Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Littlest Angel

There are events in life which occur with such resounding force that the shock waves are felt for decades. The ripple effect of these events can be felt by those who where never present or even born when the event occurred. December 14, 1970 is the date of one of those events in my life and that of my family.

Its the day my brother died.

He was 1 month, 26 days old.

Derek was born in mid-October during the brilliance and splendor of Autumn in New England. I remember going to visit my mother and Derek in the hospital the day after he was born. My aunt and I drove over to Saint Margaret's hospital in Dorchester braving a chilly fall rain. As we made our way to the maternity ward we stopped at the gift shop. I begged her to buy a little doll dressed in baby-boy-blue, for my new brother. After what probably seemed like hours of groveling to her, she relented. I can't recall presenting him with my gift, but it became a fixture in his crib, at our home.

A new baby adds spice to a home, sometimes mild and sweet and at other times hot, unbearably hot. My mother was born high strung. If she were in school today she would be diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, PTSD or one of the myriad of other afflictions, abbreviated with letters. The month following Derek's birth was a mish-mash of highs and lows. The tenor of the household mirrored my mother's mood.

I can remember her crying uncontrollably, while smoking at the kitchen table while Derek was lying on the couch, surrounded by pillows.

I can remember sitting with my mother on the front steps of our apartment in Hyde Park. It was a warm Fall day and the trees were shedding their leaves. She allowed me to hold my brother while she watched, tentatively. I remember the smell of crisp fallen leaves while I cradled his tiny head.

I remember my mother and I laughing uncontrollably while I "helped" her change his diaper. He peed all over the two of us.

I remember my father (who was usually no where to be found) and mother fighting loudly, while I rubbed my brothers head while he lay in his crib.

The night of December 13, 1970 was a typical night in my childhood home. My mother downstairs smoking cigarettes and drinking tea. My sisters playing in their room. My brother Mark and I jumping on our beds in our room. Mark and I took Derek out of his crib and put him on my bed. We jumped around him while he lay in the middle. He didn't cry, he just seemed content watching us. We assumed he enjoyed the gentle jostling.

The next few days were a blur.

Who knows what traumas we block out of our minds. If we knew then they wouldn't be blocked, but open for examination. Some memories are best hidden from our consciousness.

I don't remember much about the day my brother died. I recall sadness, grief. I recall standing across the street from my house with the snow lightly falling, telling a schoolmate from my kindergarten class about my brother. I recall my mother promising me that they would bury my gift, the baby-boy-blue doll with him, so he wouldn't be alone. My mother brought me a flower from his funeral. We pressed it in plastic, and put it in an encyclopedia. From then, through my high school years, I would come across it when looking up something beginning with an "S" or a "T" and think of him.

My mother was never the same. From mid-October to December 14th every year until the day she died was torturous. She blamed herself for his death. The morning he died she got him from his crib for his morning feeding. She tried to get him to latch on, but he just wouldn't take her breast. She tried again and noticed that he was cold, motionless. He was gone.

"Crib Death" we were always told. When my mother passed in 1999 we found Derek's death certificate amongst her belongings. Cause of death: acute cardiac failure, emaciation.


That explained the years of autumnal depression. The years of self loathing and self destruction. I, myself, thought I played a role in his passing. For decades I thought that maybe that night we were jumping on my bed that we hurt him, somehow. It was no ones fault. Our frolicking on the bed had nothing to do with it. My mother gave him everything she had, unfortunately she barely had enough to care for herself. The well had run dry.

Christmas time was always bittersweet. Ghosts of Christmas past were not friendly specters guiding my mother toward redemption, but haunting reminders of inadequacies and failure. Someway, somehow, my mother was able to emotionally detach immediately the day after the anniversary of Derek's death each year and get ready for Christmas. I don't know how she did it, but she was always able to pull off Christmas without her emotions getting in the way of our enjoyment of the holiday. As the years went by her grief became more and more transparent until it got to the point where she was paralyzed by her loss and unable to find any joy in the season

The year Derek died and for many years following, there was a Christmas special on TV titled "The Littlest Angel". It was the story about a boy (played by Johnny Whitaker, Jodie on "Family Affair") who dies and goes to Heaven, but is allowed to go back to earth to get his cherished treasure box, so he may give it as a gift to the Christ child on Christmas. Each Christmas I imagined that Derek was the "littlest angel" and gave his favorite toy, his doll dressed in baby-boy-blue, to baby Jesus.

In August of 1999, when I received the news of my mother's death my thoughts immediately turned to Derek.

I imagined him welcoming my mother into heaven.

I imagined her sense of relief when he forgave her for not having enough to give.

I was comforted by the thought of them being together again.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Paying It Backward

Last week I brought my clients to a Christmas party. Being a director in a non-profit human service agency I have lots of responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is making appearences at various agency functions some involving the folks we serve and others with just co-workers. I loath these events. When attending the events with co-workers I have to make small talk and feign interest in people's problems and stories. When attending events with our individuals I have to make small talk and feign interest in their problems and interests.

In the last few weeks I have been more misanthropic than usual. I have been irritable. My kids have been driving me crazy. My employees have been driving me nutty. My wife and I can't have a conversation that doesn't end in some sort of arguement or misunderstanding. Going to a client Christmas party was the last thing I needed.

The party was held at a large banquet hall, the same place where my agency's annual dinner is held. There was a sumptious buffet dinner served complete with carved roast beef, turkey and ham with plenty of fixin's. I got a plate of food and sat down at a table with three of my current clients. They are men with traumatic brain injuries who are living in one of our residential programs. They were in the holiday spirit greeeting people who passed our table and humming along to holiday music. I was eating quickly, hopng to slip out unnoticed while going up for another plate of food.

As I was shoving a hunk of ham in my mouth I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was a former client who I hadn't seen in a whlie. He told me how he had moved on from one of our group homes into his own semi-supervised apartment and that he had just gotten his driver's license. I was floored. This is a guy who has a borderline mentally retarded diagnoses and had been living in a highly restrictive program set up for high risk clients. I congratulated him on his successes and promised to visit him in his new digs.

As I went up for more food someone yelled out my name. It was a woman who I worked with ten years ago who suffered from variuos mental disabilites and was a raging alcoholic. She informed me that she has been sober for three years and is living independantly with only 2 hours of staff per week.

Comming back from the buffet line I saw a table with men I had worked with who were all living in the same group home. I sat with them and listened to them tell me about their successes like working or getting along well with family and housemates.

On the way for some coffee I met another guy who I worked with who moved in with new housemates recently who were much less challenging than his former housemates. He shook my hand and hugged me and said "I remember you Dave Sullivan, you took me to Cape Cod to see the seals" and he proceeded to make seal noises. We laughed, fist bumped and went on our way.

After dinner I slipped out, grabbing a few cookies off the dessert buffet in the process.

As I drove out of the parking lot I thought about the party. I had seen at least twenty past and present clients. All of them were happy to see me. All of them were doing well. All of them were making the best of their lives and didn't bitch and moan about their situation. I thought about each one of my individuals and the time I spent with them; the good times and tough times. I realized that I had a part in all of their recent fortunes be it big or small. Driving down the road I realized that I was smiling.

For the first time in weeks I wasn't miserable.

Monday, December 01, 2008

First Road Trip (Part VI)

I awoke to the sight of my uncle looming over the piles of cushions and blankets looking slightly amused. "Do you guys want to go to IHOP for breakfast?". To this day pancakes are some of the best medicine for my hangovers and it was no different then.

Sunday morning was sunny and brisk. The leafless trees made things a bit brighter than a few weeks earlier, thus exacerbating the pounding in my head. We were seated right away and discussed the Patriots chances that day. The coffee was horrible, but helped to bring us back to some sense of normalcy. We all agreed that the Patriots high powered offense gave them a shot at a win. We dropped my Uncle off in front of his house and purposely stayed in the car as to avoid answering my aunt's prying questions.

We headed south on Route 1 toward Foxboro. As we approached the stadium traffic came to a crawl. The smell of charcoal and cooking meat was almost as intoxicating as the perfume and booze from the night before. As we were being parked we saw our first fight. Two punks punching an older guy while the older guy's old friend was trying to pull the punks away. The older guy had a bloody nose. There were no police or security in sight so the fight played out to its gruesome end. Punks 7, Old Guys 0.

We skipped the tailgating, having done enough partying the night before and headed right into the stadium. We went down to the end zone to watch warm ups. The receivers and tight ends were doing passing drills directly in front of us. I was in awe of the size and speed of these men up close. Andy Hasslebeck, a Patriots tight end caught a warm up toss and ran up to the stands were I was standing. He looked me directly in the eye and said "Hi". I was at least a foot higher than him in the stands, but we were eye to eye. I mentally crossed off "NFL Player" on my list of dream jobs.

We settled into our seats and watched a great game. The first play of the game was a flea-flicker. Grogan handed off to Tatupu who tossed the ball back to Grogan who hit a streaking Stanley Morgan for a 76 yard touchdown. At half time I called Terri from a pay phone to let her know we made it safe and sound. She invited us to stop by after the game. Easton is the next town over from Foxboro, so I said we would. The game ended in regulation tied at 27. Despite the heroics of Tony Collins, Steve Grogan and John Smith, this game was a microcosm of their 2-14 season and although they were close, the Patsies gave up a field goal in OT. We fought through the sea of drunk men to the Corona and headed to Easton.

Terri invited us in and we met her mom and dad. Her dad was a hulking Italian man who looked like he could have played for the Patriots. We went to her room where we giggled about the previous night. I wanted to get on the road before dark, so we gave each other some hugs and decided to get together again soon. The ride home was uneventful. We drove non stop hoping not to tempt fate one more time. I dropped Jeff off at his door and he thanked me for "the best night of his life". He wrote Charlene back and forth for a year, but never saw her again.

It was a wicked good time. I was more than thankful that I could report to my mother that her car was in one piece and that I managed to stay out of jail. Upon returning home I kissed my mother and went straight to bed. I lay there staring at the ceiling, basking in the glow of a successful first road trip. I didn't get the girl, but then again I didn't get arrested. I thought about the next road trip and where it would take me. The horse was out of the barn.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

First Road Trip (Part V)

Jeff and Charlene went back to making out on the log. "Come on Char, we've got to get out of here. Lets walk to Robin's house 'cause the cops will be watching the car", Terri said urgently. "Don't worry Terri. You are wicked nervous for no reason" slurred Charlene. "Come on Jeff, lets get the fuck out of here. We've got to get back to Boston. Its after midnight", I demanded. "I ain't fuckin' goin' anywhere", Jeff was hammered. The days drinking combined with the fact that I was trying to separate him from the one girl that finally allowed him to stick his tongue in her mouth made him ornery. I looked at Terri and shrugged my shoulders, resigned to sitting in the woods watching the happy couple push the limits of their fledgling sexuality. Terri wasn't so patient. "You boys can stay here, but we've got to go" she pronounced. "We're staying right Char?", Jeff was insistent on keeping the night going. "Jeff let me talk to you" Charlene stood up motioned for him to follow her. They stumbled through the brush behind a tree. She talked, he nodded. When they were done talking they rejoined us. "Come on Terri, lets walk to Robin's. My brother will pick us up there if I call him". Jeff was silent, but even in the darkness I could feel him glaring, seething. "Lets go down the hill parallel to the trail", I tried to act like I had a plan. We had just enough ambient light from the parking lots that we made it down the hill unscathed. There were no cops in sight as we peered out from behind the building. We walked over to the car. Jeff and Charlene started groping each other, while I opened the door and got in the Corona. Terri came over to the drivers side window and made me promise to call her in the morning to let her know we made it back alright. "I promise I'll call you" Charlene assured Jeff as he got in the passenger seat. Once in the car Jeff said "Thanks a fuckin' lot Sully". I stared forward, starting the car. I beeped as we drove by the girls walking to their friend's.

We drove in silence up 138 toward Boston. I replayed the nights events over in my head. How did Jeff get a girl and I didn't? Terri definitely likes me. Should we have stayed? How did I not get arrested today? I looked over at Jeff as we passed Blue Hills Reservation; he was out cold.

We pulled up to my grandmother's house just before 1 AM. While parking I hit the curb, hard. We walked in the door and there was my aunt and grandmother watching TV waiting for us. "What was that out there? Did you hit my car?" , here comes the inquisition, I thought. "No Auntie Rosie," I responded in a sing songy voice "I'm just not used to parallel parking in front of cars. I hit the curb". It was partially true. Instead of backing in like you are supposed to when parallel parking I just pulled straight in, nailing the curb. "Well, glad you're back safe and sound. Come on Ma lets go to bed. Oh, Mac wants to take you boys out for breakfast before the game tomorrow". My Aunt and Grandmother got up and gave me kisses and retired to their bedrooms. I pulled some cushions off the chairs and love seat and put them on the floor for us to sleep on, then got some blankets and pillows out of the closet. As we lay there in the dark Jeff broke his silence, "Sorry Sull". "You don't have to be sorry. I understand".

I really did.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

First Road Trip (Part IV)

"Hide the booze. We're getting stopped by the cops" I bellowed, turning off the music and shoving my beer under the front seat. I pulled over to the side of the road. The car was silently bathed in bright white light shone from a spotlight mounted on the cruiser. My breathing stopped as the officer peered in my driver's side window. "Good evening son. Can I see your license and registration?". I opened the glove box and there was the empty pint of Blackberry Brandy. I quickly shoved it under some paper napkins my mother had accumulated from trips to various fast food joints. I deftly pulled out the registration from under the napkins and empty booze bottle. I turned to the officer, handing him the documents, expecting an inquiry about the contents of the glove box, but he didn't notice. "You got your license yesterday?", he chuckled. He poked his head in the car. "Looks like you've got your hands full in there" he said to Jeff whose look of ecstasy was replaced by one of someone who had just shat himself. "Was I speeding officer?" I asked trying to get the attention out of the backseat where the beer was hidden somewhere in the mass of bodies. "No son, but you rolled through a stop sign about a mile back and I noticed you had too many people in the car. Where are you guys going?". "The movies", I lied, quickly. "Well this is a warning. Come to a complete stop next time and don't overload your car. Have fun." He handed me back my license and registration and gave me a smile that might as well been a high five. I started breathing again and the party rolled on.

We got to the party spot just a few minutes after getting stopped. We parked in front of a strip mall and went around to the back. There was a wooded hillside with a trail leading upward, dimly lit by the from the parking lot. We ascended the trail fumbling and feeling our way up the hillside. I strategically place myself behind Terri. Near the top of the climb the trees were basked in an orangish glow. At the top of the hill was a wooded glen formed by four huge rock faces in a semi circle. There was a roaring bonfire in the middle of the glen with dozens of kids drinking beer from a keg that was placed next to one of the rock formations. The hum of chatter hung over the glen mixing with the crackle and smoke from the fire. It was a modern, teenage Stonehenge. I imagined teen aged druids doing the same thing thousands of years earlier.

Our arrival was accompanied by drunken screams. Girlfriends of our girls coming over to give hugs and proclamations of their drunkenness. There were a few inquiries about us strangers, but we naturally blended into the scene. I struck up a conversation at the keg with a guy wearing a North Easton High hockey jacket. I asked him if he knew Jim Craig, the goalie from the 1980 US Olympics Hockey team that had defeated the Russians en route to winning the gold medal, being that he was from Easton. He drunkenly regaled me with stories of Jim Craig playing hockey and partying with his older brothers. After some time he asked who I came with. When I mentioned Terri he asked "You bangin' her?". "Not yet." I replied with a hint of self assuredness which got me a high five and a loud, intoxicated "WHOOOO, HOOOO", the closest we get to a rebel yell here in stoic New England.

I found Terri, Renee and Lisa hanging with some of their girlfriends by the fire. I did a sweep of the glen looking for Jeff. Jeff was nowhere to be found. Neither was Charlene. I went back to the fire to hang with the girls. I pounded down keg beer listening to the girls chatter about who was dating who and who was wearing what and who was doing what drugs. I watched Terri and even while spewing gossip she was adorable. Our eyes met for a second and I nodded my head away from the fire in the direction of the keg. We walked side by side toward the keg, playfully bumping each other. I grabbed her hand and held it tightly leading her past the keg to the edge of the glen. As we reached the darkness I turned to face her. Her form was silhouetted against the glow of the fire, breath rising in the cold November air. I couldn't see her eyes or mouth, so I reached up, brushing her cheek, searching for her lips. As I leaned in toward her, a commotion broke out in the glen. "Cops", someone shouted. Sure enough four uniformed officers appeared over Terri's shoulder entering the glen from the trail. Kids scattered in all directions like leaves in the wind. I grabbed Terri by the hand and led her deeper into the woods. We reached a small clearing where Jeff and Charlene were cozying up on a log. "What's up?", asked Charlene.

Fucking cops.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

First Road Trip (Part III)

On the road again, our attention turned toward girls. I could see Jeff getting visibly nervous the closer we got to Easton and the promised land. I hadn't seen any of these girls since the summer at 4H camp. Terri was the object of my affection. She was tall, brunette and had big, beautiful green eyes which stood out remarkably against her olive colored complexion. The other girls were equally stunning in their own right. Lisa had the quintessential Irish look complete with alabaster skin, dotted with adorably understated freckles. Renee was petite with dark brown eyes and an ass to die for. Shari was the cheerleader; blond, buxom, bombastic. I ran through these mental images over and over as we made our way south down 138, occasionally breaking my train of thought to sip on my beer.

Terri's directions were perfect. She was waiting for us on her front porch. She poked her head in the front door, yelled something, then made a beeline for the car. I had Jeff jump in the backseat, so I would have an unfettered view. She jumped in the front seat. "Lets get out of here before my dad comes out and wants to meet you guys", she said then kissed me on the cheek. As we made our way to Shari's house I introduced Jeff and offered his bartending services. I glanced over at Terri while following her directions. She looked as good as remembered. She was wearing a yellow Izod Lacoste sweater with a puffy white vest. A pair of Calvin Klien Jeans and white Reebok sneakers finished off her ensemble.

Shari screamed in delight, greeting us at her front door. We filed into her house to figure out the plan for the night. Even though her parents weren't home she was paranoid about us drinking in the house. Terri and her had been friends since they had taken dance class together at 3, but in recent years they weren't as close. Shari was a cheerleader, class president, a regular chatty Cathy. She bordered on obnoxiousness. She was also a priss. When we told her we would be picking up Renee and Lisa and going to a keg party she balked. Sitting around a fire in the woods drinking beer was not Shari's idea of a party. Drinking Boone's Farm Apple wine at a member of the football teams house, who's parents are vacationing in Mexico, was more her speed. We called Renee and Lisa from Shari's and made plans to pick them up in ten minutes. Shari decided to back out of the nights festivities which was disappointing, cutting down the ratio of girls to boys. I gave Shari a big hug and promised to call or write. I was sad that her stacked self would not be joining us.

On the way to pick up Renee and Lisa we stopped at a package store. Jeff was 18, legal drinking age, so he went in and picked up a case of Bud Talls and a pint of Blackberry Brandy. Terri suggested we stop by her friend Charlene's house and see if she wanted to go out. Once there Terri got out of the car and in a few minutes came back with a tall, good looking blond.


We got to Renee's where Lisa and Renee were outside waiting for us. They piled into the car and after some hugs opened some beers. As we got on our way to the kegger I looked at Jeff in the rear view mirror. He looked like he had died and gone to heaven: beer in hand, a tall blond on his lap, two girls on either side of him singing "Journey" at the top of their lungs, goony smile plastered on his face. The car was a rolling party. The pint of brandy was passed back and forth, the beers were flowing and the music was cranked. The scent of perfume inter-mingled with the smell of alcohol; the ultimate aphrodisiac. While the girls were screaming out the chorus of "Don't Stop Believing" I saw flashing blue lights in the side view mirror.

Oh, shit.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

First Road Trip (Part II)

Everything happened so fast. Jeff was oblivious to the situation, half drunk in the passenger seat. I was running on pure instinct and adrenaline. I saw everything as if it were in slow motion, so what in reality happened in twenty seconds, seemed to be twenty minutes.

Immediately , I went into damage control mode. "Hide the empties and dump your beer. Stay in the car. I'll be right back", I commanded. I got out and surveyed the damage. There was a little streak of red paint on the bumper, but that was it. I looked back toward the Camaro. The driver was running the 100 yards from the Camaro toward me at full speed. "Are... you...OK?" the driver asked, breathless. He was a big, black man. He smelled of cologne and was dressed all in black which accentuated the gold chains hanging from his thick neck. "Yeah, we're OK", I creaked, afraid he was going to go off on me. "You got kids in there?". "No, just me and a friend". " Man, I didn't see your blinker 'till I was going by you, then I was in that field. Thanks for speeding up man, you saved my ass". "Yeah", I said confused, realizing that he was not mad at me. "You need money for damages?", he pulled out a roll of what looked like twenties the size of a baseball. "Naw, naw its just a little paint on the bumper." "Well, here is something for it. I gotta get back there. Alright". He handed me forty bucks then turned around and sprinted back to his Camaro. I stood watching him, dumbfounded. Jeff got out of the car and asked "What the fuck is going on?". "The guy just gave me money". The Camaro went speeding by and let out a long and loud beep. The rear bumper was scrapping the pavement sending sparks flying ten feet out from behind the tail fin. We got back in the car and back on the road. Jeff chastised me for not getting more money off the guy. "He was obviously a drug dealer and wanted to keep us quiet" Jeff espoused, as if he was familiar with lots of drug dealers. I stared forward at the road, sipping on my tallboy, absorbing the recent events.

We pulled up to my grandmother's house around 4 PM. My Aunt Rosie answered the door and gave me a big hug. I introduced her to Jeff and she lead us in. My Uncle Mac was sitting in his recliner,as usual, watching some college football. I said "Hi" as I walked by and he said "hi" back. My aunt and uncle never married and lived with their mom out of convenience, not necessity. My gram was in the kitchen folding laundry she had just taken in off the clothesline. I gave her a big squishy hug and she offered us something to drink. "How about a beer?" Jeff blurted, stupidly. I shot him a dirty look. My grandmother seemingly oblivious to his request grabbed some glasses and said "How 'bout some tonic?". I nodded and she poured us a couple of Cokes. My Aunt was not so oblivious. She remained silent, but gave me a "I know what you're up to" look. Jeff and I went to the parlour and sat down with my uncle to watch football. After an hour of watching football and talking football my grandmother came out to offer us dinner. I sheepishly declined saying we had plans. "What are you doing tonight?", my aunt piped up, smiling as if she were the cat that ate the canary. "Just meeting some girls I know from 4H and Camp...there's...a...a party", I stumbled, not wanting to give away too much without outright lying. "Are you going to be drinking at this party?", now my uncle and grandmother seemed to be paying more attention. "No, no maybe I'll have one or two...". "Just be careful" she interrupted my bullshit in mid-bullshit. Jeff and I took our cue and got up to leave for our night of broads and booze. I promised I wouldn't be out too late.

Yeah, right.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

First Road Trip

"Pull the car over, take the keys out of the ignition and meet me inside" the officer droned as if he'd said it a million times before.

I heard him say it a week earlier, moments before I sat down at his desk and he explained why I had failed my drivers test. "Parallel parking, you were too far from the curb. Everything else was OK."

This time he beckoned me over to his desk with a wry smile. "You know you touched the curb?". Since I did everything else right a week earlier the only thing he had me do was parallel park and I blew it. "Yes." I politely replied. Jeff was going to be pissed. We bought Patriots tickets back in August. My mother said if I got my license I could have the car for the weekend, for the Pats.

Please officer. Have a heart under that austere, Nazi looking uniform. "Well, you barely grazed it. Promise you'll practice parallel parking?". "Yes sir, officer". "Here's your temporary license. Your permanent one will come in the mail in a few weeks. Drive safely."

Yeah, right.

I picked up Jeff in front of his apartment around 1PM. Being that it was a Saturday Jeff was still drinking coffee. He was hung over. His mom yelled "Be careful bo..." from the doorway just as Jeff slammed the car door. Jeff was 18 and had graduated from high school earlier that year. He wasn't doing much with himself, mostly drinking nightly living at his mothers apartment working as a janitor at a local elementary school.

I had met Jeff five years earlier playing baseball in the neighborhood. He was a few years older than us, always had greasy hair and a mean temper. He was famous for coming up with an injury when his team was losing and for eating sugar sandwiches. Even the white trash condidered him too trashy. As we got older we would drink beer at his house because his mother would do us packies if we bought her some booze or cigarettes. None of us liked Jeff, but after weekend after weekend of drinking at his house watching the Celtics, Bruins and RedSox his idiosyncrasies seemed to fade and I came to see him as a good friend, albeit a frickin' mess.

He was a pariah in the neighborhood partly due to his eccentricities and partly self imposed. He wore flare cut jeans when everyone else was wearing straight cut. He wore big old shit kicker boots when everyone else was wearing sneakers. He wore a tattered, smelly old Wrangler jean jacket while most everyone else was wearing Barracuda style jackets in poplin or courdaroy. If you had a jean jacket it had to be Levi's, but jean jackets were for hicks or burnouts.

Jeff had dressed well for the occasion. I prepped him a week earlier by going with him to the mall. He bought some straight legged Levi's, a white button downed oxford shirt and a pair of Nike Cortez with the red swoosh. The sixty dollar investment in his wardrobe was not for me. It was for the promise of picking up some girls. I knew some girls who lived in Easton, not far from my grandmother's house in Boston, where we were going to spend the night before the Pats game. I knew Jeff's chances at scooping on some girls was almost non-existent being that he had only kissed one girl in his life and there was some question as to whether they were related. His mall makeover was more for me, because if Terri, Renee, Lisa or Shari saw me with a shit kicking, jean jacket wearing, greasy haired hick, there would be no chance of me getting on base.

As my mother's Toyota Corona station wagon eased onto I-91 south Jeff reached into his gym bag in the back seat and pulled out a couple of cans of Bud tallboys. We toasted ourselves, then the Patriots. We were already drunk on the anticipation of getting drunk, hanging out with girls and going to see the Patriots. The beers went down smoothly as we barrelled down the Mass Pike toward Boston. Jeff manned the cassette player switching back in forth between Springsteen, Journey, AC/DC and Zeppelin. He also bartended for me, while I concentrated on my driving, being a new driver and all.

As we got to Natick, just fifteen miles out side of Boston, a Camaro got on my tail. I pulled into the right lane to let him pass. I turned to Jeff asking for another tallboy and could see the Camaro driving parallel to us in a field adjacent to the Pike heading for a grove of trees. I sped up trying to give him a chance to pull back onto the Pike before crashing into the grove. Just as we got even with the grove I felt a little bump, then heard screeching brakes. As I pulled over I looked in the side view mirror. I could see the Camaro do a three sixty across the road and smash into the Jersey barrier separating the eastbound and westbound lanes. The car lurched up the barrier almost going over and landed back on all four tires.

Son of a bitch.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Paint It Black

At 11 O'Clock last night many wrongs were made right. Our country has finally disavowed the politics of hate and personal attacks. Our country has finally eschewed the failed policies of G.W. Bush and the republican party. Our country has finally taken the most symbolic of gestures and made a black man the holder of the highest office in this country.

Three hundred and eighty nine years ago the first African slaves were brought to this country at the Jamestown settlement in Virginia (damn those limey bastards!). Last night the citizens of Virginia helped put a man of African decent in the Oval Office. Finally the pride felt by all those immigrant groups who came here post 1619 to seek a better life can be felt by the people whose ancestors were forced to come here, forced to build this country and forced to take there place at the back of the line behind all of those who came after. President Obama's election has not erased the 389 years of misery and pain, but it is a symbol of what can be realized in this great country of ours despite of our faults.

President Obama is not a baby boomer or a Generation X'er. He is like me, the first American children raised in the post civil rights era. We were told that all men were created equal. We were told that color of skin does not define a person. We were told that there should be no limits on what anyone can achieve regardless of where they came from or what they look like. Unlike any generation born prior we drank the Kool Aid and we believed. Of course we had hundreds of years of ignorance and fear to overcome, but we drank the Kool Aid and it made sense, common sense. As children we were unaware of the fact that in the years just preceding our births our sports teams weren't integrated, that black men were not allowed in certain jobs or allowed to eat in certain places. As we grew up we were confused as to why there was all of this emphasis on "race" when we couldn't see the problems. We grew up with black people holding elected office, teaching classrooms, fighting fires and policing the streets. It wasn't until we grew up that we realized what we had heard, seen and observed growing up was just an illusion. Things weren't OK. Racism was still alive and well and feelings of equality and unity were only a recent phenomenon.

The biggest lesson we can gain from Mr. Obama's election is that what you teach your children becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. We can continue to teach our children our idealistic views of how the world should be and if they don't bear fruit immediately, just wait forty years or so and the lessons learned as youngsters will produce amazing things, unbelievable things.

"I see a White House and I want to paint it Blaack...", the Stones bastardized lyrics keep playing in my head. Many of McCain's cronies were saying that when Barack got in office he would paint the White House black. I say "Paint it Black"...why not...this has been 389 years in the making. Our country was built on the backs of Black slaves who had the same wants, hopes and needs as any other human being living in America and now that a Black man will be living in the Whitest of houses let him do whatever he can to improve the human condition for everyone. Even if he paints it black.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween, Leaf Jumping and Another Couch Surfer

I've written a bit about my mother-in-law in the past. She lives on the gulf coast of Mississippi. She moved to Mississippi the year my wife graduated high school with her husband who had recently retired. She was one of the lucky few people who actually made out when Hurricane Katrina made landfall in her sleepy little southern town(read here). She got out of town just before landfall and spent the next seven weeks sleeping on my couch, until things were livable back home. Almost three years to the day she returned to what must be the most comfy couch in the world as evidenced by its repeated use (I can attest to its comfiness being banished there for the occasional drunken night of sleep). When visiting her this past May she informed us that she wanted to come up and spend some time getting to know her grandchildren better in the fall. At first we thought it was just wishful thinking, but when she booked her ticket there was no turning back. I had mixed feelings.

My boys got the shit end of the stick genetically from my side of the family. My mother died at 52, dad at 53, so they don't have grandparents around on my side. I want my boys to have a grandmother they know and love, but my mother-in-law plain doesn't like kids. My grandmother Norton was a mushy, cuddly, butterball of love and hugs whose idea of fun was going to the movies or going out for ice cream. My mother-in-law is not the stereotypical grandmotherly type. She owns two bars, smokes, gambles, fun to hang with, if you are 43 not 5. My father-in-law lives next door, but isn't the grandfatherly type, yet. I have hope that he just doesn't know what to do with young kids. When they can go fishing, split wood and work heavy equipment I think they'll be more bonding.
My mother-in-law did her best in her latest seven week stay. She brought them to the park, went bowling, pumpkin picking, out for lunches and ice cream, but most of all she was there to see their smiling faces staring back at her as she opened her eyes each morning. She walked Matt to and from school a few times and even went to a "family dance" at the school. Early yesterday morning my wife drove her mother to airport in the dark. When the boys woke up they came running into my bedroom and wondered where "Nana" went. They were sad to hear she went back to Mississippi. It made me happy to know they were going to miss her and that they got to know her better

My boys favorite fall activity: Jumping in huge piles of leaves.

This morning on my way to the gym I saw a dear old friend Junito. He is a firefighter in town and was on his way to work. We spent our teen years raising hell. Drinking, girls, general mischief. We reminisced a bit about Halloween's past. In our early teens it was all about egging houses, soaping cars and TP ing trees. In our later teens it was all about drinking and throwing big parties. From 1982 till 1985 we had huge Romanesque Halloween parties in which the debauchery bordered on the criminal. I informed him that I was working the door for a huge Halloween UMass party tonight at my golf club and all he could say was "The more things change...".

The best book of all time about Halloween is "The Halloween Tree" by Ray Bradbury. I have spent the past month reading a chapter or two every other night to my boys. Although they are too young to truly appreciate Mr. Bradbury's tale of eight boys who travel through time looking for their sick friend while visiting Halloween celebrations during the past 4000 years, they were enthralled, nonetheless. I will read them the last chapter tonight after Trick Or Treating and before I head out to work that party.

Have a safe and Happy Halloween and don't worry about me, I'm not afraid of naughty nurses, sexy witches, wild ho's or lady cops in short shorts, well... maybe the wild ho's

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Couch Surfer

My brother Mark and I have always had a love/hate relationship. I love him and he hates me.

I am the oldest of six and ruled over my siblings without mercy. Being the oldest of six in a fatherless family I felt like I was the dad, responsible for every one's well being, but omnipotent and all knowing. My brother Mark, being two and three quarter years my junior, bore the brunt of my out of control ego. He dealt with my hubris in two ways. He was contrary to everything I was. If I liked the Red Sox, he liked the Yankees. If I wanted peanut butter and fluff, he wanted peanut butter and jelly. His other coping mechanism was humor. He developed a keen sense of humor which diffused almost any situation. He was almost like a super hero with the power to change situations through laughter. Teachers, police, my family, even myself; no one was immune to his ability to turn the tables and make the most dire of circumstances light, thus diffusing the situation. His manipulative abilities were so great that he felt bulletproof...until he was firing bullets at himself.

When we became adults our paths diverged. I eschewed the self destructive coping mechanisms that I utilized to get me through our tumultuous upbringing. I confronted my demons. I disavowed escapism. I learned how to live in the present. Mark did not. He reveled in his self destruction like a circus acrobat, working the high wire without a net. The problem is when you finally fall, with no net, its going to hurt, a lot. Maybe kill. At some point I gave up on ever having a normal, adult relationship with him which, in my definition, includes reciprocity, acceptance and understanding. His dishonesty, drug use and lack of empathy, while understandable with our fucked up childhood, was unacceptable for me now, as an adult.

Shortly after I married my wife in 1992, my brother skipped town. He owed people money, he was in trouble with the law, so he went as far south as he could to escape his troubles, Key West. I don't know much about his exploits in the Keys except for the bullshit stories about his lavish spending and tales of debauchery. He moved around quite a bit in his fifteen years as he never had the same number or address for more than a few months. Occasionally he would leave the Keys to escape troubles, dry out or look for more trouble.

On Easter Sunday the spring of 2007 I got a phone call from Mark, the first call in many years. It was the first time we talked since a year after my mothers death in 1999 when he was on a drug fueled binge and he called me to let me know he was coming to get me for all the times I wronged him while growing up. At first he sounded like a WWF wrestler, calling out his opponent with pedantic, hackneyed insults. Then it got dark. I hung up after he started talking about chopping me up into bits. Although I knew that his rock induced tirade was full of empty threats, I was done. With my mother dead and buried I think he subconsciously assumed her mantle of guilt and insecurity. While speaking with him that Easter I sensed a vulnerability and resignation that I hadn't sensed in him since we were huddled together up in our bedroom, frighteningly listening to our parents fist fight in the parlor down below. I knew he had to be dire straits to reach out to me, his sworn enemy. His oppressor. He talked about spending the past few months living and working in a devastated post Katrina New Orleans and that he wanted to come home, to Massachusetts. Within a month he made it up north, with his ex-stripper girlfriend in tow, but ended up in New Hampshire, suicidal and alone, when she ran off with one of his associates. Eventually they succumbed to their codependency and reunited.

She and he eventually made their way to Northampton where they burrowed their way into my sister's home, just across town. This wasn't the first time he stayed there for an extended period. Numerous times since my mother's death he stayed with her when he had no where else to go and needed some family connection. In previous visits he never completely burned his bridges occasionally getting drunk and obnoxious, but never exhausting my sister's hospitality. This time was different. He was losing his mind. Eventually she had to ask him to leave. As usual he got his shit together long enough to find a place to live and get a job working nights. This was short lived. His grandiosity, paranoia and boorishness crescendoed in early September when on a warm, late summer morning I awoke to find him sitting in a chair on my backyard deck. He didn't look right. He said he had been drinking all night. He said he wanted to die. He couldn't understand how he had lost his girlfriend, his place to live, his pride. He repeatedly lamented his decisions over the past 20 years.

It was time to pay the piper.

Years of avoidance and diversions had taken their toll and he could no longer run from the one person who could catch him, himself. I spent the day listening to his epiphanies and self analysis. I suggested that I bring him to the hospital so he could get some professional help. He vehemently declined not wanting to be compared to my mother who had spent some time on the "Fifth Floor". I fed him dinner and let him sleep on my couch with the understanding that he needed to leave and find a place to stay in the morning. He spent the next week couch surfing, staying with whoever would take him in. The next weekend I received a number of frantic calls from my sister's who had been spending a similar day with their brother to the one I had experienced a week earlier. This time he relented and agreed to be hospitalized.

After a few days, I went to see him. He greeted me with a huge hug and went into a 15-minute diatribe about his new diagnoses and his insistence that now that his problems of codependency and drug dependency have been identified then he would be fine. He looked like a new man, so much so, I agreed to let him stay with me until he could find a place to live. My wife was shocked. I vowed years earlier when I received that crazy, crack fueled phone call that I would never have anything to do with him ever again. Was I a bad brother? Did I treat him badly? Have I really been there for him? My own guilt was kicking in.

I picked him up from the hospital and immediately lay down the ground rules: no drinking, no drugs, we get your whole paycheck to hold for you until you get your own place, follow your post admission plan which included A.A. meetings and therapy, no contact with your Ex. He agreed to them all. The first few weeks were great. He helped around the house during the day, went to meetings in the afternoon and worked all night. We watched the Sox in the playoffs and the Pats in the midst of their 18-0 run. He played with his nephews constantly, waking up each morning to their smiling faces staring at him nose to nose, while he awoke on the couch. We spent mornings drinking coffee, talking politics, religion and recollecting happier times. Best of all he made me laugh. He is the one person who could always make me crack up whether it be in church, making faces during the priests sermon or at home mimicking my mother's scolding. This was the brother I always wished I had. In confidence, I told my wife that he could stay as long as he wanted.

Then he missed a nights work. Then another. Then a meeting. He started sleeping longer and longer some days never leaving the couch. He was starting to act erratic again. When confronted about his backslide he became defensive. One night when I was at work my wife got a call from him that he needed a ride home from downtown. He was drunk. When I got home and no one was there, I knew what had happened. I called her and she confirmed my suspicions. I waited for him on my porch and pounced on him immediately upon exiting my wife's car. He denied drinking even though I could smell the booze emanating from every pour. I threw him to the ground and held him there until I realized that this is what he wanted. He needed an excuse for his fuck up. I let him go and told him to leave.

The next day he apologized and I, against my gut feeling, let him back into my home. His regression continued, unabated. Supposedly his hours were cut at work, his therapy was cut back and his A.A. meeting times had changed. He was prepping to go. He was supposed to set up an appointment to get an abscessed tooth fixed. When he didn't go to his appointment he tried to say they wouldn't take his insurance. I called his employer and they said he hadn't been to work in days and was not yet eligible for insurance. I called the dentists office; he had never made an appointment. I knew the end was near.

He spent all Halloween Day lying on the couch. As the kids dressed in their costumes he took a shower to get ready for "work" and "therapy". I dropped him off at his therapy group and went back to soak in the ghoulish festivities. The next morning he was no where to be found. The couch was empty. I left for the gym with the boys and wondered if he would be back. When we got home just past noon I made the boys a sandwich and sat down at the computer to do some work. I heard some noise from the back deck and found my brother snoring in a deck chair. I went back to my computer and a minute later He came in the house and went straight to the bathroom. Sensing something was wrong I went to the back door to see if there was any sign of drinking or drugs. There was a piece of paper towel on fire on the table inches from freshly fallen leaves which were strewn all over the deck. I ran into the bathroom and burst in screaming at him to get his ass out to the deck to see what he had done. He ran out and swatted out the flames with his sleeve. I stood there, smouldering, while he sat back in the chair, emotionless. I asked him what the fuck was wrong with him. He didn't answer. I grabbed him out of the chair and jacked him up against the wall. An audible crack sounded when his head and torso broke the vinyl siding. I threw him into the backyard with him screaming "What did I do, what did I do?". "You tried to burn my fucking house down, get the fuck out and don't ever come back here." He walked down the street and I watched him turn the corner. I went back in the house where the boys had napped through the drama. As I gazed upon their sleeping faces I realized that this was not the place for him. My house, my wife, my kids were constant reminders of what he didn't have. Stability, piece of mind, home. I packed up his stuff and put it outside the garage door.

When my wife got home I filled her in on the afternoon's events. I decided to fire up the leaf blower and blow all the leaves from my deck. As I started to blow the leaves from my front yard a siren pierced the quiet of the grey All Saints Day afternoon. The cop car turned down the street next to mine which parallels the park. I had a bad feeling. Yelling to my wife who was in the kitchen I told her that I had to check out something and would be right back. As I turned down Arch Street I could see a firetruck, an ambulance and two cruisers. My heart inched up into my throat. I drove by the scene, rubbernecking, but couldn't tell what was going on. One of the firemen on the scene directing traffic was a friend of mine who said a jogger found some guy in the park. I knew it was him.

The next morning he called. He told me that when he left my house he went to the liquor store, pounded down a fifth of Vodka and passed out in the park near my house. The police PC'd him and let him go at about 4 AM. He wandered the streets till he called me. I grabbed his stuff, put the boys in the car and drove to meet him. He got in my car. He was crying. He kept saying "I've got to go, I've got to go". "You do", I agreed.

We drove to the bank so he could cash a paycheck and then to Dunkin' Donuts. I drove him to the bus station as if I was driving him to the gas chamber. When we got to the parking lot I got out and hugged him. He leaned in the car and gave the boys a kiss. I started to well up, but willed it back. "I'll see you again, It'll be OK, I'll see you again", he tried to reassure me. I knew he was telling one last lie.

His bus wasn't leaving town until later that afternoon. When my wife got home from work I returned to the bus station. I sat, unseen, on a fire escape overlooking the bus station. I wasn't sure if I was there to make sure he got on the bus safely or just making sure he got on the bus. As the cue formed at the bus for Springfield, Mark leaned on the brick bus station wall talking to a girl wearing a backpack, working his magic, spinning some yarn. He left a parting shot and dashed for the line. Once he got on the bus I crept down the fire escape and walked back toward my car. As the bus passed me I stopped, staring at the tinted windows, hoping that he knew that I was there.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Falling Into Hibernation

Somewhere between 12:30 AM and 1:00 AM Saturday morning I made the transition into hibernation mode.

I played in my last golf outing of the year on Friday grinding out 36 holes of golf up in Keene, New Hampshire. As I drove alone, north, in the dark morning, I fondly replayed the events of the past summer. The end of my 70 minute ride culminated in a dark, looming, Mt. Modadnock being silhouetted against a bright, misty sunrise, igniting the first trees of the annual autumn blaze. I got out of my car and stretched. I went to the clubhouse of the Bretwood Golf Course and waited for the men to show up. They came from all over, Boston, Manchester, Rehoboth, Acton, Holyoke, all corners of southern New England 16 in total. As we teed off the weather turned. The sky became overcast and spit out raindrops sporadically. The cold penetrated my multiple layers of golf gear for the first time since early last spring.

The day was enjoyable. The golf was mediocre. Three good shots followed by a bad shot, followed by a horrible shot, followed by a miraculously lucky shot. After 18 holes we ate lunch and switched up teams. By days end we filed away enough laughs, bloopers, fairways and greens to carry us until our next outing in the Spring. Our foursome finished first, so we headed straight for the bar and grabbed some drinks. As the other groups trickled in and the drinks flowed on, the room got louder, bordering on boisterous. We payed out the winners who, in turn, bought more drinks for the losers. When we wore out our welcome we headed into Keene to the local brewery for a few more. Around 8 PM I headed south to attend a benefit for a co-worker whose dad is sick in Brazil. After a few drinks there I met a friend at a bar down the street from my house to watch the Red Sox. I stumbled in the house between 12:30 and 1:00 AM., drunk as fuck. I didn't even see the end of the Sox game.

I woke up Saturday morning hung over for the first time in a long time. My wife took the kids out for gymnastics, errands and visiting. They were gone all day. I lay in bed all day, covers up to my chin, watching hours and hours of college football, listening to the wind outside, waiting for the toxins to dissipate. When I arose from my self imposed tomb I went out into the cold fading sun lit afternoon. Squirrels danced through my yard looking for winter sustenance. I did the same driving to "The Hangar" for some boneless chicken wings. After stuffing myself, I took a nap, in order to rest up for a night of bumping and grinding and puking. Not me. I moonlight as a bouncer for college Frat and Sorority parties my buddy hosts at my golf course. I've been doing this for the past six years, most weekends while school is in session, from October to May. Except for breaking up a few spats and helping a few drunk girls to a couch and a basket to puke in the night was uneventful. I fell asleep around 3PM with visions of coeds doing shots and cleavage dancing in my head.

Sunday was similar to Saturday. Sleeping in late. Gorging myself. Watching alot of sports, particularly NFL pre-game. Around 3PM I took a walk to the park with the wife and kids. We tossed the football around, played some tackle and pushed the boys on the swings. On the way home I stopped and watched the squirrels scurrying up and down the oak trees at a frenetic pace gathering up acorns for the coming winter. Upon arriving home I retreated to my bedroom where I watched the Patriots play in the 4 O'clock game then the Red Sox at 7:30. In between, I tried to be a good dad and read the kids a few chapters of "The Halloweeen Tree". I fell asleep sometime after midnight after watching the Sox blow it in extra innings.

From now until spring, this will be how the weekends will be: laziness, cocooning, solitude and introspection. I won't mind if the weekends are rainy, cold, snowy. Its the time of year to recharge the batteries until the snow melts and the sun returns and I wake from my hibernation.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Summer '08

I was scheduled to play in a two day golf tournament today in Great Barrington at Wyanteunck Country Club, one of my favorite courses anywhere, but it was cancelled due to the back to back, east coast storms we are experiencing here in Massachusetts. Today is a chilly, rainy fall day perfect for sitting under the covers in my sweats watching football. Since I'll have to wait 'till tomorrow to watch football in my sweats, I'm going through pictures I've taken over the summer to decide which ones should be developed and which ones will sit on my computer indefinitely. I did a similar post at the end of spring(click here)wherein I posted pics of my maniacal spring. Here are some pics of my more than maniacal summer.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Then There Were Two

I am a stay at home dad...kind of. My job as a director in a non-profit, human service agency affords me the chance to be home during the day. I get my work done by phone or computer and if need be get my sister or sister in law to watch my two boys if I have a meeting or emergency. My son Matt was born 5 1/2 years ago. For his first two years on earth it was just me and him, Monday through Friday, in tandem. We went to the gym together (him in his "carrier" 'till about ten months), ate meals together, napped together, golfed together (once again, him in the carrier or in the stroller. Yes, I pushed a stroller around the golf course!) everything together.

When my son Peter was born three years ago, he joined the "boys club". Three of us, all day, playing, living and learning, but most of all, loving. This past summer the "boys club" was in full swing. Trips to the lake, "bear hunting" in the park (before you call PETA, it was pretend), thousands of pitched baseballs, bike and Big Wheel rides around the block, lunch at the driving range. We even, on occasion, let a girl into the club named "Mommy" who joined us at the beach, on the golf course and even a trip to ride the swan boats in Boston.

Summer is ending and fall is on the horizon. Now the "boys club" is down to two. Matthew started kindergarten last week. On his first day of school we walked him 1/4 mile up the hill to his new club. He'll make new friends, learn new things and live a new life filled with new and exciting experiences. Me and Pete will be back at home running the old "boys club". Just me and Pete. Going to the park, playing ball, eating PBJ. It won't be the same without Matt, but different isn't necessarily bad. Matthew and I had two years alone in the club without Peter wherein we got to know each other unlike no other. We mimicked each others movements, words and emotions. Now I'll get to know Pete in the same way. The "boys club" will live on for two more years until Peter makes that walk up the hill in the waining days of summer. Then we'll close the doors to the "boys club", but not for good. The club will be open on school vacations and from June 21st until Labor Day for the next 20 years or so. After my boys are done with college and make their way out into the world I hope they'll take some time and revisit the "boys club". Hopefully we can keep the "boys club" going indefinitely. It'll always be open for business

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Dark and The Light

The Dark
Seven years ago, this very moment, I watched the unfolding drama taking place in New York City (read here for my recollection of that morning). I have always been interested in world affairs, reading Boston Globe from front to back each morning and watching the news each evening. After 9/11 I have had a heightened awareness of the United States standing in the world and developed a cynical view of our governments overall foreign policy.

Grease makes things run smoother. That's what our current administration does not understand. The Bush doctrine runs in absolutes. Terrorist attack... go to war. Political disagreement...disengage diplomacy. That's not how the world works. Back in prehistoric times how could members of different tribes interact without conflict? By shows of good faith. Offers of food, shelter, resources, assistance were ways to indicate that tribes were friendly and trustworthy. Nothing has changed in thousands of years.

Being that we are the world's preeminent power don't you think we would improve our standing, develop new allies, strengthen out existing relationships by spending on our money helping other countries, especially those who currently despise us? Look at it this way. When Ben and Jerry's has a "free ice cream" day they are advertising their product in the hopes that the money they lose in giving away product with be recouped and future business will increase. If they spent their money on running ads putting down Friendly's Ice Cream and spent money trying to undermine the Friendly's corporation, they still have to spend money to sell their product, because the destruction of Friendly's does not guarantee that people will buy Ben and Jerry's. You catch more flies with ice cream.

War should always be used as a last resort. In WW II we stayed out of the war until knew all the players and knew that we had to go to war or lose everything. After 9/11 we knew very little, but fabricated intelligence in order to appear to be doing something. We still haven't found the people responsible. Why? Because we haven't greased the wheels, we blew up the car.

The Light
I was reading Rolling Stone magazine while doing cardio at the gym yesterday. The issue was dedicated to comedy and there were a couple of jokes that made me laugh so hard that I almost fell off the Precor machine.

Joke #1:

A guy's having sex with his wife. All of a sudden he looks over at the door and there in the doorway is his eight year old son standing there. The kid looks horrified and runs away. The guy says to his wife "Well, I better go talk to Jimmy". He puts on his clothes and goes down to Jimmy's room. He opens the door and there's Jimmy nailing Grandma. The father goes "Oh, my God!" and the kid goes "Not so funny when it's your mom, is it?".

Joke #2:

Guy goes to the doctor and the doctor says, "Sir, you've got to stop masturbating!" and the guy was like, "Why?" and the doctor says, "So I can examine you".

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


I don't know how many of you have seen the movie "Tootsie", but if you were born after 1980 and have no idea what I'm talking about let me fill you in. Dustin Hoffman was trying to get an acting job as himself, a man, and got nowhere. He found out that a soap opera was looking for a strong female lead and decided to go to an audition dressed as a woman and got the job based on his improvisations as a no nonsense, kick ass, feminist who would take no shit from anyone. Of course, hilarity ensues due to the fact that he is really a man and has to deal with the harassment and struggles of being a woman in a male dominated world. Her nickname by the chauvinist director of the soap is "Tootsie". He even calls her this while slapping her on the ass. In the end everyone finds out her/his secret and more hilarity ensues.

Since the coming out party for Gov. Palin as the republicans VP choice I keep seeing "Tootsie" up on stage. A strong willed, independant, modern woman who can bring home the moose meat, fry it up in a pan and spit out more kids than a paddy in heat (my apologies to Irish moms, but as my cousin says, everyone makes fun of the Irish and its OK, except for the black Irish, of course). She is firing up "Wal-Mart" women all over the country and is the biggest celebrity this side of Barak Obama.

Tootsie did the same thing. She was on every magazine and TV show touting feminist ideals and the destruction of the glass ceiling. In the end everyone found out Tootsie's secret and the feminist fad was over. I keep wondering, what will we find out about the Governor? Its hard to say as she is yet to do an interview 12 days after her announcement as VP candidate. I would suffice to say that she was brought in to fire up the Republican base believing in core issues such as no gun control, overturning Roe V Wade, expanding the death penalty, teaching "intelligent design" as a valid theory of evolution and turning the U.S. into a Christian Theocracy.

The shock to the world when everyone found out that "Tootsie" was a man was more disappointment than anything. No one was hurt and women were empowered even though it was by deception. Women are in for a shock when the truth comes out about Palin. The Republican machine has "dressed her up" to appear to be a middle class, struggling mom who is driving the minivan to hockey games and PTA meetings. Is it possible for a family whose mother is a Governor and father is a BP oil executive who owns a commercial fishing business to be middle class? We'll soon find out who the real Sarah Palin is and it won't be as entertaining as a man playing a woman, dressed in drag. I wish it were that funny.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

BC/GT Challenge

Plez, from the ATL, is a huge Georgia Tech fan. As a proud alum, he put his pride on the line last year by accepting a challenge I proposed to him. If the Boston College Eagles, led by Matt Ryan beat his beloved Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, then he would have to put the Eagle logo on his blog for a week and vice-verse. Last year he was a man of his word and displayed the Eagle for a week and was complimentary of the Eagles play that day. He even got on the Matt Ryan bandwagon as a Heisman hopeful. This year he accepted the same challenge and the outcome was much different. The "Ramblin' Wreck" , eaked out a win in Chestnut Hill 16-13 in a horribly played game. Both offenses sputtered. The BC Quarterback, Chris Crane, was a painful reminder that Matt Ryan is now leading the Atlanta Falcons (talk about ironic) to victory. He could not throw the between the numbers and had at least 7 tipped passes. Tech was equally as pitiful on offense, fumbling the ball numerous times. The defenses were decent enough, but in the end Tech made one fewer error than BC and now you can admire the GT Yellowjacket displayed prominently at the top of my blog. My cousin Sul-dog and I watched the game perched over the 15 yard line and had a great time despite the horrific play on the field (read here for last years family reunion at the Heights). BC fans have been spoiled over the past eight years. Things don't look promising in the Heights. Congrats Plez and lets hope both teams look better in the weeks to come.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Isn't "Juno" A City In Alaska?

I am taking a break from the "Masshole Memoirs", as my friend Tim likes to call my blog, to kvetch about Alaska's Govenor Palin. As most of you have heard unless you've been on vacation...on the moon...that John McCain's running mate Sarah Palin has a 17 year old daughter who is five months pregnant. Do I care that a 17 year old is pregnant...not really. My mother was 17 when I was born and let me tell you, not the best thing. I can say with full conviction that she would have been better off having an abortion and not having kids till she was grown up, which may have never happened, but I digress. I am happy (cause I'm still here yeaaaa) that back in those days prior to Roe Vs Wade pregnant teens, especially Irish Catholic pregnant teens, thought it was relatively normal to have kids when they were still kids. There is a huge double standard here that the mainstream media has not yet exposed and that is if Barack Obama had a 17 year old daughter that was pregnant the Republican machine would be having a field day!

The party that touts "abstinence" as a method of birth control and drones on about family values and the fact that the godless liberals are ripping apart the moral fiber of this country have no further to look than number two on their Presidential ticket to see their failed policies and rhetoric. Regular readers of this space know the one thing that drives me "ape shit" is hypocrisy. Here are my points:

1) If Palin's daughter was poor, minority, fatherless or drug addicted or all of the former, then the religious right would says that the reason why she was pregnant was a moral issue and bring up the fact that she probably needs religion, an intact family unit and more religion. What's Palin's daughters excuse? "Her and her boyfriend got carried away in a loving moment and made an innocent mistake" is what they'll tell the congregation. Of course 17 year old black girls living in NYC, the place we can all agree as in moral decay ala Gomorrah, don't have loving moments with their boyfriends. They just fuck like animals and have no feelings other than jonesing for crack and succumbing to those decadent Hip Hop lyrics.

2) I can't speak for the Palin family, but she will be number two on a republican ticket, a party which touts abstinence as a method of birth control. If the Palin's sent their daughter to abstinence class, had her sign a "chastity agreement" or did nothing at all the outcome is the same, she is as knocked up as Jaime Lynn Spears. Right now the Red Stater's are all singing her praises, but are they really when she is now the poster child for ineffective birth control.

3) Isn't it a tad hypocritical to bash single parents who want to have kids (ala Murphy Brown) and gays that want to adopt because in their stunted view "how can you give your kids enough attention when you don't have someone to share the parenting?". The last I knew, Governors work 16 hour days and have very little time off. Her husband works for BP as an oil-field production operator and owns a commercial fishing business, which doesn't leave a lot of "family time". They have an intact family unit with plenty of financial resources, but their kid still got knocked up. I guess all of that family values shit the republicans have been shoving down our throat since Regan doesn't mean a thing. Even when you have the most traditional of families and a strong family unit with no financial concerns things can still go awry.

4) Why are her kids off limits in a political race? Since we know little or nothing about her what are we supposed to go on? Well, since she runs on an ultra- conservative platform we can use her own social views as a benchmark for evaluating her effectiveness. By having a 17 year old pregnant daughter she appears to be a failure as a parent by definition of her and her party's platform. If kids are off limits when evaluating a candidates character then lets ask the Kennedy's, Nixon's, Ford's, Regan's, Bush 41, Clinton's and Bush 43 about kids being off limits...yeah... right.

I have no personal issue with Mrs. Palin. I'll be the first to admit, as 99.9% of America will attest, that I know next to nothing about her. I do have an issue with the Republican party and how they will try to win at all costs, including spinning a 17 year old girls pregnancy to their advantage even when it goes against their core beliefs and have been bashing liberals on this for 20 years.

In the movie Juno, a 16 year old girl gets pregnant and decides to give the baby up for adoption to a well off couple. It paints an unrealistic and rosy picture of teen pregnancy. She lives in suburbia somewhere, has lots of support, is far from destitute and it all works out in the end. If the movie took place in NYC and the girl was black and poor with no father and a mother on crack would there be a rosy outcome? Isn't Juno a city in Alaska?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Last Day Of Camp, 1982

I could see the steam rising from the water as I chugged full steam down the hill toward the lake. The chill in the air was refreshing, as it had been a hot, steamy summer in the foothills of the Berkshires. As I approached the beach, I stripped off my t-shirt and threw my towel at the waters edge, while in a full sprint. I timed my steps perfectly onto the metal docks and after five tentative strides plunged into the chilly waters of Highland Lake. I swam out to a raft moored 75 feet out from the last dock and climbed aboard. I stood surveying the scene, soaking it in, knowing that this would be my last 7 AM plunge of the year. In a few minutes campers, accompanied by their blurry eyed counselors, would make their way down to the waterfront for a quick dip in the lake so they could earn their Polar Bear badge which would be given out at the "Candlelight Ceremony" that evening. The badge would entitle them to all you can eat ice cream sundaes after the ceremonies. As a camper, I like most of the other kids at Camp Howe, opted for the warmth and comfort of my cabin bunk over the shock and chill of the lake. Steve, the waterfront director, waved to me from the deck of the boathouse, his summer home. Steve was the coolest guy I knew. He was in his early 20's and good looking. He is one of the few people I've ever met who could get away with wearing a Speedo. He owned his own mobile DJ business. He DJ'd our weekly dances, he dated all of the hottest counselors and got to spend all day every summer on his deck overlooking the beach cranking out tunes from his boom box. He took me under his wing this summer making me the only male counselor to lifeguard the waterfront. It was me, Steve and eight girls every day for eight weeks patrolling the waterfront, giving swimming lessons, teaching CPR and First Aid. As uncool as I was, I was perceived as cool by association with Steve and the gorgeous waterfront staff.

Steve beckoned me to the boathouse, so I dove back into the water and swam over to the docks just as the first kids were gingerly dipping their toes in the water. "Last day Sull", Steve said with some melancholy. "last chance.". "Last chance?", I questioned him, wondering what I had missed. "Sull, I know you dated Carol for most of the summer, but you have completely missed the boat". "What do you mean?", I replied, clueless. "Brandl came to see me last night and spilled her guts out. She's liked you all summer, but you started dating Carol, then when you broke up with her she thought that would be her in, but you never did anything about it."

I was replaying the summer in fast forward through my frontal lobe. How did I miss all the signals? Steve must be wrong. Karen Brandl was the cutest, hottest, sweetest girl in camp that year and most any year. She was way out of my league and I knew it from day one when we were paired together for some lifesaving exercises. She had a boyfriend back home. She was the head of her cheer leading squad. She was absolutely perfect. I would catch myself admiring her from across the dock while the children splashed about unaware of the danger they were in by my inattentiveness. I resigned myself to being friends with her and never attempted any flirtation. We would take walks and talk about our single moms, trials being the oldest of big families and hopes for the future. I confided in her my crush on her friend Carol, another lifeguard and she was the go between to get us together. Carol and I became the camp couple of the summer and the preteens lived vicariously through our courtship, ups and downs and subsequent break up. All that time, Karen and I were the best of friends. We lay on our backs at night on the cool sand and looked at the stars shimmering over the lake. I hugged her when she broke up with her boyfriend back home. Our cabins would always buddy up during the camp Olympics. We always sat next to each other in the dining hall, her at the end of her table of campers and me at the end of mine. When I saw her standing alone, not dancing the last slow dance of the year, I excused myself from my ten year old dance partner and went over to her. I led her out onto the dance floor and swayed to "Stairway To Heaven". I had no idea why she was crying.

Steve patted me on the back and said, "Sull, I've known about her crush on you all summer. She's always looking at you, she's always where you are. Well, you've got the rest of the day to do something about it". He saw the look of enlightenment on my face and felt his job was done. "Man, I can't believe you didn't know!", he laughed, almost mockingly then proceeded to walk over to greet the Polar Bears frolicking in the inner den.

I made my way up the hill to the flag raising ceremony which happened every morning right before breakfast. Everyone in the camp would circle the flagpole with the boys on one side coming from the boys unit and the girls on the other. I looked at Karen from across the circle. She was busy talking to her campers, smiling and engaging.

She was not staring at me.

After raising the flag, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and the 4H pledge we made our way to the dining hall. My campers and I sat at our usual table while Karen and her campers sat at the table next to us. We turned to each other and said "good morning " simultaneously and giggled. She turned to talk to her CIT and I kept looking at her. She turned to say something and caught me staring. "Whats up...everything alright?". She broke my trance. "yeah..ah...I..I need to talk to you alone later." "OK, lets walk down to the waterfront together after breakfast. I'll meet you at the flag pole after the bugle." "OK", I said briskly and turned to pass the pancakes or toast or something to avoid staring. During breakfast I glanced at her occasionally trying to catch her looking longingly at me. Maybe Steve was yanking my chain; I didn't catch her once.

After breakfast I met her at the flag pole and we made our way down the hill I had sprinted down two hours earlier. Time had slowed down. Whats up...everything OK", she asked. "Yeah," I was pussing out. "I'm just sad its our last day here. It flew by so fast. I'm going to miss everyone."

I couldn't bring myself to ask her.

"Yeah, me too. I'm going to miss everyone." We walked the rest of the way in silence with the sounds of campers hooting and hollering their way down to the beach. We went into the boathouse and got our clipboards and whistles. At the bottom of the stairs she turned to me to say something, then stopped. She gazed into my eyes right through me. I gazed back. For a moment time stopped. Then the pause button was released and things started moving again. She turned and made her way out the dock to the outer den to teach her Advanced Swimmers. Steve was right. "You are such an idiot; she liked you all along" I said to myself as I gathered my Beginners for their final swimming test.

We walked together up the hill for lunch without a word between us, just an occasional glance. We sat at our respective tables and occasionally looked over at each other smiling, knowingly, as if we were going to burst. After lunch was rest hour, a time where I usually napped while my campers usually hung from the rafters, gave each other wedgies and gossiped about which 12 year old girl on the other side of camp had the bigger boobs. I couldn't sleep, so I went over to Borquies cabin where his eight year olds were lying quietly in their bunk. "Dave" I asked him "did you know that Brandl had a crush on me?" "Jesus Sully, everyone knew, even Carol. Its why she broke up with you. Brandl told her and Carol flipped out." I didn't want to correct Borquie, but the break up was mutual. We dated for three weeks and she never let me get past first base. Not acceptable when camp was full of plenty of girls that would do more, alot more. "You are kidding Sully. You didn't know that? You are with Brandl all the time. You spent more time with her than you did with Carol when you were with Carol".

He was right.

Eric Powell, camp jock and most popular counselor came over and we sat on the picnic table in front of Dave's cabin. He brought over his boom box and we sat listening to "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" on an album oriented rock station out of Springfield. That song goes on for about 11 minutes and I sat there thinking about all the missed signals. What if we dated all summer? What if I never said I liked Carol? Should I even bother now with me being a senior in Northampton and her going back to her head cheerleader/best looking girl in school lifestyle at Pioneer Valley, 40 miles from me? Then it hit me. We were friends. If there was more then it would happen, all in good time. At the end of the song when it changes from a funeral dirge to a raucous party song Powell jumped up on the picnic table playing his fiercest air guitar solo of the year. Just as the song ended the bugle sounded the end of rest hour. Time to head back down the hill to lifeguard the rest of the afternoon for free swim.

When I got to the waterfront Karen was already manning her post on the raft. I took my place on the outer den next to Darlene, whom I had known since my days as a camper. We were campers together, CIT's together and now counselors working waterfront. She was a stunner, as were all the girls that worked the waterfront. Six feet tall, legs up to the sky, tanned. We were mistaken as a couple because for the last few years we would always swing dance to "Jailhouse Rock" each Wednesday at the dance. There was never anything more than friendship, but after this situation, I had to wonder.

"I'm so excited for you David" she greeted me with a hug. The hug wasn't particularly unusual as she greeted most everyone with a hug. She was syrupy sweet, but in a real maple syrup way, not the fake stuff.

"Why?". I knew why.

This was getting ridiculous. "I talked to Karen on the way down here and she says you know. She's so happy". "So you knew all summer Dar?".

"Of course silly."

When it came time to switch guard stations I asked Dar if I could take raft next so I could see Karen. I swam out to the raft and took the life preserver from her. I put my hand on the small of her back. She smiled and dove in toward the docks. I spent the rest of afternoon out on the raft soaking in the late August sun, anticipating the evening to come.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Evening of August 14th, 1999

I had just drifted off to sleep when I heard a loud knock on the backdoor. I knew immediately that something was wrong. My wife and I lived in an apartment on a desolate stretch of road in the Connecticut River valley of western Massachusetts in the town of Whately. The houses on that road were spaced far apart and most of my neighbors were farmers. I knew that who ever was knocking had to have driven and if someone spent the time to drive out to my house, it must be urgent. I peeked out the window and saw a Massachusetts State Police cruiser in my driveway. I had left my wife an hour earlier at a food festival in Northampton where we sampled food from some local restaurants and had a few drinks. Did she have an accident? Did I hit something on the way home and not know it? In my heart I knew what it was. I opened the door. "Are you David Sullivan?" the female officer asked with an ultra official voice that only a statie commands. "Yes", I groggily replied. "Is your mother Cecilia Sullivan who lives at the Walter Salvo house in Northampton?". My peripheral vision was lost; the officer appeared to be at the end of a telescope. "Yes", I replied. My eyes quickly welled up and I went numb. "Mr. Sullivan, I'm sorry to tell you that your mother died sometime in the past few days. Her body was found in her apartment by a friend in the Salvo House." I stared blankly at the officer. Her male counterpart broke my concentration. "Are you OK sir?". I was holding on to the door jam for support. "What happened? How...was she..", was all I could get out. I felt like I was falling into a deep, dark hole with no end. The male officer was moving his lips, but all I could hear was my own breathing. " him with any questions", he handed me a card with a phone number of the detective in charge of the case. "Are you going to be all right Mr. Sullivan?", the female officer asked. "Yeah...thanks" I creaked. I turned and shut the door.

The police detective was matter of fact, "she died on the toilet, the way we found her she was probably trying to pull herself up with her good arm using the bar, but something happened, heart attack, whatever. There was no evidence of foul play, but we found a bunch of empties by her chair and a bunch of medications, she was on a lot of medications, huh?" "Where is she?" I interrupted. "She went directly to 'Pease Funeral Home' over by the hospital. There was no need to go to the hospital she was there for three, maybe four days." "I talked to her on Tuesday, so it wasn't more than three." "Well, she was in bad shape. It was hot up there and I'm surprised that no one complained about the smell earlier." I was numb to his insensitivity and wanted to hear more, however painful the details. "Can I see her?" "You'll have to call the funeral home in the morning, but you don't want to...I shouldn't. Its bad. Just remember her like she was the last time you saw her."

That was easy.

I took her to her favorite restaurant, The Bluebonnet Diner, for lunch on her birthday, August 7th. She didn't seem right. She only ate half of her meal and was very spacey. She had been disabled since the age of 35 when a brain aneurysm burst, causing her to have right side paralysis and no hope of getting out of the hole she dug for herself by marrying at age 17 and having 6 kids and a divorce by the time she was 24. The last time I saw her she was getting out of my car at her apartment after lunch at 'Bluebonnet'. I put her wheelchair next to my car and helped her transfer from the front seat to the chair. I tried to help push her to the front door. She had a hard time disengaging the brakes. "Ma, push the brake up, I can't move..." "All right, all right. Leave me alone!", she snapped. and wheeled herself to the front door. I chided, "Bye, Maaa" in a sing, songy voice hoping to get her to lighten up. She responded by waving an arm in the air, irritated, without turning around. I got in the car and my wife and I laughed at how stubborn she was. I never laid eyes on her again.

I called my brothers and sisters after I got off the phone with the detective. By this point shock had settled in and I have no recollection of my conversations with them except that I was surprised by the lack of emotion in their responses. Her death was expected, exactly when was the question. She had been given last rights dozens of times over the years, but always pulled through. Maybe their lack of discernible affect was not shock, but relief that the years of self loathing and self destructive behavior was over. She could finally stop running from the demons. My wife came home and I gave her the news. I saw my devastation in her eyes. I realized that her face was mirroring mine and that realization caused me to break down. I didn't cry again until days later when I was carrying my mother's casket out of Blessed Sacrament Church. I faced my brothers who were holding the other side of the casket. They both looked like they did when they were little boys, vulnerable and needy. My face was mirroing theirs.

Soon after my wife got home we went to bed. The next few days were going to be stressful at best and if I stayed up I'd just be torturing myself with memories of Ma and me swimming at the lake, playing catch in the backyard or her rubbing my head as I lay in her lap, watching television. As I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, I was comforted by the thought that my mother was with her infant son Derek who had died 29 years earlier, her sister Rosemary and her mother in a place better than this one.