Marek Babik - Born 1950
Paul Louis Sramek Jr., devoted and loving husband, father, brother and friend passed away on August 15, 2013. He was a resident of Dallas with a long career in the floor covering industry.
He was afflicted with a rare neuromuscular disease known as Kennedy’s Disease but always kept a positive attitude and high spirits with an uncompromising determination. Paul was a source of strength and inspiration to those who knew him.
He proudly served in the U.S. Navy, Submarine Service and loved the water. One of his favorite past times was maintaining his sailboat at Lake Texoma and sailing the Caribbean with his buddies.
Paul is survived by his wife Kathryn, daughters Allison, London England, Brooke Sramek Bray, San Francisco, CA, son Jay, Oswego, KS, and 3 brothers and 3 sisters.
A Memorial in Paul’s honor will be held on Wednesday, August 21st at First United Methodist Church, 1928 Ross Avenue, Dallas, TX. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that a donation be made to the Kennedy’s Disease Association at www.kennedysdisease.org
The last month has been one of the busiest times in the last five years. What recession? What slowdown?
I still am able to work and, while grateful for every day, some are longer than others, and each one presents it’s own unique challenges. Here is an account of my week starting March 11, 2002. Why don’t you just ride along with me and enjoy the trip.
- I leave Westminster, MD at 6:30 AM for the drive to Gaithersburg, MD where our office is. This is normally a one hour and ten minute drive; this day it was over two hours. Traffic! A minor accident closed one of the arteries for an interminable 30 minutes. Coffee that was welcome early now presented it’s own problem for an old guy stuck in his car.
- The first appointment was, naturally, early. Roger arrived at 8:30, not at 9:00; unfortunately the rush was on. He left after an hour and a half and now I’m back on schedule. Good meeting with some possibilities.
- I am in the construction business and our company builds large buildings for a variety of clients. The next appointment is a little different as I will pick Tom up, who is in charge of real estate and buildings for his firm in Rockville, MD. Our company is completing a new three building complex with over 300,000 square feet of space and an attached 750 car five story parking garage about a mile from Tom’s office and we have the chance to show this off to him at stages of completion ranging from 85 % to 100% finished spaces before the owner moves in.
- I forgot to take the key to the elevators, which are locked to keep all of the construction workers off of them. We walked all five (5) floors of the three buildings, from end to end, and floor to floor. After all that was the plan. But then I thought that the elevator would be operational: I’m not good on the steps, and I’m really lousy on the ones from the fourth floor to the fifth, really lousy. But, I didn’t fall, and that’s good news.
- Back to the office for another meeting with someone who wants to sell me something I don’t want or need. I’m too tired to buy.
- 401 K meeting from 3 to 4 PM, then into the car for the 70 minute ride home, followed by dinner with my wife, Mary and Louise, my mother-in-law and friend; then another hour and ½ downstairs in my office at home. Finally in bed by 10:30.
- Up at 5:45; an early breakfast with Mary at 6:30, and down to the office by 7:00. Paperwork and computer work until 11:30 when I leave for a luncheon meeting in Columbia, an hour away: a good meeting with some long term potential. Two stops on the way back to the office at home; one with my daughter Clare and her two boys, Ricky (4) and Charlie (2). Great!! The second is with a well known retired sportscaster who I’ve asked to be the Master of Ceremonies at a black tie function in November for the Mission of Mercy, an exceptional Charity who’s cause I champion. I’m home by 5:30: dinner again with Mary & Louise, and back to the basement office for two hours. 46 E-mails to read: I don’t even know 46 people who can use the computer.
- Let me tell you about my computer abilities: Remember I’m almost 60: I finally turned one on about 1996; it scared the devil out of me from the start. I just knew that I’d hit the wrong button and the whole state of Kansas would disappear forever. My brother-in-law Don and I took an eight-week semi-private computer course from a friend of Marny’s. Don is smarter that I am, but just as scared. After the first hour, I’m playing solitaire, with Don. No, not by myself, but with Don! And we’re pretty good as a team.
- Time passed, and lessons progressed; Kansas stayed on the map and was still a State and I lost some of my feelings of stupidity. That is until Ricky breezed by me with a CD in hand about a month ago, sat down at his Dad’s computer and, before I could get out of the chair in a panic (about 42 seconds, a record), turned it on, put the CD in, and maneuvered the mouse to the icon for whatever game it was, and started playing. I think the game was called Eliminate Kansas. I’m totally inadequate when compared to Ricky.
- Same AM routine, but this day I pack clothes for the night and head to downtown Washington, DC. I’m still learning about what I can’t do; and I can’t work at the same pace as I’ve done for years. Since I have this Business Dinner tonight in Bethesda, MD and appointments today and tomorrow in downtown DC, I’m going to spend the night in a hotel about 3 blocks from the White House.
- First stop is with an Architectural firm close to Andrews AFB, about 1½ hour from home. Good meeting with the promise of two new church projects that need my expertise: the first is an addition worth about $1.7 million; the second is a new 3000 seat sanctuary that will be close to $12 million. Our company has an annual volume in excess of $150 million of new commercial construction, and it’s my job to bring in the business.
- Lunch with the client at a Mexican restaurant that has a buffet. I’m the only one with table service in the place. Good food, and good company. Drop the client back at his office, pull over and take another look at the maps, rethink the afternoon, and decide to head to downtown DC at 2:30 and check in at the Holiday Inn on 15th & Rhode Island Ave, and then "beat the traffic" out of town and make two calls in Bethesda before the Business Dinner, which is held in a Ballroom at the Hyatt.
- Calls made, call the office and return four more voice mails. Things are really too technological for me: what happened to one telephone line? What happened to the upside down nail with all those pink slips with written down names and phone numbers on them? What happened to simplicity?
- It’s now 6:00PM and since there will be about 300 people at this dinner, and I’ve invited 14 of them as our guests, I get into the room where cocktails are to be served and where the temperature will rise exponentially as the room fills before they open the doors to the banquet room. I’ve got a well thought-out plan that’s based on attending things like this for over 30 years; and I’ve got my cane this year, and my balance isn’t too bad today. Find a support column close to where the drinks are served, lean back on it, and I can see the room, spot the guests as they arrive, and not get bumped around too much.
- An 8 oz glass of ginger ale starts off the evening. No problem! Drink in left hand, napkins in coat pocket, cane in right, cheeks against the column: I’m in control. Three of my guests are there at once: good conversation starts; tuck the cane to the left; shake hands; drop the cane, try to bend over & pick it up, but one of the guys beats me to it, thankfully; laughter; catching up on family.
- The drink in my left hand is leaning toward the floor and I don’t realize it, but the top of my shoe is wet with ginger ale. I knew the drink was getting heavier; I didn’t know it had tilted about 30 degrees down until my foot was wet. My brain says to my hand "hold the drink straight, dummy" and my hand blames the weak wrist. Even the half empty glass weighs more than I can hold up. As I ponder feeling sorry for myself, a thirty something bumps into me and I see the floor, crowded with legs, as a reality. Marty, to my left, is really quick and he quickly leans into me with the right amount of support. I don’t kiss the floor, thank God; I almost want to kiss Marty.
- Finally the doors open into the banquet room for dinner. It‘s the same room as in years past, many of the same people, but something’s wrong. It’s a buffet line and it’s at the far end of the room. The tickets cost more than in years’ past, but it’s a buffet this year, a buffet. Sorry, but my real feelings can’t be put on paper for this column, but you know what I’m not saying. I’m at table 7, and the buffet line is next to table 149.
- I call to the "waiter" who finally comes over: too bad he doesn’t understand English or my attempt at universal sign language. I can’t get up without causing a scene of sorts, but I do manage to pull the cane out from under the table, and the waiter tries to be helpful by grabbing it to put it over against the wall, out of sight I guess. NO! I try to say reasonably quietly, but it comes out louder than I anticipated and the waiter is as embarrassed as I am. Fortunately the talking of the attendees is louder. OK, I can make the best of this: always have been able to in the past.
- Up from the chair again to say the invocation: ½ way back down and the Pledge to the Flag is ready to start. OK all you exercise fanatics, show me how to rise from a ½ seating position without pulling the tablecloth and all the silverware eight inches toward me. And another thing, there ought to be a law requiring that chairs this heavy on rugs like this must have casters on them. Where’s OSHA for practicality issues like this.
- I try to make amends with the waiter as best as non-verbally possible, but he wants to be as far away from me as he can be. I pick up the glass of water in front of me and almost spill it: I try again, this time holding it with two hands just like I had to when I was three or four, but I’m OK with it. The waiter snickers and I don’t blame him: it must look as funny as it feels.
- Table 7, 8, and 9" calls the one in charge. Marty has sat across from me, and he and two others ask what they can do to help me with the food. I’m really fine, I reply as it takes me a full 90 seconds to rise, "get my legs" back, and figure out the best path from here to the food. No problem getting over there.
- The food line is slow. I can’t do the slow small step routine without stumbling. My size 13’s need a good area in front so I can plant them down: no shuffling for me. The food line shuffles. I pick out the flattest piece of meat I can find, and look for things that won’t roll, but they have carrots, peas, small boiled potatoes chickpeas, loose grapes, melon balls and everything else God made that would move including those fancy little balls of butter. The cane, which I have to lean on my hip whenever I put something else round on my plate, is magnetically attracted to the floor. It almost drops twice.
- The plate is about half full, but this will do for now. I turn and head for the other side of the football sized room and after going about ten yards, the plate is doing the same thing as that glass of ginger ale. I can’t hold it and make it back to my seat; it’s just impossible. Where’s that waiter that I really need? Where are my friends? Why am I here, I should know better that to do this, alone.
- By the time I make it back to my table most of the dinners are half consumed; mine is half cold. OK you guys, who does not have the choking problem? All who don’t, please stand up! Poor choice; please give a show of hands. I announce to all that I can’t talk well while eating, and I start to s l o w l y begin to eat. Sure enough, the man on my left wants to know how many and how old are my grandchildren. I politely try the same sign language that didn’t work with the waiter earlier. This guy must be related to him because he doesn’t get it either.
- The evening’s affair ends with one of the worst comics I’ve ever sat through: bad jokes, lousier attempts to coerce laughter from a silent crowd of 400, all of whom would’ve gotten a real laugh out of watching me spill the drink on my shoes earlier.
- It’s now 10:15 PM and I get to my car for the drive back to downtown DC for the night. By 10:50 I’m in bed and asleep.
- It’s a beautiful morning in the Nation’s Capitol: today will be sunny and 70 and most of the trees are already in bloom. This area is about three weeks ahead of home, which is a lot higher in elevation and 60 miles North. Up at 7, shower and read the paper, and downstairs for a breakfast meeting with Manute, the Hotel manager, in the restaurant. He’s a real gentleman and wants to know what else he can do for me. We skip the breakfast buffet, opting for table service. Business accomplished, I head back to the room to pack and double check the briefcase for the materials needed for the next three meetings, and check out.
- Manute lets me leave my car in the garage and offers to drop me off in the hotel carat my first appointment. Thanks, but I’ll walk, and I start out for a five block leisurely stroll to the first appointment, 35 minutes from now: piece of cake. After three long blocks I rethink my decision not to take the courtesy car. After the fifth block I’m sweating. All suited up with a wet dress shirt. But I’m there on time.
- My son gave me this briefcase with a shoulder strap that I am using today, slung over one shoulder with the strap crossing my chest. I feel like a woman with a large purse, but it works and is easier to carry than swinging it at my side.
- Fortunately for me, the client, who has been delayed thirty minutes, calls and apologizes for being late. Now, for years I’ve had John Coakley’s Ten Minute Rule. Simply stated, I respect others’ time and expect my time to also be respected, so I’ll wait ten minutes for anyone, but not eleven for anybody. I would always leave and wait for the person to call, apologize, and reschedule the appointment, at which time he absolutely has to buy. This morning I throw the rule away, silently thanking him for being late enough to let my shirt dry to the point that it doesn’t look two-toned. The 10:30 appointment starts at 11:15 and ends at noon.
- The next meeting is with a large internationally known Architectural firm about one block away. I leave my case in their office and we head to Morton’s Steak House on Connecticut Ave, another block away, and across the street. They walk briskly, and I am lagging behind. They make the light: I wait for the "walk" light to come on. As I try to enter the building, I don’t have the strength to pull the door open. I’m wiped out. This should be simple, but….well, you know. The guy behind me was about 85 and he opened the door for me. Makes one feel really hale and hearty! Where’s Candid Camera when you need it?
- They are waiting at the escalator for me. Up and into the restaurant where they want to have the same conversational pleasantries about family and work before we get down to business. We had a good but one-sided conversational lunch; they talked and I listened, with a polite uh-huh from time to time, but we got a lot accomplished; then back to their office for a wrap up and agreement to meet in two weeks, but not for a meal.
- The walk back to the car was 45 minutes, but only six blocks. Not bad when you realize that there were four five minute rests on two street benches, one fountain side, and one streetlight pole. I collapse in the car and toss, no shove, the briefcase across the seat. I feel really tired, but I need to head toward home and beat some of the traffic.
- There is a place on Route 97 outside of the Capitol Beltway called Leisure World. It’s a gated community that has rules: over 65, blue hair for both men and women, everyone must have a "cripple tag" on their car, and hearing is not mandatory. But the planners were brilliant: all parking spaces are about 15" wider than normal. I think it was an insurance requirement. My gray hair passes in the sunlight, I pull in, find a place to park and am asleep in ten seconds. Not a choice but a requirement of this body.
- Thirty minutes later I’m somewhat refreshed. By the way, this immediate sleep requirement of mine: do you also need this? Is it as immediate and overwhelming as mine? For me there is no choice. I can be asleep in ten seconds or less.
- OK, awake at 4:30 and back on the road, heading to Home. Mary always looks great, but she’s radiant when I haven’t seen her for a day or two. All I want is to relax with her at home, but we are going out to our prayer group’s St. Patrick’s Day dinner celebration; it’s been on the calendar for the last month, and to us Irishmen St Patrick’s is a week long celebration of High Holy Days. Never mind that I’m tired. Jack and Pat had the best corned beef dinner I’ve ever had! Whiskey first and Irish Coffee afterwards. Home by 10:30, thank God.
- Alarm at 5:45, up by 7:15. I wanted to stay in bed. Legs cramped and ached all night, like I had run with Ed in one of his marathons. All I want to do is stay home and do my catch-up paperwork from here. No chance! Back to Gaithersburg by 9:15 where I learned that the office move we talked about for the last four months was in progress. I invoked my rule of the Three Ds: Decide, Delegate, and Disappear. I left them in charge, made two calls close to the office and was home by 5:30.
- All in all, a good but long week. Would I do it again? Sure. Differently. I’d learn "waiterese" better. I’ll get ½ of a drink. I’ll ask for help. I’ll take the Hotel car or a cab. I’m still learning: I thought it was smart to stay in DC rather than go home after the cocktail hour and the dreaded buffet line. It was, but next time it’ll be even smarter. Only 580 miles this week.
Next week in preparation for the trip to Philadelphia after seeing Charlie and Anna Lea in West Virginia. I’ll be just as busy, but hopefully wiser.
Best to you all, and Enjoy Life!
I’ll be 60 this summer, and my mind thinks I’m still twenty at times. I can’t do some things as well as before. Here’s a case in point. Maybe you can share some of the feelings and smile along with me.
Saturday after Christmas, I took the lawn mower deck off of the tractor and put the snowplow on it so I can plow the driveway when it snows. This is a relatively simple job to do on my 16 HP John Deere garden tractor, and it’s something that I’ve done for at least six seasons with this particular model. No problem! Until this year.
My previous, older Cub Cadet had some alignment flaws, and every year, spring and fall, for ten years, it would take four to five hours for what should have been a forty-five minute job. I made up new cuss words every year as I bruised and cut my only good hands.
One of my happier days was when I bought this new John Deere back in ’96. All of the parts lined up perfectly, and the changeover task was accomplished in thirty minutes, back then. Worth every penny, even though I’m still in sticker shock six years later.
I don’t know what has happened to me since I started going slightly downhill with the Kennedy’s but that thirty minutes has grown--to four hours. All the alignments are still correct on the tractor. Here’s where the time went. Join me as I recount my adventure!
Getting on the garage floor was the easy part: getting off of the floor was a bugger. The mower deck weighs about 85 lbs and has wheels, which used to be an aid in moving it. Not any more! After it was mechanically disconnected and the drive belt removed, I had been on and off the floor three times. Dang, I forgot the vise grip. Up again. Time for a beer while I’m up, and back down again.
I always use the mower deck to mulch up an acre of oak leaves every fall. Maybe next year I’ll remember that they are stuck all inside under the cover plates where the drive belts are attached to the pulleys. Now I forgot the ratchets to remove the covers. By now you know where I’m going with this. Up and down; kind of like life.
Well, after another beer, which I had to get while I was looking for the broom and pan to get rid of the mulched leaves on the floor, I thought I’d be really smart and accomplish two things at once since I was up. It had taken about two hours to get to this point and the mower deck was on the floor. Every time I tried to lift it, it rolled. The snowplow blade with its five foot long ¼ x 1 ½" support arms was still leaning against the wall where it had been since early spring.
My brain kicked in high gear. I pulled out the old garage creeper and the creeper stool-- the one with the small pan in front between your legs to hold all the tools I should have gotten out before I started--now I was set to move around. Boy was I thinking ahead now!
In case you’ve never had the fun of using a creeper, let me paint you a picture. When I was a kid, auto mechanics used these to get around under the cars that were jacked up 8" or so. A creeper is nothing more than a piece of 5/16th" plywood that measures about 14" wide by 28" long, with a few cross braces. It sits on these four little metal saucer types that are attached to a swivel with a funny bent piece of metal; it’s about two inches off the floor, now with my head on the headrest my butt is almost on the floor (I’m 6’3", and about 225), and of course the beer is on the shelf, out of reach: but, at least I can move!
I pushed and steered with legs that don’t work as well as last year. Then it was time to get back up again. I thought "this should be easier ‘cause I’m 2" higher and off the floor". Wrong! Those casters really let the creeper move. Off the creeper and onto the floor and I try to stand up. Really s l o w this time.
Now, mind you, I’ve done this for years now and I know what I’m doing. You could say I’m almost a professional, but it’s so different this year. I’ve been living with this declination for a while, but this year everything takes more time. I probably need to shave again by now.
This time I sat on the creeper stool which is 8" high, got all the tools in front of me, had a new cold beer on the tool shelf right where I can get it, and hooked up the front supports and the two arms for the snow blade; but I had to get up off of this stool (which was one of the hardest things I had to in December) to raise the lift arm to make the final connection. If I was even a little bit smart, this is when I would’ve gone to the bathroom. Never been accused of being brilliant and not one to start a new tradition, I sat back down on the stool and made that last connection, and admired my work while my bladder started to scream.
Being a real man I whimpered. Rolled onto all fours, pulled one leg out from behind me with my cane wrapped around my ankle, and with sweat rolling off my forehead onto my glasses because I forgot to tie the last old diaper around my head four hours ago, and groaned loud. After an eternity working at getting up, I finally experienced relief.
Five minutes later I stepped back to admire my work. It had taken only three hours so far. Those wheels on the mower deck were the next thing to overcome. In years past they were a help. This year they were the bane of my day.
Don’t know any of you personally, but I hope you have more strength than I do. I could not lift the deck to an upright position no matter how I tried: no strength. And, as you already know by now, it rolled away from me! This 48" wide HEAVY piece had a mind of it’s own. "Chock the wheels" my brain said. "Can’t move that quick" my body replied. So I sat on the tractor seat, took another swig of now lukewarm beer, grabbed my cane by the street end, put the handle behind the wheel, pulled hard as I could, and it moved toward me and also turned in the direction where it was against the sidewall of the garage. With all the gusto left in me, I bent down, grabbed one short end and stood it up on the flat discharge side and "walked" it into the corner where it is today.
Time erases a lot of things. I had forgotten how much work that was until I got the tractor out and plowed the 5" of snow off the driveway night before last. I saw the mower deck sitting in the garage when I put the tractor back. Now I need a plan for reversing this in late March. Think I’ll start with keeping the beer cold. Too bad none of you live close to me; you could get a smile out of watching me this spring. Maybe I could sell you tickets for ringside seats.
Best to you all, and Enjoy Life!
I wish that I had studied harder in High School, or at least remembered more longer afterwards. I graduated in 1960 and have never thought of myself as extremely bright on a regular basis, only on occasion. One of those times was not last week.
We have had a good size rose bush next to a fence for the last 10 years in the backyard. Well, Mary and I thought that we should put some tomato plants in that spot as it gets the sun longer than other areas of the yard. Great idea!
Our yard falls from the front street to the stream at the back. You may or may not remember that I bought an old, used golf cart last fall so that I can get around the yard easier, take the trash up to the road, do some yard work and still make it back to the house, make beer runs, etc. Last Monday evening I loaded up the back of the cart with the following:
- Shovel for digging
- Spade for the extra depth required to get the rose bush roots out
- Hand trowel, small rake, sledge hammer and long chisel for the rocky soil
- An empty spackle bucket to sit on and gloves for the thorns
- Newspaper to keep the dirt off the grass while digging the new rose bush hole
- Two beers
- The tomato plants, plant food and insecticide
- The "Claw" which is a good tool, not a gimmick
- A spackle bucket 1/3 full of water, which is over my limit to carry
It’s about 6:30 p.m. and daylight savings time will get me through 8:15 p.m. or so. I’ve really got this thought out perfectly; a well oiled thought machine; nothing but bright thinking here.
God planted seeds that grew into rocks in my yard and I harvest them regularly. I start on the new hole for the relocated bush. I started with the Claw to break the soil down for the first six inches, then the shovel, then the Claw and then the spade, and finally with the sledge hammer and long chisel while sitting on the spackle bucket. When did a sledge hammer start to weigh that much? Fifteen minutes later, success! A hole that would take whatever roots the bush has.
I load the tools on the cart and move back up to where the tomato plants will go to and dig up the weeds in the bed area first. If you’ve scoffed at the ads on TV for the Claw, think again. If you do any yard work at all, you need this tool. It gives you leverage and torque, and you can lean on it like a cane. It’s great for loosening up all those weeds, right down to the roots.
The weeds and the first beer are gone and I start on the rose bush. Ten years of root growth in rocky soil equals at least 15 minutes of somewhat careful root location. I don’t remember planting concrete in with that bush. Of course, the roots are deeper than the new hole. Load it up, go to the new hole, and enlarge it: another ten minutes and it’s
perfect. The rose bush is in the ground, upright, fed, and watered; and only a little water went in my shoe when the bucket slipped as I took it off the cart.
I get back into the cart and admire my work and enjoy a drink, then drive back up to the weeded area where the tomato plants are going. Now this old rose bush hole needs to be 8" to the left so that the tomato plants look really good in front of that section of split rail fence. The plants won’t do any better, but they will look good: isn’t that what it’s all about? Symmetry in nature. That’s why after 30 years, I had the second mastectomy last year; it all had to do with symmetry.
I start to dig the rocky soil, prepare the holes, and get up and down as I move the spackle bucket I’m sitting on. By the way, it’s a good height for sitting, but not so good for getting up from. That’s why I have positioned the cart close to me each time that I got off it. I’ve really thought this out. I’ve remembered Physics: torque, leverage, fulcrum points (shovel back against the edge of the hole for leverage). I’m almost bright! Tamp the soil, water the new plants that really look good, and get down on the ground for that last little dirt work we all do when planting anything ‘cause it isn’t right without dirt on your hands.
It’s done! And it all came together before dark! I’m the man! You know the feeling when it just comes together. It’s a guy thing.
From the ground, close to the cart, I start to load it up with all the tools, gloves, empty beer cans, plastic pots that the plants were in, two spackle buckets, etc, etc.
The golf cart has lots of places to grab on to; handles at the ends of the seats, four uprights that support the roof, those curved pieces that cradle golf bags in the rear, and the platform that the bags sit on. I thought about that before I bought it: lots of handles; good rationalization.
There’s only one small problem; the cart is right next to me and, while I can grab any of three handles, there is one little problem: the cart is uphill from where I am on the ground. Now you are all smarter than I am. You remembered what I forgot: gravity or even the inclined plane. I was on the downside of the declined plane.
Fifteen minutes of trying, failing, get some strength back, try again, fail, wait, it’s gotten dark, wait, and finally success by crawling around the cart on hands and knees to get uphill to take advantage of gravity. I need to lose about 15 pounds.
Now I have it etched on my brain, because getting up that night was the second hardest thing I did in the month of May. Like Roseanne Roseanna D’Anna used to say on Saturday Night Live: "I thought I was gonna DIE".
Enjoy life and smile!