REAL MEN: TOM MCKAY

Every gentleman I write about is special for one reason or another. 

They are all in my Hall of Fame of Human Beings. 

All for different and unique reasons. 

This chapter is about, perhaps, the funniest.  My late friend, Tom McKay.

Yes, I certainly considered Tom a ‘friend’ as I aged into adulthood but he was truly a member of my late father’s “Rat Pack”. 

Tom, Dad and a whole other consortium of sordid characters spent decades having fun and laughs.  They had an incredible group of old school dudes that simply had a ball; led by Mr. McKay.  If their crew was the Rat Pack, Tom McKay was Frank Sinatra. 

Tom was the most electric, dare I say iconic, person you could imagine.

Tom could have you dangling on a string listening to his stories.

Tom could make a story about the DMV funny.

Tom could make anything funny.

The most devilish laugh you could envision, Tom always made your day better. 

And here is the best part, Tom’s life was dedicated to showing us all a good time.  A saloon owner for many years then evolved into the city’s ultimate party planner as the head of the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. Tom was the guy you looked to when you needed some fun in your life. 

Tom brought musical acts, comedians, and legends of stage and screen to the Mill City. 

Tom brought Sesame Street to Lowell for Christ Sake! 

Tom flirted with Dolly Parton and teased Bill Cosby (ya know, before we knew what a giant sicko he was {Cosby, not Tom}!).

Tom made the Golden Gloves feel like a heavy weight championship bout in Las Vegas.

Whether it was a Broadway show or just a private conversation, Tom made everything an event.  Tom made everyone that graced his presence feel special and loved.

Kind, generous, and absolutely hilarious. 

I loved Tom.

Real Man.

Below is the tribute I wrote to Tom just after he passed away.  No prouder words written.

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LIGHTS IN LOWELL A LOT DIMMER

2.10.2014

The City of Lowell is a darker place today. This week we say goodbye to one of its brightest stars, Tom McKay. Tom McKay was one of the most recognizable, active and socially responsible citizens in this city’s history. I could write a whole lot of words outlining all of Tom’s professional accolades as a businessman, entrepreneur, and philanthropist over the past 50 years, but I want to tell you about the man.

If you did not know Tom, I honestly feel bad for you. Tom was one of the most electric personalities you could ever meet. When Tom McKay walked in to a room, you knew it. He lit it up. I am not sure whether it was his big Irish smile, his always dapper appearance or that unmistakable voice? I am not sure it was any of those things. Tom just had “presence”. And when you had the great fortune of being in Tom’s presence, you knew you were about to be entertained.

Tom had an uncanny ability to make everyone around him feel welcomed. As one of my family’s closest and oldest friends, I had the luxury of being around Tom my entire life and I can say with conviction; it was always an ‘event’.

“How ah ya, buddy?” was one of Tom’s signature greetings when he reached to shake your hand. Many have joked that Tom called everyone ‘Buddy’ because he could not remember your name. The irony is Tom McKay was everybody’s buddy. He really was. Tom lured followers and friends like the Pied Piper. Perhaps the greatest story teller I have ever known, Tom’s charisma was captivating and you did not want to miss one minute of his wit and banter. Tom had a story (some may have been exaggerated) for every occasion and every audience. All of them were priceless. If stories can be considered gifts, then Tom was Santa Claus.

A devout Catholic, Tom was always one to give his time, energy and resources to those in need. When it came to charity and giving, Tom never said the word ‘no’. Both personally and professionally, Tom gave to any worthy cause that crossed his path.

While Tom led a very busy professional life, he was a family man to the core and they were always his first priority. His devotion and affection for his wife Lori and daughters Jennifer and Meredith were unwavering and always obvious. Tom was blessed with two beautiful granddaughters and in his last days another blessing came in to Tom’s world; his first grandson, James THOMAS. Oh the stories you will hear, Little “T”.

Yes, the city of Lowell and beyond is a darker place, but the Kingdom of Heaven is surely brighter with Tom in it.

Rest easy, Buddy, we all loved ya.

REAL MEN: UNCLE BRAD

Like nearly all of the stories you will read in this series, I am terribly biased to the subject at hand.  No more than this one about my uncle, Brad Martin.

Uncle Brad is the epitomy of what it means to be a kind and decent human.  Quiet, calm, unassuming, hard working and loyal.

Born the son of World War II veteran and wonderful loving mother, Brad grew up in somewhat of a typical baby-boomer life. In his early adult years, he was a classic ‘free spirit’ of the mid and late 1960s.  Long hair-having, motorcycle-riding and (perhaps, on occasion) doobie-smoking cool dude you could find ride-or-die-ing from Lowell to Hampton Beach.  But that motorcycle was soon stopped in its tracks when he met Lillian Healy (sister to my Mom). 

For better or worse (ok, definitely for the better) Brad’s carefree, Rocking in the Free World, Love the One You are With outlook quickly turned to the love of his life; and has been steady for nearly 50 years.

Brad and Lil were married in 1972, spawn two awesome sons and built a wonderful life. 

Brad worked for more that 20 years in the men’s clothing industry selling high end threads to the businessmen of the 1970s and 80s.  Spent the second half of his career in the security systems business building a massive portfolio of loyal customers and friends.  A true workhorse, Brad just retired last year.

OK, now you have the ‘block and tackle’ facts on Uncle Brad’s life, let me tell you why he is such an incredible person and why he means so much to me.

Growing up very close to my cousins, I spent an enormous amount of time with the Martins.  From after school hangs to camping outings to trips to York Beach (Uncle Brad’s favorite place in the world) I was the shadow of the Martin family.

What Uncle Brad brought to the table for me were things I did not quite experience with my own Dad; like patience and level-headedness.  For those that know me, you understand how much I loved my father, but he was not…exactly “balanced” at times, especially when raising his only son through the wonder years. 

See, Frank was an Irish madman.  He loved to yell and holler.  He loved to punish me (probably well deserved) and, frankly, scared me at times.  From the time I was very little until I was long (considered) an adult, I ran to Uncle Brad when I feared the wrath of Big Frank at home.  Quite often, when I would habitually do something stupid and knew I was in for a tongue lashing and a 2 week grounding, Uncle Brad would put my mind at ease.  He delivered sound and soothing advice to how I should manage my most recent dilemma.

The examples are endless, but let me share my all time favorite.

Fall of 1990.  A typical Friday night in the Mill City.  My friends and I seeking some type of neighborhood mischief.  Hanging out on the private grounds of a local golf club with twenty or thirty co-delinquents, we were just doing typical teenage“stuff”. Trying to impress girls, sneak a few warm, backpack beers someone smuggled out of their parents’ house. 

No biggie.

Until….

The herd of pubescent pinheads heard a noise.  Sounded like a car?  What was it?  Then we saw headlights of some sorts raging across the 3rd fairway of this Staples Street staple.  Uh oh.  It was the groundskeeper.  And he was coming at us fast.  He was coming at us angry.  He was coming for all of us to break up this little gathering of hormone-filled hang-arounders.

Naturally, this brave, mature and moric band of adolescents did the wise thing; ran like hell into the woods.  Off we scattered. Every boy, girl and child for themselves.  Like they say “When running from a bear, you don’t have to be the fastest, just the second slowest”.  And while I was always in the conversation for dumbest, I was pretty quick in those days.

I go barreling into the dark, wooded unknown with one goal in mind; do NOT get caught by Groundskeeper Willie (or Jackie in this case).  (Did I forget to mention that my pursuer was also a friend of Dads? This would not end well for me if captured.)

Flying through the echoes and shadows, I saw a glimmer of light in my path.  What I did not see was the murky marsh I was about to run right in to in 3, 2….splash.  Yup, waist deep in a muddy mess like Woodstock, minus the nudity and acid.

Oh, s#!+….this isn’t good at all.  Untangle myself from the soily-earth-bath and keep trudging toward the light to catch up with my co-conspirators.  Greeted with insane laughter, I would surely need a plan.  Cousin Brad, who lived a few short blocks from our landing point offered counsel.

Dude, you cant go home to Uncle Frank like this.  He will lose his mind and you will be locked down until Christmas.  Letsgo to my house and figure it out.

Smart advice. 

Upon arrival, Uncle Brad greeted Junior and his Swamp Man Nephew with a head scratch, but not anger.

“What the hell happened to you?,” he uttered and started to giggle.

Uncle Brad, listen, I swear that…, “ I nervously scrambled.

“Relax.  I don’t even want to know.  But you can’t go home.  Stay here tonight.  I’ll call your parents.  Aunt Lil will wash your clothes.  No one needs to know.”

My man.

And while that’s a funny example, it is just one far too many times Uncle Brad took very good care of me, treated me like a 3rd son and had my best interests in mind. Always.

Brad treated everyone he encountered with an open mind, a welcoming smile and a gentle kindness that you can not manufacture or feign. 

He is a just a good and decent man.

A family man.

Real Man.

P.S. Happy 72nd Birthday, buddy (published January 15, 2021)

Uncle Brad

REAL MEN: MY FRIEND PETER

An addendum to a chapter I so proudly wrote several years ago.  Peter Martin. 

Peter was simply an amazing, loyal, generous, kind friend and father figure to me.  When he passed several years back, I wrote these words to attempt to encapsulate his character and, moreso, his meaning to me.  Not sure I did that any justice.

Thank you, Peter.  Think of you often.

Real Men.

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My Friend Peter

We lost our friend Peter.

I never really knew Peter until about 10 years ago when he was hired at my company.  I knew his family.  I knew who he was.  But I did not “know” him.  At first I was a bit intimidated by Peter.  He was a seasoned executive.  Confident, calm and certain of himself, Peter was a serious businessman and I was not sure how we would mesh?

Very quickly I discovered this man would become much more than a co-worker, but one of the best men I have ever known.

During this period, my family was going through a very difficult time and I was distracted personally to say the least.  As I attempted to separate work from home, Peter was the person I was spending most of my time with and, naturally, he learned all about my life.  What Peter did not know was that he was quickly becoming my soundboard whether he liked it or not.  What I did not know, but quickly learned, was the incredible character and compassion that this ‘stranger’ possessed and just how much he would help me during these tough times.  I can only pray he knew that?

While too young to be my father and too old to be my brother, Peter and I shared a special bond.  Our friendship was extremely unique.  He could give me smart advice like my Dad, but also make an inappropriate joke like a best buddy.  Our friendship was perfect.

Also, during these early days with Peter, I uncovered his incredible generosity.  Peter’s generous and giving spirit was on display each day I was with him.  Peter was generous in every sense of the word; generous with his kindness, generous with time, generous with his knowledge, and certainly generous with his wallet.  As a very proud father of four himself, Peter knew I was being challenged at that time and needed a lot of help to get through it, and treated me like a son.

As we grew closer and spent many great times together, it was clear that Peter loved talking about one subject more than any other; his family.  Not just his wife of more than 30 years and their incredible children, but his brothers, sisters, his Mom and Dad.  I often would mock him when he would start to tell a story I had already heard by cutting him off and finishing it for him.  He loved the ribbing.

Many may not realize but Peter was a sentimental and emotional guy too.  Despite the macho, ‘team-Captain’ persona he gave off, he was a softy deep down.  After a bad day or a difficult situation I would frequently receive an encouraging note or text always ending with…

“Luv ya, P.”

Those little reassurances let me know he was in my corner no matter what, and I will never forget that.

Over the coming days (weeks, months and years) I am confident you will hear similar stories and memories of Peter.  I sincerely hope his legacy lives on with these stories because if Peter knew about anything in this world, it was how to be loyal.  Loyal husband, dad, son, brother and friend.

I just hope he knew I was always in his corner too?

Thank you for everything, my friend.

Rest easy.

‘Luv ya’ too buddy

Just go, Man

The world is weird right now.

Very weird.

Last I saw, our world is on standby.  School.  Work. Church. You name it.  It’s all on hold for now.  We are being told (forced?) to stay home.

Weird times.

That said….what a remarkable opportunity we have been presented. Right?.  When, if ever, in our lifetime have we had a guilt-free period to simply “be”? Yes, there is a worrisome pandemic, but I would like to believe most of us will avoid and manage this scare with a bit of resolve and practicality.

And so, why not embrace this time?

Grab a book.  Grab a board game.  Grab a loved one.

Cook that recipe you have been afraid to attempt.  Pick up that guitar you have been staring at.  Take that long walk you always have in mind (with your dog or your significant other. No judging here).  Love-the-one-you’re-with kind of vibe, kid!

Go!

Send that card to Nana.  Mix that cocktail. Scoop that ice cream!

Just go man!

Why not?

I am the biggest, sarcastic hypocrite ever, but hey…let’s give it a shot.

 

A Tale of McNuggets: I’m Loving It

McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets, by definition:

“The Chicken McNugget is a small piece of processed chicken meat that is fried in batter and flash-frozen, then shipped out and sold at McDonald’s restaurants.

McDonald’s first executive chef, René Arend, created the Chicken McNuggets recipe in 1979. “The McNuggets were so well-received that every franchise wanted them”, said Arend in a 2009 interview. “There wasn’t a system to supply enough chicken”. Supply problems were solved by 1983, and Chicken McNuggets became available nationwide.

According to McDonald’s, the nuggets come in four shapes: the bell, the bow-tie, the ball and the boot. The reason for the four different shapes is to ensure consistent cooking times for food safety. Four shapes were chosen because McDonalds states “The 4 shapes we make Chicken McNuggets in was the perfect equilibrium of dipability and fun. 3 would’ve been too few. 5 would’ve been, like, wacky.”

Blah, blah, blah.  I don’t give a crap about the invention of McNuggets nor their God-fearing nutricional UN-value.  I don’t.  And if you care to comment at this stage of this column I respectfully ask you to take your opinion to the nearest Wendy’s.

This is a story of McNugget Lore.  A love story.  A story of passion and poison.  Gluttony and greed.  It has all the elements of a Michael Douglas B-Rate thriller coupled with the spoiled-oil grease trap cooking these American legends across our great land.  McNuggets are the Broad Stripes and Bright Stars.  The Purple Mountain Magesty.  The Amber Waves of Grain. Deep fried deliciousness.

OK, you get my stance.

And now to the long overdue story….

About a year ago….we will call in ‘Ought ’18, a few of my closest and dearest were enjoying some well-deserved Friday Beers over some conversation and comradery at one of our favorite watering holes in the mighty Mill City.  In our spirited discussion, the wildly popular topic of food naturally arose.   More specific?  Fast Food.  Despite the incredible pressure and political-correct-crapness to insist this cuisine is taboo and should never grace our pallets; lets be freakin’ honest for one Millennial second.  If you are a child of the 1970s, 80s, and even 90s….you loved yourself some drive-thru.  Of course you did.  You wouldn’t be human or from the USA if you didn’t.  One thing made you happier than anything else; The HAPPY Meal.  And thence into beauty.

McDonalds, above all of the other gullet-stuffing, caloric-Titanic-disasters of the fast food chain made us all smile in a guilty but genuine glee.

As such, the gang and I all waxed poetic about the delicate decadence of the Chicken McNugget.  Oohs and Ahhs quickly turned to bravado…

“How many McNuggets could you take down?,” one member of our crew shouted.

Insane mathematical impossibilities were exclaimed.

“40!”

“No way, I can do 60!”

“I got 100 in me on an empty stomach!‘ screamed the most clearly inebriated of the clan.

Arguments, fuzzy logic and Venn diagrams even appeared within this classroom of cocktails.

And then a calm and sober voice interceded.  A leader amongst us.  The proprietor of this famed Lowellian water hole.

“Hey….I’ll buy Nuggets and let’s give it a test run.

(Collective gulps).

He continued, “I saw a deal they (McDonald’s) are running right now on special.  40 nuggets for $10.”

The crowd now silenced like the spectators at the Roman Colliseum following a Gladiator death match.

Nods and hesitant (Boston accent) “Shahs” followed his proposal.  And then, he was off like the childish Red and Yellow Clown Ronald himself.

Our bravado soon turned to healthy fear of a Weekend at BURN-ies with a side with a vomitous chicken collision.

I’d like to tell you how we had the greatest eat off since Lard Ass in the Pie Eating Contest in Stand By Me.  I’d love to brag how eating giants Joey Chestnut and Kobayashi were weak shadows of greatness compared to what we were about to take in during this stomach stuffing for annals of history.

But, I can’t.

The real legend in this story is the Fearless Leader and Procurer of the above stated magnanimous amount of McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets.

He mosied in to the nearest Mickey D’s and laid it all down…and they didn’t know how to pick it up.

Calm and confident he stated his demands….

Can I have 200 Chicken McNuggets, please?

Pimple-Face Paul on his first day at the Golden Arches nearly collapsed.

One moment, sir,” Paul choked, “I need to see my Manager.”

No problem,” our fearless faux-chicken-buying General responded.

As poor Paul raced to the back and tracked down Second Shift Manager Scotty, the hollow echoes across this grease pit began to stir.  This was happening.  The day this staff had all been preparing for since they launched this value-friendly coronary offer to the general public.  Scotty attempted to compose himself and visited the counter to confirm this unprecedented request.

(stuttering and disheveled) “Hello, sir.  Um, did my associate get that straight?  You would like 200 Chicken McNuggets?

“Yeah, that’s right,” retorted our hero.

“OoooooK, then, ” Scotty replied in a shear state of disbelief and turned to head back to the kitchen to simply digest (giggle) this magnanimous confirmation.

Reluctantly, Scotty turned back to the counter made the mistake of asking…. “Do you want that for here?  Or to go?”

And this is where this silly tale of processed meat became epic…

“I’m going to have it here.”

At this stage, every single employee, patron and bystander stood petrified in awe, amazement and fear.

And just when you thought our Champion could not make this scene any funnier, he uttered his final words before he let these Soldiers of Preservative-Filled Fortune off the hook with a laugh.

“Oh, and a small diet coke.”

History.

P.S.  I knocked back 30 nuggs without breaking a (meat) sweat later that day.

The Juice is Loose…on Twitter

Grab the popcorn, folks, cause this is gonna be fun.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Orenthal James “OJ” Simpson has joined Twitter. (ok, that was a link to my feed – just click “Follow” and we will move on)

 

To follow the REAL Juice, here it is TheRealOJ32

And faster that you can utter the phrase “If the glove don’t fit, you must….” OJ has over 600,000 followers!

Wow.  What does that say about the world?  Simple, we all want to be entertained and I have a hunch ol’ #32 will bring that to the ‘Sphere.  So far, OJ has posted three short selfie videos.  The very first one is most intriguing when he proclaims he’s “got a little getting even to do…”

And what do you mean by that does that mean, Mr. Simpson?

Also, how about the fact he makes this big announcement almost exactly 25 years to the day he was alleged (and I by alleged, we all know he did it) to have brutally murdered two people.  We see what you are doing Juice.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t take a stab (oops) at mocking this new gift granted to our social media lives.

So let join in the revelry with some early ones I have heard,…

“OJ will be using Slashtags instead of Hashtags”

“Surprised he didn’t use the handle @IDidIt”

“His first follower was the LA Police Department.”

“Sure, OJ is on Twitter but that is not gonna drag me away from Judge Ito’s Instagram”

“OJ and Twitter go together like a hunting knife and leather gloves.”

And the jokes could go one forever.  Won’t even begin the long line of Kardashian quips that could be made (yet).

So, highly suggest you give the 71 year old future Hell of Famer a follow.  Its sure to be interesting.

Personally, I prefer to remember ‘the-pre-double-murder-silly-clumsy-Naked Gun Nordberg’ OJ Simpson

 

P.S. Imagine that fact that OJ isn’t even the worst guy in this picture?

P.P.S. My Dad said “he was a nice guy” when he met him earlier this year BUT I am also pretty sure OJ gave him cancer.  Can’t prove it.