T-Shirt Memory #9 – Blame it on Body Glove

T-shirt: Cocoa Beach, Florida.  
Design: Tank top with rainbow triangle and wave design front and back. 
Acquired: 1991
T-shirt Age: 24 damn years
T-shirt Recipient: Diane Carlisle Fluty

To be honest, I don’t remember that heading to the beaches of Florida (or Texas) for Spring Break partying was a ritual for most CMU students – we were just eggheads who wanted to relax for a few days without the nightmare of assignments, problem sets and exams. So we would normally go home to the Midwest or Northeast and recharge our brain cells before the academic meat-grinder on Forbes Ave. started up again 10 days later.


Yes, kids, people used to design t-shirts without a computer!

But my senior year was a little different. I had a girlfriend, a car, and a sister who lived in Florida. Even if I wasn’t headed to the infamous Daytona Beach to share a cheap hotel room with 12 people and funnel beers all day, I could still experience some sand and sun – and have an affordable place to stay. And the best thing of all: I was finally 21 and could drink legally.

I think the pure nostalgia of being 21, in Cocoa Beach, on Spring Break my senior year was probably enough to spare this rather unimpressive shirt from getting thrown out all these years. But, not unlike the shirt’s faded logo, a few colorful memories have survived for more than two decades.

My sister was a great host – within limits. I invited friends along, and she planned out a very careful “sleeping plan” that failed to account for a few of my most important concerns. Like…I was on Spring Break, I was 21, and I just brought my girlfriend 1000 miles to the beach. Diane had insisted that Kelly (said girlfriend) would sleep by herself in a bedroom upstairs  and I (said boyfriend) would be on the sofa bed downstairs.

I mean… I was already guilty of “bringing sand to the beach”, and then I was being told by the self-appointed Spring Break hormone police (herself only 24!) that I had to stay off the sand. Needless to say, there was some space consolidation that took place in defiance of the house rules. I will forever blame it on Kelly’s Body Glove bikini.

Neoprene in neon yellow was soooo 1991.


Diane recently read my blog and said she wanted to read more. The irony is that she’s unknowingly been the intended recipient of T-shirt Memory #9 for such a long time, and I just never got around to building the post. Maybe her prompt was what I needed. We’re off to USPS with a package bound for Florida…..wear it in good health and don’t forget your sunscreen – this old shirt won’t protect you for shit!

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T-Shirt Memory #8 – I Played PeeWee Hockey in Quincy

T-shirt: 2nd Annual Dunny Cup
Design: Long-sleeve heather grey with shamrock and crossed hockey sticks
Acquired: 1995 (“borrowed”)
T-shirt Age: 19 years  
T-shirt Recipient: George Hartford

George and I knew each other for most of our time as co-workers in Savannah, GA –  but we were never really friends. That started to change when we found ourselves assigned to  the same office and then shipped to Arizona for assignment to the Intelligence Officer’s Advanced Course.

We decided to rent a house together in Sierra Vista. And that house was ground zero for some amazing parties with amazing friends. There were 70’s parties, costume parties, St. Patrick’s Day parties, parties for absolutely no reason. Jack Daniels and Goldschlager were unfortunate guests at these parties, and the accusatory phrase “Are you IN, or are you OUT?” was spoken far too often. Or maybe just the reply “Oh, I’m IN” was the one that was spoken too often.

SP32-20130214-135538 George showing off his smooth moves and destroying (without malice) someone’s house during a 70’s party. Oh…was that your CD rack?  whoops…
I’m sorry – I have no explanation for why George’s belt is unbuckled. But who needs shirts when you look this good?

I remember a lot of “firsts” while living in that house. The first time I created a kick-ass golf course in the back yard; the first time I lost my security deposit; the first time I watched George score a hat trick; the first time I got kicked out of a recreational hockey game; the first time I accidentally dated a married woman; the first time I met George’s beautiful and amazing wife Victoria (Whoa…Victoria was NOT NOT NOT the married woman previously mentioned). But the most important thing that happened in that house was George and I becoming life-long friends.

Naturally, to seal that bond of friendship, I was required to steal something of George’s – and that just happened to be his Dunny Cup t-shirt. In fact, I think this is the only t-shirt in the Great T-Shirt Project that is getting RETURNED to its original owner!

Pictures the Dunny Cup t-shirt in Oahu, Hawaii and Sydney, Australia

There are so many vivid memories of the years I’ve had with George and Vicki that I could fill a half-dozen blog posts. Our road trips to San Diego; our trip to Rosarito, Mexico; our cross-country drive to Boston for their wedding; visits to Washington DC, Savannah, Chicago, Rome.  Choosing one picture to accompany this post was too difficult, because I immediately found a dozen.

SP32-20130214-134639George and Victoria’s wedding day – it was advertised as BYOS (bring your own sword).

Today, George is in the U.S. Secret Service (yes, you should be concerned). He and Victoria have two great boys and a beautiful daughter and they just returned to DC from living in Rome.  I hope to visit them again soon, create some more memories, and hear myself called “Jaawn” in a Boston accent again – who knows, maybe I’ll end up stealing this t-shirt a second time.

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T-Shirt Memory #7 – Haoles on the North Shore

T-shirt: Strong Current, North Shore Hawaii
Design: Long-sleeve aqua blue t-shirt with surfer logo on chest and back
Acquired: 1996
T-shirt Age: 16 years  
T-shirt Recipient: John “Fish” Fickel

I went to Carnegie Mellon on a full-tuition scholarship. After paying it off by serving four years in the Army, I wanted to leave the Army behind and get my MBA. But…then my assignments officer bribed me to stay on active duty.

Saying “yes” to a tour in Oahu, Hawaii is something I’ll never regret.

Hawaii was as close to paradise as promised. I spent my free time scuba diving, skydiving, hiking, mountain biking, surfing, golfing, BBQ’ing and partying almost every weekend on the North Shore – literally my backyard. It was at a North Shore party that I was introduced to John – more commonly known as “Fish”.

Fish became part of my close circle of friends, and we eventually found ourselves not only socializing together, but also working in the same Army unit. I’ve myself had many nicknames over the years (the most colorful of them originating in those Hawaii years!) and Fish is one of very few who could explain why I’ve been known as “Phil” and “Johnny Rotosphere”. To this day, Fish still calls me by the abbreviated “Roto”.

Fish was a great friend and a great co-worker. While we served together in the 1/14 Infantry, we deployed for a month of training in the Mojave Desert of California. I don’t know if I can aptly describe the conditions at Fort Irwin, but it takes real mental stability to tolerate the isolation and conditions of the Mojave for extended periods. Under constant stress, a single one-month rotation is plenty. So I’ll never forget hearing Captain John “Fish” Fickel blare Blur’s song “Whoo Hoo” at max volume across the entire battalion’s radio net on one pitch-black desert evening – with him singing along and creating his own lyrics.

Fish was planning on following me out of the Army – but when 9/11 happened, he quickly withdrew his resignation and continued to serve. He retired from the Army recently and now lives in the Washington DC area with his wife and young son.

This is a picture of us snowboarding many years ago (with Fish’s roommate Newman in red) – it’s ironic that we all lived on the beach in Hawaii, but the only picture I could find is in the snow. I had the flu during this trip, and Fish wanted to murder me because I couldn’t get off the couch and place a bet on the Redskins at the casino. Fuck the Skins, Fish.

This t-shirt was always too big for me, but it might be too small for Fish! Nonetheless, I hope he can put it to great use anyway. This shirt is full of amazing, sunny warm Hawaiian memories. If you shake it hard enough, you might even get some North Shore sand to fall out. What better way to beat the chill of an icy Washington DC winter?!


How awesome to see Fish wearing this shirt on 5-9-15.  AWESOME because: 1) on his birthday! and 2) with his old Hawaii roommate Newman!


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T-Shirt Memory #6 – Georgia, Sweet Georgia

T-shirt: Chili Chompers, Savannah, Georgia
Design: Grey t-shirt with crossed chili peppers over breast and on back
Acquired: 1993
T-shirt Age: 19 years  
T-shirt Recipient: Rob Pulak

Savannah, Georgia, has been one of my favorite cities ever since I moved there in 1993. The air of Savannah is heavy – not just heavy with southern-style humidity, but with history, music, art, and (river)boat-loads of natural beauty. With the exception of its annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration, Savannah is a quiet town where the thick Spanish moss hanging from its ancient oak trees has the magical property of slowing your heart rate and lowering your blood pressure.

The city was itself a contrast to my employer while in Savannah – the Army’s 1st Ranger Battalion (“move further, faster, and fight harder”). And so when I wasn’t deployed, training, or working, I sought out some of the more pedestrian aspects of my hometown. That led me to a downtown cafe owned by Rob, an ex-Marine.

Rob’s cafe was notable for its colorful cast of employees, was popular with art students from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), and was almost the ONLY place that stayed open late to serve the hordes stumbling out of the Savannah bars and clubs at closing time. Rob and I became close friends and enjoyed lots of opportunities to go fishing, boating, eating, drinking, or skirt-chasing together.

Another business close to Rob’s cafe was a store called “Chili Chompers”, where you could find a mind-boggling assortment of hot and spicy sauces and foods, and every kind of related clothing and merchandise you could imagine. It was my go-to place for unique wedding gifts; all I had to do was quote the amount I wanted to spend, and the store owner would assemble and mail an amazing gift basket that always floored the recipient.

One day while Rob and I were at Chile Chompers, the owner was standing closely in front of us as we all three looked up to view something high on the wall. That’s when the owner took the opportunity to extend his open hand backward and palm a handful of Rob’s crotch. Well… that ended up not going over well with Rob. He jumped back, and I watched the steam build up between his ears as he shook his right index finger and moved his bowed head in a subtle figure-8 motion saying “not cool…NOT…COOL. Don’t EVER try something like that again!”. And…..I’ll be damned if I didn’t stop getting such awesome service after that!

My “Rob Stories” could go on for a long time.  The time we played cards with Jim Carey… the time Rob adjusted a customer’s jaw and I swore it was “self defense”…the time a squash (thrown by Rob’s angry girlfriend) exploded on the wall over my head… ah, good times. The last time I saw Rob was just a few years ago at his wedding in St. Augustine, Florida; I wish I had been able to spend more time hanging out then, but a wedding is always certain chaos for a bride (and for any groom that knows what’s good for him).

Today, I found out that Rob’s mother passed away unexpectedly. She was an energetic, warm, and sweet woman – and always reminded me of my own mother. After a call to Rob this morning to offer him my condolences, I knew that this needed to be the next T-Shirt Memory I put in the mail. I hope that receiving the shirt and sharing my memories might bring him even the briefest respite from his sorrow. Rest in Peace, Jenny.

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T-Shirt Memory #5 – Yo Joe in the ‘Burgh!

T-shirt: Carnegie Mellon University Army ROTC Spring Carnival 1989
Design: White t-shirt with Army parachutist on front and tank on back
Acquired: 1989  
T-shirt Age: 23 years   < no, this isn’t the oldest t-shirt in my collection>
T-shirt Recipient: Jack O’Savage

To say that Spring Carnival at Carnegie Mellon is a big deal would be like saying the Steelers (or the Penguins) in the 80’s had a decent team. Spring Carnival is just about the only opportunity each year for the tragically-sheltered academic slaves of Pittsburgh (those would be CMU students) to blow off some steam.

In 1989, the overall theme of Carnival was “Toys” and Army ROTC chose G.I. Joe as their booth inspiration. Unfortunately, they also chose me as their booth chairman – so various ridiculous, but probably avoidable, disasters followed. And then there was painting camouflage patterns…lots and lots of painting camouflage patterns. In the end, the booth was wholly unimpressive, but I sure as hell poured a lot of blood, sweat and tears into making it the best it could be.

Our “game of chance” at the booth was actually pretty fun – you had to throw your toy parachutist over a large terrain board and have him drift down to earth, winning a prize if he landed squarely on one of the painted drop zones. I worked shifts at the booth with some of my best college friends – including Jack (who also helped design this t-shirt). Jack was a fellow member of Army ROTC, a defensive back on the Tartan football team, and a member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity.

The inner fraternity scene was foreign to me, as I was neither a football player (like Jack) nor a complete tool (50% of the fraternity population). But I remember Jack making me feel welcome at the Beta house day or night – and it even made me regret not considering Greek life when I was a freshman.

After graduation, Jack and I both entered the Army as officers – myself in Intelligence and Jack in Air Defense. We may have crossed paths a few times since then, but we’ve mostly kept in touch through shared memories. Today Jack works for the Bank of NY Mellon and lives in Pennsylvania with his family – who I hope appreciate him and humor him whenever he tells them stories of his glory days in college and the Army. As I remember, those days were pretty good.

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T-Shirt Memory #4 – The Sweetest Girl I Ever Met

T-shirt: David & Goliath
Design: Baby blue short sleeve with double dachshunds and text
Acquired: 2001
T-shirt Age: 11 years
T-shirt Recipient: Gretchen Decker
                              click to enlarge

I though it might be time for a female recipient. And none is more worthy than Gretchen.

In 1996, I was living in Oahu when two 20-something girls moved in to the house next door. I think there was a whole lot of mutual window-watching for the first few days before I finally met Gretchen and her roommate. Gretchen could confirm that one of her first visits to my front door was to ask if we “gentlemen” had any nutmeg. Don’t ask me why, but her face registered absolute shock when I not only said “yes”, but asked her to choose from three different brands. What?! A guy can’t have a well-stocked spice rack?

Gretchen was the nicest, sweetest girl I ever met. It was a regular occurrence for me to return from work exhausted and hear her call over from her balcony that she’d prepared another amazing dinner, and I was invited to come join. Sometimes, her kind nature got the best of her; as a young Army Medical Service Corps Officer, daily stress or mistreatment by others at work might reduce her to tears that she could only shed when she was far enough away from the judgement of other soldiers and officers. And whenever she asked me for advice, I tried to give her the best I could offer.

I will never forget one specific act of selflessness by Gretchen. I was hiking Ka’au Crater – a 4-hour round trip from car to the rim of the crater and back again. << According to Hawaiian legend, Ka’au was formed by the demigod Maui when he was trying to pull together Oahu and Kauai; his magic fishing line snapped, and the huge hook affixed to his line sailed skyward, landing in upper Palolo and forming Ka’au Crater.>> On my way back down the crater, I took a very nasty fall. My hiking partner had to support me as I limped for over two hours back to the car. And when I reached into my pocket for my keys…they were gone; they had fallen out and been lost.

I called my neighbor Gretchen and described to her how she could crawl through a window in my bedroom without triggering the house alarm, and find my spare set of car keys in a desk drawer. She did exactly that – then drove almost an hour to bring the keys to me. But when she arrived, it was the wrong set; I hadn’t realized there was more than one set in the drawer. Gretchen never flinched, and the smile never left her face. She just said “well, then I’ll drive you back home and I’ll bring you back for your car tomorrow!” I couldn’t believe I could be so lucky.

Gretchen (jean jacket), me and friend Tracy on the back porch, acting like grown ups

The t-shirt…well, I didn’t own this t-shirt when Gretchen was my neighbor. And I won’t go into any detail about why it’s sentimental. Because Gretchen will get it. And she’ll remember (or maybe not) a very drunk girl on my back porch having a very embarrassing conversation with me and a United Airlines pilot named Larry. Times may have changed, but if you put a few drinks into Hawaii Gretchen, there were no censors or boundaries. Depending on the topic, you either wanted to hear every single word, or not a single one of them.

Gretchen lives in Northern California now – and just had her first beautiful child. I miss her mischievous giggle and her heart of gold, and know that if I ever needed for anything, and there was any way in the world she could help, she’d be right there for me.

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T-Shirt Memory #3 – Viva Mexico!

T-shirt: 2nd Annual Carrera Atletica Izcalli (Mexico)
Design: White tank top with Spanish text and logos
Acquired: 1999
T-shirt Age: 12 years
T-shirt Recipient: Mark “Tex” Kennedy
 click to enlarge                                                                            click to enlarge

I don’t have the pleasure of sharing a lot of great stories about my life between 1997 and 2001, thanks to the type of work I did for the government during that time. But that’s what makes my good friends and co-workers from that period extra special – they were there living it with me each and very day. There’s no need for secrets among those who’ve lived through classified operations together. Today, I could share any one of a dozen stories with my outside friends and their jaws would hit the floor, but one of my co-workers from those days is more likely to just laugh and say “oh yeah!…but do you also remember the time that…”

Tex was my right-hand man, but as much an equal as a subordinate. And better than me at many things. He certainly always had a bigger heart and a sunnier disposition. EXCEPT when he was in a car. I can only hope that driving now with his wife and daughters (that he never had back then) has forced him to soften his vehicular disposition. More than once I had to beg him to get back in the car instead of physically confronting another driver – and I was the one actually driving! The dashboard and sometimes the roof of our car took a beating from Tex’s fists of fury.

In 1999, Tex and I shared an office at the US Embassy in Mexico City. I couldn’t have asked for better company – which is good, because not only did we work together, we also took our breakfast, lunch and dinner together and shared a 4-bedroom apartment. It was the epitome of having someone else’s back – 24/7. As such, I was there when he first met his (now) wife and I was there at the table for what was technically their first date (a group dinner at a fantastic restaurant). And Tex was there when a suitor of my own covered our office door at the Embassy with whole bags of Hershey’s Kisses and a note saying she “couldn’t leave town without showering me with kisses”. A little embarrassing for me, maybe, but also fun and flattering.

As much time as we spent in the office and working, sometimes we were able to get away and explore Mexico. This t-shirt is from one of those times. I don’t remember how we heard of it – maybe from someone at the Embassy- but there was a 10K race being held outside Mexico City in Cuautitlan and Tex and I decided to go race in it. We were probably the only two white guys racing that day, and we didn’t win anything, but I remember it being sunny and I remember us having a lot of fun. Getting a finisher’s t-shirt was a pretty special souvenir.

Today, Tex lives outside of DC with his wife and two awesome daughters (no wonder – they have awesome parents). I get to talk to him occasionally and share some of those stories that only he and I (and a handful of others in the world) can fully appreciate or understand. And I even get to see him every few years when our paths cross in Washington. But it’s certainly nothing like the good old days of 24/7!

                Tex (left) and Carlos (right)
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