Legacy

Here’s an intense topic for Tuesday.
Legacy.
What will people say about me when I’m gone is something I think about often. Now, before I continue, it needs to be said that I don’t care how many people show up and how many “likes” the inevitable FB post about my passing may get. I just want to be a fly on the wall and see if five words are used in conversation:
“He was a good guy.”
That’s it, that’s all that I want. It seems that after all of those years of keeping up with the Jones’s, trying to climb the corporate ladder and make obscene amounts of money, and being a high-profile member of the many fraternities and groups that I belong to, it seems that my only goal now is to be a good person.
OK, so where is this going you ask? It is an extension of my earlier conversation on identity. I have come to realize that your identity is not a singular entity. It has many components:
Who are you?
What is your purpose?
What are you doing to achieve that purpose?
What do you stand for?
How did you make people feel?

If you can be consistent with all of these concepts, you will have achieved a legacy to be proud of. You will be remembered well.
Be someone that is remembered for the right reasons.
Be someone that is known for accomplishment, and serving a purpose.
Be remembered as a person that risked something to serve that purpose.
Stand for something so meaningful that you may have died for it.
Be someone who is not only remembered, but someone who will be missed.

As a fly on the wall of my own funeral, if I don’t hear the words, “he was a good guy”, then at least I hope I don’t hear, “he was a useless asshole”. There, I have opened up what may end up being a very big can of worms.
Brace yourselves.

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

Falcons and Orange Datsun’s

I got a text from my High School buddy Marc today. We communicate by text and email periodically. I wish he was on FB but he, like millions of men, got in a little trouble with his Messenger and in the interest of staying married he got off FB.

I have a lot of regrets about people that I lost touch with, he’s one of the big ones. We never saw each other after High School. I’m incredulous over how that could happen when most of my Middle and High School memories included him.

Marc lived down the street from me but if I cut through a neighbor’s yard, I could cut out most of the walking. We hung out a lot. Wiffle Ball in his big, hilly back yard in the summer and sledding in the winter. We were pals and always at each other’s houses. As we entered High School, we became typical teenagers. We would spend most afternoons in his basement listening to the best music, sometimes accompanying it with some weed for, you know, atmosphere. On weekends we were out walking around, it didn’t matter what time of year. We grew up in a small town and there wasn’t a lot to do. In the absence of parties, we just hung out smoking cigarettes and looking for something to bread the boredom. Then of course, we got our drivers licenses, and everything changed.

I got a text from him today. It was a familiar interaction that has become a routine for us, “hey, I heard this song today”, or “I saw a car like yours”. Truth is, we had a million memories, so it is no surprise that our memories are constantly triggered. Today’s text was about our cars. “I was thinking today about The Falcon and the Orange Datsun. What a ride down memory lane.”

I had a ’64 Ford Falcon that my Great Uncle left me. It was a classic even in 1981 when I got it. It was a rare car with the hard to find “3 on the tree” manual transmission. My father and his best friend who frequently dabbled in folksy racism, nicknamed my car “the Coon”, derived from “Falcoon” which of course was a mispronunciation of Falcon. I didn’t think much about the nickname, and I adopted it until I realized how racist it was. But the nickname stuck.
Marc bought a giant boat of a 70’s Grand Prix. That car was so big you had to moor it, not park it. It was powerful and could light up the tires easily. Every time Marc smoked the tires it cost him a gallon or more of gas. Whenever we asked him to smoke them up, he put out his hand and demanded gas money. It was pretty funny. But the cost of gas got to him, and he sold it and bought an Orange Datsun B2000. He really went the other way with that one. But it was a fun car and it kept Marc out of trouble because that car was incapable of spinning its tires. Throughout the many concerts Marc and I went to, the Orange Datsun served us well.

I am glad Marc and I reconnected 9 years ago at our 30th HS Reunion. When I walked in the function hall, he was there at registration waiting for me. We have kept in touch enough, but I wish we could hang out again. Now that my mom has bought a Condo in FL, where he is now, I will make that happen.

When I say that High School sucked, and I say that a lot, I need to remind myself of all the half-baked fun Marc and used to have. I need to focus on stuff like that more.

letting go of the past

Perusing my old blogs, I can’t help but notice how much I have dwelled on the past. I’ve had it pointed out to me many times but I never realized how bad it really was. I think the secret to my future happiness depends on my getting a grip on this once and for all.

I think that the real sledgehammer to the forehead came as I was reading a series that I appropriately named “Diary of a FUS (fucked up shithead)”. While unfinished, it paints a pretty clear picture of my obsession with all that I have done that I regret but serves no real purpose other than to remind me of that which I want to forget. Digging deep into the possible psychology behind the posts the best I can come up with is that deep down not only do I regret many episodes and decisions, even entire periods of my life, but also have come to believe that my life would have taken an entirely different trajectory if I had taken a different path.

But I wouldn’t be the person I am today, for better or for worse, if not for those errors in judgment and behavior that haunt me to this day. Every stupid thing I’ve said; every poor decision; every time I failed to listen to the little voice in my head; every time I ignored my better instincts has in some way formed my current self. I am now careful to speak and quick to listen. I now question everything before I make a rash judgment. I now ignore my initial instinct to be trusting and instead ask the hard questions and dig deeper. I am hyper aware of what comes out of my mouth and very sensitive to what my face is saying when I’m listening. Perhaps most important, I always try to be kind to everyone: even those who don’t necessarily deserve it. Every one of these modified behaviors stems from one or more formative incidents that I wish that I could forget. Incidents that I have played out in my head and consequently beaten myself to metaphorical death over.

I have come to a major realization that in committing so many faux pas in behavior that it was always when I was trying to be something or someone that I was. The difference between the old, guilt-ridden me and the new me is that I now know who I am and I feel I know my place in this world. I embrace my smallness when I once chased success and stature. Despite my gruff appearance I am actually OK with being quite gentle. My facial expressions often express consternation but in fact it usually means that I am thinking about something and I am not aware that I look like that and I am in fact most likely thinking happy thoughts. While I often obsessed over my own predicament and weighed my worth in possessions, I now am happy with a modest lifestyle and I am quite generous for a man of my means. While I merely coexisted with my fellow man before, I now care deeply about the welfare of others and genuinely make an effort to alleviate the pain and sadness through simple acts and gestures.

Does it really matter what we were once or is it most relevant what we are now? How important is the past, if amends are made and lessons are learned, if we are now better people? Regardless of the twisted and winding paths we took, the obstacles we climbed over and how many times we had to turn around and start over, dusting ourselves off, isn’t the end result what matters?

I would love to change some things that I have done and said. I have hurt people and I know that I have missed many opportunities that, had I embraced, my life would be very different today. But I can’t. “Redo’s” only happen in the movies. What I do know is that lying awake at night beating the shit out of myself is doing nothing also. It’s time to recognize the past for what it is, it’s over and done with. I have definitely learned my lessons and I almost like who I am today. I can look in the mirror and be ok with the man staring back at me. He forgives me and I should as well. I have acquired many things due to my checkered past, the best of which is wisdom. I may not have known how to do the right thing before. But I do now and that is all that matters.

The rearview mirror is small, the windshield is large. That is because the past is only worth a small view but the present looms large before us and everything that matters is yet to come. If you are in the right place and frame of mind to receive it.

I have been blessed with opportunity after opportunity lately. Life is good. I believe that the positive energy I have tried to put out into the world has come back to me. Karma is not a bitch but instead the great reckoner and equalizer of the universe. Karma is not rewarding the me of the past, but instead the new me. The one that finally realized, no matter how late in life, that the past is just that. But today is a gift, that’s why it is called the Present.

The good old days

It all starts with the childhood right? If my B.S. in Psychology taught me anything, it is that a Shrink would think that all Fucked Up Shitheads (from now on will be known as FUS) are the product of hating or wanting to fuck your mother. They would be wrong. I was the product of a loving home. I had honest and hard working parents. To my knowledge I never needed for anything.

My town was lower middle class at best. If I had to guess, we were on the lower-middle end of it. My parents bought our house when I was 3 and from that moment Dad spent every spare minute working on it. The man left the house at 5AM, got home at 6 or 7. Mom kept his dinner warm. I would sit and watch him eat, careful to point out that we had left the biggest piece of steak for him. Sometimes he was talkative, other times he was quiet as he ate. If he was in a bad mood he would still give me a wink to let me know it wasn’t me. When he was finished he put his plate in the sink and went to pound nails or cut some boards. God bless him, he was the hardest working man I have ever met. Ever.

Mom walked the tightrope between Gloria Steinem Feminism and the good housewife brilliantly. She wore her hair down to her waist (see Cher), opened her own doors and, once I was old enough, got her own job. But around Dad she was a traditional housewife. Don’t hate on that term, that’s what they called themselves back then. By traditional housewife I guess I mean that she cared for me, cared for the house and inexplicably took care of him as part of her marital duties. She did it because it had to be done and she wasn’t offended by traditional Gender roles. She had limits. If he got too “traditional” she would give it back. She was a very positive female influence.

We were a very social family. We were the house that all the ladies in the neighborhood would come to for coffee and conversation. They’d stop by with their kids in tow, looking for a cup of sugar and would stay for coffee and whatever baked goods Mom was able to whip up. It was great for me, my friends were hand delivered. I didn’t even have to leave the house. When there weren’t pop-in play dates, it was my Grandmother.

My mom and her mother had a great relationship. They were very close and spent a lot of time together. Because they were both married to workaholics, their time together meant more than I ever would have understood at the time. They were lonely together, if that makes sense? One thing that helped to pass the time was to dote over me. As it turns out, doting was my Grandmother’s specialty. She took me places and showed me off to her friends at the Senior Center. My memories of hanging with her go all the way back, and I attribute my love of Elderly people to her. We had nothing less than a wonderful and gratifying relationship. Unfortunately, my Grandmother’s doting was also the source of a huge rift in her relationship with my mother. A rift so large that it essentially molded my mother’s approach to me. To a degree, it would be a problem for me in my teen years.

They were good times.

The wayback machine

“Mr. Peabody, set the Wayback machine to 1976…”

Music is transformative. Music is time travel. The right song, as it drifts through the speakers, has countless beautiful memories clinging to it. I’ve gotten away from music for a long time. Apparently my grey hair dictated to me that talk radio about sports and politics was the only thing for me. Sure, it was intellectually stimulating, but nothing reminds me of how beautiful life is and was like music.

Today as I was driving back from the clinic I had the volume low on the car stereo. I was thinking about the morning while simultaneously planning my day when I heard a magical strumming of guitar faintly playing. I immediately turned it up to see if it was…YES it was Bob Seger’s Night Moves. I turned it up as loud as it can go.

Sooooooo many memories. I think I have been delighted every time this song ever came on the radio but today I went all the way back. Back to the days of AM Radio. I recalled the small transistor radio that only got 3 stations and working outside in the fall air when I was 11 years old. I vividly remember splitting wood in the cool afternoon air. I should have been cold but I was in a t shirt and jeans and the chill of the autumn air didn’t faze me. The older kids drove by with their car stereos blaring, the neighborhood kids of my age stopped by and asked me to join them in a football game. I declined. I wanted to get my work done just so that I could see the pleased look on my Dad’s face when he came home from work.

The neighborhood kids didn’t understand. Not only did I need to do my chores because we needed the wood to heat the house in the pending winter, but I also liked the work. I felt strong as I swung the 8 pound splitting maul. The cool afternoon breeze cooled my brow. I felt powerful. I was young and strong. I felt accomplished. And despite being alone, for much of my early years I suppose, I was never truly alone because I had the radio.

Do you remember the days before Pandora and Spotify? Before 6 disc changers and countless radio stations? Do you remember hitting the record button on the tape player when your favorite song came on? And did you curse out the DeeJay for talking over the introduction? Hearing Bob Seger belt out Night Moves brought it all back to me today and it has put me in a melancholy but wonderful place.

I crave the simpler times. The times before life sapped all of the youthful energy and optimism out of me. I miss the days when I had strength and endurance to spare. When the simple tasks of getting through my day didn’t leave me drained and in pain. I miss the days of having only thoughts of the future and waiting for my favorite song to come on the old Transistor radio. For all of the complexities of adult life, right now I would trade them all for the cool Autumn afternoons of October 1976.

Now if you’ll excuse me there are some songs that I want to search out and truly live out this moment.

I have to go work on some of my Night Moves…

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.

Lessons unlearned

I came home today to be greeted by the sounds of Circular Saws and Hammers. The Contractors are finally finishing work on our Farmer’s Porch that they started in October. On the way into the house I paused to watch in fascination as they measured, cut and nailed with such precision and skill. And, as often happens, I triggered myself. Again.

I can’t hear a saw, a hammer or a drill without thinking about how much I didn’t learn from my father despite the many offers and opportunities. My dad was beyond handy, he could do almost anything with his hands. My earliest memories were of my dad rebuilding our house as we lived in it. He would work from 5 AM to 6 PM or later, slam down a quick dinner and then go to work until at least 10. The saw and hammer were sounds I knew at a very early age.

As I got older Dad tried to enlist my assistance, not because he necessarily needed help but instead to teach me. I was eager to help him but not very interested in learning anything new. This was odd for me because I was an eager student in every other aspect of life. I would pull nails from a pile he created, I could swing a hammer fairly well but offers of learning to measure, use woodworking tools and such were dropped due to lack of interest. Even offers of car maintenance were met with tepid enthusiasm despite our shared love of everything to do with cars.

One incident really stands out in my mind. One evening when I was in my late teens Dad offered to show me how to change the oil on my car. He had it already in the garage, the drive up lifts set up and all. The house phone rang (cell phones weren’t invented yet) and it was my girlfriend (she was goddamn gorgeous if that is relevant at all here) and she was imploring me to come over her house. I told her I was doing something with my Dad that was important and she insisted that it was very important. I had to make a decision and I can honestly say that I made the wrong one. I blew off my Dad.

The look of disappointment on his face was tangible. In my feeble defense, I really thought my girlfriend needed me. That almost helped me pull out of the garage feeling good about myself. Almost.

I arrived at my girlfriend’s house 20 minutes later and knocked on her door. She yelled for me to come up. I went upstairs, asking as I climbed the steps if she was ok, still very curious as to what the emergency was. As I entered her room and saw her lying there buck naked with a rose between her teeth I knew that I had been suckered. It was merely a sexual emergency. I somehow managed to get through it but soon after I began to feel bad.

I apologized profusely to my Dad the next day. He was curt and brief with me. He wasn’t mad, he was disappointed and that was always so much worse. He told me that he had offered to show me something for the last time. It was a pivotal moment in my relationship with my father and one of many regrets that I have from my childhood with regards to my dad. If I could talk to him for only five minutes it would be a priority in the conversation. He was such a hard-working and self-taught man. I admired him so. I take some comfort in many other things that I did learn from him that have made me the person I am but there is still a lot of regret.

Sorry Dad, how’s it go…If I knew now what I didn’t know then?

Missed opportunities

 I posted recently about my 35th High School Reunion. It was a honest piece in which I spoke directly to the healing that I have experienced in the years since I graduated.

I spent a lot of years blaming others for my own lack of visibility and satisfaction. Consequently, I developed an aversion to all things HS related, in particular Reunions. Fortunately, I grew up and eventually I went to a couple. What I came up with is that it was as much my fault as anyone else. That realization led to growth. So in my post I was honest to myself and issued a statement to my classmates. It was fairly well received on WP. But WP wasn’t the desired audience. As supportive as the community was, I felt that my former classmates needed to hear it. So I posted the link to the FB page of my HS class. I was nervous. I felt like I was in HS again, so afraid of being judged or ostracized by my classmates. But I knew that it didn’t matter in the big picture what they thought of me. I had put that monkey behind me. And I was further fortified by the possibility that I wouldn’t even be alive for the next one. I hit the “share” button. There was no turning back.

The response was amazing.

People that I thought never even knew my name responded. Friends who I had lost touch with for years told me how proud they were to be my friend. Comment after comment posted about how well I captured the experience of High School. Of how they could relate. Of how they remembered me. One of my classmates went so far as to say that my prose had inspired him to attend the next one.I received multiple FB inbox messages telling me how much my post meant to them. Friend requests followed. My blog received a record 151 views in one day. I was deeply humbled.

 I am a guy who walked out of  The Breakfast Club saying “I call Bullshit”. I never believed that the scars caused by the cliques of HS could be overcome by one 8 hour session of detention. When RUSH released the song Subdivisions,I immediately adopted it as the story of my High School experience.To say that I was jaded is an understatement.  

I carried this resentment for too many years. It was uncomfortable, cumbersome and it went on for too long. Based on the feedback, and in some cases support, of my classmates I now know that I had it all wrong. So many years living in my own head.

Sunday I am driving to MA to have lunch with a guy I went to HS with. He was the most recent of FB inbox messages related to my FB posting. He really wants to get together and get to know each other. Here’s the kicker. I never knew him in HS as a friend. I actually thought he disliked me. Apparently I was wrong. I look forward to making a new friend, even if it’s an old one I wasn’t aware of. 

So many missed opportunities. I wonder how many I can recover before it’s too late.

Hot summer days

Those hot summer days
Basking in the sun’s rays
Outside, even when skies were grey
The knock on the door
Can Billy come out to play?
Cops and robbers in the yard
Shins and elbows always scarred
Streetlamp curfews
Wasted days were few
Wax bottles and candy cigarettes
Eight-track tapes and cassettes
Hot afternoons in the pool
Mirror shades, try to look cool
Leaf piles to dive in
Saturday night drive in
Sleepovers at camp
Motocross bikes, jumping that ramp
Swimming and fishing
shooting stars and wishing
Talking to my first cutie
Worried about cooties
Bad music and One hit wonders
School dances and social blunders
First day of school sneakers
Hi-Fi and Big speakers
The crack of the bat
My first baseball hat
First day of tryouts
Don’t make a flyout
Ground ball heading to first
Damn, I 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’ve lost my joy
My days seem so long
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