The odd encounter

There was something really strange about this kid. He was tempted to end this and take off. His phone had rung two more times since he got to his car and he knew that every ignored call was throwing logs on the shit bonfire that awaited him at home. Despite this, he remained glued to his spot.
“Let’s just say that I’m here, but I don’t belong here” the boy deftly replied.
“Then where do you belong?” Bill replied, despite feeling that he was better off not asking.


“A different time”, the boy exclaimed as he lowered his fixed gaze for the first time, turned his head, and stared directly at Bill. He felt as if he was staring directly through him. Bill pressed further.
“OK, what time do you mean?”The boy didn’t respond for a few moments. Finally, he turned and stared intently at Bill.
“I asked you if you ever looked up at the sky a few minutes ago. I asked because I wonder if you looked up even once. Did you even notice what a beautiful evening it is?.” He continued, “I asked you if you ever wondered what it was like to look down from a high tree. You had no answer. Why is that?”
“Because I don’t know who you are, where you’re from and how you know my damn name!” Bill was getting angry. He almost felt bad about raising his voice to the young, albeit creepy kid.
Unfazed, the boy continued. “I asked you about the trees because from the height of the tall tree you look small. We all do. Minor. Insignificant. Yet all you are focusing on right now is how big your problems are.” He paused. “See, the world is bigger than the size of the screen of your phone or laptop. If you looked around you would see that. But you need the phone and the computer to make money. To buy stuff, stuff that will further take your attention away from every beautiful day. It’s just stuff, yet it’s consuming you, ruining you.”

Bill was beside himself. This kid didn’t talk like any kid he ever met, and what the hell is he talking about?
“How do you know this?!”
The boy sat down in the grass Indian style. “Did you ever sit just like this?  Playing with Matchbox cars in the dirt until your mother called you? Riding bikes with your friends. You hated to go home, right? Just like now.You were having fun then. But that’s not why you don’t want to go home now, is it Bill?”

The matter-of-fact look on the kid’s friggin’ face was killing Bill. He was looking right through him again. Yet he had no reply.
The boy continued. He was on his back now. “Did you ever lie on your back like this for hours looking at the sky? Wondering about the clouds? The stars at night. The possibility of a Heaven? About God. Do you think about God, Bill?”
“Not as much as I should.” Bill was powerless to question the utterly bizarre nature of this conversation.

The boy was standing now. “You used to be a happy kid, right? Lots of friends. You knew where they were without Facebook. You would look for the yard with all the bikes in the yard. Your mom knew where you were because you called from a phone in that house, a phone mounted to a wall, right? The streetlight was your curfew, or maybe you were close enough to hear your mother call you.” He paused and looked at his feet.
“It’s not too late, Bill”, He continued. “There’s still time to be that happy kid again. Look up, look around. Chase butterflies, smell the flowers. Find happiness like you used to. Remember the view of the bird, to him you are small. Look down on your problems as the bird looks down at you. Small, insignificant. It will work out.” With that, the boy turned and began to walk away.

Bill Marshall, who had been at a complete loss for words for what seemed like forever, finally blurted out what he had wanted to ask all along.
“Kid, how do you know me? I mean, this is impossible! How can you possibly know all of these things about my childhood? Is this mere speculation or a theory of yours? Do you think or do you know all of this!”
The boy, turning as he walked, said, “I know it. Think about where we’ve met before”. He then winked at Bill and continued walking. For the first time, Bill noticed that the boy had an old-fashioned Slingshot in his back pocket.
He used to have one just like it!
He looked down at the ground, he then gazed to the night sky. It really was a beautiful evening.

He got in his car and turned the engine on. He bathed in the AC and observed that he felt a little better. Despite the episode of the Twilight Zone he just starred in. The conversation played out over and over in his head. The kid was weird but in a non-threatening way. And he looked vaguely familiar. Shaking his head in disbelief, or to make sure he was indeed awake and conscious, he put the car in gear.

It suddenly occurred to him that he had some old-school pictures to go home and look at.

Have we met, kid?

He felt the phone in his back pocket vibrating. He was tempted not to even look to see who was calling. It was most likely his wife doing the nightly “where are you” call. God, he fucking hated that call. Often, he contemplated answering and saying “as far away from you as possible!” and hanging up but he knew that wouldn’t end well. Then again, it could be one of his kids calling and he grabbed for the phone. Too late, he had missed the call, but it was indeed the wife. Here comes the text, he thought. 2 seconds later it came through.

Where are U?

Bill chuckled to himself despite his annoyance. He called that one. He didn’t respond. He had a walk to finish and possibly a kid to beat up.

As he got closer to his car, he could see that it was a boy, maybe 8 years old standing near his car. He had to see Bill approaching yet he made no move to retreat or even acknowledge his approach. The hair on the back of his neck was standing up, something seemed off about this kid.

“Hey kid”, he called out when he was less than 20 feet away, “can I help you?”
The boy was gazing intently at the sky. Without looking down or away he replied, “no Bill, I’m just fine thank you.”
Shocked, Bill managed to respond,” how do you know my name?”
“It’s not important”, the little boy replied, still not moving his gaze from the sky. Bill looked in the direction of the boy’s gaze and all he could see was the setting sun.
“What are you looking at like that, kid. You’re kinda creeping me out.”
The boy, without shifting his gaze, said, “I’m looking at the sky. Do you ever just look up at the sky? It’s quite beautiful actually. The clouds. The birds. The setting sun and the shadow of the moon. Did you ever look at the top of a tall tree and wonder what it’s like to be a bird looking down?”
“That’s a lot of questions kid. And yes, I suppose I have. Well, I know that I used to.” Bill was reminded that he was talking to a stranger, an unaccompanied minor at that. “Are you lost? It is getting dark.”
“No, I’m right where I’m supposed to be.”

At a loss for his next move, Bill leaned against his car to stretch his legs and assess the situation. It was more than odd. He studied the boy. His clothes looked like they were from another generation. His hair looked like one of the “bowl cuts” his mom used to give him. It then occurred that the boy must have parents looking for him. But he sure didn’t seem scared or lost, he looked oddly comfortable.

He decided to play the quiet game and see who made the next move. He continued to stretch his tired body. Minutes passed and the boy said nothing. He was tempted to leave but his curiosity instincts were piqued and instead walked over and stood next to the boy. ‘Ok”, he said, “I give, what are you looking at?”
“Í told you, I’m looking at the sky. It’s quite beautiful, isn’t it?”
“Yes”, Bill replied. “We’ve established that. But you haven’t looked away once. Aren’t you bored looking at the same thing?”
Without hesitation, the boy shot back. “Bored? That’s what kids today are. Always need to be occupied and entertained. Not me.”
Kids today! The statement resonated with Bill. “Well, aren’t you part of ‘kid’s today’?” There was something really strange about this kid. He was tempted to end this and take off. His phone had rung two more times since he got to his car and he knew that every ignored call was throwing logs on the shit bonfire that awaited him at home. Despite this, he remained glued to his spot.
“Let’s just say that I’m here, but I don’t belong here” the boy deftly replied.
“Then where do you belong?” Bill replied, despite feeling that he was better off not asking.
“A different time”, the boy exclaimed as he lowered his fixed gaze for the first time, turned his head, and stared directly at Bill. He felt as if he was staring directly through him. Bill pressed further.
“OK, what time do you mean?”

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.

Mail

It occurred to me today as I was opening and responding to a series of emails that there was a day when we actually sent letters.

My Grandmother was a prolific letter writer. In addition to Christmas cards to all of her friends and family every year like clockwork, she also loved to sit down and narrate her life to her long address book full of contacts. I fondly remember her, at the small table in her tiny kitchen, with a stack of envelopes in front of her writing up a storm. She would tell all of her friends about the goings on with the family, write about me and my exploits (always the proud Grandma) and then wet the stamp with her little sponge in a tiny pool of water and drop them in the mailbox and raise the red flag. She received and sent letters and cards every single day.

Then she would wait. For days. The anticipation of getting a letter in return was one of her favorite things. While my memories may be incorrect, I think I listened with interest as she excitedly read to me the letters she had received. I may have not liked it, but I loved my grandmother so much I certainly made an effort. It meant everything to her.

Today, the only thing we wait days for is Amazon. And if you have Prime you don’t wait long. Correspondence is now instantaneous. Literally lightning fast. For those of us who knew a world before the internet it should give a nostalgic feeling. While I hated it when I was younger, I now see the value of delayed gratification as I plod through a world built around instant gratification. Instant gratification fades fast and is less pronounced compared to the feeling of sending a girlfriend a letter from Basic Training or from summer camp or whatever and then waiting patiently for a response. Once the response came you read it and reread it, sometimes it smelled like perfume and if I was really lucky there would be a picture with it. I carried the letter with me everywhere I went. It doesn’t feel the same as rereading an email on my phone or tablet.

I wish the world would just slow the hell down.

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…

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 curator of my America

Nabokov called his talents “banal” and a waste of brilliant technique. The highbrow art critics called his work “bourgeois” and “kitsch”. He was unjustly called an illustrator instead of an artist. Norman Rockwell didn’t care. He painted what he wanted to and gave the people what they wanted in his idealistic, sentimentalistic portraits. Over the course of 47 years and 323 original works, his perceptive, nostalgic eye for his America graced the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

Born in New York, he eventually made his way to New England. He first lived in Vermont and eventually landed in the small Western Mass town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. He did most of his painting there, eventually immortalizing small town life through his ongoing commitment to illustrating the cover or The Saturday Evening Post, consequently showing the world his views on life through his works.

I was 12 when he died. I remember my Grandmother being deeply upset. It was then that I made the connection between the magazine covers that littered her coffee table and the wonderful artist behind them. An aspiring artist myself, I was fascinated by his technique.

As I got older I began to appreciate his work even more. I moved from admiring the technique of Rockwell’s work to the subject matter behind it. His portrayals resonated with me. The magic of Christmas…


Rockwell always brings me back to a time when Christmas was about family and neighbors. The one time of year when everyone was always nice to each other. When people Caroled, drank Eggnog and a gift was appreciated, be it a hand made pasta sculpture from a small child or a simple card. We weren’t valued by the extravagance of our gift.

Rockwell was most famous for his Christmas works but so many other of his recurring themes impacted me. The fun, and difficulties of being a child (and remember that his was a much simpler time…

young love
a boy and his dog
the runaway

He didn’t shy away from controversial subjects either and he took heat about it but remained unfazed…

He was once told that his depictions of racial relations would get him banned. He insisted to the Post that if he was censored he would walk away. He was allowed to continue. He was a man of conviction.

I was raised with his values of post-Depression, post-war frugality and conservatism. Waste not, want not was a daily mantra. My parents and grandparents fixed things when they broke, they didn’t throw them away. They “darned” socks with holes, they didn’t buy new ones. In a time of burgeoning rampant consumerism and pursuit of the next “new” thing, they were firmly planted in the “old times”; a simpler way of life that simply made sense. I truly loved that mentality, to this day I reject the “new is better” mindset.

Rockwell, during those times, stuck faithfully to the old ways, he continued too portray the America that he knew and likely sensed that he was to be a curator of them lest they be forgotten. When a horse drawn wagon rode alongside a new-fangled “car”. When children played in the street without fear of boogeymen. When people knew, respected and loved their neighbors.

I often muse that I was born in the wrong era. I would have loved to have grown up in Rockwell’s ’20’s.
Baseball was played for the love of the game, not massive contracts.
A time when men and women dressed in suits and dresses when going out in public.
A time when families ate dinner together every night.
A time when children played safely outside, in a neighborhood where people knew, cared about and supported each other.
A time when Doctor’s made House calls.
When civility and manners ruled the land.

I long for a return to these days but I know they will never return. That is why I have the Rockwell’s Coffee Table Books at the ready. As far as I’m concerned they have never been more relevant.

Little ones

Inspiration, as well as motivation often comes when you are not looking for it. Recently, while catching up with Lisa’s blog I found this beautiful poem on childhood. It’s no wonder I try to keep up with her work. This is brilliant.

I cannot be seen if I cover my face
There are scary beasts hiding under my bed
I cannot fall when my Daddy carries me
The Shadows in my room have horrid faces
I cannot be hurt if teddy is with me
When you turn off the night light terror finds me
I cannot get lost when Mummy takes my hand
Don’t leave me alone, I’ll cry. I can’t see you
I cannot grow up. I’m safe, when I’m not scared.

I’m feeling empty lately. I don’t have a lot to do. I haven’t been sleeping. There has been a lot of open time for the dark forces to attack my defenses.

I miss working, it made me feel productive. I was an important man at my company, always fixing problems and blessed with the opportunity to help people.
I miss having a companion, despite how unhappy we were. When we got along, I liked having a wife, the idea of being married. I’m lonely.
I miss my big, noisy house. I loved the chaos during the day and the closing of the door at night that alerted me that everyone was home and safe for the night. It is so quiet here at night, and I don’t have the luxury of knowing that everyone is home and safe. You don’t stop worrying about children because they are grown.

Where Lisa’s beautiful poem hit me in the feels is that, more than anything, I miss when my children were young.
When they were innocent and untainted by the ugliness of this world.
When a kiss on a boo-boo was a million times more soothing than any medicine.
When Daddy was a force bigger than life itself and could always save the day.
When I was needed.

23 years ago I was cleaning up the kitchen where I worked with my co-worker Tony. We were sipping beers and talking. I took a pull on my beer and said to him, “I need to stop this soon, my daughter will be born soon.”
“Why do you need to stop drinking?”, Tony asked. “You can’t be a father and have a beer?”
“I need to get this right, Tony.”
I hadn’t gotten much right at that point in my life, I needed this one.

I never did quit drinking. But I sure made an effort to get it right. When my beautiful daughter was born, I felt a joy unlike any other. I doted on her. I made sure I changed a lot of diapers because it is the best way for a dad to bond, they have nowhere to look but at your face while you do it. I raced home from work to catch bedtime and when I missed it I camped out on the floor of the nursery listening to her breathe. With 2, 3 and 4 I lightened up a bit but not much. I worried less and enjoyed them more.

There is so much about their younger years that I wish I had a redo on. Not blessed with a particularly strong skill set, I had a string of awful jobs with terrible hours and I missed an awful lot of pivotal moments. But when I was home, I tried to make the most of the time.

I missed a lot of dinner times, but I made a lot of bedtimes. I would come home to smiling babies, toddlers running to see me and an exhausted and grateful wife. I gladly helped with baths, we called them “tubbies”. I loved to read them stories, with my own little twists of course. Daddies “additions” to the story were the best part and if done properly would draw huge ear to ear, toothy (some missing) smiles and a chorus of belly laughs that defied the dimensions of their tiny bodies and still ring beautifully in my memory all these years later.

It was a source of frustration as parents to stay on the same page as parents and not contradict or undermine each other. I was guilty of it when it came to bedtime. Selfishly, I wanted more time, regardless of what the clock, or mommy said. It wasn’t unusual to sneak another show or video in, or have my daughter fake an asthma attack in order to get a Nebulizer treatment and an extra half hour with Dad. The end result was the same, I got to carry a sleeping child to bed, tuck them in and marvel at them as they slept.

For the first ten years of fatherhood, I was not a particularly distinguished career man. I didn’t make a lot of money or drive a nice car. I failed to earn any titles of importance. I didn’t care. Someone called me Dad, and it was the finest of all titles. My favorite job consisted of witnessing an amazing series of “firsts”, making silly faces, causing belly laughs, giving shoulder rides, rolling around in newly mowed grass, leaf piles or fresh snow. I experienced more than any man’s fair share of witnessing wonderment at things that adults are now bored of, like a butterfly or a sunset. I taught them about the world they lived in, answered ten million questions, magically healed boo boos by kissing them and slayed any and all dragons that dared occupy the space under their beds.

I had been minimized in all areas of my life, even my marriage. But in the eyes of my children I was a giant among men and a force to be reckoned with. I could make anything better just by being there and would do anything to protect them.

Sometimes, when in the presence of my children, I find myself staring. Part of me sees the fine adult sitting before me, but another sees the cherubic face of the beautiful baby they once were. After all, they will always be my babies no matter how old they are.

Now, as they are all grown and living their lives, I would give anything to go back to those days. I didn’t know that it would end up being the happiest time of my life.

I wish my friend Tony was still alive. I’d love to tell him, after all these years, that I got this one right.


3,2,1 Quote me…The Sad Clown

I woke up this morning to see in my notifications that Lisa of All About Life fame has nominated me for the 3,2,1 Challenge. She knows me, I love a good quote and I especially enjoy elaborating on why it means something to me.

I find it odd, perhaps a sign that this challenge comes on a day that I woke up in the mood to binge-watch movies of a man whose loss I feel deeply. The brilliant and manic comedian that brought tears of joy and abdominal pain from laughing.
The soulful and charismatic actor who created and portrayed characters that walk alongside me in real life.
The “sad clown” that laughed on the outside and cried on the inside but chose to make others laugh because he knew pain.
The man who left us way too early because his pain was just too much to bear.

I have been called a “Sad clown” before. I have been accused of making jokes to minimize pain. Of deflecting praise because I didn’t feel worthy of it. They weren’t wrong, I was deeply unhappy for a long time. But I did get pleasure out of making others happy. That’s what Robin did, so today I will provide 2 great quotes from Robin Williams.

Bad days are lessons. You can learn from them or dwell on them, it is your choice. I have had more than my share of bad days in my life but I always chose to smile through them when I was able, or smile after when it was over. Collectively, my bad days have taught me to appreciate everything, most especially the little things in life. The warmth of the sun, the smile and laugh of a child, the gait of a beautiful woman, the affection of a pet, the sunrise of a brand new day. We only have so many sunrises left and I try to enjoy them all. I don’t know how many days I have left, none of us do, but I refuse to die with regrets and unexpressed feelings.

What a wonderful take on wisdom. Wisdom is fleeting for some, nonexistent in others and always appreciated too late in the dispenser and wasted on the young.
Too often we dismiss the advice of others because we feel that we know enough already or that the giver is not qualified. Wisdom comes from good judgment. Good judgment comes from making mistakes. Mistakes, better known as learning experiences make and shape who we are. How we handle them speaks volumes. At the very least, our mistakes teach us how to handle future incidents. At the most, they allow us to help others clear their hurdles.
Unfortunately, wisdom is acquired too late. The sands of time eventually fill the bottom of the hourglass and it dies with you. You can only hope that someone besides yourself learns from your slips and falls, the hills and vales and the walls that you hit so that they might not struggle.
But if they do, they will have acquired their own wisdom. Just another cog in the circle of life.

I nominate:
My bud Biff @ Biff, Sock, Pow. His blog is brilliant and funny and I would love to see what he comes up with. I would also be pleased if you would check him out. You will not regret it.
Sparky Jen. She’s positive, very wise and a true pleasure to read. Trust me.
Tom @ Tom Marches on. He’s been in a slump lately maybe this will get him writing again. Plus I would like to see what he comes up with.



The Reunion

When the 5th Reunion invite arrived I immediately discarded it. Likewise with the 10th. I wasn’t ready. The scars were still fresh and sore to the touch. When I opened my mailbox to see the invitation to the 15th, I decided I would go.

I arrived, with my wife of three years on my arm and a bad attitude. I had caustically joked to her in the elevator that “the same people that didn’t talk to me in HS can have the luxury of not talking to me tonight.” I left that night not knowing if I was right or wrong, her father had a heart attack and we hurriedly left after only an hour.

I skipped the 20th. And the 25th. I was too busy, too tired, too fat, too poor, too unsuccessful…let’s face it…too full of excuses. I just wasn’t in a good place. I wasn’t prepared to talk to people about my life because I felt like a failure. I had visions of regaling people with details of my remarkably mediocre life and then sit in the corner and drink until it was time to slip out the door.

I went to the 30th with a slightly better attitude. I reconnected with a few old friends and made small talk with quite a few people. But I confirmed that I was still largely a Ghost. The people that didn’t talk to me in HS didn’t talk to me then, my caustic joke  of 15 years before had proved correct. It would later occurr to me that I didn’t talk to them 30 years ago either. It was a sobering, powerful lesson. You get what you put into things. I decided that I hated reunions and would likely not attend another.

My terribly negative, yet persistent view of Reunions had clearly stemmed from my HS experience, or lack of therein. I left HS unfulfilled and unhappy. I had few friends, few prospects, and few memories. I tried too hard to fit in. When I failed to, I drew within. I walked the halls looking at my feet instead of making eye contact. I worked a lot. I dropped out of clubs and quit teams when I got the slightest bit of grief from classmates. I ran Cross-Country because it was a solitary sport.  For years to come I blamed others for my lack of fulfillment because I wasn’t yet mature or aware enough to put the blame squarely where it belonged, on myself.

It was liberating to stop casting blame. Reviewing my High School years with a clear, honest eye, I realized that it was mostly a giant missed opportunity. A regrettable one at that.

When I received the invitation to the 35th Reunion I immediately decided that I would go. It was time to cast the monkey off of my back once and for all.

When I arrived at “The Shoe”, the place was full. I took a deep breath and walked in. I wasn’t concerned with “measuring up” against others, and I was genuinely interested in the lives of my peers without the burden of jealousy or envy. Fully prepared to say, if asked:

“Hi, I’m Bill. You probably don’t remember me. I was the color of the walls in HS. I went on to have a unremarkable career and a failed marriage. I’m on Disability. I lost almost everything to End Stage Renal Disease and I may not be alive for the next one of these. But I have 4 amazing children that I live for.
It’s goddamn good to see you though. Hey, where are you going?!?!?!?!?”

I never had to say that. Here is what happened instead.

Everyone looked great. Everyone was happy. Drinks flowed and conversation roared. The people that I recognized, I talked to.  I had a few conversations with people that I didn’t know so well. I saw most of the people that I had hoped to and definitely missed opportunities to chat with some that, after 35 years, were still strangers to me. I mused to myself, as I sat in the corner nursing a beer, the old proverb “A stranger is a friend you haven’t yet made.” As true as it was, it was a bit late for that with most in the room. I needed to be OK with that.

I left early. I didn’t feel well and was struggling with light-headedness and headaches all night. But I’m glad that I attended. For so many years I actually thought that I was the only one who had struggled in HS. That everyone else loved High School and would all grow to be happy, well-adjusted adults but me. It was when I realized that life maybe didn’t turn out for them as planned, that they maybe struggled in HS, and life after as well, that I finally gave myself a break. Life doesn’t always turn out the way you planned. All I can say is, I struggled for years to find myself, until I realized I was me all along.

It was great to see everyone. I wish I knew you all better. I wish I had made more memories to laugh and reminisce about. Alas, as the saying goes…there is no second chance to make a first impression.