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.

Heather Heyer

She was a 32-year old woman who wanted to protest the white supremacists in her town. She got killed for her stance. And it's pretty...