A walk down “the Ave”

I’ve been thinking about my Dad quite a bit lately. Much more than usual. It occurred to me recently that I am finally becoming, after many years of disappointing him, the person he wanted me to be. He never actually said it in words, but through various conversations that come to me in the middle of the night, I pieced together the causes behind his relentless criticisms (it can be argued that they were warranted) of my overall character. He had a clear vision of what he wanted me to be, not do, in life that he would be proud of. He wasn’t interested in wealth or status. He had a different vision for my continuation of the family legacy, and that is to do better than those that preceded us. That is what he did, and all of the times that he verbally chastised me for goofing off, being foolish with money, acting badly, and not showing ambition or looking to the future was out of fear that I would take the family name backward. He single-handedly rewrote the family story. And in the process, he created a wonderful legacy for himself. He will forever be known as a kind, humble, hard-working, honest man to all that knew him. I am sad to admit that for some time, I wasn’t all of those things. I always worked hard and I always tried to be kind and honest and humble but I could have done better. At this point in my life, I make it a priority to commit to all of those things as if my very life depended on them. I believe my father is with me and he needs to see that. It was important to him that his only son didn’t squander or discredit his good name.

My father did not have it easy as a boy. His parents would have had to get two raises to just be poor. They lived on Railroad Ave, a small, dead-end dirt road that contained the most decrepit houses in town, oddly not in the worst part of town. My grandfather had a steady job but it didn’t seem to go far. He was knocked out of the workforce early due to Emphysema and that certainly made matters worse. I never saw the house my father grew up in, it was torn down before I could, but two houses down was the house my Aunt and Uncle raised my 6 cousins. I spent a good portion of my childhood in that house and it was a mess. Sadly, it wasn’t even warm with love. The Husband made sure of that.

Life on Railroad Ave was a tough existence. For everyone but my father, it didn’t change much financially. My Aunt never caught a break financially, saddled with an abusive and underachieving husband and not much money. Fortunately, he died young and she was able to marry a nice man. He was wonderful to her but didn’t add much to the finances. My father’s other sister had a mild disability that she nursed for everything it was worth and never worked a day in her life. Her only accomplishment was caring for my very ill Grandfather in their squalid apartment until he passed. My Father affectionately referred to her as “useless”. His brother died in prison. I never met him and I’m glad. From what I understand he was a tremendous bully and very cruel to my father. My father hated him, so badly that he refused to go to his funeral. My father was committed to getting off of Railroad Ave as fast as he could and he worked his ass off to do so. He worked many jobs and took any opportunity to move up. He joined the Army and gained the necessary skills to further himself.
Fast forward to my birth in 1965. While in the National Guard he was married, owned a house, and had a Union job.

My dad loved his family and my childhood is full of memories of time spent on Railroad Ave. He was fine to visit there, but he was proud to have moved out. I’m sure that the Ave, with its dirt road riddled with potholes and crumbling houses, was a bittersweet reminder that he had done a little better than those before him. One thing I can say with all the confidence in the world is that his days on the Ave would forever influence him in every way. Those influences are also a huge part of who I am today.


Dahmer

“Jeffrey, please stop having your friends over for dinner. They’re tasteless.”

Last night I completed the Netflix series Dahmer. It was worth the watch.
I will watch anything that Ryan Murphy is part of. The casting of the phenomenal Evan Murphy of American Horror Story fame was spot on. He nailed the character. It was a nuanced performance, if not a factually flawed interpretation of a story that gripped and horrified a nation, and possibly the world from the day of his arrest to his violent demise several years later. I am unfazed by the inconsistencies, someone who knows the case as well as I will naturally catch it, most would not. And at the end of the day hey, it’s Netflix, not Ken Burns, it’s to be expected.

I suppose that I may as well get it out there, not unlike a staggering amount of people nationwide, I am an avid fan of anything to do with Serial Killers.

I was pleased to see this morning that it was the # 1 rated show on Netflix. I was also not surprised to see that Fox News ran a sequence on the controversy surrounding its popularity. I was expecting this. Whenever a dramatization or documentary about Bundy, Gacy, Kemper, etc., is released, and Netflix is guilty of a lot of content recently, it always generates a visceral reaction. The same questions/dilemmas are always posed,

Are we glorifying the killer?

Are we being unfair to the families of the victims?

And is it appropriate to continue making such content as opposed to letting the lore die a much-deserved rest?

All I can say is that yes, sometimes the Killers are painted in a sympathetic light. That can be merely a matter of perspective or in some cases a fact. In the case of Dahmer, I do not believe that he was painted as a sympathetic figure. I found him quite repulsive and very ill. Yet as a human being and a student of behavior the backstory that caused the man to perform the truly unspeakable acts that he committed is fascinating and from a research perspective invaluable. That is the appeal of Serial killers…what made them do it? Is it any different than questioning how Hitler was able to get an entire country to sit and watch as he extinguished millions of lives? It’s not the gore, it’s the why. So if you think it’s wrong on many levels then ask yourself is it as wrong as the people who send fan letters to these animals, offering their undying support and devotion? There are WAY more of those people than any decent person wants to think about.

It can also be argued that it is unfair to the families of the victims. I can only imagine that they don’t appreciate the rehashing of the most heartbreaking event of their lives. But let’s not pretend that they’ve forgotten it only to be reminded when Netflix releases a special. To its credit, the series did a respectable job of portraying the victims in a tragic light. In fact, almost half of one episode was dedicated to just one of the 17 victims, a very nice, bright young man with a promising future. His death was an absolute tragedy, as were the rest. His family was also discussed at length and the result was to tastefully illustrate how senseless and horrific the taking of his, and the others, lives really was. By delving into the families, it powerfully drove home the magnitude of their loss. Much consideration was given to the profound and devastating effect that Dahmer had on their futures. I think everyone, myself included, needed to see that. These were not just numbers, they were people.

As for the appropriateness of making such content…it will never go away. People want to see it. People want to know the Why’s, the How’s, and the Who. It is our nature to be curious. I can only speak for myself, but I’m not fascinated because I am an aspiring serial killer. I watch it because I don’t get it and I want to.

I’m sure that the motivations vary but I do know that we are fascinated by monsters. All serial killers are monsters and Dahmer was one of the worst. It was Scooby Doo that taught us that in the end, the real monsters are people.

Childhood and money

Have you ever been asked the question, “Would your childhood have been different (is that to say that you would be different?) if you had more money as a kid?”
Now, those of you that were raised in a wealthy family you can sit this one out. Myself, and everyone in my neighborhood, definitely were not. But here’s my answer.
I don’t know.
Well that was anticlimactic…
All I can say is that I never felt like I was in need of anything. As I stated in a earlier blog, I wouldn’t change my parents or my childhood at all, for anything.

I naturally led myself down this road of thought when I wrote about the varied and positive influences of my childhood, courtesy of 4 great role models; my mother and father and my grandparents on my mother’s side. I feel terrible saying this, but my fathers parents didn’t play a large role in my upbringing. But the rest of his family sure did, while they weren’t influencers they sure had an impact on my childhood and it was mostly a negative one.

Let’s look at the players and tie it in to the subject at hand.

My Grandparents on my mother’s side were born during WWI, graduated High School during the Great Depression, met during the booming ’30s only to go through WWII; money was never a major factor in their lives, nor were they fazed by the constant lack of it. They were conditioned to make do with very little. I knew them, from the earliest memory, to live a simple lifestyle and had few indulgences. My grandmother wanted little more than a decent home to live in. My grandfather liked a new car (never too fancy) every few years and he liked watches, also never too fancy. Oddly, despite their small home and frugal lifestyle they saved very little money. I was surprised to learn this, considering my grandfather was always working. Perhaps it is because my grandmother never worked after he came home from WW2.
Consequently my mother was very much like her mother when it came to money. She made her own clothes, even as an adult and liked to live simply.
She taught me well not to waste even though I thought it was a bit overboard to sew holes in socks and put patches on jeans. Fortunately for me patches became a fashion trend in the 70’s.



Generations

I am Generation X. I was born one year after the Baby Boomers. Gen X was followed of course by the much-maligned Gen Y, or Millennials. Without painting broad strokes about future generations, the reason for the generational mention is to paint the picture of the people I spent my formative years around. In addition to being fortunate enough to absorb the values of their generations, respectively (which I will delve into shortly), but my parents and grandparents were strong even for their generations.

I was raised during an era of political and societal upheaval. The late 60’s and early 70’s were marked by war, political scandal, youth finding their own voice, and a clash of generations. My family was very tight and traditional, and my Grandparents were around quite a bit and their old-school ways greatly impacted my earliest memories.
My Grandfather was a WW2 Veteran, a Navy SeaBee. He saw a lot of action. As many of his eras did, he dutifully volunteered to serve.. He was a lover of God and Country. His values defined him. Beneath his jovial appearance was a fiercely protective and serious man.
My Grandmother was as rigid as a soldier as she held down the household in his absence. They were both young adults during the Great Depression and “waste not want not” was the rule of the day. While my Grandfather had had a fairly normal upbringing, not rich but not poor, my Grandmother lost her parents very young as was raised by her Grandparents. They were strict and frugal and very tough on her and her siblings. The harsh childhood emanated from every pore.
My Father was also Military. He served during the Vietnam conflict but as he was to be sent to Southeast Asia I was born and kept him Stateside. He was a very hard-working and decent man whose upbringing, as was my Grandmother’s, emanated from every pore.
My mother, God bless her, was half a hippie. She never went to San Francisco or did mind-expanding drugs, but she was all about the empowerment of women, youth, and rejecting the Patriarchy.

What’s the point you may ask…well look at the influences I was exposed to. Patriotism, frugality, family, gratitude, simplicity, living within your means, and resiliency. Add to the mix 4 backstories that would make anyone take pause and you have a cocktail for a great childhood. To this day I thank God for the values I was taught and for the wisdom I was blessed to be on the receiving end of. The fact that I didn’t appreciate it then is an oft-regretted thought.

As they say, wisdom is wasted on the young, and I didn’t apply what I was taught as I tried to find my own way. Now, on the Back Nine, I recognize the greatness of their stories and work relentlessly to incorporate them into my life.

influences…

I wouldn’t change my Mom and Dad for anything in the world. They were great parents. My dad was a hard-working guy that did everything for his family. He had a terrible childhood and his reaction to it was to do better. Through hard work he rewrote the family legacy and became the only successful child in his family, and his siblings resented him for it. By success, I mean that he got a good job, bought a house, and planned for his future. He was a blue-collar guy that believed in work ethic and integrity. He didn’t care about how green the grass was on the other side of the fence. He cared about his yard.

My mother had a very different upbringing. While my dad was left largely to fend for himself in the hardscrabble section of town, my mother was under the umbrella of a very protective mother that tried to shelter her from the aspects of life what my dad would call an average Tuesday. Her parents were wonderful people and were a major influence in my life. My dad’s parents were less of an influence. His mother died when I was five and his dad was ill from emphysema for as long as I could remember and died when I was in High School.

Despite their very different backgrounds, there were a lot of similarities. While my dad was poor, my mother’s family had a better home in a better neighborhood. But the heads of both households were blue collar guys. Mom was an only child; Dad had several siblings. Obviously, many kids equal less household disposable income. The fact that my grandfather didn’t spend all of his money on booze and cigarettes made a difference as well. Mom’s father immediately accepted and respected my dad. He recognized the hard worker with integrity and what that brought to the table. They would share a wonderful bond as in-laws and friends. Mom’s mother treated my dad as she did all of her suitors and friends, as if he wasn’t good enough for her daughter. But she would grow to love and, perhaps more important, to respect him as well.

The commonality of the four is that they were all strong as hell. That strength permeated the dynamic that I would grow up with and it was unique and special. I didn’t know it at the time, it was just my life. But later in life, with life experience and access to the stories of others I recognized that I was fortunate enough to not only have 2 generations of good, decent and honest people to spend time with, but also the perspective of their experiences. Never has that evidenced itself than now.

more to come…

Food for thought

There is no limit to the stupidity of content on Social Media. From posts asking you if you remember your phone # or address from your childhood (an obvious attempt at identity theft) to the idiotic “everyone’s first job was at McDonalds, prove me wrong”. I don’t understand why anyone would comment on them but hey, that’s just me. One that has caught my attention recently is the “would you want your father (mother, sister, etc.) to be your father if you could do it over again?” On these, I immediately hit the comments. It is incredible how many people say no.

As it turns out, a silly FB post stimulated me a bit. I can’t begin to imagine a scenario in which the foremost influences in my life would be held in such poor regard? This interests me because I am a person that believes that good or bad, your experiences made you who you are and, in addition, it’s a waste of time to think about the past because you can’t change it.

I suppose if I had horrible parents, and was mistreated in some way that resulted in a traumatic childhood that left me a damaged and dysfunctional adult then maybe my thinking would be different. On that, I honestly can’t relate and will reserve judgment. But I still found a takeaway in the comments section, it made me think about my childhood.

After all, it all comes down to the childhood, doesn’t it?

Even if I could, I wouldn’t change a damn thing about mine. No revisionist thinking taking place here. I think I’ll dedicate a few posts to it.

On selfishness

self·ish[ˈselfiSH]
ADJECTIVE

  1. (of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure:
  2. “I joined them for selfish reasons”

One of my least favorite aspects of human nature is demonization. I don’t know if it is inherently human to seek ways in which to feel superior to others but it is absolutely everywhere you look. Racially, politically and socially we make assumptions and cast aspersions in order to well, let’s call it what it is, to feel better about ourselves. We call each other racist, rich, poor, spoiled, uncultured, and any other labels that seek to classify and denigrate others. One that has been sticking in my figurative craw is selfish.

It never ceases to amaze me how people, and this is a behavior that I suspect is here to stay, are compelled to compare value systems as if theirs and only theirs is the right one. How they have to weigh in on the way others live their lives. My take on this is simple and oft-heard. To each his own. If someone is happy, not bothering anyone, and not harming children and animals then I don’t care what they do or how they live their life. That extends to the extent of time and effort expended in the pursuit of their own interests.

Ayn Rand, the much-maligned Russian novelist known for strong and controversial opinions noted in The Virtue of Selfishness,

“In popular usage, the word ‘selfishness’ is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends . . . and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.
“Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word ‘selfishness’ is concern with one’s own interests.
“This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.”

The long and short of it is that I think it’s ok to look after yourself. There are many popular euphemisms surrounding it;
You must take care of yourself before you can take care of another…
Put your oxygen mask on first…
Take a breather…
You can’t pour from an empty cup…

All of these allude to the notion that at some point you must come first. I find it to be a valid concept, especially if you are a person who dedicates a considerable amount of personal resources to the assistance of others. Yes, take care of yourself first. But what if you are a person who does the bare minimum, or maybe nothing at all in the service of others? Is it acceptable to villainize them for looking after their own needs only?

There are many people who, not out of contempt for charity or out of deliberate disregard for others, simply dedicate their lives to the pursuit of their own interests.

I believe every person has a purpose in life. Many people feel as I do and they strive for that purpose in building a career, growing or creating a business, and working towards countless goals. There are too many to list. But bottom line, they are comfortable enough worrying about their own lives. I don’t condemn people for this. The reason one person stands out as giving and generous and selfless is because there are plenty of people who are not. It’s just how we are wired as individuals and it is not always something that can be changed. Or villainized.

No person is more villainized along those lines than the person who has the brave audacity to admit in a crowded room that they don’t want children. I feel for these people because they are constantly forced to justify it. They are challenged;
“Don’t you want to carry on the family name…?”
“What about the joy of creating life…?”

The list goes on. It’s especially bad for women. It’s as if it comes down to the fact that because they are able to conceive then they must. How Catholic. It is perfectly valid, especially in 2022, to not want to bring a child into this world.
Parenthood isn’t for everyone. There are a lot of BAD parents out there. There are also a lot of children that are born into despair and poverty with little hope for survival, never mind a future. Raising a child is prohibitively expensive, physically and emotionally draining, and requires complete and total commitment. As I always said, once you have a child your life is no longer about you. It is not something that everyone can even do. Recognizing that and choosing not to make the leap is perfectly ok. It doesn’t make you selfish.

Selfishness can be a bad thing and I’m not defending it. But not everyone who is focused on their own life and goals is necessarily a bad person. In many cases a person is barely able to handle their own life, never mind assisting others. The term is used as yet another harmful and judgmental label. To me, it flies directly in the face of a saying that I believe should be in the Declaration of Independence…

“Live, and let live.”

Hot summer days

I miss those hot summer days
Basking in the sun’s rays
Always outside, even when skies were grey
The knock on the door…
Can Billy come out to play?
Cops and robbers in the yard
My shins and elbows were always scarred
Streetlamps were my curfew
Go home already? There’s still stuff to do
Wax bottles and candy cigarettes
Eight-tracks and mix-tape cassettes
Hot afternoons in the pool
Mirrorshades, trying to look cool
Sleepovers at summer camp
Motocross bikes, let’s jump that ramp
Swimming and fishing
Shooting stars and wishing
Cool lakes to dive in
The Saturday night drive-in
Talking to my first cutie
Worried about getting cooties
Bad music and One-hit wonders
School dances and social blunders
First day of school, new clothes and sneakers
My first Hi-Fi with the big speakers
The sound of the crack of the bat
My very first Red Sox hat
The first day of tryouts
Please don’t make a flyout
The ground ball heading to first
Missed it. I’m the worst

Those days were the best
I just didn’t know it
Let me go back
This time I won’t blow it
I don’t want to play adult
Tell Zoltar to stop winking
I wanted to be Big
What was I thinking?
I miss my old house
I miss my first dog
I miss not worrying
About every damn thing
I miss feeling good
rugged and strong
I feel like I lost my joy
I used to be a happy boy
My longevity is fleeting
I’ve taken a beating
I’m tired of this, my downward phase
I want to go back to those hot summer days

It’s not about you

I hate to admit this because we alpha’s, even the neurotic ones, but I have been fixated on the ex lately. I’ve mentioned it before but not in great detail. I’ve also said that I need things to make sense; in this case, the two are related. In a nutshell, her behavior during our breakup really bothered me, but her behavior post-breakup doesn’t make sense to me. Herein lies my conflict. On top of being heart-broken, I’m confused. And it bothers me.

In the end, she just pushed me away. It’s as if one day she just turned. It was crushing for me, I had a powerful connection with this woman. More powerful than I had felt with anyone including my wife. That was the hardest part. Or so I thought. But when I reached out a couple of months later she was totally unresponsive. She wouldn’t even respond to a text. This infuriated me and in addition I was then confused. She dumped me but we were civil about it. I fixated on it because the long and short of it is that this behavior makes no sense to me. I should be the one hating her. Yes, I know that I don’t like anyone to dislike me. That’s my curse and I will have to deal with it. But I couldn’t think of any reason why she would. Finally, I got her to reply to a text asking her for some personals back. She wanted to coordinate with my daughter, who she had a Facebook friendship with, to get my things to me. I thought this was fucking childish and really put me in a mood. She can’t be an adult and face me? What the hell.

I confided in a friend and he said something that really helped. He told me that she was doing me a favor. I pressed him on this. He said maybe it’s not about me.
He asked if I loved her. I said yes and no. He asked if I would go back with her. I told him absolutely not, not after seeing this side of her. He said it’s not about you, it’s about her. For whatever reason, she doesn’t want to engage with you. It could be that she has regrets and doesn’t know how to handle it and doesn’t want to put herself in a situation she can’t handle. That was the most appealing option to me…not going to lie. Option B, he explained, was that she is just an asshole and I’m better off. Also appealing. It made absolute sense to me when my daughter said almost the exact same thing a day later without my mentioning any of the conversation I had with my friend.

I still have feelings for her. Or maybe I cling to the idea of her and how she made me feel. But the takeaway is that, after her juvenile bullshit she really pissed me off. I’ll take anger over grief any day of the week. I can process anger, I really struggle with loss. I’d be lying if I said I was over her, but I’m getting closer. I know I’m a good guy. Sure, I struggle just like anyone else with the challenges of relationships but I know that I have value and I deserve to be with someone who appreciates me.

I guess that’s as much healing grace that I am going to get here. That and the understanding that it’s not always me.

A much needed reminder

How are you don’t lieInstead of heading straight downstairs to find a seat for dinner I asked my Brother John to save me a seat. I knew many people at the event but I always prefer to sit with close friends at these events and for some reason, one which will reveal itself at the end of this post, I wanted to sit with John. I can’t put my finger on it but for some reason, we really click. He agreed and I went outside to clear my head and put on my “everything is fine” face. I knew that I would be asked how I was doing by many. My health history is well known and it is a blessing and a curse that many inquiries regarding my progress are made. I needed to be ready. You see, it is my opinion that for some the greeting “How are you?” is generic at best. But among my brethren they really mean it. And they know me, I have famously said “fine” to the greeting hundreds of times when I was anything but. A true friend would push and ask for the truth. That night, it was going to be difficult to satisfy those people because despite my robust physical appearance, I was bearing the weight of the world. Someone was going to call me on it.

The walls really were closing in on me. I was beating myself up over leaving my first Insurance Job. Three weeks in I was being pushed too hard and trained too little and despite my Herculean efforts to learn and apply TONS of information from Licenses to Certifications they weren’t happy with my progress and we parted ways. It really isn’t a huge deal career-wise. It wasn’t a good fit and I wasn’t contracted yet. Still, I felt like a failure, as I am prone to do. I was miserable. On top of that, I was disgusted and upset that my recently-broken-up-with ex-girlfriend didn’t have the decency to even text me after I drove over an hour out of my way to give back some belongings. Why would she be so childish and angry with me after she dumped my ass? She broke my heart and n top of reeling from that, now I have to wonder about this? I was consumed and my mind was racing. I shook it off and went inside.

I joined John and a few other good friends for dinner. It really was a tremendous set up. The room was full of well-dressed happy people. The decorations were lovely, the food was amazing and the bar was open. As expected, many inquiries were made about my health. I think I fooled all of them. Then John says to the whole table, hand resting on my shoulder, “Bill has the most amazing attitude. He is the most determined, optimistic and cheerful guy I’ve ever met. He’s been through so much and he keeps dusting himself off. He’s an inspiration to me.” Everyone at the table offered up similar sentiments. I gratefully acknowledged them and thanked them profusely.
Then it hit me.
There was the reason I had felt compelled to sit with John that evening. Because I was destined to hear that. Not for the praise, despite how flattering and humbling it was. No, it was a REMINDER to stop spiraling down the drain of negative thinking and remember that I have survived so much big and important shit in my life that I can’t let a couple of setbacks get me down. Somehow I had lost my mojo but John’s words snapped me right out of it. To Hell with the heartbreak, it’s her loss. To Hell with the job, it wasn’t the right company but I’ve still got the license and I will use it. To Hell with negativity in general, I needed to get back on track.

I know this is hard for some people to believe, but sometimes things really do happen for a reason. I was at an absolute low and by the end of dinner, I was actually in a decent place. I can’t begin to understand how it happened that quickly, but I can’t deny that it happened.

Today, I’m not 100%. I still miss her terribly and I still wish the job had turned out better. But neither of them are getting me down. And for now that is good enough.