Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sean & Sonia's Castle

We're staying on vacation at someone else's home near Put in Bay Ohio. I was wandering around the backyard and saw the jungle gym made for Sean and Sonia back in 1977. There are 4 swings, a tire to swing on, a fort with the names written in and some monkey bars and a slide. The thing is really well-built and even though 30+ years have passed it's in great shape.

The other night I had a few beers (believe it or not) and thought about Sean and Sonia and wondered where they were now. I thought of them as adults, with their own families now, and wondered if they ever came back to look at their old fort and gym set.

Having my own children and waiting on them to grow into adults, I consider their lives now and wonder if they will be able to look back with appreciation and a sense of wonder in how much their parents loved them.

Sean and Sonia's parents loved them - I imagined the happiness they felt when they first laid eyes on the gym set. I imagined them swinging high in the air, laughing and living and sharing. I could almost see them hanging out in the fort, high above the ground, just spending time together, being brother and sister.

I hope they never lost the innocence that I imagined that they held back in 1977. I figure that they are both around my age now.

All of these things entered my mind and my heart felt a little light as I imagined their perfect existence. Perhaps it is the writer in me that made me consider all of it...then again, maybe it was the beer.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Taking a Break

Vacation! I always believed it might be interesting to try and take a few days off - never actually tried it after the kids were born, but here I sit with sunburn on the top of my balding head; I had a few drinks, some great stuffed peppers and I even jumped into the pool and got ducked by the boys.

What I'm trying to vacation from is a mind-numbing routine of madness where I do what all of you who are currently working do. What the hell is the matter with us?

One of the songs playing near the pool last night was Check it Out by Mellencamp, you know it - Check it Out - get too drunk on Saturday, check it out play football with the kids on Sunday, check it out, soaring with the eagles all week long and this is all that we've learned about living.

Well I'm changing - I'm not going to be so wound up anymore - I'm going to throw the ball around with the kids, hang out with the wife, go in the pool, drink more, golf more.....

First I need to check my work e-mail.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Value of a Life

I loved the movie - American Beauty - and more for the scene where the bag is floating through the air and the actor says something along the line of life is beautiful and it sometimes threatens his heart to see so much beauty.

I thought of that line a couple of times through the last few days - I kind of thought about it in a backwards way however.

I read about a couple of accidental deaths - one was a beautiful five-year-old boy who fell on one of his toys and pierced his brain. The other was a worker who left behind three kids and a wife. Both accidents filled my heart with grief as I considered the lives touched by these two people.

Some people when they die leave marks on so many others lives.

I read something, somewhere that said a life ends when the work that God has for you has been completed. It's a beautiful, profound thought, but one that does little to comfort those left behind.

Yet when I read the story of a car hitting a tree, or a person losing their life after a long struggle with cancer, I try hard not to dwell on the circumstances of the loss.

Instead, I try to think about those left behind and the love that fills their heart, and the grief that threatens to overwhelm them. It drives me nuts to think that a life can be summed up by the printed words of an obituary or the camera shot of the accident scene.

The bag was just twisting in the wind at the end of American Beauty and yet the scene was lovely and the music was soft, and the complications of life seemed simplified in some way.

Every creation has a purpose - every end of a life somehow signals a new beginning. Human wheels spin around and around.

Just trying not to think of the circumstances of those simple accidents - hopefully the grieving families will one day soon, feel the beauty again.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Stupid People Get Nervous

In 1991 I was working my first big job in Baltimore. I was working with a heavy hauling and rigging company and we were picking up a 40-ton piece of machinery with a crane that was wedged between two buildings and in tricky wind conditions that could result in an absolute tragedy. I was almost sick to my stomach because there were 10-12 guys in harms way as the crane lifted the piece off the ground.

At that time I was working for a tough ironworker who said little and scared everyone who ever met him. He was also a confident, intelligent man who was cocksure of every move he ever made.

The other player in this story was an equally brilliant engineer from Baltimore Gas & Electric. She had studied for years and could dazzle you with plans, sketches, and ideas. On the morning of the lift, we all met near the crane. "Are you nervous?" the brilliant engineer asked the ironworker.

The ironworker spun on his heels, looked her straight in the eyes and asked the question right back: "Are you nervous?"

"Yeah, I'm nervous," she said. She looked at me. I was certainly nervous.

"Only stupid people get nervous," he said.

The lift started and the ironworker stood calmly as the crane grabbed the weight and as the operator slowly raised it through the alleyway and between the buildings.

"Boom up! Boom up!" the engineer was screaming. "You're going to tip it over!"

The ironworker stood there with his arms crossed. For some reason, I was no longer nervous.

The operator did not boom up. Instead, he stayed on the course set for him by the ironworker. Ten minutes later, the piece was safely on the ground.

As we walked away from the crane, the engineer ran over and congratulated the ironworker. "I thought we were going to lose it there for a second," she said.

"That's because you were nervous," he answered. He turned to me, "Let's get a beer or a hundred," he said.

"Were you nervous?" I asked.

"I was nervous as we prepared, but I thought of every possible scenario way before she did. There's a time to be nervous, but it's not in the middle of something. By then it's too late."

We drank a lot of beer that night. He was celebrating a great lift. I was celebrating a lesson I'd never forget.

The End of the World

The kids came up the stairs in a state of absolute panic. I'm not sure who was screaming louder, Jake or Sam.

"Dad, the world is ending," Jake announced.
"Oh yeah, when?" I asked.
"2012," Sam said. "We read it on the Internet."
"2012?" I asked, "Why so long, can't they end it earlier?"

Neither boy laughed and Kathy looked at me with that 'the-kids-are-scared-it's-time-to-hug-them-look.'

"The world isn't ending," I said. "Those are people who are trying to scare you. They're just dopey people who have nothing better to do."

Kathy meanwhile started hugging them. I was sort of losing my patience with the conversation because they were certainly putting more stock in the Internet article than in my words of wisdom.

"When I was a kid they said the world would end," I said.
"And in 2000, they said the whole world would blow up," Kathy reminded. "And we're still here."

"Yeah, but what if they're right?" Jake asked.

Sam had tears in his eyes.

"They aren't, right," Kathy said. "Go play."

It took awhile, but they found something else to distract them. Nearly a half an hour later, Kathy said, "What if that did happen?" There was fear in her voice too.

"All I know," I said, "is that if we all go at once, the line to get judged is going to be unbearable."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Excuse Me While I Contradict Myself

Isn't life confusing? Opinions can be changed on a daily basis, and in this day of being labeled as this or that, we must learn to stick to our beliefs, but can we, really? Who should we vote for? Who's the best man for the job? What way do you lean to the left or the right?

I saw a story today about a man who beat a newborn baby. All of my life, I've been against any form of capital punishment as a sort of two-wrongs-don't-make-it-right sort of stand. Yet I couldn't read the entire article due to the disdain I felt for that cowardly man. He was sentenced to prison, but is it enough? It messes with my head.

I was taught to appreciate life from conception to the grave and beyond - yet - given my live and let live stance, do I have the right to tell anyone what they can do? Do I believe in pro-choice when I don't believe in abortion? I am live and let live - wouldn't tattoo my body, but appreciate your right to do so.

Should we fight the terrorists to defend the honor of the country? Put that way - of course - do I not believe in the cause because I feel we are fighting in the wrong location? I waver from time-to-time.

As an American - I believe in standing tall and I feel a tremendous surge of pride when I think of all that we have accomplished in our history - Yet am I a bad guy for being ashamed about the abuse of human rights when it comes to torturing prisoners? I have no idea.

There was a time when I considered that I was a bleeding heart liberal - not so sure if I honestly believe that taxpayer dollars should go to rehab someone who doesn't want to even try to earn their own way? No blood in that stance.

I don't want illegal immigrants crossing the border and taking over the country, but I believe in human rights and consider that America has always been home to those looking to make their way. Any thought on what I should believe there?

There is a saint and a sinner residing in all of us - and while hypocrite used to be such a big word to me - it doesn't mean anything now. I hate to say that I'm absolutely cynical about everyone and everything, but over the course of the past ten years - going back to the Clinton deposition - and all the way through today - I am real unsure about what to believe.

What it all comes down to, I suppose, is not being labeled as a this or that. Do you believe in censorship? Immigration? Abortion? War? Capital Punishment? Gay Marriage? Welfare? Torture?

It should come down to a case-by-case, I changed my mind before I made up my mind basis, but in the end perhaps we need to strip away the labels and vote or not vote for the men and the issues. What we need to teach our children is to keep all options open, be thoughtful, and curious, and not to close the mind because one way or another tells us how to behave.

My wife ought to have a good laugh over that last line because there are moments when I've been accused of being closed-minded, but I do try and divide the truth from the lies - the problem being it is getting so much harder to find the line separating the two.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Season Tickets Anyone

Heard a report that it is going to cost around $20,000 per ticket for the right to transfer your old ticket to the new Yankee Stadium. That is simply the right to keep your seat - then you have to pay for it. When I was in New York earlier in the year my seat went face-value for $180. Let's do the math, shall we - $14,580 for 81 home games and the $20,000 fee - anyone have $34,580 sitting around?

I also played in a golf tourney with former Buffalo Sabre Jay McKee - his truck was parked in half the parking lot - it was an International truck face with a souped-up body - tv's, the whole nine yards - rumor through the clubhouse was that he paid $250,000 for it. Quick - anyone know how many goals a year Jay McKee scores. Try about six more than me and I can't even stand up on skates. My Freestyle just went over 105,000 miles and survived a minor traffic mishap - I have no aspirations on buying a new vehicle, either - just want to fill this one with gas every so often.

What the hell happened? How did sports stars become such royalty? I had an Uncle who pitched in the major leagues - Marion Fricano - look it up - he had a baseball card and everything. He pitched for the A's in the 1950's - know why he quit? He couldn't make ends meet on a pro ball salary.

I love sports - always have - but watching A-Rod go 0 for 4 in a game doesn't do much for me when I know that he gets paid about $145,000 per game. Think of that - three or four or five times the normal American salary per game!

And it doesn't stop there - what about movie stars - twenty mil a film - for what - six weeks work? And I am of the opinion that I can be an actor - give me the lines, I'll read 'em. Hell, Keeanu Reeves can do it.

I'm tired today - 6:30 AM to 7 PM for about 300 days a year will do that - and Thank God the Yankees are on tv tonight - perhaps A-Rod will hit one out - that's not too much to ask for, is it?

Monday, July 21, 2008

It Takes All Kinds

Couldn't take my eyes off a guy who was standing behind me in line at Office Max - as far as I could tell - every inch of his body was home to a tattoo. He had long straggly hair, a Harley belt buckle and his ears pierced about thirty times - he looked uncomfortable. I have worn my wedding ring once or twice and have never owned even a watch - I couldn't imagine looking like a Halloween costume - anyway - he spoke and his voice was real high and feminine - I almost started laughing.

Listened to a guy who claims to have been to another planet where he met Amelia Erhart and actually got physical with her. He spends his days drawing symbols of his alien friends - and is adamant about how we're all missing the boat. His spaceship is due to arrive any day now.

Heard about a black police commissioner who was personally offended when a judge referred to money being dropped into a black hole - the guy wanted an apology because he felt the term was derogatory towards blacks - a tad sensitive - isn't 'black hole' a scientific term that was not meant to bother anyone. "Why does it have to be black?" the man campaigned - "Why can't it be a white hole - and then it won't be about me?" Maybe they should call it an idiot hole - oh yeah, that's about you again - sorry.

The GOP should start their anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage campaigning any day now to frighten the God-Fearing people of the world. I always loved the Paul McCartney song - Live and Let Live - can't we do that?

What if someone started a campaign to eliminate - Yankee-loving, Springsteen-loving, pasta-eating people from the planet?

I'd be up shits creek - I won't say anything about how you live your life if you leave me alone too.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Missing Mass

I believe it was Johnny Carson who said that your chances of getting struck by lightning dramatically increase if you shake your fists at the heavens and yell, "God Sucks!"

I missed church today - I try and bring the kids every week, but once in a while, I miss Mass - there, I said it.

As I grew up, Catholic school guilt made me feel as though I were worse than Charles Manson if I even thought about not going to church - yet, let us examine my day.

I was up and out of the house by 7 AM - I played 18 holes of golf with my brother, my brother-in-law, and a good buddy. We laughed, made fun of each other a little, and had a healthy competition to see who would buy lunch - (I ate free - thanks, Jeff and Jeff).

We were out in the woods walking around, chasing a little white ball. I honestly thought about the fact that I would miss mass, but I quickly forgot about it as we finished the 18th hole - "Let's play 9 more," my brother said.

I was feeling a little guilty - it was nearing noon and Kathy and the boys were all alone, and I had missed church. "Let me call," I said.

"Stay all day," Kathy said. "I'm cleaning the house and I'd rather do it with you out of the way."

So, now my guilt was all gone. I returned home around three- got dinner done, cleaned up a little and then hung out with the dogs, the boys, and Kathy.

Together, tonight, we'll say our prayers, and hopefully God will not frown too much on my day of relaxation. I'm not a bad guy, right? It's all good, as the kids say.

Whatever, I refuse to think of Sister Virgalin telling me that there are just ten commandments and we should be able to honor them all. I can hardly hear Sister Ambroset telling me that I am on my way to eternal damnation. Sister Mary David is certainly shaking her head in disgust, somewhere and Father Weiss must be rolling around in his grave.

Me? I got a free lunch, and I have a clear mind to face the week.

Oh crap, no I don't - I wonder if there's a midnight mass out there somewhere.

Milkman & Shadow

My boys named the dog Melky after Yankee center-fielder, Melky Cabrera. If I would have had my way - we would have called her Chien-Ming-Wang. Yet, my wife didn't want us yelling - "Here Wang, here Wang," through the neighborhood.

Anyway - these two dogs are so much in love - they are never more than a foot apart and each day starts the same - I tell Melky to give Shadow a kiss - and I swear to God, she licks the side of Shadow's face.

Being a terrier, Melky is extremely possessive and it's never more noticeable than when I toss the tennis ball off the side of the garage - in Shadow's younger days, she caught thirty-two in a row without a miss - now, she can't catch more than one or two because Melky hits her like Dick Butkus whenever she makes a play for the ball.

They say that having dogs is good for your health as it helps to relieve stress - I have to say that I absolutely agree. It really doesn't matter if I'm acting like an ass (which I do a few times per week) they are always right there waiting.

Besides, I think their names would be perfect for a buddy detective movie - The Milkman and Shadow - perfect - they could fight crime with tennis balls and milk bones.

Friday, July 18, 2008

And the Wonder of it All Is?

--- I think of my 10-year-old son, Jacob, standing before the TV - hoping Jason Giambi gets a hit because since he was young, I've called Jake - "Jacob" Giambi because he hits from the left-side- if the real Giambi does something, my boy looks at me with a heart-filled of pride.

--- I think of my mother as she considers a dog who died over twenty years ago - and cries - or of who thinks of a grandson opening a Christmas present and also cries.

--- I think of my sisters and how they were always right there beside me and how they believe in me more than I do myself.

--- I think of my boy, Sam, who will talk - uninterrupted for ten hours - because he's so secure in everything about himself.

--- I think of my older brother who spent years beating the holy hell out of me - and then beat up a neighbor kid who had the audacity to say something negative about me.

--- I think of my younger brothers who made me laugh until I just gave up on laughing.

--- I think of my dogs who would jump through a plate glass window to save me.

--- I think of Matt - who is so strong in his beliefs that it infuriates me!

--- I think of my wife who loves me when the hundreds of women before her thought I was something of a joke. F---K them! Kathy won!

--- I think of God - whom I considered has always loved me - even when I didn't deserve it.

--- I think of absolute bosom buddies from days gone by - who are still so alive in my heart.

--- And I consider that all of the answers to all of the wonders - is love and that's the wonder of it all, isn't it?

Oh Shit, I Woke Up Again!

I kind of knew that I'd be with my wife for a long time when shortly after I met her she told a co-worker that bitched so much that she could almost hear him in the morning shortly after he opened his eyes. "Your first words every day are, oh, shit, Woke up again!" she said.

The co-worker bitched at her assessment.

The reason why this was so funny to me - so shortly after meeting my wife - was because I absolutely hate whiners - and the guy she was talking to was the world's greatest whiner. While being a great guy with a huge sense of humor, this guy hated his job and all the people who were bringing him down. Every sentence was sprinkled with hate for the men (his employers) who were torturing him on a daily basis.

It is so easy to find an excuse for all that bad that is happening - Springsteen wrote a song - "So they gave it a Name" and there is theory after theory of what now ails us - think about it - thirty years ago did you know what attention-deficit disorder was? How about extreme deficiency syndrome? Or anti-Yankee disease? Which the Red Sucks followers are suffering from.

Anyway, we can probably name everything that bothers us - for some people - rising is an absolute chore - and actually living is complete hell - and waking up is a monumental task that should carry us through the day.

I am a semi-positive person - although I have my moments when all hope seems lost - I'm fortunate to have a wife beside me who understands that waking up each morning is an absolute privilege.

We all know chronic complainers, come on, let's get a campaign started that talks about what is right with the world rather than that which is wrong.

Do you think we stand a chance?

What the hell good will it do?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Do You Believe in God?

A good friend of mine is in a real battle for his life. He's battling a couple of forms of cancer. He's just 54 years old and he has five children ranging in age from 15 to 24. He's lived a good life, but understandably wants much more. He treats others with respect and has lived well - working hard every day.

The other day, fresh out of his most recent trip to the hospital, his 15-year-old son asked him if he believed in God.

"Of course," he answered. "You know that. Why would you ask me such a question?"

"I was worried about you," the young boy answered, "And I wondered why God would make you sick. I've been praying and praying, but I'm not sure God's listening."

"How did you answer that?" I asked my friend.

"I gasped," my buddy said. "I nearly choked to death on the tears in my chest, but I told him that God was still beside me and that God would see me through this."

"And you believe that?"

"One way or another," my buddy said. "He might not answer my son's prayers the way he needs them to be answered, but the answer will eventually be accepted."

"And you believe that?" I asked.

"I have to! What choice do I have?"

My buddy is doing all right. The last thing he wants is for anyone to feel sorry for him, but in the 12 or so years since I met him, it was actually the first time I'd ever heard him mention God and the afterlife.

So, I guess the best I can offer him, at this time, is my own special prayer. I'm right there with my buddy, God will listen, and one way or another, his family will be comforted.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hard Times For An Honest Man

George Bush's approval rating is 17%. How can that be? Is his family that big? Are people living under a rock? Who are these people? What are the redeeming factors? Still want to have a beer with him?

I have a lot of friends who voted for W both times around. I have been in long, drawn-out arguments about going to Iraq, staying in Iraq, keeping terrorists in and kicking terrorists out - and I must admit, I love a good debate. Yet can we debate this any longer?

In the first term his mistakes were deemed left over mistakes made by Clinton - okay - whatever. Monica plays the harmonica and life goes to hell.

This term the mistakes are because Congress won't cooperate. Okay - solid point too.

Yet where is the leadership? Why was he so hamstrung for so long? Wrong man for the job?

A lot of people who voted for him now claim not to have - or say - what choice was there? I don't know, but we made the wrong one in 2004.

I bring this all to light because I was speaking with a 22-year-old drywall installer today. "I get up, fill my gas tank, drive to work, get paid and fill my tank again. I give my mother $50 a month to stay at home, but I've been short lately. I'll never get out of my parents' home."

That little conversation saddened me - I have 3 kids all of whom are going to want to find their own way - this kid feels painted in a corner and before you dismiss him as just a laborer - remember that people used to feed their families busting their ass, getting covered in drywall dust, and working hard.

Hard work is not enough anymore?

17% approval?

Come on!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

200 Posts! A Brand New Song

Love Mellencamp - he's Bruce-like - and a great entertainer. Buy the new album - Life, Death, Love and Freedom

I'm always big on redemption - lyrics to the new song - John Mellencamp, Belmont Mall Publishing (ASCAP)

A Brand New Song
Sweet Belly of the moment, you've realized you've changed
And everything you are after has gone down the drain.
You're nothing more than a drifter as you walk down your road.
Not exactly the picture you'd be sending home.
All these places mean nothing it's the people we count on.
Here without a purpose, gone without a song.
Yesterday seemed so sudden, today seems to have no end.
So you button up the buttons and say goodbye to what has been.
Those black and white pictures that file through your veins.
That's the trouble with the future, it always stays the same.
And your pride's been shaken and those people you count on
here without a purpose and gone without a song
without a song.
In the uncertainty of a new day, opportunity may howl.
You hear the voice in a new way, in the past you didn't know how
You're old enough to know the difference
between an enemy and a friend
with the eyes of knowledge upon you, you're able to stand up again.
Life is always in motion, and there's new people to count on
Here you may find a purpose and sing a brand new song.
Sing a brand new song.
This post is dedicated to my sister Carrie - start singing that brand new song.

Driving the Wrong Way Down a One-Way Street

You're probably fooled by the title of this post. You're probably thinking that I'm tossing out a writer's metaphor about what it means to be doing the wrong thing at the wrong time in someones life.

You'd be wrong. Today - I literally drove the wrong way down a one way street - and I didn't get away with it.

It's weird to get hit by another car - I nearly made it through the intersection - there's that split-second of apprehension - the cuss words fill the inside of the truck and then the crash of fiberglass on fiberglass and broken glass, and bumpers, and truly none of that matters.

As you might suspect, I had no idea that it was one-way - I couldn't figure why neither of us had stop signs. I jumped from my car - unhurt - but mindful of the fact that a matter of feet might have ended my daydream about the new Mellencamp album, and calling the publisher, and making meatball subs for dinner, and doing the laundry and mowing the grass. A few feet and someone else would have to do that shit. A few feet - if I wasn't quicker through the intersection....

Anyway - I met the other driver just outside her car - I quickly noted the damage - two fenders instead of two quarter panels - except her bumper was in the middle of the road and I tripped over the friggen thing. "Are you all right?"

She was a 70-year old woman - unhurt, but scared - she started crying- I looked back for the street signs - where the hell was the stop sign?

I saw the cars pointed in the wrong direction - I saw the back of the freaking stop sign. "Are you all right?" I asked again. The woman burst into tears - "My husband's a cop," she said.

Four cops were running towards us - I'd had the good sense of causing an accident right in front of the station.

"We're all right," she said. "Just a couple of fenders."

I guess I did get away with it.

Check your road signs!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Oh God, Shoot Me Please!

My back feels like a piece of plywood. My legs each seem to weigh about 200 pounds. When I turn my neck the wrong way ripples of pain shoot down my spine and make my toes stand on end.

Who the hell's idea was it to play softball?

The few beers I drank after the game masked the pain just enough for me to fall asleep on the couch - at 8 PM - as though I were 80 years old and had missed my nap.

The two singles I hit weren't enough for me to ride the sport's high through even one day. I remember being in college and having to work out with my roommate's wrestling team. After a vigorous day of lifting weights I saw him in the hallway in our apartment. "If I could lift my arms," I told him. "I'd slap your face for making me work out."

Yes - my philosophy of working out has always been the same - "No pain... no pain," I believe.

We have a lot of stairs in our home. I'm writing this post just because I don't feel like falling down the stairs yet.

At least I got a text message from a friend who had also played in the game - "How sore are you?" he asked.

I answered with one word - and not just because it pained me to do the text messaging - "Brutal!"

He summed it all up best - "We should have had more beer," he replied.

Thank God I got that last at-bat out of the way - I'll leave the sports to the kids or to Lance Armstrong.

No wonder they all took steroids - I'd shotgun a vat of them right now if it would make it stop hurting.

We Still Got It

My favorite thing about the sport of baseball is that everyone eventually gets an at-bat. Think of that - I've seen my mother take her cuts. I've seen my grandmother stand at the dish - my wife, my kids, we all get a turn. I hadn't had an at-bat in about ten years, and frankly I missed it.

When I was 12 or 13, I became a proud member of the Lions baseball team. We started playing with tennis balls and sticks from the woods - we weren't dirt poor - that's just what we had for equipment that day - and eventually we won our league championship twice. I was in my 30's when that happened and I'll never forget my mother being at that game - saying - "It's about time."

My best friends in the world played on that team - I can't even tell you how many times I lined up with my brothers and pals and played - and won or lost - ate, drank and laughed. We grew up together, feeling the loss of our shortstop who was hit by a car when we were just 16. We battled and swore it never would end - but it did. I tore an Achilles - life got in the way - and we all started our families where our kids got their turn at bat.

This weekend - we decided to play again. Leading up to the game, I teased my kid's saying I'd get a hit every time up and that they owed me five bucks for every base hit. I stretched out a little before the game and played some catch - and then we all lined up for the game.

It was like watching the Old Timer's Game at Yankee Stadium! The great athletes of my youth were moving around the infield like snails - I was catching and I distracted the batters by groaning each time I got in the crouch. Our pitcher hopped off the mound - not with catlike reflexes - but more like the mouse it was chasing.

And then I came to bat. I looked at my boys hoping they were watching and rooting for me - I took the first pitch - and then lined the second pitch into center. I could have quit right then and there - I got the at-bat I dreamed about and did what I wanted to do.

Yet the game wasn't over - there was a home plate collision that made me feel like a car accident victim this morning. I dropped a pop fly that was about six feet away from me, but felt as if it were a mile. I then threw the ball into center. I popped out to the first freaking baseman, and then hit a ball that barely made it to him.

I then came up in the 9th and my boy reminded me we were losing the game and that I needed a hit. At 43 years old, I honestly wasn't thinking about the team. I knew that it could be my last real at-bat ever. I took a deep breath, took a pitch, and then lined the next one into center. I had my final hit.

After the game came the reason we all played - Jeffy cooked, we drank beer, laughed at the miscues and blown plays, and just were the great friends we'd always been and will be.

We still got it.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Murcer Dies

Just two simple words on the CBS Sportsline header. Bobby Murcer was a longtime Yankee and a decent human being and he gets two words - Murcer dies. That's two more than most people get, however.

Let's look at Murcer though - for one - he gave me a dip of Skoal. I was 18 or 19 years old and had just watched the Yankees win in Cleveland - Ron Guidry threw a two-hitter and the mood outside the Yankee locker room was festive. Back in those days, you could wait by the door to the locker room and the players would file out on the way to the bus. That particular Saturday evening, the bus was late, and so the Yankees had to wait to board. My brother and I were among a handful of fans that got to meet the players.

I spent twenty minutes talking with Guidry. My brother got autographs of Winfield and others. And then Bobby Murcer emerged with a can of Skoal in his hand - getting ready to take a fresh chew. I asked him for one. "You're too young," he said.

I showed him my own can of Skoal - "Why do you want one from me?" he asked.
"Because you're Bobby Murcer," I said.
He flipped it to me and I took a chew and flipped it back.

I remembered that every time that I saw him do a Yankee broadcast. I also remembered it when I saw that he was giving a lot of time and money to an Oklahoma Children's Cancer Facility. Doctors, nurses, and children spoke of his positive influence and the willingness he and his wife had to give something back. Murcer died of cancer as did his brother before him. The pediatric facility in Oklahoma is graced with his name.

Perhaps just two words are not enough, but then again, he left a mark that was far greater than just recognition for hitting a ball. The negative aspects of athletes lives are gone over and over in the media - we certainly know more about Michael Vick's pit bulls then we do about Murcer's cancer facility, but I took this post to give a true Yankee more than just a couple of words.

Bobby Murcer died at the age of 62 - too young - but he did leave a positive mark - and isn't that what all of us are trying to do?

Stealing Grave Markers?

The news continues to be dour on the economic front. I read an article about plummeting stocks and banks that are on the verge of closing because of a poor cash flow. On the opposite side of the page was even more distressing news.

A few men from Niagara Falls were arrested for stealing vases off of graves in cemeteries around the area. They were then selling the metal vases to scrap yards. About five grand was made and split among the grave robbers.

Grave robbers! Are you kidding me?

One of the arrested men said something about feeling funny since they started robbing the vases. But he also complained about needing the money for gas and food. I suppose, but can you imagine sitting down to a steak dinner knowing that you were profiting from the poor people who gathered together to memoralize their grandmother, or aunt, or mother. Good grief, God can't look too favorably on that crime, right?

I also continued to monitor the presidential election and it seems to me that you'd just be better off keeping your mouth shut. Obama answered a question about immigrants not speaking the language with a fairly harmless comment about how it would be nice if we all spoke a couple of different languages and the McCain camp spun it into a negative by saying that Obama wants Americans to speak Spanish.

Perhaps that it was I hate most about politics - the negative, negative, negative feeling of all of it. I thought of the fear-mongering of the coded terrorist warnings immediately following 9/11 - what color was dangerous again? Are we still on high alert?

I suppose, at the end of the day, it is difficult to separate truth from fiction - but there is one thing I do know - people shouldn't be disturbing the dead. That one just doesn't feel right at all.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Comparison

I read a NY Post article about A-Rod, C-Rod, Madonna, and a number of strippers. My wife has had a crush on A-Rod since seeing him in a tight-fitting tee-shirt, so I decided to hit her with the bad news of his infidelities.

"Do you still find him attractive?" I asked.
"Uh, yeah," she said.

So, let's start the comparison.

A-Rod can hit a baseball 450 feet with some regularity. I can hit a golf ball 200 yards - if everything goes right. Point - A-Rod.

I can drink a case of beer over the course of a night. Betting he can't. Point - Me.

When A-Rod goes out on the town he has steak, drinks fine wine, hangs with Jeter (maybe), and is surrounded by pretty women. When I go out of town for work, I eat at the all-you-can-eat Chinese Buffett and sleep at the Comfort Inn in beds that have to be filled with microscopic bugs. Point - A-Rod.

He's buff - I'm on the anti-side of buff. Point A-Rod.

He signed (2) 250-million dollar contracts. I have 11 bucks in my wallet. Point A-Rod.

(Getting smoked here - need some help).

I have 9 adult books published - he co-wrote a children's book - stick that one in your ass. Point - Me.

He's doing Madonna (allegedly) and she did Rodman; I'm not doing her - no diseases for me! Point - Me.

I've been with the Yankees through six World Series titles - he doesn't have one yet. Point - Me.

All tied up here. Final question - it was a best of nine.

He's going to be out with strippers in Toronto tonight. There are rumblings that his wife might let him see one of his kids. I'm going to be home tonight with three kids, two dogs, and a woman that wants him. Point - Me - I think!

Seriously, there are moments when we all want to be like our idols - this ain't one of 'em. I know my wife pretty well and if A-Rod and I were standing side-by-side and she had to choose one of us - she'd probably say:

Pack the bags kids, we're moving to the Bronx!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Everyone Is Irritating Me

My son Jake is one in a million. He has a quick temper and usually there is no stopping him from having what we affectionately call a shit-fit.

Kathy and I have become attuned to the warning signs of such a fit - and we are usually able to distract Jake just enough to turn him in another direction. I'm glad we're doing it that way because when he was a toddler Kathy read something that said to let him just play it out - so she shut the door to his room - and he trashed the place - in the spirit of the rock group The Who - he tossed his clothes, his bedsheets, every Barney tape, and all of his cute little books into a pile in the center of the room. If we hadn't stopped him - he might have doused it all with gasoline and set the place ablaze.

He's getting better.

The other night, I felt one of his dour moods coming on. I sat on the edge of his bed and very calmly asked him what was wrong.

"Everyone irritates me," he said.
"Even me?" I asked.
"Uh, yeah, everyone," he said.
"I get that way sometimes," I said.
"Really?" he asked.
"About every other day," I answered.

I remember reading a quote - and using it in a book somewhere (Maybe it was one of the ones that didn't see print) that said - "99 out of every 100 men is an asshole."

I didn't tell Jake about the quote, but I did let him know that it was okay to feel irritated sometimes, but that people are going to judge you by the way you act.

"You can't let them know they're getting to you," I said. "When someone gets on your nerves, just smile at them and they won't know what to do."

"If I yell at them they won't know what to do either," Jake answered.

He was right, of course, but you get more bees with honey, right?

"Are you always nice to people when they get on your nerves?" he asked.

How could I lie to him?

"Of course," I said. "Am I still irritating you?"

"Of course," he answered.

Hey, at least I tried - next time I'll let him in on the 99 out of 100 stat.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Lost in the Flood

It became a quest. I was going to get that pool to stand no matter what. If my family wanted a pool then, by golly, that was what was going to happen.

I awoke this morning to these words from my wife - "Let's not even try to fill it again. Take it out of the backyard."

I felt a little like the Chevy Chase character in Vacation at that point. I nearly quoted his famous line when I said - "No, you will be swimming in that thing. You're all going to have so much fun swimming that your going to be whistling zippity-do-da out of your asses."

So, I went back to work - with most of yesterday's water gone down the ravine in the back of the house, I re-positioned everything. We blew up the sides to give it more strength - and back in went the hose. For four hours that hose pumped and those walls held.

I glanced out the window just before supper and clearly visualized the kids playing, the dogs bantering about, and a bright rainbow overhead.

I was actually looking out the window when the side shifted.

"Shit!" I ran outside with the dogs trailing close behind. This was the fullest the pool had ever been. I scrambled into position behind the failing wall and pulled with all of my might. I tried to shove the four-by-four underneath.

All at once, the skies opened and a voice that I imagined to be God's filled my head.

"F--k it," he said.

I let go and the wall gave way. The water raced through our swing set area and down the bank. The son-of-bitching pool emptied faster than the stadium at halftime of a blowout Bills game.

The voice from above began to laugh.

I grabbed my cellphone as the water cascaded through the backyard, taking all of my landscaping stones from the swing set area into the ravine below.

"We lost it," I said.

"The pool?" Kathy asked. "Really? What happened?"

"It doesn't matter anymore," I said. "It's over."

"Well, for the record," she said. "You were right and I was wrong."

I hope it snows tomorrow.

It's Not Freaking Funny

Guess who has a pool! It's not a big one - just a little four-footer that is supposed to inflate as you add water. We got it from my brother who is moving to a much bigger model. The kids are excited, however, and 2 of 3 of them have mentioned that I was right and they were wrong about their favorite sports teams.

Unfortunately, I was right and they were also wrong about the pool.

We put it in the space behind the garage - which was okay with me because it didn't cut the yard in half. Except as we were filling it for the first time, my beautiful wife noticed that it was on a tilt. She emptied out the 700 gallons of water and we started over the next day - by putting the pool in the very center of the backyard - a backyard that I nourished, weeded and grass-seeded for months.

"Have a little fun," my wife said. "Enjoy life a little."

Yesterday morning, I started to refill the pool again. An hour into it, we had to abort the mission because water was spilling over the side. After work, we built up the sides and started again. The boys were at baseball as I was writing reports, but the dogs and I headed into the backyard every so often to check the progress of the pool.

After four hours of filling, I went out to notice that there was water spilling over the sides again. There wasn't anyone within shouting distance to help. It took Herculean strength but I lifted the back end of the pool and slipped a four-by-four underneath to rebuild the side. I got it done just in time to see the hose pop off and water coming rushing out again. Now I've told you about my mechanical deficiencies - I had no idea it was a missing hose - I just figured we were missing a plug - so I stuffed a garden glove in the hole. It was right about then when Kathy and the boys came home.

Our half-inflated monstrosity, that is killing my grass, just sat there.

"This pool sucks," Jake said.

Kathy just laughed.

"It's not freaking funny," I said. "I threw my back out trying to move 2,000 gallons of water."

"Two thousand? I've told you a million times not to exaggerate," Kathy said.

It's not freaking funny. God, I hate being right.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Blind Spot

A few years ago I had a book signing in my hometown. Signing books in my hometown is a little dicey because I know everyone and they know my family. Chances are the person getting the book feels that they should be getting it for free for all they've done for me through the years. I'm often a little embarrassed and a lot less hopeful that things are going to go smoothly. I once had an Aunt who stood off to the side of the line and said - "Are you going to pay for a copy? I have one at home I can lend you."

Another time I was promoting my new book when my mother stood beside me and said - "I liked his book before this one better. This one has a lot of swear words in it."

Thanks Mom. Yet at this particular signing a few years ago, a long-time friend waited for me as the people visiting my table stopped chatting. He stood before me and said, "You know when my son died in that car accident, I thought of you. I wondered if you could make sense of it for me."

Of all the moments writing - and through all of the strange book signing incidents that was the most stirring of questions. I held a lump in my throat as we spoke for the next twenty minutes. We talked of faith, and loss and grieving, and the pain in his face and running through his voice, stayed with me for so long. A year or so later, I began work on a book where I felt that loss.

Blind Spot's new cover is featured. In the center of the O - it says - "He Never Saw it Coming."

They say that writing is all about sharing an experience and breaking it down for the reader - I'm proud of this book. I'm hoping that I helped anyone dealing with grief. I tried to answer the questions one at a time and I put a lot of life, love, faith and hope and mixed it all around.

The book is available for pre-orders at www.sterlinghousepublisher.com - don't be like my Aunt and pass your copy around!

It's Not Your World

When Jake was young, his standard line to bitch and moan about an injustice was to remind the offending party - "It's Not Your World."

I thought of that today when I stopped to get a newspaper. It was early in the morning, of course, and I opened my car door, but then remembered that I had the exact change in my ashtray. I reached back across and grabbed the quarters - it took me all of five seconds. I got out of the car just in time to get an annoyed glance from a woman driver who - with a full parking lot all around - was trying to park right next to me.

"Thanks for closing your door," she said, smartly.

"Good morning to you," I answered. I made like she wasn't even in the least bit annoyed with me. "Looks like it'll be sunny all day."

I even held the door for her and she thanked me. What I really wanted to tell her is - "It's Not Your World."

Because I held the door for her- I had to wait for a good seven minutes as she cashed in lottery tickets and bought new tickets for the upcoming drawings. She glanced and saw that I just had a paper, but she must have thought that it was her world because she made me wait.

Finally she completed her lengthy transaction, moved just about an inch so that I could pay for my paper as she scratched a ticket. I finished my transaction, and turned. Evidently, she was looking for another ticket because she just mindlessly turned right into me. I nearly dropped my paper and she nearly lost her balance. It was her turn that caused the collision, but she huffed and puffed and gave it to me - "You going to be in the way all day?" she asked snidely.

I couldn't help it. "It's Not Your World," I said.

"What?" she asked.

"Enjoy the sunshine," I said.

I held the door for her on the way out. She jumped in her car and raced away - God, I hope she won the lottery.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

A Thousand Ways to Go

Sadly I read a story about a man who jumped out of an airplane and somehow lost his chute on the way down -the results weren't good.

There is the even sadder story of the 17-year-old kid who went looking for his hat and was wiped out by a roller coaster. My kids are never going to be able to walk out of Mom's sight lines at Six Flags.

Sixteen people choked to death on rubber bands last year. Can you imagine those wakes? He choked on what? Why the hell was he chewing a rubber band?

I'm always fascinated with the crazy end to a life. I suppose its because I'm a fairly cautious person and wouldn't think of being even a little reckless. When I drive I scan the surrounding areas for signs of danger. I gave up snowmobiling because I was always looking for the pond that was going to trap me, or the electric fence that would cut my jugular.

Yet I nearly bought it myself in a bizarre manner on the day when the Bills played in their last Super Bowl. I was having trouble sleeping that morning and wanted to get a jump on the big day. I went to my car in the parking lot and found that it was stuck in its spot due to icy conditions (Buffalo - go figure).

I started the car and put it in neutral and began pushing on it so that it could break free of the ice. Unfortunately there was a car in the lot even with mine. My car started rolling back, pinching - no crushing me - between my car and the parked car. The door was squeezing me to the point of suffocation, but just before I lost all of my air and did my impression of a juice box, the car broke free of the ice, rolled down the driveway and slammed into the house behind me. I hit the ground and crawled to the car which had hammered the house.

I got in the car, rolled down the window, counted every rib, and put it into drive. I scanned the area to be sure that no one saw my supreme act of stupidity and then I started laughing.

I laughed all the way until the game started - when Dallas rolled off about thirty unanswered points, I wished that I'd be under the car.

Some people want to go out in a blaze of glory - my father always said that wants to live to 98 and get arrested for rape. Not sure about all of that, but it does pay to be cautious.

I'm scanning online for people who blow off their limbs with fireworks - hope it doesn't happen this year.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Happy 4th!

American Land by Bruce Springsteen - Copyright 2006 Bruce Springsteen (ACSAP)


At the end of Bruce's shows on the current tour he plays this song and spins the lyrics for all to see:
American Land
What is this land America, so many travel there.
I'm going now while I'm still young, my darling meet me there.
Wish me luck, my lovely, I'll send for you when I can
And we'll make our home in the American land.
Over there all the women wear silk and satin to their knees
And children, dear, the sweets, I hear are growing on the trees
Gold comes rushing out the rivers straight into your hands
When you make your home in the American land.
There's diamonds in the sidewalk, the gutters lined in song
Dear I hear that beer flows through the faucets all night long
There's treasure for the taking, for any hard-working man
Who will make his home in the American Land.
The McNicholas, the Posalski's, the Smiths, Zerillis, too
The Blacks, the Irish, Italians, the Germans, and the Jews
Come across the water a thousand miles from home
with nothing in their bellies but the fire down below.
There's diamonds in the sidewalk, the gutters lined in song
Dear I hear that beer flows through the faucets all night long
There's treasure for the taking, for any hard-working man
Who will make his home in the American Land.
They died building the railroads, worked to bones and skin
They died in the fields and factories, names scattered in the wind
They died to get here a hundred years ago, they're still dying now
The hands that built the country were always trying to keep down.
There's diamonds in the sidewalk, the gutters lined in song
Dear I hear that beer flows through the faucets all night long
There's treasure for the taking, for any hard-working man
Who will make his home in the American Land.
I suppose that when I hear about the fighting to keep immigrants out I think of our forefathers and the promise of this great country. Regardless, I defy you to listen to this song and not feel patriotic on our great holiday! Have a good one.

Bad Behavior

So, A-Rod is being linked to Madonna, and A-Rod's wife reportedly ran off with Lenny Kravitz. Last year, A-Rod was spotted with a few strippers.

He hit a homer last night, so I'm good with it. Yet how can I tell my kids about Marshawn Lynch's bad behavior and just gloss over A-Rod's?

Does it matter who or what he sleeps with? Is it the Bill Clinton question all over again? I mentioned it to my brother - "Come on, dude, he makes 25 mil per year and women are all over him - do you think his wife ever really cared if he was doing someone else?"

"Madonna?" I asked.

"You'd reject Madonna?" he asked.

I guess I'll never find myself in such a situation. I can't even get the mail without getting clearance from the tower over me. Yet my question when I read the NY Post story about C-Rod being off with Lenny Kravitz (If he's A-Rod - Cynthia must be C-Rod). He had a game last night. She's doing someone else in France - who's with the kids?

That's my point - it's bad behavior, right - no matter what tax bracket. Far be it for me to question someone else's marriage - there's enough challenges in my own family - to worry about his. I decided to go right to the source.

"Did you hear about A-Rod?" I asked my wife.
"He brings home 25 mil a year," she said.
"So if you were married to him, you'd excuse his infidelities?"
"That's a lot of money," she said.
"So what's the income bracket I need to reach before I can act like an ass?"
"Obviously you've reached it," she kidded.
"You'd be all right with his act?" I asked again.
"He has a wonderful chest," she said. "He's beautiful, actually?"
"What about my chest?" I asked.

She laughed and hung up.

Do we just accept bad behavior? Is it bad behavior? How much money is enough to buy your way out of moral dilemmas?

All questions I hope I never have to answer.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Wish

I heard the Stones - You Can't Always Get What You Want - today. I've always loved the Stones, by the way, but Mick Jagger is just a little too strange for me to have as an idol, like say, Springsteen.

Anyway, that song's refrain hammers it home, but if you try sometimes, you'll get what you need.

I got to wondering that if I got three wishes from saying rubbing the genie's lamp, I might have a hard time figuring it all out. More money, of course, why not? Set the family up for generations - that might be cool. What after that? World Peace? Come on, would you waste one of your own wishes on that?

Good health? Certainly a desirable wish, but for how long? Is that even on the menu? A pool for the kids? Not happening.

There are certainly people out there who would wish for even more wishes. How did I get to be such a simpleton when it comes to wanting things?

I'm not after a fancy car, or new clothes - (those of you who've seen my style might wish that for me), but I certainly must frustrate those who need to buy me presents. I don't want anything.

All right, my selfish wishes - 1). Make me independently wealthy 2). Let the Yankees win the World Series every year 3). Two hours drinking beer with Springsteen

The practical list: 1). The cash - always take the cash. 2). Healthy kids 3). Love in my heart.

With those three things - I'm thinking around a cool billion will get it done - I can pretty much handle anything. Say - I already have 2 out of 3 - and as Meatloaf says - that ain't bad.

Perhaps Jagger was on to something - I got what I need.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

You Were Right

A few years ago my family and I made a bet ... actually, I gave them three chances to win the bet, but now they want out.

My wife and kids want a pool. They promised me that they would take care of it, but I currently have two dogs to feed, let out, and play with. I wasn't supposed to take care of either of them.

I don't want a pool because I feel it's a waste of time and effort and we don't have the space. Besides, I'm not exactly brilliant when it comes to fixing or taking care of anything. I'm mechanically-deficient and I'll be the first to admit it.

So we worked out a wager. Simple enough: if the Bills or Sabres or Oakland A's win a championship, they can have a pool. (The A's are Matt's favorite team).

For years, I've been able to skate although the Sabres made it interesting a couple of years ago. Still I'm comfortable with my position in the bet. The family is no longer comfortable. They really want the pool. They all can swim. "It'll be so much fun," they wail. "You won't have to take care of it, we will."

So, I'm not an ogre. I agreed that they could get a pool on one condition:

I will run a video of them admitting that I was right and they were wrong. All they need to do is line-up and say these simple sentences - "You were right and I was wrong about the Bills." You were right and I was wrong about the Sabres." You were right and I was wrong about the A's."

Well, we are at a standstill. Matt and Sam are dead-set against admitting that they were wrong. Jake could care less - he'd sing it from a mountaintop. Kathy falls somewhere in the middle.

Of course, I have lost every battle so far.

"We'll just wait until the Bills win it all this year," Matt said. "I'd never give you a videotape where I admitted you were right - you'd be playing it every fifteen minutes."

Now that's where Matt is wrong - I would have it on a loop, piped into his room to put him to sleep at night.

I tried to explain it to him - "Being married, I'm very rarely right. Give me this little videotape and I'll dig the pool myself."

I'll keep you posted.

Catching Up

It seems to rain everyday, doesn't it? And the crap weather isn't confined to Buffalo - heavy rains, flooding, cyclones, tsunamis, tornado's, wild fires, hurricanes and earthquakes. During a heavy rainstorm on Sunday, my boy Sam asked me what God is so mad at - I couldn't answer such a question - but if we start seeing locusts - I may have to come up with an answer. I told my wife that we're one imbalance from the whole planet blowing up. She gave me the look.

"Can you imagine the line to get into heaven if we all go at once?" I asked.
"Shut-up," was her concise answer.

I get that answer from time to time.

The 4th of July is another great holiday. I think of amusement parks, barbecued ribs, Dave Righett's no-hitter from 07/04/83, Born in the USA, and the last good Tom Cruise movie - Born on the 4th of July. This year there's a four-day weekend - think along with me - golf, beer, hanging with the family. Sound all right?

Still not sure what to think about the presidential election - I now have just 4 months to go and nothing said has really captured my imagination. I'll keep listening.

The Yankees are still pissing me off.

Read a little about Madonna, Chrstie Brinkley, and Lindsay Lohan's father. Why do I do that?

Guess I need to do something as I watch it rain and my garden goes to crap.

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 ...