Monday, September 30, 2013

Everything's Contaminated

This past week one of my children expressed frustration about life in general. He was sort of up against it and his expectations didn't meet his reality when it came to a social function at school.

Just one of those things. And it frustrated him.

As a parent it's awful difficult to watch your child be upset about anything. We spend a lot of time shielding them and I know that my beautiful wife and I want nothing but smooth sailing for them through the years.

Yet it won't happen.

Around that same time Kathy and I settled in for an episode of Breaking Bad from season 3 (we're making good time) and the episode, at first glance, seemed to be a throw away type of show about the two main characters chasing a fly around their lab.

(I won't spoil anything if you're just getting started, Kim).

Every single sentence brought me closer to the feeling that it not only wasn't a throw away episode, but that it was so profound.

Walter expresses discomfort in trying to find the 'perfect moment.'

At first glance it would seem that there aren't any perfect moments.

But we all search for them.

The day we were married?

Hell no!

The day our child or children were born?

Nope. That's when it begins.

And while there are moments that stay in our minds, we would be hard-pressed to say exactly when it was all great.

I have moments of extreme clarity. I truly do. I recall driving with the family back from Mom and Dad's years ago. Knopfler was on the car radio. The kids were quiet. Kathy was looking out the window. It was a bright, sunny day. The music was in control. The soft, soothing guitar. Dad had made pasta and all of my siblings had been there.

"I wish I could bottle how I feel right now," I said.

And those moments are there. They glide by due to ambition and stress and bad hips and other people stepping on our plans and sneezing next to us on a crowded airplane.

And we forget them.

And hang onto the frustrating moments way too long.

When Walter and Jesse give up on getting the fly Jesse asks about the contamination.

"Don't worry about it," Walter says. "Everything is contaminated."

I almost want to tell my boys that.

The perfect moment seems to be right there, but it never really arrives. We all continue to chase the fly around the gigantic space.

It's always just out of our grasp.

Except it isn't.

Except that when we get it, it doesn't really change much.

Because the perfect moments are already right there for us.

Inside.

Where everything is free.

Where the contaminants don't live unless we feed them.

Perfect moments?

I have them all the time, actually.

I just need to pay attention to them.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Buffalo...Sweet Buffalo!

Then she sneezed again.

My companion.

Then the dog cried.

Then she blew her nose.

Sneeze.

Blow the nose.

Sneeze.

Blow the freaking nose!

"So where you from?" she asked. Her diseased face just inches from mine.

I crumpled into a ball beside her and turn my head to the window.

"Buffalo," I muttered.

I held my book up to cover my face. I thought about making a mask out of the freaking (not the real word) puke bag.

"Do you like to travel?" she asked.

She sneezed.

Coughed.

And might've farted.

All I could think was that I needed to crack a window. Not a bright idea at 35,000 feet but it was tempting.

"I hate traveling," I said.

I almost added "NOW!"

and

"BECAUSE OF YOU."

I really wanted to tell her that I hated her and that I knew why her dog was crying.

He wanted out!

He wanted to get away from her.

Sneeze, cough, sneeze.

The tissue she was using was just a tiny piece of paper. She rammed it in her nose...and then accepted my bag of Cheese Nips from the stewardess.

She extended them to me with a smile.

"NOOOOOOOOOOO!" I screamed. "I'm allergic to snot covered cheese."

All right, I actually didn't say it, but I didn't touch them either.

I hate that freaking lady.

As I was getting off the plane in Chicago I turned my cell phone on.

Three more hours and I'd be home.

I had a message.

It was from the airline.

"Sorry for the inconvenience but your flight from Chicago to Buffalo has been cancelled. Thank you."

Long story short.

It took me five hours to make it home.

I spent three of those hours washing my hands in the Chicago airport.

So much fun to travel!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Omaha Here I Come - Part 1

Did you know that Kansas City is about three miles from Kansas?

Or about ten miles from Iowa?

Or about twenty miles from Nebraska?

The mile markers might not be right, but I was in all of those states in a real short time. When I saw the sign that said "WELCOME TO IOWA" I about pissed myself.

"IOWA?" I yelled to the car.

Then when I was just East of Omaha Bob Seger's Turn the Page came on.

On a long and lonesome highway East of Omaha

"I'm on that highway!" I screamed.

And let me tell you...it's long and lonesome. Old Bob wasn't lying.

Mile after mile passed. I was begging to see a freaking (word substitution) cow somewhere along the way.

I tried calling home.

Sam was a wise ass.

Glad I'm missed.

And I drove on. Mile after mile.

I arrived in Omaha, visited a site, and then due to the worst planning in the history of the world, drove back to Kansas City.

Mile after mile.

"Just give me a freaking (see above) cow!"

On to the airport.

Return the rental car.

Get on a shuttle bus.

Wait for the plane.

Board the plane.

Please God give me a good companion for the ride.

A 60 year old woman sat beside me.

She worked hard to get her travel bag under the seat.

It made a noise.

"Do you have a dog in there?" I asked.

"Yes, shhhhh," she said.

And then she sneezed.

(See you tomorrow...it's a freaking beauty.)

Friday, September 27, 2013

Kansas City Here I Come - Part 2


The cool part about visiting a new city is that everything is unfamiliar.

It's also the aggravating part.

I used the GPS to highlight the route to the job and immediately got lost. I called the contact and he gave me directions as if I had lived there all my life.

"You know where the little blue highway starts?"

"Are you freaking kidding me? The little blue highway?"

"Where are you now?" he asked.

"I have no freaking idea (freaking subbing for another word)."

Let me tell you, the heartland is mostly field. And strip mall. And field. And convenient store. And field.

"I'm by a field."

"And a McDonalds."

Thankfully he knew the place.

I visited the site and got back into the car hours later. I had no plan other than steak. (Pops had planted the seed with a text earlier in the day).

And I drove aimlessly.

I saw George Brett way.

He's my favorite non-Yankee player ever.

I drove by and parked next to the baseball and football stadiums...strategically located in a beautiful part of town (you hear that Buffalo?)

And then I found a steakhouse.

I got the Kansas City strip, of course, and I hammered it down.

"Geez, you were hungry," the waitress said.

"The sad part is I could eat two of 'em," I answered.

Then it was back to the hotel.

I got lost on the way.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Kansas City Here I Come - Part 1 (This is gonna' take a few posts)


Some people think it's cute to travel.

While I enjoyed Kansas City there were certainly some issues in getting there and doing the job.

On Sunday I boarded the plane in Baltimore (after a short layover) and due to the fact that I was in the C group, I was not really blessed with the prime choice of seats. I headed for the back row.

(Perhaps no one would join me).

But noooooooo......

A reasonably attractive female sat next to me. There were three seats. She didn't choose the one on the end and leave the middle one empty.

She sat right next to me.

A bit odd despite the fact that I'm a wildly attractive man.

A moment later a man approached.

"Is this seat taken?" He asked the woman.

"No, please," she said.

The guy sat down and immediately the two of them began making small talk. Flirting, actually. It was a wee bit uncomfortable. The guy then took out a deck of cards.

"Do you play gin rummy?" he asked his new friend.

"I never have," she replied, coyly, "but I'm up for trying anything once."

The guy giggled. She giggled. I looked for the puke bag.

He shuffled the cards as if he were a dealer in Vegas. All the while he complimented her looks. She was blushing.

He dealt the cards snapping each one down on the tray table in front of her. Their hands brushed once and he complimented her on how soft her skin was.

She won the first game.

Loudly.

Cheering.

Rubbing his nose in it.

They played again.

She won again.

At this point I was waiting for them to mount one another in the seats next to me. Almost as if he were reading my mind the guy said: (and I quote):

"Have you ever thought about joining the mile high club?"

I looked up quickly.

He got up and went to the lav at the back of the plane.

She turned to me, laughing hard.

"We're married," she said. "We pretend we aren't sometimes to keep it fresh."

I had just wanted to read my book but I was a pawn in their little game.

They played seven more hands.

The didn't join the mile high club.

(I don't think).

He won.

By the time the plane landed they sounded like a true married couple.

The sad part of it all?

They were the best people I sat next to on my four plane rides.

Tomorrow...the on the ground portion of the trip.

It was fun too.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Sitting Around the Table

There were three siblings there. Mom was in the center. One nephew and a newcomer were listening to the stories...and shaking their heads, laughing.

"I really could tell Dad stories for a long time," I said.

We were working in San Francisco. Dad had gone out of his way to help a young, overweight girl who worked in the office. The girl was always bitter, forever doubtful of her own abilities, and was a considerable mess. She'd miss work. She'd eat way too much at lunch, and she was forever complaining, but Dad wanted to help her gain some confidence.

So we'd pick her up each day and drive her into work. I remember whining to Dad about it.

"Why can't she find her own way to work?"

"Why does she do nothing but complain?"

But Dad was steady. She was a young kid.

"She needs a break in life," he said.

One morning we got to the spot in front of her own beat up apartment where we'd pick her up.

She wasn't there.

What was there instead was just an old pair of shoes.

Two shoes lined up perfectly.

Just positioned there on the corner, facing our car.

"She ain't here," I said.

Dad looked at the empty shoes.

"Maybe she bought a pair of odor-eaters," he said.

I swear to God.

We laughed at that line every day for a month.


My Mom told a few stories.

Jim told a story.

Carrie went way back in her memory banks.

We laughed a lot.

Just sitting around the table.

Missing everyone, for sure.

But laughing.

Freaking odor-eaters!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Photos That Make You Stop



A shot of Hitler as a baby. They say that a photo is worth a thousand words and I sort of stopped dead in my tracks looking at this one. He looks like a regular baby, right? Knowing what we knew as his life played out, it makes you wonder about who snapped the shot and then completely blew the parenting.


A Mom and her child after the bombs in Japan. This shot was supposedly taken 4 days later. When I looked at it, I wondered about the destruction. I recalled being in history class as a kid and being so proud of the fact that no one messes with the United States. We forget about the absolute destruction and that real people are over there, right?


And real people over here as well. Having lived through September 11, I know the pain in the hearts of citizens not even directly involved in the scene. Yet we were all directly involved in this. It's funny, but I can't watch the movies made, or the photos taken in real time. My heart and mind don't allow it. Every single photo of that day makes me gasp for breath. Always will.


"Oh the humanity!" I did watch the documentary on this explosion. The tremendous sadness in the man's voice has stayed with me since I saw it. "Oh the humanity!!"


And I end this little history lesson with what is billed as the last photo of the four Beatles together as a group. They busted up just days later. I saw a young girl on television with a Beatles shirt on the other day. John Lennon was killed at least 20 years before the girl was born. This photo was from 1969. And yet they have new fans. They sell millions of songs each year. That's pretty astounding, really.

And why not end on a high note?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Happy Birthday to Carrie's Boyfriend



And Dana's boyfriend.

And Kathy's boyfriend.

Of course Bruce is 64 today.

Sixty-freaking-four.

And I know it because a lot of the women in my life are very aware of the fact that Bruce still looks pretty good. Last week some shots of him on a beach in Rio showed up on Twitter.

My beautiful wife stared at the photo longer than she's looked at me in the last ten years.

All that and a billion dollars.

Yet it has always been sort of funny as these poor women have actually thought about it for a long time.

My sister Carrie refers to Bruce as her boyfriend.

My sister-in-law has absolute venom in her heart for Bruce's real wife. Dana can't even look at Patty without feeling rage.

And my wife?

She had never seen Bruce in concert when I met her.

She's now seen him at least 15 times. We were seated behind the stage for one show and I was a little disappointed with the last minute ticket.

"I don't mind looking at his ass for 3 and a half hours," she said.

So Bruce is 64.

That's sort of sad.

From the looks of it he'll only be able to do 4 hour concerts for about 30 more years.

"I hope I'm in that shape when I'm 64," I said.

"No offense," my wife of a whole bunch of years said, "but you ain't ever gonna' be in that shape."

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Square Peg

I was reading a quote from Springsteen the other day. He was speaking about his failures in the school system all those years ago.

Bruce explained that he always felt lost in the classroom and that he knew he wasn't an idiot, but that he just didn't fit in, and he had little interest in what they were trying to make him commit to memory.

He learned more from a 3 minute record than he ever learned in school.

And it got me thinking.

I never struggled much in school.

I was a great reader, a good speller, and I could memorize everything. I always did real well on the standard tests and on the regents exams.

I sort of thought that the people who struggled were in some ways a bit slower.

What a naïve take that was!

As I've moved out into the world I've learned that the way that they measure intelligence in school is sort of slanted away from some really brilliant people.

There are ironworkers and carpenters and laborers and garbage men who have way more smarts in way more situations than I'll ever have.

Certainly Springsteen and Billy Joel and John Steinbeck found their niches long after failing in school.

And each year I hear the complaints from well-respected educators who rage against the fact that they have to administer these tests to all students.

Then I saw a cartoon about seven different animals all being taught on how to climb a tree. Some weren't capable of climbing. Others could fly to the top

The true meaning of it all wasn't lost on me because through the years I've watched all of my children battle it. Matt has flown through as I did. Sam has shown the same sorts of signs of being able to fall in line, but Jake, who is extremely bright, has fought being placed in a box when it comes to what he does and doesn't know.

I'm not sure what the answer might be.

There are people who study such things for years, but as a parent I've sort of been able to gauge my children's strengths and weaknesses in a different sort of light.

"Work hard and success will find you," Bruce said in the same interview, and I certainly believe in that.

Yet Springsteen also spoke of having to overcome what he felt was a label that was placed on him by those who were supposed to encourage the intelligence that he did have.

He spoke of believing that he was, in fact, stupid.

I know one guy who will certainly speak to the content of this blog.

So let me hear it, J.C.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Dog E. Dog

I was driving all across New York State the other day and after visiting the site I decided to get a bit more comfortable for the long drive. I pulled into a parking area along Route 10 in a really small town.

Think a home every mile or so.

The driving area was quiet. There was just one other car there. I saw a guy about the same age as me working on putting down the canvas lid on the back of a broken down, red pick-up truck.

Think Fred G. Sanford's truck.

There were stickers all over the back of the truck.

Pro-gun, Anti-Obama deals.

I was rustling around the back of my truck looking for a pair of shorts I could change into when I felt something wet on my left arm. I looked down to see a hound dog looking like he wanted to jump into the back of my vehicle.

Dogs love me. I patted the top of his head and he wagged his tail.

"Come here, dog!" the guy called out.

"He's not bothering me," I said.

The dog sauntered away.

"Oh, he's limping," I said.

"He's 13," the guy said.

The dog stood between us. I reached my hand out and the dog came near again.

For the next five minutes we spoke of our dogs.

"His name is Dog E. Dog," the guy explained.

"The E stands for what?"

"Elvin. That's my name," the guy said. He extended his hand. We shook hands as the dog went off into the grass. The limp was horrible.

"I'm gonna' really miss him when he's gone," the guy said. "He is my best friend. My wife has been gone just about 13 years. He filled the void."

Normally I might have made a joke in such a situation but I glanced at the NRA sticker.

We chatted about life for a little while. Elvin was a good man. He told me about his struggle to work each day. He talked about his truck breaking down last week and how he fixed it himself. He bemoaned his wife having left.

"Thank God Dog was around."

Dog came back to me. I patted his head again and then watched as he walked around to the passenger side of the truck. Elvin opened the door and Dog's tired legs sprung to life and he jumped into the seat.

"He's a beautiful dog," I said.

"I hope I get ten more years out of him."

I shook Elvin's hand again and said 'so long'. As I drove away I thought about the heartache the man would feel when Dog E. Dog leaves him.

I enjoyed the moment when we connected.

All 3 of us.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Walter White Part II

So we are in season 3 of Breaking Bad. We've watched about 20 episodes in a couple of weeks, and let me tell you, I'm still pretty fascinated with the whole story.

One of the problems in developing characters is being able to sustain them for the entire piece. I taught creative writing for a few years and let me tell you, that was the biggest problem that many gifted writers had.

Yet when you get it right, in your mind, as a writer, the story sort of writes itself. But those characters must be alive.

I wrote Waldorf & Juli back in 1993. 21 years later I would still be able to pick Juli out of a crowd at a Buffalo Bills game.

She was alive.

I was Waldorf, of course, in the story so it was easy to stay true to his character, but as I was writing, I followed the path of the story by knowing what Juli would say in any given situation.

"That's a little crazy," my beautiful wife told me at the time. "She's only in your head."

I bring all this up because I know that the writer of Breaking Bad most likely struggled with plot points, and then was able to punch through them because he had really delivered Walter White.

He made him come alive.

Yet I am still very uncomfortable watching.

And I'm uncomfortable because I find myself imagining our relationships in the characters.

"What if I turned bad?" I asked my wife.

"You don't have it in you," she said.

"That's what they thought about Walter," I answered.

"You bring home that kind of money I'd be telling you to get your ass in the RV and cook."

But that's what makes you uncomfortable.

Doesn't an intelligent person see all the sides of what they are doing?

When you're caught up in something wrong, don't we look for the way to make it right?

Sadly, a lot of people don't.

Walter White is a whole person in the series.

His wife is also conflicted.

His child loves him.

What is odd about my timing with the series is that a lot of people are preparing for the last episode of the entire series, and I'm still trying to meet the new characters. I have to switch the station quickly when the conversation turns to the final episodes.

It's been a helluva' ride so far.

And one of the things about it is that it is really getting my creative juices going.

Will I look for a new character to carry a story?

No offense to the people who smoke crystal meth, but forming the perfect character is a wonderful high.

I still love Juli.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Utter Sadness

Sometimes there is a line in the news that just makes you stop and grieve along with a family who you don't even know.

A young boy died after suffering a head injury in a football game. The kid's photo has been all over the news the past few days and the community is in absolute mourning.

There isn't a parent alive who doesn't feel that pain.

How could there be?

The conversation about possibly playing football lasted less than a minute in our house.

Jake: Can I play football?

Kathy: No.

And I'm not of the mindset to condemn any parent who allows their child to play the game. It's not about whether or not the game is safe to play because there are millions of kids playing it and there is an eye on safety. Hell, even the NFL is addressing it on an annual basis. And there are plenty of other activities that could bring the same sort of pain.

Yet the conversation was my wife's to have. She wouldn't allow the boys to play football. No way in hell.

And my thoughts go back to a conversation that I had with a well-respected pediatric surgeon as I was writing House of Miracles.

"I shake my head when I think about parents allowing their kids to jump on a trampoline," he said.

"We have a trampoline," I said.

"Get rid of it," he answered. "I've seen a lot of sad Dad's who hate that they ever owned one."

Two days later I took it down and put it away as the kids screamed in protest.

"It's broke," I lied.

Yet it has all shifted through the years.

When I was a kid we didn't use helmets when we played sports, or rode bikes. I can remember swinging on a grape vine over a moving creek. The vine always seemed to break and we would laugh at the poor bastard who was swinging on it when it happened.

There was little thought of not playing football.

I also recall being knocked out cold one time while playing hockey on ice. I had been on a break-away. The neighbor kid tripped me. I went out. When I opened my eyes I saw my brother punching the kid who tripped me.

I'm not even sure if I had a concussion.

We never went to the doctor.

But my heart aches for the Mom and Dad and the entire community.

They lost a child.

Nothing will change that fact.

Jake: Why can't I play?

Kathy: Because I said so.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sibling Rivalry

You gotta' love the Manning brothers.

You know them, right?

Peyton, won a Super Bowl with the Colts.

Eli, won two Super Bowls with the Giants.

And Connor, who hasn't won anything known to football fans.

Yet there was a ESPN piece on the three of them as Peyton and Eli lined up to play this past weekend. The special was well done as they spoke with all three of the Mannings along with Mom and Dad.

I couldn't help but smile.

"They were always battling," Archie said. "It used to scare me that they fought so much."

I thought of growing up with my brothers and sisters.

We had some epic battles.

John usually won.

He was the oldest boy, and he wanted to win. And he was strong. What made it worse was that he was fast too.

He'd chase me down and then beat me up.

Except one time.

I thought about that as I watched Peyton and Connor rolling around on the grass as one of the parents shot the video of their fighting.

John had been working in the basement. Unbeknownst to me he was under extreme duress because someone had been playing tricks on him by shutting off the basement lights from the switch at the top of the stairs.

Those of you who read Oh Brother! know just who was doing it.

Yeah, Jeff.

Yet I returned home in the middle of this little battle and I knew nothing at all about the little game Jeff was playing. As I walked by the basement door I noticed the light was on.

So I shut it off.

Moments later John was running up the stairs.

"Who turned the light off?" he screamed.

"I did," I answered.

"I'm gonna' kill you," he responded.

I wasn't about to wait around for the explanation. I headed out the back door and took off across the back yard. I was still a little unsure but I'd seen the look in his eyes.

Despite my head start he was closing in. I headed around the back side of the garage. I was about twenty feet ahead and despite my Olympic like speed he was gaining on me.

So I grabbed hold of the section of scaffold at the back side of the garage and I yanked on it.

About 50 yards later I turned around when I didn't hear his feet hitting the ground behind me.

He was on the ground.

Under the scaffold pole.

I had yanked it down at just the right time, tripping him up.

"You do realize that I'm going to tear your arm off and beat you to death with it," he called.

And all these years later that's what I thought of.

"We were best friends," Peyton said, "but we were also bitter enemies. We got better because of how we got along all those years. We laugh about it now."

And I certainly know what that's like.

We had some epic battles.

"Remember when I pulled the scaffold over on your head?" I asked John recently.

He still seemed a little pissed off.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dead on Arrival

There's no shock anymore when the report comes across the news.

"There's been a mass shooting..."

Now we just wait.

I switched on CNN on Sirius Radio to hear the updates. One of the talking heads spoke of hope and prayers for the victims. Then she reported about a white male in his 60's who was breathing on site but was dead on arrival at the hospital.

Dead on Arrival.

There is no known motive.

And do you know what upsets me more than anything else?

That I didn't feel much at all.

No shock.

Horror for those involved, of course, but no real sense of wonder.

Because it is going to continue to happen.

Again and again and again.

We can't stop it.

We aren't interested in stopping it, apparently.

And I'm sure that no matter who is interviewed, or who is in charge there will be shock conveyed and a lot of hand-wringing, but the problem isn't the guns, right?

Forks don't make you fat.

It's the mental illness, of course, but we can't just strap people up.

We are a free society.

We can't put armed guards on every corner.

There's just a meanness in the world, right?

12 dead on Monday.

Just add them to the list of those who have been senselessly killed.

For no apparent reason.

Our ability to stop it from happening is...

Dead on arrival.

Monday, September 16, 2013

15 & 1

So the Buffalo Bills have their first win of the year.

Many more to come.

As Sam might have you believe.

Before yesterday's game he went over the schedule again.

"I don't see anyone on the schedule who can beat them," he announced.

And that's being a fan for you.

I was able to watch the entire first half of the game alone. Usually I'm napping at that time of the day, but I was sitting with my Mom as she recovers from hip surgery, and she took the nap as her dogs surrounded me in the chair as I watched the game.

(She's one tough lady, by the way. Tougher than any of those overpaid stars).

First off...anyone tells me baseball is boring should be forced to watch that half of football over and over.

Secondly...it seems that football is always settled on a disputed call. The refs are in a circle and the great anticipation of the game comes in the form of what the interpretation of the rules is on any given Sunday.

I swear to God.

I've been watching the game for 40 years and I still don't know what is and what isn't a fumble.

And we all guess along with the dorks they have commentating on the game.

A football game goes like this:

5 second play.

Replay.

Replay again.

Refs huddle.

Replay.

Cut to commercial.

5 second play.

Repeat.

Additionally, there are some morbidly obese "athletes" out there. I swear I saw one 400 pounder heading toward the sidelines and I thought he was going to head straight into the stands for a couple of dogs.

Yet the game went down to the last play and this time the Bills won.

They're one and one.

14 more wins and Sam's pick for the year will come true.

I better order the plane tickets for the game in the Meadowlands in February.

Buffalo's got the spirit.

Talking Proud.

Talking Proud.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Back to the USA


Go figure but I follow a lot of people on Twitter who are super Springsteen fans.

It's funny, but many of them have seen more than 100 shows. Some of them have made contact with Bruce in a lot of different countries and they set up their vacation schedules to visit the same places the band is visiting.

This past week Bruce was playing shows in Chile.

One of his biggest fans posted:

"Come back to the USA. I miss you."

Well, that woman got lambasted by the people overseas who have been waiting over 20 years for Bruce to visit that part of the world.

It was a pretty funny exchange.

Yet I posted this photo because it's a great picture.

The words of a great song are there on the left.

When I saw the photo I thought of the first time I saw Bruce sing it live here in Buffalo. As he shouted out:

"Faith will be rewarded"

He held his right hand high.

We had just watched Jake pull through for our miracle.

I turned to Kathy.

Her right hand was raised high.

And I think of that every single time that I hear the song or read the lyrics.

This train.

Carries the broken-hearted and sweet souls departed.

Faith will be rewarded.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Countdown to May

So...finished up the annual two-day golf event with some good friends.

I missed the event last year because of my torn "labia" as one of my good friends calls it, and I was going this year...no matter what.

I sort of figured it would be an iffy proposition at best, but I made it through okay.

Just okay.

Golf is a rough game. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. There are different shots on each hole. Different challenges mentally and physically.

I can play with the torn labia, but it makes it difficult to sit down afterwards, and of course, some of my massive power is zapped.

Yet the real difficulty in that game for me still happens around the green.

I'm often up there in two or three with an excellent chance to do well...and after performing like "a mentally ill monkey" (as another good friend once pointed out) I'm yelling out curse words.

The weather was sort of weak during this outing - 49 degrees as we started on Saturday - and that's depressing as well - because it's about over now.

We have to sit in our houses until about May.

Yet back to the problem with my putting.

I spent a couple of holes zipping back and forth past the cup. We play at nice courses and the greens were quick and I have just one speed on my putter.

(See monkey note above).

But there was a moment when I rolled one close...close...close...and it stopped just an inch from dropping.

"Story of your life...an inch short," one of my good friends said.

(I need new good friends).

"That's a damn shame," the Grape Ape who went along on the trip said.

And I smiled at that.

Because that was my brother Jeff's line.

If you came real close and didn't succeed he'd shake his head and offer his condolences in the form of deep sarcasm.

"That's a damn shame."

And in the beauty of the course, and in the happiness of being among friends, and yeah, even up on the greens, with the hip causing discomfort it was all worth it.

And you know what?

I hit a good tee shot on 18.

Straight down the middle to leave me 160 yards into the green.

I hit my 2nd shot arrow straight and it found the green about 35 feet from the cup.

I took out my damn putter.

"One time," I whispered.

I rolled it to within 6 feet.

It was a long walk to the ball.

Last shot of the year.

The group who finished ahead of us was watching.

I didn't want someone to yell, "That's a damn shame."

So I rolled it into the cup.

A par on the last hole of the year.

See you in May.

With a repaired hip!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Till Death Do You Part


So what do you think of the happy couple?

This is their engagement photo.

The wedding was heavily attended.

The bride wore white.

They played a song about eternal bliss.

The groom danced with his Mom.

The bride's Dad gave her away.

8 Days later it was all over.

The bride and groom got into a horrific fight.

The fight ended when the bride shoved the groom in the center of his back.

Off a cliff.

To his death.

She ran and told the police that he was missing after going out with his friends.

He left and never came back.

She was so worried.

Please get him back.

But he won't be returning.

The marriage is over.

His life has ended.

She had worried that he loved her more than she loved him.

She didn't mean to do it.

What a sad story, huh?

Don't they look happy there?

When I read the story without the photo I pictured a much more sinister-looking woman.

When she gets out of prison and someone asks her about her first marriage how will she respond?

She pushed him off a cliff.

Dear God.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

I Hate Hospitals

I hate everything about visiting a loved one in the hospital.

From trying to park the car...to the 80-year-old woman at the information desk...to the scent of the place...to the hurried nurses...to the small chairs...to the cramped rooms...to the buzzing...and the beeps...to Ellen on the televisions in each and every room...and most of all...

To seeing someone you love laying in that bed.

I visited the hospital today and all of the trips to all of the hospitals, through the years, came rushing back.

And while this trip to the hospital isn't in a life-threatening situation...

...it is still disconcerting.

While I was roaming the halls trying to find the room, I read all the notices posted on the walls.

There is a great effort to control the germs.

To stop the infection.

To make every single person comfortable.

I sat at the bedside with one thought just plain screaming in my head.

Get out!

Of course, I was sitting in the chair watching my beautiful wife run around the room.

She has a lot of information now.

She speaks the lingo with the nurses and the residents.

She knows what must be avoided for all patients.

She knows what the freaking beeps mean.

She understands why the poor nurses are running around, missing their lunches, aching for a break.

I honestly don't know how any of them do it on a day-to-day basis.

As i hit the front door and made my way back out into the bright sunshine of the day, I took a deep breath.

There was an elderly man trying to negotiate the ramp in his wheelchair. His daughter was beside him.

"I hate this fucking place," the old man growled.

"Me too," I whispered.

Me too.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Held Captive


Check out this photo.

This is actually a decal on the back of a pickup truck.

It's supposed to be funny.

I suppose.

It's a bound and gagged woman in the bed of the truck. The driver has had all sorts of problems as he has been getting pulled over regularly because private citizens are calling to report the abduction.

What state do you think the guy resides in?

(Besides the state of confusion).

Yeah.

Texas.

And at first glance, I thought it was sort of amusing.

That first glance didn't last long.

Ten seconds after my initial snicker, I thought of how it plays for women everywhere. I'm a big fan of women. I have always been surrounded by strong, smart women who have had a true influence on my life.

It's really not funny to bind and gag them and shuffle them around town.

Yet in the back of my mind I kept thinking:

It's just a joke!

There are a lot of people who think we are all way too serious these days and that political correctness is really hurting our ability to communicate.

But what threw me over the edge was my next thought.

What would someone who lost a loved one to a rapist or a sicko think of the joke if they were behind this guy on the freeway?

I'm not big on stickers on the back of my car.

I certainly won't advertise that my kids are honor students (and they have made the honor rolls).

I will not put a sign on the car promoting a presidential candidate. There won't be any Repeal the act signs on my bumper.

I don't think such things do anything other than aggravate the other people out there who don't think like me.

I do have a 27-time World Champion Greatest Team in the History of Organized Sports Yankees license plate holder, but what sane person wouldn't?

I tell you one thing a sane person wouldn't have on the back of his vehicle:

A decal of a bound and gagged woman.

Why would he?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

You Want Your 3-Foot Sub in A Bag?

My Sunday morning grocery trips are sort of ruined when the Bills have a home game that is scheduled to start at 1 p.m.

You see, the best time to grocery shop is around 7:30 or 8 a.m. on Sunday mornings. The aisles are less crowded. There's less of a chance to do the aisle dance with some dopey bastard who puts his cart on one side of the aisle and then searches for cream of moron soup while he stands on the other side.

"Can you get the f&*$k out of the way?" I politely inquire.

Yeah....Sunday mornings...it's the time to get crap done.

But not on Bills home game Sunday.

The parking lot was filled with young men and women in jerseys of so-called stars. A lot of the jerseys were outdated.

I saw a Flutie jersey, a Lynch jersey, a Fitzpatrick, and even a Henry.

(That guy has about a dozen kids with 14 different women and he's in prison, long-term, I think. Would you wear a shirt with his name on it?)

Still, it's all in good fun.

I had great times at Rich Stadium.

(I refuse to call it the Ralph...how pretentious can you be? Naming a stadium after yourself).

Anywhoha....

At the deli counter there were 8 people dressed in New England Patriots jerseys. Young guys. All a tad hungover, it appeared.

I took my number and turned to a kid wearing a Brady jersey.

"So what're you guys doing today?"

He laughed.

"Football!"

"So, who you rooting for?"

He laughed again.

He was trying to read me.

"It's a madhouse there," I said. "Brady isn't real popular in these hear parts. No fighting!" I said.

"Yes, Dad," he said.

"Are you going to the game?" he asked.

This time I laughed.

"It's a young man's game," I said.

I placed my order and he drifted away, but he turned to ask me one last thing.

"Who's gonna' win?" he asked.

"It's gonna' be a long ride home for you guys," I said.

This time we both laughed.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Remember When

I went to a birthday party for a guy who turned 50.

I met him when he was 5.

We spent a lot of time at the party doing the 'Remember When' game.

As kids he used to come by our house to play. There were days when he was only there about 20 minutes. We'd start playing, we'd start acting like crazy kids, and he'd be back in the car on the way home.

He talked about getting a chicken leg taken right from his mouth by our boxer dog, Ricky II, I believe.

We laughed at the time he was included in the swats on the ass administered by my grandmother.

There were a whole lot of laughs.

And there was a moment there where he was talking and his voice sounded just the same as it did back when we were 8 or 9. Same inflections, same countenance, same laugh.

Life is strange.

"Can you believe it? Freaking 50?"

"I feel it," he said. "I played ball with the kids last week. Tough moving around."

"Remember when we'd play football and just line up and run straight into each other. The harder we hit one another the more we laughed."

"It'd be tough to take a hit again."

Through the years we'd all taken plenty of hits.

"Remember when your sister was playing her radio too loud and your Dad was trying to nap?"

I'd forgotten that our friend was over when that happened. There were other people around. I was wondering how the story would go over.

"I remember the song that was on the radio," I said.

The other people were waiting for the story.

"Your Dad got out of bed, opened the door, grabbed the clock radio and threw it through the screen, through the 2nd floor window. He hadn't unplugged it yet so it was just hanging there. Your sister's eyes got as big as saucers, and I remember, your Dad laughed as he left the room."

"And Lou Rawls was singing loud and clear. You'll Never Find," I said.

"How old you think we were?" my buddy asked.

"About ten," I guessed.

"And now we're 50."

"Not me," I said. "I still have 13 months."

My buddy thought about it for a moment.

"I hope someday we can sit back and say 'Remember when we were 50?'"

Amen to that.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Walter White-Part 1

All right, folks.

We are going to have to discuss the Breaking Bad thing as we move along...I'm still very early in...but it needs to come out.

I can't take it that stuff without immediately Breaking it down. 'Cause it's Bad.

In any great production the most important thing is to develop the characters fully. I've always known that in the writing game and while the acting in Breaking Bad is exceptional, we all know that the writers are the really talented people, right?

Remember when everyone was reading that putrid Dan Brown book?

(It was the lack of character development that made me want to vomit!)

I get the characters in this one.

Walter White teaches school.

He should've done so much more.

And while he has a lot to be thankful for it's not enough.

Who can't relate to that?

We all want more, more, more, right?

So he goes the wrong way.

A whole bunch of people do.

We kinda' all have it in us, right?

(Damn...I hope not, but I've always been fascinated by an ability to build with one hand and break it apart with the other).

Think East of Eden.

There are no new stories here, folks.

It's all part of the human condition.

And I'm not sure why the first half dozen episodes that I've watched in season one make me so uncomfortable...

...but they do.

I get Walter's angst. I understand his wife. I love Walter Jr. already. Even his bumbling partner has many redeeming factors.

We all also face with the struggle of our own ending and Walter's hesitation in initially receiving treatments was also plausible.

But the first hurdle for me to overcome is the anxiety I feel when watching the show.

Is that our instinct?

Turn away from the harsh realities we all face?

Hide from some of the true evil that lurks within?

Root for evil?

That's what Walter has sort of made me do so far.

"It gets a lot worse," my one buddy told me.

Am I ready for it?

We shall see, I suppose.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

I Vote No

The horrors of what happened in Syria aren't lost on me.

It's amazing what men do to other men in the name of God knows what.

Gassing 1400 people including 400 children is a heinous act of epic proportions.

And America is built on the premise that we can't turn a blind eye to such atrocities...

...but.

Can we possibly go to war again?

And it's not an Obama thing.

It's a simple question.

What can be done?

Of course, it'd be nice to have people answer the question at face value instead of branching off based on whether or not you hate the man in the oval office because right now he's already in a can't win situation.

If we strike, he's wrong.

If we don't, he's wrong.

The same people will make the argument either way.

That's the way of the political world and I find it interesting because if America does strike the people who usually call for such offensive situations are going to have to make us believe that they were always for diplomacy all along.

And if there is no strike...damn...that's a field day...for those who like to throw the peace-lovers to the wolves.

You see the political problem?

So I'll take my stand.

Don't do it.

Certainly don't do it without careful consideration and voices heard from all over the world.

Don't do it and sell it as a threat to us here. I swear if I hear: "We fight 'em over there so we don't have to fight them here."

That was an inane argument before.

They hate us.

Both sides.

They will hate us even after we help 'em.

I know the people who lost their lives should not be ignored, but we have our own citizens killing our own citizens and we've sort of grown immune to that on a nightly basis.

My vote hardly counts, of course, and really doesn't matter on touchy subjects.

I thought background checks was doable.

So what do I know?

But I do vote no.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Miss Shorty

Weird.

I was stuck in traffic beside a graveyard the other day.

My eyes drifted across the road to a photo on the tombstone.

A black woman was staring back at me, and the photo was really clear. The overweight woman was smiling brightly. A truly wonderful photo of the lady and it was shining brightly in the circular holder.

Estella 'Miss Shorty' Shepherd - 11/12/36 to 11/05/11.

The wait for traffic to clear was eternal. A construction vehicle was attempting to back out of a site onto the road ahead.

I spent a few moments with Miss Shorty. It seemed as if I were destined to be stuck there for a moment on a busy day.

And it was obvious to me that she was well-loved.

A big stone.

That wonderful smile in that clear photo.

Even her nickname on the stone.

Below the dates that she lived were the engraved words:

'The Lord is my Shepherd.'

I glanced back to her surname.

Yeah, that was a fitting verse, I imagine for Miss Shorty Shepherd.

She almost made it to 75.

I thought of the family she left behind.

I imagined her days.

I'm thinking 'Miss Shorty' was a religious gal. I imagined that she was an outstanding cook, a fine mother, a good aunt, a doting grandmother, and that she was quick-witted.

I thought of people stopping by to see her smiling photo and feeling a bit of comfort.

She was right there facing traffic.

Touching the lives of people who never had the chance to meet her.

The lane cleared and we headed off down the road. I was in Rochester somewhere. Near the path where Miss Shorty had walked with her shepherd.

RIP Estella.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Just Thinking

Why does the hair on my eyebrows grow like a weed while the hair couldn't leave my head fast enough?

I swear to God you know it's a problem when the hair from your eyebrows is getting into your eyes. It looks like the freaking Nike swoosh.

Eyebrow hair is weird.

I was watching a movie the other day and the murderer was making the poor slob dig his own grave.

It got me thinking.

How long would he wait there as I did the digging?

After about three hours when I had just barely scraped the dirt away I'm imagining the guy would beat me with the shovel. He ain't waiting 30 hours, you know what I'm saying?

And right there is another pet peeve.

"You know what I'm saying?"

My boys found a show on Netflix - "Trailer Park Boys." I guess it's an older show, but let me tell you, we've laughed. The language in it is horrific, but what's funnier than stringing a good set of curse words together? There's a character in there who is a cartoon character of a rap artist...he's always saying, "You know what I'm saying."

And here's one for you.

I don't swear around my kids. Never have. They don't swear around us much either...even when a single word slips like ass...I call 'em out on it. I never really bought into the crap that what is on television and what games they play can change them. You need to take the time to teach them the difference between fiction and non-fiction, right?

Trailer Park Boys...damn it's funny.

Speaking of which...my beautiful wife and I also found another series on Net Flix. I know we're awful late to the party but we started watching Breaking Bad. I just started so those of you have been watching it for years need to shut up. Of course, I have a feeling I'm gonna' fall way behind real quick. The long weekend gave me a chance to start it, but pretty soon Kathy will be a full two seasons ahead of me.

The fact that Malcolm's Dad is a 50-year old guy is sort of weird though. The other disconcerting item is that he's facing death. It's out there, hopefully well in the distance for all of us, but as we started the show I thought about the one cruel element of it all...that there's a chance that one spouse is going to have to get used to the idea of living without the other.

That sucks.

I know a few young widows. It's a heartbreaking deal. Doesn't really seem right. Last week a story made the rounds about a couple who died within hours of one another. They had been together for better than 65 years. Believe it or not, that's always a heartwarming deal, right?

That's the cruel twist, no doubt.

What else?

Not much.

Just thinking.

About braiding my eyebrow hair.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Comfort Food

There seems to be a real letdown after labor day, doesn't there? The kids are heading back to school and it almost feels like we are going to head into the long, cold months.

We ain't done yet, here.

I actually have one last golf outing planned. I'm gonna' play with a whole bunch of friends in a couple of weeks. I'm hoping the hip holds out.

Yet this past weekend was fun for one simple reason.

We got together and made Italian Sausage.

The lineup has changed over the years, but the recipe is intact and there are still plenty of us willing to put in the effort to get it done.

My brother Jim did much of the leg work again, but when I arrived on Saturday morning the cutting and grinding hadn't even begun.

We got started at 9 a.m.

I labeled the last package at just about 1:30 pm.

130 pounds of the best sausage that can possibly be made.

Yet the thing about the ritual of getting the job done is that there are so many others in the room with the ones who make it there each time.

The lineup this go-around was Jim, Me, Scott and Larry.

We all knew the process. We all took our turn performing some of the tasks.

We made fun of each other.

We told stories of past episodes.

For instance:

I won't ever be a part of the sausage-making party without thinking of my Dad mixing the meat up as an ash burned on the end of his cigarette and fell into the mixture.

Every single time I will think of my Uncle Jim standing off to the side and eating pepper sandwiches as if they were cookies.

There are a million thoughts of Jeff and how he used to get the ball rolling when we needed to re-up the supply. Jim fills that spot, but we are never in the same room - not one of us - without Jeff being right there at the center of our minds.

We talked about John and Chuck not being part of the show this time. Thankfully they will be there when we run out again.

And then the eating.

By the end of the night I sat at the kitchen table with Jim and Larry.

Jim was still eating.

Larry and I were moaning in discomfort.

I had consumed at least a pound of sausage, a half dozen spare ribs, an ear of corn, tomato and cuke salad, and a few salt potatoes.

It was an effort just to talk about the day.

Larry was catatonic.

The labor day effort was in the books.

If the winter comes early there's one thing to remember:

I have sausage.

And that's comforting.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Crazy Wind

Back when I was writing Nobody's Home I had these words written on a piece of yellow paper that I hung on the computer monitor.

The woman in the song was trying hard to break away from a life of abuse.

I'm not sure where the words came from. I found the piece of paper the other day. The next day I heard the song on the radio. A really well-written song. This is for all the women trapped right there.

After the book came out the sister of the woman I was writing about (the woman didn't survive the abusive relationship), called me and wondered how I knew what her sister was going through. (Nobody's Home was based on a true story).

I told her it was a crazy wind.


Crazy Wind by Larry McMurtry

gone off in the pitch-black dark
to work the morning tour
he's halfway to the highway
and he won't be back for hours
his tail lights down the gravel road
you watch them round the bend
nothing's on the TV
but something's in the wind
and it makes you crazy
and it makes you blue
it's a restless feeling
and it's nothing new

listen to the buzzing
of the June bugs and the flies
the sink's all full of dishes
you might just let 'em lie
you might just pour yourself a drink
and sit outside awhile
he won't miss the whiskey
he knows it's not your style
and he don't care enough
to even wonder why
you fight off his fumbling hands
with daggers in your eyes

time sure flies when you're having fun
wasn't it just yesterday you turned twenty-one
does it still matter what you might have done
had you tried

his bird dogs in their wire cage
are barking at the moon
you turn the covers back
and hope the dawn don't come too soon
draw the shades to keep your dark eyes
from the glare of the vapor light
but the sheets are cool and empty
and you won't sleep tonight
with a half moon rising
and a warm gusty breeze
blowing from the southwest
whispering in the trees

the asphalt 'neath the tires
makes a hollow whining sound
and it stretches on forever
through a thousand little towns
with their stores all dark and silent
and their flashing yellow lights
and nobody sees your passing
in the fury of your flight
you'll see them later
some other day
self preservation
what can you say

time sure flies when you're having fun
your mind's all made up now and it's all said and done
flying down the four lane with the morning sun
in your eyes

Monday, September 2, 2013

NFL Predictions - 2013!

So my NFL picks are legendary around our house because if I miss even one of them our resident trash-talker reminds me that I'm a complete moron.

And since I believe the NFL is scripted anyway...I've had to look into the story ideas for this upcoming season.

None of the end of the year scenarios have anything to do with the Buffalo Bills.

Evidently no one circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills.

Who've missed the playoffs like 72 seasons in a row.

Heading for 73.

The AFC East winners: Who else? New England. Just teach the dopes where to stand. New England does it better than everyone else...double or triple murders aside...but hey, who doesn't have a few of those? It's the National Felony League!

The AFC North winners. Cincy is the smart pick, but I'm thinking they'll choke it up. I'll take the stupid Steelers and their rapist QB to rebound.

The AFC South belongs to Houston. I keep waiting for them to turn up in a Super Bowl. Gun to my head I couldn't name three of their best felons.

The AFC West. You don't have to know much about football to know the Manning brothers are good. Plus Peyton makes the funniest commercials. Denver.

The NFC West. You don't have to know much about football to know the Manning brothers are good. Plus Eli already has two rings. Giants.

The NFC North. The Packers, I suppose. Even though it's been kind of a lame couple of years not hearing anything about Brett Favre and the photos he sent to the hot reporters. He'd still outperform the Bills QB's, wouldn't he?

NFC South - Atlanta. But they will evidently lose their first playoff game, right? They're supposed to be good. I've never actually seen them play.

NFC West - This is supposed to have the best two teams. The 49ers and the Seahawks. I lived in SF. So I'll give the nod to the Niners.

Will the Bills get a Wild Card?

Only if they are the first ever 6 & 10 team to make the playoffs.

Another long year, Bills fans.

But the good news is that they won't be firing the coach and GM for at least two years. We won't be looking for the next Jim Kelly until 2015 at the earliest. I'm sold on absolutely nothing other than Clifford Spiller. But he's gonna' miss time this year. Bad knee.

Let's get a good draft pick next year!

I'm not gonna' bore you anymore.

Right to the Super Bowl pick.

49ers over Denver.

There are only about six teams that actually win the Super Bowl.

The Niners are one of them.

The script writers like their story line.

They owe 'em from cheating them last year so the double murderer could go out on top.

Because who doesn't love it when the felon succeeds at the highest level?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

What's the Obsession With Coffee?

Who would've thunk that having a cup of coffee would turn into a national obsession?

I'm not one of those guys who hates coffee. I'll drink a cup, maybe two a day. I usually don't even taste the first one...just drink it down quickly as I'm heading out the door. I may stop for another at mid-morning, but let me tell you, I'm not obsessed.

Damn.

We have Tim Horton's up here.

On every single corner.

The line to the drive-thru usually snakes around and out the driveway until it interferes with traffic on the road.

I'm not waiting in line for coffee.

So I usually get out of the car and pour that second cup myself at a 7/11.

That isn't easy either.

There are 72 kinds of coffee.

It takes me five minutes trying to find the regular.

Blueberry coffee?

Coffee with whipped cream?

Why don't you just order pancakes?

It always takes me another five minutes to find the friggin' lids.

I like mine regular. No sugar, but milk. Just milk. No flavored syrup. No creme brulle creamer.

Around our house there's a real crisis brewing when we are low on the French Vanilla creamer.

My beautiful wife drinks it.

My daughter Matt drinks it.

A few weeks ago I was at the fridge at Wegman's. I lifted a big jug of creamer out because I do most of the grocery shopping because I'm a wonderful husband.

An elderly lady watched me put the creamer in the cart.

"Do you know how bad that is for you?" The lady asked. "You really should get half and half."

I did my usual gig when I'm taking unsolicited advice from total strangers.

"Why don't you mind your own business, dude?"

(I'm serious. I called her dude).

"Just trying to help," she said.

I smiled.

Mrs. Kravitz walked away in a huff.

(I hope the older folks get that reference).

Anywhoha...back to the coffee....

Why do they serve it so freaking hot?

Have you ever bought a coffee and had to wait a half an hour to drink it?

Who the hell wants a coffee a half an hour from now?

McDonalds does that. I ordered a coffee from their drive-thru one day and asked the lady in the box to put a couple of ice cubes in it to cool it down.

I started driving away before I looked at it.

The dumb bastard had filled the cup with half ice and half coffee.

I rifled the cup off the wall next to the window and drove away.

You see what happens when the coffee order is wrong?

I felt like yelling out my window:

"I said a couple of cubes, DUDE!"

Fun While It Lasted

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