from Me to We

Like all great stories, this one begins with a girl.

This is a story of missed opportunities. Of crossed wires. Of uncertainty and trepidation. Of missed signs and poor timing. But it also one of perseverance and dogged determination. The story takes place over 2 years, but I’ll spare you the remainder of the buildup; it has a happy ending.
I got the girl.

2 years ago I went on a first date with a wonderful and complex woman. She is the best friend of my very good friend’s new wife. I was interested in her the very first moment I saw her. Dare I say smitten. The bubble burst when she leaned in to the guy next to me at the poker table and kissed him. Oh well, I thought. I chased her out of my mind, for the most part anyway. I welcomed her back into my thoughts when I found out she had broken up with him that night. When the FB friend request came in days later, I was cautiously excited. We began to communicate regularly and I finally asked her to get dinner. It would prove to be a nice evening but that would be all it was because I didn’t realize that to her, it wasn’t a date. This confused me because it sure felt like one. We had dinner, we drank and danced. We talked a lot and we really hit it off. I read it wrong, all of it. I even blogged about it, you can read it here https://goodtobealivetoday.com/2020/03/

We continued to hang out for a few months after that but I finally had to acknowledge that I wanted something from her that she wasn’t ready to give. She really wasn’t ready. So I cut our get togethers way back and acted like we were friends. We just weren’t on the right page and I couldn’t do that to myself. I recognized that my neediness did not equal romance on her part and I resigned myself to hoping for things to change. The problem, when we saw each other it was just weird. We communicated less frequently to minimize the weird. But I always kept her in the Rolodex, as it were, of potential romance because I really liked her. So much that I compared everyone else I dated to her.

In October of 2021 we began talking regularly again. We even got together a few times. By this time I knew that her mind was changing, that she had become the aggressor, that she was finally truly interested in dating me. I was now the one resisting her. I found every reason I could to not date her, I didn’t want to get hurt again, even though I hurt myself the first time by not listening to her clearly tell me she wasn’t ready. It made it weird and got to the point that when we were together it just confused her.

One day I realized that she was what I wanted. I asked her to go to lunch. She never saw it coming. I took her hand at the table and told her I wanted to date her. She was floored. Not in a flattering way, just surprised. She still calls it “the bomb” because she never saw it coming. We have been in a torrid, fantastic whirlwind of a relationship since and I have never been happier. She is every bit of the person I thought she was, with the doubt and uncertainty removed from the picture. She is the best thing that’s happened to me in a very long time. I’m a part of a we, not just a me.

She is the first thing I think of when I wake, and the last when I go to bed. I needed this, she needed this, we needed this. So there you have it. Superman has met his Lois. God help us all.

Almost Famous, conclusion

Stillwater is at a crossroads at which point their star could rise exponentially or crash into obscurity. Add to the mix their skepticism yet tacit acceptance of William, the 15 year old “devil” could either be the best thing that ever happened to them in their quest for fame, or he could destroy them. Not unlike passing a car wreck, you can’t look away. If you do, you will miss the real.

Real is a big thing to Stillwater. Russell really is about the music. Beyond the fans, the industry and the personality conflicts, the thing that is real to him is the music. Enter the most memorable segment of the movie, when an exasperated Russell, reeling from a band argument, heads out on his own on a quest for “something real”. William accompanies him, and it is at this point that the culture of devotion and love for the music by the ones that matter, the fans, is accurately and beautifully depicted. He ends up at a house party with a huge sample of his true demographic; partying long-haired teenagers who seek refuge in a keg, recreational drugs, and music. Russell is ecstatically welcomed to their party and this party is so much like ones that I, and most every baby boomer in 50 states attended. The party goers don’t swarm him, beg autographs or perform any other typical celebrity worship, instead they just welcome him. They get to know him. They share their love for music, his and every other band. They just connect in a “just say whoa” kind of way. These were my favorite people of my youth. There was no pretense, no posturing, no fights. Just good, mellow and let’s face it, stoned people having a good time talking and listening to music. It was just what Russell needed. It was real.
Of course, the party eventually gets out of hand when Russell takes acid, culminating in one of the premier moments of the film when Russell climbs to the top of a garage and deafeningly declares that he is a “Golden God!” and jumps into the pool.
In the morning, the real-world calls as the bus shows up and the band retrieves their out-of-it guitarist. Tensions are high. They are pissed at him, and he doesn’t care. The tension on the bus as they travel to their next gig is thicker than LA air pollution. As they sit in angry silence, Elton John’s Tiny Dancer comes on the speakers. As the song builds the band and Band Aids gradually lose their scowls, stop glaring at each other and begin to move. Gradually at first, then a little more. Then the drummer taps to the music and by the time the chorus hits and Elton belts out “hold me closer tiny dancer” they are all smiling and singing along. Goosebumps are had by all. And there it is, the point of it all, the thing that made the most sense to me. The music, in all of its magnificence has not only the power to inspire, but it can also heal. The band is reminded at this moment why they are doing all of this. It’s about the music. It’s always been about the music.

William never gets his interview. Russell tells him as they part ways to write what he wants. William does. He tells the truth, following the advice of Lester Bangs. “Tell the truth. All of it. And be merciless.” Rolling Stone loves it, despite the realization that the writer of their cover story (the goal of the day was to be on the cover of the Rolling Stone after all) is 15 years old. All is good in the world until the band (not Russell) get spooked about the possible fallout of the story and tell Russell to deny all of it, crushing William and his credibility. The story is squashed.

There is a happy ending. Russell, in his adherence to the “real” eventually tells Rolling Stone that every word was accurate after all. But not before going to see William and giving him the long overdue interview.

As you can probably tell, I love this movie. I turned a simple Billy Mac movie review into a think piece on my love for the music and the era. I suppose I’m so into this movie because I am also on a constant quest for the real. I have never been comfortable with pretense and superficiality. Maybe that is the best way to summarize my feelings on music today; beyond my hatred for over-production, auto-tuning vocals, unimaginative and uninspiring lyrics and music that seems to have no effort behind it is my belief that the artists of the era made the music unapologetically their way. It was quality. It was eternal. It was the hallmark and peak of their creativity and artistic vision. The music of yesterday was better, even on scratchy vinyl. I can say this because it survived the ultimate test. That of time.

One last thing…

Almost famous, a Billy Mac movie review

Rock and Roll in the 70’s wasn’t just about the music. It was a culture, an identity. Right up there with your social status, your Zodiac and other aspects of identity was the omnipresent “what bands are you into?” It was a powerful statement about who you were and what you were into.
A lot of 70’s parents didn’t get that. The cool ones did or at least tried. It was key to getting along with your kids, at least understanding them.
My parents didn’t like the music, but they understood that it meant a lot to me even if they didn’t understand it. They certainly didn’t understand what would make me sit in my room for hours on end, a stack of LP’s scattered in front of me, admiring the album cover art and dwelling on the lyrics as my head bobbed and swayed to the music. The music was my friend during the difficult adolescent years. Often it was my only friend. That my parents understood.
There were plenty who didn’t. The parents who failed to recognize the societal and cultural impact of the music on the youth, and instead focused on the sometimes-unfortunate accompanying drug use, rebellion, promiscuity and other factors that made them feel that they were losing their kids, they didn’t get it. To us, it was all about the music. The parents didn’t have to get it. It wasn’t for them. It was ours.

Enter 2000’s Almost Famous, the movie about Rock that brilliantly depicted the Rock N Roll landscape of the 70’s.

William’s oldest sister has had enough of her overbearing mother. They fought constantly about her lifestyle. She was too free, too rebellious, too sexual and too into “that music.” The sister moved out. Before she hopped into her boyfriend’s Z28 she took young William aside and told him, “Someday, you’ll be cool. Look under your bed. It’ll set you free.”

Under young William’s bed was a bag stuffed with vinyl. The Beach Boys, Zeppelin, Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, The Stones, Hendrix, The Who. Some of the greatest of all time. There was a note.
Listen to Tommy with a candle burning and you’ll see your future. His sister was a student, a disciple of the sound and William had just had the torch passed to him.

Flash forward a few years and William is now 15 and an aspiring Rock writer. Through his work for Creem, he scores an opportunity to do a piece on Black Sabbath by his DJ Guru Lester Bangs, brilliantly played by the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman. But William can’t get into the backstage door and by a chance of fate meets Penny Lane, a presumed groupie, that gets him in the door. Penny Lane is a “Band Aid”. We quickly learn from Penny, portrayed by the uber-adorable Kate Hudson, that the Band Aids are not groupies, just dedicated lovers of the music that travel with the band as fans.
“Groupies have intercourse with the bands to feel close to someone famous. We travel with them as fans, as lovers of the music. We inspire them.”
A noble distinction indeed.

Penny Lane, who eventually forms a powerful, sexually charged but never consummated relationship with William, introduces him to the band Stillwater and a connection is made with the lead singer (Jason Lee) and the guitarist (Billy Crudup, a very underappreciated talent IMO). The band is suspicious of William, to them the critic and the journalist are the enemy and the Devil. But they like him and reluctantly invite William to go on tour with them. William turns this into an opportunity, and he solicits Rolling Stone, the bible of the music scene, to commission him for 3000 words on the up-and-coming (almost famous) Stillwater. The stage is set. All he has to do to get the interview with Russell is get permission from the same overbearing mother that drove his sister out of the house. Not an easy task.

William embarks on a journey, a quest for the interview that will make him a journalist. An interview with a band that wants fame and all that comes with it. What unfolds as William travels from city to city, constantly badgered by his despondent mother (the brilliant Frances McDormand) and her omnipresent insistence that he “not do drugs” is a familiar story to me; the dynamics of the bandmates, the players (Band Aids) and the forces that inevitably seek to divide them played out before me as a teen as Superband after Superband disbanded after experiencing the collateral damage of fame. They are of course differing artistic visions, conflicts over who is in charge or the biggest star, drug and alcohol abuse, all the stuff that any fan of music has witnessed. Stillwater sees what is happening to them. They are hyper-aware that they are on the precipice of fame. They are also very aware of the elements that broke up other big bands and are present enough to recognize each incident as such and acknowledge it openly. They are at a point where their star could rise exponentially or crash into obscurity. Add to the mix their skepticism yet tacit acceptance of William, the 15-year-old “devil” could either be the best thing that ever happened to them in their quest for fame, or he could destroy them. Not unlike passing a car wreck, you can’t look away.

If you do, you will miss the real.

The call

I can’t believe that after all this time I may have to rename my blog. From day one Superman can’t find a phone booth has primarily been about my struggles with Chronic illness and rebuilding my life after losing everything and moving in with my mother. In the process, I told my story, made some wonderful friends, and learned the stories of others. It was very therapeutic. But now I have to shift gears because
I GOT MY KIDNEY!

A week ago Sunday my daughter came to visit. My little baby has grown up and at 19 she has a job and a decent social life. She has also been under the umbrella of a terrible depression lately. I had been looking forward to her visiting me, I was eager to have one of our heart to hearts and hoped to glean some insight as to how to help her, if possible. She arrived early morning (she likes to squeeze as much out of our visits as possible) and I made her breakfast and we chatted over coffee. She seemed to be in a good mood. That made me happy.

The morning passed without event. With the exception of the excitement of having my daughter for the weekend, I felt like I always did. Like total and complete shit. Life had been hard lately, I had to struggle to even attempt to fake the upbeat and optimistic person I always strived to be. Dialysis was kicking my ass and despite only being on it for 3 years I experienced more than my share of complications. I had been sleepless, devoid of energy and uncharacteristically void of hope. I wasn’t thinking of giving up but I was as low as I’ve ever been.

After lunch the clouds cleared. The lake effect is powerful where I am and the clouds are always there in the morning and you never really know if they are going to burn off. My daughter asked to go out in the boat. We packed and went to the Marina. Once the dog and the cooler were in and we were ready to go. I turned the key.
Nothing. Shit, the battery was dead. I had left the boat uncovered and the hold containing the battery had flooded. The automatic pump had killed the battery. My mom went to flag down a mechanic and my daughter and I stayed in the boat. We sat there waiting, made small talk and played with the dog. My phone rang, the caller ID read my Transplant team’s number.
I knew that I had an appointment coming up and I was expecting it to be a robocall confirming. I picked up and heard a human breathing on the other end. So I said “What are you guys doing working on a Sunday?”
“Well”, the woman said, I was hoping to give you a kidney today”
I almost fell off of my seat.
I repeated the sentence verbatim, not sure if I meant to but that’s what I did. I looked at my daughter and her jaw was wide open. I put it on speaker. There was a bunch of qualifying questions she had to ask. Recent hospitalizations, any open sores, dental issues, distance from hospital etc. I answered all of them satisfactorily and she told me that it was between me and one other person but the odds were enough in my favor that I should get in my car and start driving right away. The hospital is 2 hours away. We bolted for the car.

The 2 hour ride, despite my driving like a complete and total asshole, still took two hours. Traffic was not thick but it was slow. But I got there within the time frame that I told them. Nobody in the ER was expecting me. For a really good hospital, the receptionist in the ER was less than professional. You would think that the sentence “I got a call from the transplant department, they have a kidney for me” would be self-explanatory but her face was similar to mine when faced with a math problem. Blank. I lost my temper. I’m not proud of it but I did. People in the ER waiting room got it but the staff didn’t. I made it clear that if I didn’t get the kidney because they didn’t know I was there that I was going to go apeshit. A triage nurse soon came to the rescue. He knew. Whew, that part is over.

I waited over an hour before someone came out and told me that I had beat the kidney there and it wouldn’t be much longer. Soon, a team of smiling people in scrubs came out and announced that the kidney was indeed mine and that I should come on in for surgical prep. Anesthesiologists, nurses and a team of support staff greeted me at the door. They actually clapped as I was rolled down the hallway. They were great.

Finally, I was wheeled into the operating room, still conscious, where I saw my surgeon. Dr. Dailey is a giant man, six foot seven at least. His eyes smiled through his mask as he prepared the kidney. I asked to see it. He held it up, it looked like a big chicken breast complete with the fatty tissue still on it. Very cool indeed. Ten minutes later I was under.

There is so much more to tell about this. It will be at least an entire post to go over it. As a tease, let me just say that the head of my Transplant team, a highly respected Doctor known internationally for his work in Transplant Science who never indulges in anything but concrete facts told me that my odds of finding this kidney was, and I quote, “in the millions.”

Superman has found his phone booth.

to be continued…

Better things

“We could do this all day”, I said breathlessly as I kissed her neck.
“All day?” she whispered. “One of us has to work.”
Just like that, as BB King once lamented, the thrill is gone. Reality comes a knocking.

It was a glimpse (my choice of terms), a semi-frequent occasion where we dare to look at a life together. A life where she is free from her abusive husband and I can be with her. A life where I was strong enough physically and financially to support us. We would have our own place. We’d watch movies curled up on the sofa with our dog. We would go places and do things as a couple.
Someday.

Today, she is still married. I believe in my heart that she is doing everything she can to leave him. Even if I didn’t believe her, it’s not up to me in any of this.
Me, I forgot during that lovely glimpse, that I am NOT physically or financially secure. At all. I’m on disability living with my mother. In addition, I’m pretty banged up physically so working is out of the question.

Still, hope prevails. We’re good together. We have chemistry. We have the same dreams and the same nightmares. We both want one thing. Better. She deserves better and she makes me better. Maybe we both deserve better.

Coping

I have been feeling pretty good lately. Oh shit did I just jinx myself?
I’ve been consistently active lately. That’s why I’ve been feeling ok.

My definition of good, when I say I’m feeling good, probably differs from yours. There are days that I get out of bed and my legs tell me what kind of day I’m going to have. If my legs feel like I have bags of cement tied to them it means that I’m not off to a good start but all hope is not lost. It is those days that I expend all the mental energy that I can muster to make it through whatever I need to do. Errands, etc. If I have nothing that I need to do, I sigh in relief. I used to beat myself up over the do nothing days but I’ve given myself a break. I have limitations and sometimes I can’t come out to play.

A day when my legs feel good are the days that I almost, I can’t stress the almost enough here, feel normal. I hate that word don’t you? It means that I have some spoons in the drawer and that I have a limited amount of time to do something that requires me to go out in the world and be among people. The drawer could run out of spoons at any time and I needed to be near a bench when the spoons were gone. There will be days when I go strong. On those days I overdo it without exception. There is nothing to be gained in overdoing it because the next day I will certainly suffer. Cramps, fatigue and a general largess will leave me sofa-bound for sure. But I will smile a bit knowing that I did something that day.

One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to admit to myself is that I am sick. Sick isn’t always visible. That’s because we don’t want you to see. We want to look normal. We smile through pain and push on when our bodies beg us to stop. I always thought I was special. I thought that I could fake my way through feeling the effects of Chronic Kidney Disease. I couldn’t. I later thought that I could endure dialysis without experiencing the effects that others do. I couldn’t. So I was forced to admit, in addition to being sick, that I am in fact deteriorating. Deteriorating to the point that I fear it is not long before I’m unable to do the things that make me happy and keep me sane.
This has been haunting me.

So many people have told me to be strong, that I have so much to live for. This I once tragically forgot momentarily and almost made the mistake of all mistakes. But it is now at the forefront of my brain, the knowledge that to end my life would cause a lot of pain for some people. I don’t have that in me. The thoughts of seeing 4 weddings, welcoming grand babies into the family, listening to music, and doing every possible activity that puts a smile on my face do indeed give me something to live for. But…my brain constantly screams at me that the most important thing to me needs to be quality of life.

It’s not selfish despite the obvious implications. Milestones in life are awesome, but the pain is still there while you’re waiting for them to happen. I’m wiped out, my hands are cramping, I stopped feeling sensation in my feet about 3 hours ago (Did I mention that I now have Neuropathy?),my legs are swollen from the knee down and my dialysis port on my left forearm is throbbing. It’s unlikely that I will sleep tonight and when 3 AM rolls around it will be me and the pain and exhaustion. Trust me, at that hour in that condition the last fucking thing you are thinking about is giving away brides and bouncing a baby on your knee. It is the witching hour and the dark thoughts fight for dominance.
I wish nights like that on nobody, not my worst sworn enemy.

All that aside, with the exception of the occasional bouts of insomnia, I’ve been out in the world and accomplishing things. I’ve been running a successful little side business cleaning cars. It kicks the crap out of me almost every time but it’s good money.
I bought a brand new Harley Road King. It is the bike I’ve always wanted. When I ride I have a smile from ear to ear on my face.
We may be getting a place in Florida. I have the opportunity to stay down there all winter should I want to. That has been giving me hope to carry on.
I have a fairly active love life right now. 3 women who are actually interested in me. Problem is that I still want the married one and I’m willing to wait and see what happens. She certainly gives me a reason to look on the bright side.

It’s been a hard road back from my fall from grace. But there have been some lessons learned and coping mechanisms formed. For now at least I’m on a good road.

But the pain is still there…

Depends on how you look at it

I have been in the clutches of a identity crisis since my stay in the Boobie Hatch (it was only 2 nights but it sucked enough for a week) and it has really taken a toll on me. My breakdown was very uncharacteristic, I’m not a person who has ever seriously considered taking my own life. I’ve always thought it selfish with the emotional burden being passed on to those who loved them.
Then one day it was all I could think of. The hurt that I was going to drop on the people that care about me never crossed my mind. That is one of the hardest things I have had to reconcile.

As any father can attest, A man always wants to be a part of his kids’ lives. I work hard at this, to be in any capacity they will let me. I held off on getting divorced until the kids were older for fear of having access to them cut back. I didn’t want to miss anything. That has never changed. So how did I forget that?

Let’s talk about my oldest. Bright, strong, willful and hard-working. I have an amazing relationship with her now. I didn’t always. There was a time when she was much younger, around 8, that we fought terribly. I began to worry that she and I may never get along. I feared the fighting (she was very combative) would forever taint our relationship. Then I had a horrible nightmare in which I found myself looking through a glass enclosure watching my daughter. She was a toddler, not 8 as in real life. I was pounding on the glass and she couldn’t hear me. The takeaway was that she was in some sort of jail and I couldn’t talk to her. I woke up in tears. It was that time that I committed to fix my relationship with her and be the adult. It worked. This amazing girl is smart, strong, has a great job, just bought a house and has a great boyfriend. I look forward to her wedding.
Yet I was temporarily willing to miss it.

My oldest boy. Glued to my hip from the day he was born. There was a time when he couldn’t sleep unless he was lying on my chest. For 6 months of colic, I was the only thing to soothe him. I lost a ton of sleep but we formed a powerful bond. Any father would cherish the way a child looks at them as if they are the world, I am no exception. He is now a kind, charming young man with a great girlfriend, a bunch of friends and a good job. He is going places.
To think that I would want to hurt such a fine young man.

My youngest boy. Just 21. He was a struggle to get along with for a long time. Always a happy kid with lots of friends, he and I clashed all the time and I still don’t know why. But I worked hard at our relationship and I ate a lot of shitburgers in the interest of getting along. But we weren’t close for a long time. Then it turned around in his early teens. I always had great concern about his future. He wasn’t like his two older siblings in so many ways. As it turns, he is already as successful if not more so than them. Despite being very smart, he chose not to go to college. I had no problem with that. He now works for a great company that values him and offers him a future. He makes good money. He lives with his amazing girlfriend who I know he is going to marry. He is smart, somewhat charming and worldly beyond his years.
To think that with one bullet I was willing to forgo the opportunity to see the great things he will accomplish.

My youngest. She is no less unique than her siblings. Just 19, she is taking a different course with her life. Smart, sassy, fiercely independent with a huge heart, we share a powerful and unshakeable bond. She loves to talk about me to anyone who will listen about how I’m her best friend. She’s on a different course than her siblings. She wasn’t able to get a job at 15 as her siblings did. The reasons are too many to discuss, but she was needed at home. She started school. but the virtual model forced on her by COVID didn’t work for her so she dropped out temporarily. She is working full time now. She’ll go back I know it. If she doesn’t, that’s ok also. What’s important to me is that she never loses her shine, to me she lights up the room when she enters it and when she leaves it is as if the sun went behind the clouds. Close doesn’t begin to cover our relationship.
If I was to harm myself she would be devastated.

My mom knows what almost happened. She knows the whole story. She couldn’t believe that I was in such a dark place with all of the wonderful people in my life to support me. My mom and I are close and the relationship is only strained by one thing, my health. I tend to downplay my illness with her because I don’t want our relationship to be one of caretaker and patient. Mom iwas designated by God a caretaker, willing or not. She cared for her father, her mother and then my father as they dealt with assorted illnesses. She gave up her career and many years of her life to be a caretaker. I refuse to let her slip into that role with me. I want her to enjoy her life.
I can’t imagine what it would do to her if I harmed myself. I’m all she has left.

These thoughts have haunted me but the lesson has been learned. There are others to think about when making such drastic decisions, and there is a lot to be said for remembering what it is you’re looking forward to. Weddings, Grandchildren, communions, baseball and soccer games, the list goes on to infinity. Or maybe just living long enough to share the wisdom I’ve acquired over my turbulent life.

As I further contemplate this it occurred to me that when you add up the simple pleasures in life that we often take for granted it forms another powerful argument to face the day.
Music, what can possibly soothe your soul like your favorite song(s)? The song that brings you to that mental happy place.
Your favorite food that not only tastes amazing but has the dual function of comfort food.
The love of a pet, or patting a random dog.
Again, the list can go on for infinity.

So many good things in life. It is so easy to forget them when you are overthinking the bad things. I need to live by this.

the brink

hit me again life
I fucking dare you
you son of a bitch

I stand before you with bloody mouth
broken teeth
eyes badly battered
but still open
you did your worst
but it wasn’t enough
you may think you broke me
is that all you got?

how could you?
how could I let you?
you gave me all the reasons
to live
to love
and you then denied me the strength
to reach out and embrace them
pain and emptiness
occupied my heart
and consumed my thoughts

on my back
looking nowhere but up
no sky in sight
just institutional white
on the ceiling of my room
no sharp objects allowed
I thought I knew what the bottom looked like
I was wrong

the moment won’t leave my head
rest area
loaded .38 in hand
pointed at my chest
don’t make a mess
end it clean
it will stop the pain
for me anyways
but not for the forgotten ones
that love me
how could I forget them?

lesson’s learned
memories burned
my attitude forever altered
if I can’t think of a reason
to keep going
I can think of a thousand
of why not to quit just yet
life is beautiful
when you know where to look




the Rich Kid

Life on “the Ave” was a blissful time for me when I was a little boy. My cousin Mike, like most age-appropriate cousins, was a built in best friend hand chosen by God. We did what little boys do, or at least did in the 70’s before TV became our nanny, caregiver and teacher. We played in the high grass, stomped through the mud, we hid and spied on and generally annoyed the older cousins. I learned to ride a bike on the Ave, dodging giant puddles that made the task of learning to ride a bike about ten times harder than it had to be. The first time I made the whole street, Mike and the older cousins cheered for me the entire wobbly way. We had fun. We were inseparable. For a very brief while I thought that I had tapped into what my father’s childhood was like. It would be many years, I would be practically a teenager, before I would learn how wrong I was.

I think it’s fitting that the street my father grew up on was named Railroad Ave. There really are tracks in my hometown and my dad grew up on the wrong side of them. The squalor that I saw on the Ave was a massive upgrade to what my father had as a child. And in turn the life he had created for himself was a huge upgrade from the Ave. Understanding the difference those 3 miles across town meant to my Dad would be a huge step towards understanding the man.

I always knew my father was different from the rest of his family. I suppose I should just call it what it was, his family was poor. And they acted it. They weren’t much concerned with how they dressed. Many of them abused tobacco and alcohol. They spent money as soon as it was in their hands on frivolous items like jumbo boxes of candy, cigarettes, alcohol and fireworks. We all know the habits and stereotypes of poverty, and my father, despite having been textbook poor for his entire childhood, exhibited none of those traits.  He was different and even though my young mind couldn’t isolate how so, it stood out when he was with his family. It wasn’t in such transparencies as how he dressed or spoke, etc., he just acted different. I understand it perfectly today; he was still under the effects of the memories of his upbringing, but he wasn’t carrying the lessons forward. He was setting new rules for his own family while not disrespecting his own. He wanted a better life.

As a reward for his hard work, selfless behavior and commitment to self-improvement, his family would refer to him, in muted tones, as “The Rich Kid.” They didn’t mean it as a compliment. The snarkiness and inappropriateness of that label was what I had been missing. And of course, the reasoning behind it. It was quite the Dick Slap to learn that my awesome Dad, whom I oozed respect for, was made fun of for simply wanting better for us.

life imitates life…

It just happened one day recently. I think that I was trying to come up with a new Password for some website because I had entered the wrong one too many times. Boom. I realized that I don’t have much of an imagination. I don’t suppose I ever did. I was very into recreating things but I didn’t step much farther out of my comfort zone. I was probably most expressive when I was playing with my Matchbox cars, which I spent most of my time doing. Even with mountains of Trademark Orange track and a huge box of cars to work with in my room, I didn’t build empires. I stuck to what I knew. And outdoors, under my beloved pine tree, I limited my construction endeavors mostly to what I already knew. I built roads with Tonka Trucks, I used my car hauler, I used real mud in my Concrete mixers, and I pushed them around. Like they were real. I think Calvin and Hobbes used more imagination in one strip about playing in the dirt than I did in my entire life.

Despite not being an imaginative kid, I wasn’t without my skills. For example, at a very early age my mother identified me as a people watcher. Or “rude staring”, in my mother’s words. If someone or something caught my attention I was fixated on it.  I never meant to be rude, I just liked to take it all in. And I had a terrible habit of speaking without a filter. It has been both a curse and a blessing, depending on who was on the other side of it.

My Grandmother was a constant presence at my house when I was little. I really enjoyed having her over and she kept my mother company. There is so much to say about her, and I will as the story progresses, but for the sake of this entry let’s focus on one critical factor about her.
She was a terrible driver. The worst. Even at a young age I was reticent about being in the car with her. She had a heavy foot, a reluctance to brake, and Stop Signs were, well, they were for other people.  I suppose my Matchbox stories were a good example of it even at an early age.


One day she came in the house, her mouth going a million miles per hour as she told my mother about the incident she had with the “dang Po-lice” on the way over. Through the histrionics and across the many rooms of the first floor of my house I could hear her tell my mother her tale of injustice and overreach. The officer had the nerve to give her a speeding ticket. That day was one of the few times that I didn’t run into the kitchen to greet my Grandmother, it just seemed safer and smarter to stay in my room with my Matchbox cars. History and my limited experience at a young age suggested that I let her come to me this time.
Apparently I had dug through my big box of cars and had found a clunky red sedan that looked like the boat of a car Grandma drove, a big ol’ Lincoln that the front end arrived ten minutes before the rest of you did. I had also found one of my old beat up police cars. The stage was set for some hilarity. I began to act out the scenario I had heard playing out in the kitchen. Red car, pulled over by police car. I simulated an argument between the two parties, culminated by the officer telling the driver to get out of the car. I was having a blast when I looked up at the door to my room, occupied by my Grandmother. She had come to at last to say hello and there I was acting out her earlier humiliation.
When she realized what I was doing she wasn’t amused. My mother was of course amused enough for the both of them.
It was then that I realized how selective my Grandmother’s sense of humor really was.