Backtracking, Chapter 7: Potpourri, by Pete

It’s 8:00 AM on Saturday, May 4th and Tim is in the kitchen putting a layer of homemade cream cheese frosting on his made-from-scratch carrot cake.  I was sitting there watching him and I knew better than to tease him about what he was doing.  He was working his butt off trying to bake something that would impress Gary Klein, the partner of Stoney McGee.  Gary is a chef at a restaurant in Boystown, and Tim had been cooking for us since we were adopted by my Uncle Pete after Raccoon City was destroyed.  I have to admit, Tim was a good cook in his own right.  We’re supposed to meet Gary and Stoney at the restaurant at 1:00 PM today and Tim is as nervous as mouse in a snake pit.

“Mike, do you think he’ll like it?”

“If he doesn’t, he doesn’t deserve to be called a chef,” I told him.  I had cleared a shelf in the refrigerator for the cake and Tim was cautiously putting the cake into its space there.  When he closed to door, I told him, “Relax, Tim, the hard part is over.  We have plenty of time to take it easy before we go to the restaurant.  We don’t have to leave until noon.”

“Oh shit!  What should I wear?” he asked, and he ran to our room to see which shirt would go best with the new khaki slacks that he bought yesterday.

“Tim, please don’t even think about wearing a tie…”

“A tie!  That’s it!  I wonder if Uncle Pete has one I could borrow!”

“Look, dude, it’s a casual meeting!  That means NO TIES!  Forget it!”

“Yeah, Mike, you’re probably right… I don’t even know how to tie one.”

“Tim, I’m just wearing a pair of Levi’s, a button-up shirt and my Cubs hat.  Wear something casual, OK?”

It went on like this for the next two hours.  Finally, Tim and I took our shower – with no playtime – and got dressed.  Tim opted for a blue button-up shirt to go with his khakis and, thank the gods, no tie.  I was wearing a red and blue plaid shirt and I told Tim I would not change it… it matched my hat.  Uncle Pete had been entertained by Tim’s nervousness all morning and just stayed out of the way.  He was wearing what he normally did for work, a pair of khakis and a knit Polo shirt.

At noon, Uncle Pete called to us to get in the car.  Tim got his cake out of the fridge and put it into some kind of cake carrier thing.  I have no idea where he found that.  I called shotgun and Tim didn’t even seem to care.  He just got into the back seat, put on his seatbelt, and sat there with the cake on his lap.  In no time, we were on our way.  It was a great day.  The sun was shining and there were a lot very cool clouds in the sky.  I don’t really know the difference between ‘partly sunny’ and ‘mostly cloudy’, but it was one of those.

The ride didn’t seem to take as long as I know it did, probably because the scenery was so great.  Uncle Pete drove in on the Eisenhower Expressway and took it to Lake Shore Drive, but he had to zigzag around a bit to get from one to the other.  Lake Shore Drive is cool.  It follows Lake Michigan from the south side of the city to the north side.  We exited Lake Shore Drive at Belmont Avenue and in a block or two, there we were – Boystown.  Uncle Pete turned onto Broadway and soon he pulled up to the restaurant.  We parked on the street and Uncle Pete had to pay in advance for parking.  Once he put his receipt on his dashboard, he led us to meet Stoney and Gary.  We arrived at about 12:55.

Uncle Pete looked around and said, “There’s Stoney.  It looks like he has a booth for us.”  And we followed him.  When we got there, he said, “Tim, Mike, this is Stoney McGee.  He’s the newest employee at Chicago Binary Investigations.”  We said hello and shook hands.  Tim was looking around, then he looked at Stoney and asked, “Is Gary here?”

As if on cue, Gary walked out from the kitchen and over to our booth.  He shook hands with Uncle Pete and said, “Hey Pete!  Are these your boys?”

“Yes they are, Gary.  This one is Mike, and the one with the cake is Tim.”

Gary shook Mike’s hand and then looked at Tim.  “A cake?  You brought us a cake?  You didn’t have to do that… but I’m glad you did.”  Gary graciously accepted the cake and commented on how great it looked and how he couldn’t wait to try it.  Then he asked us if we had ever been in a restaurant kitchen.  Neither of us had, so after setting the cake down on the table of the booth, he took us on a tour.  I think Tim was chubbing up, hehe.  Naturally, I kept my mouth shut and let Tim and Gary do all the talking.

I couldn’t believe how excited Tim was to actually get a tour.  Gary gave Tim a chef’s hat to wear because, he said, the health department requires that everyone in the kitchen has to cover their head.  I already had my Cubs hat on, so that was perfect.  We found out that the proper name of the chef’s hat is a ‘toque’, which is French for ‘cap’.  When Tim put on the toque I think he peed a little too.  Hehe.

Gary walked us through all the stations and described what each was used for.  I was kind of surprised that Gary was able to spend so much time with us until he mentioned that there were several sous chefs to help keep the kitchen running.

“Tim, Pete said that you’re the chef at your house.  How did you get that job?” Gary asked.

“Umm, I used to help my mom in the kitchen and when we got to Uncle Pete’s place, I guess I just took on the job.  I remembered a lot of Mom’s recipes and then I found a cook book as well.  I think I really like preparing meals.  I only cook for the three of us, so it’s not that much work.”

Don’t sell yourself short, Tim.  From what I understand, you do all the meal planning, shopping and cooking.  Just planning the meals for your family is a daunting task.  By the way, the average restaurant chef also cooks for one to four people.  We just have a lot of ‘one to four people’ groups coming in all day.”  Then he looked at me.  “Mike, do you cook?”

“Not really.  I help with the salads and I heat and drain the vegetables, but I’d be scared to death to try to roast a chicken or cook a pork roast or beef roast.”

“Hahaha!  Mike, you just keep being scared.  It’s people like you who come to my restaurant.”

“Oh wow!” I said, “This is your restaurant?  I thought you were the chef here.”

“I’m both, Mike.  I own the place, and I’m one of several chefs that we have here as well.  We’re open seven days a week from six in the morning until midnight, so only one chef couldn’t do it.  Each of the chefs has a team of sous chefs too, so it’s not as though I have to do all the work.

“Now why don’t we go back to your table before Pete thinks I’m forcing you guys to work back here.  Hehe.”

When we were leaving the kitchen, Tim handed his toque back to Gary.

“Tim, why don’t you hold on to that?  Let Mike know that he’s only the help.”

Tim’s smile was so wide that it looked like it was going to tear his face!

“Really, Gary?  I mean Chef Gary.  Wow!  Thanks!”

“Hehe.  You’re welcome, Chef Tim.  Wear it in good health.”

That really did it for Tim.  After all the worrying that he did for the last day and a half, Gary was just the greatest guy in the world to him.  Tim’s going to be floating for the next week.  Hehe.

When we got back to the table, Stoney had already laid out some menus for us.  Tim ordered the roast turkey dinner with dressing, sweet potatoes, and string beans.  It sounded so good that I got the same.  Uncle Pete and Stoney started to chuckle.

“What?” I asked.

Uncle Pete answered, “We all ordered the same thing.  What are the chances of that happening?”

Now all four of us were laughing.  A few minutes later, four salads came, and when those were finished, four turkey dinners were placed on the table for us.  As we were eating, we asked Stoney how he and Gary met.

“It was by chance.  I wanted to live in this area, so I put an ad in one of the Boystown newspapers.  ’22yo GWM looking for roommate to share expenses.’  Gary answered my ad and I invited him over to see the place.  Gary moved in and now, three years later, we’re roommates and committed partners.”

“That is so cool!” I said.  “I hope someday that will be my story as well.”

“Mike, your uncle never said you were gay.  I wish you the best of luck, but our happy ending came after a series of broken romances for both Gary and me, so don’t try to rush it.  Just like our straight friends, we have to keep trying until we find the right guys for us.”  Then, looking over to Tim he asked, “Tim, are you gay too, or are you straight?”

“Hehe.  I’m in between – I’m bi.”  And he blushed a bit.

“Don’t be embarrassed by your sexuality, Tim.  It’s not as though you had a choice in the matter.  Just remember to be true to your partner when you find one – whether it’s male or female.  But just because you’re attracted to both doesn’t mean you can have one of each.”

“I know,” Tim answered.  “Uncle Pete gave us ‘the talk’ already.”

“You know, you two look nothing like your Uncle Pete.  How did you guys meet him?”

I spoke up first.  “Uncle Pete is my mom’s brother, so he’s always been my uncle.”

Then Tim took over.  “My folks, Mike’s folks and Uncle Pete have been friends forever and he’s always been my ‘Uncle Pete’ too.  He’s even my godfather.”  Tim looked over to me with a sad expression; I nodded and encouraged him to tell the rest of the story.

“Last August we were on a class trip to Germany with our teachers, Herr and Frau Berghoff, when our home, Raccoon City was destroyed.”

Tim seemed to be having trouble, so I took over the story.  “The Berghoffs contacted Uncle Pete and he insisted on having us fly to Lombard and stay with him.  He even adopted us, but he’s always been Uncle Pete, so the name stuck.”

Stoney was looking sad and he wiped his eyes before he spoke.  “That’s a very sad story, but it seems to have a happy ending.  My mom’s family was in Raccoon City at the end, so I can understand the loss you feel.”  He cleared his throat and continued, “But enough of the sad stories.  How is school going?”

Tim and I laughed.  “I thought you said that was enough of the sad stories.”  That was Tim, but I nodded along with him.

“What Tim means is that finals are coming up soon, so school is a bit of a bitch right now.  Hehe.”

“Haha!  My bad.”

“Your boys mentioned the Berghoffs, Pete.  Are they the same ones who work with us?”

“Yes.  It’s a long story, but Frieda, Rolf and I have been friends for quite some time.”

“They’re really nice people.”

As Stoney said that, a couple of waitresses came over.  One cleared the dishes from the table and the other brought a stack of dessert dishes and a handful of forks.  She set them down as Gary came over with a cake knife and a chair.  He handed the knife to Tim and, as he sat down, he asked him to do the honors.  Nervously, Tim uncovered the cake and set the cover aside.  I don’t think Tim would be this nervous on his Biology final!  He took a deep breath and made the first cut.  When he noticed that we were all talking – and not staring at him – his mood lightened and he made the second cut.  He gently removed the piece of cake and placed it on one of the dessert plates.  Gary took the plate, added a fork and handed it to Uncle Pete.  This continued until we each had a piece of cake in front of us.

Tim stared in apprehension at Gary and Stoney as they took their first bite of cake… and then a second.  Finally, Gary looked over to Tim and said, “Tim!  You made this from scratch!  I’m impressed!  I want your recipe!”

Tim almost cried.  “It’s a combination of the best parts of several recipes that I found.  I’ll send you a copy of it.”  Then he paused before asking, “How did you know it was from scratch?”

“The carrot bits and walnut pieces are different sizes.  A cake mix is made by machines and they always have uniform sizes, not like in the real world.  Tim, I’d be proud to serve this carrot cake in my restaurant.”

Tim thoroughly blushed at the compliment.

We sat and talked some more while we finished desert.  Finally, Uncle Pete took out his wallet and asked for the check.  “Pete, this was a business lunch, so the restaurant is picking up the tab.”  Then Gary looked at Tim and said, “When I get your recipe, I’ll pay you ten percent for every slice I sell for the first year.  Is that a fair deal?”

Tim’s jaw dropped and he was speechless.  All he could do was nod.

“Good.  Send the recipe here.”  And Gary handed his card to Tim; his personal email address was on the back.

That did it for Tim.  Tears were streaming down his face and he got up and hugged Gary to show his gratitude.  After Tim got up, the rest of us rose as well.  After a round of goodbyes, and a sincere promise to return, we were off.  I had to hold on to Tim to keep him from floating away as we walked back to the car.  Hehe.

 

= = =

 

When we got home, Tim put his toque on the shelf in his wardrobe and we changed to shorts and T-shirts before going to see Uncle Pete.  He was in the kitchen reading the newspaper and having a cup of coffee.  When we walked out there I said, “Uncle Pete, Tim wants to ask you something.”  Tim punched me in the arm.

“Uncle Pete, our birthdays are coming up and we always celebrate them together with our friends…”

“OK, Tim.  That’s not a problem.  Do you want to go to Chuck E. Cheese’s again?”

“GAH!!!” we both screamed.  “No!  That place is for little kids!!!”

“OK, where would you like to go?”

“Well,” Tim continued, “we’d like to have our party at WhirlyBall here in Lombard.  That place is sooo cool!”

“Yeah, Uncle Pete,” I joined in, “It’s awesome!”

“OK.”

“And if you do, we’ll … What?”

“I said OK.  That’s a great idea.  There’s just one thing, it has to be during the week and during the day.  Typically, nights and weekends are more difficult to get reservations for.  What day do you want to do it?”

“Well,” Tim started, “my birthday is June 1st and Mike’s is June 7th, so we were thinking that June 5th would be perfect.  By then we’ll be on half-days at school, so we’d be out by 11:30 that morning.”

“OK.  How about two hours starting at noon?  Will everyone be able to get there in thirty minutes?”

“Yes!!!  School is less than half a mile from the place.  That would be great!”

“OK, and how many people will be there?”

We answered the rest of his questions as he wrote down our answers.  When we finished, Uncle Pete went back to his newspaper and Tim and I went back to our room.

“That was easier than I thought it would be,” I said.

“No kidding!  He didn’t even ask us how much it was going to cost!  I have to call Jerry and let him know that we can bring dates.”

“Yeah!  That’s a great idea, but send the recipe to Gary first.”

“You mean Chef Gary.”

Within an hour we had called or emailed all of our guests and we had an acceptance from ninety percent of them.  The other ten percent we were waiting for a reply from.

 

= = =

 

The next three weeks were a blur.  Between studying with each other and our various study groups, we barely had a moment to ourselves.  But on May 12th, Uncle Pete told us to get in the car.  He drove us to the Villa Park Metra station and we rode into Chicago.  Once we got there, we walked along Wacker Drive to the tour boat landing and boarded one of the tour boats.

It didn’t hit us as to why we were there until Uncle Pete reached into his jacket pocket and gave each of us a paper bag.  When we looked inside, they were filled with flower petals.  All of a sudden, we remembered… it was Mother’s Day.  We still couldn’t get to Raccoon City, so we came to visit the place where Tim and I symbolically poured our mothers’ ashes.  Without having to ask, we remembered the spot in the river where their ashes entered the water, and when we arrived there, we scattered our flower petals in remembrance.

Amid all the smiling passengers who were there with their mothers and grandmothers, the three of us were quietly weeping as we watched the flower petals float away.  “Thank you, Uncle Pete,” we said quietly.

After the tour, Uncle Pete took us to the same restaurant that we went to when we scattered their symbolic ashes.  This time there were no sad remembrances.  Uncle Pete insisted that we each tell a happy story from our past.  I told a story about my mom; Tim told two stories, one about his mother and another about his grandmother; like me, Tim never knew his mom’s mom.  Uncle Pete told a story about his mother… my grandmother.  I don’t remember my mom’s parents; they died before Mom and Dad married.  But I did remember Dad’s mom.  I was nine when she died.  I told a story about her as well.  I hadn’t thought about Nana Morales in a long time.

On the train ride home, Tim, Uncle Pete and I were quietly remembering our pasts.  It’s strange how we remembered the good things with crystal clarity, but the bad times were fading to nothingness.

 

= = =

 

The day of our finals finally rolled around – May 23rd.  I was especially impressed by the confidence that Ed was showing these last few weeks.  He, Tim, Jerry and I were in a study group and met at our house.  Ed was finally getting over his dad’s bullshit bullying and name calling, and his performance in the study group was showing it.  He was even carrying himself more confidently.

At the end of the testing, we met at our lockers and walked to our house.  While Tim, Jerry, Ed and I Skyped with Matt Spencer for almost an hour, we had Cokes and potato chips (or crisps, as Matt insisted on calling them).  He said that he had been revising as well, and was confident that he’ll do well on his finals too.

Our finals were finally over, but the results wouldn’t be posted online until June 4th.  We figured that was to allow those who had to test on the makeup days to be under less pressure.  If you didn’t know what the rest of your class did, it couldn’t apply pressure on you one way or another.

Now all we had to look forward to was the Memorial Day weekend… the unofficial start of summer in the United States.  The Indy 500 would take place on Sunday and a couple of our friends were driving down to Indianapolis with their families to watch it in person.  Here in Lombard it was cooler than average for this time of year, and we had rain on and off on Sunday and Monday, so we had to hold an umbrella for Uncle Pete as he barbequed the chicken on the patio on Monday afternoon.  Why is it that the smoke from the grill always blows at the people at the grill, no matter where they stand?  Hehe.

Between May 28th and 31st, we were more or less on our own.  School was having their makeup testing, but since we already took our tests, we were told to enjoy the week.  The weather was fantastic all week, so Ed and I went on a couple of bike rides on the Illinois Prairie Path.  That’s a bike path that follows an old railroad right-of- way.  We stayed on the main route and just enjoyed the weather and the scenery.

Finally, June 1st arrived!  Not only was that Tim’s birthday, but it was the opening day for Lombard’s Paradise Bay Water Park.  Uncle Pete bought a three-member family plan and he drove Jerry, Ed and us over to the park.  The water was still a bit cool, but after a few minutes, we got used to it.  After about an hour and a half, they cleared the pool because of thunderstorms in the area.  We changed and Uncle Pete called Ed and Jerry’s parents and told them that we were going to our house for a cookout.  Again, Tim and I took turns holding the umbrella for Uncle Pete as he cooked the hot dogs and hamburgers.  We had a great time in the three-season room and the neighbors didn’t complain about our music.  That was a plus.  That night I gave Tim a special present…  He might be 16, but he’s definitely been kissed.  Hehe.

 

= = =

 

Sunday it was raining on and off again, so we rode our bikes to the mall to hang out for a while.  Monday we started half days at school.  I think they have the half days schedule to get free labor to help move books and stuff around the school.  Hehe.

Tuesday arrived at last and when we got out at 11:30, we went online to see how we did.  Jerry and Ed were with us at our house.  We took turns logging onto Lombard High’s server to get our grades.  Ed was floored!  He did the best of all of us!  He couldn’t believe it, but it didn’t really surprise the rest of us.  Once Ed’s confidence was up, he was unstoppable.  While Jerry and Tim were Skyping with friends, I took Ed to the bedroom to reward him for his good work.  He reciprocated.  Hehe.

 

= = =

 

We got to school at the regular time on Wednesday, but something was wrong with the clocks!  Every hour seemed to take two hours to pass.  For the last few days, the temperatures were below the normal highs, and it was finally getting back to what we expected for June.  This made staying in school even more unbearable, but, as slow as they were, the clocks finally displayed 11:30 and we were off to WhirlyBall!  We invited seven couples, as well as Tim’s girlfriend and my ‘girlfriend’, to the party and all of them said they were coming.  We also reminded them that presents were not allowed.

We walked as a group to the facility and we arrived at about 11:55.  Tim and I saw Uncle Pete’s car in the lot, and then I saw something else… the van from Gary’s restaurant!  OHMYGOD!  Uncle Pete must have hired them to cater the party!  When I pointed out the van to Tim he almost passed out!  None of our friends knew what we were going ape-shit about, but I think they realized that it was something good.  Hehe

As we walked in the doors, Uncle Pete called us over and he handed Tim his toque.  Gary walked up to him and told him he was a bit out of uniform.  Tim looked puzzled until Gary opened the box he was holding.  Inside was a double breasted chef’s coat, white with black buttons, just like the one Gary was wearing.  That wasn’t all!  Over the pocket on the left side was embroidered ‘Chef Tim’.  This was obviously the best present that Tim could have received.  Gary held it while Tim put his arms in the sleeves and then buttoned it up.  Tim almost apologized because he was wearing shorts… until he noticed that Gary was too.  Hehe.

Then Gary looked at me and said, “Mike, no chef worth his salt would ever do well without a competent staff.  Here’s your birthday present from Stoney and me.”  Again, he held a box in his hands and when he opened it, I almost freaked out!  It was a white jacket like the staff at his restaurant wore.  It had a banded collar and just a single row of buttons in the center of the jacket.  Mine had my name embroidered over the left pocket as well.  We forgot about the rest of our guests as Tim and I took turns hugging Gary and Stoney.

In the meantime, the kids we invited were looking through the glass into the WhirlyBall area.  Another group was on the court and they seemed to be having a great time.  When I asked Uncle Pete about it, he said they had the court until 12:15, but that was OK, because we were going to eat first.  He told me to have the kids get in line and grab a paper plate and plastic-ware.  When I did that, Tim called me over to the serving table and we helped serve our guests.  It was nothing fancy, just Sloppy Joes and chips, but everyone was eager to try it.  They complimented Tim and me on our uniforms and seemed to be a bit impressed as well.  But the guys giggled a bit at the ‘lunch lady’ plastic gloves we were wearing.  It was kinda funny.  Hehe.

When everyone was served, we each filled our own plates and picked a seat at the table with Ed and Jerry.  Also at the table were Jerry and Tim’s girlfriends, Angie and Monica, as well as Ed and my ‘girlfriends’, Megan and Amber.  Our other friends, Bob, Tom, Kate, Christine, Sarah, Jake, Randy and Chloe were sitting at the other table.  I noticed that the noise level lowered as we started to eat.  That was definitely a compliment to Gary’s Sloppy Joes.

Most of the guys went back for seconds, including Tim and me.  The girls were being polite.  That’s OK… it left more for us.  Hehe.  It was about 12:20 when we finished.  Then Gary rolled out a huge sheet cake with 16 candles on it.  The candles were lit and as he rolled it over to our table, Ed and Jerry started singing the birthday song and everyone else joined in… even people from the group that was leaving.  Hehe.  When they finished, Tim and I blew out all the candles and we received a lot of cat calls and cheers.

Gary again handed Tim a cake knife, but this time Tim was confident as he sliced the cake into what looked like three-inch squares.  When the cake was cut, Gary plated the slices and Stoney and Uncle Pete served it to the guests… from the left side, of course.  Hehe.  Everyone attacked the cake and some of the boys took seconds, as they did with the Sloppy Joes.  When the group had their fill, Gary introduced himself and had Tim stand up.  Once he stood, he had Tim face his guests.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the man you see before you will someday be a famous chef in his own right.  The cake we have today is from Chef Tim’s private recipe collection.  We call it simply, ‘Chef Tim Bennett’s Carrot Cake’.  It has been featured at my restaurant for just over a month now.  Through the magic of computers, we have been keeping track of how much of Tim’s carrot cake we’ve been selling.  Through yesterday, we sold more than 300 slices of cake.  I made a deal with Tim to pay him ten percent of the gross revenues from his recipe.  Chef Tim, I’m proud to be one of your partners and I gladly present you with this check for $141.75 from the sale of 315 slices of your Carrot Cake.”

Tim was speechless!  Gary handed him the check and Tim just stared at it with his eyes bulging and his mouth agape.  I took out my phone and snapped a picture to show him later.

Eventually, Tim came to his senses and thanked Gary for the check.  “Tim, it was part of the agreement.  Eleven more checks and my obligation will be met.”

Then Uncle Pete took over and said that Tim, Ed, Jerry and I were going to be the captains of four teams for WhirlyBall.  He already had the teams drawn up.  Ed had Megan, Bob and Kate.  Jerry had Angie, Tom and Christine.  Tim had Monica, Jake and Sarah, and I had Amber, Randy and Chloe.  We put the four team captains’ names in Tim’s toque; Jerry and Tim were selected for the first game and Ed and I had the second.  We were to have four 15-minute games.  The winners of the first two games would face each other in the fourth game, and the losers of the first two games would be in the third game.

The arena has two colors for their bumper cars, red and yellow.  Jerry chose the red cars for his team, leaving yellow for Tim’s team.  Let me describe the facility for you.  The playing court is 50 feet by 80 feet.  You drive ‘WhirlyBugs’.  They’re like bumper cars, so the floor is electrified to provide power for the cars.  After each player is in his or her car and has the safety belt fastened, the power will be turned on.  Each player also has a ‘Scoop’ to pick up and control the WhirlyBall, which is a 12-inch circumference whiffle ball.  There’s a goal at each end of the field; the red team protects the red goal and the yellow team protects the yellow goal.  The goal is like a basketball backboard with a 20-inch hole in the center.  So the object is for the teams to get the ball through the opponent’s goal by using the scoop.  The scoring is simple enough.  If you get a goal at less than half court, it counts for two points.  If you score from greater than half court, it counts for three points.  It sounds a heck of a lot easier than it is.  Hehe.

Before the game began, Uncle Pete encouraged all the people who were NOT playing to take all the pictures they could so everyone would get pictures of their ‘prowess’ on the court.  Then the games began!  Tim’s team and Jerry’s team took a few minutes to figure out how to manipulate their cars and control their scoops.  There were some beautiful crashes as the cars ran into each other in an attempt to score.  I think it took almost five minutes before the first goal was scored.  It looked so easy when we watched the videos on YouTube.  I was huddled with my team and, as well as laughing, we were paying attention to what the others were doing, whether it was right or wrong.

Finally we heard the buzzer sounding the goal for Jerry’s team.  Tim is not a good loser, so I hope his team catches on pretty quickly.  After the first goal, the teams started to play fairly well.  Jerry’s team had worked out a successful defensive maneuver by ramming the car of the person who had the ball.  Two or three cars ramming you could loosen some molars.  Hehe.  I guess that’s why they needed the safety belts.

Despite the attacks while they had possession of the ball, Tim’s team was finally able to score.  Defensively, even though Jerry’s team scored first, Tim’s team wasn’t doing too poorly.  I just hoped that we were learning enough to beat Jerry’s team.  But from watching Jerry and Tim’s teams, it didn’t look like it would be a giveaway.

There was less than a minute to go in the game when Tim’s team tied the score at 4 to 4.  Now they were going down to the wire and it wasn’t looking good for Tim’s team.  I just hoped he wasn’t going to be in a nasty mood tonight.  Jerry’s team had the ball and it looked like they were trying to let the clock run down before shooting.  When there were five seconds left in the match, Tom made a shot, but missed by a hair and it bounced back into the crowd of players.  Christine came up with it and took a shot!  It went in just as the final buzzer was sounded!  It counted and Jerry’s team won!  The power was turned off on the floor and the players dismounted and came back to the viewing area while Ed and I led our teams onto the court.  Uncle Pete reminded Tim and Jerry’s teams to take a lot of pictures so the people on the court would have some pictures too.

Once we got on the court, our adrenalin started pumping.  We had an advantage, we thought.  We had seen the first game.  My team and I had been talking about how best to score from what we saw Jerry and Tim’s teams doing.  We thought we were ready… then the power was applied and we started.

I think our teams caught on a little quicker than Tim and Jerry’s teams, but our shooting skills weren’t much better.  Each of us could feel the hit when the cars bumped.  It was no wonder the rules required wearing seatbelts!

Randy passed the ball to Chloe and she was supposed to pass it back to him, but Ed’s team had Randy and me surrounded.  With everyone watching us, she took a shot and made it!  We did high-fives with our scoops as we raced to the other end of the court to guard our goal.

Ed and his team were willing to take a few chances.  Bob was a pitcher on the baseball team.  With my team protecting our goal, Amber passed the ball to Bob and he lobbed the ball at our goal, missing it by an inch!  We had to put someone on Bob or he could score the next time they had the ball.  I nodded to Angie; she gave me an evil smile.  I hope this turns out all right.

Angie is on the soccer team and adopted a ‘man-on-man’ defense.  Any time Ed’s team had the ball, Angie was on Bob like white on rice!  Ed had a trick up his sleeve, too.  Chloe got the ball and passed it to Bob, when suddenly, Megan rammed her girlfriend Angie, and spun her car around!  Bob was open and shot for our goal… and scored… the score was now 3 to 2…

I called my team over and told them to go for broke.  Rather than a man-on-man defense, we were returning to our zone defense.  For now, Chloe had the ball and she felt confident that she could hit a three-pointer.  I gave her a nod and she took a shot and it missed, but Amber got the rebound and scored another two-pointer.  This time we stayed in our zones and blocked a shot from Ed, but Kate got the rebound and passed it to Bob who scored another three-pointer, making the score 6 to 4 in their favor.

The clock was winding down; we needed another goal to at least tie the match.  We had the ball and Amber lobbed it to Randy, who fired at Ed’s goal and it looked good… until at the last second when it hit just below the hole and ricocheted to Ed, who passed it to Megan, who was all by herself at our goal!  What the heck?!?  I felt my heart sink as Megan scored.

Ten seconds later, the buzzer sounded, ending the game.  Ed’s team won, 8 to 4.  Ed’s team exited the court to rest for the final game, while Tim and his team returned to play our team for third and fourth place.

When Ed’s team got back to the viewing area, I heard Uncle Pete telling everyone to continue taking pictures.

Before the game began, Monica said that we were playing too hard and it wasn’t fun for her.  The other three girls agreed.  The four guys just shrugged and said we should just have a good time and that only the girls could shoot goals.  I think the guys just wanted to ram each other as hard as they could anyway, so that part of the game was still there.  Hehe.  To make it even easier for the girls, the guys decided not to block any of the shots that the girls made.

When the game started, I took a running start and crashed into Tim.  I was only doing about four miles an hour, but that was still enough to bounce him around a bit.  As I was enjoying my strike, Jake rear-ended me and Randy slammed into him!  This was GREAT!  I don’t think any of the guys knew where the girls were.  We were at about the center of the court at the far wall.  We got together and decided to see if we could make it to the near wall without getting hit by the girls, who were actually trying to play the game.  So it changed from WhirlyBall to a combination of WhirlyBall and Frogger.  If you got bumped, you had to go back to the far wall and start again.

By the time the game was over, Tim’s girls beat my girls 7 to 6.  None of the guys made it to the near wall, so Frogger was a tie.  Hehe.  The girls were happy and we (the guys) were laughing our asses off.

We exited the court and had a great time as we watched Ed and Jerry’s teams in the finals.  We couldn’t believe it!  They followed the same rules that we had!  Going north and south it was WhirlyBall for the girls, and going east and west it was Frogger for the guys!  When the final game was over, none of the frogs made it to the near wall, and Ed’s girls beat Jerry’s girls 6 to 4, making Ed’s team the overall winner.

All four teams came back to the tables and bragged about how good their team was.  Then we all thanked Uncle Pete for the party and Gary and Stoney for the food.  Tim and I also thanked Gary and Stoney for our birthday presents… and for Tim’s first check.

Uncle Pete had already arranged with Mrs. LeBlanc to help shuttle the kids home.  Each of them had room for four passengers, so Ed, Megan, Jerry, Angie, Tim, Monica, Amber and I waited at the WhirlyBall arena while the first group made it home.  We didn’t waste our time… we posted our pictures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.  Tim and I finally got home about 4:15… just in time to start supper.  Hehe.

 

= = =

 

Report cards were mailed out on Thursday and arrived on Saturday.  We had already seen our grades online, so it was pretty much a non-event.  Uncle Pete wondered when the schools would just email them instead of using snailmail.  Of course, once the report cards were out, school was officially over for the summer.

Speaking of non-events, my birthday on June 7th could have been, but Tim, Ed and Jerry didn’t let that happen.  Uncle Pete had to work, but he called me about 10:00 AM and wished me a happy birthday as well.  Tim and the guys took me to the Yorktown AMC to see The Internship with Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn.  That was great!  We asked the girls if they wanted to go, but they all had other things to do.  Go figure.

On Saturday afternoon, Tim and I asked Uncle Pete about the trip to Tucson.  We were in our room with Ed and Jerry.  He told us that it was still on, except we would be going on Wednesday the 19th and that Dave would pick us up at the airport.  He sent Dave’s picture to our cell phones.  He also said that we would be staying with Glenn, Dave’s son, in his basement apartment and Uncle Pete would be staying in the guest room.  I looked over to Tim when we heard this and Tim didn’t look any more positive about it than I did.  When Uncle Pete left the room I looked at Tim and said, “What the heck, it’s only for a week, right?  We could do a week standing on our heads.”  Jerry and Ed cracked up.

 

= = =

 

On June 15th, Tim and I got to bed early and we set our alarm clock for the regular time.  We figured that Uncle Pete must sleep late on weekends because, well, what the heck, everyone did… everyone except Uncle Pete.  When we woke up and Tim smelled the coffee, he was crestfallen.  Tim had planned to fix a special breakfast and we were hoping to serve it to him in bed.  *sigh*  No such luck.

We were a bit disappointed, but we could still go with breakfast in the kitchen.  We went through our normal morning routine and walked out to the kitchen.  Uncle Pete looked up from his newspaper and asked if we thought we had school or something.

Tim said, “No, Uncle Pete.”  We both handed him the cards we made for him and then, in unison, we said, “Happy Father’s Day!!!”

I think we actually surprised him!  If not, he deserves an Oscar for his performance.

In preparation for cooking the meal, Tim and I made a spectacle out of putting on our white jackets and Tim put on his toque,  I still had my Cubs hat.  After that, I put his coffee in the living room next to Uncle Pete’s chair and Tim collected his newspaper and set it on the coffee table.  “Uncle Pete,” Tim said to him, “you have to go in the living room while Mike and I fix your breakfast… Umm… you didn’t have breakfast yet, did you?”

Uncle Pete chuckled as he got up and folded the sports section that he was reading and tucked it under his arm.  “No, Tim, I didn’t.  What are you fixing?”

“Well if he told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise, now would it?” I told him.  “Just enjoy your newspaper and see if you can recognize it by the aromas you’ll catch a whiff of.  Hehe.”  And then I joined Tim in the kitchen.  We had planned this out a week ago, so all we had to do was implement the plan.  Making coffee was my job, but since that was completed, I went to the next task… slicing three grapefruit halves and putting them on saucers.  Each one got a Maraschino cherry in the center and I lightly sprinkled the grapefruit halves with sugar.  Tim said that would reduce the tartness or something.  Whatever.  Hehe.

Tim had half a dozen pans on the stove and it only has four burners!  In next to no time, he had pork sausage, bacon, eggs, pancakes, grits, whatever those are, and syrup on the table.  Tim kept everything warm in the oven until it was time to serve it.  All I had to do was make sure we had enough toast, butter and jam going.  Tim called Uncle Pete, and he didn’t have to call a second time.  Hehe.

“Tim, Mike, you guys have outdone yourselves!  Tim, how did you know I liked grits?  Most people in the Chicago area don’t even know what they are.”

“I cheated.  I called Ms Hart and she told me,” Tim said, and his grin covered his face.

Uncle Pete asked us if we had ever tried grits.  I never had them before, but Tim had them on a vacation to Atlanta a few years ago.  “Well, there are plenty here, so dig in and enjoy,” he said.

“Uncle Pete – Dad – if you want more of anything, just ask; your wish is our command.”

“Thank you, Tim.  I think this will be fine.  I’ll have to walk five miles to work off this meal.  Hehe.”

After breakfast, Uncle Pete took us for another ride on the Chicago River so we could pay our respects to our birth dads.  My dad has been gone for quite a while; he died when I was 11.  But Tim’s loss is still fresh in his mind.  When we got to the place where we scattered our families’ ceremonial ashes, Tim began weeping uncontrollably.  Uncle Pete and I each put an arm around him for comfort until his grieving moments passed.

 

= = =

 

It was really strange.  It seemed to take forever for the 19th to arrive, but all of a sudden, it was the 18th and we were packing.  We had been with Ed and Jerry earlier in the day and they stopped by after supper to see if we needed help with anything.  We all went to our room and just hung around while we were packing for the trip.  We did our laundry the night before, so everything was clean at least.  Now it was just a matter of packing without over-packing.

 

Soon enough our bags were packed and we knew we were ready because we double checked everything.  At about nine o’clock, Mrs. LeBlanc came by to pick up Ed and Jerry.  While Tim walked Jerry to the door, Ed and I held back in the bedroom and I kissed him goodbye.

“It’s only a week, Ed.  We’ll be back before you know it.”

Ed kissed me back and said, “I know, Mike.  I can do a week standing on my head.”

I smiled and kissed him again.

 

= = =

 

The next morning a LIMO came to pick us up!  Uncle Pete said that it was the best way.  I guess he’d know; he’s travelled enough.  Before we went to the limo, Uncle Pete asked if we had our credit cards.  I patted my front pocket and said that I had mine.  Tim said his was in his front pocket too.

“OK,” Uncle Pete said, “You’ll need them to pay the limo driver.”

Tim and I looked at each other, and then at Uncle Pete.  “Aren’t you coming with us?”

“No.  My plane leaves from Midway.  You guys are OK with traveling alone, aren’t you?”

“Well, yes,” Tim said, “But we thought we were going to the airport together.”

“I’m sorry guys.  I guess I just travel too much and assume everyone knows air routes.  You guys will be fine.  You have my cell number so you can call or text if you have any questions.  The driver will drop you off at Terminal 3.  Go to one of the American Airline Ticket Kiosks and follow the instructions.  You already have your e-tickets, so all you have to do is check your bags.  You know you can carry your cell phones and laptops with you on the plane, so go through security, just like you always do when you fly.  Enjoy your flight and I’ll see you guys tomorrow afternoon in Tucson.”

We said goodbye and gave Uncle Pete a hug.  When the limo driver saw us coming, he popped open the trunk for our luggage.  When it was loaded, he opened the rear door for us and we climbed in.  Before we left the driveway he asked if we were going to O’Hare.  We said we were and we were flying on American.  That was the last thing he said until we got there.  When we arrived at Terminal 3, Tim paid the driver and gave him a twenty percent tip, just as Uncle Pete told us to do in cabs.  It must have been OK because the driver didn’t give us a dirty look.

When we got inside, we checked our bags and got through security with no problems.  As we entered the concourse area, we stopped at McDonald’s for a quick bite to eat.  Then we went to the gate to check in.  We both wanted window seats and our tickets had us in consecutive rows at the window.  The gate agent verified it.  About thirty minutes before our departure time, they started boarding.  In a few minutes we were getting on the plane.  After everyone boarded, the flight attendant gave us the safety briefing, and the plane started to taxi to the runway.  We had a couple of planes ahead of us, but soon enough, we were taking off.  Tucson, here we come!

Published June 1, 2013

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