the bottle story

In 1981 my Great Uncle Cyrus died. He had a big house on Cape Cod, about 300 yards from the water. My family was tasked with cleaning it out.
My Great Uncle was a kind and giving man. On my 16th birthday he gave me his late wife’s 1964 Ford Falcon as a present. I was grateful yet conflicted, I barely knew the man. Amazingly, the distance between us and the Cape was enough to keep me from seeing him more than 5 times in my life. And there I was cleaning out his house, charged alongside my mother, father and Grandparents with deciding what was “junk” and what wasn’t.

There I was, a 16 year old exploring a old house. I meandered to the basement where I found a dusty tool bench with some really cool but unfinished wood working projects and a lot of unorganized stuff scattered around. I stooped to check out the bottom shelf and I saw a bottle. I blew an inch of dust off it and I studied it. It was a bottle of J&B Scotch, a fairly middle of the road blend and a very popular drink in its time. I was intrigued by the label “half gallon” and realized that this bottle was old. The stamp revealed that it was bottled in 1949.
“Hey Dad, check this out!”.
Dad came over and agreed that it was a find. We brought it home with us and stored it in my grandparents basement.

Saturday I had my installation ceremony as Master of my Masonic Lodge. Due to Covid restrictions we were only allowed to have 50 guests and we reached that number. My children and my mother, several brothers from other lodges that I became friendly with over the years graced me with their presence. One of them had told me 5 years ago that should I become master he wanted to be there. So I invited him. The remainder of the crowd consisted of lodge members and their guests who all came out to support the new line of officers.

It was an AMAZING ceremony, the same one that was conferred on George Washington in the 1700’s. Once complete it was my turn to say some words. I had it all planned out. In fact, I have had it planned out since the day I decided that I would move through the chairs to Master.
“Brother Marshall, would you retrieve my conversation piece?”
The crowd was intrigued.
Brother Marshall is my good friend and past master Basil who promised to help me in any way should I take the big chair. He winked at me and walked to the back of the building and came back with the bottle of J&B. He handed it to me with a wink and sat back in his seat.
I hoisted the J&B in the air and told the story.
“I am a lover of objects, for their significance and place in history. Objects do not contain memories but they have important associations. For example, I wear my grandfathers watch and cufflinks. I wear my fathers motorcycle helmet. They hold memories for me and mean something. This bottle is not just a bottle, it is a reminder of a different time”.
I told the story of cleaning out Uncle Cyrus’s house, who I later found out was an esteemed and beloved Freemason (it explained why he gave me a car) and how the bottle in my hand has fascinated me all along.
“This bottle has never been opened, it was bottled in 1949”. The crowd was hanging on every word now.
“This bottle was owned by a wonderful man. It was also bottled during the era of Harry Truman, my favorite President. Harry Truman, you may not know, was a Freemason. He served as Grand Master of the state of Missouri as Vice President yet he never discussed it”.
I asked the crowd if they knew that in a Masonic lodge everyone is treated the same regardless of social stature. I told of how Harry Truman went to a regular lodge as Vice President and later President and wasn’t greeted with fanfare and adulation…he was simply “brother Harry”.
“This bottle represents a simpler time and I hope to run this lodge as Harry did his own, with humility and honesty”.
It was a hit, everyone applauded. After, I rounded up all of the shot glasses I could find and I opened it. We toasted and took a drink. After 70 years in several basements, I finally shared my find with those people closest to me.
A week and a half later, people are still talking about it. They agreed with me that it wasn’t just a bottle.

It meant something.

the lessons of time

It is not only a new year but also a entirely new decade. As I mark the halfway point of my 5th decade on this glorious spinning ball we call earth I have to say that the last ten years have easily been my most tumultuous and unpredictable to date. It is said that it is better to forget the incident and focus on the lesson. I need to do just that. If I was to take anything away from the last ten years, it is that I have learned a lot of lessons.

In 2010 it was determined that I would need a Kidney Transplant. Without it, dialysis would be my only option. One that I absolutely hated. The lesson was that, despite my remarkable skills of denial and putting on a brave face, it was time to take my health seriously.

2010 also saw the culmination of multiple bad financial decisions and living beyond my means in the foreclosure on my house and a bankruptcy. Despite finally landing a great job in 2008 it was too late to stop the inevitable and my family dragged ourselves to our new home, a small 3 bedroom apt where the rent was as much as our previous mortgage and we were actually tripping over each other. The lessons were many. I learned to curb my spending. I learned to downsize. And as we banged around in close quarters I learned that the smaller the space, the closer the family and as a family we achieved some much needed closeness.

In 2011 a co-worker and friend offered to give me a kidney. Her selfless offer caused a chain reaction at my company culminating in a fundraiser for my medical expenses. I felt like the luckiest man alive and I was blessed with a huge support system. I received my transplant in December. I was grateful and empowered. The lessons were many. I learned that a blessing can come from any source and to be open to it and be grateful. I learned that people are good and plentiful. I also learned that there is a catch to everything. My GM, who coordinated the fundraiser for me was going to play that card to manipulate and attempt to compromise me for years to come.

In 2013 I lost my father to Parkinson’s. It hit me hard to say the least. I still wonder if he died knowing how much I appreciated and loved him. The lesson, and there are many, was to tell the people in my life how I feel about them. I have committed to always leave people as if I am never going to see them again. Regrets are not part of my current game plan.

2013 also was the year I joined the wonderful fraternity of Freemasonry. I found a passion to pay forward my recent gift of a Kidney Transplant and Freemasonry allowed me access to great men who do great deeds. My commitment to be a better man each day than I was before has forever changed my life. The lessons are many. Selflessness, charity without expectation of recognition, love of community and the confirmation that there are a lot of good people in the world, you just have to know where to look.

Professionally, it was a wonderful decade. In 2008 I had fallen into the job that would not only introduce me to a lifesaving donor, but I found my niche in my career. The company groomed me for a couple of years and then gave me a department to build and I can say, without hubris that I knocked it out of the park. My background and personality served me well in our business model and I became a crucial “go-to” team player valued by our customer base and a frequent resource and problem-solver. Every day was challenging and different and I found myself in a position to help people. The lessons were many, chief among them was to listen to those around you and help them whenever possible. Also, be the worker and coworker that when you take a sick day, people miss you.

I would say that 2016 was the worst year of the decade. It began when my kidney failed suddenly in February. I was floored. Upon receiving my transplant I was a new man. I began my recovery immediately and I committed myself to keeping the kidney for at least the 15 years I was told it would last. I worked out hard. I did P90X, I biked and hiked. I took care of myself and dropped weight. When it suddenly failed after only five years, I was angry like never before. Where were my 15 years? Why did I have to find out on my own that my disease was the only kidney disease to return and infect the new organ? I would later deduce the lesson. You never know what the future holds so get out there and live now. If the Dr.’s had told me that I may lose it in 5 years would I have achieved all that I had? No, if I had sat around waiting for the shoe to drop I would never have climbed those mountains and savored the view.

In 2017 the bottom really fell out. My company closed, taking my dream job with it. My health deteriorated to the point that I couldn’t keep another job. When the job was gone so was the money and that was when my marriage officially collapsed. It was inevitable, we had been strangers for years but it hurt nonetheless. I suppose you know the rest. I moved in with my mother. I applied for Social Security Disability. I was denied. I went on dialysis and I am to this day. That’s the bad.

But here’s the good. I started this blog and if you are reading right now then I made a good decision. I also focused on creating and maintaining solid relationships with my children. Today, we are strong and their love sustains me. I also committed to getting along with my ex. I have not to this day experienced the closure, the explanation for the rejection many years ago and the giant wall that formed between us but I remained friendly with her for the children, for us and for the sake of tranquility. I would like to think that I am setting a good example for the kids on how to be an adult.

2019 served as a year of tying things together and trying to formulate a plan going forward. It was a year of many setbacks and achievements. After nearly dying in September 2018 I emerged from a medically induced coma with a “bucket list” mentality. I focused more on what I could do and less on what I couldn’t and in the process found that I could do a lot of things my detractors said I couldn’t. One of them was buying a motorcycle. Everyone said no, as had my wife and family for many years. But it was in my blood and as an homage to my father I was on two wheels again. The freedom and love of the open road has changed my life and, second to my children, is a thing that keeps me going on those dark sleepless nights when the pain is so bad that I consider the darkest of thoughts…ending it.

My greatest achievements of the 2019 was the transformation of my entire attitude. I like who I am. Finally.

It is true that a man has to hit rock bottom, with nowhere to look and go but up, before he truly discovers what is truly important. Brutal self-examination led to self-improvement. Physical challenges awakened the fighter in me. Having nothing to lose empowered me to rise from the ashes and shine my light instead of lurking in the shadows. It was then the lessons became clear.

For every high there is a low.
People do not suck.
Life is to be lived not viewed out a window from a recliner.
The words “no” and “can’t” are to be treated as a personal challenge. Sometimes we all need help and that’s when we discover who our friends are. Pain is temporary while regret is forever.
Be charitable to a flaw with your time if not your wallet.
Only look down on a man if you are helping him up.
Be nice. If you can’t do that then be quiet.
Don’t ever let someone tell you what you can’t do.
Make every day count as if it were your last.

In closing, I hope to be around long enough to do another one of these ten years from now.

Happy New Year.

this could have been so much easier

One of the many things I enjoy about working again is that I was able to find something in my field of expertise. That is to say, anything involving the sale of something with wheels and a guy who sells it. I have done it all in the world of wheels from oil changes to repossessions and I love it all. When I began to help out my friend at his Powersports Finance company he soon found that there wasn’t a job in the building I couldn’t do (except accounting). Because I was to be part-time, he started me on some time-consuming projects that were taking too much time from his already overworked full-time crew. These tasks could be as simple as minor dealer issues, customer service calls or as complex as sorting out issues with local and state agencies. After cleaning up some small crises in my first week, he promoted me to a really fun one. I was to have a Motorcycle inspected and have a new Vehicle Identification Number assigned to it.

Having a new VIN# on a vehicle is a major ordeal. The entire history and pedigree of a vehicle are tracked by it. The state requires serious documentation from the owner in order to sign off on this task. As the lienholder, because we repossessed it, it is even harder. So I took my time to learn the exact process, what forms I needed to prove ownership, and what documentation I needed on hand to prove ownership. Over the course of the first week, I was able to gather all paperwork, pay all fees and gather all receipts and call for the appointment. Once the appointment was made at a local inspection station I would begin the process of coordinating how to get the motorcycle to them.

Between the initial attempt at making the appointment and actually completing it would take 2 weeks. It was a giant series of telephone tag and miscommunications (on the State Police’s part)until I was finally able to set the appointment for 10 AM Friday morning. time.

When Mike and I pulled in (Mike was helping me with the bike because it was very heavy) the trooper told us to park the trailer, unload the motorcycle and he would be right back. He then proceeded to get in his cruiser and drove off, after all of the efforts we had made to get there on time. He came back 15 minutes later with a cup of coffee. Mike was visibly pissed, I was containing myself for now.

Trooper Burns was a large, fit man with a grey buzzcut and a blank expression on his face. He began to ask me a series of questions that I had already answered, some of which weren’t even relevant. I kept my composure and explained my case again. Trooper Burns seemed to delight in being difficult but I stayed on point. At one point he told me to start the bike to prove that it runs, I told him there’s no need, it’s not a salvage inspection it’s a reassignment. He knew I had him and moved on. 15 more minutes of explaining our situation, how we came into possession and what we needed to be done he finally agreed to go online and do his due diligence. 30 minutes later he came out and said “This is the wrong bike”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“This is the wrong bike,” he said again.

I took a deep breath and patiently replied: “I heard that, please explain it to me”.Mike was facepalming in the background.

“This engine number is off of a bike recorded stolen in Florida. Can’t let you leave with it”. Now, this was not a completely unexpected turn of events but not ideal. We talked for a while about our options, what he was going to do next and when to contact him again. I went to shake his hand and he caught a glimpse of my Masonic ring. “I didn’t see that before…Good men the Masons. My brother and father both are members. I wish I saw that earlier I wouldn’t have given you such a hard time.”
download

I paused, took a deep breath, and said,”Trooper Burns. As a Mason, I wouldn’t have needed to glimpse a ring in order to treat you decently. As a Mason, I would have been decent right out of the gate. This could really have been a whole lot easier”. I studied his face for a reaction, I think he understood me. “Show me the secret handshake,” he said as he smiled for the first time since we had met.

As Mike and I drove out of the lot, empty trailer and all he said “Brass Balls, man. You’ve got Brass Balls.”

“No, he knew I was right. He has a tough job and deals with a lot of assholes. What he didn’t recognize is that I’m not one of them. Now he knows.”

“So, tell me about this ring…”