Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Uncle Rick

(Uncle Rick, in the middle of two of his daughters, Francine and Lauren)

On Friday, I will turn 61. However, I did not come here to tell you that. My uncle, Rick Drown, turned 81 today.

I am dumbfounded when I think of that number. Whenever I see him, I can never think of him as almost exactly 20 years older than me - and he doesn’t even look that old. I mean, his age makes sense, as he’s my Mom’s younger brother and she’s a few years north of 80 herself, but she doesn’t look her age, either. Everybody on that side of the family, with a large helping of my grandmother’s Barcello blood, looks great and lives forever.

(If I’ve inherited those genes, I could be here for another 45 or 50 years, so I'll probably get my money's worth out of Social Security, if that's still around by the time I'm eligible to collect it. If I have more of the Sullivan genes, though, I might check out in the middle of the next sentence, so if this piece suddenly trails off for no discernible reason...)

At the rate I'm aging, he’ll look younger than me in about five years - if I’m still around.

A more-or-less recent photo

Uncle Rick is an interesting guy. He’s worked as a private detective. He used to be a commercial airline pilot. In his spare time, he’s a marvelous woodworker and carpenter - good enough to make his living that way, too, which he did for quite a while. He’s easy-going and quiet, but he has an affable sarcasm going for him, too. I like him a lot.

The youngest of three children, he was born on February 27th of 1937, in Weymouth, Massachusetts. He still lives there, in a house he grew up in. He takes care of the house and all that, since he's so handy with tools. He has re-built the garage, constructing an entirely new roof, replacing the doors, and... well, considering how much of the old structure is left, let’s just say he built a garage. He also added an attached tool shed to the house. He did these things from scratch, by himself – no outside help whatsoever - one man with a hammer and a saw.

(Stuff like that amazes me. The best thing I ever made with my hands is a clay turtle I fashioned in the second grade. I’ve still got it. It still looks like a turtle to me, but not to anyone else. My Uncle Rick makes actual buildings that you could live in, in his spare time. You could give me fifteen years and I couldn’t make a freakin’ birdhouse. As a matter of fact, MY WIFE could attest to that very fact. She gave me a kit for one, plans included, back in the early 90’s. I never did finish it, and many birds are still thankful for that.)

(Uncle Rick, My Grandma, My Mom - From the styles, I'd say late 1970's)

Rick lived with and took care of his mother until she passed (those Drowns...) at age 105 in 2011. When I say Rick lived with his mother, I don't want to give you the wrong impression. He’s been married, four children (one deceased) and he has grandchildren and great-grandchildren, so he didn't lived with his mom his whole life. As a matter of fact, he left home quite early.

He joined the army at 17. He was stationed in Germany and he loved being there. To this day, he has a great fondness for just about any movie about the army - especially those concerning World War Two – and he’s quite the amateur historian concerning that conflict.

When he got out of the army, at age 21, that’s when he became an excellent carpenter. Not satisfied with being great at one thing, he decided to learn how to fly. He became a pilot, a captain for Air New England, a regional commercial carrier based on Nantucket. He did that for quite a while and then, just so he could have something else EXTREMELY INTERESTING to talk about, he became an actual honest-to-goodness private investigator, which he has done for over 20 years, I think (and maybe he still does it now, but I just don't know about it because he's keeping it a secret which is what private eyes are good at.)

Oh, did I mention that he taught himself how to speak both Spanish and German? And that he’s a ham radio operator, with many contacts spanning the globe? And, while he had a few spare moments, he traced one side of our family tree back to colonial times and the other back to Spain?

(I said earlier that I like him a lot, but the man sets the bar damned high for the rest of us rapscallions and scullery maids. I might have to re-think my position if he takes up anything else.)

(Speaking of his genealogy work, that side of my family has some interesting bloodlines – Spanish, French and Yankee. One of our ancestors was Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. Another was the fellow who crafted the grasshopper weathervane that sits atop Fanieul Hall in Boston to this day...

... whose name was was Shem Drowne. As regards longevity, Shem lived to be 90 and life expectancy back then was about 45. Somewhere along the way to us, the “e” was dropped from the end of the family name. Knowing my fondness for The Three Stooges, MY WIFE says that there must have been a “p” dropped from that fellow’s first name, but that’s purely conjecture on her part.)

(With Grandchildren Camille & Casey a few years back)

With all that I’ve said concerning my uncle’s endeavors, it should come as no surprise that he likes to play games that challenge the mind – puzzles and the like – and he’s damned good at them. If you want to see the mental equivalent of a pitbull, just give my Uncle Rick a riddle to solve. He won’t set it aside until he’s figured it out.
I have a special fondness for another small hobby of his – magic. The first magic trick I remember being amazed at, and determined to learn, was often done by him to amuse me as a small child. What he did was to take a heavy object, say a can of vegetables, and make it appear to go through a table, leaving no indication behind of where it might have gone through. He’d take the can, along with a sheet of newspaper, and wrap the can in the newspaper. Once he had done so, BAM! He’d slam his fist down on the newspaper-wrapped can on the table. The newspaper was flattened, the can had hit the floor, and there was no hole in the table.

(I could tell you how that trick is done, because my Uncle Rick is always willing to explain a trick – after he’s first amazed you with it a few hundred times. He wants to give you a chance to figure it out for yourself because that’s what he enjoys doing – figuring things out – and he’d like you to have the same pleasure. Once you say you’ve had enough, he’ll take great delight in explaining the technique.)

So, he’s a pretty smart guy and a nice fellow. However, in the best journalistic tradition of the modern age, it's time for me to tear him down now that I've built him up. A couple of stories from his childhood should do the trick.

(Grandpa Francis Drown, with my Mom (Connie), Uncle Rick and my Aunt Jeanne)

When Rick was about nine, his family moved to a new house in Weymouth. On the very first day in the new house, he was swinging on a water pipe in the cellar and broke it. My grandmother sent him outside to play while they tried to clean up the mess he had made. No sooner was he outside than he threw a ball and broke one of the windows.
Then there was the time he and my Aunt Jeanne (the oldest of the siblings) had a good little scam going - until they were found out. There had been a huge snowstorm and there were drifts a few feet high. They had neighborhood kids come into the house and they were charging them a nickel apiece for the pleasure of jumping out of the second-story bedroom window into the snow below.

(As legend has it, my grandmother had a paint stirrer she used to occasionally spank the three kids. I guess in Ricky’s case it was more than an occasional use. My Aunt Jeanne used her woodburning set to write “Ricky’s Paddle” on that paint stirrer. There has never been any indication given that my grandmother objected to this naming of the implement.)

And now, I’ll just plain embarrass him. My Mom tells me that he really, really liked Gene Autry. He would dress in cowboy shirt and hat, etc., and go around singing the following song, which I guess he had heard Gene Autry sing:

Wherever you are dear
On land or on sea
If you really love me
Be honest with me

Well, that sort of thing NEVER looks good on your resume.


I’ve got one last cute story, this one from a more recent date.

The first time Rick met MY WIFE (she was MY FUTURE WIFE at the time) we had had dinner and now we were gathered around a table and playing Monopoly. MY FUTURE WIFE volunteered to be the banker. Rick was sitting directly to her right. After a bit, Rick wasn’t doing too well. His cash reserves were low and he didn’t have any considerable holdings in real estate, either.

After taking a couple of sneaky glances to either side, he tapped MY FUTURE WIFE on the leg and passed her a note under the table. She didn’t know what to make of this. She had just met him, after all. Was he making some sort of a pass at her, right in front of everybody? She read the note, with some trepidation, but then began laughing. It said, “This is a stick up!”

(On Grandma's 100th birthday - Mom, Grandma, Uncle Rick)

I may have forgotten some instance during my childhood, but I can’t recall ever telling my Uncle Rick “I love you” back then. I've rectified that in recent years and this is as good a time as any to do so again. I love you, Uncle Rick. So do a whole bunch of other folks who may not always put it into words. We all do. Just take it for granted.

Happy 81st Birthday, Uncle Rick. Many, many more.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Winter Carnival of the Insane

I was on a hillside in Korea, taking a short hike in the snow, when I saw him. He was dressed in a skin-tight orange and green leotard, and he was carrying two long skinny boards. I engaged him in conversation.

"Hello! Is the circus in town?"

"Excuse me?"

"I was just... um... admiring your outfit and I was wondering if you might be with the circus."

"Circus? No. I'm with the Estonians."

Ah, a religious cult! That explained the odd clothes. I continued my enquiry.

"What are you going to do with those boards?"

"Do you see that ramp over there?"

"The snow-covered one that ends in mid-air some thirty feet above the ground?"

"Yes. Well, I'm going to strap these boards to the bottom of my feet and then propel myself down that ramp as fast as possible. When I reach the end of the ramp, I'm going to jump."

"Good God, man, don’t do it! Think of your wife and children!"

"My wife and children? They're down there at the bottom of the hill."

"Then just turn around right now, walk back down to them, and thank your lucky stars someone came along and stopped you from killing yourself."

"Killing myself? Are you crazy?"

"Well, one of us may be. Where's your keeper?"

"My what?"

"The man who feeds you and gives you your medication and makes sure you get back to the home safely whenever you escape."

"Feeds me? Medication? Oh, you mean my trainer. He's over watching the skeletons."

"Skeletons! Where?"

"The next hill over."

I ran as fast as I could through the snow to the next hill. I asked the first person I saw where I could find the Estonian's doctor.

"Do you mean the trainer? I'm him."

"Oh, thank God! I was just over at that hill and..."


"Good Lord! I think that was a man!"

"Well, yes, it's the skeleton."

"No, no. That was a living person with a horrible grimace on his face and he must have gone by us at 80 miles an hour!"

"79.6, actually. Too bad. He's out of it."

"That’s an understatement! Aren't you going to do someth..."


"There goes another one!"

"Yes, and much better. 84.1 miles per hour! He's got a good chance."

"I don't think so! You say you're a doctor?"


"And you're just standing here watching these poor souls go hurtling by, doing nothing more than timing their hellish descent with a stopwatch? Your name wouldn't be Mengele, would it?"

"What are you jabbering about? This is the skeleton run."


"I suppose so! The bones must be piling up gruesomely! You fiend! I've got to find the police!"

I raced as fast as I could toward town, looking for a sane person. I came upon a lovely young girl.

"Excuse me, miss. Where is the nearest police sta..."

In my haste, I had failed to notice that the girl was only half-dressed. The poor child was obviously indigent, had worn the same clothes for many years, and outgrew them.

"Um, I don't mean to be indelicate, miss, but your panties are showing. Here, take my jacket and wrap it around your waist."

"Get away from me, you pervert. I have to get to the show."

"Show? What sort of show?"

"The ice show, of course."

"Ice show? What's going to happen there?"

"See these boots with skinny iron rods attached to the soles? I'm going to put them on and attempt to maneuver around a sheet of ice."

"Uh-huh. Wouldn't it be easier if you didn't have the metal rods on your shoes?"

"Well, duh! I don't have time for this, Grampaw. I have to meet my partner."

"Oh, you have a partner?"

"Yes, he helps me around the ice."

"Wouldn't he be more of a gentleman if he helped you home, where you could put on some decent clothes and a sensible pair of shoes? What else does your partner do for you?"

"He picks me up and spins me around, then he throws me in the air with all of his might."

"What?!? Where is he?"

She pointed to her left, but the only person I saw was a rather skinny fellow dressed in an extremely tight sky-blue waiter's outfit. I went to have a word with him.

"Excuse me, sir, but do you intend to forcefully pick up that young lady, twirl her in the air, and then toss her away like yesterday's rubbish? Not while I have my breath!”

With that, I raised my walking stick, intending to bring it down upon the top of that miscreant’s skull. However, as he ran away screaming, someone grabbed my cane from behind. I turned and saw a member of the local constabulary. Thank goodness! Now I could finally get someone to stop these many asylum escapees from doing harm to themselves and others.

"Come along, sir. There'll be no more of this from you."

He placed a pair of handcuffs on me!

"What are you doing?!? There's a man over there throwing himself off the side of a cliff while his wife and children watch! A mad doctor with a stopwatch clocking how long it takes for a living human to slide down an icy mountain! A poor defenseless underdressed urchin being forced to undergo physical trauma at the hands of a deranged waiter! Let me go! Let me go!"

As the policeman dragged me away, I heard a large crowd cheering. The last thing I remember seeing was a man sliding a big rock down a sheet of ice while two other men with mops feverishly swept a path in front of the rock. The man who had slid the rock was yelling, "Hard! Hard!"


"And that's when I woke up, doctor. I think I may be going insane. No one in his right mind should have the dreams I'm having. What's wrong with me? What should I do?"

"Shut off your TV before you go to sleep, Jim. Or, at least, don't leave it on NBC all night."

Soon, with more better stuff.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Sweet Stuff

I've had another piece published on the cool website, Purple Clover, and I hope you'll enjoy reading it. Of course, in order to read it, you'll have to travel to the website whereupon it appears, so here's a very handy link...


... and I so very much appreciate you taking the time to go there that I'll never use the word "whereupon" ever again in my life, if that helps.

Thank you!

Soon, with more better stuff.

P.S. The firehouse pictured above is provided as a visual aid. It is the one mentioned in the story.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Curling Makes The Big Time In Boston

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Stones!

Today in the Boston Herald, I talk about my secret love. Yes, Curling. Please read it. Thanks!

Soon, with more better stuff.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Happy Ash Valentine's Wednesday!

Yup. And that's what my column in today's Boston Herald is about. So there!

Or, rather, so GO there! Here's your handy link...


Thanks for reading!

Soon, with more better stuff.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Curlers Have Big Stones

This is a rerun. I originally published it in April of 2006 when I had about 20 loyal readers. If you're one of that group, God bless you (and go have your head examined.)

The subject matter is the game played on ice that Canadians adore. No, the other one. And since it is being played in the now-current Winter Olympics - and since people seem to either love the sport or find it (as my good buddy, Robbie Costello, put it) as entertaining as watching hernia surgery - I figure there may never be a better time to put this piece in your eye again.

(Even if I hadn't decided to tell you this was a rerun, I'd be willing to bet most of you would have figured it out from the first sentence. See if you agree. Here comes the old stuff!)

Last night, MY WIFE and I went to the 2006 World Mens Curling Championship at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell, Massachusetts.

I'll give you a chance to let that sink in and then give you the opportunity to crack a few jokes about watching paint dry. Go ahead. I'll wait.

(*taps foot, while whistling tunelessly*)

Ready to go on now? Good.

We really like this sport. Really. Yes, it's a bit like shuffleboard on ice (actually, I'd say billiards on ice is a more apt comparison) but there is athletic skill involved, as well as deep strategy. You need a keen eye, flexibility, strong nerves, coordination and, above all, you can't be susceptible to chilblains.

(*rim shot*)

Thank you. I'll be here through Sunday, eh?


It's almost impossible not to make curling jokes. Even someone who really - really! - likes the sport, and admires the athletes involved, can see the absurdity of sliding big hunks of granite down a sheet of ice while two guys run along in front of the rock feverishly pushing brooms.

(I wonder if janitors would make really good curlers?)

There actually is a point to that sweeping, you know. If you sweep hard enough, it accomplishes two things. First, the stone will travel farther. Second, it will continue toward the target in a straighter line than if you didn't sweep.

And it keeps the ice tidy.


We arrived at the venue a couple of hours before the start of the matches. We wanted to grab something to eat and then take a look around. This was the first time either of us had ever seen a live curling match, so we wanted a chance to soak in whatever atmosphere might have been available.

(It was mostly the smell of Molson's. Ha-CHAH!)

Just outside of the arena there was a hospitality tent set up. It was called "The Rock Garden" and there were a number of food vendors, as well as folks selling curling-related merchandise. Aside from the usual souvenir-type items (coffee mugs, hats, pins, etc.) there was one vendor selling curling jewelry.

Yup. Curling jewelry. The stuff was actually quite pretty. Stick pins, earrings, necklaces and all the rest, in the shape of brooms. There was an 18ct. gold and diamond brooch in the shape of a curling stone. Goes for about $4,000.

You think I'm kidding? Check it out.

You could also buy all sorts of curling apparel, from casual wear for the fan - turtlenecks, polo shirts and t-shirts, emblazoned in your country's colors - to things meant to be worn in competition, such as special sliding shoes and rubber pads to put on your shoes so that they won't slide. About the only thing you couldn't buy was an actual competition stone, but that's probably only because the damned things weigh 42 pounds, so how in hell would you carry it around with you all night and then get it home to Finland after the matches?

Yes, the stones weigh 42 pounds. Not so much like shuffleboard-on-ice now, is it, tough guy? More like tenpin-bowling-on-ice. So there!


I'm being way too snotty for someone who really (really) likes this sport. It's not at all fair to the people involved. And from what I saw last night, this sport is followed by some of the nicest people on the planet. Everybody roots hard for their team, but everybody also gives a fair round of applause to the opposition and nobody taunts anyone except in a polite way. For example, during last night's USA vs. Canada match, there was one woman holding up a pro-USA sign. You know what it said? "U.S. - Eh?" It got a big laugh from both the Canadian and American fans.

There is also no "in your face" crap from the athletes themselves. As a matter of fact, they are the least demonstrative bunch of competitors I've ever seen. And the fans never boo anybody.

Well, almost never. Last night, during a particularly tense point in the Sweden - Denmark match, one of the Swedish players slammed his broom on the concrete behind the rink, upset at his team having basically lost any shot at making the medals round. The sharp sound made by the handle of the broom striking the hard surface was followed by the sound of a gasp - a sharp intake of breath by many in the crowd - and then there was one lone "Booooooo!" from somewhere behind us. As many people turned to look at the fellow who was booing as were now looking at the Swedish kid who had slammed down his broom.


If you have any interest at all in the sport, I'd highly recommend getting out to see a match. As sports go, it's one of the easiest to watch. No matter where you're sitting in the arena, you can clearly see everything that's going on. The folks who follow it closely are very nice and will not belittle you in any way if you ask them a stupid question. They're more than willing to teach you about their passion, and will do so with a smile. All in all, it's a very agreeable night out.

And I guess that's it. I could rack my brain for something clever and snarky to end with, but I won't. It was fun and we enjoyed it. Bravo to the curlers.


Welcome back to 2018. Maybe the game will have a huge breakthrough in the United States this year. Probably not, but this is the time of year when everyone around these parts talks about it and if the American teams do well, who knows? Americans like winners. Only the truly weird want to be identified with a sport most people consider odd and which we as a nation don't play very well.

Given the relative lack of curlers in this country, I now find myself able to entertain notions of taking up the sport and maybe making the Olympic team in 2022. It is the only sport I can even imagine myself playing at some sort of decent level by the time I'm 64, so for that farfetched dream alone, curling is now my favorite sport at the Winter Olympics.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Monday, February 05, 2018

What Really Matters

The website Purple Clover bought a piece of mine and I'm happy to offer a link here. Re-reading it myself, after the Super Bowl loss by the Patriots, put my perspective back where it should be :-)

Congratulations to Philadelphia! And if you'd go to Purple Clover and read my piece, that would be very nice. Thanks!

Soon, with more better stuff.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

It's Super Sunday!

It's Super Sunday! Do you want to know why?

Too bad. I'm going to tell you anyway. It's Super Sunday because, after about a six-week absence, my words are once again gracing the pages of the Boston Herald.

You probably thought I was going to drone on about football here. Pshaw. Would I do that here? Well, yeah, I have before, but not today. Instead, I drone on about football over at the Herald, kind of. It's not really about football, per se, but it's a column full of comparisons between where I live and where Philadelphians live. It's all in great fun, of course (well, fun, anyway; maybe not great fun. That's for you to decide. If you decide it's no fun at all, I hope all your feathers fall out.)

OK, that's enough to make this look like I actually spent a moment or two trying to make it entertaining. Please go to the Boston Herald and read the stuff I get paid for. Thank you!

Soon, with more better stuff.

P.S. Go Patriots!