Tuesday, August 31, 2010

This Is the Time

I-Pod listening on a long drive home. I have some Billy Joel on the dial and love the song This is the Time.

This is the time to remember because it will not last forever. These are the days to hold onto because we won't although we'll want to.

So the wheels started turning. When was that perfect moment? Did you take the moment into your hands?

I thought of the moment when I saw Jake born. What I saw of him first were his feet - he came out the right way, but for some reason or another it was his feet I saw first, and it was crazy to me that he had these perfect little feet. It caught me by surprise and made me gasp for a breath as though I'd just had the wind knocked out of me.

I've held that moment.

There was also the time when I saw Pam Anderson in a string bikini on a Miami beach. When I close my eyes that moment is right there.

But there are so, so many more.

And isn't it funny that when we are caught in a moment, we sort of tell ourselves to hang onto that moment so that we can draw it back to us when we need it most.

Some of my other favorite moments:

1). When the man at the head of my wedding ceremony asked if I'd come freely and soberly and my entire wedding party laughed.

2). When my father tripped over a coat stand in our apartment in California in an attempt to show me Willie Mays' basket catch. (We both had tried a few beers).

3). When the Yanks won the 2000 World Series and I hugged each of my brothers - one after another.

4). The trips to Baltimore to see the Yanks rip the O's - with Pops, Jeff, Fluff, Rosie, etc...We had fun at every game.

5). Every time I see my sisters.

6). Golfing with the Grape Apes.

7). Every day I am granted with my wife and the boys.

I hold those moments. I really do.

Life is full of moments. Remember yours.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Feeling Mighty Small


Spent hour after hour in the car today. Drove all the way through Adirondack Park in beautiful New York State and man, I felt small.

Believe it or not I've been relaxed over the last few days. It makes no sense. In three weeks time I've spent 6 days in the funeral home in my hometown. Our family has been devastated again, and I find myself shrugging my shoulders. It's not that I'm not sad. I am. It's not that I don't feel there is an unfillable void. It's just that I feel tiny.

The universe has certainly humbled me, and never more so than it did today. As I drove through the mountains, looking at the streams, and the river and the huge rocks, I felt miniscule.

The sun was riding high in a crystal blue sky. Birds were darting in and out of my line of vision, and I kept thinking about God's hand in the beauty before me.

How can it be ignored?

And when you see the perfection it's almost impossible to consider that the plans you're trying to make are basically insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

Now that's not to say that I'm ready to just give up trying and adopt the philosophy that God will provide. It doesn't really work like that, right? We have to make our own way. We were given free will to decide.

Yet I'm wondering if it is possible to capture the visions of the natural beauty and not believe that there was a hand in the creation of it all.

Most of all, though, I looked up a lot.

Over the top of the mountain, straight into the blue above. I wondered a lot about what there is and what the grand plan can be, but then I settled in, knowing that I'm not really supposed to be able to understand it all right now.

(Fat jokes aside) Despite my size in my own little world, I am small.

In the grand scheme of things, I'm just another of God's creations with the potential to do some big things if I am smart enough to take advantage.

And that was enough to calm me. Sad and calm. Who'd a thunk it?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I-Tunes Could Be A Problem

Technically speaking I'm a mess. Mechanically speaking, of course, I'm much worse. But, we may have a problem.

You see, beyond all odds, I've learned how to order music from I-Tunes, click a button, buy it and download it to my I-pod.

For those of you doing it for years and years, and despite the fact that there are 3-year olds that can accomplish this, I may have discovered something that may put me into financial ruin.

I remember thinking, as a teenager, that I would love to go into a record store with a pile of money and just buy as much stuff as the cart could hold. Now I can do that and its scary.

So, how did I arrive there? The Mellencamp CD was out. I needed it, of course, as I've purchased everything he's ever done. Problem being, there aren't many record stores anymore and the Mall wasn't attractive to me.

So, I tried I-Tunes. Kathy and the boys offered to help me out, but it was something I'd have to learn on my own.

I was able to download Mellencamp, then saw that Meatloaf has a new CD. Click, click. David Gray? Love him too. Click. Click. Stones doing Memory Motel? What I-pod is complete without that? Click. Stones doing Just My Imagination from Still Life?

I thought of my buddy Mike and I playing Jagger and Richards at the frat party. Click.

"I'm going to have to place a limit," Kathy said as my downloads whirled.

"Listen to this riff by Richards," I said.

Every night I hope and pray. Dear Lord hear my plea. Don't ever let another take her love for me or I will surely die.

Jagger wails. Guitar lick.

"No more!" Kathy says.

This could be a problem.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Black Notebook

Okay, so the people who know me really well...Kathy, Carrie, Johnny C., Pat, Yvonne, Corinne, Cindy and everyone else at Sterlinghouse... are sort of feeling smug right now, but it wasn't that it was always going to happen.

I'm buying a black notebook to write something new.

There, I said it.

Three weeks ago I was adamant...it wasn't going to happen. I was enjoying life without having self-imposed deadlines. I didn't have anything to say anyway, and no one wanted to listen.

And then I got an idea.

I can't say that the idea hit me out of nowhere. It was developed as I struggled to try and say goodbye to my father. It was further enhanced by another tragedy, and of course, that was compounded by trying to battle through the writing of my last book which was also inspired by an earth-shattering tragedy.

Doesn't sound like I'm writing a comedy, huh?

Well...maybe. It's just starting to take shape in my head, and truth be told, when you are waking up in the morning to create, you are so, so, so alive.

Just the realization that I need a black notebook has fired me up.

I've already written the first paragraph.

A fiction story. A lot of work. A much-needed distraction. Given the tentative-title, it might be a short book.

I want to call it: Everything I Know.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Look Up!


Before each pitch Yankee player Nick Swisher glances skyward in a tribute to his grandmother. I remember thinking that to be odd because he's standing up there with a hundred and one things to do before the 95 MPH pitch comes at him. He's a good hitter anyway.

Swisher also never misses. It doesn't matter if he's there for ten pitches, he looks up each time.

I often think about a conversation I had with my brother Jeff one night. We were celebrating Carrie returning home from her first year of law school, and we had a few adult beverages and wandered out to the backyard to get rid of the beer.

The summer sky was filled with stars and on a clear night the black void didn't seem to be so far away.

"Look up," Jeff said. "People don't look up enough. "It's an amazing universe."

This morning I was out doing my thing and the morning sky was sort of expressive, don't you think?

I was trying to think back in time to when life didn't seem so damn complicated, and when I wasn't so concerned with the fuse that is burning down for all of us.

"Look up. It's an amazing universe."

The I-pod has been burning with song after song as I try and sort through things in my mind. It feels an awful lot like I'm going to have to write again, and that is going to take a hell of a lot of soul-searching and looking up.

It is an amazing universe.

The weight of the world doesn't always have to be on our shoulders.

Check out Swisher the next time you see him in the batter's box, and do yourself a favor from time to time:

Look up and know it ain't all on you.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Snitches Get Stitches

So, I decided to read the paper as a distraction this morning and of course the front page news is the arrest of the man that is believed to be the guy who gunned down 8 people in a Buffalo Nightclub.

(Then you wonder why I read the Ladies Home Journal).

And there were a number of references to the fact that the police had a difficult time collecting evidence because people just don't want to rat out others. The neighborhood code being that snitches get stitches, or end up in a body bag.

And what is even more disconcerting is that there have been demonstrations burning the Buffalo News because there was a story about the victims having criminal records. Evidently, that should not have been a part of the story.

I do agree that having a crime on your record is not cause to be gunned down, but The News didn't do it - they were just reporting. Reporting the negative, sure, but I read the article and it wasn't slanted to say that the victims deserved their fate. It was a fair account.

Don't think that there is not a sub city at work here. The laws of the land do not apply in the world where this gunman was living. He was working under his own set of rules and the rules of the street. The people who don't want to talk to the cops are abiding by the same rules, and that is scary at best.

So, what happens now? Politicians talk about cleaning the streets, giving the kids something to do. Activists tell us it wasn't the fault of the felons and the gang members, and no one tells on the next guy...and there is more retribution.

I really do remember being 18 years old and full of piss and vinegar and yelling that there had to be a shift in the thought process so that we could educate the people living in the sub city and break the chain of violence.

Sounds good, right? I was ready to do it all by myself. I failed miserably, obviously.

But I drive around the city now and I go for the locks on my doors a lot more than I used to. I don't stop for a coffee on the East side, or on the West side, or in the Black Rock district, and now even have to think about it downtown.

I don't want to turn a blind eye, but I find myself wondering if it is a problem that can ever be solved.

It's hard to live with lawlessness on the streets, but talking about who did what to who can get you killed while you eat your dinner.

Pretty scary.

Where the hell is my Home Journal?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

From Love to Death to Heaven

We aren't supposed to be thinking of death so much. As a child I can only remember my father crying one time due to a loss of a friend. I remember how bad that tore me up to see him so sad.

And the wheels of life turn. Children lose grandparents and then parents. We are all working on being replaced. My kids are my replacement, right? Simple procedure. Down the line - we all get our 80 + years - and then its on to the next to make their time.

But it doesn't work like that. Death has no age. A young girl, a brother, a child, a newborn baby. And we push it to the back of our minds and try to avoid the subject as best we can.

I can't shield my children from it these days. They've lost their uncle, their grandfather, and now the brother of my closest friend. All too young, all against the odds that are supposed to be there.

Another couple of dear friends had the "anniversary" yesterday of the loss of their beautiful child. Around every corner.

As a Dad I'm supposed to make sense of it for my kids. I feel as if I need to shield them a bit and tell them that this isn't how its supposed to go. There should be long stretches before we deal with death as a dinner topic.

But there is no shielding. Life is fairly simple when it is stripped down to the pain of loss.

We go from love to death to heaven.

If the price for love is sorrow, it must be remembered that the reward for love is joy.

In all that is mentioned above, the love outweighs the sorrow.

It doesn't seem that way at the start of the grieving process, but it surely is the way it was intended to be and love will take you there.

Sounds like a Hallmark card, but it's impossible not to consider these days.

And the reward for love is supposed to be heaven.

There has to be a better place.

Has to be.

Because when the sorrows multiply here on Earth, we look hard to fill the voids with the love that brings joy.

I've come full circle on this. Heaven has to be waiting for those that suffer right here.

We start with life, we build the love, we endure the sorrow, and we stand tall, hoping that heaven is the reward.

It sure as hell better be.

To the Renaldo family:

Sorry doesn't cut it, but there are hundreds of people willing to show you what love can do.

Hopefully it brings you some semblance of joy real soon.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Longest Days

Feeling like the narrator of this song today...

By John Mellencamp

It seems like once upon a time ago
I was where I was supposed to be
My vision was true and my heart was too
There was no end to what I could dream

I walked like a hero into the setting sun
everyone called out my name
death to me was a mystery
I was too busy raising Cain

But nothing lasts forever
your best efforts don't always pay
Sometimes you get sick and you don't get better
that's when life is short
even in its longest days.

So you pretend not to notice
that everything has changed
the way you look
and the friends you once had
so you keep on acting the same
but deep down in your soul
you know you ain't got no flame
and who knows then which way to go
Life is short even in its longest days.

All I got here is a rear view mirror
reflections of where I've been
so you tell yourself you'll be back on top some day
but you know there's nothing
waiting for you up there anyway.

Nothing lasts forever
your best efforts don't always pay
Sometimes you get sick and you don't get better
that's when life is short
even in its longest days.

Even in its longest days.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Cheetah! Free Man!

The news of Cheetah Woods divorce just came down. It's final. He's a free man. Now he can go out and play the back nine without fear of being caught. What a relief. Perhaps he will be able to hit the ball straight down the fairway now.

Truth be told, though, I spent a lot of time rooting during his most recent tourneys. Of course, I was rooting against him, hoping that he'd double-bogey everything. And he did stink.

I really hope this doesn't clear his mind enough to let him win next year.

Yet speaking of marriage. My wife and I spent a long time the other night trying real hard to convince other couples to follow our advice about relationships. The gist of it was real funny to us and a little horrifying to our nieces and nephews.

Yet what was interesting was to see the couples all dressed up, newly married, or on the verge of starting a relationship, and listening to them dream big.

So what's the advice?

First off, expect that kids will change everything. To believe that the old relationship will continue as was is a little crazy. Of course the kids are going to change it. A wife is a mother first. Guys need to know that they have to get in line behind the kids for a woman's attention. There's nothing wrong with it, it just goes that way.

Ask your wife:"Me, you and the kids are on a boat out at sea. One person has to go overboard to save the others - who will it be?"

"Adios," Kathy answers.

And that's the way it should be.

But as we tried to deftly explain to the younger couples there are ways of keeping the humor going.

"Just don't take anything off the table," was the theme of the night.

If we see an attractive woman in a movie we usually have a conversation such as this:

Kathy: She's beautiful.
Me: She's no Kathy Fazzolari
Kathy: But she's beautiful, right?
Me: She's pefect for the threesome.
Kathy (rolling her eyes): That's what I was thinking.

So there you have it. A live fantasy.

Ashley Judd won't be coming over anytime soon, but in my mind, it might happen, and I'm free to go on about my business.

Beats the hell out of being divorced because you couldn't walk by the waitress at Denny's, or the porn star, or the kid neighbor next door. Somehow Cheetah didn't feel the connection.

So there's the marriage advice. Respect each other. Keep all the dreams on the table.

It gives you something to think about when you're waiting to get tossed from the lifeboat.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Golf Ball

When I finish a round of golf I toss the ball in the side door of my car and listen to it roll around as I go about my business, once in awhile thinking of it, as I try and figure out when I'll get to play again.

Three weeks ago, I tossed the ball and completely forgot about it.

I forgot because life got in the way. Big Time.

And this is how weird I truly am. Today when I retrieved the ball for use on the course, I actually told it that I missed it.

I didn't get a response.

I wanted to let it know about my Dad, and the weeks of work, grief, sickness, soreness, and general aggravation. But in my mind, I think it knew. It knew that I needed it to be a healthy distraction. I wanted it to behave well for me through the day.

Feeling a little under the weather due to a lot of drinks at a wedding.

Who didn't see that coming?

But you gotta' love a wife who orders you a dirty martini at 1 AM.

I placed the ball on the tee, thinking that we would have a wonderful day together.

Then I promptly skipped the ball across the pond. One, two, three skips as though it were a flat rock and I had practiced that shot.

It came out a little wet, but down the middle, in fairly good shape.

And while we were on the course, enjoying our friendship and a good day, life threatened again. My buddy got called away due to a sudden illness in his family - please, please, please say a prayer for them.

With my head firmly down, I kept swinging.

And shot the lowest round I've shot all year. No small feat because I had two more martini's after the one Kathy ordered.

And I got back to my car, and tossed the same ball into the side door. We'd been through 18 holes together, and I didn't lose him.

"See you next week, I hope," I said. "Hopefully I'll have some good news for you."

He didn't answer.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Doing My Time

I've been out in the desert, doing my time
Searching through the dust of fool's gold
and looking for a sign.
Holy man says, hold on brother,
there's a light up ahead...


Whenever I leave home for a work trip out of town I think of these Springsteen lines from the tremendous song, Maria's Bed.

I am a creature of undeniable habit and routine and unfortunately when the routine is upset I like to hide inside my head and look for signs of a light up ahead. I'm always able to do this when I'm on the road.

Unfortunately, the trip was complicated by a lack of sleep and a cold, but I did sift through some of the fool's gold and was able to figure out the beautiful rewards that life has to offer.

It's amazing to me, but love does shine through the haze of perpetually foggy days. It isn't a mistake that I'm surrounded by people that care. A lot of folks seem to marvel at the closeness of my immediate family, but that was a specific design, you see, orchestrated by a couple of exceptional parents.

Which shouldn't just be dismissed as a fortune somehow granted to me and my siblings. Mom and Dad just got it, and they went out of their way so that we could see it. They expect us to pass it along.

Despite the fact that it is easy to get lost in the desert as you wander around looking for the light, there is a certain appreciation to how it was all done for us. We were always looking for the joys in life, but somewhere along the way we were also prepared for the tragedies that beset us all.

So that was a heartwarming realization.

And as I traveled the sands in my mind I thought of the road ahead. Again realizing that it wouldn't be easy. The sore back, sore legs, crippled thoughts, and weaknesses that come with being a breathing human, will not simply go away. There are kids at home waiting for me to prepare them for the laughter and the sadness. There are dreams of college just around the corner, and those dreams must be realized. Matt will have the time of his life. He deserves such a start.

My father's sudden passing has brought this all to light in an even more pronounced way, you know? The responsibilities have been clearly established. The lines in the sand have been drawn.

So, back at the ranch, the evidence of life kept me awake a little longer than I wanted it to last night. The boys were laughing, arguing, calling one another names, and competing in the latest edition of Madden.

I laid in bed, trying hard to unplug my nose as I struggled with the misfortune of having a summer cold.

I thought about yelling at them to keep quiet so I could rest, but my time away saved them from a cranky old man.

They were just living, laughing, and sharing. My cold would fade and eventually my eyes would close.

I sifted through the dust of the fool's gold...

...and found the light up ahead.

Friday, August 20, 2010

I Woke Up Again

About 15 years ago I worked with a guy who was always complaining. My wife also worked with this guy and we used to laugh about his negative demeanor.

Kathy once asked him if the first thing out of his mouth in the morning was, "Oh shit, I woke up again."

I know the feeling.

I spent the evening on the road, in a hotel room with an uneven bed that was most likely filled with microscopic bugs biting at my ankles. My right leg was still bothering me, my mind wouldn't stop sending me memories, I was real tired, and to make it all worthwhile I was battling a cold.

Yeah, a freaking cold!

I thought of my sister's recent blog where she asked for relief from God above. I'm willing to bet that she didn't have a cold when she wrote that.

But I opened my eyes around five AM, and the tasks for the day presented themselves one after another, and I thought of that negative guy.

Oh shit, I woke up again.

And it's never that bad, but there certainly are days...

I'm about six hours away from walking in the front door at home. The dogs will go crazy when they see me. The kids will give me a nod from behind their X Box controllers, the Yankee game will just be starting, and my wife may even give me a hug.

There's leftover pasta in the fridge.

So, you see...there will be a little redemption...I just have to wade through the day to get there.

And God-willing I'll wake up again tomorrow.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cross Your Heart


I don't lie very well. Not sure if the nuns beat it out of me, or it was being afraid of disappointing my parents, but being brutally honest can be troublesome too, especially when someone asks you a question that deserves a lie.

Does this make my ass look fat?
Does it taste all right?
How much do you weigh?
Do you think I'm smart?

All questions that should be answered with a slight lie.

When you shouldn't lie, for sure:

When the FBI, holding syringes with your blood in them, asks if you ever took steroids.

I'm not a big fan of Roger Clemens. I hated him when he was on the Red Sux. I feel like he stole a MVP from Mattingly.

I hated him less when he was on the Yankees.

I sort of liked him when he closed out the World Series in 1999. I would've still disliked him if I knew he were cheating then. I should have figured he was. Because everyone was.

But nothing disturbs me more than when I catch my kids mis-remembering something, and then swearing to it.

We all make mistakes. Own up to them. Simple as that.

Clemens went hard in his own defense. He felt he was above the law. It's going to really burn him now. Now he can't tell the truth or he'll go to jail.

Through the years I've known people who actually like lying. They will lie over anything. They thrive on it, and love to see who will buy their latest yarn.

It makes their life more difficult, doesn't it? When they are busted they must feel like an ass, right?

One guy I know has such a reputation for lying that another friend once mentioned that 'You have to listen to him because sometimes he tells the truth.'

My wife seems to enjoy the fact that I'm a lousy liar. If I even attempt it these days, we both start laughing.

Roger, Roger, Roger...

...I knew you were a Red Suck at heart.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

To Build a Mosque?

Of course everyone is willing to weigh in on the fact that there may be a mosque built within a couple of blocks of Ground Zero. The back and forth on the issue has caused a lot of back hair to stand up straight on a lot of people.

My initial reaction was much the same as everyone else's - that's awful!

How can they possibly allow a mosque to be built so close to the sacred ground where thousands lost their lives to a cowardly act? The very idea of it was preposterous.

Then I thought about it a bit.

Are the people building the mosque guilty of the terrorist attack?

Would we allow a Christian church to go up next to the Federal Building in Oklahoma?

Of course we would. But Tim McVeigh was a Christian. Wasn't he the responsible one?

I just know that this is going to be one of those political hot button questions that can't be answered. Obama said something about it and he's being crucified. If he would have answered it the other way, he would have also been crucified.

There's just no winning here.

The dumbest thing I heard about it came from the developer who explained that it is 'nowhere near Ground Zero' because it is 2 city blocks away and city blocks in NY are big.

It's less than 600' away. That's closer than nowhere near.

Still, the people of this country will never forget the events of 9/11 nor should they. Perhaps all of the problems are born of intolerance and a lack of information and communication. Maybe the people who will visit the mosque are fine upstanding citizens who hurt over the events of 9/11 as much as the rest of us do.

I don't know.

I do know that it's a topic that I wouldn't debate with anyone for any amount of money.

Because either way I'd be wrong.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Just Too Weird

Life is certainly a happy little merry-go-round, isn't it? We continue to go in circles, doing our normal things day in and day out, pretending that we are so important that what we do actually needs to be done.

Problem is - it does.

And once in awhile the merry-go-round stops and someone is forced to get off. But the ride keeps on spinning, doesn't it?

And over the last couple of days I've been forced to get back on and find my place in the whirling despair that entraps everyone else.

And it's just too weird.

But a funny thing has happened to me as I tackle the grief process for the 2nd time in less than 18 months. A process that I never actually worked through to the end the first time.

I actually got back on the ride even more determined.

Not sure why it has hit me this way, and perhaps there will be a grey goose infused crash coming my way, but in thinking back on my father's life, I was buoyed by his work ethic, his spirit and his fighting style.

I took into consideration his love for my mother, his love for his children, and his love for his family and friends, and I sort of felt that I should run with it.

So, despite the troubled sleep that has plagued me, I step back onto the carnival ride determined to provide for my children, love my wife, do my job, and have a little more fun with even more gusto than I have up to this point.

I didn't expect to jump back in feet first this week. I thought that I would have to dip my toe to get used to the water, but a funny thing happened down this road to despair...

...I took the shining example of lives well lived, even though way too short, and decided that I'm not going to get off the ride until I'm satisfied.

Dad and Jeff surely wanted to stick around, but they lived it full, every day.

The greatest gift I have left is the opportunity to do the same.

A weird realization, but that's where I'm at.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Timmy Ho's & Mickey D's

McDonalds has 22 million visitors per day! If you figure everyone is spending 5 bucks, that's a cool hundred mil per day.

The other day I dared to drive by a Tim Horton's coffee here in Blasdell and I couldn't get by because the line for the drive-thru extended into the road.

I officially don't get it. McDonald's for me is an absolute last resort. Whenever I eat one of their hamburgers I feel as if I'm going to immediately vomit. If I don't it just sits in my stomach like a lead ball for the rest of the day. And I'm not a fan of anybody's French Fries.

As for coffee. It's freaking coffee! I chug a cup in the morning for something to do. I can't taste the difference between good coffee and bad coffee. I certainly won't wait on line for a cup of coffee at a drive-thru window.

I don't know. It's all about the fattening of America, and while I will never be mistaken for a model, I get my extra weight with good food.

Too much pasta? certainly.

Beer? Why not?

But coffee and donuts and Ronald McDonald?

Forget it.

$100 million a day.

We're freaking Mcfatbastards, huh?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

My Father's Eyes

A few years ago Kathy called me at work to let me know that I won a contest on 97 Rock and that I had an hour to call in and claim my prize.

Turns out I won Eric Clapton's music collection as well as a limo ride and dinner before seeing Clapton at Gund Arena in Cleveland. A nice prize by all measures, but I'm not the world's biggest Clapton fan.

Didn't matter. Kathy and I packed a cooler with beer, loaded out Springsteen CD's and headed off to Cleveland. The limo driver opened the window at one point and asked if we knew who we were going to see.

Clapton was what I expected. An accomplished guitar player who didn't say three words to the audience. Still, I can't complain about the show. I love the fast version of Layla, but he played the slow one. I wanted to hear him sing My Father's Eyes, and he did.

I always loved that song. He sings about being a father himself and needing to look at his children, as a parent, through his father's eyes. I often think of that song as I go about my daily business.

And my daily business today was to make a pot of sauce. As I chopped the onion I could hear my father saying 'Chop it small.' As I rolled the meatballs I heard him ask if I'd washed my hands.

Don't burn the garlic.
Let it cook for awhile.
Add a pinch of sugar.

Bah! That's too much salt!

I headed to the grocery store to pick up a loaf of Italian Bread. It was already my second trip to the store. I just wanted the sauce to turn out right. I had left the house letting Kathy know that whoever wanted to come was welcome.

Another trait picked up from my father.

And guess what song was playing over the loudspeaker at the grocery store.

Yeah, My Father's Eyes.

Remember folks, I'm not a big believer in coincidences.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Respect Life

The headlines read that 8 are shot, 4 dead at a Buffalo, NY restaurant. A simple headline in just another city here in the United States.

No one will ever really register the names of the victims.

Tomorrow someone else will shoot even more people.

And we all move on. The price we pay for living free, I suppose.

Perhaps I'm on heightened alert because the past week has taught me, once more, that life is precious. People are gone. Senselessly.

And the pain will continue to crest as I continue to glance at the stories of the day.

Four high school students dead in a high speed crash. Alcohol may have played a part. Another classmate crashes his motorcycle after leaving the funeral. He dies as well.

And then through it all a glimmer of hope. Cards and letters still coming in the mail as people try their best to help my family wade through the pain of having lost another member.

And I'm not naive enough to think that the people I'm reading about won't be missed by those who love them.

"Why can't we all just go at the same time?" Sam asked me the other night.

I gave him my standard line: "Because the line to get into heaven will be way too long."

Wish my kids didn't have to think about death.

Wish the papers didn't bring it to my door.

Wonder if the line to get into hell will be even longer.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Doing the Turtle

Trying hard to get some decent rest, and actually recognizing signs of hiding in the shell.

I'm not sure what it is. Perhaps there's a fear of being hurt some more, but I often find that what I want to do is clean all the crap up that's around me. I vacuumed my car today and sprayed it with a new car scent.

I wrote checks, worked on the expense account, re-established a semblance of a schedule for next week, and declined all offers to get out and get my mind off things. Even golf has no appeal right now.

Still, it wasn't enough. I cleaned the bathrooms, vacuumed the house and actually debated cleaning out my closet because I will never ever fit in size 32 pants again, unless of course, I get a debilitating disease, and given the events of the past 16 months, that seems logical.

So I left the closet alone.

I read my copy of the Ladies Home Journal and ESPN.

Yes, Ladies Home Journal - great recipes and the ever-popular Can This Marriage Be Saved.

I'm always rooting for the poor beat up husband. Is that bad?

And I'm thinking about a nap again,wondering when I will poke my head out from the shell, and battle back a bit.

It's funny but my cousin Joe was telling me a story about my Dad. It was a story I'd never heard before. Dad had found a turtle on a construction site. The huge turtle was miles away from anywhere that a turtle might live. So, Dad figured he'd adopt it as a pet.

He built the turtle a doghouse with a little pool that it could wade in. He drilled a hole in the turtle's shell and used a piece of wire to keep it on a leash.

Joe was laughing about the turtle and how when he was just a kid he'd hustle over to see it after school.

"His pet turtle lasted for a little while, but one day he was gone. I'm not sure what happened, but I can remember that your father was a little torn up about it."

Adopting a pet turtle. Priceless.

Now if I can just get rid of this 1000-pound shell on my back.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Starting Over Again

The fatigue in my bones is hauntingly familiar. It's an ache that is so strong, that it seems that the train that crashed into my family life hit me head on and carried me for miles and miles.

The overwhelming idea is to run and hide inside myself until the aching somehow subsides, but my Daddy didn't raise any quitters.

Still, it is impossible to really know what the thought process of the next couple of days, months, or even years will bring. Most likely a million and one stories of a man who lived a full, and mostly happy life. The exception being the last 16 months when the heartache of losing my brother was too much for his huge heart to handle.

But the exhaustion of heart, mind and body has absolute control right now, and I realize that I'm not in it alone. My mother, my siblings, our spouses, are all feeling it. We were all on the tracks when that train came barreling through.

But we will begin again. And that's because time waits for no one. Life doesn't slow down to really let you catch your breath. The world spins and spins and spins, and if you try to get off for awhile, you lose your place and wind up stuck on the tracks.

There were so many people that reached out to us during the wake and funeral ceremony. As I eulogized my Dad I could hear his voice in my ear, pleading with me to make sure that everyone moved forward. He would most certainly would have asked me to convey his love.

So I did. And people showed us love as well, and in the end there was only one thing that I could end it with:

Goodbye, Dad. For your love and guidance through the years we give God Thanks.

He would've liked that.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Promised Land

This was to be my 1000th post anyway...guess God gave it even more meaning...

The Promised Land by Bruce Springsteen

On a rattlesnake speedway in the Utah desert
I pick up my money and head back into town
Driving 'cross the Waynesboro county line
I got the radio on and I'm just killing time.
Working all day in my daddy's garage
driving all night chasing some mirage
Pretty soon, little girl, I'm gonna' take charge.

The dogs on Main Street howl 'cause they understand
If I could take one moment into my hands
Mister I ain't a boy, no I'm a man
And I believe in a promised land.

I've done my best to live the right way
I get up each morning and go to work each day
but your eyes go blind and your blood runs cold
sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode
Explode and tear this whole town apart
take a knife and cut this pain from my heart.

The dogs on Main Street howl 'cause they understand
If I could take one moment into my hands
Mister I ain't a boy, no I'm a man
And I believe in a promised land.

There's a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I'm heading straight into the storm
Gonna' be a twister to blow everything down
that ain't got the FAITH to stand its ground

Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
blow away the dreams that break your heart
blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted...

The dogs on Main Street howl 'cause they understand
If I could take one moment into my hands
Mister I ain't a boy, no I'm a man
And I believe in a promised land.


If there is one thing ever written that can mean more to me, I haven't read it yet. Just fantastic from start to finish and when the harmonica meets the sax, I basically shed a tear. Life can be a struggle of epic proportions and there's so much that can tear you down.

Blow away the dreams that break your heart.

Monday, August 9, 2010

March 16, 1996

My siblings and I were filled with an overwhelming love for our Dad. Through the years, he dropped us a line now and then to let us know...the love he held for us in his heart. This is a letter he mailed to me after Waldorf & Juli was published.

Cliff,

Good job on the book. I'll get a chance to read it soon I hope. Of course I'm proud. You've made me proud so many times, like when you wheeled the cart into the dumpster in San Francisco, or spilled the cold cuts on the cellar stairs, or planted the cukes in the manure pile, and many more things - like learning to tie your shoes when you were 11 years old.

The only thing that was truly brave & heroic is when you helped me off the floor in Mountain View when the turkey attacked me from the oven.

Some day you'll have the leisure time to think about a lot of nice memories - since my father died there are so many instances that come to mind every day. I couldn't cry when he left until over a year later when it hit me that I really missed him - and still do.

I just hope I made him as proud of me as you have made me - as well as the rest of my family.

Even when you planted the onions upside down.

Somehow they grew.

You'll do fine. Just take it one day at a time and compete with yourself only -

Love, Dad

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Feel Like A Dog That's Been Kicked Too Much

Lost my Dad today.

He told me a few things over and over:

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

Don't compete with anyone but yourself.

Love your family.

The essence of the man, but there was so much more.

We have limited time and space to get things done.

He built a world of wonder and love.

Gonna' take a long time to say goodbye.

If ever.

Friday, August 6, 2010

History of the Word Part II

When I set about writing Book#5 In Real Life I was actually living a real life for the first time. Newly married with a child who arrived before the wedding thank-you's were delivered, I was battling to write while living. I was writing about a guy who's Real Life wasn't exactly matching up with the one he imagined. It began with him finding out that Santa Claus wasn't who he thought, and the truths in his life continued to trick him into a world of despair.

Hands down, it was the most fun I ever had writing a book. My brother Jeff was working as a comedy consultant. My characters were so alive that I got real emotional as I reached the conclusion of the story, and I learned so much about editing and transitions and selling books. I went to Book Expo America for the first time and met Johnny Cash's son, Jamie Lee Curtis and Gene Hackman. Too cool.

Talk about life not matching reality! I love In Real Life. Still smile every time I think of it, and use it to read to classes every time I'm asked to speak. Too much fun.

Book#6-Counting On A Miracle - As if I had tempted fate by making fun of the illusions of life right after In Real Life came out my son Jake was diagnosed with a life-threatening tumor. The world we were building was upside down, didn't make any sense, and horribly, horribly in jeopardy. What followed was another real education in the ways of the world. There was a terrific lean to the faith that I'd learned as a child, a dependence on a wonderful family and wife, and a trust in the staff at the Women & Children's Hospital of Buffalo.

There was also a wonderful conclusion as Jake was saved by the work of the staff...and of course, there had to be a book there. Way too much living to ignore, but non-fiction? Could it be done?

I wrote fast as if to rid myself of the angst and pain. I cried through the first draft, sent it in, and my publisher and editor cried too - way too fast, way out of whack, much work to be done.

About a year later the book we wanted - Counting On A Miracle (The title borrowed from a great Springsteen song) was published.

It was no longer about me, my, mine. The book was written for the staff of people who saved Jake's life, for Jake, and with the help of Megan Davidson, the greatest book editor in America.

Counting On A Miracle took me to Chicago for the Book Expo America where the number one scene of my writing life took place.

I snuck into the McCormick Center early in the morning before the Expo officially opened. I sat at the booth where Sterling House was presenting, and I stared up at the cover photo of my son Jake.

"What the hell?" I kept saying over and over. "How the hell did I get here?"

That is also the Book Expo where I ran into the Fonz (See our lovely photo). I sincerely doubt he hung onto the photo of he and I, but it was great. Henry Winkler is a very nice guy. I shook his hand after a day of signing books beside him and I asked him if he ever did the deed with Pinky Tuscadero. He laughed hard. Glad I asked.

One of the doctors mentioned that Counting On A Miracle should be required reading: for every human being.

That's a long ways from Money Changes Everything, right?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Why Write? Part One

There are clear motivations to writing. As I approach the milestone blog - this is #996 of 1000 - I am nostalgic for the old days and the wonderful feeling of being inspired. I'm going to take you through the reasons for writing all my books. Hopefully it'll be entertaining.

Book #1 - MONEY CHANGES EVERYTHING - 22 years old - young and dumb and full...you know the rest of the story. This book absolutely blows. If you see a copy don't open it. Call me. I will come and buy it off of you. Shouldn't have done it, but wanted to do it because I thought I was funny and the best writer in the world. My college buddy Kevin Gema did the cover. That sucked too. I own two copies. Won't let anyone touch them.

Book #2 - EYE IN THE SKY - Wrote it in 1987 - published in 1992 (I believe)after losing a friend in a car accident. I was absolutely dumbfounded by the loss of a person who was so alive one moment and gone the next. What I remember about it is that it was a raw nerve to write, a raw nerve to read. Wrote a little better, but still a ton of mistakes. I'd let you read it though, if only to immortalize my friend, Davine.

Book#3 - WALDORF & JULI - 1993 -Despite my claims to the contrary, chicks didn't dig me. My brother and my sister were married. My friends were getting married, and I was stuck in my own head without a real promise of establishing a sustained relationship. I started writing about Waldorf in an old journal. He was an absolute loser when it came to women, but he was a funny bastard. I dug into a lot in regard to men-women relationships and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was writing Desperation at the time (see below) but actually published Waldorf & Juli first even though it was done in my spare time. It was also the first book that I was real proud of, but sadly, the publisher went under after trying to produce a book about the death of Princess Di.

Book #4 - DESPERATION - 1998-I started this book with the simple thought of what would have happened to me if I were born in a different place and time in the most trying of all circumstances. I was reading a lot of Steinbeck back then and I was really feeling somewhat desperate myself. I worked on the book for over a year, sent it to my publisher (believing that I was destined for super stardom) and was told that I was too busy in the telling of the tale, that the main character had to be changed and that I needed to write it from a different point of view. So, I did what any other human might do - I threw it in a drawer and worked on Waldorf & Juli . Springsteen ruined me by putting out The Ghost of Tom Joad and I spent another year re-writing this one.

The best thing to come of Desperation was a couple of television appearances, and a bunch of work for the Buffalo City Mission. I wrote articles about the plight of desperate men struggling to find their way, and I enjoyed being a part of something that was bigger than me.

It set me on the way to part two of the telling of the stories. Tomorrow's blog.

A strong thank you to SterlingHouse Publisher and especially Cindy Sterling who made me rewrite all of the above fifty freaking times, and forced me to do them right.

They didn't have anything to do with Money Changes Everything or it wouldn't have seen the light of day.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Looking For A Moment

I'm riding down Kingsley figuring I'll get a drink. Turn the radio up loud so I don't have to think. I take her to the floor looking for a moment when the world seems right and I tear into the guts of something in the night.

I'm closing in on a thousand blogs and unlike A-Rod I should get there pretty quickly. For some reason, of course, as I think of meeting this monumental feat, I consider Springsteen and some of the lyrics that have meant the most to me through the years.

I woke up with the above song on my mind. I love the line - looking for a moment when the world seems right - found it a few times...yes I have...look for it every day...like a blind squirrel, find it now and again.

There was a car accident in today's paper. Husband, wife, two young kids...wiped out by a drunk driver. The guy was a friend of a friend, and my friend summed it up rather succinctly: "It's awful," he texted back.

And there are so many moments when the world isn't right, it is so freaking wrong. All the hopes and dreams of that family, wiped out by the irresponsible actions of one person.

Or the man who walked into the beer distributor in Connecticut and wiped out 8 people for being racist, as if the punishment for racism is death.

And I've really tried hard not to read such stories. Negative in leads to negative out, but I think it was a few of those types of incidents that led Bruce to the lines he wrote.

It's been a rough year. That isn't a lie. And still, like everyone else, I search.

For that moment.

When the world seems right.

1000 blogs. Who would've thunk?

Tearing into the guts.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Where the Hell Is Kate Hudson?


A-Rod used to choke. Last World Series he stopped choking. Kate Hudson was cheering him on, and more. Now she's gone. A-Rod has had a crap year. He's choking as he tries to hit #600.

Bring back Kate for a week. The Steinbrenners can hire her so she can do the job.

Which takes me to a couple of real baseball stories.

The above photo is Jake Fazzolari, of course. He hits from the left side, and just prior to this at-bat, with runners on first and second, he explained that he was just trying to hit the ball hard somewhere.

"If number 600 comes, it comes," he said as he strolled to the plate.

He lined three straight foul and then chased a high fastball for strike three.

"Guess the fans will have to wait," he said as he tossed his helmet aside, smiling the whole time.

As he strolled to the plate my mind shifted to a game played on a little league diamond 31 years ago. I was 14 at the time and was in attendance at my brother Jim's game at the North Collins Elementary School.

My mother pulled over to where I was seated on the bleachers, watching Jim, as he swung from the left side - FAZZOLARI - across his back. If memory serves me, he struck out as well.

"Bad news," Mom said as I got in the car. "Thurman Munson died in an airplane crash."

I recall a great pain in my head as I tried real hard not to cry in front of Mom and my brothers.

By then we were all Yankee fans. The team was far behind in 1979, but since it was only August, and being that they had rallied hard the year before, there was still hope. Without Thurman, the hope was gone.

The car ride home was real quiet as the radio played the details. Thurman had learned to fly so he could visit his family on his off days. He was practicing landings near his home when he crashed.

"He was just a young man," my father said as we watched the video of the crash scene.

I did cry later that night, knowing that I was forever changed with the loss of a guy who'd been a hero. Back then I didn't know that death could strip you of your heroes. Now I think of it every 15 minutes.

I wonder what Thurman would think of A-Rod. I'm guessing it wouldn't be a very favorable opinion. He hated show offs and grand gestures and men who took themselves too seriously.

"Try not to chase the high ones," I said to Jake as he reached for his glove. "I know they look good up in your eyes, but they're tough to get on top off."

"It's just a game," he said. "Number 600 will come."

Thurman would've approved.

Now if we can just get Kate back a few days so the prima dona can focus.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Wrong Again!

Back-to-back posts today.

Because, once more, I have to let my wife know that I was wrong again.

So far the score is 3,245,008 to 2.

Yes, in the history of our marriage she has been wrong twice, but she eventually twisted it around until it was my fault and I don't even remember what she was wrong about.

So, what happened, you ask?

Saturday night the calls started getting serious about golf on Sunday. Unbeknownst to my wife the tee time was set in stone. I broke the news in the mid-afternoon.

"I'm golfing tomorrow."

"Really?"

"Yeah I'm ready to go. I worked on the foot all week. I'm healed."

"Really?"

The debate was over in my mind. I was ready to play.

"I think you need another week of rest."

"Nah, I'm good."

On the fourth hole, just walking back towards the cart, I stepped down and my foot betrayed me. My buddy John saw the misstep.

"I'm good," I said.

I actually played okay, but got gassed near the end and watched my round blow up a little. Lost to the Grape Apes again, but not by much.

Three hours later, I was dragging my foot behind me as I helped with the dinner dishes.

"You're limping."

"It's from doing the dishes," I said.

"Golf didn't bother you?"

"Of course not."

This afternoon my beautiful wife bought me a new ice pack. She's remained fairly quiet on the subject.

Just a little warning. I will not miss a day of work and I most certainly will be healed by tee time next Sunday.

Of course, I could be wrong.

3,245,009 to 2 won't matter either.

American Idol Shake-Up

My God, I can hardly think today. The turmoil and despair that is running around in my brain is almost too much to take. What will American Idol look like next year?

This is what we know for sure:

1). Simon is out. Of course, this is the most devastating of all news. How will we go on?

2). Ellen is out. That's okay, I suppose. I never really liked HIM.

3). Kara is out. How will we live without her telling the contestants that they need to dig deep and sing from the heart. Every freaking time.

4). Randy is still in. Dawg! Why the hell didn't they dump your dumb ass too?

So now what - three out and just one in. Could you imagine the show if Randy were the only judge.

How can we go on??????

The American Idol panel couldn't possibly find anyone else that could irritate me more than who they are proposing as replacements:

1). Steven Tyler. Never liked Aerosmith. Hate his look. His huge mouth and his screaming. He is a Mick Jagger wanna' be. No thanks.

2). Jessica Simpson. Certainly she's fun to look at, but dumb as a soup can. How the hell will she come up with anything interesting? Maybe she can judge it topless.

3). JLO - always love her struggling to find love in all of those movies. Poor woman can't get a man to love her until she herself learns what real love is. I throw up a little just thinking about her acting all cute. Again, fun to look at.

4). Howard Stern. The only real choice. The only one who could ever make me watch such a crap show. I'd turn it on each week just to watch him mess with the establishment. They will never hire him to do it. Too many fuddy-duddy's.

So, in the end, what do we have?

Same thing we had on the way in.

Nothing I'd ever watch. A total waste of time.

Then again, less television time for Ellen.

I hope he lands on his feet.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

This Is Crazy! This Is Crazy!

One of my favorite scenes from the Vacation movies with Chevy Chase is just before he is going to strip down and jump into the pool with Christie Brinkley. Good old Chevy claps his hands together a couple of times and chants, "This is Crazy! This is crazy!"

Not sure why I enjoy it so much, probably just because he knows its wrong, but that he just has to do it, right?

In the last few days I've read a number of stories about some sick people who must know, in the light of day, that what they are doing is downright crazy, sick, or demented, but they do it anyway.

Here in Buffalo - well actually well South of the city - a group of four is being sought in connection with an armed robbery. This Apple Dumpling Gang held up a horse and buggy being commanded by an Amish couple. Not kidding. Gun to the head, demanding the wallet.

"We don't carry wallets," the perplexed man screamed.

The gunman raised his weapon and fired a shot at the feet of the horse, got into the getaway car and took off.

This is crazy!

Then there is the Phillies fan who was convicted of sticking his finger down his throat so he could work up vomit to spew on an off-duty cop and the cop's daughter. I wanted to post the guy's photo because it is alarming, but he doesn't deserve to be pictured anywhere other than perhaps the post office. What a vile, disgusting thing to do.

Did I mention he was a Phillies fan?

This is crazy!

Finally, I glanced at an article of a woman, who angry with her husband, tossed her 19-month old baby into the Hudson River. Thankfully the baby survived, but the article was deep into the idea of whether or not her actions were criminal or mental.

I can save the lawyers a lot of time. This is Crazy!

I suppose the capacity of bad behavior by humans is absolutely limitless.

Chevy Chase did jump into the pool. The water was too cold and he woke up his entire family with a scream. Naked Christie swam away and Chevy spent the next five minutes trying to explain his motivations.

He finally gave up and explained that he was just being a jerk.

In the end, I guess the lesson learned is that if it feels crazy just before you do it, it probably is.

Robbing the Amish? Forcing yourself to throw up on someone? Tossing your baby into the river?

Yeah, all crazy!

Happy Birthday, Brother

It's my brother Jeff's birthday today. He's not here to celebrate 🎉 it with us, but make no mistake, he's with me. Ever...