‘Sick, Lame and Lazy’ men form a brotherhood for young at heart
BRANDON — Boys will be boys. The adage holds true regardless of time or place, regardless of age. Tuesday afternoons at Cattails Restaurant are no exception.
Every week, a group of older men calling themselves the “Sick, Lame and Lazy Club” meet for coffee, snacks and conversation. While the location and the members have changed over time, the tradition is rooted in a history rich enough to have kept men coming back every week for nearly two decades.
It all started when Brandon resident Dave Gibson had a stroke 18 years ago. In order to get him out and about, Dick Kirby and Ross Warren, friends of Gibson and Brandon residents themselves, began taking Gibson out for coffee once a week.
At the time, Gibson was in a wheelchair. Kirby and Warren would give Gibson’s wife a free afternoon, loading the wheelchair into a van and driving their friend to a local spot for some coffee and chitchat.
“It wasn’t long before other friends joined in,” says Allan Leavitt, a member of the group and a cousin of Kirby, “and that was the beginning.”
The name of the group came from Kirby.
“It’s kind of funny,” Kirby says. “People would ask what I was doing, and it just kind of rang a bell. ‘I’m going to hang with the sick, lame and lazy!’ It’s quick, and it’s kind of truthful.”
Sadly, Gibson passed away earlier this year. Kirby, Warren and the rest of the gang have continued to meet, however, giving Gibson a sort of legacy. Through the kindness and efforts of Kirby and Warren, what would have been an otherwise tragic event turned into something wonderful.
The group can attract upwards of 15 to 20 men a week. One recent Tuesday saw 10 gather at the usual spot to catch up and eat cupcakes, made by Wayne Rausenberger’s wife, who always bakes something for members’ birthdays. What is now considered a small attendance would have been large years ago when the group started, when they met at the Neshobe Golf Club.
“Eight was a crowd back then,” Kirby says.
Now, every Tuesday afternoon, a long table to the left of the front door of Cattails is set up in advance. Waitresses get coffee ready — it is the only thing the men will pay for. As they file in and take their usual seats, some bring cookies and, as always, Ross Warren shows up with French cruller donuts. He buys the stale, broken ones at a discount.
During the mid-afternoon lull, Cattails is otherwise empty most weeks. This week, however, a party of four is seated near the group, and every so often one hears them laugh at the jokes and stories coming from the large group of men seated next to them.
“We don’t usually allow women to come, but we’ll make an exception just this one time,” says Dick Kirby, looking at the female reporter. As he offers up a cookie he adds, “The reason for that is so that we can eat what we want without getting yelled at.”
A giggle comes from the party one table over.
Sitting in the restaurant and listening to the group’s conversation, it is easy to see how a simple act of friendship — taking a buddy out to coffee once a week — has grown into a social outlet for many older men in the area. For many of them, Tuesday afternoons are a highlight of their week.
“These guys do everything they can to show up,” says Leavitt. “They may not make it out for a New York play, but they’ll put gas in to get to Cattails.”
Kirby is grateful for the location, saying it is the only restaurant in town that will allow them to bring in their own food. And Cattails owner Lance Chicoine says he is happy to have them.
“They need a place to go, and I don’t mind them coming in here on a Tuesday afternoon,” Chicoine says. “Sometimes it’s just to get a bunch of cars out front — it’s good advertising. Plus, some of the stories they come up with are pretty great.”
Those stories vary from their last doctor’s appointment to their time in the war or the jobs they used to have growing up in Vermont.
Stan English takes a sip of coffee and speaks about his work with Central Vermont Public Service Corp., climbing poles with leather straps in 10 degree weather.
“That was back when men were men,” Wayne Rausenberger chimes in.
The tales of days gone by show the incredible amount of life experience in the group. Leavitt is 66 years old, and says he is “considered a baby in that group.” The range in age is significant — from Leavitt in his 60s to English and Bart Lund, who are in their early 90s. The age difference can be explained by the fact that there is no criteria to join in on the weekly meetings.
“The thing about this group is that anyone can come,” Kirby says. “You don’t need an invitation.”
While some men have been around since the beginning 18 years ago, others have only been coming to Cattails for a few years, or a few months.
The informality of the group does not stop there, adds Leavitt.
“It’s totally without organization,” he says. “There’s no president, there are no dues. It’s nothing more than a bunch of guys getting together and sharing some memories and tall tales.”
As the men continue to chat, the waitress, Amanda Greene, comes around with two pots of coffee — regular and decaf — and fills each man’s cup without asking, knowing their preference by heart.
“I always look forward to the coffee club,” Greene says.
She says that she has formed a friendship with the men, even outside of Cattails.
“I’ll see them in town and they’ll say hello. They know who I am.”
Leavitt offers a different view of the group’s relationship with the waitresses.
“It’s fun to watch the old guys flirt with the waitress du jour,” he says.
Which brings us back to the old saying — boys will be boys. Regardless of their age, the men at Cattails hold nothing back when teasing the women in the room. Leavitt takes this time to correct Kirby’s earlier statement that women are not allowed in the club.
“We love having women come,” he says. “We don’t exclude them, but it’s basically exclusively men.” He thinks on this for a moment. “Probably because women would run for their lives.”
The teasing is not reserved entirely for the women, either. As men do, the guys of Sick, Lame and Lazy taunt each other from across the table.
Warren mentions that his hearing aid is not working, and Kirby leans in and whisper to a visitor, “Now we can talk about him without him hearing us.”
Underneath all of the teasing, though, is a true sense of friendship among members of the group. For 18 years, they have met and shared their stories. They have shared their joy over life’s highs, and they have shared their grief, as they did when they attended the memorial for Gibson in March.
“I think there’s a camaraderie among men that’s unique,” Leavitt said. “I guess that sort of thing never leaves men.”
Looking at the group around the table, the evidence for Leavitt’s claim is sitting right in front of him.
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