Tops Never Stops

Before we discovered the gloriousness that is Wegmans we frequented Tops. It has been well noted already that during the Princeton Era Mike and I made at least a daily trek to Tops since it was so close. Another beacon to the hospital white walls of Tops was Matt’s long-time employ at Tops on Delaware.

Matt was one of the first employees to this branch of the Tops franchise. He had an interview in the trailer on the lot while the building was still being constructed. Some relative of Matt was involved so it was an easy position to acquire, not that cart-boy is an excessively hard job to get. Matt started work in Spring. His plan was to work until the first day of snow, and then quit. “Matt doesn’t work in the snow” was his mantra.

Months later the Matt was pushing carts when he was called into the office. The Tops lords had vision enough to see that Matt was more than a cart-boy. He was immediately reassigned to an inside position in the Butcher’s Block. At the close of his shift that day Matt stepped outside and gazed up into the sky. The first snowflakes of the season gently fell upon his brow. The gods had smiled upon our hero. He was not longer a cart boy. But you must pay the gods a price; Matt was still employed at Tops, or in an indirect way Ahol (the parent, and appropriately named, company of Tops).

Speaking of Ahol, the scuttlebutt is that the local mafia allowed Ahol to purchase Tops as long as they maintained control of the Tops Union. This is all hearsay, so if I wake up with the horse head in my dead tomorrow you will know the arm of the Buffalo mafia extends to the West Coast.

On our way to Comstock to waste time, we took great joy in visiting Matt during his work hours. This was particularly true when he was a lowly cart boy. On one of the rare occasions we had Sean with us we made such a trip for supplies. Sean was known for his fearless driving and his habit of stopping at Noco to “fill er up” with whatever change he had in his pocket. I was once a first-hand witness to his purchase of 32 cents worth of fuel. Today that is not enough for them to let you lift the nozzle.

We spoke to Matt on the way into Tops. He had just spent a considerable amount of time in the classic “stack a fuck-load of carts together from all across the parking lot” so he could push them all back at once. His cart-stack lot was near the Tops entrance, and when we returned from purchase of our supplies (Mountain Dew, pretzels, frozen burritos, etc.) we found Matt no where to be found. As we left Sean took the opportunity to drive his car into the cart-stack Matt had painstakingly constructed. He pushed the cart-stack to the far corner of the parking lot. At first he drove at a slow pack, until we saw Matt running at us, at which time Sean sped up. The exceedingly heavy cart-stack was left in the farthest corner. We sped of laughing. At least we gave Matt something to do for the last hour of his shift.

Once inside, Matt quickly rose to the rank of 95% Butcher. What is 95% Butcher? After a year of working primarily in the Butcher’s Block Matt observed that the only difference between an official Butcher and an experienced meat man, like himself, was knowing how to properly cut 5 specific meats. As there 5 meats are expensive, they did not let anyone slice them, nor were they purchased frequently enough for Matt to get enough practice. We all spurred him on to complete his training and have a viable skill. Eventually Matt was able to get in enough practice in two of these elusive meats, so he settled at 97% Butcher. As I conclude this section it strikes me that this post will burn a few of Matt’s bridges.

Matt was a valuable Tops associate for nearly seven years. He quit before hitting the seven year point because that would be when a part-time associate would be granted a 401k. While the rest of us saw this as an obvious fruit to grab, Matt saw this as a sign he had been defeated by the preverbal Man.

Continuing this HR showcase of Tops benefits we come to the period when Tops began selling Tops branded apparel. Tops management required employees to wear this apparel initially, no doubt to spur on the awaiting masses who couldn’t possibly hold back from spending thousands on Tops sweatshirts. The slap in the face was that associates were required to pay for these required textiles. What a joke.

Tops exposed us to several characters, and once again showcased the intelligence of the average person. The most memorable example of this was when Matt related some story of some random activity of our crew. “What does phallic mean?” interjected one of typical Tops zombies. Matt was befuddled that he did not know what phallic was? He now had is shift project. He left the blob with no better knowledge and spent the rest of him shift polling all his co-workers as the meaning of phallic. To his astonishment one one other employee knew the word. During his polling he even received commentary that phallic was not a common word many people would know. Matt left his shift to relate this happenstance to the rest of us. Until this incident we did not know it was possible to NOT know what phallic meant.

Matt mined a number of girlfriends out of seven year stint. I recall one who became a vegetarian because she was fat. Success! She lost weight. Unfortunately she was still not satisfied, so she pushed the envelope even more, and became vegan. This relationship did not last long.

Matt also met the same girl that absconded with Matt and James in the infamous “I’ll never set foot in a gay bar” story that was the first post on this blog.

An experienced Matt sat in the Tops atrium enjoying his mandatory earned break. A frantic woman ran up, “There is a used condom over there!” “Really? Where?” The woman took Matt half-way across the parking lot to what was absolutely confirmed as a under condom, still filled with a “rush of excess fluids.”

Matt concluded his inspection and headed back, but to the dismay of the woman, he did not return with any cleaning equipment. Matt, instead, plopped himself back on the atrium bench. “Aren’t you going to clean that us?” she explained. “Lady, I’m on my break.”

The bulk of Matt’s time at Tops had him stationed in the Butcher’s Block, or as we more affectionately referred to it – the Meat department. Matt divulged two secrets of the Meat department. One; they kept a small Igloo cooler ready to go at someone, ironically usually one of the professional butchers, cut off a finger and was rushed to the hospital, finger piece encased in the Igloo cooler, to have it sewn back on. The success rate was quite high. Two; the Meat department kept an open bowl into which they threw any scraps, be they on the floor or wherever, into this bowl. When the bowl was full, then they ground up the scraps and sold it under the label of “meat”. Funnily enough, years before, during the Goodyear era, I had spied one of these and bought it for the label humor.

Matt enjoyed a time where he was double employed. His second job, the more prestigious one, was the all powerful Mighty Taco on Sheridan and NFB. Mighty Taco gives you a week to study the menu before taking a test. You have to know all menu items, and their component’s with amounts from memory. Matt passed and became a Mighty Taco employee. We gave him a goal of finding out what the beef was, as he felt Mighty Taco was superior to Taco Bell in every aspect, except the beef. Since this was sacrilege we was to solve the mystery now that he had access.

Matt soon grew to dislike the manager. She ruled with an iron fist, holding weekly meetings that Matt was 2 minutes late for once. She fired him for this. Matt suspects that he was really fired because he was telling the other employees how the manager had terrible skills, and was a bitch to boot. He did not notice until too late that she was in the building, and overheard, walking in on his conversation just at the end of Matt’s tirade. He never solved the “Riddle of Beef.”

Like the recent rash of professional athletes that pretend to retire, Matt too had an encore tour at Tops. I made a visit to him once during this tour. He was working the night shift stocking the frozen foods isles. Like the athlete that plays one more season when he should have walked away, it was sad to see Matt, the once lord of part-time associates, reduced to a zero visibility position.

Another of our crowd spent some time employed at Tops, Chester. He gleefully gave us reports as to his rapid rise to the “Express Lane”, giving us tips as to how he became one of these best of the best. He switched sides from making bewildered fun of the Tops cashiers who wore rubber thimbles to wearing one himself.

Having been a Tops associate for such a long time, Matt was well versed with the employee handbook. There was a statute of limitations on anything you did of five years. The exact day the limit was us, he spilled the beans of what he had done to his co-worked in the back of the store, as he was leaving for his shift. It took Matt 2 minutes to walk our the front of the store, and by then the news had traveled faster than his ironically unmeaty legs could carry him. An example of just how efficient the Tops grapevine is.

What was Matt’s hidden crime? Back when he was still a cart-boy he abandoned his post, walked across the street, and saw a movie at the old Super Saver Cinema. When the movie was over he walked back across the street and took his break.

Saving You More?

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Courting the Ladies

Readers of this blog will have picked out the various, highly-successful courting tips that we have dropped across various posts.  If you are a new reader, or someone of poor memory you can read about meatballs, multi-colored sneakers, and the $300 wardrobe.  Aside from those colossally effective tips I have some more for those still on the auction block.

Often you can learn even more from failure than success.  By now we should have volumes of useful knowledge.  Unfortunately we are left a pile of failures, but we like to think of some of these as sort of successful.

The first of these tips is more for camp counselors.  I was at a week long camp in the Catskill Mountains.  This was a co-ed camp for budding young adults between the ages of 13-15. They could have called it “Caligula Camp” given barely supervised new teens about to burst with seminal fluids. The best example is a game I call “Blind Grope”.

They took us all into a large, flat, open grass field. The camp counsellors stood at the borders to keep us corralled in the field. They blindfolded all of us and set us out. The object was to find the murderer before everyone was dead. A few people were murderers and a few more police, and the rest where bystanders. When you touched a person you both paused a moment. Bystanders say nothing. If someone whispers “murder” then you scream “MURDER” (causing the other bind players fleeing the area – only walking, no running). The police whispered police and if you were a murderer you where then caught.

The real “objective” was simple. Grab some boob. As you would expect, and as I confirmed when I was finally “murdered”, hence leaving the field of play and removing my blindfold with the other victims, was the boys expended one are out to encounter boobage, and the other arm jealously guarded the package. The boys moved about quickly to cover as much area as possible, obviously spending more time if they ran into a girl. The girls were well informed to take small, quiet steps and used both arms to fully protect their upper assets.

When you were “out” and got to watch the field of play it was very entertaining. The climax of the game was one girl who took the offensive. She had either played this game before, or was well aware of the perverted minds of young boys. Instead of guarding herself, she moved with brisk steps of force with her arms pistoning forward in a downward angle. This action felled more than a few boys. She seems to have a sense for boys approaching as she never caused damage to another female. I expect she is a CEO somewhere today.

The next tale of courtship also took place in a camping situation. This time there where only a few of us, and we took a canoeing trip for a week in Canada. We spent most of the week on a peninsula on one side of a lake. The lake was bordered by mostly permanent residents, but a few homes rented out for the summer. The one directly across form out camp site was rented to two older women who we watched for two days as they utterly failed to use a canoe. They were drunk every time we saw them. While some people drunk dial and others wander the Tops isle, still other try to get into a canoe. They continuously fell into the water and screamed at each other.

After two days they managed to get into the canoe, but also padding in the same direction, thus managing to propel themselves across the lake and towards us. As they approached all staring in order to get a closer view at what a train-wreck looks like close up. Suddenly they came into focus. Our eyes were torn asunder by the vision of two nasty old drunks that were topless this entire time. As we averted out eyes to avoid permanent blindness, we heard the cry of the Northern Light Hag, “Get a good look perverts!”

I cannot leave this particular story with such a crime against nature. During the canoeing to the peninsula we portaged (that means carry your fucking canoe over land) across an all girls camp. Enjoying the brief time, but soon forgetting about it we were surprised a few days later, to see some of the females from this camp canoeing towards us. They setup camp no more than 20 yards away. Their 19-ish women counselor was as lacks as our 19-ish male counsellor.

I should mention that there is normally a qualified staff member with these canoeing expeditions, but they ran out of staff and since our guide lived in the area, was 19, and had been on the trip a few times they deputized him. He lead us away from the normal paths, and into a den of disgust (the old women above) and love (see below).

The female campers were no match for the combination of Canadian wildlife, a sparking lake, and dirty boys catching frogs. Through some Druidic magic the even closed as were paired up around a roaring fire. Each couple encased in their own blanket. Being a gentleman I shant disclose what may or may not have occurred that night under the stars.

Now we will leave the romantic camping settings and escape to a simple phrase handed down from a guru of lotharioism. The proper procedure, according to this casanova is to whisper gently into a woman’s ear, “I want to eat you into utter submission.” Like an angry Republican from Texas the shock and awe of this statement will roll over her with such speed as to leave her defenses shattered. I cannot give any further details, but I will back up the perhaps surprising performance of this quip with a statistic. Two out of three times this has been employed it has bet with success.

The occasionally mentioned, but universally loved Rob gives us our next parable of love. Rob had been in a prolonged dry spell when New Year’s Eve rolled around. Many of the usual crew were gathered at our beloved Anacone’s. After the compulsory toast at the stroke of midnight we actually engaged in a round of declaring resolutions. When it came upon Rob to make his decree he raise his glass and gleefully yelled out, “I declare this The Year of Rob!” He consummated the proclamation by grabbing the mammary gland of the woman next to him. Again we witnessed shock and awe. It was a good thing the woman was a friend of ours. As this was out of character, and he had imbibed several quotas of intoxicants there was no rebut. Over the next year Rob made good. He found a new girlfriend that lasted several years.

The New Year’s following the successful year of Rob leads us into our final tale of seduction. I made a similar decree as to being “The Year of Aaron.” holding more of a strict character than Rob I set forth a rule. “I will ask out at least one new woman a month.” In January I asked out Chris’s sister, but given he pervious exposure to my juvenile antics there was not surprise on either part to the answer. February I asked out some woman I can’t recall other than this we of a slightly more serious attempt that the paper-attempt of January. No dice. With March approaching I had used my two options for asking out a woman without any fear. Now I knew I had to actually encounter a real life situation.

In preparation I read “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” This seemed to be a useful skill to acquire, no matter what kind of “conquest” you were out for. The point from this well-known tome that stuck with me is the tactic of asking a person two questions they cannot say no to before getting to the real question on the third try. The idea is that they are in the habit of saying yes with the first two questions, so that when you get to the third they will reactively say yes.

I set my sights on a buxom woman who was playing volleyball in Delaware Park. This is when Chris and I had been playing weekly volleyball with the alternatives. I later learned they did not like this woman. During the game I managed to flirt successfully with her. Before I knew it the game was over and people began to leave. She was only an occasional player so I knew I had to make my move. I volunteered to stay and help take down the equipment. Chris and JP where present and both knew what I was up to. They left, hiding out in the nearby parking lot so as to be the first to find out what happened. I continued the flirting, ask me not what I did exactly as I was in a haze. As I walked with her to her car I entered stage one. Damn! I was still surrounded by a cloudy haze. I had asked question one, but I did not know what I said! I have blown it already!

I saw her mouth move, and hear a “Yes.” Somehow I had not shot my self in the foot. I had to expunge this cloud out of my hear and think clearly. Before I could clear my head entirely I found I was already half way through my second question! What the hell was I gonna do now? I had no choice but to complete my question. Now I was done for sure. I managed to clear my head, now awaiting a sure-fired denial to an unknown question.

Somehow my luck held as I was gifted with a miraculous second affirmative. Now I was where I wanted to be. I finally had a clear mind. I had put in the pre-work, and all I had to close the deal with deliver my closer. I took a breath and confidently fired my final salvo. “Do you eat?” Her response was a collage of confusion and smirk. “What?” was her reply. I then asked he out, to which she told me she was engaged. I was still elated as I had executed my plan and it did not end in catastrophe. We parted and i started the trek towards the parking lot to make my after action report. As I strutted away, proud in my own accomplishment, I heard her yell. “Hey!” I looked back, her voluminous upper half protruding from her car door. “Nice line.”

And with an Aesoply ending I leave you with this. Into every life a little love must stumble, even if by remarkable luck, but place your bet upon a tactic of shock and awe.

A Tradition Like No Other

The Comstock and Princeton era’s birthed a number of traditions, most formed out of boredom, laziness, or lack of choice.

Every holiday has it’s own traditions, especially *mas.  The most persistent and pervasive of all Comstock traditions was the Brown Bomber.  Mike’s grandmother took great pride in baking.  All throughout the year Mike would come home with a coffee tin of baked goods, but especially around *mas.  What is a Brown Bomber?  It is not a Fraternaty initiation, nor another of Larry’s army stories, but a golf ball sized sphere of rice crispies and peanut butter coated in chocolate.  Sounds awesome!  They sure are, but after you have had hundreds of these suckers you are done.  Done for good.  Mike, myself, and every single character of the crew tasted defeat after a handful of Brown Bombers, even the immutable Paul fell.  The only one left standing was Dan.  No doubt due to his thick stomach walls earned with his mom’s pork chips and the infamous pickle jar.

The next tradition started before Comstock, but was engulfed by Comstock.  that was Mike’s dad’s Bills-Miami party.  Mike’s dad would open his garage to a big party with lots of food, guys, and a big TV.  Aside from myself, Paul, Dan, and Mike the party-goers were comprised of grizzly old men from the neighborhood.  Inevitably they would spin tales of of Jack Kemp, and various other “old man nonsense”.  EDITOR’s NOTE: I can’t wait to be an old man and use my growing collection of crazy old man behaviors; when the sole purpose of my remaining life is to both others.  One of us would make some comment about some Bills player that was a group favorite just to roust the old men.  By 1999 the Bills height of power was diminishing, and Miami was sucking with no Marino, hence the party moved from the Miami game to a random other game.  With this move the fever of the party waned, and along with Mike entering the Air Force, coupled with the Paul’s decent into hermit-hood, and my detachment from Mike.  that last thing I wanted was to spend MORE time with Mike.

Many television programs made their way as a Comstock tradition.  The first of which was the original Beverly Hills 90210.  This started when in Goodyear.  Given no cable in the dorms at the time, we where stuck with 3 channels, 2 of which where often blurry.  Only the soon to be beloved Fox was routinely clear.  Paul, Mike, and I decided to make one of our routine trips to Tops in the University Plaza.  Paul held us up for a minute to use the bathroom.  As all readers know by now, this “minute” lasted way more than a minute.  In the meantime Mike and I flipped on the TV just in time for the start of the weekly installment of the antics of spoiled rich kids played by 30+ year olds, some balding and pretentious enough to purposely mispronounce their name.  By the time Paul emerged, hair gel in tact, Mike and I where hopelessly locked into the show.  Only 5 minutes remained.  The siren song of Beverly Hills did not release us from it’s icy grip for another several years.  It is odd what you become engrossed in when your entertainment options are limited.  If it hadn’t been for Paul and his meddling hair.

Many other TV shows where targeted by Mike and myself over the years: The Adventures of Pete & Pete (I recently bought the Season 1 DVD), the classic Degrassi Junior High (the story of a Canadian junior high, which recently made a comeback in the same fashion as Saved by the Bell: The New Class), and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman – the draw of Dean Cain, former Buffalo Bill and sprinkle in the famous line from the first episode..

Terri Hatcher: *long tirade about how she is the experienced reported, and Dean is some punk, closing with how any co-authored pieces will have her by-line above his*
Dean Cain: *smirk* “Got it.  You like to be on top.”

Other, less obscure, programs became Comstock favorites also, including Seinfeld and the Simpsons.  These where both recorded on VHS tape and a formal event was help where Mike and I split up the tapes just before he entered the Air Force.  Dan often barged into Princeton Sunday night just before Simpsons time.  He tried initially to barge in during the show, but when we refused to answer, even though with the TV blaring, it was quite obvious we were in there.  Dan would bring some strange movie or British TV over to watch after, but Mike would always go to bed early, and since I would relish any time I could spend at home with Mike gone or asleep I would watch said weird program with Dan.

The X-Files was a favorite of Mike and mine both, until Mike ruined it for me with his fanatical behavior.  No sounds during the show.  No one over.  Disconnecting the phone.  Watching it in as much dark as possible.  I grew to dislike the X-Files, and stopped watching it after the first season, never to return.

While living at Comstock itself we where stuck with Paul’s TV/VCR combo.  We where also stuck with the same 5 movies.  Having watched them all, including when we broke down and watched Frantic, the default because One Crazy Summer.  I lost count how many times we watched this.  mike often fell asleep long before the end.  Clutching his Daisy Duke beer can handle, and occasionally talking in his sleep.  When Mike talked in his sleep you could ask him questions and he would reply, uttering such gems as “I had sex with 30 houses and stuff.”

All these years of limited viewing left us fans of MST3K, and after some buffer time when Princeton vanished, and the Comstock era ended, we started a new tradition of Crappy Movie Night.  We would gather with pizza and beer, and watch 2-3 terrible movies.  The event was a success only 50% of the time, but then again , what kind of incentive is Manos: Hands of Fate or Lolita.

The final tradition that also held favor for several months, long after Comstock was over, was Travel Friday.  In an effort to not end up in the same bars each week we forced the issue.  We would gather and car pool over to some restaurant/bar that no once had ever been to, and engulf some dinner.  If the place was god we would stay, and if not then we would head to some new place that was unknown to all or most of us.

There are certainly other “traditions” that could be mentioned, like someone being trapped in the Comstock bathroom every party, or Jason getting upset with Dan, but those are left for another post.

Turning Crap into Fabulous Prizes

There comes a time in every man’s life when he looks around his hovel and thinks, “I’ve got way too much shit.” A body collects these things as he saunters through life, like ticks in the wild. Until a day of reckoning, or a day of moving, where he starts poking through the back rooms of his life and all sorts of odd bits and pieces fall out. Thimbles, wires, inkpads, left handed safety scissors, shot glasses from Pittsburgh: all safely tucked away “just in case.”

Just in case of what? I don’t know. In case someone’s strangling me with a piece of yarn and my right arm is paralyzed. The only thing I can use to save myself with is my trusty pair of left handed safety scissors.

The world is filled with such things. Your house is jam packed with oddities. Go through it right now. I dare you. Sweep out the back shelf of your broom cupboard and the dusty corners of your attic. See what bits and pieces you’ve stored away because “it might come in handy one day.”

Jars of batteries, spare cables for the VCR, old demo tapes of some local band that never went anywhere (“Druken Puppet Sings”), album covers with no vinyl inside, mismatched socks, “Dukakis in 88” pins, Volume 16 of the Junior Encyclopedia for 1948, old photographs of a guy who might be a great uncle, or crappy Christmas decorations that you made in 5th grade that your parents “just love.”

If my words don’t ring true in your ears, then there is something the matter with you and you need to reexamine your life. Go back to Iraq Mr. Al-Queda. If this does strike a note of recognition, then let me tell you how I turned crap into fabulous prizes.

The Madison-Felix Awards, that great tribute to cheapness, vulgar audiences, and alcoholic shenanigans, was entering the terrible twos. It’s infancy was marred by various problems that Brian and I corrected. One task was left, and I decided to fix it solo. At the end of the first year door prizes were handed out to the lucky audience, all twenty of them. This last part had been left in the clumsy hands of Ensign Raiff and Nurse Pam. While their enthusiasm certainly wasn’t lacking, their sense of humor was. They bought cute things that were supposed to be funny, but actually weren’t. People chuckled and said it was funny, but it was more out of a sense that they though it should be funny, without actually being funny.

They gave away a lot of pink plastic jewelry, gotten from a convenient CVS, spice girl dolls, rewritable plastic pads with Urkel’s picture on the cover (though we got some use out of that), and so on. These items just didn’t fit into the style in which we were fashioning the show. That of cheapness and with a base of crass. We were the Oscar’s evil twin, with all it’s glitz, glamour, and pomposity stripped away. So the following year I took over the door prizes, and like the Russians who built the disastrous Volga-Don Canal in 1931, I declared that there would be “not one kopeck spent.” It would all be gathered from the generous accumulation of crap which had been stuffed into the nether regions of my closet, and beyond.

Being of a lethargic nature, I didn’t get to work straight away, but let the idea ferment in my mind for awhile. What spurred off the initial gathering was a pile of junk left at my work. I was employed at Noco Gas Station on the corner of Sweet Home and Sheridan. I worked the midnight shift, as it appealed to my nocturnal instincts and paid an additional 50 cents an hour. Not much happened usually, and I had plenty of time to read and sleep, but we were closely situated to the University of Buffalo Amherst Campus, so there were plenty of head-up-their-ass college punks around (more on this in a later post). The hippie revival movement of the early 90s was starting to catch on in the area and brought around all the usual dregs that such movements dig up. I’m sure you know what I mean: Indecent scruffy types who slouch about with their hands in their pockets, just looking at people.

One evening a VW van, a vintage classic, pulled up to the store. Two tied-died “people,” stinking of petuli and BO entered and started pooling change to buy a bottle of water. A third remained at the van emptying copious amount of garbage into the trash cans. After purchasing their water and finagling two cups out of me, presumably so they wouldn’t swap their various types of hepatitis with each other, they departed. Leaving the store I found that they had filled 3 of the 4 cans and left a pile of old vinyl albums on top of one. Closer inspection showed that these were just the album covers with no sign of anything else in them. The thought then hit me. These would be great gifts to use at the Madisons. I mean who wouldn’t want the album cover of Peter, Paul and Mary’s “A Song Will Rise”, or The Romanian National All Male Chorus Sings, or Neil Hefti’s “Batman” Scores? The covers, while most people would see them as garbage, covered all three of the criteria I had for the Madison door prizes: They were cheap, they were crap, and they were funny in an odd sense.

I was inspired. I rushed home, grabbed a cardboard box, and started to dig, dig, dig. And the wonders I found. Our house, it seems, had become a receptacle for unwanted material from both sides of the family. Older members died and there was always something left behind when the loot was divvied up. They would turn to us and say, “Dan, you like reading and stuff, so here’s a crate of books from your Great Aunt Betty.” This was all on top of my Mother’s and I natural pack rat mentality. We find an item, file it away, thinking “Well it might come in handy,” and then promptly forget about its existence.

Handfuls upon handfuls of buttons were dumped in the box, a phone book from 1985, game tokens from a destroyed copy of The Blizzard of 77 board game, a few ratted up copies of The Watchtower, old comic books, and so on.

Then under my generous loft bed I found the grand prize. An item of singular beauty and attention. By itself it seemed useless, yet I found myself incapable of getting rid of it. No matter how many times I found myself handing it over at the Madisons, I found it back in the box at the end of the night. We had a true love/hate relationship. I didn’t want it, yet could not let the joke go.

The item was an old scuffed up black Oxford shoe for the right foot, left over from High School. For those who attended private school (3 of the 4 major posters) you remember we were required to wear proper shoes whilst attending the institute, along with a shirt, dress pants, tie, clean shaven face, and short hair. For sneakers, along with long hair, leads to degeneracy and general lapses into moral turpitude. Though, as a side note, one of my class mates, Ralph Maggio, managed to go for 4 years never wearing a pair of shoes. He always snuck the sneakers through.

Back on topic: Yes, a shoe. A glorious right shoe. Its partner had been torn to pieces by my dog Thor many years prior. For nine years I attempted to give it away and, without fail, it was left behind or tossed back into the box by an ungrateful winner. But each year it gathered bigger and bigger laughs; became one of our standard running jokes, from the people who remembered it from the year before.

To make a short story even longer, I previewed my low budget door prizes at the end of the 2nd Madison-Felix Awards and was met with uproarious laughter and applause. Filtering out the high alcoholic consumption at such events, I still feel that people appreciated the humor value of such junk over the “cute” prizes handed out the first year. The door prizes remained in this form for the remainder of its decade long run.

Now as I sit in my apartment looking at the increasing accumulation of “stuff” during my five years in the South, I feel like starting the Madison’s again, if only to clear the clutter from my closet. I’m sure my right shoe would agree.

Tops Never Stops

Over the years of Goodyear, Comstock, and Princeton, there was one more-or-less constant presence. I speak of course of the Tops behind the Amherst Theater; it also happened to be in front of the Princeton Apartments and next to the backyard of one Rev. Mooney. It was an unfortunate distance from Comstock, and even when someone had a car Wilson Farms beckoned, but frequent trips to Dan’s house and the desire for any type of obscure food would dictate a “run” to Tops, the home of cheap food and many a sugar ration.

In the passing of years and acquisition of roughly 10,000 gallons of Mountain Dew, it was bound to happen that notable events would occur at Tops. Some of these have been previously told of, such as Dan shouting “In the BROWN!” somewhere around the checkout aisle, or some feeb’s naked run through the lot; others are lost to history. In fact, as I write this, I realize that very few of the Tops connected stories are related to the University Tops; nevertheless I shall tell these and move on to the rest of the story. No doubt the comments on this subject will be better than my telling.

One instance that Larry has never ceased to tell, and which I will relate here, is the time that for some reason I drove Larry to Tops. Why this occurred I cannot say, because it was nowhere even close to any of Larry’s stores; but I assume I was somehow returning from or headed to ODS in Williamsville. Either way, to hear Larry tell it, we were walking in “Aisle 9” when the following occurred:

“Larry… Stop.”
“What, dude?”
“Something bad just happened. We need to leave.”
“What??”
“I just drew mud.”

This was followed by Larry nearly dying of laughter, and me trying to find a solution to my dilemma. Naturally there was no better alternative than to head over to Dan’s house, where Dan was not expecting us at all, but luckily was home and not naked. I demanded immediate entrance to his bathroom, and defiled it thoroughly. As some kind of brutal reminder of Comstock, there was no toilet paper and I had to call out for assistance from Dan (of all people). Apparently disoriented, Dan complied and I was not even forced to use sandpaper or some kind of paper towels (missed your chance there I guess). One side note here – Dan talks a big game about his crap eating films, but he is thoroughly disgusted by a description of bodily functions. I will spare our readers the details, but I reveled in telling Dan this tale and am somewhat hopeful that this memory will cause him discomfort.

Aside from diet-induced exploding intestines, the other story I know of related to the University Tops is that Chet worked there. This is not particularly interesting, except that it came up one day in a discussion of Chet’s economic philosophy. I made some sort of salary related comment, to which Chet responded:

Chet: “$50,000/yr should be enough for anybody.”
Louis: “That’s bullshit.”
Chet: “Bullshit? I had to work full shifts bagging groceries for $3.50/hour. That, sir, is bullshit!”

I should note that this was probably years after he worked at Tops, but who knows. This exchange might be meaningless but it stuck in my head so I am writing it down. Another random fact: when I worked at UB in the summer of 92, I walked from the chemistry building to Tops each day to get lunch. Lunch usually consisted of a sour cream donut, a chocolate chip muffin, and a 24 oz Mountain Dew.

Of course, Tops was also a welcome presence across the Buffalo area (this was in the days before their merger with bland corporate Giant Food, and also before Wegmans literally browned Tops into irrelevance). Many were the associations with Tops, not the least of which was that Schultz worked there. He worked at Tops for years, rising through various ranks to become associated with the meat department. This led to many hijinks and hilarity as it was common practice to go find out if Schultz was at work, and bother him in various ways during his break. It also introduced various unsavory Tops workers into our midst, since Matt would date them. In any case, I cannot order the events of Matt’s Tops career in chronological order, so I will simply spew them forth in a stream of consciousness fashion.

The first incident I recall was the time Sean B., Aaron, and I visited Matt while the poor unfortunate Schultz was on cart duty. It was a fairly cold, windy fall night and we taunted him as he slowly wandered the huge parking lot on Elmwood Avenue (next to Channel 4!) and stacked cart after cart for a long journey back. We decided without question that Schultz had to try harder to earn his scratch, so as he took one train of carts back to the store, Sean drove his station wagon (the one with wood paneling) over to a lone cart which was kind of close to the entrance.  We signaled Matt (to be sure he was watching) and then Sean skillfully drove the station wagon right behind the cart, pushing it slowly it first, and then faster, almost alarmingly fast, driving the cart from one end of the parking lot to the other end – in fact, a remote corner near the street. Matt’s expression of disgust was priceless. I think we did this or something like it more than once that night. For pure harassment value this had to rank slightly above asking Matt (or any other server at a Denny’s, IHOP, or Perkins) for a milkshake. (When you order a milkshake, they are required to clean the machine afterwards, and apparently it sucks.)

Another effect of Matt’s time at the Tops meat department was his sudden, but short-lived, “no red meat” diet. Matt declared one day that he was sick of “meat, meat, meat!” and that was it. There would be no more beef or pork for him; he was a chicken and fish man, that was it. I didn’t understand how that was possible given our frequent consumption of Mighty Taco and Burger King, but for a time he did stick to Bean Tacos and Chicken Sandwiches. Matt further explained that “working in the meat department is incredibly gory. One of our policies is that blood, bone, fat, and gristle are free. Last night, some lady asked for a bucket of blood. Why the hell would someone want a bucket of blood! I guess she was making some kind of vampire soup out of it. We had to practically milk the sides of beef to fill up this bucket with blood. Then you get the people who ask for the fat and you have to take all these goopy shavings of fat. It doesn’t make you want to eat red meat.” I guess it doesn’t. The question I had was, who asks for gristle? But it never was answered.

Tops was also the subject of idle speculation on living a life of crime. Schultz once revealed that the “cash room” had over $400,000 on a typical week day before the money was taken out of the store. Our theory was that no one would expect you to rob a grocery store, and this would be a lucrative way to rip off cash… certainly far better than bank robbery, and safer than knocking off an armored car. The difficulties in such a plot are twofold: One, the cash is largely in change and small bills; and secondly, the cash room is somewhat vault-like and located in a corner of the store with cameras. One could never hope to take on the Tops behemoth in a standard robbery, lest you end up like the fools who tried to rob the Wal-Mart in Amherst years later (at opening time no less – dumbasses). Thus was the plan of the EMP bandits born. The team attempting to rob Tops would use a large truck, like a full size pickup or van, and knock out all electronics with some type of EMP weapon. Then the truck would be used to haul the loot away, apparently after somehow also demolishing the wall. We never really planned that part. I’m sure it is for the best, since we also didn’t possess a portable EMP device or any means of laundering $400,000 in small bills.

Speaking of crime and Tops, one of my classmates at Canisius worked there as a stock boy. One day he was assigned to work security just before Thanksgiving. Sure enough, he watched a guy walk out with a turkey without paying for it. As he put it, “The guy just tucked it under his arm and marched out, as if he owned it!” Of course, the employee did nothing, because he was not getting paid enough to actually confront a shoplifter. This shows a flaw in Chet’s logic: he may have had to bag groceries, but what the hell, he didn’t owe his penny-pinching employer anything either for his meager take. Such is capitalism.

Eventually, the age of Tops faded. Matt ceased working there, became a UB employee, and eventually lost his hard-working, two-job ways in favor of railing against the man and being a “liver”. If only he had taken up the offer to become a butcher, he might have remained a productive citizen rather than having his mind corrupted in the highly-overrated university setting.  After the Princeton days, Tops became just another destination in the car, too inconvenient to attempt when Wilson Farms was always closer, and not good enough for Wegmans lovers such as MikeO. The Royal Ahold corporation sacked all of the corporate types (bet they were making more than $50,000) and moved operations out of state. Nowadays it is indistinguishable from other cookie-cutter grocery stores, although I hear they are going to try a comeback under new ownership. For most of us, it is now irrelevant, but I suppose Wolf may reap a slight benefit if they return to past glory.

Because this story, and particularly the ending, is so weak, I will relate one more tidbit of information. Every year he worked at Tops, Matt would proclaim his triumph; he survived the “annual purges” that occurred every year before the union contract required a 25 cent per hour pay hike. He managed to quit on his own terms after a long tenure. I guess even Schultz has his day.

And, unlike Tops, this post finally stops here.

Next Wave

       There is an old saying, out with the old and in with the new that really has no application here, but I will utter nonetheless. Over the course of reporting on the plethora of misremembered doings over these past pages, it has occurred to me that a sizable contingent of folks have been mentioned far less than their fair share, and must be given due time. Where the Clan Frank has taken up significant time and digital storage with their silly adventures and ne’er-do-well undertakings, those who filled the vacuum after their departure were a much classier lot, if of course anyone in our association can be given that distinction. Be that as it may, they did prove to be significantly longer lasting and far less destructive.           

       Before we introduce this group and before they are built up as some sort of paragons in your feeble imagination, it is best to once again recount the severance with Clan Frank that opened up this new age to exploration. The death knell, of course, was the attempted break in and my squashing of their right to party that summer’s day in ’93.  After that things never quite reverted back to the wild splendor of wanton partying. A good thing, and key I feel to our collective survival and freedom as it was only a matter of time before someone was killed or arrested. Carrie, bless her, was the first to publicly point out that I had the beginnings of a bald spot forming in my lustrous thick mane of hair. To this day I hold her partially to blame for the subsequent spread that now occupies almost 80 percent of my cratered dome. It made letting go all the easier.           

       Things were finalized once Carrie decided to enlist in the Army; a fate I sneered at, feeling entrance into the armed forces was for the rabble. History has a talent for highlighting with great gusto each and every time I must wearily eat my words once again. Engaged to our very own Mooney, she departed for boot camp and the thrilling life of a ground pounder where I assume she still exists, albeit hopefully raised to considerable rank. I recall seeing her only once after that, upon her return from boot camp, looking very much the same, but gussied up in full dress uniform. She made great show of her ability to execute crisp facing movements and timed marching; a skill I was never quite able to pick up in my own adventure a few years later down the line. Unfortunately the distance provided too much of a barrier for the romance to continue, especially when Mooney lacked a set of wheels or unlimited funds for air travel. It is also my guess that she fell victim to the same condition as most women in the military. In an environment of 10 men to every 1 woman, even the homeliest of young women is treated like the belle of the ball or a buck naked, hot to trot Ann Hathaway. I’m not saying Mooney couldn’t live up to competition against hundreds of buff army guys hot for a piece of tail, but I certainly seem to be implying it.            

       Dan was never one to let heartbreak slow him down more than a few hours, and it wasn’t long before he was back on the horse again. It seemed that there was a string of dimly remembered women he brought by with enticing monikers like “Psycho Carrie” and whatnot. As so delicately stated elsewhere, the defining characteristic of the majority of these women was that they tended to drink up to the point of yorking in our cookware. Further details regarding the disbursement of said women after is a hotly contested topic and will be decided elsewhere, even if my version is the official one.           

       One fine day I arrived home to quite a surprise. It appeared to me as though the mailman arrived and bore a striking resemblance to the Cowardly Lion. Dan and a somewhat familiar looking woman also emerged from the unusual conveyance and joined us inside. The mail truck driving hair bag was of course none other than the famous Rob Leftwich. The familiar looking brunette was Mary Serio. It took me some time before I could place where I knew her from, such is my facial recognition talent, and eventually she did me the service of reminding me. Some years prior I had been in hot pursuit of a tall leggy blonde named Joanne Zemszal whom I worked with in food service. Where in my impression things were progressing steadily toward full blown romance, in her mind I was already firmly entrenched in the ‘like a brother’ file. My first experience, by the way, with that line that is so dear to all men. Many theories abound as to why that was, but Mary had her own impression.           

        On one of the many occasions in that summer of ’92 that Joanne and I got together, we ‘doubled’ with her friend and her friend’s boyfriend. Be that as it was, I think I can be forgiven my impression of the situation. Who brings their brother to double with another couple? The complete lack of physical progression in the relationship may have been a dead giveaway to a sharper man, but I simply attributed it to a genteel coyness on her part. On this occasion I drove, having borrowed my father’s boat of a Caprice Classic, and the four of us headed out to a nice night of dinner and a movie. Again, something real couples tend to do, but don’t mind me, I’m not bitter, just vindictive. Vindictiveness, however, was not the root cause of the true reason the evening was so memorable; just lousy driving on my part.

       Upon emerging from the movies, we found that some douche bag had parked extremely close to the passenger side of the car, making it necessary for me to get in and back up to let in Joanne. I did so, directly over her foot. She was quite gracious about it that night, and I forgot completely about it, never attributing the mistake for being the reason behind the sudden and steep decrease in time spent together for the remainder of the summer. Mary, of course was the friend we doubled with, and she took delight in the occasion of our reunion to recount the story. In her version, being privy to Joanne’s more forthright views on the matter, it was revealed that she had been quite miffed about the occurrence.  Perhaps not the catalyst that drove her back into the arms of the boyfriend she had been complaining to me about, but possibly one of the many reasons I was not on the guest list of that wedding.

       To this day I’m not completely sure how this new little group became enmeshed with ours. Just as Schultz brought in the Franks and Clausen from ECC City campus, I think Dan discovered this group at the far more prestigious ECC North.  As I understand it, all were connected through attendance of Sweethome HS and consisted of Mary Serio, Rob Leftwich, Char Lipkus, Ian Chrystal, and that strange dude Craig with the white hair and beard. There actually may be no connection whatsoever, but the sum of them appeared almost simultaneously on our doorstep and thus to my understanding are all part of one big happy group.

       Mary, as I mentioned, I had met before and it was not long before she and Dan became an item. For all of us who knew Carrie and the lot that followed her, Mary was a significant trade up for Dan at a time when the smart money had him reduced to courting transvestite hookers before the years end. Where there was a significant overall skepticism that there must be something wrong with her, she proved in time to be a sweet and enjoyable person. The box office success of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ allowed for a willful suspension of disbelief that she was able to overlook things like cum milkshakes and gorilla masked porn endeavors and dig him for his rakish charm. In any case, she was easy on the eyes and never broke in or threw up in my house, and in that way made herself welcome. Her staying power was also impressive, as of all the women mentioned herein, she demonstrated the ability to put up with the lot of us for the longest by far.

       Rob was an easy going character and overall cool cat who so happened to resemble the love child of the cowardly lion and the lead singer of Metallica back in the good old days before they jacked you up for stealing their music. His other distinguishing feature of course was the wildly popular mail truck. On a few rare occasions I was treated to a ride in the precarious mail bag seat on the left hand side. Early on I hoped for an ally; someone who would resist the siren call of the GURPS mafia and be willing to attempt to meet women on Sat night instead of mimic whimsical fairy folk prancing about the realms of imagination. Alas, he fell in with them right quick. They claim to be born as such, but fundamentalist geeks such as I know that it’s a choice that through prayer and frequent beatings can leave their wicked hearts. I know, having had a few ten sided dice thrown in my past, but with the healing power of Superman, was able to keep sin away. Anyway, disappointed as I was, I was able to forgive him anyway. I mean the guy had a mail truck!

       There are probably dozens of Rob stories I am completely unaware of, although he was a pretty innocuous guy, so who knows. It was always enjoyable on those Sat night when we were able to extricate the gamers from the Keebler Elf try to have some fun on the Elmwood strip sipping Guinness at Bullfeathers or Coles. On those nights we could generally find Rob holding down the counter at the We Never Close. True to their word, they never did, despite the many times Rob found himself staring down the barrel of a Saturday night special and handing over the hard won proceeds from the sales of smokes and Corn Nuts. You had to admire his tenacity for hanging in there for so long, even if he wasn’t shot as many times as Apu. Some years later he traded up for a job at the Zoo, where aside from the occasional freeing of lorikeets, the customer base proved considerably less threatening. I never really knew what happened to the mail truck and assume it died an uninspired death, perhaps perched up on blocks in front of a trailer.            

       The rest of this group I never knew terribly well. Although I’m tempted to come up with inspiring tales of courageous and nefarious deeds, my ears are still ringing with the howls of outrage from previous ventures similar in nature. Ian I knew only as the French looking fellow, jauntily bedecked in trademark beret (unlike Brian who was savagely bedecked as such), and deeply in cahoots with the gamer crowd. He assumed the role of Mary’s boyfriend once she and Dan suffered a mutual break up. A surprisingly risky breach in the common etiquette of not dating a friend’s ex, but mitigated I think by the existence of a common acquaintanceship prior to Dan entering the picture. In any event, it proved to be a smooth transition with impressive lasting power until, as I understand it, very recently.           

       Char I met only a few times, and not even completely sure if she had any type of deep association with the rest. Unlike Mary she kept a greater distance from the doings of the Mooney-polar end of the circle and was more associated with the Thies-centric sphere of influence. This was during the period when Aaron had pledged Dan’s destruction for such outrages as the milkshake and quasi cult formation. Not that this stopped congenial association for the mutual sake of gaming, but during the increasingly rare times that no dungeon master was present, venomous tirades were spewed as regular as Old Faithful. As such, Char never got sucked into the full depravity of our world, having come after the period of grand unity.           

       Finally there is Craig. He I’m truly not sure of the association and remember only for a few distinguishing traits. He may have been a MOH and not a Sweetpea at all, but nevertheless, I have to cram him in somewhere. He resembled a miniature version of Rob at least to the point where I had the two confused for a period (likely a direct cause of my mild Prosopagnosia). The annoying quality about him is that he immediately fell into the same role as Social Disease Joe Saad. Alone with my thoughts cruising down the North Campus spine or drifting through the plaza, out of nowhere, there was Craig. To my endless delight, he never really had anywhere to be and was always going in my direction. Any great pains I took to avoid or shake him were completely ineffectual. Worse yet, and unlike Joe Saad, introducing him to others was completely useless in mitigating the effects! While it was possible he could only be transmitted sexually, unlike casually as with Joe, I was not willing to explore that option.           

       His other distinguishing characteristic, as reported by Dan anyway, was that he considered himself to be akin to an Adonis. Everyone who heard this found it surprising. Now, don’t think I’m knocking Rob here, as the points of resemblance were really related to the glasses, long hair and beard. Craig had whitish hair and the strapping build of Schultz. That amount of hair on such a small space gave the appearance of Cousin It with a blond hooker dye job. Dan once related a story in which he, Craig and some others took a trip to Canada. Waiting at the border in line to cross, some women began flirting with them. Craig, certain it was aimed directly at him, begged to be let out of the car to join the women in theirs. I have full confidence that this virgin fool had expectations of a grand orgy, probably right there on the side of the road. Dan, or whoever, out of some unexpected sense of decency or kindness refused him exit, leaving him to pout miserably for the rest of the trip. I can’t help but think this would have made a much better story had things gone the other way.           

       In sum, this next wave added value to our fracturing group, perhaps providing some much needed glue through the bitterness of the Mooney-Thies wars and Thies-Wolf ‘lights on or off’ television watching battles. I believe one of them is also responsible for contributing the snazzy zebra couch that appeared one day at Comstock and was recognized as the least dated and most structurally sound piece of furniture in the room. We can only hope that the silent lurkers who feel their ears burning with this telling sound out.

Squaring Off

Given the recent storm of posts calling me out, begging for some drops of wisdom from my bald, bifurcated skull, I feel it is necessary to start with some lesser-known, untold, and perhaps humorous short stories before tackling the true classics.

The story of how Dan convinced Sue (the “Boot”) that the moon was square has been repeated often, achieving near-legendary status. What is less known is the hilarity that ensued. We uncovered Dan’s deception while discussing the matter with Sue in Dan’s basement; for some reason the subject came up in one of our limited conversations with Sue (limited conversations were the only kind possible, given her use of 1 and 2 syllable words only). She spoke up and told us how amazed she was to discover that the moon was square, and the round shape was only due to the reflection of the sun upon it “just like a flashlight on the wall”. After quite a bit of trying to explain why Dan was wrong, she seemed convinced that the moon was indeed round, but I sensed that some skepticism would linger in her mind forever more.

Shortly after this incident, we were pulling out of the Putt-Putt parking lot, having rendevoused there with Matt (surprise surprise). Dan was in the passenger seat and I was behind, when he randomly questioned “I wonder how they get the water to be so blue??”. Sensing opportunity, I immediately spoke up and said “It is quite simple Dan, they use 2000 Flushes.” Dan, not realizing that he had wandered into a trap, and obviously believing this to be true, said earnestly “Are you SERIOUS??” Upon which I took great pleasure in stating “Of course not, FOOL! (*handslap*) It is just as true as the square moon.” Dan was quite put out by this and responded with some phrase that clearly included the word “Bastard”.

This was the inevitable foundation of what was to follow. One day, Aaron and I came to Dan’s house for some nefarious purpose or other (probably a game of Talisman). Dan volunteered that Sue now believed that my head was square. In those days, you must understand, I did have somewhat flat-topped hair; today you would never mistake my head for anything other than a Charlie Brown sphere. But, Dan persisted in pointing out that Sue was sure I had a square head, and the instigator of this belief was none other than Mr. Schultz himself. In order to prove this, Dan volunteered to call Sue and prove this. We proceeded skeptically up to Dan’s bedroom; for some reason Dan’s phone was a speaker phone (fairly uncommon in those days) – no doubt useful for many pranks. In any case, Dan was “friendly” with Sue despite whatever back-and-forth had occurred with Matt, Dan, and Sue at this point. He called her up and started some idle chatter, then got down to business:

Dan: “I saw Louis and Matt yesterday. You know, I’m not sure whether his head is round or square. What did Matt say?”

Sue: “I was talking with Matt and he told me, you know that Louis, his head is kind of square, don’t you think? I thought it was really funny.”

Now at this point, Aaron and I are dying in the back of the room. She hears something and says:

Sue: “Wait, he isn’t there with you now is he?”

Dan: “Of course he isn’t here in my ROOM. It would be INCREDIBLY RUDE if he were IN THE ROOM!!!”

At this point, Aaron and I had to basically retreat due to the fact that we were laughing until we cried. The way in which Dan basically shouted “IN THE ROOM” was almost enough to induce convulsions. I made sure to give Matt a good ribbing at the next opportunity; it was probably in the form of a Tarot card reading “proving” that he had incredibly low Wisdom.

The final chapter to this came in the form of Dan’s “Unspeakably Violent Jack” cartoons. Dan included two minor characters in one of his strips: “Cubicaly Rubix Louis” and “Insufferably Arrogant Aaron”. Considering that Cubically Rubix Louis survived (Insufferably Arrogant Aaron was impaled through the eyeball after he proclaimed that he “made the Pope the Pope”), I got the best of the deal.

I will also note, on the “moon” theme, that during my first year of grad school, Dan sent me a postcard consisting of nothing other than four women’s butts in bathing suits, with the opening line of his note stating “HOW ABOUT THEM ASSES?”.