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Bonding, codger style

patty ryan
GRAND CENTRAL
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By PATTY RYAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 24, 2002


SO WHAT DO YOU talk about? I ask.

"Girls," says Eugene "Mad Dog" McGee.

He's 80.

IT'S 7:45 A.M. Tuesday, and Dog, for short, has just bought me Cuban coffee at La Bamba Spanish Restaurant on Laurel Street.

I have come in search of ROFs, as they call themselves, short for "retired old" and the plural version of a gaseous noun.

ROFs eat breakfast together on Tuesdays, nearly always at La Bamba. In high ROF season, they number a dozen or more. But it is off-ROF season, and so there are three.

In the summer, rich ROFs migrate to North Carolina, I am told.

These guys, then, are the poor ROFs.

"That's right," says Dog. "And you owe me for that coffee."

JOE ZALUPSKI, retired director of the Tampa Sports Authority, is here. So is Bob Ennis, who once oversaw cigar production for HavaTampa.

They size me up.

"You won't like the jokes you hear," Bob says.

I am destined to hear about bodily functions.

ROFs know one another from high school and college, from football fields and fairways.

"Golf," Dog calls what they do.

"That's stretching it a bit," Bob says.

IF DOG could give golf a new name, he might call it "malignant."

They play with varying degrees of skill, usually at Palma Ceia. Golf follows Tuesday mornings like Cuban toast follows cafe con leche.

Ordinarily, Walter Baldwin, the former insurance man, comes. He brought the ROFs together five years ago. Or Angus Williams, fullback for Hillsborough High's winning 1944 football team. Or Eddie Flom, retired CEO of Florida Steel.

ON ANY GIVEN morning they might refight World War II or critique politics or the Bucs.

"You could say books are reviewed here," Joe says.

Here's a new book now.

Dog's eyes squeal at the Giant Book of Dirty Jokes. There are 349 pages.

It falls with a thud as another ROF, Jack Boyet, arrives.

"They're tired of hearing my jokes over and over again," Dog says.

JACK, a retired First Florida banker, scoots over for the arriving Ernie Reiner, a retired doctor.

Jack is 68. So's Joe. Bob, 78. Ernie, 81. "Anybody watch Tiger Woods?" Jack asks, inviting talk of hard swings and bad backs.

A hand pushes toast my way.

Ernie bears tales from New York. So does Jack, who marvels that strangers gave up subway seats to Pud, short for Pudding, his wife.

Ernie circulates a photo of a New York marquee. They chortle over the show's name, Puppetry of the Penis.

"That's our answer to The Vagina Monologues," Ernie says.

DOG'S REAL NAME is Eugene. It might as well be Petunia. He's Dog to friends, a name born of youth. A caddy once called Dog's wife "Mrs. Dog."

And so it continues, until chairs begin to drag across the floor. Ernie leaves first, to volunteer at a medical clinic. Some days, the morning stretches to 9:30 a.m., as Dog keeps them busy with jokes.

"We could be here quite a while today," he says, slapping the Giant Book of Dirty Jokes, all 349 pages.

- Tampa's Kennedy Boulevard was once called Grand Central. Now Grand Central is a weekly City Times column. Writer Patty Ryan can be reached at 226-3382 or pryan@sptimes.com.

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