Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Leave Willie Nelson Alone

Now I know that the laws are written for all of us and that many lives have been ruined by drug abuse, but can't we leave Willie Nelson alone?

The man is 77 years old. He wears a handkerchief and sings songs while strumming a guitar and making no excuses for his love of smoking pot.

He's also a very funny dude who is always great in interviews, took a beating for not paying his taxes, and built a golf course on his own property.

I will never forget the interview in which he stated that he played golf under his own terms.

The 60 Minutes reporter asked him what he meant as they walked the course.

"It's my course so I set the par on each hole," he said. "For instance, I set par on this hole at 8 even though regulation courses might put it at a par 4, and let me tell you, yesterday I birdied that sucker."

Willie isn't hurting anyone. He was busted coming back from a concert with 6 ounces of pot on the tour bus. I doubt he was selling it. It was for his own consumption.

Now I'm not advocating legalizing drugs. I don't know where I fall in on that. Making drugs more available might be the ruination of us all, but I do know (from personal experience) that people like to sometimes step out of the frame of mind their in. My drug of choice is alcohol. It relaxes me sometimes. Willie's is dope.

Making everything illegal would be pointless.People would spin in a circle on their front lawn to get dizzy if that was all that was available to them.

I don't know. He's 77 years old. Are they going to toss him in the can for carrying his own personal lawn spin around with him?

"I birdied that sucker."

He had to be high.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Surely, You Can't Be Serious...

...I am serious, and stop calling me Shirley.

Leslie Nielson is dead at 84. Think of him without smiling. The Airplane movies, the Naked Gun series.Frank Drebin with Nordberg.Whatever happened to the guy who played Nordberg?

Oh yeah, he murdered a couple of people.

Anyway, I always enjoyed Leslie Nielson's comedy. Funny man. Silly movies. The definition of entertainment.

And speaking of entertainment, The Bills have been fun to watch over the last six weeks, haven't they? Three overtime losses, a couple of wins...a far cry from the start of the year. They are actually entertainers.

Yet yesterday one of the receivers dropped a ball that I might have been able to catch. The throw hit Steve Johnson in the hands, went off his chest, and landed in the end zone. They would have won the game. The city would've gone crazy this morning as they would have earned a win over the mighty Steelers.

There was no good reason why the ball shouldn't have been caught. Seriously, throw it up like that, leave me that wide open, get me to the spot, and I could have caught it, oh 3 out of 10 times.

He dropped it. So what? No one to blame,right? Try again next week.

But you know who Johnson blamed in a tweet after the game?

God!

He blamed God! Asking God why He did that to him when he (Johnson) praises God 24/7!

Are you kidding me?

Not sure if God was watching yesterday, or if he is a Bills fan, but you have to stay away from Twitter if you aren't aware enough to not blame a dropped ball on the force you believe created the entire universe.

How does that conversation in heaven go?

St. Peter: Yo, God, the Bills are going to win. Our prize pupil Stevie Johnson is about ready to catch the winning touchdown pass.

God: Actually, you know what would be funny? Watch this!

God and St.Peter check out the monitor. The ball lands in the end zone as the fans groan.

God: I can't wait to get his Tweet tonight!

St. Peter: Surely you are a vengeful God.

God: I'm not vengeful...and stop calling me Shirley.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sitting Still

I usually set up a long list of things that I want to get accomplished on any given day. Yesterday my list consisted of one thing: sit quietly.

I purposely cleared my head and decided to take a full day off. No book work. No Jeter contract. No laundry. No cooking. Nothing. It was a day off that I didn't announce to anyone. I just took it.

And nothing happened.

I watched reruns of Raymond, King of Queens and Two and a Half Men. I watched three or four crime dramas and then capped it off with a violent movie with Edward Norton in it. We ate KFC and the boys played games all day.

"Let the dogs out," was my big command of the day.

Why is it so important?

I believe that the biggest problem I have is that I can't sit still and just relax. So I forced myself to do it. I just sat back and took stock of everything.

What did I learn?

Well, for one...Edward Norton is one of my favorite actors. His movies are always good and I usually admire the characters he plays.

Two...people are basically animals who trick their brains into believing they are not.

The true crime dramas and a story about a missing Syracuse woman has convinced me of that. In the 48 Hours type of specials we always hear from the person convicted of the murder. They usually explain that they didn't mean to do it, or were wrongly accused. They talk of the precious life ended as if they were taking out the garbage.

Then the whole day was punctuated with the murder of the young girl from Clay, New York. Supposedly her boyfriend killed her because she'd broke up with him. He threw her body in a shack at a park.

Really? Don't you wish he would've taken that day off just to take stock in things?

Animals. We are really just animals.

There are usually a hundred murders a year in Buffalo. About 15,000 in the USA. Every year. Can you even really imagine ending someones life. Unfathomable.

But it won't end, and it will allow me the chance to pause and reflect because 48 Hours and the such will still package up the murder and sell it as entertainment.

And I'll watch.

To relax.

Like an animal.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Freaking Snow & Obama Gets Blasted

So Mr. President took 12 stitches when elbowed during a pickup basketball game. The shocking part of the story for me is that it was the fifth of five full-court games. Isn't he older than me? If I tried to participate in such a tourney I'd be leaving the court on a stretcher.

Good for him, I suppose, but the economy blows, North Korea is blasting missiles, Afghanistan is still hot, Iraq is still going, and Sarah Palin is out stumping. How do you wrap your mind around a good, clean box-out when all that crap is going on?

The snow on the ground didn't exactly comfort me this morning either. It's been nine months since it last snowed here in Buffalo, but I certainly dread the cold because I don't know when it will be nice again. There is the potential that the crap weather could stretch until May.

I know a lot of people who get excited by the first snowfall too. Really? There are the winter wonderland songs that make it seem so charming, but in your life have you slid off the road more times than you've made a snowman?

I have.

Have you shivered from the cold, or shook the frostbite out of your hands more times than you've stood out in the yard trying to catch a snowflake on your tongue?

I have.

Have you tried to scrape the ice off your windshield, or cleaned the windshield of your car with your coat sleeve more times than you've drank warm cider while singing songs about the beauty of the snow.

I have.

As I get older it seems to me that snow blows and people who claim to love, love, love it, are just plain lying.

I'd rather get busted in the mouth by a stray elbow.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Little Rest


I certainly go through lack of sleeping jags that drive me crazy. Up at 4:45 on Thanksgiving Day when I could have gone to 9 or 10 but would have settled for six.

Oh well, I was determined to enjoy the day anyway and I had a few wonderful moments, like when I was able to snap the above photo, on my mother's birthday, after sharing a tremendous meal that my brother Jim, the man with the heart the size of the Grinch's prepared with little help at all.

I had stopped out early, way early, to give him a hand, but instead, we toasted Dad and Jeff, and shared a few laughs over 2 drinks. (Just 2, I swear) as we waited for the rest of the guests to arrive.

And the grim reality of it all is that there are less guests showing up now. The heartbreaking realization of that sat over the table and pressed down on our heads, but we ate, watched football, and playfully made fun of one another as my wife and mother spoke of the Christmas shopping, and the days ahead.

Spoke of the days ahead.

So that's where we are. Three days of rest and relaxation is what I have planned. They are calling for a snowstorm tonight. Fine with me. I am a widower to the shopping game as Kathy busts her ass to get the best deals, and then will rehash it tonight as though she is talking about a golf game where she got the best score of her life.

"I chipped in from off the green," will be akin to, "I got in line right when the store opened and got the very last _______ before this big bitch of a lady got hers."

And I'll nod my head and smile, and wonder if the load of laundry is ready to be switched to the dryer, and that will be my big challenge for the day.

Perhaps a movie. A few book notes. Nothing too cerebral. Load the dishwasher. Talk sports with the boys. Wrestle the dogs. Glance at photos where the smiles seem a little stilted.

And speak of the days ahead.

The book is at the typesetters. My nephew is on the mend. The snow is going to fly. The Sabres are in last. The Bills are done for the year. Baseball dollars will soon be flying around like bingo chips.

And I'll be here. A big container of my mother's stuffing is calling to me from the fridge. A nap here. A worried sleep tonight.

Perhaps the shopping news will work as my tranquilizer.

Just living.

And trying my best to enjoy the full catastrophe of it all.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Be Thankful

Last Sunday I sat next to my mother in church. For anyone who knows my mother, you are quite aware that she is an unbelievably strong woman who certainly has been tied to the whipping post lately, and still she is trying to wear a brave face.

Yet Sunday the priest made a comment about how excited he was that we were going to finally have the chance to Thank God for all that he's done for us.

"That's a good one," my mother whispered to me.

I laughed, turned to her, and she shrugged at me with tears in her eyes.

Thankful? Are you freaking kidding me?

But, despite it all, there are things out there that we should be thankful for. My thoughts immediately go to my beautiful wife and my wonderful children, of course. Oh, yeah and my brothers and sisters and friends and family members.

Knowing the dark side, I understand that it is important to enjoy the ride. The people in my life have helped me do that over and over again.

I'm thankful that I am still relatively healthy although I may replace a knee tendon on my own, out back after turkey and Jameson's today.

And I can always find enough to eat and drink...that's a good deal...in fact, through the years I often found myself grossly over served.

Ah well, part of that ride.

I'm thankful that I'm not a red suck fan, or a Mets fan, or any of those other pretend teams.

I'm thankful that my dogs are healthy and that they never ran into Michael Vick.

(Saw an interview with him a couple days ago...he said if he didn't get caught he'd probably still be killing dogs...'cause he didn't know it was wrong!)

Seriously??????

Ah well, again....I'm thankful I'm not him.

And I'm real thankful for my mother and the fact that I still have the opportunity to sit beside her at church and shake our heads at some of the crap thrown at us.

I tell you, between my wife, my mother, and my sisters....I am surrounded by brilliant women...how can you not Thank God for that?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Lazy Day

One of those days when I'm going to let Mellencamp write the blog. Honestly, last night was a colossal exercise in noise, ringing telephones, things that needed to be done, and I kept thinking....

....sometimes life is too ridiculous to live and knew that it came from JCM.

Between a Laugh and a Tear

When paradise is no longer fit for you to live in
and all your adolescent dreams are gone
Through the days you feel a little used up
And you don't know where your energy's gone wrong
It's just your soul feeling a little downhearted
Sometimes life is just too ridiculous to live
You count your friends all on one finger
I know its crazy, its just the way that we live.

Between a laugh and a tear
smile in the mirror as you walk by
between a laugh and a tear
and that's as good as it can get for us
and there ain't no reason to stop trying.

When this cardboard town can no longer amuse you
you see through everything and nothing seems worthwhile
and hypocrite used to be such a big word to you
and it don't seem to mean anything to you now
just try to live each and every precious moment
don't be discouraged by the future, forget the past.
it's old advice but it'll be good to you
I know there's a balance I see it when I swing past.

Between a laugh and a tear
smile in the mirror as you walk by
between a laugh and a tear
and that's as good as it can get for us
and there ain't no reason to stop trying.

When paradise can no longer amuse you....

Side note:

That is simply awesome.

Monday, November 22, 2010

$3,500 for Dinner

All right so the whore that was in the room with Charlie Sheen is offended that he didn't treat her with respect, talking down at her, making her feel disrespected, and now she is filing a lawsuit because he has forever damaged her ability to make a living.

Don't get me wrong...Charlie Sheen has really acted like a drug-infested ass for a long time. Someone should let him know that he has kids, a following, and a responsibility to act like a human being, no matter how big a star he is or how great his show seems to be.

And where is CBS through all of this? Sheen has been arrested a bunch of times, has been in and out of rehab, and they don't say a word about it. Could it be because he is the star of their highest-rated show?

I wonder.

But back to Charlie's date...

Capri Anderson is the name the young lady goes by, and for all intents and purposes, she is a woman who seems to have taken good care of herself. Yet she is flabbergasted by Sheen's behavior.

It seems that the two struck a contract to have dinner. She was paid $3,500 for attending the dinner. She was shocked that there are some who felt that she would have to earn her dinner by taking care of Charlie.

I'm shocked too!

I am regularly invited to dinner by people and paid $3,500 just for my witty anecdotes and lovely personality. Perhaps Charlie thought that she would teach him something about mathematics or balancing the federal budget. Maybe he was just longing for her company because she seemed to be a girl-next-door-type that might mesh with his intoxicated lifestyle of debauchery.

And her reputation? Does being paid to have sex with a Hollywood moron diminish your ability to perform the reverse cowgirl in an X-rated film?

The whole things smacks of a setup if you ask me. Two morons caught up in a bad situation, and now we are all reading about it, and this tramp is being interviewed by every newspaper in the country and appearing on Good Morning America.

Let's see. What would you get if you paid me $3,500 to have dinner with you?

1). I would eat all the food you put in front of me. You can pay to watch me eat 72-ounces of beef, or a bushel of linguine.

Capri ain't doing that.

2). Charlie is a huge baseball fan and so am I. We can discuss the league champions back to World War II. I know he's an Angels fan, but Matsui was there last year. We could find some solid ground.

3). I can seriously pound booze right along with Charlie. I don't want any of his drugs, but I bet I can match him shot for shot if the Jameson's bottle comes out.

4). I will come in handy if he passes out. I can lift him into the elevator and carry him to his room. Then, if necessary, I would be able to head next door to put Denise Richards and the kids to sleep.

All for $3,500. No strings attached. Capri wasn't expecting to sleep with him, so I wouldn't either.

Besides, if he tried to choke me, I'd wipe the floor with his drunken ass.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Oh Brother! Not Another Edit

The new book is about 30 days out, and even though I knew there was a possibility that I would have to go through the text again, I was sort of hoping I might miss it.

Of course, that was not possible. There will most likely be one more read-through as well.

What is the purpose of it all? Not to change content at this stage of the game, but to do that maddening grammar dance. Let me tell you, I am no grammar expert. Like everyone else, I absolutely hated those exercises in school, but I know how to do it, a little bit...nothing like my editors though.

A book edit is a strange thing because as the author you are naturally defensive. Your initial reaction is to try and discredit the editor straight off. You see the red marks and read the comments, and you feel like the dumbest human being on the planet.

Then the edit begins, and instead of reading and riding the wave of that creative flow, you're looking at your consistent mistakes over and over again.

Why can't I understand the use of the serial comma?

Did you know that you can use it or not use it, but that you must be consistent in the use? Did I just use it in that sentence?

Regardless, it is absolutely maddening.

So, why am I writing this blog instead of finishing things up?

Because I know I'm close and that the manuscript will go out in tomorrow's mail. Kathy and the boys have allowed me to sit in the room, working, miles away from any real thought about what is going on outside these walls. It will be done.

Then next week, I will read it again and never ever read it after that.

Then some smart ass will come up to me at a signing somewhere and let me know that I should never substitute an en dash for an em dash when I am preparing a quotation.

Oh, one other thing, did you know that Dumpster is a copyrighted item and must be capitalized?

I had used the sentence...Jeff took a leak behind the dumpster as I chided him about not taking chances...I had to change that to Jeff took a leak behind the Dumpster as I chided him about not taking chances.

Maddening.

Back to work.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Write Something Worth Reading About

The details are a little sketchy but the story is true. On my tenth birthday the gift I received from my parents was Wilt Chamberlin's autobiography - his first one, not the one where he claimed to have slept with 10,000 women.

"I can't believe you wanted this," my mother said.
"I really, really, really wanted it," I answered. "I can't wait to get started."

Yet I still was too young to read such a book. I loved Wilt. I loved reading, and so my mother presented me the book in 1974. It was the heaviest book I'd ever held in my hands, and I read it very quickly the first time through, and the second, and the third. I still have it in my room filled with books, and I've resisted the most recent urges to pick it up again. But a couple of things came of it.

1). I can remember asking my mother what 'screwed' meant. As in Wilt and a teammate went back to the girls room and 'screwed' them.

"Skip that part," Mom said.

2). That book started a habit that has lasted thirty-six years - a habit of reading at least 20-25 pages of something, every single night, before I can close my eyes. There have been a handful of nights - grey goose, jameson fog nights when I haven't met my goal - but for the most part...book after book after book.

My love for writing was born of that obsession for reading, and I bring all of this up because I was reading a great novel last night - God of Animals by Aryn Kyle - and I was within 30 pages of the end. The book was hauntingly good on each page, and I wanted to get to the end last night, but I fell asleep holding the book open. An hour later, I was still holding the book in the same position, but knew I was beaten. I set it down.

Six hours later, I was awake, and I read the conclusion and was not disappointed although the book's end ripped hurt my wounded heart a lot.

And I thought of Aryn Kyle and even Wilt the Stilt and considered the effect that their words had on me, and I thought of it in the context of some of the things I've tried to do with my own words.

It was always just about touching a reader, you know? Somehow, someway, it was always about that ten-year old, or that 40 year old or that 70 year old holding the book until their eyes drooped closed. The proudest I've been is hearing from a reader, who tells me I've had such an influence.

And 36 years later I've learned the meaning of screwed in all of its contexts, I suppose, but the exciting part about it is that there are so many other things I don't know the meaning of.

I have 12 unread books in my closet, the bounty of the Barnes & Noble gift cards that I get as presents (the gift I still really, really, really want).

I can't wait to get started.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I Thee Wed

The nightly news started with a story about the fact that interest in marriage is dwindling. People are waiting a lot longer to get married these days, marriage isn't lasting as it did in recent years, and some are saying that marriage will one day be obsolete.

I'm not sure, but I can't really consider this to be good news. Marriage, done well, is pretty damn cool, right? Doesn't the Bible tell us things about it? Isn't the commitment that goes with love supposed to be a factor.

Let's examine. 54% of the American adult population is married...so it isn't exactly obsolete, but that is down from 72% in 1960. The average age of a marriage start, now, is over 28. My parents had four kids by the time they were that age! Yet times change, right?

I'm all against the down trend in marriage and that's because I believe that the family is an essential part to the moral togetherness of our country. I was talking the other day to a kid who was trying to tell me a story about his ex-uncle, who was close as hell with his ex-wife, his ex-father-in-law and his ex-sister-in-law. He was trying to continue the story, but I stopped him in mid-sentence.

"I can't follow all the ex, this and that crap," I told him. "Consider this an ex story, I'm out of here."

He laughed. But it is strange. Everyone has a half-brother, half-uncle, baby momma, absentee dad, ex-grandma....confusing, ain't it?

What the hell happened to riding it out? Eating dinner across the table from the same sonuvabitchin' face that you woke up looking at in the morning.

I think of my mother, who once told my Dad, in response to his question of whether or not he should fix her breakfast:

"No, you make me breakfast and then twenty minutes later you make me want to throw it up."

That's marriage, you know? That's part of the cool process of it all. The endurance. The back and forth. The sharing.

Of course, its hard because the values of people have changed as well. There are some people that get married that have no intention of trying to stay married and of course, in those instances, you are better parted. It does the kids no good to see perfect hate at play, but the fact that marriage seems to be going away, saddens me.

After all, misery loves company, right?

Of course, I am kidding there. We all know by now that I have a wonderful wife, who gets better with each passing day...I love looking at that same sonuvabitchin' face every day, even if I make her want to throw up her breakfast now and again.

Hey, at least I make it for her!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Learn to Live

My work takes me out to construction sites from Erie Pennsylvania to New York City and sometimes to other states where I conduct audits, write reports, and give presentations. Every year I do a presentation at a company just around the corner from where I live.

Through the years I've grown to know all of the guys at a tight-knit company and we laugh a lot as I try to get the rules across. The problem being that this company works in the middle of busy roadways, and sometimes, safety is not possible because there are way too many variables.

At the start of this week, one of those men who attended my safety trainings was run down by a truck. At 27 years old, his life ended. An accident that cost the man his life, his dreams, and cost that company in ways they won't even imagine.

I've been around such things before, but I tell you, I wanted to vomit when I heard the news. Three days later, I'm stuck with the thought that you need to learn to live with that you can't rise above.

No other option, right?

I've watched people make wrecks of their personal lives too. I know a bunch of guys suffering through the loss of their marriages, and I struggle to watch them make one bad decision on top of the poor decision that they made to start with, and instead of rising above the mess, they pile more crap on the mountain of dung under their feet.

Learn to live with it. Get on with life, hoping that the accidents, bad decisions, and lousy breaks don't break you.

Rise above it, knowing that it won't happen over night. The process can't be rushed.

My nephew is making tremendous strides and for that I'm thankful.

Maybe that's where it all begins and ends.

Being thankful for what you have, as you learn to live with what you don't.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Time for the News

So, Eva Longoria is done with her marriage. I am back in the picture...I got that going for me. When I mentioned that at dinner my son, Jake, said:

"You have a better shot at getting Tony Parker."

So, some guy shot his television set after watching Palin's daughter dance and advance into the finals of Dancing with the Stars.

(No, I'm not watching it - I couldn't take the chance that I'd see her goofy mother cheering her on).

Yet, after seeing the Palin kid close up I can only say at least the guy only shot the tv...she's enough to re-direct the gun to your own temple. The luckiest guy in the world is the father of her kid.

He got away.

So, The Mission Accomplished sign is going to be hung in George W.'s historical museum... are they going to wait to hang it when the mission is actually accomplished?

It's only been 7 years since they hung the banner.

So, The Buffalo Bills finally won a football game. There were only 54,000 fans on hand to see it.

Ralph Wilson immediately posted an announcement after the game: The Bills are going to need to raise the ticket prices if the greedy fans won't support a winning team.

So, the 'new' Springsteen is out and mostly memorized already. Now if we can just get Mick and Keith back into the studio.

I'd feel like a teenager again.

Wonder what Jay Z and Lil' Wayne are up to...

That's all for now...just had a little time before Judge Judy...

"Put on your listening ears!"

Your First Thought

What is the first thing that you think of when you wake up in the morning?

I thought of that today because when my eyes opened today, before the freaking alarm again, I automatically started saying a Hail Mary. Sister Henrietta would be so proud, and I wondered about why I clicked that button as soon as the eyes came open.

During baseball season I often think about the Yankee result from the night before. Being that the Bills lose on a weekly basis, and that every single hockey game ends in some sort of tie before they decide it with a skills competition, I don't have that to concern me anymore.

Of course, my new reality is to say good morning to my brother and my Dad, but that usually brings a sense of resignation and defeat that doesn't exactly lift me out of bed.

Then the next thing that hits are the lists of tasks for the day....one thing after another, laid out before me in a to-do list that threatens to keep me cowering under the covers, but I always toss the covers aside.

They say that you should start your day with a happy phrase that allows for thankfulness that another day is stretching out before you. I don't know a lot of people that can pull that off.

Yet I do not wake up slowly like a few others in my house do. There are some who can't even form words until the coffee is poured. Matt moves like a zombie and 4 minutes out of bed he is watching sports highlights wrapped in a blankie as he sips his coffee. Kathy wakes with a real sense of purpose during the week, but isn't all there on a Saturday or Sunday until noon - even if she is out of bed at seven.

I don't know, just woke up thinking about all of it this morning, wondering if there is a phrase that I can employ to ensure that I am chirping like a bird when my eyes open.

Perhaps the opening lines of the Promised Land...

...ah well, thanks Sister Henrietta...Hail Mary works too.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Promise

New Bruce today...well actually it is "old" new Bruce...songs that he set aside during the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town.

What gets me about it isn't the music, but the journey that I've been on since 1978 when I first heard Badlands at a buddy's house. Hooked on the first few notes...and the old familiar voice sounds just as good to me today, but it was wrapped in life...

Like riding in a car playing The River for my brother John - who up to that point, hated Bruce and then two years later picking up the Born in the USA album for the first time and listening John try to sing along with a song he never heard before. It wasn't good.

Like going off to college and listening to Bruce every free minute with friends who are among the greatest people I've ever met. Terry, Rosie, Gag, Fluff, George....song after song...album after album...everyone else begging us to listen to anything else.

Like going to the concerts...the first one with John and Tom...25 more with all the people who I've loved all my life. Standing side-by-side with my brothers, pumping my fist, seeing tears in their eyes as Bruce shouted Badlands. Crying hard through the last few concerts, missing those that were not there with me. Knowing that Jeff was watching from the best seat in the house...the one in my heart.

Sitting next to Kathy as she saw Bruce for the first time on the Ghost of Tom Joad tour...she'd just told me that she was pregnant with Jake, so Bruce talked of his kids and how much he loved being a parent. Of course, he did.

Having Kathy buy the act hook, line and sinker. A few months ago, I was listening to Leah from Devils and Dust.

"Do you think he's the greatest entertainer ever?" I asked.
"It's not even remotely close," she answered.

She's been a great companion for this part of the ride.

Picking up my copy of The Ghost of Tom Joad at midnight at the Media Play. Turning in line to see Jeff standing two people behind me, pissed that I'd have my album first.

Trading lyrics with my buddy Pops, to this day...finishing the lines for each other.

It's been a good day.

Hearing the awe in my sister's voice when she talks of Bruce and remembers us hoisting her high on her wedding day to Thunder Road...a ritual courtesy of Rosie that we perfected.

Seeing tears in my sister-in-law Dana's eyes when we brought her up to the close seats at the Darien Lake concert.

That's the Promise. The Promise Bruce made to his fans and delivered time and time again.

The only near-billionaire who earned every single cent of it.

My boys make fun of me now.

"He's old," they say.

"And I'm getting there," I answer, "And Bruce's been there every step of the way."

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Foreword - Oh Brother!

Early on I asked my beautiful, talented sister Carrie to write a foreword for Oh Brother! At the time we had a different title for the book and were still working through the initial stages of grief (we haven't gotten real far) but this is so beautifully written that I needed to share it with you. Thank you, Carrie Lynn.

Here is one story where it is impossible to separate the author from the subject matter. Clifford J. Fazzolari, as an author of nine books previous, has written this memoir about his very best friend and brother, Jeffrey Frank Fazzolari, and has said time and time again, “He is the greatest character I will ever write about.”

The family has come to refer to Jeffrey as a “walking celebration” despite the fact that he suffered from constant back pain and walked with a noticeable limp.
When Cliff asked me to think about writing the Foreword for this book, I did not hesitate and responded “Absolutely.” The title is Life, Laughter and Love after all, and as the youngest sister in the Fazzolari family, I am one of the eight members of this family who has been profoundly blessed with all three of these things.

On January 27, 2009, Bruce Springsteen released his latest cd, Working on a Dream, and because we share a great love of any and all Springsteen, all the brothers and I woke that day like it was Christmas. “This is going to be a good day, Bruce is out!”

I believe that Jeff had talked with Cliff early that morning about some of the songs that he had heard and during a break from work, he was going to sit in his car and listen to the rest of it.

Shortly thereafter, he had a hemorrhagic stroke and was hospitalized for nearly six weeks until his untimely death on March 4, 2009.

Was it because of his back problems that he had the stroke? Was it fate? Some cosmic mix-up? At some point in the book Cliff asks the difficult question of Why? Why did Jeff have a stroke? Why did our best friend die? Why, when he was at the peak of his young life?

Take a moment to look at the collage of pictures included in this book. Breathe in all the details and look at the laughter in the eyes of those surrounding Jeffrey. Finally, allow yourself to recognize him as a father, a son, a brother, a friend and a husband.

Fortunately, these pictures are only a small portion of his life. I am sure that his oldest sister, Corinne, has a picture in her mind’s eye of Jeffrey as he sat across from her, flicking bingo chips at her as they gambled endlessly. And anyone who has tasted his gravy or his stuffed hot peppers has a picture of him in their mind’s eye as they remember the taste on their tongue.

I am quite positive that his laughter rings in the ears of those who had been a receiver of one of his innocent pranks – like walking into your house and finding that the drawers in your kitchen have been moved – the forks and spoons in the drawer where the plastic wrap should be; or after a weekend visit with him and his family, finding a dirty diaper in your shower, your closet, and on top of your refrigerator.

Upon reading this book, I am certain that you will conclude that it was no coincidence that he was a chef. After all, his main ingredient in all of his recipes was love. It was love, written by his own hand.

In the throes of sorrow, it is difficult to grasp the concept that the way Jeffrey lived his life will forever resonate with those who knew him, personally or after reading this book. And perhaps, his death is a reminder to everyone that how he lived his life is how we should all live our lives. Perhaps Cliff’s question of why is answered in this way. Perhaps he had to die so that one, even one of the readers of this book, could begin to live, laugh and love.

At the age of 38 years, at the top of his career as an executive chef at a school where he was a hero, mentor and friend, in the tenth year of his marriage, as a best friend to his siblings, a helpful hand to his parents every weekend, a fantastic generator of family functions, with three children under the age of eight years old, and as a constant source of laughter, one would expect that not only would Jeff have been able to hear every song on the Working on a Dream cd, he would have been able to philosophize on one of the greatest choruses of the cd: “Life itself, rushing over me. Life itself, the wind in the black elms. Life itself, in your heart and in your eyes. I can’t make it without you.”

As it goes, the rest of the family was left with the daunting task of hearing these words play in their minds over and over because losing a sibling or a son or a husband or a father or a friend like Jeff is kind of like suffering an amputation, and now it seems, we’re all walking with a noticeable limp. Yet, like Jeff did every day of his life, we’ll walk on; walk on and into life itself, with our hearts and minds open to treasure the laughter and love that this life provides.

Enjoy the journey.

Carrie Lynn Fazzolari

Being of Sound Mind

Yesterday the question of leaving a last will came up. Now I don't know anybody who really wants to talk about such a thing, but in our family, given all that life has brought in the last couple of years, it is probably a responsible thing to do.

Well, Kathy and I will hopefully make an appointment soon to muddle through such a task so that there is a smooth transition for her when I collapse. Thankfully, I was smart enough to take a few life insurance policies years ago...so good start.

Not saying that it's coming anytime soon, but I do have to hand it to my beautiful wife, she has it nearly set up, financially-wise, so that I don't need to be present. Her only act left will be to clean out the twenty-three bucks I carry in my wallet.

Yet I kid with you. That is exactly how it should be and the level of trust is such that I don't even care that she has enough money to pack up the whole shebang and hit the road should I get stuck in a Jameson cloud.

She deserves that much...she was the one willing to put up with me.

Yet when I considered the making of a will there was precious little that needed to be said...I don't have a zillion dollars or a rare coin collection. Material things never mattered much unless you count my Yankee plaques or Bruce CD's.

Nah, what needs to be left behind and directed to the right places is the loving that was done here, and I sincerely say that I can leave that, being of sound mind, to the people who deserved it all of these years, and I have made it clear who they are through my life.

So, if I were to die sudden, beat Kathy to the wallet and the 23 bucks is yours, but also, know where I stand.

It's been a good time and I've lived hard, loved a lot, and filled every day with an awkward sort of grace that plays well in a bar room discussion.

What else can you say?

I'm sure the lawyer we go to will put a different spin on things for us.

Nice way to start thinking on a Monday morning, eh?

On the bright side...my nephew is making huge strides in his effort to get the hell out of that hospital bed.

That's what we really should be talking about.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Tumbling Dice

Its funny with dreams, you know?

This morning I distinctly remember two of my dreams from last night. One was of my dog, Max, and carrying him up the stairs when he was sick at the end of his life.

Awwww, Max-A-Million, I thought when I awoke. He was a king amongst dogs.

The other dream was actually a recall of a 1981 concert by George Thorogood, Journey, and the Rolling Stones. I recall my brother John, my buddy Tom, and my buddy JC watching Jagger and Richards onstage, and the one sung that stuck was Tumbling Dice - a Stones classic that opened the encore.

How's that for a memory?

Yet Tumbling Dice was in my dream because its always been one of my favorite songs, yet I had no idea what Mick was saying. I used to wait for the part where he sang, sixes and sevens and nines and You can be my partner in crime.

Thank God for the lyrics app on the droid.

Are you ready?

Tumbling Dice by the Glimmer Twins

Women think I'm tasty, but they're always trying to waste me
And make me burn the candle right down.
But, baby, baby, I don't need no jewels in my crown

'Cause all you women is low down gamblers, cheatin like I don't know how
But baby, baby... there's a fever in the funk house now
This low down bitchin, it's got my feet a itchin
you know, you know the deuce is still wild

But baby, I can't stay
you got to roll me and call me the tumblin dice
roll me and call me the tumblin dice

Always in a hurry, never stop to worry
don't you see the time flashing by?
Honey, got no money
I'm all sixes and sevens and nines
Say now baby, I'm the rank outsider
You can be my partner in crime

But baby, I can't stay
you got to roll me and call me the tumblin dice

Oh my, my, my I'm the lone crap shooter
playing the field every night

But baby, I can't stay
you got to roll me and call me the tumblin dice
roll me and call me the tumblin dice

(to fade)


Not exactly Mark Twain, huh? Pretty down on the fairer sex, eh? Still, fantastic. Need to go put it on right now. I will probably struggle through trying to match the words with Mick's growl.

And the growl behind both dreams from last night is that I went nearly 35 years, listening to Tumbling Dice hundreds of times and not ever knowing what it meant. I hung with Max for 12 years and watched him fade, knowing only that he was just plain awesome and missing him now that he's gone, but I still visit with him, you know?

Ah, I don't know what the hell I'm talking about.

Women think I'm tasty, but they're always trying to waste me

and

There's a fever in the funk house now


Those are good themes for the day. Try getting the tune out of your head now.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Women & Children's Hospital Signing


I had a blast today at the speech and book signing at the Women & Children's Hospital of Buffalo.

I was introduced by a neurosurgeon who told me that he admires me, and that he loves my books. So, I have that going for me.

Here is a little of my speech.

"I stand before you today thinking about the fact that my son ran in the Susan G. Komen race, beating me by a full 12 minutes, just nine years after a severely life-threatening operation. When I finally crossed the finish line, he called me 'a mess.'

"And that is the miracle of his survival. He was Blessed by God, for sure, but he was also Blessed by a team of people who researched, did their jobs, and cared enough to send him home to us. The miracle of love and dedication is a miracle that we all live with every day."

"Now, please visualize this next part with me. Close your eyes and concentrate."

I paused long enough for those in attendance to get their eyes closed.

"So, I'm in the shower one morning, and I'm thinking about the nurse's here at the hospital."

I got a good laugh.

"And it occurred to me to write the book House of Miracles."

Anyway, that's how it went. I signed a hundred books, shook a lot of hands, and had a few brain surgeons tell me that they thought I was all right.

Being a geek writer pays off from time to time.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Keep Four Eyes On the Road

So we have another licensed driver in the house. After two years of hearing, 'I'm a good driver.' Matt passed his road test.

It's funny what a parent looks at in times like these, but when he told me that he passed my mind flashed me a memory of him sitting beside me, at the age of 3, beating my brains out in Play Station basketball. At that time, I was simply amazed that he was reading the guys names on the back of their uniforms.

Now I'm simply amazed that he's on the road with me. Amazed and nervous.

He took my father-in-law's car yesterday and he was skipping out to the driveway. No doubt he was feeling all grown-up and full of the hopefulness of being alive.

I recalled the first time I drove my parents car all the way to Buffalo to go to work. I was nervous getting there, nervous as I worked (I kept looking out the window to assess my park job) and nervous getting home.

Yet as Matt got all fired up, I decided that I had to be the guy to tear him down - because I feared for him out there in the big bad world.

"You have to wear your glasses," I scolded. "It's on your license and its hard to see when it's dark or raining. Besides, if you don't, I have your license plate, I'll call the cops."

"I'm a good driver," he said.

So, I left for work, knowing that Matt was heading to school. After getting the newspapers, I headed back past my house and noticed that he was making a perfect left hand turn - blinker on and all - and I dropped back a bit knowing that the light was coming up.

Matt came to a full stop a car length back of the car in front of him. I came to rest just outside his passenger side window. His eyes were fixed straight ahead.

I laid on the horn, nearly causing him to jump clear through the roof, and he turned to face me.

Glasses on - seatbelt on - hands at ten and two - a look of sheer terror on his face.

I gave him the DeNiro, "I'm watching you," sign from 'Meet the Parents.'

I could almost mouth him saying, 'I'm a good driver.'

The light changed and I floored it to leave him in the dust.

Incidentally, I was wearing my seatbelt and glasses too.

I still haven't forgiven him for beating me at Play Station.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I Pledge Allegiance

I grew up in a small town 23 miles South of the City of Buffalo: North Collins - and I am forever proud of that fact.

Well, mostly forever proud of it. A couple of fine police officers were killed there. Recently, there was a gruesome murder of a disabled woman there, and every once in awhile there is news made there that upsets me and spoils my idyllic remembrances of what a wonderful place that it is.

Yet a story making rounds in the last few days really makes me shake my head.

It seems at the North Collins Elementary there is a story brewing because the Pledge of Allegiance is said over the loud speaker, but is cut off after one line - so that the students can finish saying it in their own classrooms at their own pace.

Fine. Smart. Responsible.

THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT!

But the school board is up in arms, claiming that the school is being run by the unpatriotic Taliban.

THAT'S NOT THE FACT, JACK!

Being that I'm a master debater (that's spelled right) I must step in here.

Fox News is running with the story. It's been topping the Buffalo news. Made the paper.

IT'S NOT A STORY!

I know some of the people in leadership at the school - I have an idea...

...let the world know that North Collins is as patriotic town as they come. Sing the pledge, show tune the pledge, stand on the roof and shout it to the water tower across the street. Moonwalk the pledge, raise the world's biggest flag. Pump the pledge over the town's loudspeaker, and wave the flag until your arm hurts.

The official news story:

NORTH COLLINS LOVES AMERICA! NORTH COLLINS SCHOOL LEADERSHIP IS IN NO WAY, SHAPE OR FORM ANTI-AMERICAN!

THEY WERE JUST TRYING TO MAKE THE KIDS FEEL COMFORTABLE AND LEARN THE WORDS AT THEIR OWN PACE.

STOP FIGHTING.

GET A REAL PASSION IN A REAL STORY.

ALL TOGETHER NOW...

I pledge Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

I LEARNED THAT IN NORTH COLLINS!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

BREAKING NEWS!

George W.'s quote on the front of the USA Today is this:

"I could have done better."

You think?

Yet there's something way too compassionate about me because although I was never a fan of W. or W's father, or even W's mother...I felt bad for him as I read the article.

The reporter asked him if it bothered him that people made a mockery of him for being perceived, as they say, as a little less than intelligent.

I was uncomfortable for him, just reading the question. Put simpler it could have said: "Does it bother you that people think you're a dumb f$%$k?"

I don't think anyone should have to answer such a question, let alone a guy who won an election twice with about 40% of the vote each time and graduated Yale with a C minus.

Yet I was a real harsh critic. Perhaps, as W believes, he will be vindicated as time passes, but what I read of the book won't do it for me.

Of the revelations he said that some of his mistakes include:

1). Failing with social security.
2). Failing with immigration.
3). Failing with Health care
4). Failing to see that there weren't weapons of mass destruction.
5). Failing to recognize that there would be a financial collapse.
6). Failing to see that 9/11 might happen.
7). Failing to keep troops in Iraq after Hussein was captured.

I wonder how he can be vindicated after reading his own list of things he could have done better.

Here was how he succeeded - according to the book:

1). "I threw it right down the middle during the 2001 World Series."
2). "I finished reading that book to the kindergarten class when the whole country was falling apart."

All right, so maybe I don't feel bad for him after all. Maybe I will eventually read the book. Perhaps I will see him in a different light someday.

Maybe I can do better about better judging his presidency.

Bush says that once his book publicity is done he will slip back into oblivion.

Wasn't he always there?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fixing the Bills

All right so the Bills are oh and 8 and the rest of the schedule doesn't look real promising because these guys know how to lose. Can they run the table and finish at
.500? Will they go down in infamy?

I looked at Sam's face when they threw the interception that led to the game-winning touchdown yesterday and I felt bad for him. I thought about the first Super Bowl the Bills went to and how proud I was to see them run onto the field.

Anyway...I have 10 possible solutions.

1). Use Ralph Wilson as a tackling dummy. This will not only solve their problem of not hitting hard...it may also rid them of the owner that doesn't seem to get it. Then again, Ralph may put a couple of his high draft picks on their asses.

2). Swap uniforms with the Jills. Think of the young lady snapping the ball and the other young lady receiving the snap...ah, the possibilities are endless.

3). Have the offense and the defense switch. Maybe Aaron Maybin can play quarterback.

4). Make the Lions play without helmets and pads. The NFL has to step in and make it more competitive. That might work.

5). Lock the Lions in the locker room and let the Bills have two drives without them on the field. Problem being they will win the toss and defer on the kick.

6). Choose a fan to run the ball, or play QB or play defense. This would get fan interest up at the very least.

7). Take away all the players bling if they lose. Perhaps the effort will rise if they fear losing their necklaces and earrings.

8). Allow me to do the pre-game interviews with the arrogant a-holes so I can call them out on a few things. When they start telling me about giving 110 percent I can let them know that it only goes up to 100% - perhaps they suck because they are giving 110% out of say 1000% - their math might be off.

9). Choose a 5th grade class to make their next set of draft picks. They won't do worse.

10). And this is my number one by far....let them play to a completely empty stadium. Send the money you would have spent at the game to your congressman and ask him if he could put it towards keeping a library open somewhere.

Of course that's just my opinion...I could be wrong.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

This is the Time


This is the time to remember.

Last night we visited with a few close friends in a basement that is setup for men to play games, drink beer, make fun of each other, and bet on everything under the sun. As you will note I had a pool cue in my hands and its a good thing I didn't hurt myself with it. I shot pool as badly as I played Foosball, and threw darts. I entered the party with a case of beer and a bottle of grey goose to pay off a bet when the 27-time World Champion Yankees were eliminated this year.

I also had about 50 bucks in my pocket but I donated that fairly quickly by playing pool, darts and foose like a real moron. Nothing worked.

But it doesn't matter because my stomach hurt from laughing. My brother Jim showed up and with our friends we told so many stories about Jeff's life that there was no way that we were leaving sad - laugh after laugh after laugh.

Yet it was heartbreaking because those were the very same games that we played with him on our team, or against us and we heard his voice all night in the primitive language that we speak.

"You're only cheating yourself."

"Chow down, wide load."

"They aren't drinking in Ethiopia tonight."

"Score!"

"As the barber says, 'next!"

Phrase after phrase, laugh after laugh. Story after story.

If you take a good look at the photo you will notice a couple of things:

1). I've lost weight. Carrie put up a photo of me from a little while ago and I wanted to scream! Why didn't you tell me my ass was so big? But that is behind me now. (Pun intended).

2). There is a great photo of a golf vacation that ten of us went on a couple of years ago. Jeff was in the center in that photo, wearing his Gilligan golf hat, and smiling wide.

These are the days we'll hold onto because we won't although we'll want to.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pusification

Was talking to a co-worker who had a beef with another man.

"What did you do?" I asked.

"Oh, I sent him a strongly worded text," he replied.

Really? A strongly-worded text? Is this how we have evolved?

Years ago, you would have kicked his ass, whipped his ass, harassed his wife and children, kidnapped his dog, humiliated him in public, swore at him, sent him a horse head for his bed.

Something.

I call it the pusification of America. Don't eat too much. Don't drink that or you'll grow wings on your feet, no eggs, go easy on the carbs, lay off the red meat...no smoking, swearing, cursing.....blah, blah, blah, blah blah....

I often think of my father and grandfather in situations like those mentioned above. Their philosophy of life was not to take any crap from anyone and to never wish you said something to someone who you feel treated you poorly.

My grandfather told the local doctor that the best thing about his practice was that it was next-door to the funeral home.

"You treat 'em, they bury 'em," he said.

Grandpa didn't know what politically correct meant.

"Don't ever trust a man who won't have a drink with you," my father once told me.

I thought of this once in a job setting when a guy refused my offer to grab a beer.

Dad was right, the guy was a dink.

I don't know - I think of John Wayne in all those old Westerns...a man's man. A tough guy. Shot of whiskey. Fist-fight. Visit a whore. Finish getting drunk. Apologize to no one. Fight for the honor of the whore when the bad guys show up. Drink with the bad guy. Shoot him between the eyes.

Not anymore...

Now we bash the bastard with a tweet....

What would Grandpa say to that?

Friday, November 5, 2010

November 05, 2001

The following is my recap of the day nine years ago...from Counting on a Miracle...Sterlinghouse Publisher

The day was cold and damp. We left the house in darkness, and all three of us were still wiping sleep from our eyes. Kathy was partially through her caffeine and nicotine fix, and Jake’s eyes seemed to be rolling from a lack of sleep.

I can’t say that I felt as if I had, “sleep in the bank,” as Doctor Levitt had prescribed, but adrenalin was definitely surging through my veins. I despised the idea that I would have to make the daily trek to The Children’s Hospital of Buffalo, but I could only pray that I would be making it every day for the next week or so.

“Who is the best surgeon in the world?” Kathy asked. She had asked this question before, but it was especially unsettling this morning.

“I don’t know,” I whispered.

“Don’t you think he deserves to have the best surgeon in the world working on him?”
“Of course he does,” I said. “Come on, don’t do this. You know the reputation of Children’s Hospital. This is where we want to be. Besides, who’s to say that these doctors aren’t the best at this sort of operation?”

"I just want to be able to say that we did the best we could,” she whispered.

I refused to resign myself to such dark thoughts. My mind shifted to prayer as I put a John Mellencamp CD into the drive and turned it up a little.

We walked hand-in-hand through the emergency room doors. Jake hadn’t said a word, and I wondered if he was upset at all. Kathy knew right where to go, and within a few minutes we were standing in front of the desk at admissions. Jake was all signed in, but the wall clock showed that it was just ten minutes after six. Surgery wasn’t scheduled until seven-thirty. What would we possibly do for all that time? Still, I wasn’t in any position to wish even a minute away. We were shuffled to a large waiting room with an extensive selection of toys, including a Pokemon video machine. Even though Jake wasn’t much into the characters, he headed for the machine.

“Are there bad guys to fight?” Jake asked.
“I don’t know, let’s see,” I said.

I hoisted him up, and he studied the screen. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do to turn the machine on, and Jake pounded at a couple of the buttons. Kathy was getting the rest of the paperwork in order, but she was watching us out of the corner of her eye. I was as worried about her as I was about Jake. As a mother, her heart had been breaking for the better part of a month. She would be a basket case in a matter of hours.

“I’m really tired,” Jake said. He yawned big and wide, and I rubbed his bald head.
“Why don’t we play with your battling robots?” I asked.

Jake received seven of the large, plastic, multi-colored robots during his first hospital visit, and John and Dana delivered the eighth the night before. We set the robots up on a small, wooden coffee table in the center of the room and used the remote controls attached to each robot to smash them together. There were a few other people in the waiting room, and their eyes were drawn to our battle. I had to be real careful not to knock Jake’s robot over, and after he beat me five or six times, he asked for Kathy.

“Dad, why don’t you let Mom battle for awhile? You aren’t very good at this.”

I gave up my spot at the table so Kathy could take a turn at getting beat and acting upset. Every once in a while, Kathy looked at me, and I could see the sheer terror in her eyes. I just knew that, like me, lightning was running through her veins. We were both on the absolute brink of a complete breakdown, and we were playing battling robots.

After what seemed like an eternity, we were shuffled to the surgical waiting room. We lost the Pokemon machine, but another set of toys and books was waiting for us. I read a couple of books and showed Jake the pictures of a few large animals. He couldn’t stop yawning, and he complained a couple of times about being hungry.

“The doctors are going to do their magic, and when you wake up you can have whatever you want.” I wasn’t sure he’d be able to eat for quite some time, but I was trying hard to comfort him.

Jake was well aware that he was going to sleep through the magic act. “Will you be here when I wake up?” Jake asked.

“Absolutely,” I said. I kissed him a few times, and Kathy couldn’t resist the urge to join in. For almost a half an hour we passed him back and forth like a tiny baby, kissing and hugging him. Jake giggled through most of it, but he also kissed us back.
Doctor Levitt stopped by a few minutes after eight o’clock. We had expected the surgery to start earlier, but we were glad to see Doctor Levitt who appeared alert and centered.
“We’re almost ready,” he said, and rubbed Jake’s head in a friendly way.
“Are you doing the magic?” Jake asked.
Doctor Levitt smiled. “Not yet.” He bent down and whispered something to Jake. I stole a look at Kathy, who offered me a nervous smile.
“Wow, he’s asymptomatic. I was expecting his breathing to be a little more labored,” Doctor Levitt said. “This can go very well.”

He turned to the door, and, as the words sunk into my brain, tears filled my eyes. I wanted to share the moment with Kathy, and this time her smile was much brighter.

“It might be a long day,” Doctor Levitt said, “but we’ll be getting started soon. We’re setting up the ECMO team.”

Doctor Caty had explained to us earlier that the ECMO is similar in principle to a cardiopulmonary bypass that is done to allow cardiac surgeons to operate on the non-beating heart. Doctor Caty had been trained at the University of Michigan by Doctor Robert Bartlett, the man credited with inventing ECMO in the 1970s. The ECMO team involved an attendant from the intensive care unit, a nurse, an ECMO specialist, and a pediatric surgeon to place the catheters in the blood vessels.

“I hope they don’t have to use that ECMO thing,” Kathy said.
“I’m glad they have it if they need it,” I said.

Jake was visibly agitated. He was alternating between biting his fingernails and kicking his feet against the chair bottom. It was amazing that his instincts were so sharp. He had little idea about what he was facing, but he was becoming more scared by the minute. He complained about being tired and hungry, and I wanted to scoop him up in my arms and carry him home. Nonetheless, we spent another fifty minutes waiting for the preparation work to be completed.
I have little recollection of who actually took Jake from Kathy’s arms into the waiting room, but his cries of terror will stay with me until the day I leave this earth. “Dad, I don’t want to go! Mom, I’m not ready yet!”
We kissed his beautiful face about a hundred times inside of two minutes. The tears streamed down our faces while the attendant waited patiently. “It’s magic, Jake,” I told him. “You’ll be all right. Just do good, buddy. I love you!”

Kathy followed Jake and the attendant to the operating room door, nearly doubled over in grief. When she turned back to me, I held her tightly as we cried together without restraint.

“He’s got to be all right,” she sobbed over and over.
“It’s up to God and these people,” I said. “We did our jobs. We got him here, and we showed him love every minute of his life.”
***
We were all too aware that the most pivotal moment of the surgery would take place when the anesthesologists did their work. The men placed in charge of Jake’s care were Doctor Doron Feldman and Doctor James Foster. Doctor Bradley Fuhrman, the director of the ICU, was also crucial to the success of the operation as he organized the activities. Properly regulating anesthesia is important in all operations, and it is particularly tricky for children. Additionally, Jake was a special case, as his breathing was compromised by the tumor. My prayers during that first fifteen minutes of the operation were centered on Doctor Feldman, Doctor Fuhrman, and Doctor Foster.

I felt absolutely helpless as Kathy and I headed to the surgical waiting room on the second floor. Our family was waiting for us there; John was sitting against the back wall next to Kathy’s sister Lorie and my sister Corinne. We were well prepared for a long day of waiting, as Corinne brought enough food to feed everyone in the waiting room and the surgical team. Her thoughtfulness and unbelievable compassion brought instant tears to my eyes.

I sat beside Lorie, and she grabbed my hand. We are good buddies and usually find one another at all the family parties. We’ve shared hundreds of laughs, and yet Lorie felt a lot like a sister as she worked to comfort me. “I just know he’ll be fine,” Lorie said.

"This first half-hour is the important part,” I said. “If he goes under okay, we’ll be halfway through the battle.”

"He’s a tough little boy,” Lorie said.

As Lorie said the words, I felt an overwhelming sense of grief. I had often told Kathy not to imagine Jake on the operating table, but I couldn’t help but picture it in my mind. I thought of Frosty the Snowman melting in the greenhouse behind the locked door, and I began to shake. Kathy handed me a coffee, and I sipped it with a quivering lower lip. “Come on, God,” I whispered.

The wall clock was moving especially slowly. Kathy’s hand was coupled with mine and Corinne, John, and Lorie were whispering words of encouragement.

“This is the worst day of our lives,” Kathy whispered.
"It’s going to be the best day,” I said.

At twenty minutes to ten – just forty minutes after the start of surgery – a member of the anesthesiology team opened the door.

“He’s under just fine,” she whispered. “Doctor Levitt wanted me to let you know. Jake’s left lung is doing all the work, and he’s real comfortable.”

I pumped my fist and hugged my brother. Corinne was holding Kathy, and Lorie was waiting for someone to grab onto. We were a long way from being out of the woods, but we had passed the first test.

The minutes crawled by. My mother and father joined the gathering, and their presence made my heart ache even more. Kathy left the room a couple of times to call her parents on my cell phone. They were at their house watching Sam, and I couldn’t even imagine what they were going through. I drank a huge cup of coffee, and when I was done John offered me a can of chewing tobacco which I gladly accepted. I had a pinch of tobacco, spitting into the empty coffee cup. My heart was under tremendous strain, and the pain radiating up and down my left arm was much more pronounced. I must have looked pale because Lori offered me something to eat.

Kathy was passing around a plate of pastries, but I shook her off. I was in the middle of the rosary again. Lori edged to the table in the corner of the room. She reached into a bag and pulled out a deck of cards. Before long, a lifeless game of scat was in full swing. John, Lorie, Corinne, and Kathy tossed the cards out, always keeping an eye on the door and the ticking clock.

“I need to go for a walk,” I said. The clock read 10:15, and I blinked away thoughts of Jake lying on that operating room table. I headed down the hall to the rest room just around the corner, where I splashed water on my face and cried at my reflection in the mirror. “Come on, God.”

As I stepped from the room, I immediately recognized Doctor Grossi walking with two other men, removing masks from their faces. Doctor Grossi had been the first doctor to talk to us after the discovery of Jake’s tumor. Behind the masks were ear-to-ear grins. When Doctor Grossi recognized me, his smile grew even wider.

“He’s doing wonderful,” Doctor Grossi said. “They opened him up, and it’s sitting right there.”

“It’s a piece of cake,” one of the other doctors said.

My heart jumped into my throat. I did all I could to stop myself from dropping to my knees. I took a deep breath and hurried back to the waiting room to make the announcement. I spent the next twenty minutes hugging and kissing my family.

Kathy, Lorie, John, and Corinne were still playing scat at the front of the room. My mother and father paced the floor nervously, sipping coffee at a record pace. Finally, out of sheer frustration from everyone telling me to eat something, I headed to a small table in the back corner of the room to make a sandwich. I glanced at the wall clock – it was fifteen minutes after twelve – Jake had been in surgery for two and a half hours.

As I put the mustard on the bread, I heard the door swing open. Then I saw Doctor Caty was approaching Kathy, and my world started to spin too fast. It was too early. Doctor Caty was supposed to be in the operating room. What was he doing out here?

“He wants to talk to us,” Kathy said without raising her voice.

I pulled back away from the table, and the bread hit the floor at my feet. I didn’t even bother to pick it up. I hurried to the patient-doctor conference room adjacent to the waiting area. Doctor Caty entered and took a seat. “You can all come in,” Doctor Caty said. “It went well.”

Mom and Dad rushed in right behind us. I felt my father’s hand on my right shoulder and realized that it has been there for all the important moments of my life. Corinne, John, and Lorie grabbed a place behind me, and Kathy sat across the table on the other side of Doctor Caty.

“We were able to get it out without complication. Doctor Levitt is closing him up, and it went real well. He’s a tough kid,” Doctor Caty said.

I don’t know what it was about Doctor Caty, but he seemed to be as mentally spent as I felt. I could feel tears gather in my eyes, and I expected those. What surprised me was to see that Doctor Caty was on the verge of tears too.

“When we put him under, his left lung held on and carried him through the operation. The anesthesiologists did a fantastic job throughout, and we didn’t have to use the ECMO unit.” Doctor Caty paused for a long moment. “It went as well as could be expected.”

I’m not sure how Doctor Caty felt at that moment, but I knew what was racing through my heart and soul. “Somebody better hug this guy,” I said to anyone that might listen. Doctor Caty flashed a relaxed smile, though tears glistened in his eyes. Everyone in the room looked too stunned to move. “I’m going to do it then,” I said and stood up. So did Doctor Caty. I threw my arms around his shoulders and hugged him tightly. “Thank you,” I said.

“We’re glad we could do it,” he murmured.

The dam was broken. Kathy and Lori also hugged Doctor Caty. I’m not sure if he went through hugs on a daily basis, but he took it well. “Doctor Levitt will be out in a little while and he’ll break it all down for you. I was just helping out in there.”

I couldn’t believe that he was so humble, but the entire hospital staff had performed their jobs in such a manner. Each doctor deferred to the other, and the work on Jake’s case seemed to be equally divided with only one true goal; to send him home healthy and happy.

After Doctor Caty left, we spent the next ten minutes crying in each other’s arms. It felt so good to hug my mother, who wept tears of joy. “I knew God wouldn’t let me down,” I said. “You taught me to pray to God and I’ve talked to him all my life.” My voice broke as I searched for the right words. “I talked to God about everything and he was there for us. Thank you, Mom for teaching me faith.”

Mom cried even harder, but I had to break away from her for a moment. I found Kathy just a few feet away. She was wrapped in Corinne’s embrace. I tapped Corinne on the shoulder and said, “I need to see my wife for a second.” Corinne gladly stepped aside, and I pulled my wonderful wife close to me.

“Jake did it!” I cried. “Our beautiful boy is going to be all right!”

It seemed that everything that happened in my entire life led up to that very moment. Kathy cried into my right shoulder, and I kissed her face over and over. “I love you for helping me through this,” I said. “I love you for having faith.”

Kathy and I cried together as our family looked on.
***
At 1:15, Doctor Levitt led us into the same patient conference room, his eyes alive with his success. He was as thrilled as we were. “Jacob did very well,” he said. “We were able to go in and do our work, and he’s stable. We got every piece of it, and from the looks of it, it is most likely a benign tumor. We will send it to the lab, and they’ll take it apart and study it. There was hair and bone in it, and I predict that it is benign.”

It was the second piece of wonderful news that we’d heard in just over an hour. Kathy’s hand felt warm in mine, and the smile on her face made her tears inconsequential.

“When he comes out of the operating room, he’ll be heavily sedated, and he’s going to look a little puffed up. He’ll have tubes in a lot of different places; don’t be alarmed, that’s what he’s supposed to look like after an operation like this. Slowly but surely, we’ll remove the tubes and give him back to you as good as new. Does anyone have any questions?”

“When will you know if the tumor is benign?” Kathy asked.

“In about three to five days,” Doctor Levitt said. “First things first, though. Let’s not worry about that unless we have to. Like I said, it sure looked benign.” His smile was as bright as day. I glanced around the table. “Are you guys going to make me hug him first?” I asked.

This time there was a line to hug the doctor. My admiration for the man who saved Jake’s life was threatening to turn me into a babbling idiot. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” I whispered as I hugged him.

"I was glad to do it,” Doctor Levitt said.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ordinary Days

My nephew Jake is still battling in the hospital and it feels so weird to once again be trying to do the routine things while being hammered with worry...shouldn't be this way.

And it always gets me to thinking about the ordinary days - those days that we seem to throw away waiting for something else to happen.

"I can't wait for the weekend."

"I wish today would just be over with."

"I'm counting the minutes until 5 o'clock."

Whenever I catch myself saying something like that I hear the voice of my former labor partner - back in the late 80's - who told me:

'Don't ever wish time away, my friend.'

It used to get real annoying when he'd tell me that. I was young. It never seemed that there'd ever be a shortage of days.

What did it matter if I threw an hour away here or there?

Yet think of all that can be done in an hour. Think of what you can do to make your life a little more productive. Think of the people in your life who wouldn't mind hearing from you in that 'wasted time.'

My last few evenings have been spent on the couch beside my son, Sam. We are playing a game called Angry Birds. It's a silly little game on our phones and we are engaged in an epic battle. The game is both addicting and difficult and my frustration with it thrills Sam to no end.

He is also quite frustrated from moment to moment and he does a wonderful job of mimicking my father's favorite Italian curse word phrase.

(I know it's wrong, but it cracks me up to hear him say it with the same inflection of aggravation that my Dad used to use).

He doesn't mean to swear - he just picked it up like the rest of us. (Right Pops, Fluff, Aunts and Uncles out there). Besides if he starts saying it now - chances are he will still say it when he has kids - and the expression will carry on.

Anyway...I don't feel as if I am wasting my time. I think back to games and tasks shared with my parents. Wonderful memories that have stayed with me through the lonely minutes, hours, weeks, months and years.

Minutes to memories.

It's hard to make every minute count, you know, but having a sense of the big picture allows you to gain a little sight, right?

Say a prayer for Jake...I want him to have a long, healthy life of 'ordinary days'.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hee-Hee & Ha-Ha Strike Again


So last night there was a loud bang and then a couple of real terrifying screams.

"What the hell was that?" I asked Kathy.

We headed down the stairs to find the wall in the above shape.

"I didn't even touch him," Jake said. "I mean I hardly pushed him. Something wrong with that wall."

It started with a hug. Hee-Hee tried to hug Ha-Ha good-night. Ha-Ha didn't want Hee-Hee touching him so he pushed him away. Hee-Hee pushed back and we have a hole in our wall.

"Can you fix it?" Jake asked as I surveyed the damage.

"I can't, but your Uncle Jim is in town so you're in luck."

"Will it cost much?" Jake asked. I know he was terrified of being punished. I remember the feeling because growing up with three brothers we broke a window a week in my parents home.

"Are you thinking of paying for it?" I asked.

Ten minutes later we were back in getting to bed form. Kathy was certainly stressing about it, but it didn't really bother me all that much. Three boys...one hole and two busted windows so far...we are doing okay.

How can you punish someone who was just trying to give his bro a hug good-night?

"Try to keep your hands off each other," I said. What else was there to say?

Thank God Jim is in town or I would've had to cover the hole with a huge poster of Jeter or something.

CEO of the World!


Received a text late yesterday afternoon that said look on your front lawn. Of course, my first political sign was there. Cliff for Clerk looks good to me. It is the start of my taking over the world as CEO and overall leader.

Of course, the sign comes with a story. Evidently Clifton, a Republican was running for clerk and he passed out the signs. A buddy, seeing that it would be perfect to jump start my mission to control the world, obtained the sign (it supposedly fell off the back of a truck) and placed it on my lawn.

Clifton lost, I'm told, but that doesn't stop me from getting the ball rolling.

What's my platform, you ask?

Well in honor of my buddy I am looking to stop stupid, and crying and whining and screaming and yelling.

When the kids were young that was my overall platform. Even to this day they can recite my rules.

ME: What are the rules?
The Boys: No whining, no crying, no screaming, no yelling, no stupid.

It eliminates all elements. Think about it. Don't you think those rules would change the world?

I think my buddy and I are on to something. Of course, he also delivered a bottle of Jameson's as a birthday, Christmas, New Year's and rest of my life gift.

I can't wait to get started on it, but it just may derail the whole dang thing.

Cliff for CEO of the World.

It can't get any worse.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Let's Work!

Mick Jagger sang a song a few years back - 'Let's Work' - not Stones material by any means but I could listen to Jagger burp the alphabet he is so familiar to me.

That song has been sticking in my head for the last few days because I saw a 60Minutes piece about people being out of work for like two years - college graduates who were on extended unemployment in California and are just now taking jobs at much less than what they were making.

I have been fortunate and blessed to have not been out of work since I was 14 or so, and that is because I actually feel like I have to go to work. Some jobs have been way better than others, but I get up and go. No matter how I feel, no matter what aches, no matter if I feel I have vacation time coming or if I need to go to the doctor, or if I am fighting with someone at home, or if I am real happy or real sad. It's all I know.

Which brings me back to the 60 Minutes piece.

I see a lot of people in today's workforce who have something going on every day that keeps them from working as hard as they can. One of the foremen I was talking to today said that on his six man crew at least three are late, or leave early, or skip the day all together.

"It never used to be this way," he said. "But it seems now that everyone wants to run the company as soon as they sign up and if there is even a sliver of an excuse on why they can't be there, they leave for the day."

On election day, with a dropping economy, I am of the opinion that this is the reason for our downfall as a country.

Now I'm not saying everyone is lazy, but there is an element to the population that thinks like those in that crew, right?

Think about it...how many consecutive days would you miss if everything wasn't just perfect for you to go in?

Brett Favre is not a hero to me, but we all sort of shake our head in admiration when he plays with a busted ankle and after taking ten stitches to the chin.

We should all be doing that.

Let's Work!

I can see Mick singing it right now.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Rapper & the 6-Year Old

I can't believe it's November already...

Encouraging news from the hospital...keep up the good fight, Jake...

And yesterday was Halloween. The world's dumbest holiday. I never liked it, but yesterday it was even more haggard as we had pasta during the latest Bills loss (happens every week) and then my niece brought her children over for a trip around the block dressed in their costumes.

As everyone was dragging from the weekend at the hospital, it was even more tiring, but little kids bring an energy...and bring it...and bring it...and bring it.

Dylan was the four year old and I watched as he ran from room to room, and when he wasn't running he was spinning in a circle, just missing stepping on his seven-month old sister Layla, screaming, chasing his cousins...running, yelling, jumping.

I'm getting old. It doesn't appear to be fun anymore to chase kids from room to room. As a matter of fact, I wasn't enamored with it when my kids were young.

And they aren't young anymore. They didn't want much to do with the Halloween experience.

Sam dressed as a rapper by turning his hat to the side, yanking his pants down and doing a walk and trash talk that made my skin crawl. He can sing the garbage that Emminem sings and to his delight and my aggravation, he sang it.

So, we have dirty dishes, a 4 year old spinning in a circle, dogs barking, a rapper, the smell of a new born, a nephew in the hospital, the Bills game on in the background, and nary a shot of whiskey in the house...and here comes Jake.

"Where's your costume?" I asked.

"I'm wearing it."

What he was wearing was a piece of notebook paper with a note that said, "I'm 6 years old."

"That's it?"

"I'm thinking of getting on my knees when I get to the door," he said.

"Perfect!"

When the kids returned I rifled through the bags looking for a Reese's Cup or a Butterfinger. I was busted by Dylan as I searched through the bag.

"Hey that's my candy! Get your own!"

I actually thought about going to my room and stapling a note to my chest that said, "I am a lunatic."

I would've won costume of the year.

Breaking News

O.J. Simpson is the guy who turned the news into entertainment when he butchered two people. Then everyone was in a battle to beat the oth...