Monday, December 31, 2007

Hold On, Brother, There's a Light Up Ahead

A few general observations...

--- Jessica Alba is pregnant and engaged. Tell me why that bothers me. I wasn't going to get her on even my best day. She wouldn't pick up her foot to step over me, and yet, when beautiful women celebrities find love, I am disappointed - as though there was a chance that perhaps we would be the only two people left on Earth and she might have needed me for companionship. As my wife said - it'll probably only last a year or so and she'll be back on the market - good, then I can breathe again.

--- Saw Bin Laden on tape yesterday. Can someone please explain to me why he is still around to taunt us? Ask someone in the Bush camp and they'll explain that Clinton should have got him in '97 - yeah, maybe, but it's hard to get him in the years since 9/11 when we stopped looking. Did you ever see someone confess in a game of hide and seek? Even my kids know that when they find a great hiding spot they need to stay there. They also know that when people stop looking it's okay to show your face once in awhile. I don't know - I just don't need to see him making tapes.

--- I'm reading the Game of Shadows about the steroid issue - only one thing to say - why are they trying to ruin what I thought was the greatest game ever invented? These steroid geniuses seemed a little like the dregs of society in the first place - and now they're glorified to boot.

--- Hold On, Brother, There's a Light Up Ahead - all of my life I have been fed the story of God and religion - and I pick and choose what I believe based on my limited understanding of the big picture - the one thing that I do understand is that there is always hope. Even when we are at our darkest there is a slight chance that the light approaching isn't that of an oncoming train. With the New Year right here, I continue to look for that light and I hope that anyone reading along finds the light in '08. Just stay hungry and stay alive and there's always that chance that the light will find your face.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Higher Ground

Love the Springsteen song "Leah" from the Devils & Dust CD - In it - he speaks of a man who builds with one hand and destroys with the other. "A hammer and a fiery lantern."

The protagonist is searching to live his life on a higher ground - and in the end- he climbs the stairs - and feels as if he is almost there.

I've always admired people who can live in such a world. I have an old buddy who always seems to know when to reach out to those around them who are feeling pain. I particularly enjoy watching people who have an unshakeable faith - even if it is sometimes based on a shaky premise.

Whatever, I think that we all aspire to be the protagonist in the Springsteen song - much as Tony Soprano, we don't want to live in a world where we are damaging those around us - yet we do.

A lot of these thoughts came to light after I read about the horrific murders in Seattle of just about an entire family. CNN showed the terrible scene where the murders happened, and just before cutting to break, the anchor said, that there may have been a dispute about money.

Money? It's paper and ink. 6 lives lost over paper and ink. Crazy.

So, as the new year dawns, and in relation to the resolutions noted in my previous post, I wonder if it is possible to spend all of the days of '08 on higher ground.

I'm going to try and carry the hammer - to build - and leave the fiery lantern - to burn - in the garage - unlit.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Begin Again

I was reading a story about, David Chase, the great writer of the Soprano's Series. He explained that a lot of the reason why the series worked was because Tony Soprano was a conflicted human being who people liked to root for, even though he was evil personified. He said that people wanted to root for Tony because he spent a lot of time trying to be a better person. Chase explained that we all do that, but sooner or later we slip back into what is comfortable.

Which got me thinking about my New Year's resolutions - 1). Get healthy 2). Exercise more 3). Eat like a human being instead of a dog 4). Try and be more patient 5). Stay calm 6). Finish writing a book and sign a contract for the book finished last year. 7). Drink less 8). Love more.

The sad part is - they are the same resolutions that I always have - and each December, I sit back and say - this year I'm going to do it. I'm usually throwing my hands up in defeat by the middle of January. Sadly, the only one I do on a regular basis is finish writing books.

I'm going to do it this year - no more mustard stains on my clothes. The sausage, egg and cheese bagels off of the roach coach are not an option. I'm going to try friggen' fruit! I'm going to join the YMCA and sweat out the aggravation, therefore I'll remain calm, lose weight, drink less and be happier.

I'm going to begin again - just like Tony Soprano, I'm going to turn my life around. Oh, wait, he didn't do that? How do you know? No one can figure out what happened to him in the end. Somewhere in New Jersey is a re-configured mob boss - here in Buffalo, I'll become a changed man too!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

OVERWHELMING

I love to see the pride in my father's eyes. He is a good man from day one and it is heartwarming to see him enjoy even one simple thing. He's made me laugh, cry and everything in between.

God, I wish you could know my mother - a woman whom I've never had even a simple argument with - a woman who taught me faith, hope, and love all in equal doses and a woman who can cry for a dog who died more than 40 years ago. She is the reason why I love to read and write - I have one Mom and lucky for me - she was the best.

Heaven help me, but I wish you could know my sister Corinne - a happy, soul who makes me proud at every turn - she taught me how to handle life's absolute bitch-slap, and she spit-up and sloshed her way through - Corinne - Who loves you baby?

My brother John - the thought of him makes me cry - when the chips were down - John stood up as strong and true as the day is long - a brother, a friend and the strongest bastard who ever beat the holy hell out of me. He found a beautiful wife and has two wonderful children - God Bless Them all.

My Brother Jim - the most talented man I know - he has a golden heart and a family to match - he's my idol and he doesn't even know it.

My Brother Jeff - my best friend in the world - I don't know where I'd be without him in my life - laughs a minute and a work ethic that makes me stand and salute - you've built a tremendous life of love and hope.

My Sister Carrie - You've always had your shit together and you always will- no one is smarter than Carrie - no one can do it like her - we still all believe that - and God Knows - she is the star, the shining light, the one person who will shine so bright.

My wife Kathy and my boys, Matt, Jake & Sam - God, I don't even know - Christmas is a time to think about love, life and the promise of tomorrow - can you imagine what we've started here? I began this blog talking of my brothers and sisters and the love we brought into the world - and now, it's on us- one person on another, we build the love that will move the tomorrow's and that it awesome...and that is overwhelming- to Mom & Dad and Bro's & Si's - To Kathy, Matt, Jake & Sam - Merry Christmas, Family.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

God Gave Me Everything I Want

I suppose that I am difficult to buy for - if I can't read it or eat it, I don't really need much. My wife is in the difficult position of buying me clothes, but that doesn't matter, either - I pretty much wear everything the same. My sister says I look like Oscar Madison when I wear a suit. Half of my clothes have mustard stains on them, and I dress as though I am straddling the poverty line.

Whatever - God Gave Me Everything I Want.

He gave me a good wife, three great kids, a boatload of brothers, sisters and sister and brother in laws that I count as my dearest friends. He provided me with a mother and father who have guided me each step of the journey, and a mother and father-in law who bought into my act. He handed me unbelievable friends who've made me laugh for years, and two dogs who are loyal and comforting.

He Gave Me a heart that won't quit searching, and a desire to find some of the answers that are good for my soul.

He handed me health, happiness beyond belief, and a warm place to lay my head.

I suppose that the reason why I needed to write this down on Christmas Day is because it is the day when we reflect on these things - but I have a secret - I appreciate it everyday - it just might not look like it because I'm surly and poorly dressed - but without a shadow of a doubt- God Gave Me Everything I Want.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas Spirit?

A lady in the car behind me laid on the horn the second after the light turned green - I didn't give her the finger - that's my Christmas spirit.

I just went through holy hell at the supermarket and a lady graciously allowed me to squeeze in front of her as we negotiated our way down a tight aisle - because an old man parked his cart off to one side - and perused the gravy choices from the other side. As I made my way through the tight space, the lady who allowed me to pass bashed me in the heels with her cart. I didn't beat either her or the old man with a gravy bottle - that's Christmas Spirit.

My wife is busy cleaning the house and wrapping gifts which leads me to prepare a pot of sauce, a turkey and a ham for the in-laws coming to dinner. As I'm doing this, I'm also starting the dishwasher, making lunch for the boys, and letting the dogs outside for a moment - my wife yells out - "Can you give me a hand for a second?" I don't commit a murder-suicide that will top the news - that's Christmas Spirit.

My boys sing Frosty the Snowman over and over until the lyrics of the song are threatening to become the start of my suicide note. I don't make them stop singing - that's Christmas Spirit.

Finally, I head to church and I have to fight for my regular seat because everyone and their brother is going to their one mass of the year. People are talking, children are crying, and it's hard to hear the priest, but deep down, it feels good to see the church filled to the rafters. That's Christmas Spirit.

Also, there will be a moment when one of my children shouts out in absolute glee as they open the present that they really, really wanted. (I thank my wife for doing all of the shopping) - when that child smiles - all of the other crap will have been worth it - that's Christmas Spirit.

Glad it only comes once a year.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

You've Pissed Enough

There's a scene in an old movie that I once watched with my father. An elderly man goes to the doctor and explains that he's having trouble urinating. The doctor asks, "How old are you?" The man replies, "83" and the doctor answers, "You've pissed enough."

My father and I still share that joke whenever we hear of a death. He'll tell me about the passing of someone and the usual question comes up - "How old was he?" - My father will answer - "94 - he pissed enough."

We aren't looking to be insensitive - it's simply a way to handle the passing from this life to the next. Now, I don't look to be morbid this close to Christmas, but reading through something tonight, I came across the quote:

"Death is more universal than life; everyone dies, but not everyone lives."

In my warped mind, I find that to be something of an inspirational quotation - just reading the very words implores you to take a moment to enjoy what is around you, doesn't it?

There are people jumping out of planes, climbing mountains, swimming for miles, and running marathons. Still others compose beautiful music, or write nice long novels. It's all about embracing life, isn't it?

Yet, there are just as many people who while away their time, watching reruns of old sitcoms. I often find myself in both camps - I've wasted plenty of time, and I've been inspired to do some creative things. Life's been good to me so far, as Joe Walsh might say, but reading that quote makes me realize that I haven't pissed near enough yet.

It's Christmastime - a real high in the year for a lot of people - live it up, live it up.

Why Are We Here?

The Simpsons runs a couch scene for all of their new episodes - my kids will run from the back room yelling 'Dad, you'll miss the couch!'

(Yes - I let them watch the Simpsons - I joke with friends that I'm going to expose them to everything so that nothing shocks them when they reach the real world - Seriously, it's a good show - the risky stuff soars clear over their heads).

Anyhow, a recent episode showed the family sitting on the couch and it took them back, through evolution to an atom where eventually there was a creator who put the finishing touches in place - the entire trip through time took just a couple of moments and it was hard not to wonder about all of this.

What the hell are we doing here? How the hell did we get here?

As George Bush once said, "The jury is still out on evolution" - which is of course, more laughable than a Simpsons episode - but there are days when we are certainly filled with wonder.

I love to watch the summer night sky fill with stars. I love to feel the fury of the wind, and watch the maddening rage of a blinding snowstorm. I wonder how birds can learn to fly in a V-formation with the leader directing the path with a brain the size of a peanut.

I enjoy the instinctual aspects of watching my dogs race through the backyard chasing the scent of a visiting animal. Catching a squirrel eating a nut is amazing.

The wonder and the beauty of it all is enough to keep you going if you have a moment to stop and dream about it. Does it come down to Adam and Eve and a snake? Do we trace it all back through the missing link and the instant we turned upright? What set it all in motion?

I'm not sure, but I know that I can list a thousand wonderful things that make me appreciate those moments when I feel like I'm about to visit heartbreak hotel. Isn't it wonderful to hear a baby laugh, or see the smiling eyes of a pretty girl, or watch the grace of a perfect golf swing (not my own), or listen to a golden voice sing a song (not my wife's).

Certainly, life can be a chore - but sometimes I wonder - what is the sound of one hand clapping?

From the very first moment of time, whenever that was, people have been searching for enlightenment - and it's always been soaring right above us, in the movement of the birds, the rush of the waterfalls, and the majesty of a mountain - perhaps we're just too busy to look.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Heartbreak Hotel

Everyone gets a room at this hotel from time to time. Some people move in and never move out. Others just stop by for a short visit, but come by time and time again. There are still others who stop by, stay a couple of hours, and move on their merry way.

My brother and I share a laugh from the Seinfeld show whenever there is too much whining going on one way or another - it goes like this - one of us will whine, and the other will say, "Aw, that's a shame." When he does it to me after a missed putt or a shot that banks off the rim and falls harmlessly away in a game of pig - we'll laugh. Yet, what is really a shame is when the heartbreak is life altering.

A good buddy of mine lost thirty pounds in a month, and after stubbornly refusing to visit a doctor, found out that he has colon cancer. I can't tell him "Aw, what a shame."

I know a couple of father's who lost their children to accident and disease. Their grief will never subside. That's a real shame that can never be fully answered.

What is another true shame is what we do to each other. They always say that it's easiest to hurt the one's you love and that's because to love, you must invest. The degree of hurt can best be measured by how much has been invested. Yet we can't stop investing, can we?

I find that I have little use for people who inflict hurt without claiming responsibility. I refuse to invest any more time in people who can't stand up and be held accountable. Is that to say that I never make mistakes? Hell no - but I should certainly own my mistakes and not walk the empty rooms at the hotel, looking for something to blame.

As I've grown older I've found that heartbreak hotel is hardly ever flashing a vacancy light, but there seems to be no shortage of available space. One of my favorite prayers to offer someone is the prayer of acceptance - life isn't fair; your best friend might turn into your greatest enemy; having a sick child; or an incapacitated parent; watching your dog get run down in the street - none of it is right, but there is a level of acceptance that must be reached. I offer a prayer in that regard.

Okay, this has brought me to my favorite thought ever written down in a book - In the Grapes of Wrath, Tom Joad has been forced away from his family - when his mother asks how she'll know where he is - he answers (and I am certainly paraphrasing it as I recall it) - "Mom, I'll be there wherever men fight for what is right. Whenever there's a cop beating a guy, whenever a newborn baby cries. I'll be there in the darkness that surrounds you as you sleep at night. I'll be there in the sounds of the children's laughter when they know they are secure. I'll be there."

Later on, Tom's father - realizing that Tom's loss changes their lives - asks the question of Tom's mother - "What do we do now?"

She answers - "We go on. Because that's all there is - we survive and we believe because when every thing else fails, we need to hang on, because our faith, and our love is all that we really have."

A dear friend of mine explained that the eyes are the window into our soul, and wondered if our soul is controlled by our brains because there is a physical connection between our brain and our eyes. I say that it is something more, and my dear friend alluded to it - we are born with a soul that is controlled by all we do and influenced by those around us. We develop our soul through time, as carefully as we sculpt our bodies - (or in my case fail to do - I spend more time on my soul, obviously).

Regardless, the next time you feel yourself checking into heartbreak hotel - think of the Joad's - or the people who bounce straight back out that front door, and head off running down the street, to a more convenient place to stay. Build yourself a simple faith that will forever carry you through the miserable times that wait for you around every corner. The worst thing you can ever do is find yourself in a long-term lease deal at this particular hotel.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas Memories

As a parent it is tough to do my job with one eye on the fact that the memories we create as a family will stand the test of time, but that is essentially what happens. I'm reminded of this because as Christmas Eve approaches I can't help but think of my grandparents, and parents and the role they all played to shape the images in my mind.

Grandma Fuzzy's pizza is always right there - I was one of the only one's who'd eat the anchovy pizza and I think of it each and every time I have a slice. Christmas Eve was about seeing cousins, unwrapping gifts, and later on in life, having a few beers.

Christmas Eve was also about midnight mass and I was about eight years old when my older brother John threw up on the priest's shoes as we re-visited the manger scene. I got yelled at for laughing, but whom among us wouldn't. Old Father Weiss was sloshing as he walked away, shaking his head in disgust.

I think of sneaking down early one year with my sister Corinne and opening all the presents hours before anyone else was supposed to be up. I also remember trying to re-wrap the gifts at the last minute, and getting busted anyway. If Iremember right, Corinne blamed it all on me.

I think of my mother and father sitting and watching us unwrap presents that had to put them in debt until about May. We never got too little, and as I got older, I felt bad about the sacrifices they made for us. My kids aren't old enough to have that problem yet.

I am also amazed that my mother took the time to wrap the gifts to the dog and sign the paper, "Love Santa." I'm not kidding either, as though the dog might read it and actually believe that Santa came down the chimney.

I remember my grandmother's fruitcake and how we played pool and the loser had to eat a piece - she was pissed when she found out the penalty for losing, but laughed eventually - wish she were around to make another hard cake of absolute tastelessness.

And the dinners - we always had too much food - and later too much beer - but as my mind drifts, there seemed to be just about the right amount of love and laughter, and faith and happiness. Hope I can do all that for my kids.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Boss

In 1977, I heard Born To Run for the first time. Perhaps I had listened to the song prior to that, but I really heard it in 1977. I was struck by the line "Wendy, I want to let you in, I want to be your friend, I want to guard your dreams and visions." I found it to be one of the most amazingly powerful testaments to love. For some reason, those lines stuck to me, as I grew, knowing that I needed to feel such passion.

And that was what Bruce came to mean to me - passion. Every song was sung in full voice, every sentence jumped off the lyrics page as being expertly crafted. He meant more to me as a writer than a singer, but I was hooked. And then, I saw him perform. My first Bruce concert was in 1983 in Buffalo. For just about four hours, he played, sang, made me happy, made me sad, and then made me happy again. He told jokes, he danced, jumped, rolled across the stage, and sold me passion in an unbelievably heavy dose.

Just over a month ago, I saw Bruce perform in concert for the 22nd time. When he emerged and said "Hello," and yelled, "Is there anyone alive out there?" I felt alive again.

The concerts are shorter, but perhaps even more passionate. The gospel according to Bruce, as it's been referred to is a story of love, togetherness, faith, hope, and peace. The end of each show turns into a faith-filled revival that must make his old nuns flush with pride.

I bring all of this up because I saw a photo of Bruce yesterday, and I realized that he was much older. He no longer looked like a rock star, but was more of a father-figure. The lines in his face, and the gray in his beard reminded me that I have been following his career, singing right along, for thirty years. There have been no tragic stories. He's never been the subject of a scandal, or a drug bust. He has never made me feel as if I wasted even a dime on his music, or his concerts.

At one of his shows, I was seated behind the stage. When the lights went down, Bruce, who was obviously suffering from the flu, would blow his nose and spit into a bucket. He played for a little over three hours that night, and the rest of my family who was watching from the front, had no idea that he was sick. Passion.

My hero is getting old, but so am I, and what makes me smile as I write this, is that it has been one hell of a ride. "I believe in the love that you gave me, I believe in the faith that can save me, I believe in the hope and I pray that someday it will raise me... above these badlands."

Buy Me Some Peanuts and HGH

I absolutely love baseball. I was never horribly proficient at it. I wanted to play centerfield for the Yankees, but that dreamed died when I realized I can't judge flyballs, and my back foot was always in the bucket when the pitcher threw too hard. That's why I laughed so hard at the movie with Napolean Dynamite when he asked the ump if he could get the pitcher to slow it down.

Anyone who knows me realizes that I've been a Yankee nut since birth. I have enough Yankee attire to be a workable ballboy. Many of my favorite childhood memories are of sitting with my Dad, watching the Yankees win the '77 and '78 World Series. My Yankee love has been shared by each of my brothers, and now my sons (well, 2 of 3 - Matt hates the Yanks).

Anyhow, baseball is certainly trying my patience - they struck for more money in '94 - it took me awhile, but I got over it. And now, the steroids - Barry Bonds certainly isn't the personality that you want standing in front of your sport, but neither are the rest of the men accused of cheating. Cheating!! How do I explain that to my kids? "Well, son, they cheated because they wanted more money" - rings hollow. Not a great life lesson.

Yet, my love of baseball has always been about life's lessons - the trip around the bases signifying all that's right with the world - watching Derek Jeter handle himself with class in nearly every situation, visualizing Reggie Jackson hitting those 3 home runs on my 13th birthday and feeling as if he did it for me.

I will always love baseball - more now for the game it represents than the life lessons it presents.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Merry Freaking Christmas

Every year about this time I begin receiving e-mails from "religious" people who are angry about how we greet each other during the holiday season. Some people are offended that the season is referred to as Christmas because invoking Christ's name is seemingly offensive to a portion of the population. Still other e-mails scream about the vast conspiracy to remove Christ from Christmas - and there is pure hatred in the e-mails that beg me to make sure that Christ has a place.

Let me tell you, Jesus Christ does have a place in my holiday celebrations.

Yet, if He doesn't have one in yours, I won't be offended. People believe in all sorts of things to make it through the day. Years ago, people paid homage to the sun, a big rock, and the clouds that appeared in the sky. Today, there are more religions popping up than you can shake a stick at. I don't care if Tom Cruise is a scientologist. I could give two shakes that others follow Joe Smith and the Mormon religion. I don't know what faith my butcher is - and I know one elementary school principal who wanted to brain me when I suggested that religion had a place in school. He thoroughly explained to me the separation between church and state, and thoughtfully pointed out that as an educator that he couldn't possible teach on every religion.

I have faith - it's a strong faith, and it's mine alone. I worked with a wise man back about twenty years ago, and he explained that he studied all of the religions and decided what made the most sense for him. That is an extremely ambitious way to handle it. In the end, he confessed that he still felt like he could be wrong. He explained it to me by saying that faith is sort of like looking into a fire - you don't see exactly what the guy next to you is seeing, and it's hard to describe what you're seeing to anyone else.

My buddy also explained that he has a most horrible dream in which he dies and goes to heaven and finds out that he's standing in front of the wrong god - "That would suck, wouldn't it?" my buddy asked.

I suppose so - so - just to be on the safe side - I keep my beliefs mostly to myself - and I keep all options open by not bitching about what anyone else believes - that's not really my place, is it? Merry Christmas - please don't hate me for saying that.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

My Balancing Act

"I know there's a balance - I see it when I swing past," John Mellencamp.

Isn't life a riot? We are equal parts sinner and saint. We have good days and bad days. There are days when I can burn the whole world down, and days when I'm left charred and broiled at the bottom of a pit. Not to mention faith and doubt. Some days I feel like I'm a great writer destined for unbelievable success and fame, and most of the others, I understand that to write the alphabet is a chore. There are days when my faith in God carries me through, and days when I doubt both heaven and hell.

I think of this today because my son had his homework ruined by a quick, inadvertant trip to the garbage, that left him in shambles. He threw a bit of a Fazzzolari tantrum, and when he finally calmed down, he told me that he had to just forget it because "today was a bad day."

I tried to explain that Christmas was coming, that he was going to live wrestling on Monday night, and that Aliens versus Predator II would be out on December 26th. He nodded in agreement, but said, "I still have to get through the rest of the week, which is going to suck."

My kids have a way with words.

Yet, I know of what he speaks. We all spend our days in a flux between what sucks and what might eventually be good. We look forward to the next family outing, the next book being done, the next Springsteen concert, the next golf outing, the next whatever... the mood stays shot until that next cool moment comes along.

I've tried to develop a bit of a balance, but like my son, I am often hammered into thinking that the happy times will never be there. It's easy to say, relax, smell the roses, don't worry...be happy. It's quite another to make it work. We all need the carrot on the stick to bring us through the next act.

So, how do I find peace? Fortunately, God Blessed me with my family - and I've always been a member of a great family. When I'm down, I call a sister or a brother, or my Mom and Dad. When I'm really down, I call the boys and ask them to watch a show with me. The grace of a child usually snaps me back. I love the laughter for no apparent reason, and the simple gratitude for a minor task. I can get my youngest singing songs if I just make him a bowl of soup.

A lot of times, I'll just hug my wife, or bust her chops ... anything to get the ball rolling. Then there are my dogs, who's unconditional love for me blows my mind.

Life doesn't have to be a chore... I tell myself that now, as dawn takes hold and I prepare myself for a business trip out of town... where I'll be away from all of my normal comforts. I feel myself swinging, but I know I'll swing back.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

BAM!

Chris Rock does a rather famous routine about a drunken man who is screaming about how "I take care of my kids!" Rock goes on to say that basically a man should take care of his children and not have to rant about it - by the way, for my money Rock's stand-up is the best right now.

Anyhow, I often think of those words and the man in the act who needs to be acknowledged for doing what he's supposed to do. I thought about it on my wedding day when I walked up to my father and my father-in-law sitting side-by-side having a beer or two. My Dad threw a punch at me and said just three words - "Be a Man." My father-in-law nodded and echoed my father's words. "Be a Man."

As you can tell by the title I've shortened it to BAM!. I use it when I need reminding of my responsibilities. Which, of course, leads me to my definition of being a man - face up to your responsibilities.

Growing up, I had a number of fine examples of what it is to be a man. I remember my father wrapping his shoes with plastic bags when we were young. When I asked him what the heck he was doing, he sort of grunted. I later found out that he put boots on the feet of six kids, and his boots were worn out. Hence the need for the plastic bags. BAM!

I knew a father who lost his wife at a young age - he went back to school - and took care of his children, acting as chef, driver, cleaner and provider. BAM!

I know a guy now who has left his wife and five kids for another woman. He told me that he was in love for the first time in years - I hit him with my wife's all-time least favorite quote - "Love is the delusion that one woman is different from another" - when he didn't bite - I just said - "Do right by all of them - BAM!"

I know a guy who's wife left him holding the bag - he now cooks, cleans, coaches his kid's ball teams, and never leaves the house without a child in tow - BAM!

There are a number of ways to face up to your responsibilities - and the ice is thin from time-to-time, but I can still see my father trying to use bag ties to get the plastic to stay on his boots. I still see the look in his eyes when he told me to be a man. I see the disappointment in my own children's eyes when I slip a bit - BAM!

That's what I'm supposed to do. No acknowledgement necessary.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Hung by the Chimney with Care

Perhaps I'm not a traditionalist. I often hear from friends who thoroughly enjoy the experience of trimming the tree, hanging lights, singing songs, and placing the stockings by the chimney with care. It's just another time-consuming job with me, and if Springsteen isn't singing the Christmas song, I don't want to hear it. Although the John Mellencamp - "I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus", and Elvis' "Blue Christmas" are awesome.

Now, don't get me wrong, I do enjoy the Christmas season. I love cooking dinner, watching the kids open their gifts, and drinking a couple dozen cocktails with family members. It's the added work this month that I can live without.

My wife's brain is captured by the shopping season - from Thanksgiving on, her conversation is limited to how many dimes she saved by returning presents because she found a better deal. I just nod along, pretending that I'm not bored out of my skull. I do appreciate the fact that she doesn't forget a family member or a God-child, but it certainly doesn't inspire me in anyway.

Perhaps it's the fact that I'm mechanically -challenged that brings out the frustration. I can never get our artificial tree to stand right. I can't even begin to pretend to know how to string a light and that friggen' star never stays on the tree. Christmas time usually goes about like this:

I pull out all of the decorations, I take a stab at standing the tree and positioning it just so, I plug and unplug the lights trying to get them all to work, I hang the plastic Santa by the door, and I walk away.

Half-an-hour later, my wife comes down, evaluates my pathetic attempt, smiles, picks up the Santa where it fell to the ground, and changes everything, making it looking as though real adults had something to do with the decorating, and making all of the lights work.

The day after Christmas, I rip it all down and put it away, wondering why the hell I can't fit it back into the box it came in.

Ah, Christmas... you gotta' love it.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

If at First

I believe that it was Homer (Simpson) who first said, "Trying is the first step towards failure." it's funny.

When I heard the quote, I thought of a few things - first and foremost, of course, I thought of my boys. As life progresses, they are going to try different things, and some of their endeavors are going to result in complete and utter failure. Which for a parent, is hard to take.

I think back to the most humiliating moment of my childhood. I was a reluctant member of my high school soccer team (I hated the sport), and I eagerly attended the School Pep Rally, knowing that a certain young girl, who I had a massive crush on was going to be there. I was to be introduced with the rest of the team, the coach would toss me the soccer ball, and I would make a lap around the fire as the students, my mother, and the pretty girl clapped. I was so excited going to the event that I'm sure my mother thought I was a little crazy. Whatever, it was my time to shine.

Sure enough, they said my name over the loud speaker. My girl was just a few steps away, and my mother was also standing close. I saw the excitement in their eyes as I caught the pass from the coach, took three steps, and fell flat on my face. Another kid had kicked my left leg, which in turn hit my right leg, which propelled me face down into the dirt. Of course, I didn't hold the ball and it went straight to the center of the fire and popped. I'm not sure anyone heard the pop though, they were all laughing too loudly.

I wanted to crawl into the dirt. I wished that someone would just shoot me where I lay. After some time, I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and turned to the girl. She smiled at me, but I knew she had found out that I was a complete dork. Better late then never, I guess. I couldn't fathom of looking in my mother's direction.

Life is like that sometimes. I try and prepare my kids for the simple fact that it isn't always going to break their way, but it's difficult. I don't ever want to see them disappointed.

The girl of course, is out of my life. Hopefully, she has trouble recalling past events.

Yet, recently, I asked my mother if she remembered when I tripped at the Pep Rally. I was hoping that she'd say that she'd forgotten it moments after it happened. She didn't; thirty plus years later she smiled, and then laughed. "You were a dorky kid," she said.

At least I tried.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Woman Has Soul

Over the course of 10+ years of being married, my wife has become very adept at identifying my faults. She also is very good at communicating them to me. One such fault is that I never seem to write anything about her. I'm not sure if she envisioned me writing poems or short stories that detailed her beauties, but here you go, scratch this one from the list.

The woman has soul. As I think about another year of preparing for Christmas, I am tempted to point out all of the little things that have worked so well for us through the years, but it is the subtle things that matter most. I absolutely admire and adore the fierce loyalty and maternal instincts that kick in whenever there is a real or imagined threat to one of the children. My wife likes to lock the doors to make sure that we're all safe. (It was infuriating when I went out to check the mail and turned to find the door locked, but that's another story). She can't possibly close her eyes until she knows that we are snug in our beds, warm and comfortable. That comes from the soul.

She is also quick to take advantage of my personality quirks - the obsessive, compulsive traits in my personality are given a real workout when she is around. She understands that I have to finish each chore in the fastest possible time, and that if there is work to do, I can't rest. That is why she is famous for saying, "Hey laundry boy, the baskets are getting full." It's all about soul.

My wife is now a Yankee lover and a huge Springsteen fan - that is because she knows I obsess about both of those things in my everyday existence. As Bruce might say, "She's a good companion for this part of the ride."

Life can be a challenge from time to time. When the children were young, it was all I could do to battle my way through, but every chance I got, I mentioned to my wife that these are better days with a woman I can call my friend.

So, as Christmas comes and we chase the kids around the house, I just wanted to use this blog to send a Christmas wish to my wife. There - I wrote something about you - and I can't tell you enough - "I'm Happy, in a love like this."

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Whatsoever You Do

I was letting the dogs out last night and when the cold hit them in the face, they came running back to the front room, looking for warmth. I mentioned something about the fact that they were lucky to have a home, and a lifelong problem struck me straight between the eyes.

Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers.

I remember those words from my Catholic school upbringing, and I think of them each time Christmas comes around - I hate myself for thinking of it only once or twice a year. There are people living on the streets. They can't come in from the cold. Perhaps, they did it to themselves, but when I think of it, I'm sure that it is because circumstances bit them in the butt.

Do you know that tonight, when the temperatures are hovering around twenty degrees, there are people sleeping under a bridge somewhere, within ten minutes of your home? Do you understand that you have clothes that you forgot about in your closet that would mean the world to a freezing man? Do you know that the Buffalo City Mission - or whatever mission is near your home, would distribute your extra clothes to a man or woman that might freeze tonight?

I can't help but think about it - Whatsoever You Do - God, the nuns had a field day with me - but one of the greatest lines Springsteen ever wrote was "Let Love Give What it Gives."

Every year a high school class stimulates what living outside can do to a human being. I'm not interested in their camping trip - I want to know what I can do to help. I wish I had all the money in the world to give so that a man or woman, no matter what the circumstances, could have as much comfort as my two dogs - who are sleeping soundly on my half-working electric blanket as I type these words.

Whatsoever You Do for the Least of My Brothers.... give a dime or two this year and throughout the year. Let love give what it gives.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Choices

Life is about choices - speaking of which - I hate when people say, "You have two choices - you can stay or you can go."

Isn't that by definition just one choice? I really want input here - A choice is choosing between two things, right? I always hear that and it bugs the shit out of me. (Instant poll - is that one choice or two?)

Anyway, that wasn't what this post was about - I heard a beer commercial of all things that uses as its catchphrase that life is all about choices. I suppose that it is. When I was young and single, I lived in California, Maryland, and Connecticut. I enjoyed my time in all three places and it crossed my mind when I was there that perhaps I would stay - I didn't - I always returned to Buffalo, where I eventually met my wife, had my children, found my dogs, and wait each night to write my blog.

What would have happened had I made the other choice? What if I would have stayed when I wanted to go? What led me to the spot where I am right now - yep, choices. I've continually made choices, not quite knowing the ultimate consequence.

Don't get me wrong - I'm happy where I sit, but sometimes I have to wonder what might have happened. If I had stayed in California for instance, perhaps I would have become a surfer dude with three blonde children and a wife with a year-long tan. Maybe my Maryland wife could have served me crab cakes and made me like the Orioles, (all right, that's a stretch).

It's just that you never know - around the next corner may lie the important choice that changes the direction of your life. I tell my friends to make your choice, and be happy with where you are. We do choose the life we lead.

The other morning, I woke my seven-year-old boy up for school and he groggily said, "This is stupid. Why do we have to go to work and school everyday?"

I told him that we didn't have to, but that choosing to work hard makes us better people. He said, "Can I stay home if I don't want to be better?"

I suppose he can make that choice. Yet, I honestly doubt he will.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Staying Positive

I was going to buy a book on positive-thinking and then I thought, 'What the hell good would that do?'

I believe that was Woody Allen's line, but it is one of my favorites. Years ago, I worked with a laborer named Cy. Each and every day we dug ditches, poured concrete, and cleared materials out of a building. We were both construction laborers. I was about twenty years old and Cy was in his mid-fifties. I actually enjoyed the job, and Cy hated every minute of it. Every morning, he would bitch and moan about his assignment and his rant lasted all morning, well into the afternoon, and as he walked out the front gate. One day, I bounced through the gate and said hello to Cy. I asked him how it was going and he proceeded to tell me that our boss had it in for him. "I have to dig a ditch from here to there." He was pointing well off into the distance. Very calmly, I answered Cy with a statement - "Cy, you're a laborer. What did you think they were going to ask you to do today? Balance the books?"

Cy stayed mad at me forever.

I'm not sure how it happens, but we choose our own moods. I've sort of tried to tell myself - each morning - to remain positive - no matter what happens. It doesn't always work (just ask my wife), and I don't always feeling like being my own cheerleader. Yet, I think back to a time when I stood in line at a grocery store - I had a miserable cold, and the kids had kept me up to an ungodly hour the night before. The line at the store was too long, and I just couldn't stand anything at all about the day. I groaned and the old lady in line turned to me. "I'm miserable," I said. She answered, "I'm eighty-three, I don't have time left to be miserable. I always try to be happy."

From that moment on, I've always tried to be happy. Like I've said, it doesn't always work, but I sort of bought that book on positive thinking - it's done some good.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Desensitized

Just reading about the horrific murder of Sean Taylor, the pro football player for the Washington Redskins. It's just a crying shame. It's a horrible crime about men chasing his money, and not caring who gets in the way. Certainly, Taylor's death shines some light on a subject that we have become desensitized to.

I defy you to open the paper tomorrow - and I don't care what city you live in - and not find at least three stories about murder. You can't do it - there may be at least five, but I also guarantee that you won't register the names or the details of the crime. There will be funeral, after funeral, and yet, we will not really know the names.

Taylor's death will deservedly receive a lot of play, and every person who reads the details will shake their head in pity. Yet, there will be more murders tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.

I read an article written by a black ESPN columnist, Jason Whitlock. He called the acceptance of death in African-American communities, the new "Black KKK". I read the comment section on his blog and nearly everyone panned the column as being racist. Whitlock is black! He lambasted black society for accepting, and even glorifying violence. He quoted rap lyrics as downright nasty, and still the commenters said that "He doesn't understand us."

I don't understand it either. I don't understand that you can't go to bed at night without locking every window and door, and activating the alarm. I can't comprehend why my wife watches the children so closely when they're playing on the swingset in the backyard. It boggles my mind that children are stolen, teenage girls are raped and murdered, and there are hundreds of thousands of missing children. It pains me to realize that there will be thousands of lives lost in Iraq, but five times that number lost on our own city streets. It's not an African-American problem. It's not a Puerto Rican problem. It's not a Iranian problem, or a Chinese problem. It's an American problem and it takes all of us to stand up and say - that's enough. Imagine if tomorrow we could all just get out of our beds and vow not to murder someone today. I can do that, you can do that, but sadly, we can't all do that.

I don't know what a glok is. I'm not sure what sort of slight would result in gunning someone down, but I do know that I see the details daily in the morning newspaper, and that I normally gloss right over the names, the lives lost, and the pain.

And that's the worst part of it all - I've accepted it as a part of life that no one wants to talk about - and that's a crying shame.

Oh Britney!

Seven or eight years ago I was flipping through the stations when I came upon a Britney Spears concert on HBO. I hit the mute button and watched. What I saw was an amazingly attractive woman, singing? and dancing. Being a hot-blooded American male, I felt a little guilty at sneaking such a lustful peek at such a young girl. Yet, I couldn't not watch! I'll never forget it, either. Britney was in a small green outfit, and with all the sass and hoopla, she was defiantly daring me not to look.

In the back of my mind though, I was rooting for failure. Not sure why we do that to stars, but when someone has too much fame, or too much money, of too much looks we need to tear them down a peg.

I swear, Britney, I didn't want to see you fail so much. Back then, everyone man wanted to be with Britney and every woman wanted to be like her. Women envied her body and her beauty. A funny thing happened, however, after Britney shaved her head in that famous act of defiance... she started looking a lot more like me than my wife. She was a tad overweight and bald. It was then that I identified with her more.

Yet, there are reports out there now that say she's pregnant again - three times - three futures - two different donors - tied to a Titanic like sinking of what is now a horrific career.

Perhaps Britney will snap out of it. After all, it's difficult to hurt inside for someone making and spending $700,000 a month, but there is a undeniable loneliness in watching what her life has become.

I remember talking to my father about Mickey Mantle. He said that when he closes his eyes he can still see Mantle hitting towering home runs, or racing around the bases. I never saw the Mick play - my most famous memory of him is seeing him tearfully tell the world that he was an alcoholic and an overall miserable guy - He said, "Don't let your kids grow up to be like me."

That's sad... it's sad that Britney fell so hard... and it's still real difficult to turn my eyes away.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Are you Fat, Bald, or just plain Stupid?

What the hell happened to TV?

I grew up watching Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, The Jeffersons and Alice. The comedy writing was elevated by shows like Cheers, M*A*S*H, and eventually Seinfeld and Friends.

I knew the characters, rooted for them in their fictional lives, and laughed and cried with them to the bitter end.

Last night, my wife convinced me to watch "Are you Smarter than a fifth-grader" with two of my boys - we divided the boys up and played along with some of the dumbest son-of-a-bitches that were ever granted a few minutes of TV time.

I must say - I didn't miss even a single question - and neither did my wife or sons (okay, I'm lying, my wife missed a couple, but I'm trying to be gracious).

Anyway, I didn't really enjoy the hour - there were just seven questions asked in a full hour. The rest of the time was spent in mindless chatter - back and forth silliness about how stupid the contestants were compared to the 5th graders - and a lot of lights and noise.

A couple of days before, I was flipping through the channels and saw the weigh-in on the biggest loser show - tell me, why should I care if Matilda went from 4 spins to 3 spins - and then cried because she didn't think she'd be able to maintain. As the great Howard Stern once said to a gravity-challenged caller - "Just stop eating - just because you have a whole in the center of your face, you don't have to try and fill it."

Perhaps, I'm a tad insensitive these days - I'm really not in real life, but I wonder why we need to see anonymous people struggling with their problems in a game-show format. If you aren't smarter than a 5th grader - here's an idea - read a book.

If you can't drop those extra pounds - spin in a circle until you feel like you're going to pass out, or better yet, join a gym.

And yet, what do I do? I'm thinking of making my own show - I'll call it - "Are you balder than a cueball." We can all sit around telling each other stories about how cool it was when we had hair to twirl.

I gotta' go - I hear the Deal or No Deal music starting - it's time to take that page from my grandfather and root, root, root against the stupid, anonymous son-of-a-bitches.

By the way if you saw 5th grader last night - what in the hell is a predicate? I'm a writer - and me and little Nathaniel both blew that one.

Winter Blahs

I absolutely hate the days when it seems as though you never see the sun. I leave the house when its dark and return in the dark, and never quite feel as though I've escaped it all day long. And yet, there is something just right about the changing seasons. I lived in California for awhile and I literally sepnt eight months in sunshine, and grew bored with it. I could have been a weather man out there - I knew where each cloud was going to be, and there never was much of a threat of rain.

On December 15th of that year, I played basketball outside in a t-shirt and shorts. I distinctly recall thinking, this ain't Christmas. Four days later, the pilot announced, "We're arriving in Buffalo where the current temperature is 22 degrees."

The wind was whistling, it was dark, and the half of my brain that thinks was saying, "What the hell did you do this time, moron?"

I'm not sure what it is that I enjoy about winter - but it's here and I'm ready for it. Maybe it's that it keeps me in the house longer, allows me to sleep a solid eight, and keeps me closer to the family. Or maybe, I should have listened to the thinking half of my brain and took a dip in the pool on Christmas Eve. At least I'm not worried about wild fires in my backyard, and there has to be some consolation in that.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Voices in My Head

I have been writing stories for most of my adult life - I had my first book published by the age of 24 and have been writing something new - ever since. If I ever nail it, I might quit. Yet, the thing about writing is that you never have the perfect story, or the perfect character, or the perfect ending. I suppose that is because you're always chasing what you can't catch. Which isn't to say that writing is without its rewards.

I've spoken to auditoriums full of people. I've taught writing classes. I've read my stories to college classes, and I've had my books on display in New York, Washington and Chicago - and you know, none of it truly matters. What is important is the journey - quieting the voices that scream inside my head for time.

I was writing my book In Real Life when my wife was pregnant. It's a coming-of-age story that was written about a man who imagined that the life he was living was close to the life that he wanted to live. I was about 3/4ths of the way through the book when I asked my wife to read up to where I was. I wasn't stuck, I just wanted some feedback - my wife came down the stairs with tears in her eyes.

"What happens next?" she asked.
"I have no idea," I answered.
"What do you mean, you have no idea?"
"It depends on Leo and Claire," I answered.
"Leo and Claire? Are you out of your freaking mind - they don't exist. You're Leo and Claire."
"No, they're real," I tried to explain. "They will tell the rest of the story in their own voice."

And you want to know what my wife said? "Get up there and finish it, you moron."

Yet, everyone who has ever placed a pen to the paper understands what I mean. The voices will terrorize you when you sleep, and enter your waking life as you drive, eat, or work. The very best of days is when my characters control my imagination for hours at a time. They keep me away from spending my time In Real Life.

Leo and Claire are doing quite well - if you ever have the chance, read the story that they begged me to tell. Voices, voices, everywhere - time to write something new.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The New Worker

Caught a piece on 60 Minutes that said that Human Resources people all over the land are confused as to how to treat the "new worker" who demands CEO pay and benefits while doing entry level jobs. The 60 Minutes piece said that the new worker is always complaining, is always worried about "ME" and will up and quit if their every need is not attended to.

I've had a lot of bosses in my day - one who dictated that my first task of every day when I was a construction laborer - was to buy him a case of beer and deliver to the job trailer no later than 7 AM. I figured it was part of the job - and every day, when he was blind drunk by noon, I listened to him rant and rave.

Another boss demanded that I do most of his work. While he was a certified executive, I was just his piss boy. For 7 years I carried his sorry ass because he couldn't even write a simple letter - he's enjoying his pension now, bragging that he was a big-shot.

I interviewed a guy for a position with my company. After saying hello - he asked me about vacation time and a company car. I didn't hire him. I couldn't possibly fathom that someone would want to know when his vaction was before his first day of work.

Now you see them coming in for interviews with tongue studs, tattoos and heaven knows what else pierced.

I'll end this quick discussion with an example from days gone by - the boys were 5 and 2 and I had just finished a rather unenjoyable 20-minute ride with them screaming and crying the whole way. I may have also smelled shit rising like a cloud from the backseat. I needed to stop at a gas station for milk - the kids screamed and I promised gum. I headed into the store, keeping an eye on the car the entire time. I was greeted by a 20-year old girl who was talking to her boyfriend on the cell phone as she rang up my purchases. She was smacking her own gum, and fumbled with the register, handed me the wrong change, and never once broke her conversation to tell me 'Have a nice night'.

I hustled back to the car - begged the kids to let me get home before I opened the gum - and finished my trip. When I got home- the gum wasn't in the bag. The kids went nuts, my wife asked me not to go back, but back I went.

As I headed into the store, the gal was still on the cell phone. She smiled and held up the gum to me. Very politely, I asked her to get the hell off the phone. When she did, I explained that she chose her job, and from all accounts her job was simple - "Greet the customer, ring up the charges, and bag the items."

She nodded and smiled again. I said the same thing to her that I insist on with my co-workers:

"If someone gives you a job to do, do more than what is expected."

The girl gave me the pack of gum... and the finger.

The Other Shoe

I don't know if it is the responsibility of being a parent, or the challenge of being a son, or just the fact that I'm getting older, but it seems that a lot of time is spent worrying about when the other shoe is going to drop.

Take for instance this weekend - I was looking forward to the long weekend so that we could spend some quality time, but happiness turned to sadness - see Jack O'Neill post - and additionally a co-worker and good friend broke the news that he has cancer. I spent the last three days of the weekend, just hoping that the bad news didn't come in three's.

As luck might have it, I shared a couple of beers with some other father's - and I mentioned that a lot of my adult life is spent wondering when the other shoe is going to drop - one of my good friend's explained that it was just life happening around me. Perhaps John Lennon's famous quote sums it all up - life is what happens when you're busy making other plans.

Yes, the other shoe does drop from time-to-time. Certainly, we are all judged by the way we handle adversity, because trouble is never too far behind. Yet, there are moments that we can hang onto while we wait for that other shoe - moments like my son rushing to tell me the score of the football game, or watching them eat the turkey drumstick, or laughing and talking with friends as we play cards for three bucks a hand, or seeing brother's and sister's and laughing with them and at them.

My mother's birthday also happened to fall in line during the weekend. I took a lot of photos, and examined them for the happiness in her eyes as all of the grandchildren tore the holy hell out of their home.

Mom wasn't worried about the other shoe dropping - she was smiling through the commotion, secure in her place in life, and happy that we were all around her.

Perhaps security comes with wisdom and wisdom comes with time. At least that's what I'm thinking - I'll just take a deep breath and be ready, I suppose and enjoy the hell out of life in between.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Jack O'Neill

One of the true advantages in living in Western New York is that we have the opportunity to see the changing seasons. The bright colors of summer give way to truly colorful images as the leaves change go red and brown and drift to the ground. Yet, the bright colors leave us quickly, giving way to a heavy cloud of gray, as winter approaches.

The clouds were hanging low yesterday, and again this morning. My heart was heavy too, as a true Irish-American passed away after spending Thanskgiving Day with the family that he loved. Something changed about the entire landscape, as Jack O'Neill's physical time on the earth ended.

I'm always struck by the daily obits in the morning newspaper. As is my habit, I read through the section, amazed by the fact that the beat writers can encapsulate a full life in a three sentence paragraph. This morning, as I gazed on Jack O'Neill's story, my mind threatened to explode. 19 grandchildren, sixty-three years of marriage, and five great-grandchildren doesn't tell the story. If everyone knew Jack like I was blessed to know him - his story would have been page one.

In a day and age when love for family, passion for country, and pride in living the right way seems to have been forgotten, Jack O'Neill's face should be on the poster for an advertisement of living a full life.

Jack was always ready with a smile, a firm handshake, and a hundred great jokes that made me - an newcomer to the family - feel as though I were the most important person in the room. His eyes filled with tears when he spoke of my son who was sick and healed. His eyes filled with pride when he shared a drink with his own children. Jack never missed a family get-together, and in the spot just off of his right shoulder was his wife, Edna. After sixty plus years of togetherness, they would smile at one another as though they were still in high school.

The seasons change. The bright colors of the summer give way to the gray skies of the coming winter. Yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Jack O'Neill will not be a physical presence at our next family gathering, but he will be right there with all of us - deep in our hearts, offering that smile and that firm handshake - letting us all know how we should be living our lives.

Jack O'Neill will be missed - wish you would've had the chance to meet him.

Friday, November 23, 2007

We The People

There certainly has been a strange element to the politics of the United States over the past few years. It is almost as if we are all picking sides for an ultimate dodge ball match. To say that the country is fractured in a Bush-Clinton type meltdown is actually understating the case. I have a number of really good friends who sit on the opposite side of the political fence - and we are awfully careful not to hammer away at each other when there are a couple of Michelob Lights introduced to the scene.

Still, it got me to wondering... why is there such a rift and why are we compelled to fight for whatever side we fight for? I thought about the first three words of the Constitution and how much they should mean to all of us - We the People -

I think back to The Stand by Stephen King and the re-organization of civilization after a horrible threat to humanity. Soon after the new government was formed - there were fractures and fissures that drove people to one side or another.

I don't know what is happening in America - you look at the Blue states and the Red States - you drive by a car that has a Bush-Cheney sticker on it or a Kerry-Edwards sticker - and it can actually make your blood boil - and don't even get me started on Obama, Clinton, Guliani or McCain. Maybe it is the simple fact that I seem to be paying more attention to our politics - as I should as a responsible citizen. The thing is - should the fight be so violent?

The talkers on TV and the radio are spewing degrees of hate back and forth - from Rush to Michael Moore - we are now raising issues that result in only more hatred.

As I've said, I have a couple of smart friends who look at it from a completely different angle from me - and that is not really how it should be. We the People does not break it down to Democrats or Republicans. They knew what they were writing when they drafted the consititution - they appreciated that there would be differences along the way - they understood that the fractures and fissures would develop - but they also understood that We the People - would stand united against the most evil of threats - not sure that is happening right now - but for the future of the country - we need to fill in the gaps - and we do need to do it together - that is of course, if we still believe in the constitution.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving

Saw a news flash yesterday that politicized Thanksgiving, saying it was disrespectful to someone that we gather together, say thanks, and eat and drink until we reach the stage of throwing up. What's the problem?

Yes, perhaps we have too many freedoms, maybe we take it all for granted. Maybe we all misunderstand the basic principles behind the Holiday, and use it for ourselves. I'm sure that most families don't recreate the Pilgrim-Indian scene, but does that mean we are offending someone?

I don't know about you, but I certainly don't mean any disrespect when I'm reaching for the stuffing bowl again - my mother makes the best stuffing in the world, by the way- yes, I eat too much. I have too much fun. I look around just before dinner starts and say thank-you for my family, and the opportunity to live free. I watch my children move in for the turkey leg, and appreciate the fact that they are healthy. I look at the Lions game, toss back a beer, and understand that I was fortunate to be born in this country.

Then, just before I slip off to sleep for my nap during the Dallas game, I dream of more stuffing- when I don't feel as if the button off my pants is going to shoot across the room - and I say Thanks again. Thank you to the Pilgrims and to the Indians, and to our forefathers, and my own father and mother - thanks for mashed potatoes and thanks for the pie, thanks for the beer, and the sound of the announcers who are calling the game..... slowly, I drift to sleep, not offended at anyone.

Texas Tea

Just filled up at the pumps - $3.40 a gallon. Hard to say how we've all adjusted to such prices, but what can we do? Run the engine with urine? Take the horse to work?

Our undistinguished leader once explained that we as Americans were addicted to oil. It was a bold statement that was issued without the usual stammering, or mis-pronunciation usually mustered during a stump speech. They were words meant to spur us on - to what exactly? Researching our own alternatives to this mess? Trying to run the mower with Ginger Ale?

I don't drive a Hummer. I try my best to conserve energy, but I've noticed that when I allow the needle on the tank to get below E, the vehicle starts gasping and eventually quits. Yet, I also noticed that we attacked - as Chris Rock put it - an oil-producing nation - and still the prices go up. I've also noticed that I am uneducated in the ways of the wealthy and certainly don't understand the subtle nuances that are driving the costs skyward, but when the news proclaims that the oil companies are making record profits, it's hard not to do the math - it's at our expense, isn't it?

Yet, our leadership has also proclaimed that the record profits by the oil companies is a testament to the free enterprise system and that they can't control prices to accomodate demand - no, we must, as citizens, reduce our demand for oil. It's our fault. I feel like a true addict in this oil war, but the basic question still begs for an answer. How do I weane myself off of it? What is my Nicorette to this horrific addiction. (Which also makes me wonder why quit smoking alternatives are so damn expensive. You can make a warehouse full of Bubble gum for six bucks, but non-smoking gum costs a buck a piece - and it isn't even a full stick!).

It seems to me that we need to offer some solutions, and cut out the middle man. I haven't heard much about research being done with the record profits that will lessen our dependancy on oil. I envision the day when I call my boss and tell him I can't make it to work because my wife forgot to plug in the car, but I doubt I will ever see such a day. No, I am just going to have to suck it up, and tough it out, and understand that it embarrasses me to glance at the pump when I'm filling up the car - it's so hard to put in 40 bucks and understand that I didn't even bring the needle up to 3/4's full.

Yet, we as honest, hard-working citizens should just practice saying it together - "My oil dependancy is my fault. Iam an addict and I'm ashamed of my addiction."

Perhaps we can set-up a ten-step program to break this addicition. Maybe the oil companies could sponser such a rehab program - it sure would give them something to do with their extra cash.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

One Last Chance to Make it Real

I first met Bernie about ten years ago at a bar after a hard day of working construction. While most of us slammed a couple of beers so that we could run home to our busy lives, Bernie drank straight whiskey. It was common knowledge that Bernie had his first heart attack while still in his thirties, but he did nothing to change his hard-living ways. The health problems continued, and so did the drinking, gambling, and as Bernie puts it, whore-mongering. His family was devastated by his lifestyle. Two of his children ended up spending time in prison. His wife was long gone.

His financial future was also demolished and despite barely being able to stand for too long, he was forced to head back to work. I ran into Bernie a few weeks back. His face was gray, almost the color of ash. Most of his teeth were gone, and he was skinny as Olive Oil in the old Popeye cartoons. Yet, he was wearing a hardhat again.

I asked him how he felt and Bernie let loose with a litany of complaints. He needed heart surgery, his platelet counts were low, and the doctors and insurance company's were scared about his fragile health - too scared to give it a go. I didn't quite know what to say, but after leaving him standing there, I muttered, "Poor Bastard." That night, I said a prayer for him.

I ran into Bernie again a couple of days ago. I wish I could say that he looked better. Yet, he was resigned to his fate. He told me that he was having the surgery next Tuesday. He also told me that there was approximately a 67% chance that he would die. "I lived like an asshole forever," he said, "and more than anything else, I just want to make my peace with God. I don't deserve anyone's pity, but I do want to go to heaven."

Once more, I simply stood there. I muttered something about how everything would be great, and I explained that I would be praying for him to beat the odds. As I walked away, I muttered, "Poor bastard."

Bernie has been on my mind for most of the past 48 hours. I certainly will pray for him, but truth be told, his health is so fragile that he will not be with us long. I hope he has just enough time to make peace. An unfulfilled life is certainly a shame, but here's to Bernie, and the thought that he caught the wave just in time.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Faces of the Dead at Five

I was never big on war. I can remember back to the 2nd grade when I asked the nun at my catholic grammer school if it was a sin if you killed someone during a war. I remember it only because she stuttered her way to an answer that didn't seriously register. I still am not sure of the answer to that question - call it Catholic guilt, or whatever, but I couldn't imagine being on the right end, or the wrong end of a gun.

I have nothing against guns- people seem to enjoy shooting them for relief. Hunting would probably appeal to me if I wasn't so busy reading and writing. I could help with the beer, at least.

The problem I have is seeing the faces of the young kids who die in war. Their love of country is certainly admirable. I am all for the troops and the spread of democracy. Every person should have the right to live free. I'm still sickened by 9/11 and I clearly recall how it made me feel - I was mostly ashamed to be a part of the human race - and it doesn't get any worse than that.

Yet, when I see the face of a young, dead soldier, my heart aches. Usually they're twenty-two or twenty-three. We've lost 32 in the Western New York area. The news anchor tells of of the feat of bravery, and someone calls him a hero. Losing your life is a high price for a three-minute mention on the local news, and the chance to be called a hero.

Of course, I understand that we are a free country because of men who sacrificed their lives. I am certainly as patriotic as the next guy, and perhaps I could respond if so confronted, but the faces of the dead, on the local news, tears me up, for one simple reason - someone courageous who loses their life is certainly a waste that we can't afford - I never truly figured it out, but I know one thing - I don't like war.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

All the Heaven I Got

The dogs are asleep on the floor, just waiting for me to make the next move so that they can follow me from room to room. The sauce is on; a Sunday tradition from an Italian-American past that I refuse to let die with me.

The football schedule is ready, we've already been to church. The work week is staring us straight in the eye, but the kids are running from room-to-room, doing their homework, playing video games, arguing with one another, and screaming until they give me a headache. I work my ways through the household bills and wait for the dryer to stop so I can fold a load of laundry. My wife cleans the spot underneath the fridge, has a cup of coffee, and folds the paper so she can have an angle at the crossword puzzle.

Tomorrow, we'll trudge off to work, thinking about what we're going to do next weekend, and you know, it'll be much the same as this weekend. We'll talk to the kids about what they really, really, really want for Christmas. We'll debate what we want for dinner, but we know that Sunday will bring a pot of sauce around once more.

Life is utterly weary and tiresome, and the mundane routine almost seems to be too much at times, but all the heaven we got, is in our touch, our arguing, our loving, and our friendship.

We steal a moment hear and there, whether it's a glance at each other, or a crazy statement from one of the kids. Oh, how it would be nice to run from room to room, singing a song that pops into my head - as my seven-year-old is apt to do - but we all pay to play - and sometimes what is lost is our innocent carefree days of youth - but even in the moments of mind-numbing routine, I am comforted knowing that God is offering me a treasure from heaven - on a daily basis.

He is allowing me to feel love, and is allowing me to comfort my children. They are safe, happy, and secure - and that's all the heaven I got right now. And it certainly is enough.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Words to Live by

All of my life I've tried to read everything I can get my hands on. I can remember doing all of the book reports for all of my classmates back in high school, wondering how they could live their lives without books.

To this very night, I have read before heading off to sleep. I've read everything from Stephen King to Hemmingway, skipping back and forth, depending upon my mood. I currently have three half-read books near my bed, and will open one of them up and let the words comfort me.

As a writer a lot of people tell me of the books they are reading.They ask me what is the greatest book I've ever read - I can honestly answer East of Eden by Steinbeck although A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving isn't that far behind.

Yet, through the years there has been one simple phrase that has meant the world to me. It is a phrase written by a rock and roll star. They are simple words, that has become something of a crude prayer around my house. My children recognize the words as my motivational theme for them to stop whining and get on with their lives. My wife can finish the sentence for me, knowing that I've shut out the excuses in my mind.

John Mellencamp wrote the words and by singing them so forcefully he actually owes me money for a speeding ticket that I received as I sang along:

Days turn to minutes and minutes to memories
Life sweeps away the dreams that we have planned
You are young and you are the future
So suck it up and tough it out
And be the best you can

... And be the best you can.

The Juice

Can someone please explain to me why the hell I'm still looking at OJ Simpson's huge head on television? As a youngster growing up in the Buffalo area, it was impossible not to love the Juice. He was so graceful on the field, and so lively off of it. He was entertaining, engaging, and talented. He was the kind of guy that mother's dreamed that their kids would grow up to be. Of course, as his career ended, he became an actor who was quite funny in the Naked Gun movies. He was still the Buffalo Bills biggest fan and allowed us a sense of national pride.

As I grew to an adult, I still loved OJ - and then of course, the murders. Not only did Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman lose their lives, but a lot of us growing up idolizing OJ lost our faith in our heroes. I have a good friend, Al DeCarlo, who was perhaps an even bigger OJ fan than me. When the murders hit, we talked of our disappearing youth and the fact that the nuns who taught us about life, never mentioned the fact that sometimes our heroes do horrific things.

When OJ walked, I was nearly physically ill. I watched the verdict with about ten other people, all of whom screamed in glee because 'the bitch had it coming to her.'

And now I get to see that gigantic head again as dirtbags prosper off of yet another crime, allegedly committed by the Juice. Give me a break! Take this off of television and out of our newspapers. Throw him in jail, or let him walk back to the first hole of a public golf course. I grew up wanting to hear about OJ's every move, on and off the field. I picked up his autograph five times as a naive child. Now, I want to throw up when I think of him, and all that he stole from me.

Why are we still watching this train wreck?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What the Hell Happened?

One afternoon I went into one of the bigger office building in downtown Buffalo. I had an appointment on the 9th floor and I jumped into the elevator (because climbing the stairs was not an option) and much to my dismay, the elevator was a bank of mirrors. Halfway to my destination, I glanced in the mirror and said, quite loudly, 'What the hell happened to me?'
The other three people on the elevator moved as far away as possible.

It was a simple rhetorical question, but one that surprised me - when did my hair race into full retreat? Why did I have circles under my eyes? Let's not even discuss the extra weight, and the gray in my facial hair. Wasn't I just 18 years old? How in the hell had twenty-five years passed so quickly?

Why do I get tired partway through the day? How come I can't eat like there's a gun to my head anymore? And drinking beer? Forget it - I need to schedule at least three days off and you'll never get me to try a draft beer. There are nightly trips to the bathroom and sleeping in is waking up at seven. Hell, I can remember running home from a college party at seven in the morning so I could make church.

Now, I need at least seven hours of sleep and I fell asleep reading the other night. What the hell happened?

One of the men in the elevator finally turned to me. "The mirrors suck, don't they?" he asked.

"I just don't know what happened," I said. "I was never Brad Pitt, but I had no idea I looked so old."

"There's nothing wrong with getting old," he said. "Just tell yourself that you look more dignified."

I did even one better than that - I avoided the mirrors and took the stairs - I had to stop twice to pee.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Reality

I have a 14-year old son who dreams of playing in the NBA. Last night, my other two boys, who aspire to be pro wrestlers asked me if wrestling was fake. When I was young, I wanted to write a book or sentence that would change the world or the way people thought. Not sure if that is a dream that can ever come true.

Now, the craze on television is reality shows, where real live people do real live things. Is a dream a lie if it doesn't come true?

We tell ourselves all kinds of things to make it through the day. We are fooled by people, leaders, sports stars, and politicians. We want to believe the best about people, but we are dragged through the mud, when our illusions don't meet our true existence.

I have never watched one scene from a reality show. I see the glut of game shows on television and I think of my grandfather watching The Price is Right and loudly rooting against the contestants - when one of them would lose - he would angrily shout - "good for you, you stupid son-of-a-bitch."

I'm not sure why we have an incessant need to be entertained by shows that drive us away from living our real lives. Do we need to see someone else bid for a date with a hot blonde? Does it do anything at all for us to watch others stranded on an island eating bugs?

When I think of what's real, I chase away all of the illusions, and think of my life and how I've constructed it. The reality show that I watch each and every night stars three kids who all are building their own illusions of what the future will hold. The way it looks now, I am going to have a five-foot-five NBA star, and two pro wrestlers who weight less that 60 pounds.

Dreams aren't a lie for kids, but if we're stuck in front of the TV trying to escape our own lives, maybe they are all lies for us as adults.

Monday, November 12, 2007

House of Miracles

I feel compelled to tell you about my new book... House of Miracles. I am not writing this post to sell books, rather, it is an attempt to let you get to know some of the people involved. It truly is a long story that pushed me into writing the book, but it is a story that developed out of love of my fellow man.

You see, back in 2001, my son Jake was diagnosed with a life-threatening tumor. After a long ordeal, he was saved at The Women & Children's Hospital of Buffalo, NY.

Up until that point in time, my life had moved along quite smoothly. I wasn't real aware of how a hospital works, what goes into the day of a surgeon, or a critical care nurse, or a hospital photographer, or chaplain. There was no reason for me to get to know any of these people, but through Jake's illness, I was allowed a glimpse into their world.

We as Americans have a real desire to be entertained. We idolize movie stars, beautiful girls with no appreciable talents, sports stars, and musicians. My son's illness was immediately after 9/11 - when the world was turned upside down - and thankfully the lives of policemen and firemen were re-examined. In my own personal turmoil, I was introduced to doctors, nurses, and other suffering parents.

House of Miracles is the story of The Women and Children's Hospital of Buffalo, NY, but more importantly, it is the story of the people behind the gowns, surgical masks, and the lens of the camera. There is so much negative feedback when the discussion of healthcare in America is raised, but let me tell you first, there are millions of success stories out there.

Sometimes what gets lost in the day-to-day, mind-numbing routine of life, is that there is a lot of love waiting just around the corner. I will never forget the moment when I walked through the hospital doors, and asked a group of total strangers to save the life of my child. We hear all of the negative... House of Miracles is a positive... about a group of people that I can never truly thank. Stay hungry, stay alive.

Welcome to thoughts of a Common Man

I imagine that this blog will just be an exercise in writing, but I have always toyed with the idea of what is important in life and I have written extensively about trying to find my place. I have been fairly successful in getting my books published and out there, but there is so much more to do, and so little time...

I am looking at this blog as an opportunity to share some of my thoughts. I'm a typical American male with three kids, a great wife, a mortgage and a couple of dogs - just to keep my balance.

I was thinking of a story to encapsulate such a life and I drift in time back to my 40th birthday. I was a little anxious about turning 40, and approached my birthday not really wanting to share much. I just kept saying, it's just another day.

On that day, I returned home from work, thinking about a beer, the Yankees playoff series against the Red Sox, and a good night's rest. My wife and sons were waiting in the driveway with presents for me, and the first present I received was a small rock, handed to me by my seven-year-old son. I held the rock, turned it over in my hand, and realized that it was a stone from our driveway. I thanked my son, and thought about tossing the rock to the grass when my wife whispered to me that my boy had been polishing it for the better part of an hour.

My son looked at me, and smiled, and asked me if I liked my present. I told him that it was all I ever wanted. Now, some three years later, I carry that small rock with me, wherever I go, realizing that it was the greatest present that I could have ever received and that for a man, turning 40, it was all I could have ever wanted.

Thoughts of a common man... I intend to share just some of life's little pleasures - hopefully, we can all grow together. There's a story there each and every day. Stay Hungry, stay alive.

Fifty-Three

Today's my 53rd birthday. "You don't look a day over 70." I heard that already a couple of times this week, and I had ...