Category Archives: Life

Rest easy, old friend

I’ve always been a person who’s never been completely comfortable or confident, but I still remember the first time I actually felt cool.

I was a junior at Somerset Area High School and, at the time, a popular activity on the social calendar was keg parties at David Berman’s house. It was in Berman’s backyard where I first met Mike Hinton, and one of his younger brothers, Joe.

Now, I hadn’t met the Hintons before this party, but I sure did hear about them. The Hinton brothers were cool, or so was the word. After hanging with both in Berman’s backyard, those stories were validated. Actually, they were shattered. Mike and Joe were beyond cool.

And I left that party feeling better about myself, a rarity during my incredibly awkward teenage years. I wasn’t the only one. Brian Lizambri rode home with me. Like me, he didn’t know Mike and Joe before the party. And, like me, he left that party with a strong understanding of why we heard about the boys from Shanksville well before hanging out with them at Berman’s. I still remember B and I talking about how we hoped to hang out with them more often.

Over the next few years, I had the pleasure of spending time with Mike and Joe Hinton. From all those keg parties in the countryside of Somerset County to beach volleyball games at Seven Springs to sitting around parking lots looking for something to do, if they were there, I wanted to be there. The best part? They seemed as happy to see me as I was seeing them. Joe and I even formed a “gang” we dubbed, “The Vultures.” Membership was exclusive – a two-person crew that came about when we each noticed we were getting ready to hit on the same female at a keg party somewhere in Zehnersville. The last time I saw Joe in a social setting, he greeted me with our old Vultures signal. It made my night.

It’s never easy pinpointing characteristics or traits that make some people great, but that’s not the case here. Mike Hinton had a way of making you feel welcomed. He listened. He gave your words weight. You felt like you mattered. It doesn’t get any more genuine than that. If you’re looking for greatness, look no further.

My only contact with Mike in recent years came via Facebook and Twitter, but when word of his untimely death got to me in a text from P.J. Brown Saturday afternoon, a flood of memories came rushing back, including one I’m not sure I ever shared. The day before I moved into the University of Pittsburgh, the crew was at Seven Springs to play beach volleyball. I left early for another destination, but left my volleyball with the boys. Mike brought the ball back to my house, and when I returned home, it was sitting by the front door. As I approached, I noticed a piece of paper with the ball. It was a note from Mike. Now, when I return home from vacation in two days, I’ll dig through old photos to share, but the details of the note will remain private. Rest assured the note – worn and faded – still sits among those old memories, a wonderful reminder of an amazing time of my life.

Time made better by Mike Hinton – a husband, father, brother, son and friend to many.

Rest easy, old friend.

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The Man Channel

Cable and satellite TV packages often come with hundreds of channels – everything from the major networks to something called BYU Television.

No matter the package, whether it’s economy-sized or a deluxe model, each shares a characteristic –  a laundry list of crappy channels. Take a week, and tally the times there’s nothing worth watching.

There’s no getting around the truth: Cable sucks, so do satellites.

No wonder increasingly large numbers of people are getting their views in via Netflix or Hulu. Why pay hundreds for an inferior product?

Well, cable and satellite companies, I’m offering a solution to help your dwindling business. It’s a channel of awesomeness – a guy-centric lineup of excellence sure to bring men ages 18 to 49 back time and again. And, yeah, I get that Spike and Esquire Network are supposed to be for guys, but those channels are about as enjoyable as Sprout.

Here’s a partial lineup:

Cheers – Quite simply the finest sitcom in television history. Find me a white, 40-something guy who didn’t want to be Sam Malone.

Wings – The most underrated sitcom in history. Lowell Mather and Antonio Scarpacci for life.

The Goldbergs – The best show on TV today.

The First 48 – The best reality show in history, and a weekly hour that shows how phony all the CSIs and Law and Orders are.

Joe Kenda: Homicide Hunter – The baddest dude on the baddest channel.

Magnum, P.I. – Combine Sam Malone and Joe Kenda, you get Magnum.

The Last Man on Earth – The second-best show on TV today.

Intervention – Nothing more raw than watching a 24-year-old who’s been strung out on meth for 8 years. Even if the show ends happier than most Entourage episodes.

Gangland – For the inner gangsta in all of us.

ESPN “30 for 30” films – The only good thing ESPN has done (with the exception of not renewing Bill Simmons’ contract) the past decade.

The Office – Michael Scott. Dwight Shrute. Enough said.

Of course, there’s room for 1980s music videos, The Sopranos, Entourage (the first six seasons), Saved by the Bell, The Middle, the first three seasons of The Real World,The Monkees, The Bob Newhart Show and Newhart,  early episodes of Behind the Music, Rhonda Sheer “Up All Night” Clips and quality movies like Dazed and Confused, The Karate Kid, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Dodgeball.

Paul Stanley’s inspirational quote of the week

Part inspiration, part perspiration and part showman, Paul Stanley is one of rock’s ultimate frontmen, a persona so grand, I’ve dubbed him “The Walt Disney of Rock and Roll.”

Stanley’s lyrics are filled with imagery – visceral and inspirational. It’s the latter that’s inspired a new feature for this blog:

Paul Stanley’s inspirational quote of the week.

Every week, we’ll draw inspiration from Stanley’s often over-the-top lyrics. Apply them in life, and happiness is guaranteed.

“I know life sometimes can get tough!
And I know life sometimes can be a drag!
But people, we have been given a gift,
we have been given a road
And that road’s name is… Rock and Roll!”

There, feeling better?

Growing old gracefully? Not exactly

That's me on the left. The hairline receded a little, and I'm pretty sure my nose actually got bigger over the years.

That’s me on the left. The hairline receded a little, and I’m pretty sure my nose actually got bigger over the years.

Guys, we can exercise, party, kid around and act young, but there’s no hiding an ugly truth.

We’re getting old.

Hairs are growing where they never did. Hangovers last so long, swearing off drinking entirely sounds reasonable. Joints creak. Muscles ache. Getting up at night to go to the bathroom isn’t an inconvenience; it’s simply part of the routine.

A couple doses of growing old truth serum were served to me recently. The first came last Tuesday evening when this 40-year-old challenged himself to hang with high school seniors trying out for the Washington-Greene High School Senior All-Star Basketball Game, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Washington, for an upcoming feature in the Observer-Reporter.

I consider myself to be in good shape. I run regularly for long distances and at faster-than-average speeds. I’ve placed in my age group at races. I lift weights five days a week. I play racquetball and walk our dog, Ringo, … ok, enough already, right?

The fact is, no matter how much I train, I can’t hang with the speed and energy of 17- and 18-year-old kids. That became evident during the layup line at tryouts. Granted, the line lasted for 12 minutes – 12 minutes! – but it wasn’t long before the breathing turned heavy. As for getting off the ground, a four-inch vertical leap was on full display – over and over. When it came time to get on the court, I was tired. The kids were just getting started.

The second dose hit the next morning in spin class. Normally, spin class is reserved for Friday morning but Erin wasn’t working and she wanted to do spin class. I originally balked. but relented. After all, spin class is an outstanding way to train for distance running. It strengthens legs, bolsters endurance and commands complete attention.

I’d like to blame her for what happened next, but, let’s face it, I’m getting old.

About 30 minutes into class, I rose from the seat for a climb when I felt something unusual in my right foot. On rare occasions, the pedal causes a slight discomfort – unlike many enthusiasts, I spin in sneakers. This, however, was different. It was actual pain.

So guess what?

Yep, I kept riding.

Who says people get smarter with age?

I finished class, but I knew something was off. As the day continued, I became convinced something was broken. Walking was excruciating. Shoes provided instant discomfort. Of course, I didn’t go to the doctor. Instead, I went to work.

After dropping Anna off at school Thursday morning, a visit to MedExpress was in order and, after a few x-rays, a diagnosis of a foot sprain was given.

It’s Monday afternoon and that right foot still hurts. A few people told me foot sprains are worse than breaks. I wouldn’t know, but I know foot sprains suck. I’m basically confined to the house with the exception of going to work. It’s making me a bit stir crazy, even if I downloaded Trivia Crack.

Getting old kinda sucks, too. I can’t do many of the things I used to accomplish, and I’m beginning to realize achieving certain goals I’ve set for myself may be better suited for less mature audiences.

Now, it’s time to try and get off the couch.

Happy birthday, old friend

Marley in his old age

Marley in his old age

Hadn’t been out of the University of Pittsburgh for a year when my roommate in a terribly low-grade, poorly located “townhouse” decided he wanted a golden retriever. He grew up with them.

So, the search began for a female golden retriever. For two guys – one a hardcore gambler (him), and the other an unmotivated, wannabe journalist (me) – it was a difficult search. Pure-bred dogs cost big bucks, something neither of us had.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, news broke. A female golden retriever living next door to the house where my future brother-in-law was living was impregnated by a roaming farm dog. The result?

My  Marley shrine in my man cave

My Marley shrine in my man cave

A litter of mixed-breed puppies that looked a lot like golden retrievers. Since they weren’t pure-bred, the puppies were being given away.

Up for adoption was a male puppy. I informed my roommate.

He hoped for a female but quickly agreed to take on the responsibilities. This dog was coming to Dormont, where we moved after an epic stay in South Oakland.

Neither of us knew what we were getting into, but Marley, a 7-pound butterball of cuteness was sharing our place.  Strangers swooned over him. Some going as far as saying he needed to be on television.

Yep, Marley (named for my love of Bob Marley after the original suggestion of Bob – Bob Marley, Bob Weir, Bob Dylan –  was shot down) was adorable, friendly and a picturesque puppy.

He was also an incredible handful with a voracious appetite.

Marley got into everything – garbage, cakes, empty beer bottles (he loved beer), food, the fridge. He’d stick his face into the bathtub during a shower and try to drink water. He’d stop to visit every person walking by, as he was certain every human found him impossibly adorable and wanted to pet him. He ate furniture and shoes. He stole food and beer from people at parties.  It took nearly a full year to house train him.

Marley also quickly attached himself to me.

It happened one sunny afternoon at a nearby park, where he once ran at a toddler, tackled him to the ground and proceeded to lick his face in glee. Marley was tiny and the grass was tall. He was unsure of my whereabouts, but when he found me, he couldn’t have been happier.

From that point onward, we were running partners.

Marley followed me everywhere. When he didn’t follow me, he was watching me. An incredible friendship was in its initial stages.

And to think, I almost gave up on him.

Marley was so ornery and exuded so much energy, I didn’t think I’d handle the important tasks of raising him. There were moments I was convinced I needed to help find Marley another owner.

But then that growing, adorable, wild man would look at me, and I knew I couldn’t.

Over time, Marley became a constant companion. We were a tag team, like the Rock and Roll Express, the Midnight Express or the Road Warriors, It was tough picturing one without the other. I’d walk or run him 3-5 times each day. I’d take him everywhere I could. He’d go hours without going inside the house while I was at work.

We moved all over the place – Dormont, South Side, South Park, Bethel Park, Dormont (again) and, finally, the Westwood neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Marley always adjusted quickly.

He forced me to be responsible when I wasn’t ready. Those extra drinks I’d normally have with friends, well, the dog hadn’t been out since 8 p.m.  Had to get home.

Without Marley, I doubt I’d be the family man I am now. Sure, I’m not perfect. But neither was Marley, and we needed to learn from each other.

Marley, who was born on St. Patrick’s Day in 1998, slowly aged until he hit 12, when his hips began to weaken. He hung tough for a couple more years until he couldn’t go anymore. I knew it was time. He knew it was time. Everyone else knew it was time.

But June 27, 2012, remains the toughest day of my life.

Walking into the vet that evening, Marley said hello to another dog. We went to a room where they left us alone. I sobbed. I apologized for not being a better owner. I told him how much I loved him and how vital he was. I thanked him for being a great friend and incredible with Anna, who was three when Marley died. When an assistant entered the room for payment information, I got up. Marley shot up with one last burst of energy. I’m convinced he knew what was happening, and there was no way he wanted to left alone. Don’t worry. I didn’t leave. We had one last thing to do together.

He wasn’t perfect, but perfect dogs don’t have as much personality. And Marley had the latter in bunches.

There’s some funny parallels to the movie “Marley and Me.” I’m a newspaper man, just like John Grogan. I owned a golden retriever named Marley, and he was named for Bob Marley. (And no, my Marley was around long before the book became a household read.) My friends often said if my life were a movie, Owen Wilson would star in the lead role. The lead male in “Marley and Me”? You guessed it.

There’s so many stories about Marley, but he’ll never be immortalized on the silver screen or in a novel. It’s already been done.

He’d be 17 today, and I still miss him. Anna does too. She talks about him regularly though I’m not certain how she remembers him.

I know I’ll never forget him, from how he rough-housed with friends to how he sat with his head in my wife’s lap while she was fighting off going into labor during the Steelers’ Super Bowl win over Arizona to his last meal – a meatball hoagie.

Happy birthday, old friend. Long may you run.

photo (12)

The “joys” of home ownership

Old Man Winter is awfully cranky lately. Below-zero temperatures. Battering wind chills. And, lately, ice and snow joined the mix.

It’s enough to make a person want to stay inside with a crackling fire, thick socks and thicker blankets.

Inside the Kovak house, Old Man Winter (or maybe it’s just me) has been awfully cranky lately, too. There are thousands of reasons why.

New water heater, Check.

New furnace motor. Check.

New sewage pipes. Check.

It's not a pleasant smell after a cast-iron stack pipe is cut.

It’s not a pleasant smell after a cast-iron stack pipe is cut.

As for the thousands of reasons, it’s all monetary. These fixes, replacements and repairs run well into four figures.

Springtime can’t arrive soon enough.

If you’re a home owner, you can probably relate. Things always need fixed, upgraded or replaced. During fortunate times, light bulbs, furnace filters, door knobs and paint jobs are among the laundry list of chores. These, however, aren’t fortunate times.

The water heater and furnace motor were two things, the stack lines were entirely another.

The problem dates back to late fall, when Erin and I bought a washer and dryer as Christmas presents for each other. (I was only down for this if the dryer was gifted to me.) The hose drains into a double-tub basement sink, which shares a stack line with our second-floor bathroom.

The tubs were quick-filling and slow-draining, but the problem didn’t swell to the point of alarm until about a month ago. That’s when the water line rose awfully close to top of the sink. Well, it wasn’t long before those waters started overflowing, creating a mucky pond on the basement floor.

Now, I’m no MacGyver. I can’t build a house from match sticks and chewing gum,. but I’m a bit handy when it comes to plumbing.

So I went to work.

The sink was snaked. Lead pencils, ribbons and pens caps were pulled up (exactly what did the previous homeowner do with themselves!). Sadly, the waters still rose and overflowed.

Industrial strength pipe cleaner was purchased in bulk. It seemed to loosen things up, but the waters still rose and overflowed.

Finally, a shop-vac was used to pump gunk from the pipes. The gunk kept coming and coming and … get the idea?

Convinced a professional was needed, a call was placed to Try County Plumbing. The owner arrived, prepared for a quick repair.

No such luck.

The stack pipe, made of popular 1950s product terra-cotta, was broken. Sewage was basically sitting underneath the basement floor. The job required jackhammers, an unending supply of buckets to haul away debris, a healthy constitution to fight off the smell and patience. The second-floor bathroom, where the bathtub/shower is located was off-limits. The washer and dryer were rendered useless.

Ahhhhh, the joys of home ownership.

Yep, this winter had me reminiscing about life as a renter, when problems were an inconvenience but the financial responsibility of a landlord. Life can be simpler as a renter, but not necessarily fulfilling. Since moving into the Hillcrest neighborhood of Greensburg, we’ve undertaken a long list of projects, and there’s no end in sight. But this house is a home. And it’s hard to put a price on that.

Tribute to TM

In the newspaper business, reporters form an unusual bond. We’re driven, perfectionists and, in most cases, weird and quirky. That bond is even stronger for those of us who make a living working at night in the hectic, deadline-driven world.

And when Tim Menees arrived at the Observer-Reporter as a night cops reporter a little more than a decade ago, I immediately knew he’d fit right in. He was quick with a smile, easy-going and we became immediate friends.

Tim, whose father Tim Menees was a well-known political cartoonist for decades at the Post-Gazette in Pittsburgh, cut his teeth in sports. Before the O-R, he worked for the Pirates, and he followed sports closely. At the time, I was a sports writer, but Tim and I shared more in common than a knowledge of Jason Kendall’s batting average or Jack Wilson’s range. We were the same age. We both lived in the South Hills, and neither of us turned down a good time.

It wasn’t long before TM, as we often called him at the O-R, and I worked Carson Street together or the bars along Route 19, whether it was in Washington County following a shift or some haunts in the South Hills. We even formed a bit of a routine. TM was the starter, the fearless guy capable of starting a conversation with anyone. I was the closer, the one who came in and added energy and humor to keep things moving. For a couple guys trying to make a living working nights and weekends at a newspaper, it was a pretty good tandem.

TM and I hit concerts together. He crashed on my couch multiple occasions. I placed bets for him. He helped me move from South Park to Bethel Park on a muggy, Western Pennsylvania summer day with no convincing needed. He came to house parties after I began co-habiting with Erin, who later became my wife. He was at my bachelor party and our wedding.

Most importantly, TM was a good friend, a person I could sit at my dining room table with until 3:30 a.m. talking about anything and everything. I’ve met precious few people in my 40 years I was as comfortable talking to as TM.

And after that wedding reception wound down, TM was right there at the hotel, hanging out and providing those of us there who knew him with another classic Menees story – a story I still share now that I’m back at the O-R.

Sadly, it was the next to last time I saw Tim, who, according to information on Facebook and provided by co-workers, was found dead Monday by his girlfriend. I got the news about an hour ago, right after I got back inside my house from walking the dog. Even if I hadn’t seen Tim in some time after job changes, moves and life created distance, it hit me like a sledgehammer.

TM had fallen and hit his head on ice. A supposed minor injury somehow turned fatal. It’s the first TM story I’ve heard that doesn’t put a smile on my face.

Doesn’t seem real.

Good guys, and believe me when I say he was the dictionary definition of good guy, aren’t supposed to leave us early.

Rest easy, TM.