Monday, November 20, 2017

My new "Crayons DELUXE!" is dedicated to ...

Spoiler alert!

It’s dedicated to Dave Carfang (first on right above).

The dedication, and forgive its indulgence, reads in full, “This book is dedicated to the joyful souls whose laughter is so explosive, so infectious and so euphoric it makes storytellers run red lights when we think of anything so provocatively funny it just might do the trick.

“Thus, this book is dedicated to our friend Dave Carfang.”

Who’s Dave Carfang?

A son of the great Dick Carfang and nephew of Ed Carfang (also great), Dave and I became friends in about 2005. He came into my life a year before our daughter Lucy (she’s great, too, just in ways that have nothing to do with running a swell neighborhood tavern).

The June 2006 introduction of Lucy necessitated a .075 mile move from our cozy little starter house to a 3-bedroom split level up in the woods above Youngstown.

The house is wonderful. Two fireplaces, vaulted living room ceilings and an elevated back porch that looks deep into the lush sylvan part of Pennsylvania.

One problem: no obvious space for a home office.

That meant I’d either have to find a cheap — really cheap apartment — or secure gainful employment at an actual office.

Kidding! The cut-rate apartment was the only option.

I talked to a bunch of friends and the cheapest offer was $250 a month for way more than I’d need.

I was lamenting the situation to Dave one day and he said, “I have a place upstairs I’ll let you have for free!”

I shrewdly negotiated up to $150 a month. But for the next eight years it was perfect. It was shabby, but it had a full kitchen and a shower. 

Best of all, 37 steps from my desk was The Pond in all its glory.

I like to tell people that if I wasn’t on my bar stool by 4:30, guys would start banging on the ceiling. That’s an artful lie.

I was always on my barstool 30 minutes before the rest of regulars got there.

I’ve been lucky in my friendships since, gee, about 3rd grade. I think it’s because I stroll through life with what’s been described as a shit-eatin’ grin, a phrase I’ve never understood.

I wear a violent frown if I bite into a stale Cheeto.

I guess I appear sufficiently goofy enough that serious people never look at me and say, “Hon, let’s go sit next to that guy. He looks real serious, too.”

But The Pond was unique. There were every day about a dozen lively personalities seated elbow-to-elbow engaged in the kind of banter that enriched not just my writing, but my every day.

Regulars included cops, lawyers, coaches, electricians, postal workers, teachers, reporters, mill workers, accountants, mayors, farmers, car salesman and me.

And we all came and we all stayed and stayed and stayed because we all loved Dave.

I remember Val asking after one marathon session what we men talked about for all that time. I said, “We talk about sports, we talk about politics and we talk about how different our lives would be if we went to a bar where women went.”
Some times our wives — and by “our” wives, I mean “my” wife — got justifiably angry when “we” stayed too long.

But on some days the camaraderie was too perfect, too rip-roaring, to depart. And then Paul would come in and it would get even better. And who can leave a bar when Paul’s in there?

And I mean what I say about trying to be funny just to make Dave laugh. Sure, I had a vested interest.

See, Dave used to put classic sports trivia — real brain twisters — on the electronic bar chalkboard. We’d maniacally puzzle over the answers for hours.

That was the glorious days prior to infernal smart phones. I’ll never forget the day Dave berated two young guys who spoiled the fun by looking up the answer to the question, “Who is the only MLB player to hit an inside-the-park, grand slam, walk-off home run?” (It’s Roberto Clemente).

“That’s it,” he said. “No more bar trivia!”

Of course, great bar trivia’s loss became my gain.

Dave began putting my tweets of the week on the board. As he’s never owned a smart phone, much less a computer, I’d dutifully print them out for him. Having my very own public twitter board did wonders for my following, at least among staggering local inebriates.

The very first one he used is now No. 644 (out of 1,001) in “Crayons DELUXE!” It is: “A gym beam requires steady footwork. A Jim Beam isn’t nearly as fussy.”

So life moves on. What was once perfect is now past.

I’m now happily lodged in the Tin Lizzy — and there are a bunch of stories about my 2-year tenure there among the 57 essays in the new edition. And I still enjoy going to The Pond to watch sports while acknowledging things change.

More about the new book tomorrow.

But today I am moved to salute our good friend Dave and his pivotal role in doing something that made so many so happy for so long.

Men like him do something every day that make men like me want to be sharp, to be funny.

To, by God, be alive.

So do readers like you.

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