With all that beer in my bladder, I needed to make quick work of the three-block journey that separated me from a restroom in the Arena.

That problem was immediately eliminated when I noticed that Weber, Munk and Harry were standing over a drain in the corner and were in the process of unzipping their jeans to relieve themselves of their Pabst. I instantly followed suit, shrugging my shoulders, wondering what I had gotten myself into.

I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day…

Feeling much better, we made our trek to the Arena in record time and found our seats just as a nondescript opening act started playing some rather mediocre music. That was okay; this gave us an opportunity to get to the concession stand to buy some  (you guessed it) more beer!

Back from the concession stand, we eased back into our seats, with the strong aroma of Cannabis permeating the air, and were bombarded with extremely loud music, brilliant pyrotechnics and Gene Simmons’ bloody tongue. Enjoying the show, we filled our now empty beer cups with the wine we had smuggled in. Beer, my first concert, more beer and now wine. What more could an 18 year old guy ask for?

I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day…

After the show ended we stepped out into the cool Milwaukee night and met up with Sluga and his “uncle”. After a quick critique of the concert, it was decided that it was much too early to go back to Kenosha and that we were going to a trendy local nightspot. Having no say in the matter, I wondered to myself how we were going to make it work the next day.

The club was an enormous 2-story structure whose name escapes me. Hey, it was 34 years ago, what can I say? I do remember Sluga’s “uncle” challenging another guy to a game of foosball and ripping his shirt open, causing the buttons to fly everywhere. Oh yes, and we also drank some more beer.

I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day…

After a couple of hours, the four of us had had enough and we said good-bye to Sluga and his “uncle”. Glancing at my watch I noticed it was 1:30 a.m. hopefully I could get three hours of sleep before work. That idea was quickly put to rest when Harry announced we need some more beer for the ride home. I just shook my head as Weber obediently pulled off of the Interstate in pursuit of a new supply of alcohol.

Finding a neighborhood tavern, Weber hopped the curb parking on the sidewalk just outside the front door of the establishment. He quickly jumped out and ran inside. With a six-pack under his arm, he ran out just as quickly, screaming, “They’re rednecks! They’re going to kill us!” Our small car sped away into the darkness just as a large contingent of angry locals emerged from the bar, shaking their fists.

I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day…

Relieved that we had escaped the wrath of the hayseeds that didn’t appreciate our ‘70s hairstyles, we laughed at our good fortune. There was only one problem – we didn’t know where the hell we were!

Trying his damnedest, Weber could not find his way back to I-94. He turned left and we nearly ended up in Lake Michigan. When he turned around and headed west we ended up in Greenfield, but we still could not find the Interstate. Something told me the chance of me getting any sleep before work was rapidly diminishing.

I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day…

Realizing that we needed help getting our bearings, we pulled into a George Webb restaurant complete with its two clocks on the wall. Inside there was a cook, a waitress, a truck driver and a young couple who promptly departed when they saw us stumble in. We opted to get something to eat as long as we were getting directions.

Harry, Weber and myself chose to have breakfast. So did Munk. Along with breakfast he ordered a double cheeseburger, French-fries, a chef’s salad, a milk shake and a large bowl of chicken soup. Evidently he was hungry. Unfortunately he didn’t like the shade of green that the soup was, because he threw it all over the front window of the diner.

The rest of the “meal” must have agreed with Munk because upon completing it he proceeded to emit one of the largest belches that I have ever been witness to. The colossal burp obviously impressed the truck driver because he responded with, “That’s nice.”  To which Munk sprung up from his seat and barked out, “Oh ya! If you don’t like it, step outside with me and my friends.” Where were we, the old West?

I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day…

Luckily cooler heads prevailed and armed with our directions we were finally heading back to Kenosha. We were going home. Or so I thought. Even though we had just filled our bellies at George Webb’s, we had a more than an ample supply of alcohol sloshing around in us as well. The ride home was going to be adventurous to say the least.

It was at this point that I realized that I was the only one not in some various stage of unconsciousness. Regrettably, I wasn’t behind the wheel, Weber was. At one point he came to long enough to see me looking terrified, clutching onto the small grab bar located above the passenger door. He merely mumbled that if we crashed, that wasn’t going to save my ass. I knew he was right, I just prayed that I didn’t die.

I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day…

Well, happily I didn’t die and we miraculously made it home safely sometime after 4:00 a.m. As you can imagine, none of us made it to work. Not me, not Munk, not Harry, not Weber, not Sluga. Not even Sluga’s “uncle” made it. Wait, he didn’t work at Koos, so he was okay. We all caught hell and because of our irresponsible actions, nobody was allowed to leave work early for the next thirty years. Management at Koos was tough.

However, when I eventually did wake up (sometime around noon), I make it over to Midtown Records and purchased the KISS Alive! album. Until next time…from the booth.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Remembering Things

The past couple of days I have been pondering and remembering various things in my life. You know, a variety of experiences - some pleasant and some very complex. But all of it tugged at my heart. During this deep thought, I was asked by a friend to find a certain blog I had posted.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the specific blog requested. However, I did come across a blog that sort of sums up the way I am feeling. And it made me smile. Smiling is good.

For two years I had been writing a “My Turn” column for the Kenosha News every 13 weeks. January 16, 2014 was my last column. Here is that column:

Simple Gestures Remind Us Of What’s Really Important
Tonight No. 1 Florida State takes on No. 2 Auburn in the BCS National Championship game. I suppose this means the holidays are now officially behind us.

Hopefully everyone had a wonderful and fulfilling holiday season. Mine was special for a reason that I never expected. I never saw it coming.

The holidays and especially Christmas have never been the same since my dad passed away on February 3, 2010. For me, besides the obvious, there has been something missing since then. It was something that I just couldn’t put my finger on; an intangible if you will.

That is, until this Christmas.

The Saturday before Christmas, Kenosha Softball Hall of Famer Jack Zimmerman came bearing gifts. Along with a large poinsettia and a huge gift basket from Tenuta’s, he also brought a dozen red roses for my mother. Zim has always been a charmer and evidently has a little Eddie Haskell in him. And he wasn’t done. The best was yet to come.

As unexpected and gracious as those presents were, Zim blew me away with one final act of kindness. As he reached into his pocket, he told me that he checked with his mother and received her blessing. He then handed me an old baseball that had the following inscription:

“6-30-1961 — Roosevelt Road 23 Kwik Kafe 0 No Hit, No Run Game Pitched By Jack Zimmerman”

Zim told me that he wanted me to have this treasured little league memento of his because of what I had done for him. He told me how important I had become in his life. Moved by this heartfelt gesture, I wiped away the tears that were streaming down my cheek long enough to ask if he would sign the ball.

After Zim left three hours later, it hit me. I finally knew what had been missing from Christmas for me since Dad passed away. It was a gift that I didn’t ask for or even need. Yet it touched my heart dearly.

That’s what my dad was all about. Whenever you asked him what he wanted for his birthday or for Christmas, you always got the same answer — “I don’t need anything.” Until Zim’s unselfish deed, I never quite understood what he meant. Now I do. You really don’t need “things.”

My dad was the greatest man I ever knew. He bravely served our country in World War II from age 19 to 21. People like him are the reason his generation is referred to as “The Greatest Generation.” He never intended to be a hero, but he was. And the most important thing to him was his faith. It was always the most important thing in his life. I so dearly miss praying with him in the morning. That is why I keep his rosary next to my bed.

If Dad wasn’t touching you with his actions, he was doing it with a corny joke or that silly look that he inherited from his pop, my Grandpa ’Noni. Dad had an exceptional ability to express his love without uttering a single word. You just knew he loved you. It was a wonderful thing.

I started this column by mentioning a football game. Years ago, Dad would often tell me to calm down when I would start hollering and stressing out while watching a Packers game. He would tell me that it’s not worth getting sick over, and that it’s only a game. Was he kidding?

At the time, I couldn’t grasp his lack of passion. After all, it was the Green Bay Packers! I knew Dad loved the Pack just like I did; he brought me up watching them. I just didn’t get why he never seemed to get as upset when they lost as I did. Well, now I finally do. Dad, after all these years, I now understand there are other things much more important in life.

Yes, the holidays are finally over. Jack Zimmerman’s no-hit little league ball is now in a protective ball cube on the shelf in my bedroom. And Dad’s rosary is still beside my bed. I will always cherish both of these items for different reasons. Now I get it.

*  *  *  *  *

Since I wrote that column, Jack’s mother joined my Dad in heaven. I know they are smiling down on their respective sons. They always got it; they knew what was most important - making people smile. Until next time…from the booth.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

30 Years Later…

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 and Phil’s parking lot. Andy and Phil’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 Andy and Phil’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 40 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 40th anniversary to you Arno Schubert, wherever you might be. More importantly, happy 30th anniversary to me. Until next time…from the booth.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Where Has Kenosha Softball Gone?

The other day on Facebook, my friend, Mary Uhlich, asked me why I thought softball wasn't as popular now in Kenosha as it once was. I thought about it for a bit and couldn’t really put my finger on it. However, I did recall this “My Turn” column that I wrote a couple of years ago. Maybe it will shed some light on the subject.

City League

Back in 1976, I managed the Sands softball team in the Continental league of the Department of Recreation of Kenosha Unified School District No. 1. A rather verbose title, don’t you think? That’s why it was more commonly referred to as “City” league.

During the 1980s, the Golden Age of Kenosha softball, the City league was active Monday through Friday. Men and women played 12”, 14” and 16” games at Lincoln 1 and 2, Red Arrow, Roosevelt, Petretti, Poerio, Petzke, Columbus and both Anderson diamonds.

With eight teams in a league and up to eight diamonds being used on a given night, there were enough spots for over 250 teams. With more than 170 of those spots being relegated for men’s 12” slow-pitch teams, you would think that there would be no problem getting your team into a league.

Well, you would be wrong.

Despite all of that availability, getting your team registered to play City league softball was a crapshoot. Spots were at a premium and there was no guarantee that your team was going to get one. The archaic system that the Recreation Department used to register teams in those days made things quite challenging.

Even if your team had played the previous season, it was first-come first-served each year. Your team might have been playing for ten straight years - your spot was still up for grabs, it didn’t matter.

The way you made sure your team got a coveted spot was to arrive at the Recreation Department bright and early the day registration opened. I had better clarify that. While It behooved you to get there early, there was no way it was going to be bright. Not at 2:00 a.m. in late February.

Looking back, I still remember standing in that small parking lot located at 2717 67th Street on those dark, bone-chilling winter mornings, freezing off my considerable backside. Joining me in this harebrained endeavor were numerous fellow softball zealots, all hoping to secure a treasured spot in one of Kenosha's City leagues.

We would stand in line, shuffling from one foot to the other, pretending not to be cold. We made small talk as we tried to figure how many teams were ahead of us. But mostly we were just shivering and feeling extremely miserable.

Around 7:30 a.m., the doors to the Rec Department would open and over 150 of us would appreciatively scramble to get into the warm building. Then we would wait some more. Depending on your place in line, you might not get to register your team until after 11 o'clock. But it was well worth it if you were able to acquire that seemingly priceless spot for your team.

If it’s any consolation, the Recreation Department finally changed their antiquated registration system, adapting a method that yours truly proposed. Rather than doing the first-come first-served routine, teams that played the year before had a designated date when they could register. After that, any openings that resulted from teams not returning were made available using the old process.

Ironically, while the Recreation Department had ultimately pulled their head out of the sand and updated their system, it no longer really matters. Along with the Golden Age of Kenosha softball, the demand for a spot to play is long gone.

A phone call to the Recreation Department reinforced this. I was informed that there are only 44 teams playing this year, thirty of which are men’s teams. The two Lincoln diamonds are the only parks used, with no games on Wednesdays.

When I mentioned to the person giving me the information that in the ‘80s there were over 250 teams registered, she responded, “There wasn’t a Rec Plex back then.” I told her maybe not, but there was the Bullpen, Bat ‘n’ Brew, Finney’s West, Furlan’s Dugout, Hooker Lake Inn, Louie’s Waterhole and Shane Rawley’s. She replied, “Oh. Well, then you have your information.”

Yes indeed, I had my information and it proved the ardent desire for Kenosha City league softball no longer exists. Too bad I am no longer managing a team. It would be so much easier to register my team over at 2717 67th Street. I wouldn’t even have to freeze off my considerable backside.

Until next time…from the booth.