Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Remembering Dad: Everything Good Is Extraordinary

Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson
I woke up abruptly at 5:15 this morning -- and I think I know why.

First cause was the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

I was intrigued by President Barack Obama's eulogy of him, which I read about recently in "From the Corner of the Oval" a book for which I otherwise had mixed feelings.

In June 2015, Rev. Pinckney and eight others had been gunned down in a church in South Carolina.

"What a good man," President Obama said at the funeral.

"Sometimes," he added. "I think that's the best thing to hope for when you're eulogized. After all the words and recitations and resumes are read, to just say somebody was a good man."


Second cause is the recent revival, during the baseball playoffs and the start of the NFL season, of a June 2017 GMC marketing campaign, "Like a Pro," designed to celebrate "people who passionately life live to a higher standard."

The ad is insane. It asks:

Man, driving a GMC, who won't settle for being a "fine human being"
"How do you want to live? As a decent person? A fine human being? A good father? Friend? Son? Is that it? Good?"

The answer:

"Of course not."

The ad instead says that its target audience aspires to be "one of a kind," "Employee of the Month," "undeniable," and "like a boss." And that "we (the GMC car company) couldn't agree more."

Actually, I couldn't agree less. I think many people share that sentiment.

In introducing the campaign, a GMC marketing executive had proclaimed, "We’ve won the minds of consumers, and this is going to win their hearts."

There's evidence to the contrary. Sales for the GMC Acadia Denali, the model advertised in the most recent TV commercial I saw, fell nearly 50% last quarter.


Driving down Route 287 in New Jersey earlier today, I watched the "distinctive" grille of a $66,000 GMC Yukon Denali bear down on another car in the right lane, change lanes behind me without using a blinker, and speed past. The driver was a seemingly entitled, self-important middle-aged white man, obliviously tailgating others in the passing lane at more than 80 miles per hour.

Undeniable. Like a pro. Like a boss.

Robert J. Varettoni, 1932-2005
It was early in the morning, before dawn. I had awakened with a start at 5:15, and dressed early to go to work.

The third cause of why I woke up precisely then?

Today is the 13th anniversary of my Dad's death.

5:15 was the exact time he used to wake up every morning to provide for his family during a 34-year career with New York Telephone/NYNEX/Verizon.

You can read details of his life in his obituary. These details don't tell you the most important thing about him:

Dad was a good man.

He wasn't like a boss. He was a boss.

If he taught me anything, it's that every good person -- and everything good in life -- is extraordinary.

Friday, October 19, 2018

You Can Call Me Al (Smith Dinner, 2018)

View this post on Instagram

About last night... I was honored to be able to attend the NY Archdiocese’s Al Smith Dinner, a quintessentially New York tradition named for the former NY governor, dubbed “The Happy Warrior,” who made an historic run as the first Catholic nominee for the U.S. presidency in 1928. At this annual politically-charged dinner in October, politicians traditionally poke fun at each other and set aside differences in an event that now raises multiple millions of dollars each year to support charities that serve New York’s neediest children. Outgoing UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, introduced by comedian Jim Gaffigan, poked fun at herself — although both she and Cardinal Dolan seriously addressed the latest scandals making headlines in the Catholic Church. Verizon, where I work, has been a major contributor to many charitable organizations, and the company’s chairman, Lowell McAdam, received this year’s Happy Warrior Award. He had this to say: “My career at one of the world’s leading tech companies has left me feeling, on the whole, very optimistic and confident about what lies ahead.” I feel the same way. #AlSmith #CatholicCharities

A post shared by Bob Varettoni (@bvarphotos) on

Here are more photos, from my highlighted story on Instagram.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Stalking Mr. Met: A Happy Recap of the 2018 Season

These past few months, I saw the boys of summer in their ruin.

With apologies to Dylan Thomas' famous poem and in contrast to the New York Mets' won/loss record, I found the experience life-affirming and optimistic (thank you, Jacob deGrom).

With the abrupt end of baseball in New York (thank you, Giancarlo Stanton), there's no longer a home team to root for in the middle of this second week in October. So I have time to post this happy recap of the 2018 season.

The Mets went 10-4 in games I saw this summer, thanks to a partial season ticket package I split with my friend Joe. This is us; I'm the one in the orange Mets sunglasses (and Notre Dame hoodie).

I attended most games with my wife Nancy, a lifelong Mets fan who recalls going to games years ago at Shea Stadium (which she still sometimes calls Citi Field) amid an eclectic fan base, including a preponderance of habit-wearing nuns.

Nancy's mom was a baseball fan, and they formed a bond over the Mets the way I had formed a bond with my dad over the Yankees. Dad is no longer with us, and Nancy now helps care for her mom -- so, by extension, a love of baseball is a bond in our marriage.

In recent years, I've rooted for the Mets, in appreciation of the profound truth expressed by Roger Angell: the Yankees' perfection is "admirable but a trifle inhuman" and "there is more Met than Yankee in every one of us." The following stories and images may help to explain why.

March 29, Mets win -- This was the first Opening Day I've ever attended, an emotional game played hours after the news of Rusty Staub's death at age 73. Nancy and I rode the MTA's museum train -- billed as "the train of many colors" -- from Hudson Yards to Citi Field. Train workers snapped photos of its arrival. We sat in one of the 50-year-old trailing "redbird" cars. The PA system played the song "Meet the Mets" when we arrived.

March 31, Mets win -- Here's a photo of me stalking Mr. Met before the game. There's something about this mascot that brings out my inner child. I love Mr. Met. Perhaps a little too much. I've posed for several photos with Mr. Met in recent years -- and I think he's on to me. Soon after I snapped this photo, he ducked into a service elevator with a handler, seemingly as a security precaution to protect him from either me or a lurking Noah Syndergaard, his more imposing nemesis on Twitter.

April 14, Mets lose -- The downfall of the Mets' season can be traced to me. Before this game, the team's won/loss record was 11-1, leading the division by 3 1/2 games. The night before the game I received an email from the Mets inviting me to take the field alongside fellow ticket plan holders on the warning track prior to the National Anthem. I accepted, and excitedly Instagram-ed my little heart out -- but Nancy (see photographic evidence) seemed a little wary. She believes we jinxed the Mets by setting foot on the field. Matt Harvey (remember him?) took the loss that day. But I take the blame.

May 19, Walk-off win -- With the Mets' season now in decline (see above) Devin Mesoraco hit a tying, 2-run homer in the fog in the 8th, and Wilmer Flores hit a walk-off SF for the win. Nancy couldn't accompany me that day, so I asked my good friend Paul, another lifelong Mets fan, to join me. While waiting for him to arrive, I texted Nancy photos of fans dressed in costume -- though none were dressed as nuns. She reminded me it was Star Wars Night, thus explaining the Mr. Met and Chewbacca Bobblehead I received at the gate. It also reminded me of why I loved Nancy. We both loved the original "Star Wars" movie when we were young. And, even geekier, on one of our first dates it seemed she was having car trouble. She told me not to worry, that she just needed to have the engine's dilithium crystal replaced.

June 9, Loss to the Yankees -- I attended this game with Joe and took my favorite photo of the season: an accidental lens flare as the sun set, making Yankees pitcher Domingo German look like the Chosen One. Even more magical: before the game, Joe and I arrived extra early to search for a memorial brick that Nancy had purchased when Citi Field was built. She had it inscribed to honor her sister Eileen, another lifelong Mets fan, who died of breast cancer in 2003. Nancy and I hadn't been able to locate the brick, but Joe searched the ground diligently to find it. It's pictured at the top of this page. Eileen was very smart, very devout and very loving, and she would have appreciated the deeper meaning of Tug McGraw's 1973 rallying cry: "You Gotta Believe!"

June 23, Another loss, with apologies to Jacob deGrom -- By the time Nancy and I returned to Citi Field in late June, the Warning Track Curse was in full effect. The Mets' record by the end of June was 32-48, 14 1/2 games out of first. We even almost poisoned deGrom's almost perfect season. In this our only live view of him, facing Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, he pitched 6 innings, allowing 3 runs. It was the only time all season deGrom seemed ill at ease. He kicked the mound after one pitch, jawed at the home plate umpire and flailed his arm after letting another pitch go.

Meanwhile, I took this photo while sitting with Nancy before the game at Mikkeller Brewing NYC on the Citi Field grounds. Soon after, I realized that my wallet was missing. I was a wreck. I had been using a "slim fit" wallet for several months, and this was the second time I had lost it -- and what fun it had been to replace my driver's license at a New Jersey DMV office just a week earlier! I frantically searched the bar and retraced my steps all the way back to the furthest reaches of Parking Lot E. When I got to my car, a man my age called out, waving hello, with my wallet in his hand. "I had a feeling you'd come back for this," the angel said. I offered him reward money, drinks, my tickets -- but he would accept none of it. He said, "Just pay it forward. Do something nice for someone else today." I bro-hugged him. And I now carry a wallet the size of a fanny pack.

July 7, Shut out by Tampa Bay -- Perhaps the low point of the season for me. I once again stalked Mr. Met on the outskirts of "Shea Bridge" before the start of the game. I'm not proud of this.

August 21, Mets win -- The turning point of the season -- for me -- as the Mets beat the Giants, the first of seven consecutive victories I'd witness during the second half of an already-lost season. I enjoyed the view though. Here's a photo I took that night of Manhattan in the distance.

August 25, Mets win, Happy Anniversary, Joe and Cathy! -- We watched this game with Joe and his wife, Cathy, from the Porsche Grille, situated in the left field corner of the Excelsior Level, near our usual seats. Cathy wanted to surprise Joe for their upcoming 25th wedding anniversary, and Zach Wheeler contributed to the celebration by pitching 7 strong innings.

September 8, Mets win, Winter Hat Night -- One of the oddest promotional giveaways of the year, my Mets winter hat came in handy. It was a cool, overcast late summer's night, reminding Nancy of the scene in "Bull Durham" where Susan Sarandon attends the final game of the season in the rain. On Facebook, I posted a photo in the afterglow of the evening's 10-5 pummeling of the Phillies, as well as a pre-game pose with my new hat. Paul commented that it looked like a remnant from the Racoon Lodge in an old episode of "The Honeymooners." In a commercial on SNY, the cable TV home of the Mets, big-headed Mr. Met promoted the giveaway as fitting "most heads." And an electronic billboard outside Citi Field showed Noah Syndergaard modeling the hat. By the end of the game, the billboard had changed, so I missed the chance to post a photo of both me and Noah with the caption, "Who wore it better?"

September 13, Mets win two, Happy Anniversary, Bob and Nancy! -- Due to a rainout, this was a traditional double-header, on the occasion of our 32nd wedding anniversary. The Mets won both ends, ending the first game in dramatic fashion against Miami with back-to-back HRs in the bottom of the 9th.

This was a special night. My friends at Verizon, a Mets corporate sponsor, arranged a scoreboard message for us. I was so excited when I saw it, I only managed this blurry photo. If you squint, you can see the Mets wishing "Happy 32 Anniversary, Bob & Nancy Varretoni." OK, so they spelled our last name wrong. I blame Mr. Met's fat fingers.

Verizon also upgraded our tickets (thank you, Verizon!). We sat close to the Mets' dugout, and at one point former Met and current SNY announcer Keith Hernandez walked right past us. He patiently stopped along the way for photos and autographs. Even though Nancy and I were this close (see photo), she didn't want to approach him. Which was weird.

Have you ever sat in your living room, watching a baseball game on TV, when you look at the person sitting next to you and think, "Oh my god, I'm living with the female version of Keith Hernandez?"

Of course you haven't. Because then you'd be married to Nancy too.

While watching SNY games this summer, Nancy would make a baseball observation, and moments later Keith would make the same observation, using the same words. Nancy and Keith also share the same sarcastic sense of humor. My cat, Pumpkin, is even a bit jealous of Keith's cat, Hadji. It's not about me, I'd tell a therapist; it's just that I worry about my cat.

I told Nancy that I had arranged Keith's drive-by, and the back-to-back HRs, and the two Mets victories, all in honor of our anniversary. Nancy corrected me. She pointed out that the Mets had actually won three games on our anniversary, since the victory the night before had ended after midnight.

September 27, Mets win. Best. Birthday. Ever. -- I had an easy answer for I wanted for my birthday this year: I wanted our family to be together. With two grown daughters, this is a feat that's usually as easy as trying to reunite The Beatles, circa 1973. But by pulling "the birthday card," I managed it -- and here's a photo of me and my daughters to prove it. Before the game, we wandered down to Shea Bridge, and I again encountered Mr. Met. This time he greeted me with an exploding fist bump -- and, later, I discovered he had wished me happy birthday on Twitter. Maybe he doesn't hate me after all.

September 29, Mets win, David Wright Night -- The last game I attended was bittersweet: the only start of the season for Mets captain David Wright, the last start of his storied career. I went with Joe, and I decided, just as I had on Opening Day, to take the 7 Train to the game.

As the subway meandered through Queens (which, charitably or uncharitably, someone I know once called "The New Milford of New York" in reference to my New Jersey hometown), I couldn't help but overhear the guy sitting across from me talking on his cellphone. "That's me on the front page of The New York Post," he was saying.

After consulting my own phone to read the story, I looked up and exclaimed, "You're Chris Sobel? Welcome to New York!"

According to The Post, Chris lives in Arizona and had flown 2,400 miles just to attend this Mets game to say goodbye to The Captain. Wright had befriended Chris' son, Sean, before his death at age 17 from muscular dystrophy.

"David Wright gave me the most enjoyable moment I ever had with my son," Chris said. A Mets fan club, The 7 Line Army, had arranged for a ticket and had contributed to his travel expense. He planned to fly home that very night. Awed, touched and respectful, I chatted with Chris for a while as our train approached Willets Point, then simply shook his hand (no bro-hug, no exploding fist-bump) before meeting up with Joe.

It was Verizon Fireworks Night, so we received no promotional items when entering the stadium. That was fine. Nancy has already filled the top shelf of my grandfather's bookcase in our living room with bobbleheads and giveaways from the 2018 season, including an orange Keith Hernandez alarm clock courtesy of the Brooklyn Cyclones, a Mets minor-league affiliate.

Citi Field was packed that night. No nun was in sight. Electricity filled the air. Then the Mets took Wright out of the lineup in the 5th inning -- in what turned out to be a 13-inning game. Joe and I left the park early, well before the fireworks began. With apologies to T.S. Eliot, we were "The Hollow Men," ending the 2018 baseball season not with a bang, but a whimper.

Just like Giancarlo Stanton.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

A New View of the Great Falls

Today I took a ride in the morning rain to visit the new stone amphitheater in Paterson, the centerpiece of a $3.2 million renovation of the Great Falls National Park's overlook area. It opened yesterday and provides a comfortable, unobstructed view of the 77-foot waterfall.

The "Found in New Jersey" Tumblr has some additional photos, but I wanted to post this here to add it to my list of interesting places found in the Garden State.

My photo above was auto-stylized by Google, and the link in the caption below includes a story, photos and video posted on

It's an interesting place to visit; easy on and off from Route 80, and plenty of new parking. Yesterday the local politicians were raving about it. According to the Paterson Press:

"This will become a New Jersey destination for anyone coming to our state," said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver. Mayor Andre Sayegh, a former history teacher, talked of the Great Falls' past and its future.

He said, "This was where the American dream was launched by an immigrant named Alexander Hamilton," the city's founding father.

Click here to read the Paterson Press story