Category Archives: Personal

Days gone by

It was with great sadness that I heard about the passing of my friend Lee Shanks last Friday, June 9. I first met Lee over 25 years ago when he walked into my Clarion Newspaper office in Avon.

That day, he carried some stories hand-written on sheets of loose notebook paper and wanted them incorporated into a weekly ad for his refuse service. I took a few minutes to read some of the stories and immediately realized they were much too long and intricate  to be incorporated into an ad.

Instead, I offered to publish them for free as a weekly column in the paper under the name , “Days gone by.” I wanted to use the subtitle “Reflections of a Garbageman,” but Lee objected and he was probably right.

What followed for many years were wonderful recollections of Lee’s life growing up on a farm in Western New York, serving in the Marine Corp during the Korean War era, working at Kodak and then striking out to start his own business, his enduring love for all things Ford and most importantly his childhood sweetheart and then wife Edna who he met at age 15.

For many years I served as Lee’s editor, correcting the spelling and sentence structure, but there was no need to correct any of Lee’s sentiment. His love of country and family shown through in every paragraph!

Eventually, we had enough columns to make a book so in 2008 I published “Days Gone By,” a 200-page compendium of the Best of Lee. I’ve lost track of how many times we re-ordered lots of 100 copies of the book, but Lee was fond of giving the book away to friends and customers and it received a wide circulation! In 2013 we issued a revised 220-page 2nd edition with 10 more stories added!

Our friendship was further forged as Comrades-in-Arms in the Great Avon Garbage War! Local historians may remember the misguided attempt by the Avon Town Board to monopolize the local refuse removal market by having the government contract with a single vendor to remove the trash and put the bill on the town taxes.

Lee was outraged at this interference with the Free Market and as a matter of principle refused to even bid on the contract. Instead he joined forces with the Clarion in a public relations war which ended with the proposal going down to a decisive defeat in a public referendum.

In later years, Lee would stop down to my office in Geneseo and take me out to lunch on a regular basis. Because of our 21 year age difference, I would often kid around and tell the waitress that he was my Dad. In many ways it felt like the relationship was that close, but it ran both ways.

Lee would confide his deepest concerns about family problems and business and sometimes I was able to help by suggesting a course of action. Other times I would unburden myself of my troubles and Lee had a wonderful way of putting things in perspective.

They say that those who served our country in World War II were the Greatest Generation, however, if Lee is any indication, those who served in the Korean War were a close second! It was a wonderful thing to get to know Lee’s Marine Corp attitude about “Duty, Honor and Country.” He truly was a messenger of a way of life that has sadly almost gone by. “Semper Fi Lee!”

 

 

 

 

 

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A long road

Yesterday my good friend Bill Bruckel breathed his last after 94 years of a wonderful life. I was only privileged to know Bill for the last 1/3 of that span. I missed the legendary football career at Avon Central and the University of Rochester, his submarine service in the Pacific during World War II, Harvard Law School and most of the subsequent legal career, even his quixotic political battles when he took on the son of a powerful State Senator to run for county court judge in the early 1960s.

I only got to meet Bill near the end of his legal career when I, as a newly minted attorney, met him at a Bar Association picnic. When Bill discovered that I played tennis we became instant buddies despite our 30+ year age difference. I was honored to host Bill’s “retirement” party in 1983 and am quite sure that few have enjoyed as active and fun a retirement as Bill had for the past 30 years.

Having an extended retirement gave Bill time for lots of adventures besides golf, tennis and poker, three pursuits in which we wiled away more than a few hours together. I didn’t get to go on the legendary raft trip down the Amazon, from which Bill returned with a rare tropical infection– After all, I was a family man with young children!

I do recall a road trip we made on the spur of the moment to Connecticut one night to check on Hurricane damage at my family’s summer home. We drove all night to arrive just as the storm was winding down and the locals were starting to chainsaw the fallen trees. That was quintessential Bill, always up for an adventure despite the concerns of his wife Jane, who would usually just shrug and say, “You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can’t tell him much!”

On that trip, after the hurricane damage was surveyed, we went to the Naval Submarine base in New London where Bill had trained years ago and took in the museum. We toured an old diesel-powered subs where I noted the tight quarters and Bill explained the perils of having to come to the surface every night to re-charge the batteries, something today’s nuclear-powered submariners don’t have to worry about.

A few years later my daughter (and Bill and Jane’s Godchild) Corinna was given a school assignment to interview a veteran. I remember Bill explaining to her why he had chosen the submarine service. “I figured that if anything happened I would be killed and not come home injured or disabled.” Such was the bravery and the fatalism of the Greatest Generation!

When I tried my own hand at politics running for State Assembly in 1986, Bill and Jane were my strongest supporters. I always received great advice from Bill, both political and about life in general. Over the years I would often pass along some of what I came to think of as “Bruckelisms.” In politics Bill taught me to, “Watch what they do, not what they say,” and in life I found that Bill’s assurance that,”90% of what you worry about never happens” was usually true.

Bill played tennis well into his 80s and golf even longer. Ultimately he was unable to do either, but the old poker group still got together regularly up at Morgan View Estates where Bill’s hardness of hearing made for some comical situations, but his mind remained sharp to the end.

Another favorite Bruckelism was often heard at the poker table. When the cards were not running Bill’s way he would point out that, “It’s a long road without any turns!” I always puzzled over that one, but I think it was said in the optimistic sense that no matter how dark things appear, there would be a turn for the better coming soon and usually there was!

Now, Bill’s earthly life has taken its final turn, but our happy memories of his wonderful life, amazing adventures and sunny disposition will keep us smiling on the long road ahead.

All the lonely people

As I mentioned in my last post, I now find myself for the first time in about 35 years truly single without any prospects on the bench. How did that happen? Well for one thing I got myself into a monogamous relationship that I thought was going to be forever, so I didn’t worry about developing a farm team.

Everything was going great (I thought). We were cruising down the sunny highway of love. Then we hit a few small bumps in the road, and the next thing I know the car was upside down in a ditch! (Of course her version sounds a whole lot different, but this is my blog!)

So anyway here I am and I wanted to pass on what I’ve learned in my first month of singledom about the state of dating today both online and off. Of course online is a lot easier than trying to pick-up a girl in person. You don’t have to punch up your nerve too much and mercifully you don’t have to see their body language and facial expression when they turn you down, or more likely ignore you!

Actually I’ve been greeted quite nicely by the four girls I approached in person. It’s not my fault that two were married and the other two had boyfriends. Is it true that all the good ones are taken? One of the married ones seemed to be trying to hide her wedding ring as we were talking. Is that a good sign?

Anyway on to the Brave New World of online dating. Actually I did dabble in this once before about 10 years ago during my last short period of semi-singledom. A lot has changed in the technology. The biggest change is that now you can see who has looked at your profile and who has actually opened your e-mail.

This is a great improvement because when you find out that they never opened your e-mail you don’t feel so bad about them not responding. It seems that all dating sites have a lot of stale profiles and people that are just lookers, but don’t want to pay the monthly fee so they can actually read or respond to your e-mail. Some sites also seem to have some fake profiles but that’s another story.

Having a lot of time on my hands, and being highly motivated to end this wretched single life as soon as possible, I have signed up for about a half a dozen of these services (although not necessarily as a paying customer). My theory is that its a numbers game. The more women you approach, the more likely you are to find one stupid or desperate enough to take an interest.

My biggest problem is that like most active (and virile!) men of 61, I want a woman in her 40s. (Get over it you feminists, that’s the way of the world!) Of course, that considerably lowers my chances of success. Most good looking women in their 40s are getting lots of online attention. There seems to be a general rule that the hotter the girl, the younger the man she is willing to consider. Most really hot chicks would not consider anybody more than a couple of years older.

Fortunately there are a few exceptions to that rule. Unfortunately a lot of the people in this category come under the heading of what we call fake profiles, golddiggers or scammers. And yet there are a few genuine ladies out there who actually understand the value of experience and that age is just a number, I hope!

Another problem that raises its ugly head in these times is politics. I have to admit that the last three years under Obama has driven me from Plain Old Conservative to Angry Tea Party Ultra Conservative. Unfortunately a lot (or probably most) of the single women are liberals. Let’s face it, if we could somehow ban single women from voting, Obama would still be a back-bencher in the Senate! Needless to say this is also limiting my chances for success in the mainstream sites.

So here is my review of the sites I’ve tried so far. Match.com is the 800 pound gorilla of dating sites, but for me I doubt I could get a 800 pound gorilla to write back to me on this site. In the last month I have sent e-mails to 16 women on Match, 8 of which eventually got opened. Number of responses: 0.

The typical girl on Match seems to want to be wined and dined at expensive restaurants, taken for long romantic walks down the beach and then spend the rest of their lives taking exotic vacations. Sorry girls, but that ain’t me!

I found a more compatible type of girl for this old country boy on farmersonly.com. Here you find girls who claim to know what life on a farm is really all about and incredibly they still say they want it! A typical girl on this site says she wants to work 7 days a week getting her hands dirty. My kind of woman!

Again, however, stale profiles, inactive members and getting the few live ones to write back is still a problem. To date I have written to 36 women, with about 12 of them actually opening the e-mail. (The percentage is only this high because I finally wised up and stopped writing to non-paying profiles.)

Of those, four actually responded, although only one seems to have any ongoing interest. Part of the problem is that I am looking for a women to re-locate to my farm here in western New York, but I am casting a wide net. I’ve written to women all across the country, and some are just not interested in re-locating to Siberia. Still my numbers are much better on this site, so if you are a farmer looking for a farm wife (like I am) I highly recommend it.

A related site I tried was Earth Wise Singles. This is for your environmentally sensitive types, but I figured as an organic farmer I could maybe fool somebody. Unfortunately when I tried to narrow my search terms to find conservative women there were none! I actually did get one girl to write back on this site, but I knew it wouldn’t work so I dropped her before I broke her green little heart.

I also signed up for another site called Harvest Dating because it came up when I was searching for other farm singles sites. I think the only harvesting this site is interested in is harvesting money from your credit card. I’m ashamed to say they got me for one month for $39. This brings up the most important rule of online dating: If it looks too good to be true, it is!

They got me by having impossibly young and beautiful and no doubt fake people wink at me and send me e-mails. Of course as soon as you pony up to respond these people disappear like mirages in the desert. Of course if I was looking for people in 3rd world countries this site would be great. I’ve had cute 20 and 30 something girls winking at me from Turkey, The Phillipines and Kyrgyzstan!

Perhaps the most annoying site I’ve tried is SpeedDate.com. As soon as you log into their site you feel like you have entered a busy pinball arcade, complete with flashing lights and ringing bells. About every 15 seconds they offer you the opportunity to have an online chat with a succession of what they deem age-appropriate dates. Suffice it to say, if I wanted to date women like this I would start hanging around the local nursing home!

I could go on with a few other sites I’ve tried but you get the idea. Online dating is for the most part a virtual House of Horrors filled with lonely people like me. I’ll probably hang in for a while with farmersonly but the rest have seen their last nickel from me! I have the feeling however, that if I ever am going to meet the girl of my dreams its probably not going to happen online. I think I can do much better in person.

Oh, and just in case you or somebody you know thinks they might be that girl of my dreams, let me describe her: She is in her mid40s, tall, slim and athletic, beautiful, emotionally ready and willing to re-locate and work 7 days a week in the dirt. if she plays tennis too, that’s a perfect match! Shouldn’t be that hard to find, right?

And finally for those who think that I am being cruel to my Ex by posting this publicly, let me point out two things: First, as the dumpee, my feelings must take precedence. And second, as I have tried to say in as many ways as I know how, the door is still open Darling if you want to come back . . . for now!

Highway robbery!

gateThis is going to be embarrassing, but I did something real stupid yesterday, and that’s not the worst thing. Somebody else took advantage of my stupidity and did something wrong, and I hope by telling my story I can get some help righting that wrong.

It’s kind of a long story, but the bottom line is I had a bunch of tools in a large bucket in the back of my pick-up truck. I had been working on various projects around the farm, including building a gate for my garden, so it just seemed like a good idea to have all my tools in one place instead of rolling around in the bed of the pick-up.

Unfortunately, since I do not have electricity near the garden, I had taken my battery-powered drill and sawzall out to work on the gate and they were in the bucket. After finishing hanging the gate, I headed up to Geneseo Hardware to pick up a rototiller I was renting for the day. Stupidly I left the tailgate open and you can probably guess what happened next.

When I got back home and unloaded the rototiller, I realized with horror that my bucket of tools was gone. I quickly retraced my steps and found my smashed bucket and a bag of nails along side the road on Rt. 20A near Elm Street in the village, Apparently, the bucket had slip off the back of the truck as I went up the hill on South Street.

A thorough search of the area turned up my tape measure and a tractor pin, but missing was over $200 of tools. In addition to the portable power equipment, I had a large hammer and various wrenches and other hand tools. Apparently, somebody found these tools along the road and figured they were free for the taking.

This being Geneseo, I had hope that somebody would turn them in to the police as obviously lost property, but when I went to the village police office, no such luck. Since this all happened in broad daylight on the busiest road in town, I’ve got to believe that somebody saw something.

I am offering a $50 reward to anyone who provides information that leads to the return of my property. The power tools won’t do anybody much good when the batteries run down, unless they happen to have the right charger to recharge them, which is unlikely.

I know it was stupid not to close the tailgate, but I am also disappointed that someone apparently took advantage of my stupidity. That’s not supposed to happen in a small town, although of course, Geneseo is not such a small town anymore.

So I’m putting the word on the street: If you saw anything on Rt. 20A around 2 pm on Monday May 11, please give ma a call at 233-5338. Thanks!

Identity crisis

I’m sorry that my column is a day late but I’ve been having an identity crisis. Not really. I know who I am, it’s just that I’m not sure what my name should be. In the alternate universe of Facebook, I recently took the plunge and changed my online name to Biff. This is a name that was given to me by my friend Georgene Nitzsche a few years ago and that I adopted as my professional name when I became a tennis pro last year at the advanced age of 57.

The amazing thing about FB (as it is known to the cognesceti) is that once you change your name it goes back through all your previous postings and automatically changes your name. On FB, at least Corrin has been successfully killed off. If only it was so easy in real life.

Of course, I have a lot of experience at name changes since I was born and spent my first 18 years as Michael. I like that name, but I hated the diminutive “Mike”, especially when it evolved into “Mikey” after a certain cereal commercial. When I set out for college in the Fall of 1968, I adopted my middle name, Corrin.

In order to change your name, it’s best to have a new pool of people who don’t know your former name. They are willing to accept your new name at face value, while those who have known you before are often quite stubborn in wanting to cling to the name they are familiar with. (Especially my daughter Mary Alice, who I think is just jealous because FB won’t let her change her name to Malice!)

I had an opportunity to try this with Biff when I went to the USTA (United States Tennis Association) Eastern region convention a few weeks ago. Since no one there knew me from Adam, I had my name tag made out with my new four-letter name. Throughout the weekend, people were addressing me as Biff and I loved it.

The thing I like about being Biff is that people smile when they say your name. I’ve encountered the same thing at home ever since I announced my new name to the local tennis world last summer. People rarely say my new name without a smile and often a little laugh. It’s nice to bring a little joy into a very depressing world right now, so I’m going to stick with Biff.

The only problem is that, while Biff is a great tennis name, it doesn’t go so well with my other passion to return to a life of farming. Seriously, has anyone ever heard of a farmer called Biff? Biff connotes a boy of leisure who has nothing better to do with his time than to poke his head in the door and ask merrily, “Tennis anyone?” That’s a role I was born to play.

Farmer Biff is a harder sell, but I’ll work on it. BTW. Did you know that biff is an actual English word that means to punch or hit? So Biff Strong actually means to hit strong, which is why Batman’s punches were always denoted as “Biff, Bam, Pow.” Perhaps my farmer name could be Bruce Wayne.

Hartford House Subdivision

The three words in the title above are likely to spark fear in many traditional Geneseo minds and wild rumors around the county. Yes, I have applied to the Village Planning Board to divide my 70 acre estate into three parcels, but don’t expect to see any major developments going up, other than the addition of some more tennis courts at the Genesee Volley Tennis Club.

For one thing, a conservation easement placed on the land by my parents prevents me from building more than one additional house on the bulk of the estate. Even though I could develop the 7.7 acre area near the Gate House (Called Lot 1 in the subdivision plan), my financial position is not yet so bad that I am forced to consider that.

The main motivation for my action is to clear the way for the continued growth of the tennis club I founded last year when I built one Har-Tru (clay) court. The club had a very good first year and already has over 50 playing members. As the club grows we will soon surpass the playing capacity of one court and I can’t afford to build more Har-Tru courts on my own.

The main idea of the subdivision is to provide collateral so that expansion of the club can be financed without involving the rest of the estate. A 7.5-acre parcel (Lot 3) has been carved out of the north end of my property (bordering my sister Susan’s part of the original estate) for future development of the club. This would be sufficient to provide for at least 7 additional courts if the demand would ever require that.

The area in Lot 3 is also the area designated by the conservation easement for my lone additional house, so if everything goes south, and the club goes bust, it could be sold as a single family home site. To make that more practical (and thus better collateral), the lot contains access to Avon Road opposite the former Balconi car dealership so it would not be landlocked. Again there are no immediate plans to construct a driveway there, but it could be done in the future if needed.

A secondary reason for this move is to make the growth of the club less of a insurance risk to me personally. Even though the club has been formed as a not-for-profit corporation and I lease the court area to the corporation, and even though the corporation carries liability insurance and has agreed to hold me harmless, the fact that the court is on the same parcel as my home and the only access is across my land apparently raises concerns among insurance underwriters. These concerns recently led to my personal umbrella coverage being canceled which is a situation I am not very comfortable with.

Finally, this move would allow the remaining 56 acres of my land (Lot 2) to be included in an Ag district. That jives with my plan to return to small-scale farming this spring. I have purchased a small 50 horsepower John Deere, a two bottom plow, a two-row cornplanter and a 72″ pto rototiller in preparation for growing about 5 acres of vegetables. This will be nothing like the 600+ acres operation I ran in Caledonia in the 1980s, but I hope to put my farming experience to good use making a profit this time.

Being in an official Ag district provides many protections for farming operations under state law and guarantees the right to farm, even in a village. In order to be approved for that I have to apply to the county in September, and I can’t have any non-agricultural activities on the same parcel.

This does not necessarily mean I will apply for or receive an Agricultural Exemption on my property taxes. I don’t think the Assessor is hitting me too bad on my vacant land right now, although my total assessment of $660,000 is no doubt among the highest in the village for a single-family home. If this goes through, though, I will get a separate tax bill for the tennis club which I can pass along to the club.

So there you have it. There are no other secret agendas, although I don’t expect everybody to believe that. I’ve always been served well by the advice that I got when I first came to town almost 40 years ago: “In Geneseo, people don’t care what you do, as long as they know about it!” If you want to know more, you are welcome to attend the next meeting of the planning board on Feb. 25 at 4 pm. I am on the agenda and it is a public meeting. In the meantime here is the concept map of my plan.

It ain’t easy!

After a week of pain, I finally figured how to transfer my old vinyl records and cassette tapes to my iPod in stereo. If you are not interested in this topic you can safely skip this week’s column, but I wanted to memorialize what I learned because it was so darn hard to learn it!

You would think there would be simple instructions on the web about how to do this, and there are. The problem is that none of them actually worked for me. My venture started a few weeks ago when I switched to the iPhone and became enamored with the iPod feature.

After loading every music CD I could find into my computer (and then on to the iPod) I only had about 500 songs and huge gaps in my music library (See “The music of my life“). It was then that (on the suggestion of a reader) I purchased a USB turntable.

Of course, I did my due diligence and read a number of reviews before settling on a Audio-Technica AT-LP2D-USB Stereo Turntable for $81 plus $14 shipping at http://www.buy.com The price was right and I was persuaded by all the users who testified that they had great success with the product. Warnings 1 & 2: You get what you pay for and you can’t believe everything you read on the web!

With great excitement I tracked down the UPS driver in last Wednesday’s snow storm and brought my iBook and a few choice albums to my office to set up my system. 1o hours later I had failed to record anything close to high fidelity. The music sounded horrible!

After a night of pulling my hair out, I finally figured out that I already had everything I needed to transfer my albums with my old turntable and amplifier. All I had to do was plug a special wire from the amplifier’s out plugs directly into the line in on my iBook.

This solved the basic problem of the USB turntable that it didn’t provide a loud enough signal. I promptly packed the turntable back up and sent it back to buy.com. After deducting my shipping costs, and allowing for some strange math on buy.com’s part, the whole adventure set me back about $30.

I was almost there, except that I noticed that my recordings were not transferring separate stereo tracks. I would get sound in both the left and right speakers, but it would be the same. Again, this was contrary to all the users on the Internet who claimed to have no problem transferring stereo.

After another night of googling and experimenting, I finally found someone who told me the problem was that I was using an iBook. Apparently the line in on the iBook (as opposed to desktop Macs) is not capable of separating stereo without the assistance of a little device called an iMic made by Griffin Technology)

Although I could purchase one of those with the $60 refund I got from my turntable I didn’t have to because, again, I already had one! It seems about 5 years ago I had purchased one in an early attempt to transfer vinyl to digital but had given up because the learning curve was too steep.

Now I simply hooked it up in between my stereo and my iBook and “Voila!” I had stereo! Don’t ask me how it works because I don’t know or care, but it does. Now with the help of free Audacity software, I can transfer a record (in stereo!) eliminate the phonographic hisses, pops and cracks, divide and name the tracks of the albums, and load them into my iPod. Bliss!

It ain’t easy, but if you take 5 years you can learn to do anything! Now if I could only figure out how to convert my large wav format files to mp4 so I can put more songs on my iPod. Everybody says it’s simple …