the son of a thief

This is part of a small series but it can also stand on its own. If you would like to catch up it would honor me, the first post is called Inconspicuous absence, the second the 4th of July, the third is called The sewing machine and the curio cabinet.

A year into middle school my Uncle died. He came home shitfaced one night, began yelling at everyone in sight, when he collapsed on the floor. A massive aneurism had gone to his brain. I’d be lying if I told you that I wasn’t elated at the news.

now that you’re caught up, here we go…

It was difficult for me to reconcile my feelings when my uncle died. I hate to say it, but yea…elated covers it. I was a mixed-up 13 year old kid and I lacked maturity. I was relieved that a man that I hated out of personal experience and a steadfast devotion to my father (and the truth) was gone. I was happy at the prospect of being able to see my cousin and hang out on Railroad Avenue again. Unfortunately, I had only considered my angle. My selfishness had clouded my judgment. I hadn’t considered how my cousin felt about it.

All of my cousins were devastated. To this day I struggle with reconciling how powerful the paternal bond is and how they could love a man like my Uncle. The comparison’s are easy, I just had to compare him to my own father. My Uncle was mean, violent, closed off and capable of some pretty white-trash shit; my father, who was not much better off financially, was kind, pleasant and a very decent man. That aside, my cousins were grieving. Little did I know that part of their grief would be to “dig in” on the lie. I would soon find out that I still wasn’t welcome on Railroad Ave.

I was the unwelcome son of a thief.

My mother had a theory, which she shared with me during a moment of despondence. Jealousy. My father, and this is not an opinion, was the only success story in the family. Margie married a poor man with little earning potential and remained in the poor home with uneven floors and plastic on the windows that she, Ellie and Dad grew up in. Ellie was destined to live with her parents forever. Dad, on the other hand joined the military, got a good job when he got out, married his high school sweetheart and bought a house. In support of her theory, she told me that we were regarded as “lucky”, and “the rich ones”. I found this amusing, we were stable and I never wanted for anything, but we were lower middle class at best.

I saw Mike at school. He took the loss of his father really hard and I left him to it. I don’t think he fully understood my contempt for his father and when he talked of him it was all I could do to put on a fake and sympathetic face. It was a tough time for me as well. I thought that once the Wicked Dick of the West was gone, everything would be great. That was not to be the case. Even if Mike welcomed my family on Railroad Ave, the rest of the family did not.

The 4th of July

This is part 2 of a series. It can stand on it’s own or you can honor me by checking out yesterday’s post

Railroad Ave

My home town was incorporated in 1853 but the area was first settled in 1651. The building that is now the Town Hall has an enormous carved granite plaque on its walls dedicated to its founding fathers. My family is represented by 4 brave men, 3 of which died in the Civil War. Equally represented on the wall are the Smith’s (not their real names).

My family was always a presence in town, the Smith’s spread out all over Metropolitan Boston as aggressively as they proliferated in town. It was only inevitable that the two families would one day merge.

In the late 1940’s my Grandparents on my father’s side, along with a few cousins all moved to an uninhabited stretch of land along the abandoned Railroad tracks behind the Fire Station. It was an undesirable lot of land in many ways. On either side of the tracks was wetland that was prone to flooding every Spring. The ground was soft and needed to be fortified to build on. The insects were abominable in the summer. The Fire whistle on the nearby station was devastatingly loud. But the prospect of one family owning a whole street was attractive. Despite the family legacy of my family in town, we weren’t a family of wealth or influence. We were poor. 4 modest dwellings soon went up as 3 cousins I barely knew, and my Grandparents set up residence.

Railroad Avenue was born.

By the time I was born in 1965 my Grandparents had long since moved to the other side of town. Grandpa was forced into early retirement, sick with Emphysema from a lifetime of smoking cigarettes. He wasn’t able to afford the maintenance of a house. Ellie, my father’s youngest sister moved with them and assumed the role of caretaker. Her other sister Margie took over the house with her new husband, my uncle John and would have 6 children. My father had moved out when he joined the Army in 1960.

My parents purchased a home barely 2 miles from Railroad Ave in 1964. Dad was an Oil Burner repair man/Oil delivery driver for a fuel company that coincidentally marked the entrance to Railroad Ave. He would work there until it closed in 1970. Until that point, my earliest memories consisted of my mom and I meeting him after work and walking down Railroad Ave where we would hang out with my cousins. It was a happy time for me, my earliest memories are of playing with my youngest cousin Mike, who was my age. Learning to ride a bike on the puddle-ridden dirt road of Railroad Ave remains one of my happiest moments. The many cheers of the large group of beloved family members still echo in my head. This would be indicative of most warm summer days of my childhood. Until July 4th, 1974 when it all came crashing down.

July 4th was a standing holiday on Railroad Ave. Despite being avid campers in the summer we were always there. Family and friends showed up with coolers of beer, armloads of food and enough fireworks to level the town. For nine-year old me, it was the best day of the year. We ran around like heathens, played wiffleball and watched the legendary horseshoe tournament that almost always came down to my dad and one of my older cousins.

On this particular 4th of July the horseshoe tournament was interrupted by my uncle John, who came tearing out of the house yelling for my father. When he located him, he pushed my dad and began screaming about how my dad “stole it.” When pressed for details and a rational explanation he continued to attempt to fight my father, who fended him off admirably. A shouting match ensued, sides were taken and the day was inexplicably ruined for all. Once it was determined that my drunk Uncle was not to be calmed down by anyone, I was grabbed by the arm and we quickly left. I had absolutely no idea what had happened but what I did know was that it wasn’t good.

I certainly didn’t know that it would be the most formative moment of my childhood.

Patience

I’ve never been described as patient. Now, its all I can be.

I want to get out and enjoy Spring. It’s my favorite season. I can go outside finally. But I can’t go anywhere where there are people. This virus is really fucking up my Spring. And maybe my summer and fall. But there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.
Patience.

I’m officially on the transplant list. The typical wait time is 3-6 years. I have been on dialysis for 20 months. I get credit for those. Still, I have 1-4 years unless I get a donor. Transplants are postponed, like everything else in the world until further notice.
Patience.

I met a woman. She’s the total package. Attractive, smart, funny, and fun. We got off to a rough start but I was lucky enough to get a second chance at a first impression. She had me firmly entrenched in the “friend zone” until I clawed my way out.
She’s great. But she is hesitant to put a toe in the cold water. I guess I’m the cold water in this scenario. It’s not me, it’s every guy she’s gone out with before me. I can’t say if they are good or bad but I don’t think they did right by her. She needs that and I wonder if she knows what it is like to be treated nice. I’ll show her if she lets me. It will take work. And time. I think we’re going to be great when the walls come down. Until then…

Patience

the middle of the road

It’s hard at my age to make change. But I’m working on it. I’ve reluctantly acquired the ability to look at myself with a critical, honest eye and I’ve had some success. My biggest challenge of late has been open-mindedness and I’m happy to say that I am really breaking down barriers.

A big one for me is my, for lack of a better word, politics. “Politics” is a funny word. Many shy away from it as if it was a civics course with a required grueling exam.
“I don’t talk politics.”
“Ugh, I don’t get it.”
“I don’t care about politics, it doesn’t affect me.” That one is my favorite.
To me, politics is current events. Knowing what is going on in the world. Being present as if my lone, infinitesimal opinion matters. Understanding the human element as it pertains to world events. It’s a game, really. But I believe that it affects all of us and knowledge of it is critical to our existence. Politics matter.

While nothing is cut and dry in the world I believe most people, at some point pick a side. Our personalities often play a large role in which direction we lean. The problem as I see it is that people feel that they must pick a side. In today’s charged political environment many have become entrenched.

There was a day, not that long ago that it was ok to think what you want and support who you choose and discourse was possible. We could agree to disagree. At some point we have lost that. The climate has gotten angry, intolerant even violent. Couples have broken up over who won an election, people have been attacked in public places for wearing a hat. Elected officials have publicly called for violence against those who disagree with them. Hate is in the air.

I got caught up in it. The attacks on social media, the anger, the intolerance and the name calling caused me to feel as if it was personal. I picked a side and I dug in. Forgetting that it’s ok to walk the middle of the road.

It’s a good place to walk, just don’t allow yourself to get hit. Of course, I’m speaking metaphorically.

Somewhere along the line I forgot that it was ok to not react. To think before I spouted an opinion. To not take a side. I forced myself to read blogs by people who are polar opposites of me politically. I tuned in to networks that lean differently than I do. I made an effort to challenge myself and encouraged others to challenge me. I found myself gritting my teeth at times but I’m a nicer person for it, and that was my goal. None of the anger made my life any better.

My father always said that nothing is ever simple, that everything has a story. In this day and age of soundbites and misinformation it is easy to forget that. Books have been placed by YouTube videos and everyone has a digital pulpit to speak. The question I have to ask is “is it true?” Then and only then should I react. React to what is right, not what aligns with whatever side I have chosen. Critical thinking is a God-given gift that I for one failed to open.

I don’t know. Let me look into it and get back to you. I’ll think about it as I walk down the middle of the road. That’s where the truth lies…somewhere in the middle.

let’s get small

The tiniest of organisms have the same role in the universe as the largest ones. Just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. The Blue whale feeds on Krill, the largest creature sustained by one of the smallest. Pollen, carried by the small but mighty bee sustains all life here on dry land. Small matters. Except when you are a person, then it’s all about big. Big dreams, big houses, big cars, big bank accounts. The bigger the better, give me more more more and when done with that I’ll take just a little more. Not all people, of course but you get the point. Given the means I may be the same way. But my profound and distinct lack of means has had a very profound and welcome effect on who I have become at this stage in my life…I have embraced my smallness.

At some point in life we have to check our ego at the door. For some, it may never happen but for a lot of us things, money, or both stop making us happy and we want more. By more in this case I mean more substance, more meaning, more gratification, more connection. Unfortunately, this can only be obtained by downsizing. If not your life then at least your attitude.I am on a journey in that direction, a quest for smallness, but I had an easier path than most. I didn’t walk away from the pursuit of more influence, stature, and wealth. Illness took it all away for me. For quite a while I didn’t know what it meant, I questioned why it happened to me and felt that my life as I knew it was over. What I would find is that when one life ended, so to speak, another one began.

My old life, littered with insecurity and doubt was made no better by the pursuit of big things, in my new life I have found it to be all about the simple and the real. It happened when I stopped trying to control everything. It can’t be done.

No man, regardless of stature is a match for the awesome power and force of the tide. No man will ever make his life better by shaking his fist and screaming at the heavens. Regardless of wealth, stature and achievement no man will live forever. Billions have lived and died before we were ever born and their physical legacy will never be larger than the plot of ground they are buried in. While our time on earth may seem long, it is but a speck. We are all miniscule players in a vast tapestry that we know not a damn thing about. But if you embrace your smallness you will begin to see the big picture.

I like being a small cog. I like being part of the crowd, not standing on my toes to rise above the others. I like the challenge of being a bit player trying to create meaningful change. I enjoy doing small things that make a big impression on another. I’m ok with being ordinary in stature. Don’t know what I mean? Throw a pebble into a pond and see how far and long the ripple carries.

This is where faith begins and control ends. I have placed, finally, my legacy in the hands of a force I know little about but trust inherently. God, mother nature, fate…I can’t tell you for sure. But I believe in the darkest recesses of my soul that by downsizing my attitude I will achieve a greatness in the arena of humanity that I never would have if not for the epiphany I have been so fortunate to have experienced.

I no longer care if I have the answers. They will be revealed in time. I have faith. I have never been happier since I have learned to respect the mighty tide as a humbling yet beautiful reminder of exactly where I stand.

Let’s get small…


Growth

It’s a famous scene from Silence of the Lambs. After villain Hanibal Lecter dresses down the heroine Clarice Starling as “White Trash” with “cheap shoes”. Clarice responded in kind.
You see a lot, Doctor. But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself? What about it? Why don’t you – why don’t you look at yourself and write down what you see? Or maybe you’re afraid to.” — Clarice Starling

It was powerful then and it remains so today because it raises an incredibly valid question…are you who and what you think you are?

If asked, most would say they are. Right or wrong, they believe it. Myself, I had to really dig to get the answer. The answer wasn’t definitive. What I came up with was that I needed some work. Not a ton, but I was getting a bit closed off. I got caught up in two things; the pervasive anger and division of society, and the failure to be myself.

With regards to society, I don’t have to tell you that with the division in our politically charged society many have been reduced to anger. It’s not enough to disagree now, you get attacked. Republican, Democrat, it doesn’t matter. Being attacked for a long enough period of time will make you defensive and angry. Some can compartmentalize it, many can let it slide. I applaud them. The angry ones, well I was one of them. WAS.

With regards to being myself, I can only speak for me but it’s harder than it seems and I believe many of us are putting up a front. Maybe a small one, but a front nonetheless. It is usually out of a necessity to maintain our stations in life. Bill Belichick is probably a very nice man in real life but he is known in the football world as a highly successful coach that would trade his mother if it meant winning. That is how he is known and he wants it that way.

I was once a Belichick in my career. I had a very difficult position that required that I make decisions that affected people. I was very black and white in my thinking because I only thought I was allowed to look at things in two ways. Sure, I achieved results but it wasn’t until I when my boss pointed out my rigidity that I applied compassion, kindness and original thinking to my process. I never would have done it on my own.

At first I denied it. Then I thought about it. Once I adjusted my thinking the results were amazing.

It took a long time but I learned to apply it in my personal life. I adopted a pretty simple philosophy. If someone told me something unpleasant about myself I forced myself to delay the initial instinct of denial until I could ask myself one simple but incredible difficult question,
“Is it true?”
Not for the lighthearted, this question opens a veritable Pandora’s box of uncomfortable scenarios.
Holy shit! Am I a racist?
Oh no, am I a homophobe?
Wow! Do I not like he/she because we have different politics?
Did I just get mad because he or she is right?
The list can be endless but you get the point.

Criticism and tough, uncomfortable indictments of ourselves by others are akin to sunlight to a flower. Once exposed, growth is inevitable. Denial and refusal to suck it up and make changes are the weeds that choke us out of existence.

No matter how old, established and successful we are…we must always continue to grow. If we refuse to grow we are just existing and I want more out of life than just existing.

walls closing in

Friends and family. Sometimes, in the bustle of our everyday lives we lose touch with those that sustain us the most. Now, as the world has come to a screeching halt they have become the most important asset. My kids have been amazing. Before the collapse of modern society they, most of them at least, were great at keeping touch. My oldest daughter was always the leader in keeping in touch with me.
My oldest boy was good but like his old man, time gets away from him. And that’s ok. He’s an adult and he has his own life.
My youngest boy is probably the worst, he has the least ability to keep track of time of all and I had to call him to see how he is. Again, it’s alright. He has a job and a girl and he is living his life.
My youngest daughter is just now starting to get busy. But she almost rivaled her sister in checking up on the old man.
I was always grateful for the communication.

Now, the kids are all in constant touch. They all have accrued a solid education on what my immunocompromised ass is or isn’t supposed to do during a pandemic and they have been amazingly supportive and critical at the same time. They applaud my attitude but chastise for going anywhere. They want me to stay in and never go out, but I have to. We need things. So they yell at me. Constantly. And I love them for it.

My friends have been amazing also. I always knew I had an great circle but I never knew how much so. Friends that I spoke to frequently now call or text me constantly. Friends that I have maintained contact with sporadically are reaching out. They all know my situation and they are all concerned. It has really touched my heart and to their credit, I have made sure that they are all safe and healthy. Physically and mentally. Despite this unprecedented event, they all seem to be handling it.

Then there’s my special lady friend. She isn’t doing so well.

In the short time I’ve known her I have recognized and reveled in her free spirit.
Before the pandemic she went into the city for work. She occasionally worked from home but not more than two days a week. Going into the city was her break, her routine. It made her appreciate home. Now, she appreciates getting out of the home more than ever. Some birds are not meant to be caged.
I’m worried about her. What she is experiencing is beyond stir crazy. She’s depressed and on top of it all, she feels like the walls are actually closing in.

The confinement. This is where the pandemic really hits home. Well, you know, besides dying that is.
I’m a fixer.
I want to help.
I want to jump in my car and visit her.
I want to hug her and tell her it’s going to be ok.
I want to take her for a ride.
I just want to keep her company.

But I can’t.

Some things I just can’t fix.