John the Baptist

The memories are sketchy. I was maybe seven years old and the teachers had arranged an Easter egg hunt for the class. We filed down the stairs to the yard in the back of the school, lined up against a wall that was bleeding paint chips. The structural integrity of the school left a lot to be desired. It was decades removed from any kind of worthwhile maintenance. The yards however, they were quite lovely from what I remember. We were told it was because the yard was tended to by local parishioners of the church that bordered us, not that we really cared.

All that mattered were the monkey bars, the swings and the see saw which sat in a lonely corner of the yard, away from the plush gardens; almost as if an afterthought in spite of the utility of recess.

The only part of the hunt I remember was finding an Easter egg tucked at the base of a tree. I pretended I didn’t see it, in spite of the bright infusion it threw inside the pale dirt. I was waiting for Patty, who in spite of my best judgment, had become my school girlfriend. Truth be told, outside of the thunder claps of blonde hair that sprouted from her pigtails, we shared no kismet. She thought me a ‘bad boy’ for cursing all the time, and I found it repugnant that she couldn’t do a better job of wiping her nose. Yet somehow, we had forged a strange alliance. We looked out for each other, as if we knew there were struggles we had endured far beyond the walls of a school.

So when I found that Easter egg nestled inside the veins of a big old tree, I waited for her. She hadn’t found an egg to that point, and I felt badly for my gal pal. I remember just standing guard, waiting for her to arrive when a teacher came up to me, bent down and picked up the egg and said something to the effect of,

“Oh for God’s sakes! It’s right here!”

I don’t remember the teacher, but I do remember hating her for killing my moment. And I remember carrying that hate with me for the rest of the day. The world was full of adults who wanted to steal your dreams before they got started.

After school, I was ushered back to the yard with the other kids whose parents schedules conflicted with the end of the school day. For the span of an hour or more, we would entertain ourselves with war games and marbles and school gossip.

Me? I usually just wanted to run, until I got to anywhere else. This entailed scaling a tall, chain link fence that surrounded the yard. After which one of the Baptist kids who volunteered to watch us would have to give chase. My legs were filled with rocket fuel on this particular day, and if memory serves me right, I made it a couple city blocks before being caught.

The kid’s name was John. A tall and lanky, clean cut high school student who never lost his cool. No matter how hard I tried. He must’ve chased me down dozens of times, and never once did he utter a bad word or flash me a disjointed look. He would simply walk me back to the school yard, every single time.

There we were, sitting in exhausted heaps on the cool concrete sidewalk, not saying a word to each other; simply trying to get back to even before returning to the yard. I was a kid who hated adults and Jesus and anything that ever tried to tell me the what’s what, but try as I might? I couldn’t hate John. We walked back to the school in silence as I tried to find a reason to believe in the world.

It was years before I realized I’d already found one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s In A Name?

I am Michonne.

I know, it ain’t the level of bad ass Poe when compared to the likes of Negan or Alpha. But I took a Walking Dead quiz in the hopes I wasn’t found to be their kind of Poe-try in motion. Because let’s face it, once you get past the rock a bye cool shit sounding fascination of saying I am Negan, all that’s left is a frustrated ballplayer who also happens to be a sociopath with PTSD.

Negan has tremendous value as a character, even if Maggie and the gang would beg to differ. It took Angela Kang to flesh out- pun intended- the complicated layers. Here’s a guy who doesn’t flinch when it comes to turning people into mashed potatoes with a baseball bat. And here’s the same guy who goes out into a blizzard to save the little girl of his arch-nemesis. I for one am glad we get both sides of Negan . . . now, and for whatever time he has left. But I’m also a little bit glad I’m not him, from here.

Alpha, on the other hand . . is more evil than an insider trader with a getaway villa. And her backstory tells us she didn’t need no zombie apocalypse in order to become this bitch on wheels. She was already there. She’s more hell bent on fucking people’s shit up than a frustrated Seventh Day Adventist in a shit marriage living in a double wide. The post apocalyptic Alpha harbors not a wit or a wiggle of difference from her previous existence as a serial killer in hiding. She ain’t ever cared. Which makes her the most frightening WD villain yet.

As for these personality quizzes that foretell your apocalyptic self, let’s face it, they’re only collecting intel on a control basis. Because you cannot possibly predict what kind of individual you will morph into once Kraft mac and cheese becomes five star cuisine and prescription drugs replace dead presidents as ching. I relate to Negan in lots of ways- from the leather getup to finding wit in the macabre. And the idea that I might fill out into a sadistic fucker if humanity’s thermostat goes on the blink? I can’t say I would, because I just can’t say.

As for the character quiz I took, I’m Michonne. Which makes total sense from where I am standing presently.

I’m loyal, I keep to a very tight circle and I will cut you loose quicker than Liz Taylor if I feel like you’re messing with the rug that centers my room (Big Lebowski reference). I don’t care what your opinion of me happens to be, until you add dimension to it. After which, we can throw down and I’m sorry, not sorry about that.

My previous iterations were unconventional and yet, there was an abidance to those staples (relatively speaking) just the same. Not anymore. And I dig the fact we can change in such a piecemeal metaphysical fashion as that. Wearing so much more than the one person we were born into. And I dig the idea that we Zen with the one personality, eventually. If we’re lucky.

And if we’re really lucky, we might be good at the one that matters most of all when push finally comes to shove. Because as far as names go?

I like Michonne just fine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top 5 Heroes Of The Week! Special Edition

We have another first in our Heroes series this week. This is a very special edition that will deviate from the regular top 5, because the story touched me in such a way that it seemed only right to reserve this Friday’s table for only two. This story happened last year, but I am always going to run with something that makes the news? Worthy.

This week’s Special Top 2 Heroes are Bob Kraft and Alyssa Silva. Their story exemplifies hope, faith and our better angels.

I know what you’re thinking. . a New England Patriot as good hero? Two days before the New England Invitational? That there is anathema to the senses of any football fan outside of the 508. But the owner of the New England Patriots is much more than just the “Gate”-keeper to a modern day dynasty. Kraft is also a civic minded mensch whose outreach has helped to make countless lives better.

Alyssa Silva is one of those lives. The twenty eight year old Ms. Silva is a blogger who specializes in creating bold new words like ‘enoughness’. And when she’s not writing, she’s non-profiting (another Silva Special) as an entrepreneur whose mission is to bring awareness to spinal muscular atrophy. SMA affects the motor nerve cells of the spinal cord and inhibits muscle growth. Alyssa was diagnosed with the disease when she was six months old. Doctors at the time predicted she would not live past her second birthday.

Embrace the rough draft. Learn from the edits- Alyssa Silva

Silva has been a frequent guest of owner Bob Kraft at Patriots home games over the years, and last summer she and her family took part in what they believed was a follow up segment for ESPN. During the interview, Kraft and Matthew Slater (Silva’s favorite player) presented them with a handicapped accessible van. These rides do not come cheap, and while her family had been shopping for one, they feared they might not be able to afford it.

Kraft came through with a game winning drive of his own. And it’s easy to see why his organization has been gold standard professional throughout his tenure. Because the Boss? Gives a damn about the people in his circle. Love him or loathe him, that’s how leaders are supposed to behave.

Joy and Pain Can Coexist- That’s when I realized: it’s easy to falter on the false idea that joy can finally enter your life once the challenge has been overcome. But the reality is that joy is ever-present, and despite the discipline and hard work it requires, choosing to see life this way will always be far more rewarding- Alyssa Silva

As for Alyssa Silva, there’s no doubt about her leadership skills. She is twenty eight years strong, with every single day presenting the kinds of challenges most of us take for granted. In a world whose currency is status, hers is the beauty and grace that actually counts for something. The purpose she brings to every single day is one of faith, perspective and a tenacious spirit that has traversed real life odds pretty much her entire life.

We ain’t gonna find a bigger hero come Super Bowl Sunday than her brilliant soul provides. Because winning the day isn’t about trophies and rings. It’s about the ideals you impart for the profit of others, and that is the kind of selfless currency the world needs more of.

That is everything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turntable

It was June of ’86 when I hopped a plane for Port Richey, Florida. My former girlfriend had moved out of New York months earlier and I was in chase despite the fact we weren’t in love with each other. Ours was the kind of relationship that wasn’t interested with being in love. Cliches kicked the shit out of you and made you old before you really got going.

For most of the year and change we were together while she was still living in New York, forever had seemed a million miles long. And then it got lost one night when we were involved in a car accident that took my best friend’s life. Everything, every single thing, changed. We stayed together out of a hopeless desperation to save ourselves from drowning. Until the winter took us to different places, and New York, it became a place full of ghosts.

We broke up but stayed in touch. She almost got pregnant to a college football player while I swore I’d found my future wife in a Hardee’s Drive-Thru, and then we kept turning into someone elses until she called to tell me to get there, just for the hell of it.

It seemed like a great idea until I was touching down in Florida and wondering why in the fuck it was that life didn’t come with annotations. And then we were there, trying to catch up on everything we had lost and not having a chance in hell of getting back to what we had been before our lives spilled out in different directions.

The time I spent with her was filled with the kind of education only experience can provide. Among the things I learned was that the girl had more of my stuff than I remembered giving her. There was a half closet full of my clothes, including winter jackets she had no use for in her new locale but took with her just so she could wear them whenever she thought of me. She had a bunch of my vinyl, to which I cursed myself for giving up so easily. Other items of note included a sweet purple and gold Magic Johnson jersey, a Brooklyn Union Gas pylon I had gifted myself after a night of partying and a football helmet.

The more salient lesson happened from the moment I touched down and she ran into my arms. It was blatantly obvious that we tended to disagree. About everything. She thought the world was flat and I knew it was round. I was a Reagan kid and she loved Carter and Mondale. I read books like No More Vietnams and she read books like Phaedo. She was Mets, Chinese take-out, screwdrivers and U2 while I was Yankees, pizza, Corona and Bon Jovi.

It had never occurred to me that we had absolutely nothing in common back when we had been inseparable. But with the passing of time and place, now it was impossible to ignore. Once upon a time, I just assumed we were passionate and fiery. That’s some interesting shit. But the idea that we were just a couple of stupid kids who had nothing in common? Not so interesting.

So we debated who the best band in the world was and we never got back to even and then we argued on everything else. Until she was telling me to get lost and then I was hopping a plane out of there. Without my Magic Johnson jersey, or my two tone leather jacket . . . or my vinyl.

Twenty years later, we reconnected thanks to an old friend. There was zero expectation of anything romantic happening, but I had to admit it was nice to hear her voice again. She told me she was back in New York and she asked me if there was any chance we might be able to catch up over drinks. We were both divorced with kids and life was flying by and drinks with an old friend felt like a chance. To just forget all the things that time had stolen.

I had to get there. If only to ask how my LP’s were doing . . .

 

 

 

 

Sunday Morning Post

I was recently reminded of something my mother used to say when I was a little boy. I was doing little boy things,  like being needy and whiny with a checklist full of all the many things I had to have, like . . immediately if not sooner.

You can’t want what you don’t have, so stop asking for it already. 

I found this to be a particularly churlish retort to my obviously childish wants. Not to mention the fact that mom was being uber philosophical without even knowing it. A simple because would’ve done, but to go all Kierkegaard on my ass was plainly unfair and wholly undemocratic.

My mother’s intent was to branch out the lesson into places my formative brain couldn’t yet reach, so that I might shut the fuck up for five seconds. And it worked. The preach was graduate level, but not in a mocking sense. More to the point, it trusted my ability to play catch up with the facts. And in the doing, it took my mind off the static qualities of whining all my many needs.

It wasn’t often that I acted my age. I was sixteen when I was six, sneaking smokes and drinking mysterious potions my friends hustled out of their parents linen closets and kissing girls. I hung out with kids who were twice my age, because they were depressing as fuck and I related to that.

Granted, my understanding of philosophy was limited to wondering why it was that Leigh Ann Dence would talk about marrying me inside one moment and then flirt with my friend Steve inside the next. But a relative understanding was plenty good enough.

This particular lesson on wanting, it stuck. Because it learnt me a solid take on humanism and time management. Dwelling on the former demanded patience and humility and ample amounts of soul searching. It taught me that to want what I do not have was an extravagance to which the cosmos frowned upon.

Never mind that I tossed all of that hard earned perspective away as I got older. I became greedy in my wanting of things that were both illusory and damning in the sense of true appreciation. A cancer diagnosis in 2000 and divorce a few years later kicked my ass back to reality.

I teased this lesson I’d carried with me, and I teased it hard inside the aughts of 2000, once I had a few clean bills of health under my belt and had regained my sea legs on the dating scene. Each and every time I was met with a reminder, to go back to the beginning. To be okay with wanting what I had. Because for me, this lesson was a beacon.

It allows me to navigate my definition of happiness without falling into a place from which there ain’t no returning. This way ain’t for everyone, and thank God for that. Because this way comes at a cost. You’ll lose people. Because the world works on credit and all that great shit the stoics once penned is sold on Amazon now.

But I understand that judgement is nothing more than ignorance dressed in black. And on those days when I feel as if the people I trusted most done placed me inside the windows on Herald Square for everyone to gawk at, I let myself understand that anger for what it truly is. Knowledge.

Once you’re unencumbered from ideas that demand you to want- ideas like anger and hate, confusion and vengeance- you can actually fuse that energy into something more ambitious than a linear progression. As a writer, this means channeling the pulpy wrecks into vessels that float.

So goes the lesson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Losing My Own Personal Cold War

The world seems to be going to Hades in a howitzer. We have the looming specter of nuclear winters, climate expanded summers and a ubiquitous fall from grace in the United States of Twitter.

So why shouldn’t I rail on fucking cart attendants?

Namely, my man Robert. And if you ain’t down with the snark in that sentence, you ain’t read my last love letter to this asshole. You can find it here, but be warned that you will never get back those three minutes of your life. And you’ll never see cart attendants the same way again. Just kidding, we all see cart attendants the same way, don’t we? They’re fucking cart attendants . . they attend to carts. And they’re ain’t nothing wrong with that, but don’t be selling their profession as some kind of Shakespeare novella, ayt?

I guess I’m really not as different as I like to think I am. Because for all the times I grimace at those peeps who need to be liked, it seems I got me some of that DNA as well. I mean, I don’t give a great good fuck if you don’t like me. In fact, I’m plenty coo with it, because let’s face it . . that shit is interesting. If a person doesn’t like me, there’s always this little voice in my head (He sounds like Hugh Jackman) who’s  like Look at you! All hated . . . you must be some King Shit! 

Of course, the feeling is transient and more unstable than a third world bank. After which Hugh Jackman voice is summarily kicked to the curb by Samuel Jackson voice, who says something like Bitch! Get that weak ass shit outta here! King Shit my ass! After which I curse myself for not having any bourbon in my crib.

So it happened again yesterday. More evidence that Robert is fucking with my head. There I was, walking into my local grocer while Robert stood guard at the door, greeting every single fucking person who passed by. As I approached the automatic doors, I checked my phone for no other reason than I didn’t want Robert to think I gave a fuck that he was about to ignore my ass yet again.

Maybe I put too much thought into these interactions, or lack thereof . . I dunno.

Of course, all that chirp ceased as I moved to the doors. Evidently, I am the bubonic plague when it comes to his ability to construct basic sentences. So get this, I smile at a text my pal Q sent me . . . last week. That’ll teach you Robert, you pretentious piece of shit! I got a life that doesn’t need your hello . . bitch.

But nah, Robert wasn’t content with radio silence. Because just as I’m breaching the entrance, he greets someone else. I turn to find the recipient of a hello not named Marc’s and I gotta say . . wow. This Robert asshole is good. Because the other end of his greeting is in a car . . driving . . through the parking lot.

So Robert basically yodeled to this individual a half block away, after which he proceeded to have a conversation with him. Meanwhile, yours truly who is standing punching distance away from him gets some more of the Bruce Willis treatment. And now it’s quite evident to me that I’m playing checkers and Robert is playing chess.

Maybe he’s got more Shakespeare than I’m giving him credit for.

The Proof In Our Existence

 

Firefighters Todd Heaney and Frankie DiLeo, of Engine 209, c

People are inherently good.

We’re raised to believe this concept from the time we’re old enough to get bored during liturgy and choose sides on the playground. Most kids aren’t concerned with empirical validation when the freedoms they hold most dear are threatened; yanno, stuff like playtime and dessert.

Then there was me.

I questioned everything, no matter how convincing the adults were at selling the points. I wanted to believe people were generally good, but I had myriad reasons to be skeptical. Adding to my distrust of the status quo was the fact that I read, a lot. And I observed, everything.

So it was that I questioned the cross stitched tenets of a happy life, which mandated that you go to school, score a good job and get married. Societal conventions read like a manual, and I knew that spiritual complications navigated through so much more than a simple set of instructions.

In my cross examination, I wondered how it was that Walt Disney and Henry Ford were able to strike it rich since they’d been dropouts. And I argued that Oscar Wilde wrote quite well while being mostly unemployed. And of course I had to ask why it was that marriage was such a great idea when the happiest adult I knew was our family friend George, who I pointed out, wasn’t married.

Questioning the way things had always been was usually met with censure. I was told to shut up, or to finish eating my dinner, or to go to my room. Some kids might have been deterred, but I knew I was onto something.

When I got older I began adding some patina to my simple ideas with Locke and Hobbes and liberal high school girls who wore berets and questioned everything. I struggled mightily with ghosts and found odd comfort in the idea that most people were inherently good, but also selfish. It was comforting because these qualities were intuitive and human and real. The vulnerability of these qualities guaranteed complications, which helped to explain why the best laid plans of school, work and marriage often took a hard right turn at Topeka and sometimes, they never made it back from that stretch of yellow brick road.

It was October of 2001 when I was re-introduced to the question in a pub in New York City. It was closing in on one month since the terror attacks in Washington, New York and Pennsylvania. The rubble at Ground Zero was still on fire and the inhalation of toxic smoke and ash was a much bigger issue than the news outlets were letting on. That’s what brought our small band of volunteers together. Some doctors had helped put together a free clinic for first responders at the Police Academy on East 20th Street and we were part of that effort.

When I think back on that time now, it doesn’t seem possible that seventeen years have come and gone. It feels much closer, because I can still summon that cornflower blanket of a sky that was busy going nowhere fast and taking the world along for the ride. And I can remember that juicy peach of a sun, ripe with best laid plans. And the air possessed the feeling of silk, and winter seemed likely to be canceled on account of the preponderance of this wonderful evidence.

Until the North Tower brought storm clouds and morning became night and the darkest reaches of the human heart strangled the dreams of an endless summer. After which the nation and the world had to try and put itself together again.

That’s what we talked about in the pub all the way back then. Our group weaving in and out of personal conversations, some of which spun larger before getting dismissed in accordance with the particular round of friendlies we were tossing back. And then, one of the volunteers pulled the table together when she confessed that her faith had been damn near shattered, irrevocably. She was sad, confused and downright pissed off at the thought that this hell on earth had extinguished all evidence of a higher power.

And that’s when I assured her she was looking at this horrible event in four evil acts, and forgetting the countless other selfless ones that followed. There were the first responders who rushed to the scene and gave their lives to save thousands more from getting lost inside those towers. There were the cops and firemen, EMT’s and doctors and nurses, and there were the ordinary citizens who rolled up their sleeves and got to work inside the desperate hours.

My take was simply this. God was there on that horrible day, in all those people who showed up and stayed put when we were getting our asses kicked hard from all corners with no end in sight. And when the darkness was unleashed and it felt as if we were at the doorstep to the end of the world, it was no longer a question of whether people were inherently good.

We found proof.