We recently held a very successful Graduation ceremony for the Student Ambassadors at Don Fernando’s, with Congressman Maloney and Assemblyman Skartados giving out Certificates of Merit to the children. And, as a special surprise, the Congressman gave Coach Kennedy a Congressional Proclamation, thanking him for his decades of service to the youth of the Newburgh school district and the Sport of Rowing. As Coach was giving his impromptu but very moving acceptance speech, I couldn’t help but think of the things that are really important to Coach Kennedy. Those who have been around him long enough, especially his rowers, know what is in his Top 5. Of course, his family, his rowers, and his students come first. But a close second is – Garbage.
“What is the most important thing to me down here?” Coach will ask the kids on any given night at the Boathouse. Newbies will shout out things like: “proper form!”, or “Medals” or “Winning’! But I will exchange a look with an old timer like Coach Cunningham or longtime rower Cappy and we will have a silent laugh together. Nope. Try again.
“Garbage!” Coach Kennedy will answer. You see, we don’t have a carting or sanitation service at the Newburgh Rowing Club, nor does the City remove the garbage, even though we are located at a City of Newburgh park. The Newburgh Rowing Club puts out all of its own garbage cans, which are mostly used by rowers but also used by the general public. The coaches, rowers, and parents all go around with big black garbage bags and remove all the garbage. And guess where it goes? In the back of Coach Kennedy’s pickup truck, so he can drive around with it and take it to the public dump early Saturday mornings. Yes, he may have coached his team to a State Championship, he may have brought back Gold from the Empire State Games, and he may have received a Congressional Proclamation, but half the time what’s on Coach Kennedy’s mind is the “Garbage Situation,” as he calls it. This is why the sport of rowing is so different from all other sports and the Newburgh Rowing Club is so different from all other rowing clubs. We completely and 100% maintain our Boathouse, our park, and our equipment ourselves.
No one is immune from Garbage Duties, including Mrs. Lo. If you are down there for practice, and it’s garbage time, you better have a big black trash bag and you better be picking up garbage. So it was one very hot summer day in 2012, when I saw some of the kids picking up garbage after practice and I said, “Here give me that, you go get the boats in,” and I took the garbage bag to empty the metal cans. As I made my way further from the docks, I couldn’t hear the kids yelling at me, “NOOOOOO, Mrs. Lo, don’t empty that one, never empty that one, that’s where the fishermen put their garbage!”
Of course, as I merrily went about my way, I proceeded to get the garbage all over me. One thing I discovered: you really cannot smell your own stink.
When I came over to watch the kids do their cheer, they all parted like the Red Sea, holding their noses, saying, “What the heck is that horrible smell?” I looked around, I couldn’t place it. “I think it’s you, Mrs. Lo,” said one of the rowers. “You stink.” And there it was. All day long, I was a well respected lawyer, going to court, being all big timey and what not. I meet people who are oafraid to look me in the eye, who are not able to pipe up and tell me what’s really on their mind. But not the rowers. They will not hesitate to tell you how it is. I was a stinker.
“Mrs. Lo, did you touch the Untouchable Garbage that only I am supposed to touch,” said Coach Kennedy. I guess I did.
The kids in the Crew Mom mobile were all too polite to say anything but they all put their windows down on the way home. “Hey, guys, want to stop for ice cream on the way home?” As if on cue, they all said, “Nooooo, gotta get home, Mrs. Lo.” They claimed they couldn’t wait to get home and start their homework. It was a Friday.
But if I ever want to know the real deal, all I have to do is ask my son, Michael, now age 10.
“Mommy, You Stink!” Michael said, after running to greet me at the door and then stopping about 3 feet away. “What did you do?”
“She emptied the Untouchable Garbage,” said Christian, chuckling. Apparently, there were fish guts that had been there for a week, in the summer sun, among other things. The bag had broken so the garbage got all over me, including my hair. No amount of showering could remove the smell.
My husband fell asleep with a surgical mask over his face. Christian used rubber gloves to throw my clothes in the laundry, and even when they come out he suggested we burn them. And Michael lived with a Febreeze spray can next to him. He sprayed the air every time I walked by. And reminded me that I still stunk.
People talk about having humbling experiences. Try walking around Newburgh smelling like garbage. On the one hand, I had the whole line to myself at Price Chopper. On the other hand, the kind-hearted checkout person asked me if I needed a place to sleep. Yes, I smelled like a homeless person.
Eventually, the smell went away but I have always had a special understanding of Coach Kennedy’s obsession with the garbage. They say (the Powers That Be) that if they have to move our Boathouse for the Port of Newburgh, we will get a bigger, better Boathouse. Actually, we will get two. I have no idea who’s paying for all of this, our Boathouse is worth a Million Dollars, if it had to be recreated. When I went to the planning meeting, I was acting as Big Coach’s Emissary, since he couldn’t be there. They asked if the NRC had any other conditions. I didn’t have to make a phone call, I already knew what it would be.
“The Garbage,” I said. “What about it?” the Powers That Be, asked. “Someone is going to have to pay to have the garbage removed, Coach Kennedy has been the garbage man for 10 years now.”
When I reported back to Big Coach, he was duly impressed. “I guess you really do know how I think, Mrs. Lo.” I certainly do. I learned the hard way.
Have a great day everyone and as always remember to Count Your Blessings!