Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Longest Day

5:30 AM, June 23, 2002.

The first full day of Summer.

The longest day of the year.

The last memory I had of the alcohol soaked evening before was the sound of Jabe and Marcus cackling incessantly in between tokes while lounging on the deck. That was only three hours earlier. The morning was foggy, as most mornings are during early summer on Cape Cod. The fog is especially thick in Chatham where we were renting a house for two weeks for our clients with mental retardation. I have been organizing vacations for my clients for years. These trips are usually the highlight of the year for these clients whose usual day consists of: waking up, being shipped off to a day program to seal envelopes or break sticks under the guise of having a meaningful "job", come home, eat dinner, go to bed. The staff also look forward to these trips. Staff usually make slightly more than the person who mans the counter at Drunkin Donuts with 100 times the responsibility. With most of my staff being poor this is usually the only chance they have to spend a week in a house on the Cape.

Lying in bed listening to the sound alternate between the lapping of the waves and the pounding in my head I had a decision to make. I could lie there and hope to fall back asleep, knowing that we had a full day ahead sightseeing in Provincetown and going to a reggae show at the Beachcomber in Wellfleet. I could also go down to my car, drive five minutes to Chatham Seaside Links and walk nine holes in hopes of sweating out some toxins and clearing up the fogginess. I teed off around 6AM.

The Seaside links is a small, hilly golf course a couple hundred yards from Chatham Harbor. I couldn't see the water through the soupiness. First hole. I striped my ball down the middle of the short par four. I found my ball two feet from the green. I chipped my ball to six inches then tapped in for a birdie. As I bent over to retrieve my ball from the hole I violently heaved. I turned around instinctively to see if anyone saw my dry heaving, but there was nothing to see, it was covered in the soup. The next eight holes were a blur. I dragged myself to the car and lamented my decision not to lay in bed.

I returned to the house at 7:30 AM, no one was up yet. I had expected Tim, one of the staff who was not completely wasted the night before, being the designated sober person, to be up getting breakfast ready. I threw a couple pound of bacon on the griddle and made a pot of coffee. Like ghouls from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video, staff and clients alike were drawn from their crypts by the smells emanating from the kitchen. Everyone ate breakfast on the deck, replaying the previous evenings events.

All were in agreement that the highlight of the evening was when Tim ( who is a cross between Barry White and Urkel) smooth-talked the hottest girl in the bar to dance with each of our clients. Dancing with the girl was the highlight of the evening for the clients. The highlight of the evening for the staff was confronting some young posers, primped and tanned, who were making some off color jokes loud enough for us to hear at the expense of our "men". "I can't believe you are jealous of some retarded guys" I said to one of the youngsters as I stepped directly into his line of sight. Marcus added "Yo Sully, that guy couldn't even talk to that girl never mind touch her" as the hottie was spinning one of our guys around, swing dance style. The kid took an abbreviated step toward me, but must've thought twice after sizing up the situation. He had six plus of his buddies with him. I had me, Marcus, a hostile black man in an all white bar. Jabe who, when not working for me, was a bouncer who actually looked forward to tossing drunks out onto their heads. Sammy, a thick necked, mild mannered Puerto Rican who can bench 300 lbs and Tim who still had a menacing stare from his days as a pimp in Springfield back in the eighties. As I stepped in to give the young man a firm "talking to" a girl that was with their group started yelling at the youngster. "You aah such a fukin' losah...those retah ded guys aah wicked cute". By this time the bouncers had taken notice of the scene. Having worked the door myself I commiserated with the big man on how tough it was dealing with drunks and explained the situation. He had a "talking to" with the youngster. He and his crew left, embarrassed and defeated. After breakfast everyone went back to bed to rest up for the day.

The next few hours were a blur. I tried to sleep down at the beach, but the sound of kids playing and seagulls squawking awoke me each time I started to fade. At 12:30 PM we loaded up and headed 30 minutes north to Provincetown. Sammy was driving the van along with Tim and our "men". Me, Jabe and Marcus followed in my Bonneville. Tim and Sammy were the designated sober people today as they would be driving with the clients. We cracked open some beers in my car. Jabe took a percocet I had hanging around since my wife had surgery weeks earlier. Within ten minutes he asked if the car was upsidedown.

The afternoon in Provencetown was spectacular. The fog had burned off by 2 PM and the sky had a hazy blue hue. We ate, shopped and people watched. Me, Jabe and Marcus went to a bar on the water down by MacMillian Wharf . The rest went to get Ice Cream. We left the bar after a couple of Bud Lights. On the way out of the place a dude walking in looked me up and down and said "mmm, hmmm, yummy". Gay or not, its nice to be appreciated. I gave him a high five and caught up with Jabe and Marcus who were moving quickly toward the town center.

We arrived at "The Beachcomber" around 5 PM. The "comah" is located on a sandy bluff about 75 feet above Cahoon Hollow beach overlooking the Altantic Ocean. The haze and heat we endured while exploring P-town had been replaced by crisp, cooler air fueled by a slight on-shore breeze. By this time Tim had joined me, Marcus and Jabe as "off the clock" leaving Sammy in charge of the men. Sammy and the men headed inside the club while the rest of us hiked down the steep path to the beach. Down by the water Marcus pulled out a "J" and after numerous attempts trying to light it in the breeze got it sparked. We sat in a semi-circle looking out at the water and decided that we were currently in the best location on the planet. With a new found spring in our step we glided back up the path toward the sound of the reggae music.

"Yellowman", a Jamaican reggae star known for having yellow hair, light skin and half his face missing from cancer, was starting his first set. We entered through the outdoor bar section of the club and could see the yellow one swaying to the ska beat on stage while the audience was bouncing in rhythm. Marcus and I headed into the sea of bodies moving and grinding while Jabe and Tim opted for the cool breeze and openness of the outdoor bar. The smell of sweat, booze and ganja was an intoxicating mix; I was lost in the hypnotic beat. As I exited the dance hall to the outdoor bar I could see the beginnings of the full moon peak above the horizon. I gathered the whole group and we went to the edge of the bluff to watch the moon rise. Once the moon escaped from the horizon it appeared to sit on top of the water, floating in the waves. A tanker heading out to sea appeared below the moon as it headed up into the darkening evening skies. We all went back to the club where Yellowman was intensely thrashing about the stage as if he were having a seizure. The crowd pulsed as he wailed on.

The show ended about 10PM. Sammy gathered the men and headed back to the beach house. The rest of us lingered at the outdoor bar opting for fruity, girly drinks with enough suger to temporarily neutralize the sedative effect of the day's drinking. Now that the show was over the outdoor bar became crowded. Bodies pressed against one another, some cute and inviting, others just sweaty and drunk. We maintained a semi-circle at one end of the bar looking out over a dune. The moon had risen just over the dune and the wispy dune grass was silhouetted against the luminous sphere. We again decided that this was the best location on earth.

At 10:45 we decided to head back to the beach house. At the Orleans rotary I decided that instead of heading south off the rotary toward Chatham we would head 25 minutes west toward Hyannis. There would still be some action there, even on a Sunday night. The bars in Hyannis weren't as promising as I had anticipated. We drove down Main Street, slowly, assessing the possibilities. After cruising Main Street twice we decided to head to a bar in neighboring Yarmouth that would not have the excitement we were looking for, but would be a place we could get a final drink before heading back to the beach house. It was now midnight and we had not had a drink, except for sharing two beers we had stashed in the car, since leaving the "Comah".

We entered "Molly's" and immediately bellied up to the bar. Ben was there again. Ben had probably tended bar there every day since the place opened. He spoke in a thick nasally Irish accent having had his nose broken a number of times as semi-successful prize fighter in his youth. His claim-to-fame was fighting on a Hagler under card. "What'll it be fellers" lilted the brawler. The black guys drank Johnnie Walker. The white irish-american guys had a Guinness. The bar was empty except for a table with two guys and two girls. Jabe struck up a conversation with one of the girls. She was cute. She had smooth, milky skin dotted with a few freckles. Her strawberry-blonde hair was the perfect complement to her complexion. I detected a mild brouge.

At first there was lighthearted banter flowing between Jabe and the girl. At some point while the rest of us talked amoungst ourselves at the bar their conversation turned . She, not being as drunk as we, mistook Jabe's sarcasm for arrogance and rebuffed his advances. Jabe had his ego bruised and all it took was a sideways look from one of the guys to set him off. "What are you looking at" he barked at the guy. "Not much" said the guy. I immediately headed toward the car knowing what was to come next. As I pulled the car around Marcus ran up to my drivers side window "Sull, pop the trunk. You got a crow bar or a golf club in there?". "Get in" I bellowed like a father who is disgusted by his sons childish behavior. Tim appeared on the passenger side door and got in. We pulled up to the front door just in time to see Jabe face to face with the guy. Jabe was barking at him, then suddenly spit his gum in the guys face and walked away. A sense of relief washed over me as he poured himself into the backseat of my Bonneville. "I'm too old for this shit guys" I said as we took a right out of the parking lot for our 20 minute ride down Route 28 toward Chatham.

The ride back to Chatham was dead quiet. Marcus and Jabe were passed out in the back seat, while Tim and I stared at the road ahead. We returned to the beach house at about 1:30 AM. Tim disappeared into his room in the basement. Jabe and Marcus headed out to the deck to smoke and recap the days events. I settled down into my bed. From the deck floated the pungent smell of smoke and the sounds of hushed laughter.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tiny Dancer

On Saturday my 4 year old son Matt had his first experience performing in front of a crowd. He wasn't wearing a baseball uniform and cleats. He wasn't wearing shoulder pads and a helmet. He didn't have on knee pads and soccer shorts. He was wearing a pink bow tie, a sky-blue vest, white pants, shirt, and ballet shoes.

Late last summer my wife asked me what I thought of Matt taking dance classes on Saturday mornings. My first reaction was "ok". I pictured big, steroid enhanced football players taking ballet to hone their balance and agility. I remembered that Jerry Rice and Emmit Smith were graceful on "Dancing with the Stars". I figured that it will be good for his physical and social development (1 guy and 15 girls in Tu-Tu's is more my fantasy than his, but good for his socialization none the less). She signed him up.

Every Saturday from September 'till June Lori, Matt and Peter(my 2 year old) would leave the house at 9:30 AM until 11:30 AM. I savored the few hours without anyone in the house. I mowed the lawn or cleaned out the garage or slept. The only time I gave any thought to him "dancing" was when I brought him to class when Lori had to work on a few Saturday's. Even then I never saw him dancing. Parents waited outside while the class was in the studio. There were a few "parent observation days" and I attended one, but it consisted of 10 minutes at the end of class where in there was some stretching, ballet moves and a quick "Itsy Bitsy Spider". Non-eventful.

In May Lori told me that Matt had to go for a fitting for his recital costume.

Oh Shit!


I suddenly remembered that Lori had said that there would be a recital. I had never given it a second thought. My solitary Saturday mornings had come with a price. My son dancing in front of an audience. I privately thought I won't have a mini Tom Brady or Big Papi, I've got a Billy Elliot.

She brought home his costume a week before the recital.

She had him try it on.

The sound of my balls shriveling up on the vine and dropping into my drawers was audible.

He was cute, but I would think he was cute if he was wearing rags, wiping my windshield with a newspaper with his fingerless gloves, hand out waiting for a tip.

I had a work retreat on the Cape from Thursday until Saturday morning. I headed off then Cape at 6:30 AM. to be sure I had plenty of time to be ready for his 2PM stage debut. During the ride home I realized that this would be his first "event" besides birthday's and his baptism. This would be his first tangible accomplishment.

We entered the foyer of the building on Mount Holyoke College where the recital was being held. There were dozens of girls ranging in age from 3 to 18 milling about the halls nervously waiting for their turn on stage. We entered the theater and there were hundreds of people there for the show. Matt's group was on tenth so we watched the first seven acts from our seats in the back of the theater. There were a few boys in some of the numbers, few meaning three. Lori brought Matt backstage and got back with one act to go before his debut. His group made it out onto the stage with the lights down.

The lights came up and there he was, on stage. The music started. They did a four minute number which consisted of a montage of "Itsy Bitsy Spider", "Wheels on the Bus" and "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star". At first he looked so serious, following the teachers direction from the pit in front of the stage. Then for a while he was following the routine by memory as he gazed out into the darkened audience. I watched every move intently. When the act was over I realized that I must have had a huge smile on the whole time because my cheeks ached. Lori went back and got Matt from backstage and brought him out to the foyer were I, along with my sister-in-law with her daughter Jillian and Lori's co-worker and her daughter, was waiting for him. As I waited for him to arrive in the foyer I felt like I thought I would after he pitched his first no-hitter or scored his first touchdown. When I finally saw him he looked so grown up and worldly, as if his 4 minutes on stage had given him a booster shot of poise and confidence.

He could play soccer this Fall, but all they do at his age is run around the field in a bunch, like a clump of beetles. He could play T-ball in the Spring, but he would most likely be bored; he can already hit balls pitched around 30 miles an hour.

I wonder what routine his dance class will be doing next year?

Friday, June 08, 2007

My Former Life

I've led lots of different lives. For fifteen years I played 100+ softball games a year traveling all over in tournaments. For ten years I played 100+ rounds of golf per year, going on golf trips and playing in golf leagues. During all of that time I drank tons of beer, did lots of gambling and had lots o' fun.

For the past four years I've been "Dad".

I am not going to lie and say "being a Dad is the best thing I've ever done". I won't lie and say "I don't even remember what it was like before I had kids, what did I do with myself?". Anyone who tells you that stuff is completely full of shit.

I love being a parent. I revel in my sons' accomplishments like the other day when my 4 year old son hit a baseball over the fence into his grandpa's yard 60 feet away. I beam with pride when my 2 year old speaks in full sentences that even strangers can understand. But I miss sleeping. I miss golf. I miss my former life. I remember exactly what I did before I had kids and my wife similarly recalls our grand life before kids.

My wife and I lived what I call "reverse retirement". We had double income, no kids and for a long time, lived the "life of Riley".

My typical June weekday went as follows:

6 AM - go to the gym

7:30 AM - leave the gym

8 AM - eat breakfast at home, read the newspaper

9 AM - go to one of my "group homes" to check on the clients and do some work.

10:30 AM - go to the golf course and play 9 holes

Noon: - Eat lunch at the course

1PM - Go home, take a nap

3 PM - Go back to the golf course, chip and putt until I play in one of my three leagues. Call work to check in.

4-7 PM play in my league.

7-9 PM drink beer.

9-11 PM Hang with my wife (maybe some lovin'), sleep.

Weekends were all about me and my wife sleeping in till whenever, going out to brunch, taking weekend getaways, golfing, movies, dinner.... hedonism at its finest. We vacationed liberally and spent money friviously.

My buddy Billy came over for coffee this morning and I was discussing my former life. Billy and I used to play golf every day and spent many a morning drinking coffee commiserating about our hangovers. He reminded me of a morning five years ago not unlike today, sunny and warm, when over coffee I was complaining about how stagnant things had become for me and my wife. I thought my marriage was in trouble. I kevetched about wanting kids and a house etc..

So I've decided that its great to look back on the good old days, but "the good old days weren't always good, tommorrows not as bad as it seems" (Billy Joel, "Keeping the Faith"). My life is great, probably as good as its ever been.

I will still long for those days of 36 holes of golf on the "Vineyard" and sleeping until 10:00 AM., just as twenty years from now I will long to hear the sound of my boys playing in the yard, to smell maple on their breath after eating pancakes or to feel the warmth of the four of us snuggling in bed on a chilly winter morning.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Cuba Libre

I am sitting on my bed, listening to my kids play in the living room, drinking coffee and watching the Today Show. Matt Lauer is in Cuba and espousing on the pros and con's of the Socialist regime that has been in place there since Fidel came out of the jungles in 1959. A number of politicians have been on the show this morning condemning Castro and proselytizing the spread of democracy. I am sitting here thinking, why does every government in the world have to be a democratic government?

I am not naive. In order for capitalism to flourish we need to have the least of amount government involvement possible and the form of government that is ideal for the spread of capitalism is a democratically elected government. Its all about money.

If we want Cuba to be a democracy, shouldn't we open up trade and tourism and let the lure of US currency wash their socialism out into the Caribbean?

The answer is yes.

You can't force a country to become a democracy (see: Iraq). You have to win over the peoples minds and spirit with the promise of peace and prosperity (eg: USSR) The Cuban people already have been exposed to American culture through the airwaves and first hand reports from family and friends living in Florida. I guarantee that within a year of dropping the embargo that has been in place against Cuba for the past 47 years the current regime will fall and we will have a strong ally in the Caribbean.

Democracy speaks for itself. There is no need to continue to push democracy as an unknown ideology. The US is far from being the moral compass for the world so should stop trying to be the world's police force. Maybe we should become more introspective as a country and try to fix the things in this country that have eroded the populace's faith in the democratic system. If we want to be the beacon of hope for these countries that have yet to embrace democracy, then we should show those countries we do a better job at educating our children, caring for our sick and feeding our hungry than they do. Until we are in the top 5 in education, health care and people living above the poverty line then we should concentrate more on building our own nation, than nation building.

Cuba libre?


When its people see the US as allies and not oppressors.