By R.L. Kehoe

Golf is an afternoon walk spoiled. Many people believe that Mark Twain coined this phrase, but he didn’t. Research shows the phrase appeared in print about 40 years before Twain was born. I’m guessing it was more than 40 years. A lot more. Like maybe five minutes after the game was invented by whatever nut sack ended up frustrating the bejesus out of so many people. And it really doesn’t matter who came up with the saying because it’s true. Oh, it’s damn true.

Ask anyone who has ever taken up this game created by someone who clearly had too much time, money and manners on his hands and just had to tell the world about it. They’ll all tell you. Oh, you might have to ply them with booze or catch them coming off the course cursing like a sailor, but they’ll all tell you.

Sometimes you don’t even have to ask them. They’re the ones you see staring off into space in public places and muttering to themselves, making wild hand gestures like they just got cut off in traffic. Trust me, these people are not homeless and they don’t have any psychoses. Nine times out of 10, these people just finished another round of golf.

I learned my lesson about golf, like most of the few meaningful lessons I’ve learned in life — the painful way. I was enjoying my life. I had more than enough things to occupy my time. I was active. Enjoyed playing softball, running and other activities. I even came to enjoy watching golf on television.

But I had no earthly reason to ever try to play the game. I take that back. The only time as a kid I ever thought about playing golf was when I picked up a golf ball and clubbed it with a Dick Allen model baseball bat we used in our pickup baseball games. The ball literally disappeared from sight. And I apologize now to the owner of whatever house or person I hit with the ball.

Not until I was well into adulthood, however, did I contemplate playing golf on a course. That’s when my brother John started asking me to learn the game so that we could play together. That was a dead giveaway. I should have known better. After all, what were his motives?

  • He wanted to humiliate me.
  • He wanted to take cash from me playing Nassau and other gambling games those who show any ability at the “sport” immediately take to so they can hustle their friends and business acquaintances.
  • He wanted to turn me into one of those frustrated lunatics I described earlier.

Unfortunately, I fell for it. It wasn’t long before I was at a driving range hacking away as my shots sailed errantly in all directions. John and I would sometimes go together and he’d offer pointers to help me straighten my pulls and slices. After a month or two went by, I was starting to hit the ball straight. And then he lowered the boom.

“Let’s play on a par three course. You’ll be able to do it,” he smirked.

A week or two later, there we were at our local park district course. It was a beautiful day. Greenery everywhere. And I was hitting projectiles everywhere but straight. I was quickly running out of balls. (And, for the record, I’m glad I never phrased it like that or we might not have completed the round.)

After five or six holes, I was already babbling to myself and ready to end this charade. But it was my turn to tee off and I figured I’d stick it out for one last hole. I teed the ball up and off in the distance I could see the foursome ahead of us tapping in their putts. And since I hadn’t hit a ball straight the entire day, I figured it wouldn’t harm anything to let my tee shot fly.

Well, and this is where my memory goes into slow motion, I crushed the ball and it was soaring and it was going straight. It was going straight! It was going straight…toward that foursome. John and I looked at each other and started snickering. After all, it was too late to stop the ball now. Pretty much nothing we could do. Except yell, “Fore!” But we didn’t.

Just as the last member of the foursome was tapping in his final putt my ball landed about 20 feet from the cup and bounced ever so gently and was rolling straight toward the cup. Now maybe it’s just the optimist in me, but I think there was a chance that ball could’ve rolled into the hole. Only it never got the chance. The big guy that was making his final putt was furious that my ball landed while he was putting.

Ordinarily, it would be kind of hard to tell if someone is furious when they’re 280 yards away from you. But we could see how animated he and his buddies were about this egregious breach of golf etiquette. They were gesturing wildly. Then one of the guys pulled out his fairway wood and smashed my ball back toward us.

John and I were laughing so hard we almost fell to the ground. As the foursome was making its way to the next hole, and after John had teed off and we approached the green, we had to walk past the irate duffers. They were staring us down big time and screaming at the top of their lungs, “Fore! Fore! Fore!” I could see the veins bulging in one of the guys’ forehead as he was losing it. His face wasn’t so much red as it was purple.

As we got to just a few feet from them, John looked over at them, calmed himself and in a one-word statement that completely lacked any human emotion, said, “Five.” That’s when the compound expletives started flying. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and our sudden adversaries went on their way.

That was my first and last round of golf. Looking back on it, maybe it wasn’t an afternoon spoiled.

The Bargain


By: Ashley (Kehoe) Blackburn

A little girl never forgets the day when her parents bring home the family’s first puppy. I still remember it vividly, though for us, it wasn’t quite the gleeful family bonding experience you might expect.

One summer weekend when I was about five, my mom had spent the afternoon garage sale hopping with friends, not looking for anything in particular, just wandering around the suburbs seeing what hidden treasures or downright deals they might happen upon. For my mom, the deal she couldn’t pass up unexpectedly turned out to be an eight-week-old, half Lhasa Apso, half Poodle puppy, wiggling around in a playpen with his littermates. My mom asked if the puppies were for sale, and it turns out they were, for the bargain price of $100. She haggled down to $75, and we had ourselves a discount dog.

When my mom came home, she called for me and my dad to come to the door, and the first thing I noticed was the big, guilty grin on her face. The second thing I noticed was the ball of fluff squirming around in her arms. Just then, she plopped the puppy down on the carpet and let him scamper sideways around the living room, yipping and chasing me in circles, hopping at my ankles, attacking me with puppy kisses. My five-year-old heart basically exploded. I, of course, was instantly in love. My dad on the other hand, stood with his arms crossed in the middle of the room, a rare look of surprise in his eyes, watching straight-faced as his daughter and this fluffy little maniac spazzed out in every possible direction.


Before my dad could object or even ask my mom what was happening, I excitedly, between hysterical breaths, at an octave bordering on only being audible to the puppy, squealed the words I’m sure my dad was dreading:


I didn’t realize what a brilliant move it was at the time, but my mom knew exactly what she was doing by bringing a puppy home to play with their five-year-old daughter, without discussing it with her husband first. It left my dad with two options: 1) Make his only daughter bawl her eyes out and always be the guy who took away her first puppy, or 2) Reluctantly welcome this ridiculous little furball into our family.

It wasn’t that my dad didn’t like dogs, or even that he didn’t want one, it was that he wasn’t in on the gag from the beginning. This was a man who prided himself on always being at least one step ahead of everyone and setting other people up for laughs, and here he was, finding himself on the other side of a surprise.

The other issue was that not only did my mom bring home a puppy, she picked quite possibly the wimpiest looking puppy of all time. You couldn’t even see his eyes because they were covered by a shaggy mess of matted, white-and-brown fur. His bark, if you could call it that, sounded like a squeaky toy. If you combined the breeds he was made up of, you’d realize pretty quickly that what you had was a Lhasa-Poo – dangerously close to Lots-a-Poo – which is essentially all my dad saw when he looked at him. Imagining having to take this thing out in public on walks around the neighborhood, or come clean when curious strangers asked what breed he was, my dad was not amused.

After what seemed like the longest, tensest silence of my whole childhood, my dad finally looked directly at my mom and said calmly, “Sure, we can keep him. On one condition.”

Suddenly it was my mom’s turn to panic. At this point, she had known my dad for about ten years, and anyone who knew my dad for even ten minutes knew that turning over total control to him was risky. But she also knew that she could either blindly agree, or bring the puppy back to the playpen. So she conceded, without even knowing the conditions of the agreement, and all of our attention shifted back to my dad:

“I get to name him.”

It was worse than either of us thought. By the end of preschool, I was starting to figure out how my dad’s brain worked, and I knew this was a case where we would all end up humiliated somehow. My mom burst out laughing, coming to much the same realization as I had, but also knowing that though potentially humiliating – letting my dad name the dog would also be relatively harmless. Probably.

We tried to offer suggestions as a way to curb some of my dad’s spiteful creativity, but it was no use. He took his time, circling the puppy completely straightfaced, sizing him up, trying to figure out the most outrageous name possible for this pathetic little mutt. He threw out some ideas that if I had repeated out loud, I’m pretty sure I’d have had my mouth washed out with soap. My mom just shook her head and choked down her laughter, trying not to encourage him, knowing that in the end, it wasn’t going to be up to her anyway. All she could do was hope for a name that wouldn’t require her to shout expletives from the back door every time she wanted the dog to come back inside, giving the neighbors what little remaining evidence they needed to prove we were nuts.

Finally, after what seemed like hours of a standoff, my dad smiled smugly and said, with complete certainty: “Divot.”

Divot? Seriously? I didn’t even know what that meant at the time, but I knew it was bad. I flashed forward throughout my childhood, envisioning having to sheepishly tell my friends my dog’s name, without any good explanation for why he was called that. When I asked what it meant, my dad explained that a divot was a clump of turf or grass, usually on a golf course. He went on, explaining that a divot was mostly useless, kind of a nuisance, and often an eyesore, exactly what this dog was to my dad at that point. He was a tiny, insignificant, clump of fur that other people had to clean up after. To him, it made complete sense, plus my mom and I both hated it – at least at first – so he had won.

What came to pass might seem predictable if you knew my dad and how big-hearted he actually was, but of course, Divot ended up loving my dad the most out of all of us. And eventually, though he never would have admitted it, my dad developed a soft spot for him too.

Ramblin’ Man

Loyla El Sign

By: Ashley Kehoe & Mark Wydra

One of my proudest accomplishments is that I graduated from Loyola University Chicago – not (just) because of its stellar academic reputation and commitment to community engagement – but because that’s where my dad and many of his best friends went – and I wanted to be just like them when I grew up. Little did I know what that would actually involve…

Over the years, I picked up bits and pieces of stories about my dad’s time as a Loyola Rambler whenever we got together with my many “uncles” – who I later learned were actually his college buddies. One of my favorite childhood traditions was an annual backyard barbecue with this particular group of friends once they all had wives and/or kids, many around my same age. We played a game they called “running bases” – which I’ve since realized was really just a way to tucker the kids out by making us run laps around the yard while the guys all stood around drinking beer and reminiscing about their college days. I remember them laughing hysterically and cryptically referencing partial memories, but I never quite got what was so funny. What I did know for sure – even as a kid – is that these guys really cared about each other, and that whatever they did in college must have solidified bonds of friendship that lasted well beyond graduation.

Since much of my dad’s Loyola experience was told when the “grownups” thought the kids were out of earshot or as inside jokes between bursts of laughter, I connected with his college buddies for this project, and finally heard the stories that I never fully understood growing up – for good reason, it turns out. We’ve kept the stories in this section intentionally anonymous, to protect the identities of the innocent, and in this case, the very guilty.

I’ve only ever known my dad’s Loyola buddies as highly successful, upstanding but fun-loving, father figure or wacky uncle types who still play a major role in my life – and who Loyola would be proud to count among its alumni. From all accounts, though, this bunch was once a real handful – even by adolescent boy standards, which is saying something.

Taken from an exchange with one of my dad’s best college buddies and a close family friend to this day who I’ve only ever known as “Wydra,” here are some of the highlights (or lowlights) of their Loyola experience, depending how you feel about juvenile delinquency, lewd behavior, and relatively innocuous twenty-something mischief that we like to think they eventually grew out of, for the most part:

John and I met at Loyola University our freshman year.  We all lived in Campion Hall, a male dormitory on Loyola’s campus on Sheridan Road.  We all lived in the same wing: 2 Center.  My roommate was a guy I knew a little bit from high school.  Our other friend was put with a guy we called “Killer,” because he looked like a mass murderer.

The CTA elevated train station at Loyola was right across the street from Campion Hall and a little to the south.  On the platform, there was a metal sign that was 10 feet long by 4 feet wide. It was brown with yellow lettering saying “Loyola University,” and it was bolted to a wall on the platform.

One fall evening our freshman year, we were all at dinner together. Killer said how good that sign would look on his dorm room wall.  We all agreed and set out a plan to take it.  There was no security at the platform to worry about, but there was campus security to be on the lookout for.  Because it was his idea, Killer had to supply the tools we would need.  Finally, one night, we got a good buzz going and impulsively decided that was the night to take the sign.

Around 1 or 2 am, we made our way to the platform.  There was no ticket-taker, just a machine that took money and had a rotating arm.  We got on the platform and there were a few people waiting for the train to downtown. We tried to not look suspicious, which was not easy to do considering our condition.

Once the train came and went, we had about 15 minutes until the next train came.  We were able to get all the bolts off; it was a group effort to have one of us stand on another’s shoulders in order to reach the bolts along the top of the sign.  It took us a few train passings to get it done.  Finally, it was unbolted.  We lifted it off the frame and it was damn heavy.  It was like moving a couch.

Someone was a lookout as we got the sign down the platform staircase, across the street, into the side door of the dorm, up the staircase to the second floor, and into the dorm room.  We then celebrated heartily.  It was quite remarkable that we did not get caught.  That sign was put on the wall and stayed with us through graduation.  One of the guys ended up with it post-graduation; I think he told me it was in his mom’s basement.

That winter it snowed a ton.  John and I and others built a snow slide to the second floor window of 2 South and would jump out the window and slide down.  Again, it was remarkable no one got hurt.  There was a liquor store/tavern directly across the street from Campion Hall which had an awning.  We made a game where after a snowfall, we would throw snowballs at the awning and try to knock the snow off onto people walking underneath; there were points if you were successful.  We never hurt anyone, but I do remember being chased.

Sophomore year, our antics continued along with our studies. Two of the guys’ dorm room picture window faced a courtyard open to Sheridan Road.  If a car passed or person walked by on the sidewalk, you could look up and see their picture window. Given this prime location, they hosted what we called “Good Times Theater” in their dorm room.

At that time, pornographic movies were only available on film.  They had a projector and would get adult films and project the movies onto a white sheet placed across the picture window.  They would charge admission, sell popcorn and beer; it was quite the moneymaker. The room was packed.  Someone would usually narrate and that was hilarious.  People would watch from the courtyard, as you could see through the sheet.  One time, the dorm chaplain, a guy in his 70s/80s, knocked at the door and asked what was going on.  I think someone opened the door and told him we were having a dorm floor meeting.  Good Times!

We all still lived in Campion Hall our junior year.  I had a 1967 Mustang beater. At that time, you could park on the street and usually find a spot.  One evening in April of our junior year, John and I drove somewhere for something; I don’t remember what.  On the way back to Campion Hall, I was on Pratt Avenue about a mile away from the dorm.  I came up on a car that was double parked.  John somehow knew that it was a pizza delivery driver making a delivery.  He told me to pull up and stop behind the car.  As I did so, John jumped out of my car, ran up to the passenger’s side door, opened it, and took 4 pizza boxes that were on the seat.  He ran back to my car, threw the boxes into the back seat, and I hurried away. I thought I heard someone yelling in the distance as I drove away.

That night we were kings in the dorm.  PIZZA FOR EVERYONE! (In our wing at least.)

A few days later, John and I were coming back from somewhere.  As I was parking my car, a Chicago Police car pulled up behind me.  There were 2 cops, not much older than us, one to each car door.  I rolled down the window and the cop asked if I knew why I was being questioned, and I honestly did not.  The cop said that John and I matched the description of a couple of pizza thieves in the area and that we were under arrest.  The cops cuffed us and put us into the back of their squad car.  They then brought us to the pizza place where the driver was going to identify us as the thieves, which he did as we remained in the squad car.  We both acted innocent.  The owner brought the cops a pizza as thanks, which they ate in front of us.  Both cops said how good it was, but not worth going to jail for.  They then tried to scare us by radioing in and getting a reply that the local jail was full and we were being taken to Cook County Jail.  This is when we began shitting bricks.

We offered to pay for the pizzas, but were told it was too late. Eventually, we were taken to the local jailhouse.  We spent the night there in different cells; try sleeping on a metal bed with no pillow.  The next morning, we were released without bond, but were given paperwork regarding the court date.  On the paperwork, it said that John was the assistant dean and I was a professor at Loyola.  We both thought this was a joke.  For the next few weeks until the court date, we debated about showing up to court.  We decided to show up, but no one from the pizza place did.  Our names were not called and we were not listed on the docket.  We were estatic as there was no record.

Your dad was a great friend to me and I will never forget him.  He had a great sense of humor and always made me laugh, except when we where in the back of that squad car.

Getting a Rise

By R.L. Kehoe

Some people were born to invent medicine that would save lives. Others were put on this earth to share their gift of music to enrich the lives of millions. My brother John was born to get a rise out of people.

Oh, he had many other highly refined talents and skills as a chemist, the author of several patents, a marathon runner, to name a few. But those were mere sidelines to his true calling: jacking with people.

In truth, the ability to agitate is a family trait shared by my two late brothers and me. (My half-brother Jim has similar abilities.)

For example, about 12 years ago my daughter was rummaging through a manila envelope my mother had given to me that contained all sorts of mementos from my childhood growing up in Elk Grove Village. My daughter, who has always been an angel in and out of the classroom, carefully examined each piece and quickly confirmed what she long had feared…I was a rotten kid.

As she sifted through the papers that came tumbling out of the envelope, she found my first grade report card. The grades were bad enough, but when she flipped over a couple of the cards to see the comments on the back for each subject she nearly choked herself with laughter. “Robert is an instigator,” she shrieked. Another mused how, “Robert’s grades are slipping.” It was bad enough the teacher shared this last observation with my parents. It was a low blow to use each letter in the word “slipping” in a crude illustration of a descending staircase — an allusion, I’m sure, to where she figured I’d end up in life.

Yet whatever innate abilities I may have had to tweak those around me in ways they didn’t appreciate, I was an amateur, a huckster, a parlor trick next to John. He worked meticulously at agitating all throughout his life.

His skills started crudely, I must admit. Yet even as a child, he could get adults flustered or fuming in a mere instant. And in almost every situation, he was eventually able to disarm their anger or embarrassment — fully realizing they would be subject to a similar exchange with him at a date of his choosing.

“Some people were born to invent medicine that would save lives. Others were put on this earth to share their gift of music to enrich the lives of millions. My brother John was born to get a rise out of people.”

The passages that follow illustrate the point.

The Cone of Silence

Our parents were divorced when I was 7 years old. It was tough, but at least we saw my dad every Sunday. My father loved ice cream, and at some point during our Sundays together we’d inevitably stop at Baskin & Robbins 31 Flavors for a cone.

My dad always had a standing rule when we were eating ice cream cones in his car. If he finished before you did, he was going to take a bite of yours. So basically, the race was on as soon as we got situated to devour our ice cream before the car left the lot.

One of the first Sundays after my dad informed us of this policy, I noticed John was taking his time eating his Jamoca Almond Fudge cone (the same flavor he always ordered, never deviating). I kept thinking this wasn’t going to end pretty for John. I was right, but for the wrong reason.

You see — and let me be blunt about this — John was the smartest one in the family. And not by just a little. He could count to 100 as early as he could speak. He amazed my parents and many of his teachers with all sorts of knowledge he had amassed at quite early ages.

Anyway, as my father was slurping the last of his ice cream I heard a faint crunching sound. Ah, I thought, John is going to try to devour the cone in a few huge bites before Dad steps in. But that really wasn’t the case.

John had indeed taken a bite of the cone, but ingeniously, he took only a tiny nibble from the pointy bottom of the sugar cone. And as soon as John had removed the tail end of that point, there were only two things that were going to happen. One, that cone was sure as hell going to be leaking any second. Second, my Dad was going to blow a gasket when he began eating the ice cream from the top of the cone while forcing what was left of the once-frozen confection into the base of the waffle wrapping that suddenly found itself without a bottom. And, sure enough, the old man didn’t let me down.

He grabbed John’s cone and went straight to the ball of ice cream atop the cone as John feigned being upset, railing about how this wasn’t fair. My Dad wasn’t even a bite into his larceny when small droplets of ice cream began to dribble down the sleeve of one of his nice dress shirts that he probably planned to wear to work that week. It took a couple of seconds before he felt the moisture, and then he spotted the droplets on his shirt. Still, he hadn’t seen the chasm at the bottom of the cone that now was flowing with cool liquid. Perplexed at first, my dad began turning the cone side-to-side looking for weakness in the structure of the melting ice cream atop the cone. He found none.

Suddenly, he had an epiphany. He hoisted the now rapidly diminishing cone above his head only to find the real source of the now gushing leak. I could see my dad’s cheeks turn pink, then deep red, then purple before he blew his stack.

“Hells bells, John! Why did you bite the bottom of the cone while you were still eating it? Didn’t you know it would leak out the bottom? What the heck is wrong with you?”

As I was carefully observing John’s facial reaction to being caught, I was amazed. He sat there stone-faced. It wasn’t even the old “Who, me?” reaction. It was almost as if he hadn’t heard the tirade that was blaring directly at him. Suddenly, my dad began flailing around trying to find enough napkins to absorb the great Milky Way that his son had so egregiously left at his doorstep.

As soon as my dad’s gaze had left my brother and focused on the napkins, John and I made eye contact. Just then, the stoic jaw position that he held began to loosen ever so slightly. The sides of his locked lips started to curl up, almost imperceptibly. Yet there it was. The smirk.

Game over, Dad.

The Finger

It wasn’t until later in childhood that it became clear John was a savant in forcing visceral reactions from just about everyone he came in contact with, whether at home, carousing in the neighborhood, in school, at work or even doing something as mundane as driving in my mom’s car to go grocery shopping.

One day, before we had hit 10 years old, my mom took us with her to Arlington Heights to buy food for the week. John and I were sitting in the back seat looking for something to do to pass the time until we completed the journey that to us seemed like an hour. In reality, it was only a 15-minute trek along heavily traveled Arlington Heights Road to the store.

Now whatever distance there was between Elk Grove to Arlington Heights was nothing compared to the cultural divide that existed between these communities. Elk Grove was comprised of people like our parents. Young adults who had bought their first house by scraping together nickels for a down payment in a new subdivision that bordered an industrial park in the shadows of O’Hare Airport. Still, most people who lived in Elk Grove were proud and aspired (whether they admitted it or not) to one day be like most of the people in Arlington Heights.

The homes that lined Arlington Heights Road in Arlington Heights, in contrast, reeked of status and old money. They had sweeping front lawns nearly the size of a football field. They needed riding mowers to cut the turf. Most of these homes had those repulsive lawn jockey statues and cars that cost as much or more as most of the houses in Elk Grove.

Anyway, as we’re making our way to Arlington Heights John holds up his middle finger and asks me if I know what that means. I was, as I’ve already acknowledged, not as smart as him. So I told the truth and said I didn’t know what that finger meant. So he says he thinks it might make adults mad. Now, it was a warm day and our car windows were open so we both decided to sit up on our knees on opposite sides of the back seat and stick one hand out the window well above the roofline with our middle fingers fully extended for all to see. Then we watched and waited for the reactions.

The payoff was instantaneous. The jaws of old ladies suddenly went slack, as if they feared they were going to crash. Others pointed at us as if we were aiming loaded weapons at them. All I could think of at the time was how could anyone get so upset by a single finger being extended? And in fact I tried this experiment with other fingers, but there was no reaction.

Barely a minute or two into this social experiment, we were really starting to enjoy ourselves. My mom was focusing on her driving, but she could sense something was amiss. So, like all parents, she asked the inevitable question: “What the hell is going on back there?” And we gave the only answer that any brothers would give to such an accusatory inquiry: “Nothing,” we replied in slow, sing-song harmony.

Just then we came to a stoplight as a large truck pulled along side. This wasn’t going to end pretty, I sensed. Suddenly, the truck driver leans way out his window with about half of his upper torso outside the vehicle and screams into our back window in a slow, southern drawl, “Hey sonny, sit on that finger and rotate!”

Game over, Mom…and you too, Big Daddy truck driver.

Signing Off

Into adulthood, John continued to act on just about every impulse he had to force a reaction from those around him while I would usually play straight man to his pranks.

On one summer vacation we took to Las Vegas with our wives while we were in our early 30s, we found new ways to be obnoxious. During the flight to Las Vegas, we all ended up in the front row of coach on a very wide jumbo jet. My wife and I were on one side of the row with a window and aisle seat followed by four or five seats in a middle section to the row and John and Jane were on the other two seats at the end of the row by the window.

The flight attendants were handing out meals that looked inedible. About the only thing that looked semi-appealing was a bunch of large red grapes. I was thinking about eating them until I scanned across the aisle to where John and Jane were seated. I figured I could probably loft a grape over the heads of those in the middle sections and hit John. So I did. But instead of hitting him, the grape landed without a sound on his plate. John was busy talking to Jane and didn’t react initially. I figured he must not have noticed the incoming fruit. I was wrong.

Soon, grapes were hitting my wife Cathy and me at an alarming rate. This continued until he ran out of ammo. I kept wondering what this must have looked like to people in the rows behind us.

Once in Vegas, the foolishness continued. We proceeded to get tossed out of a really bad lounge performance late one afternoon. It was a big room with lots of leather couches around cocktail tables and we were pretty far from the stage, where a really lame country band was trying to get the crowd to liven up. It wasn’t working.

Virtually no one was paying attention to the female singer’s urgings for everyone to “make some noise.” About four songs into the performance, John and I started snickering to ourselves about the festivities.

Displaying no timing or rhythm, the singer kept motioning for the crowd to clap along. The response: Crickets chirping. Then she implored, “C’mon everybody, get into it.”

As we were now deep into about our sixth bottle of Heineken, John and I looked at each other and made some bad white man dance moves in our seats and mouthed to each other, “C’mon, get into it.” We were so far from the performers we thought this couldn’t possibly be detected.

Moments later two very large Italian-looking men in dark suits appeared out of nowhere. They tapped us on the shoulder and simply said, “Okay guys, that’s it. You’ve had enough. Let’s go,” one of them grumbled. “Go where?” John deadpanned. “Out,” said Vito (or whatever his name was). “But we were just getting into it,” John smirked. “Let’s go guys!!!!” The show was over. It was time to make our own entertainment.

As we spilled out into the old Vegas strip looking for somewhere to eat, we ended up on a side street amid some depressing looking bars and restaurants that must have opened before the Sinatra era. Not much to pick from here, but for whatever reason we chose a restaurant with a façade that looked like a Swiss chalet. Now I’ve never dropped acid, but I’m sure that if I ever did this is the kind of hallucination one would have. We staggered into the lobby, which looked like it was designed by a funeral home foyer. There was an attended hostess station and a guest book that tourists apparently were supposed to sign and share the city and state where they lived. Who would even admit they came here, we wondered.

We waited and waited for any sign of a hostess or manager or waitress but none materialized. It couldn’t be this busy, we thought.

To pass the time, John sauntered over to the guest book. He looked over the listings at first and Jane said something about how cute this was before she drifted away. Not long after, John picked up the pen and began writing in the book. This continued for a couple of minutes and I walked over to see what the hell he was writing.

His list started with names like Rusty Nail and Jim Nasium and quickly grew. I added my alias: Al Cohol, Buster Hymen and a few others.

The competition was on. We must have come up with about 20 names like this before staggering away in laughter. Then John went back for one last wisecrack and scampered away sheepishly as two blue-haired ladies and their husbands approached the registry.

By the pace of John’s hasty retreat, I figured he must have come up with an appropriate closer for our name game. As the elderly couples began to look at the book, I could hear them saying things like, “Oh, I wonder if any famous entertainers signed the book.” That’s when I snuck up behind one of the ladies and looked over her shoulder as she bent down closer to read some of the names.

And there it was, John’s final entry:  Hugh G. Rection.

Maybe it was the beer or how hard I was laughing, but John had to hold me up to get me out of that restaurant. Once outside, our wives were pretty indignant about us being so impatient. I told them the real reason we left, at least as much as I could spit out between the fits of laughter. Suddenly, despite it being well over 100 degrees outside, things got pretty cold.

Game over.

It’s Only Rock & Roll

By: R.L. Kehoe

Culturally speaking, history will not remember the 1970’s fondly. America was going through a painful transition from the greatest era in music history to what would become the greatest abomination of the art form ever in disco. My brothers and I were enjoying every opportunity available to soak in our favorite rock and blues bands even as most of them were steadily being pushed off the radio for the likes of Donna Summers and the beast incarnate “Saturday Night Fever” by the Bee Gees.

Our high school years were most accurately portrayed on TV in That ‘70s Show and the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Drugs were everywhere. Clothing trends set fashion reeling. And we were clinging to the late 1960’s with every fiber of our beings.

Nowhere was this truer than in our tastes in music, particularly live music. My brothers John and Jerry made sure my indoctrination to live music was deep, powerful and lasting. They took me along to see some of the greatest bands ever.

I’d trade the rest of my life if I could be assured of having one more of those nights with them again.

John and Jerry


Even though we never got to be around him as much as we wanted, Jerry was always into bands and music genres far earlier than the rest of society. His room, which was a modified hippie den, always had a strange mix of aroma — a potpourri of cigarettes, weed and incense, all of which were never allowed in the house, of course. But as with most laws of the day, we snickered as we broke them.

I remember in the early 1970’s sneaking into Jerry’s room with John (on one of the many occasions our older brother was gone) and leafing through his record collection splayed across the floor. Albums that had yet to hit the radio were everywhere in the room. Deep Purple’s Machine Head. George Harrison’s live recording of The Concert for Bangladesh — to my mind, still the greatest artists ever assembled for a show and the best live recording ever. As we leafed through the inside pages of the leather-bound cover of Jethro Tull’s Living in The Past and looking at pictures of the disheveled band members, John and I burst out laughing and began mocking the album. It was only a matter of months before we were wearing out the album with repetitious play.

Jerry’s dual love of music and all-night carousing led him to a job as a lighting technician at a nightclub in a suburban strip mall called Beginnings. (One of the owners of the club was in the group Chicago, which had released a breakthrough song by the same name.) The club was tucked into a dark corner of the strip mall and I’m quite sure few who shopped at the adjacent stores had any idea of the explosive music that was going on inside Beginnings deep into the early morning hours seven days a week.

Jerry would occasionally tell John and I about some of the many bands who were just getting their starts at Beginnings or musicians from very famous bands who played solo shows at the club or with their side bands. Trouble was, I wasn’t of driving age, let alone old enough to get into a bar to partake in any of the fun.

Like all good big brothers, Jerry saw to it that neither my age nor the laws of the State of Illinois would keep me out of the club. One night, when I was just 15, Jerry let me know he had conceived a way to get me in to see Dickie Betts, the legendary Allman Brothers lead guitarist who had just released the song “Ramblin’ Man,” which would be a staple of AM and FM radio airplay for decades to come.

My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) went with me and we had to rely on her older sister to accompany us into the bar. I distinctly remember the bouncer at the door looking at Jerry’s license, which he had given me, and letting us sail through into the club.

After we found some stools in front of a long rectangular table top, Jerry sauntered by and made sure the waitress brought us whatever we wanted to drink. I was still six years from being of legal age but it was a good introduction to drinking and, more importantly, to the power of great live music in a small club.

Jerry returned to sit with us toward the end of Dickie Betts’ set, which was filled with some of the Allman Brothers’ greatest songs, including “Blue Sky,” “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and “Melissa.” I’ve been to hundreds of live performances by everyone from the Rolling Stones to Led Zeppelin to Eric Clapton and Muddy Waters but I can’t ever remember a rowdier audience or performance than Dickie gave that night.

The last memory I have of that evening — and my greatest memory of my long since departed brother Jerry — is us dancing and stomping on top of the table top with his arm around my shoulder as Dickie blasted through a long, searing solo.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones”

John too loved music, but initially he was more into dark metal bands like Hawkwind and Lucifer’s Friend and groups like Blue Oyster Cult (long before they ever were heard on radio). Yet John also had a good appreciation of the bands I loved, nearly all of which were the white British bands who had transformed Mississippi Delta and Chicago blues into roaring rearrangements.

Shortly after John got his license, he and some of his friends took me to my first show downtown at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago to see the Doobie Brothers. Seems tame now, but they had just come out with their first big album and they had a great loud sound in what was once a gleaming movie palace that seated about 4,000. I was hooked and was always up for attending any other live shows he was willing to drag me along.

I recall one summer night he took me to Park Ridge, which was about 25 minutes from our house, to a hot dog stand that had room for only about 50 people tops. A local band called Styx was playing that night. We had heard about the band and their song “Lady” had just hit the radio. It was a fun night but John eventually had something bigger planned for us not long after that show.

John knew I loved the Rolling Stones and he and his friends got tickets to go see the band outdoors in Milwaukee at County Stadium, where the Brewers used to play. I was really embarrassed to ask him, but I was aching to go to that show and there was no other way I could go unless he would let me tag along. As usual, I didn’t have to ask. He had bought me a ticket and had planned all along for me to go with them. I remember staring at that ticket with the band’s name on it. The price: $8.50. Opening acts: The Eagles, Chaka Kahn and Joe Walsh.

RL - Rolling Stones

We camped out somewhere near the stadium because the doors were to open at noon on the day of the general admission show. We got to the parking lot around 9:30 that morning and sat outside these metal doors with several hundred other people on a hot sunny day. There were four of us and quickly thousands of others began arriving. Pretty soon, the once vacant asphalt lot was packed with those lined up waiting to enter.

Around 10 am everyone suddenly began to stand up and started getting anxious. Then there was pushing and we were having trouble staying next to each other. Suddenly, the stadium’s metal corrugated doors started to rumble and the sea of people behind us started to push forward toward the gates. Just then the gates flew open like the starting gate at a horse race. Within a few minutes we were all separated and lurched forward into the stadium by the throng.

I couldn’t see my brother or our friends. For a moment I thought what was going to be my favorite musical event was going to be a disaster. I knew no one. I had no way of getting anywhere or communicating with my brother. I pondered this as I stood on the concourse under the stadium looking up the stairs at the sun-drenched field. Just then I spotted my brother looking for me. The great day was back on.

We sat on the field 100 feet or so from the stage. The bands were all great and the drugs in the crowd were flowing freely. Security back then, if there was any, didn’t even try to stop what was going down. Joints were freely passed. An older hippie dude pulled out a vial and began snorting coke with his girlfriend in broad daylight as the Eagles ripped through their set. If this is the pre-show, what’s going to happen when the Stones come on, I wondered.

As the road crew cleared the stage and began tuning the Stone’s instruments, some roadies began planting large cardboard boxes all over the stage. I couldn’t figure out why they were doing that until just before the band came on and the roadies reappeared and opened all the boxes. Inside were full bottles of Jack Daniels that were strategically placed all over the huge stage. After each number, the band members would crack open a bottle and take huge swigs before the next song.

I’ve seen the Rolling Stones around a dozen times in my life, and while this was far from their best live performance, it was the most fun I ever had seeing them.


Our concert-going days continued throughout our teen years, with plenty of escapades and including at least one arrest along the way. Early one summer evening, as we were getting ready to head to Chicago to see a band, John was getting increasingly worried as he had not heard from one of his friends who was going to sell him some pot for the show. Pretty soon we knew we were going to be late for the show and were just about to leave when John’s friend called. John drove over to his house and came back and picked me up in his Javelin AMX, a powerful car that was a magnet for cops.

As we sped away from our house, which was about 25 miles from Chicago, John was making a beeline down Tonne Road, a four-lane residential street separated by a wide grass median. The speed limit was 30 mph. We were easily going over 60 mph when we spotted an Elk Grove cop car coming the other way on Tonne. We had various run-ins with the police over the years so this should have been an omen to John to slow down. He never let off the gas.

As we passed each other, we looked across the grass median to see if the cop was paying any attention to us. That’s about when I remembered the undulations to Tonne Road. As we hit this rise in the road, all four wheels came off the ground just as our gaze met the cop’s. He was staring right at us.

Sure enough, the cop began speeding up to find the first side street that would allow him to turn around and run us down. John knew this too and only leaned harder on the gas. It was quite a run and we made it a few miles away en route to the expressway before the law caught up to us. He was fuming that it took him so long to catch us. After he ran John’s license he wanted to search the car. Didn’t take him long to find the baggie of weed in the console. No show tonight, unfortunately.

The 70s

Despite this 1-night setback, it wasn’t long before we were back at it. After another concert and long night of partying, John and I were heading back home. We were only a block from our house and we were still laughing about a night well spent. As we were getting ready to turn toward our street, John looked over at the house on the corner owned by a man that I’m still not sure why, but we just didn’t like him. Suddenly, John cut the wheel and drove right up to the center of his front lawn and stopped. He began a break torque maneuver to get the back wheels spinning and we were cutting huge circles in the one well-cared-for lawn. We must have done about eight circles before we left the muddy mess.

I was laughing so hard about my brother’s sudden burst of creative energy that I didn’t think much about the fact that he headed immediately home instead of driving around a while to get all the mud off and grass off the tires and the car.

About 10 minutes after we got inside and went to our room to go to sleep there was some stern knocking at the front door. Hello, Elk Grove Police. Back to the pokey. We were quickly bailed out and used better discretion on our way home after shows.

As our teen years waned and we got ready for college, my brothers and I went our separate ways in our tastes in live shows. But damn near every time we got together in the ensuing years we relived a lot of those memories.

Like Father Like Son

By: Ashley Kehoe

Some of my favorite childhood memories aren’t just of my dad, they’re of my dad and my brother together. I’m fairly certain that when my brother came into the world, it was God’s way of settling the score with my dad for his years of bad behavior, and I mean that with the utmost love and respect for both my dad and my brother.

Without knowing it, when my dad had a son, he essentially became responsible for another version of himself, except one he now had to attempt to discipline. If you’ve been paying attention at all to these stories, you’ll know that my dad was nothing if not strong-willed, too smart for his own good, and stubborn beyond belief. Enter: Mike.

Though they only had seven years together, there were a lot of hard fought father-son battles in the Kehoe household, most of which revolved around serious injustices like bedtime or what was being served for dinner – especially if it wasn’t a plain cheeseburger or a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich with the crust cut off. These were never physical fights, but more a battle of wits between my dad and his tiny but worthy adversary. More often than not, my dad won. When Mike fought against bedtime, my dad would proclaim, “Eight is late!” Who could argue with that? It even rhymed. My brother’s protest was usually to bawl his eyes out, which tired him out even more, securing an easy victory for my dad.

I had seven years on my brother, so I had long since learned to choose my battles more selectively than fighting bedtime. Mike never really caught on to this logic, and instead – like our dad – fought any and every rule or expectation that went against his will. Also like our dad, Mike was willfull to begin with, so this resulted in a lot of fights, and subsequently, a lot of crying.

The battle I remember the most, and the one that stands out among my favorite childhood memories of all time, is one where my brother actually triumphed. I was always sort of quietly rooting for our dad in these spats, knowing that if Mike threw a temper tantrum – especially in a public place – then I would come out looking like the golden child for the rest of the day, without any extra effort on my part. But on this particular day, I got a glimpse of how hard it must have been for our dad to parent a child so much like himself, and I developed a newfound respect for my little brother.

The general plot of the story went like this: My mom, dad, brother, and I took a wholesome trip to the zoo to soak up some sunshine and spend quality time together as a family. That was the plan anyway, but it derailed around the time we got our tickets and made our way through the turnstiles. So, immediately.

As soon as we entered the zoo grounds, my brother, probably three at the time, spotted another little boy riding along cheerily in an upright stroller shaped like a dolphin. As soon as he saw it, Mike had his heart set not on seeing all the live, exotic animals in close proximity to us, but on riding in a plastic one, and being pushed by my parents anywhere he wanted to go.

At first, Mike asked politely if he could please ride in the dolphin. My dad, seeing that the dolphin stroller came with an extra cost – and more likely just not wanting to be seen pushing a giant dolphin stroller around the zoo, a sure sign of the toddler being the one actually driving the situation – firmly said no. That was enough to send my brother into hysterics, in one of the most elaborate public temper tantrums I’ve ever witnessed. I knew this would not end well for Mike, and that I would probably get something extra special from the gift shop for being the well-behaved child that I was.

But for some reason, on that particular day, my dad had reached his limit. We always knew my dad had an exceptionally big heart and wanted to give us kids everything he and my mom didn’t have growing up. But I don’t think that was it, at least not this time. I actually think what happened is that our dad saw himself in Mike that day, setting his sights on something he wanted and stopping at nothing to make it happen, no matter how many people he had to annoy or humiliate in the process. And if anyone could respect that strategy, it was our dad.


The only thing we have to commemorate this particular family trip to the zoo isn’t something from the gift shop, but a framed photo of my three-year-old brother, his arms crossed and a smug smile on his face, sitting in a dolphin stroller with my dad standing behind him, hands on the fin-shaped handle, ready to push Mike anywhere he wanted to go.

Practical Jokes

Part One: My Dad, the Prankster

By: Ashley Kehoe

My mom claims that my existence was the result of my dad asking for a baby as his college graduation present. I love the idea of my dad having just completed a major life accomplishment, being the first child in his family to finish college, feeling on top of the world with nothing but possibilities ahead of him, and deciding the only addition that could possibly make his life any better than it already was at that moment, was me. But knowing my dad, I know better than that: He just wanted someone fresh and unsuspecting to play all his pranks on, and everyone else in his life was onto him by then. Fatherhood was really just his next bit.

Sharing is Caring

A child of the eighties, I was raised to believe that sharing was always the right thing to do – except with strangers, because they meant danger – and that not sharing would probably result in spontaneous combustion or life in prison. My dad knew this, and as any good father would do, used it to his complete and total advantage, whenever possible.

Starting at about three years old, I have vivid, blissful memories of baking Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies with my dad. It was one of our favorite weekend activities. We’d line up all the ingredients on the counter, mix everything together, and bake at least 4 dozen of the best cookies ever made, every time. (I’ve never been able to recreate the absolute perfection of these cookies, even as an adult, no matter how exactly I follow the recipe.) The purpose of baking was usually to make extra plates of cookies to share with our neighbors – but of course as responsible bakers and good citizens, we had to do some quality control, so there was always a taste test involved.

While the cookies were cooling, we’d sit at the kitchen table and read the comics in the paper until we couldn’t resist the aroma of fresh baked cookies any longer. My dad would always hand me a cookie first and let me take a bite, the melty chocolate smudging all over my tiny hands and smiling face. Then, he’d gently remind me that I should always share, and ask politely if he could have a bite. Being the adoring, abiding daughter that I was – at least at that age, until I wised up – I’d eagerly extend my chocolate-covered hand toward his mouth to share my cookie with my dad, the nicest and most wonderful grownup man I knew, next to Mr. Rogers. And without fail, in one gigantic bite, my nice and wonderful dad would devour the entire cookie, not leaving a single crumb or chocolate smear on his mustache as evidence.

I’m sure the first time this happened, I probably bawled my eyes out, until I opened my eyes to see my dad laughing and realize there were baking sheets lined up all over the kitchen counters with batches of cookies still leftover. After that, it sort of became a tradition, and I would sometimes even offer to share with my dad, knowing what was about to happen. I would always laugh, knowing that for as much of a prankster as my dad was, he would never pull a trick like that with the last cookie. Probably anyway.

Seeing What Develops

Every once in a while, after running errands with my mom – going grocery shopping, picking up dry cleaning, getting rolls of film developed, the usual weekday to-do kind of stuff – I would hear my mom start cracking up in the front seat.

“ASHLEY LOUISE! Just what exactly did you and your father get into last night?” She’d look at me in the rearview mirror and ask, trying not to laugh.

The answer was never the same, because my dad in his thirties had more of an imagination than most kindergarteners, and he generally used it to dream up unexpected ways to piss other people off, make them laugh, or both. On nights when my mom worked, my dad used his time the way only a responsible grown man would: To stage elaborate and ridiculous photo shoots in everyday places all over our house, and then inconspicuously leave used rolls of film lying around without any explanation, for my mom to someday discover and develop.

Flipping through photo albums of my childhood is less of a trip down memory lane, and more of just a straight up trip. There are pictures of me at about age three popping out of the washing machine in my pajamas, dressed up as a clown in the middle of July pulling our dog down the street in a wagon, and wearing an electrical tape mustache and a bowler hat – looking like a miniature, towheaded Charlie Chaplin. The photos never really made any sense whatsoever, and looking back, I’m sure that was sort of the point – absurdist comedy that kept my dad entertained and everyone else guessing.

My favorite of these photo shoots is actually a series shot before I can even remember, when I was just barely a year old. The first photo in the sequence is of me opening a present and tearing off the wrapping paper on a box just about as big as I was at the time. The second photo reveals that the present is a bald, shiny Cabbage Patch Kid doll, which looked a lot like I did. The third photo shows me all smiles, happily hugging the doll. It’s not until you get to the fourth photo that you realize this entire thing was a set-up, and I was, quite literally, framed. The last photo is of me, a live baby inside the Cabbage Patch Kid box, peering out through the plastic looking utterly confused, totally unaware that this wouldn’t be the last time I’d be a prop in one of my dad’s gags.

Outsmarting Mall Santa

Every year when my parents could find a shared night off, they would bundle us up and brave the holiday madness at Woodfield Mall to see Santa. I’m sure this usually involved a lot of whining, waiting in line, and wondering why in the hell we had to participate in such a silly tradition anyway. But for my dad, there was always a way to make even a hellish ordeal like waiting to meet mall Santa worth his while.

From the earliest age I can remember, while I waited to see Santa, my dad would tirelessly coach me on my response to Santa’s forthcoming question: “And what would you like for Christmas this year, little girl?” What Santa didn’t know is that – despite my blonde curls, big blue eyes, and innocent “Nice List” smile – I wasn’t a little girl, I was just a plant in one of my dad’s many missions to set other people up for laughs.

As we waited in line, my dad masterfully drilled me, not even letting me break concentration as the line wound its way past the toy store.

“OK Ash, when Santa asks what you want for Christmas this year, you say…?”

Each correct response was rewarded with a Fannie May Mint Chocolate Meltaway candy, which my dad had covertly picked up at Marshall Field’s on the way to the line, a.k.a. training camp. I was a sucker for anything minty and chocolate – and my dad knew it. Resistance was futile.

Before I knew it, because time apparently flies when you’re being brainwashed, I finally had my moment to shine. Santa’s elves helped me climb up on his lap, where I sat politely on his knee and stared into his magical eyes, ready to make my dad proud.

Right on cue, as intelligence accurately predicted he would, Santa asked: “And just what would you like for Christmas this year, little girl?”

I froze. Brightly colored visions of toys and dolls danced in my head. I had to fight it, but what was my line? As I looked toward my parents for help, I saw my dad, gently shaking the box of Mint Meltaways in my direction – and knew what I had to do.

“World peace,” I said, in a tiny but bold voice, beaming at my dad – who was now in hysterics.

Santa was dumbfounded, the jolliest man at Woodfield Mall had been upstaged by a three-year-old. Then suddenly his bright pink cheeks turned up, his sparkling eyes squinted, and Santa let out what was probably the first authentic laugh of his career. Never has a Mint Meltaway tasted sweeter.

Part Two: My Brother, the Wise Guy

By: R.L. Kehoe

I got home late from high school one afternoon and saw my mom standing over the sink with the water running and an empty ice rack in her hand. She had turned the water on as hot as it would go and stood there waiting. At first, I figured she was going to wash the ice rack. But she just stood there waiting until the water was scalding hot. Then she began filling the tray.

I asked her what she was doing. “I need to make some ice,” she said. So I asked the obvious question: “Then why do you have the water coming out so hot?” She shot me a look that only a mother can, half condescending and half I’m-about-to-teach-you-something.

She went on to explain how my brother John, who was incredibly gifted in math and science, told her that this quickest way to make water freeze is to fill the rack with hot water, not cold. “It has something to do with the fact the molecules move more quickly when the water is hot and when you put it in the freezer they stop moving right away whereas it takes longer with cold water,” she said. The way she said this made it clear that neither she nor I should question John about scientific matters like this. Her real point seemed to be that it was beyond my comprehension.

A few minute later I asked John about his little science lesson for mom. The exchange went something like this:

Me: “Where did you get the idea that ice would form more quickly from hot water than cold?  That’s not true…is it?”

John: “No, of course not.”

Me: “Then why did you tell her that?”

John: “I just wanted to see if she’d do it.”

Me: “So, you are going to tell her this is complete nonsense, right?”

John (smiling): “Maybe.”

This charade went on for many months and years, with John never fessing up to his little joke. For all I know, my mom probably still only makes ice trays with hot water.

John raised the practical joke to an art form and we’d stop at nothing to make each other laugh, even in early childhood.

A Punchline With a Kick

For example, I distinctly remember the first real (and not coincidentally, dirty) joke I heard. I heard it in second grade in the school library. Brad Gerber, a funny classmate with a very high, almost falsetto, voice pulled me aside in the rows of books and broke into this story he had heard his dad tell.

Brad could barely get each line out without convulsing into fits of laughter. And the fact that we were in the library sharing the story and trying to contain ourselves only added to the silliness. Anyway, here’s the essence of the joke:

A nearly blind young woman with a very large chest was finding it difficult to get around the city where she lived. Someone told her she should get a seeing-eye dog. Eventually she goes to the pet store and buys one that hadn’t quite had the full training required. She brings the dog home and decides to name him Tittswiggle. (Of course, Brad couldn’t contain himself here.)

Gradually, she trains the dog and pretty soon she is getting around the city quite well, going to restaurants and shops with the dog’s help. One day, while wearing a very tight, almost see-through sweater the woman gets off the bus and the dog suddenly bolts away. The distraught woman begins stumbling up and down the block, bouncing off garbage cans and people while screaming: “Tittswigle! Tittswiggle! Here Tittswiggle!”

The distraught woman begins stopping passersby and asking, “Excuse me, but have you seen my Tittswiggle?” Everyone laughs but no one helps her. Finally, she bumps into a cop. He asks her what’s wrong and offers to help. She says, “Officer, have you seen my Tittswiggle,?” The cop looks her up and down and says, “No Ma’am, but I sure wish I did!”

I howled as many times as I told or heard this joke. (Okay, I was 7 at the time). So I get home and tell John. He laughs a bit and then says he has a joke for me. He asks me to stand next to him and says, “The next time we get introduced to someone I’m going to say, ‘Hi I’m John. Here’s my sidekick.’” And with that he let fly the most uncoordinated sideways kick that I never saw coming. I doubled over in pain and looked down to see the welt it left on my hip, failing to see the humor in his joke. Tears were coming out of the corner of his eyes as I writhed in pain. He continued to tell that joke for years after. My hip was discolored for years.

Water Torture

Nothing wrong with an old joke that continues to make you laugh. For John, that would be setting up me or, more often, my sister by placing a cup or bucket full of water on top of one of our bedroom doors with the door cracked just enough to hold the teetering vessel. He played this joke dozens if not hundreds of times throughout our childhood. And just about the time you figured he had given up on this gag, you realized that you were about to take a shower you didn’t see coming.

A Shell of a Man

These sorts of stupid pranks continued outside the house. One day, John and I and his best friend Bobby Ballmaier rode our bikes up to the IGA grocery store. There we spotted a guy in a Planters Mr. Peanut costume handing out free samples of the company’s new candy bars. We quickly began milling around him asking questions in rapid-fire succession, grabbing all the free samples we could stuff in our pockets in between driving the guy crazy. His patience was quickly wearing thin.

After we cleared out most of his stash of samples on the plate he was holding, we began rifling through a nearby duffel bag the monocle-wearing man had brought with him. We kept moving around him so fast that he couldn’t keep track of where we were. It was hard to take him seriously when he began berating us for being out of control little brats. After all, he was wearing this ridiculous fiberglass peanut shell. The fact that he had a cane in one hand and a plate in the other, made it almost impossible for him to turn around, let alone catch us.

Soon after we had cashed him out of samples, John and Bobby began running circles around him and knocking on the back of his shell. This went on for several laps while I fell into the shelves of food in a fit of laughter. Finally, Mr. Peanut had reached his boiling point.

While cursing at us and trying to keep us in his line of sight, he suddenly began swinging his cane violently at John and Bobby. As it cut through the air, the cane made a whistling sound. After a few whiffs, Mr. Peanut finally connected. We left bruised but unbowed. And Mr. Peanut? He was a shell of a man when we finished with him.

Hot Tub, Anyone?

As an adult, John never lost his taste for practical jokes. One Sunday summer afternoon when we went out for lunch he told me about a late night party he and his wife Jane had at their house the night before. Apparently there were even more libations than usual and quite a few people staggered by late night to enjoy the festivities.

Soon, John decided it was time to invite those who wanted to join in to take a dip in the hot tub. About six or so people had crowded in the tub, laughing it up. John left quietly to go upstairs to put on his bathing suit. While changing, he decided to stuff another bathing suit inside the trunks that he had just put on. The hidden suit looked nearly identical to the one he was wearing.

Once back down with his guests, John hopped into the bubbling water that was now crowded with revelers. Leaning back and taking a sip of his beer, he let out a huge sigh and set the bottle down while his hands went below the water’s surface. He closed his eyes and leaned back, as if truly relaxing in the moment. A few seconds later the hidden suit came bubbling to the surface as John told everyone how much he loved having his closest friends in the hot tub with him. Within seconds, the tub cleared as creeped out guests vaulted over each other to escape what they assumed was their naked host.

A Really Big Beef

John also loved to engage in tall stories, with the sole aim of winning any argument, no matter how absurd. One of John’s co-workers at Breda Moving, shared this next anecdote. Apparently John and his brother-in-law Andy were talking one day about which restaurant had the biggest and best Italian Beef sandwiches. John made a point about how his favorite beef spot had much larger sandwiches than the one that Andy liked.

The subject came up a number of times, with neither man giving in to the other’s point. Finally, John sought to put an end to the argument. So the next time he visited his favorite spot and ordered an Italian Beef he took a picture of it to show Andy just how large the sandwich really was. For scale, he photographed the sandwich next to a Matchbox car, insisting that the sandwich was bigger than a car.

That ended the argument.

Wayward Youth

Pool Photo

By: R.L. Kehoe

I’m still not sure where we went wrong as children, but if we had a moral compass we probably stole it.

Maybe it was because we were dirt poor. Maybe it’s that we were bitter about growing up without a father in our house on a daily basis. Or maybe it was just because we liked to do things our own way and we didn’t like authority figures — not teachers, principals, cops and least of all nosy neighbors — telling us what we could and could not do.

Our early life of defiance blossomed sometime after we began losing some of our once undying enthusiasm for playing competitive sports. Oh, we kept playing baseball, basketball, street hockey, and football. But gradually the unbridled joy from these activities was no longer enough for us. For some inexplicable reason that nearly all boys in our generation seemed to experience at some level, we suddenly saw it as our duty to break society’s rules on a pretty regular basis.

Like a lot of boys, we went through a kleptomania phase. I’m ashamed to admit this now, but we had an incredible knack for purloining all sorts of things without getting caught. And I’m not just talking about candy bars and baseball cards and small items.

A willow tree that once adorned the side of the town’s public library somehow suddenly took root in our backyard. We stole stop signs, construction horses and other things that would be seemingly hard to take without someone noticing.

We had an endless array of towels we lifted from the park district swimming pool that we visited daily in the summer. We had an affinity for any towel that was unusual. We had a Budweiser towel, a Cracker Jack towel, a 7-Up towel, a rebel flag towel (we never liked what the rebel flag stood for, so we wanted this out of circulation), a Coca-Cola towel — you name it.

Our trip to the pool always began the same way. We’d ride our bikes there without a towel. Then we’d bring at least one home every day. It got so ridiculous at one point that I saw my Mom trying to place some freshly laundered and folded towels into the linen closet and there was no room for them.

“Where are all these towels coming from?” my Mom would ask. “Beats me,” we’d say.

Our reputation for towel theft grew to legendary proportions. In fact, many years after we had stolen our last towel a guy came up to me in my junior year of high school and told me how he knew for a fact that I stole his rebel flag towel. I just smirked and said I had no idea what he was talking about. He grew steadily more agitated as I danced around responding to his accusation. He actually wanted to fight over this, but I finally talked him off his emotional ledge.

While at the pool, we also perfected the art of what we called “kicking towels.” As we almost never had pocket money due to poor finances on the home front, we knew that many kids who were more well off than we were would bring some change with them to get something to eat when they were done swimming. But instead of safely putting their coins in their basket of clothes where we couldn’t get at them, they would put the money under their towels.

So as we were walking from the pool to the sun deck to pick up a towel that wasn’t ours, we’d kick some towels along the way and see if any money came loose. Inevitably we’d net enough lucre for something to eat after a long afternoon swimming.

The lifeguards eventually caught on to us and they began to watch us closely whether we were on the deck or horsing around in the water. As soon as they saw us breaking any of their growing list of rules they’d blow their whistles as loud as they could at us and tell us we had to sit next to them for 15 or 30 minutes. This would continue for a couple of rounds before they’d tell us we were kicked out for the day. “No problem,” we’d respond, “we’ll be back tonight.” The lifeguards would always say, “No, you’re kicked out for tonight too.” And we’d respond, “No, we’ll be back tonight.” And we meant it. We’d come back after the 9 pm closing time, climb the barbed wire fence and have the run of the pool and the lifeguards’ office for the evening. The police would often show up, shining spotlights on the water to try to catch us. We’d either duck under the water or hide out in the lifeguards’ office making crank calls on their telephone. We even once placed a long distance call to a friend who had moved to Colorado.

Our petty larceny got so bad we started to think of ourselves as the junior mafia. One of our good friends, Doug Miller, used to break into this hilarious routine around our parents vaguely alluding to our syndicate.

For instance, if my mom was saying how angry she was because one of the neighbors was giving her a hard time or accusing us kids of things we did or didn’t do, Doug would adopt this Bob Newhart-like persona to discuss how our junior mafia might need to address this situation. Doug would quietly reach into his pocket for an imaginary dime, put it into an imaginary pay phone, dial an imaginary number and start making sound effects like the phone is ringing. “Hello mafia,” he’d deadpan. “Yeah, can you take care of Mrs. Erbe?” or some source of our consternation. Then he’d break into more sound effects, including one of a gangster with loud heels clicking on the sidewalk on the way to rub out someone.

Every time Doug did this we’d scream with laughter, knowing that it was foreshadowing what we were going to do later to take matters into our own hands. Our parents always reacted the same way to Doug’s theater of the absurd. “Oh, he’s so funny,” they’d say, oblivious to the fact that neither Doug nor we were joking.

The mafia paid more than a few visits to neighbors who did things like take our footballs or baseballs away as a means to get us to stop playing in the street or who called or stopped by one of our homes to blame us for anything that happened to their lawn or property. These were usually fairly harmless responses on our part, but we placed a premium on getting victim as angry as possible.

After one neighbor, Mr. Hanson, stole our football mid-game because it rolled onto his lawn, the mafia took note and promised to pay him a visit. Every night until we got that ball back. And until we got that ball, we were going to keep disturbing his dinner and/or sleep.

Each night the routine was the same. John and I and other wiseguys rang Mr. Hanson’s doorbell at dinnertime or much later and ran away just far enough so he could still hear us snickering. This went on for more than a week. Now, the Hanson’s front porch was fronted by some hedges and his backyard was lined with a perfectly symmetrical, always pristine white picket fence. So after we rang his doorbell, we’d leap over the hedges, run over to the side of the house, vault over the picket fence and into Mr. Hanson’s backyard (just to prove he couldn’t keep us off his property) and then over the back fence to the next block.

After carrying out this raid for one too many nights, the young and pretty athletic Mr. Hanson was waiting for us. We had just depressed the button on the doorbell when we heard the front door come flying open and the screen door pushed open right behind it. We leaped over the hedges with the spry Mr. Hanson in hot pursuit. He cleared the hedges and was hot on our heels. Suddenly, we were almost in arm’s reach when we flew over his picket fence. Mr. Hanson wasn’t so lucky. All we heard was an excruciating scream. We looked back to see the football thief writhing around his weed-free yard in great pain. We stopped for a quick laugh before dispersing.

We thought this was over until several days later when we were milling around the street and Mr. Hanson snuck up from behind and grabbed John by the neck. We all stuck around just in case he did anything violent. “You see this,” Hanson was shouting as he pointed to one of his calves that had a striking purple gash to it. “You did this, you little bastards.” I can’t remember exactly how the exchange ended but there was no real damage done. Except to Mr. Hanson’s swollen leg, which now had many bulging and bruised veins that bore a striking resemblance in color to a Rand McNally map.

About this time, the mafia entered into a new racket, one that paid off in more than just laughs. Back then, you could turn in glass pop bottles to grocery stores for a refund. An 8-pack of empty bottles would get you something like 25 cents. At first we tried to do this the legit way by knocking on doors and asking people if we could cart their empty bottles from their garage. Some people would say yes but this was a lot of effort and we still had to haul the bottles a mile or so to the store.

Then one day, John and some of us came up with a better system. While we were at the Jewel turning in a few bottles for change, we noticed the girl behind the counter was loading them onto a wooden pallet. Just then a stock boy came by with a cart, picked up the pallet and wheeled the cases of bottles toward the back of the store. We followed him until he went through a set of doors marked “employees only.” It appeared he was heading to the rear parking lot, so we ran out the front entrance and around to the back of the building to see where he was bringing the bottles. And there it was — our cash cow for a couple of summers — stacks and stacks of empty cases of pop bottles.

Not wasting any time, we sprinted to the front of the store and grabbed a couple of shopping carts, loaded them over the top with the empty bottles and walked proudly in the front door to claim our deposit money. It worked every time.

Like clockwork, the store employees would take the bottles out back, we’d pick them up and bring them right back in the front door. It seemed like this would never end. That is, until one day when John and I headed behind the store and found a construction crew working where the bottles were normally placed. They were laying bricks for an enclosure to house the bottles. I never saw John so sad.

Our thieving ways continued for a number of years until we eventually went straight. This was a gradual phasing out of our larcenous times and one of our last heists happened to also be one of the smallest. Late one night my Mom had taken me and my two brothers and sister to a huge local nursery to buy some Christmas decorations. While she was shopping in this vast barn and gift shop, my two brothers and I found three tiny glass reindeer that looked just like the characters in that Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer TV show with Burl Ives’ narrating. Without really talking about it, we just looked at each other placed a five-finger discount on one reindeer apiece.

Once in the car and on the way home, we started to giggle about our haul. My Mom knew something was up and she knew it wasn’t good. By the time we got into the house, we ratted ourselves out. She was furious. But because it was so late and the nursery was likely closed for the night, she said she’d wait until morning to drive us back there to return the items and apologize profusely to the nursery’s owner.

We were dreading the arrival of the next morning and having to face the nursery owner. This truly made us see the error of our ways. Until, that is, John and Jerry came barreling into the house bright and early the next morning triumphantly carrying in that morning’s Daily Herald over their heads with one hand each on the newspaper and wide smiles on their faces. It reminded me of one of those black-and-white photos you saw of New York Giants fans from 1951 the morning after Bobby Thomson hit the game-winning homer off the Yankees to win the pennant. It was as if they were carrying the newspapers over their heads to prove that this was real.

There across the front page was a huge photo of the nursery fully engulfed in flames and a screaming headline about how the nursery had burned down just after closing last night, destroying everything inside. (For the record, no, we had nothing to do with the fire.)

2 of the actual reindeer "saved" from the nursery fire by the Kehoe boys.

2 of the actual, infamous glass reindeer figurines “saved” from the nursery fire by the Kehoe boys.

“Mom,” John said a completely straight face, “if you think about it, we didn’t really steal those glass reindeer.” Jerry piped in with a somber tone, “That’s right. We really rescued them from the fire.”

My still seething mother suddenly gave up the good parental fight. Even she had to laugh at the twisted logic.

Blowing the Game

By: R.L. Kehoe

The closest most guys in my neighborhood had ever truly come to religion in the summer of 1969 was a playground behind Grant Wood School, our grammar school. On Sunday mornings, we’d end up there after our parents had shooed us out of the house with some sort of stern directive like, “You need to go to church!” That meant we were supposed to get to mass at Queen of the Rosary, a Catholic parish comprised largely of suburbanites to the right of Dwight Eisenhower.

The church was less than a half-mile from our homes but being wayward delinquents we’d inevitably get sidetracked by the time we hit Grant Wood’s playground, which was about half way to church.

I meant to go to church, but being only 10 at the time, I began thinking of all the other things we could be doing, and I was not shy about sharing this with my brother John and whoever else had joined us on our way to some old-time religion.  John would invariably second my motion when I’d suggest playing baseball instead of going to mass and we’d quickly reach a majority decision to table church for that Sunday.

There on the grass field next to the school where most of us were getting barely passing grades, we’d talk passionately about our full-time religion — baseball. These talks, or sermons as I then liked to think of them, were always a prelude to that day’s ballgame among ourselves.

We’d start by arguing about things like whether Ron Santo or Billy Williams was the better hitter or whom we hated more, the Cardinals or the Mets. Before long, the talk would turn to our daily hard-fought games on our personal Friendly Confines, which happened to be in between all our homes on Birchwood Avenue, a narrow street lined with ranch homes primarily financed through the GI bill and fronted by manicured lawns (except ours) with maple trees sprinkled equidistant among the homes on the parkway.

I know to most parents in the neighborhood this was the last place they’d like to see a baseball game played. All of their cars and windowpanes were within easy reach of a wayward throw or line drive.

On most summer days we played baseball until dark, weather or the first fist fight permitting. Sometimes we’d use a tennis ball, other days a rubber ball. As we grew up, we’d use a rubber-coated hard ball or a hard ball. When we couldn’t afford or find a regular bat, we’d use whatever was at our disposal, including on at least one occasion a table leg. The neighbors didn’t care for any of our choices, whether in our game location, equipment or the language that would be spewed in the life-and-death contests.

These games pitted friend against friend, brother against brother and all of us against any neighbor who tried to get us to tone down the language or keep the ball off their property.

Along side our games there always seemed to be a transistor radio playing that day’s Cubs game. And as the Cubs began to falter and eventually blow their once seemingly insurmountable 8 game division lead in August of that year, tempers really started to flare among the players on Birchwood Avenue.

Doug Miller, our bespectacled resident baseball historian and one of the few among us who knew how to properly grip and throw a curveball, would ride his brother Steve while pitching to him. The insults would start early in the at bat and escalate. One day, after Steve had fouled off about nine pitches in a row, Doug threw his glove on the ground and screamed, “Dammit Steven, you’re made up of foul balls!”

John and I would always be snickering to each other about these dust ups, but I always took the games seriously, just like the other guys. Not John. He played well enough and he wanted to win, but primarily he was in it for the laughs.

One day, in the middle of one of our most heated games ever, John illustrated this point.

Phil Ballmaier, the most physically, mentally and emotionally mature of our players, was pitching to his younger brother Bobby (who also happened to be John’s best friend), while John and I and some others were backing Phil up in the field. As usual, Bobby was chirping throughout his at bat with the game on the line and Bobby’s team behind by a run with two outs. He let Phil know every way imaginable how he was going to get the game-winning hit off him.

Phil would alternately tell Bobby to shut up while checking the defense behind him on each pitch to make sure all of us were where he wanted us.

Finally, with the tension ready to break us mortals in the field and Phil ready to throw the deciding two-strike pitch, I looked over my shoulder at John in the outfield while I was at shortstop. I could sense John was trying to get my attention.

Putting his mitt to the side of his face to obscure Phil from his view, John starts winking at me with his mouth agape. Then he’d purse his lips together like he was trying to whistle. Finally, I called time and ran over to ask him what the hell he wanted. “Nothing,” John said. “I was just trying to give you the sign.” I said, “What sign?” John: “You know, the sign to blow the game.”

I left this conversation and told Phil to go ahead and throw the pitch. As the pitch reached the plate, I could see Bobby get under the ball and pop it up straight to John in the outfield. He didn’t even have to move.

I could barely stop myself from peeing in my pants knowing what was about to happen. Just as the ball was about to land in his glove, John pulled his hand back about two inches as the ball landed untouched on the pavement. Bobby began screaming at the top of his lungs, “I told you Philly. We win! We win! We win!”

Bob barely had the words out when Phil let loose with a tirade as he began sprinting toward John to throttle him. John took off running, choking on his laughter. To John’s good fortune, Phil gave up the chase at some point.

Phil is now a Christian pastor and tremendous servant of the Lord who has brought many people to Jesus. I’m quite sure if he had caught John that day, my brother would have met Jesus even earlier than he did.