Category Archives: Uncategorized

February 14, 2019

I want to talk to you for a few minutes about Pedro Morales.

When I was a kid, my Saturday mornings were much like every other kid. An exception for me was that at 11am, the cartoons would switch from animated to live action in the form of professional wrestling. My father would watch with me when he could. It was one of the few things we seemed to have in common and be able to do together. My father was of a generation where parameters between what the mother did with children versus the father were well-defined, and since my sports prowess was non-existent and I wasn’t patient enough to spend time in the garage with him, we had few options left.

When I was around ten, Pedro Morales was one of my favorite wrestlers. He was the Intercontinental Champion, and his finishing move was the Atomic Knee Drop, a move as simple as it sounds. One Saturday, he was defending his title, and the challenger was beating him, working over Pedro’s right knee. Like every good story, the hero mounted a comeback, but when the moment came, he went for his move with his bruised and battered knee. The knee failed, the challenger took advantage, and Pedro was pinned, losing the title. I turned to my dad and, with an authentic tone in my voice, asked him why he would use his bad knee.

My dad was not prone to displays of emotion, anger notwithstanding, and he could, at that moment, have answered the question in any number of ways that would have been factual enough – “Maybe he wasn’t thinking” or “He just be so used to doing it.” – that I would have been fine, if disappointed. But at that moment, my father only knew one answer, the truth, and he didn’t know how to tell it to me. He knew if he did, there was a chance part of my childhood would die, I would see behind the curtain, and things would never be the same. Somehow, all of that angst, that “This is a parenting moment,” washed over his face, and I understood.

“Oh,” I said, not wanting to believe it but knowing I had to. My father asked the only question he could.

“Does that bother you?”

I thought about it briefly before responding. “Nope. It’s still a lot of fun.” And I kept watching wrestling. Still do.

I’ve been thinking about my dad lately, not any more or less than I normally do, but in different ways. One is the realization that this year marks the fact I have been without him longer than I had him in my life. But it’s more than that.

My father started his day by splashing cold water on his face and then doing a series of sit-ups and push-ups. I start my days now with the same cold-water splash, mostly to make sure there is no sand left in my eyes before I poke at them with two tiny plastic disks, and then do fifteen minutes of stretching and jumping jacks in an effort to stave off time and weight. He kept a tin can in the kitchen where all garbage went – egg shells, coffee grinds, vegetable peels. I have recently done the same, thanks to the accompanying increase in such things with my new and hopefully improved diet. Little things that I learned without knowing and adopted without thinking.

Pedro Morales died this week. This would be the moment to bring back the thought of “part of my childhood died.” It works for any number of creative and editorial reasons, but the truth is that didn’t happen. What parts of my childhood that have died, or are dying, occur in the own gradual way, the slow scraping away of time like waves on a rock. You don’t notice the changes until you haven’t visited that beach for a while. But when you return years later, you find yourself thinking “That used to be different.” Whether that’s better or worse is not something you decide, but only come to realize over time.

Still, hearing about Pedro’s passing immediately brought me back to ten-year-old me, on the sofa with my dad that fateful Saturday morning. I sometimes can’t believe I was that kid, that I am that same person, much like I can’t believe I was once a 19-year-old in NYC, or the 22-year-old I was in San Francisco. Even stories of my life from ten years ago sometime ring false, as if they happened to someone else, but that’s because in a way they did.     

The best a person can hope for in life is that as they grow, and they go through the ceaseless action of the waves, etching away at them, reshaping their definition, is that the parts washed away are the parts that should be. To say I am a better person now than I ever have been is a judgement call, and the possibility is real that some of the good parts may have been lost amid all the bad. All I can do is change the way I face the waves, hoping to expose the worst in me to their power, and let the universe do the rest.

And if that doesn’t work, I’ll just give the universe an Atomic Knee Drop.

January 1, 2019

I want to talk to you for a few minutes about New Year’s.

For most of my adult life, it’s struck me as a pretty arbitrary day. That didn’t stop me from celebrating it in years past, a few of which turned out to be amazing experiences that could never be replicated, but most of them were pedestrian at best, made all the more angsty by the amount of pressure of trying to make it a special day. I’d be a hypocrite if I said most of those celebrations didn’t come with some form of resolution for the new year, and I’d be lying if I said all, or even any of those resolutions came true.

I always thought that it was a lousy time to celebrate the new year. It’s a week after what is arguably the largest holiday of the year, and it is followed by three months of blah. Especially if you’re someone from the north where it marks the beginning of winter and not the end of it, and if you’re celebrating a new beginning, shouldn’t that be when it happens? Not when everything is sleeping and ready to die, but waking up and starting to live? March 31st, not far from the Spring Solstice, would make a much new year eve.

There’s a lot (and I mean a LOT) of history as to how the calendar became the way it did, but most of it is thanks to the Romans. At one point, February was the end of the calendar year, and December was the tenth month, but somewhere along the line thanks to the Julian and Gregorian calendars that got changed. (It doesn’t help that they first made their calendar based more on things like honoring certain gods and creating specific market days and less on things like how long it actually takes the earth to revolve around the sun. You know, science.) The upshot of all of this is it’s December 31st, or at least it was twenty minutes ago, and so still 2018, but now it’s not, and it’s not. It’s 2019.

As such, people are going to wake up later today with a desire to do…something. Lose weight, walk more, talk less, love better, smoke less, not drink, not be shy, be bolder, move, take a trip, learn a language, love their parents better, hate their boss less, rescue a dog, foster a child, and the list goes on. They believe that they can do this, and the fact that they’re choosing today to do it will make it that much more possible.

The truth is they can do it, but choosing today probably makes it harder than it should be. Because just like people feel the pressure to have a spectacular NYE, they also feel the pressure to be this better person. Let me tell you, from personal experience, it’s pretty fucking hard to be a better person on a random Tuesday. Factor in the fact that it’s the first Tuesday of a new year, and that’s some heavy shit, man.

The best thing you can do, if you really want to do something about being better, is to throw out the calendar. You don’t need it to tell you when you should start a new way of living. Every day you wake up is that day, that chance. Hell, you could have been awake for several hours before you decide that now is the time. If you try to schedule something as powerful as changing your life, odds are the most power you had at your disposal to make that change was right then, at that moment, and not at some arbitrary point in the future. You turn the page on your life when you feel it and you know to do it, not when some free handout from the phone company tells you to.

That point can be during the middle of a shift at a job you know is no longer you. It can be at night, when you are tucking your kid in bed, realizing you’re not around to do that enough. It can be in the morning, opting for a walk around the neighborhood instead of a cup of coffee. It can be standing in line at the grocery store with a cartful of items and letting the person with the handful go in front of you. Yes, it can be at 12:01 am on January 1st, but it could also be at 2:45 pm on March 10th, or 7:30 am on August 23rd. You never know until you know. And that’s the challenge: being aware enough to know when that time comes, when the old way of living isn’t doing it for you anymore, not just enough for you to botch about it, but for you to do something about it.

There’s a reason gym memberships spike every January, because people allow something else, something so arbitrary it hurts, to tell them when to change their life. Think about that. The main driving force behind many people making a change in their life is a calendar, a thoroughly inanimate object with names that honor Roman gods and emperors.

Believe me, I’m the last person to tell anyone not to make changes in their life, to see what is wrong they could make right, or even see what is good and they could make better. I’m saying, if you really want to do it and give yourself the best chance at being successful at it, don’t wait for the calendar to tell you when to do it. The calendar is great at letting us know when to buy Christmas presents and root for football teams and buy school supplies and hunt for Easter eggs. But it’s shit at telling us when it’s the best time for us to be our best selves.

Of course, I say all of that, and an astute reader will recognize I’m still a hypocrite because I have once again made a New Year’s resolution. I’m starting 2019 the way I hope to spend most of it, and hopefully even the way that when it is over, is the only way I have to spend it.

By writing.

December 27, 2018

I want to talk to you for a few minutes about Aquaman.

I was pretty excited about seeing this movie. I remember, as a kid, watching the Super Friends cartoon every Saturday morning and Aquaman being one of my favorites. I think it says a lot about my self esteem even back then that the superhero I looked up to was one with a very limited and reasonably useless set of powers, a fact Family Guy spoofed perfectly. (That, and I didn’t even like swimming very much, so that’s odd too.) It isn’t as bad as choosing the Wonder Twins as your idol, but it’s certainly an interesting exploration of self-worth. Another reason I want to see the movie is that, unlike the MCU, I’ve seen all of the latest DC movies, so I feel like I know what’s going on and I want to keep that streak going.

And then the New York Times reviewed it, and the review was bad. (And also funny. The NYT can be pretty funny, especially their bad reviews. Particularly the restaurant reviews. You should check them out.) As I read the review, not only did I feel bad for the people who made the movie, but I felt sorry for them. I found myself imagining them taking this review personally, feeling worthless and bad about themselves, and that I should really go see the movie to support them and to make them feel better, that it was almost a responsibility for me to do that.

So, to sum up: I actively thought that a multi-billion dollar conglomerate would feel better if I went and saw their latest blockbuster, and that it was my responsibility to do so.

That, for me, is what it’s like to live with anxiety.

 It’s different for everyone, although most people will tell you there is a commonality concerning change and order, as in they don’t like the first and try to maintain the second. As I’ve talked about before, crowds are definitely a source of anxiety for me, but another area is the continual fear that I am going to let people down, that I can’t let that happen and what I can do to make sure they feel good about themselves. That fear manifests itself as dread when it comes to meeting new people and involving myself in new situations. I can’t help but always imagine worstcase scenarios. I live in my head, projecting what I’m sure is going to happen. And it isn’t even always in my head. If you ever catch me talking to myself, which many of you have, I’m either working out some plot point in whatever novel I’m writing, or I’m creating the doomsday scenarios for everything that could possibly happen to me the rest of the day, and probably the next couple of days as well.

The most disconcerting thing about the anxiety is the perpetual motion of it. The depression I understand and accept. There are a couple of wires crossed in my head, and if that means every so often I lay awake longer than I’d like to thinking about my own mortality and that of those around me, so be it. I wish I knew better what would trigger depressive episodes, but at least I’m aware enough to recognize when I slip into one and how best to manage it. But the anxiety just doesn’t stop.

If my neighbors are on their porch, I won’t check the mail, because I’m afraid they’ll want to talk to me. I don’t go grocery shopping, because I can’t decide exactly what to buy and if I’ll have time to eat it, and I end up ordering delivery. I watch so many reruns because I’m afraid I might not like watching something new, or worse, I’ll feel pressure to like it, and if I don’t, then that says something about me, that there’s something wrong with me. The phone will ring, and I will see that it is someone I know and like, and I’ll still struggle with answering it, because I’m afraid I won’t have anything interesting to say, and I’ll bore them. And the list goes on.

I know that it throws people off that I can be so light-hearted and flip about all of this, but the truth is I’m either going to cry or laugh about it all, because that’s all I can really do in the end. It doesn’t make dealing with it any less important, but things can be important without being serious, and some days that’s the only way I get through. (That, and people tip a smiling bartender a lot more than they tip a scowling one.)

I probably won’t go see Aquaman, partially because it’s two and a half hours long, and partially because that’s just my M.O.: I get super-excited about a movie when I see the trailer, but by the time it gets to the theater, I’m just “meh” about it. But also, partially because I know I don’t have to. Bad reviews or not, it’s doing just fine at the box office, and the Jason brothers (Wan the director and Momoa the eye candy) won’t miss my $15. That’s honestly a relief for me, and might actually be the reason I do go see it. Because now I can watch it simply for my own enjoyment and not because I feel like I have to.

But I’m still going to say a hard no if they ever greenlight a Wonder Twins movie.

December 19, 2018

I want to talk to you for a few minutes about The Little Drummer Boy.

My days off at my new job are Monday and Wednesday. Monday is a hard off; the restaurant is closed, and so, once I finish my morning writing, that day is a wide open, unstructured, free-for-all. Wednesdays are the day I usually go in to the restaurant for a couple of hours to do stuff that I can’t do while I’m actually on the bar. Today included meeting a liquor rep, interviewing a new waiter and discussing inventory. Having that on my mid-afternoon schedule, I’ve turned Wednesday into my grocery shopping, errand running, chore doing day.

When I got back from the grocery store and knew I was going to be in the kitchen for a while, I turned on my Christmas playlist to listen to while I worked. One of the first songs that came up on the rotation was The Little Drummer Boy. Not just any version of it, mind you, but what is quite possibly the strangest duo ever paired together for a song, Christmas or otherwise: Bing Crosby and David Bowie.

Long story short, Crosby was in England and wanted to film a Christmas special, featuring British artists. Bowie agreed to do it, solely because his mother was a fan of Crosby, but almost walked when told he had to sing The Little Drummer Boy, claiming to hate it. Within an hour, the shows producers and writers wrote a counter-melody that Bowie would sing, and after another to rehearse it, the two stars recorded the song.

The bridge that was written has its own name, and the version that they sing is officially called “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy.” Obviously, it’s kind of hard to miss the lyrics Bowie sings, but today I found myself paying more attention to them than I usually do. All of the words resonated, especially those about yearning for a return to times of goodwill, but none more than these:

“Every child must be made aware/Every child must be made to care/Care enough for his fellow man/To give all the love that he can.”

Not having any kids of my own (that I know about, anyway,) lyrics about kids rarely affect me, but something about today was profoundly different. I know it’s every generation’s right to say that they are living in the strangest, most troubling times, but it’s hard to see the world today – the absolute dumpster fire that is our own government, the menacing growths in foreign countries, the harrowing reports of the destruction of the environment, the economy on the verge of another major collapse – and still remain positive. At some point we find ourselves sitting in the corner and just saying “No mas.” Maybe it’s a reflection of how we feel our own lives are going, and the opportunities we’ve missed and the lives we feel ourselves resigned to. Maybe it’s a sense of aging and mortality, knowing that there isn’t much time left on our balance sheet anymore anyway. Or maybe it is something else that is so personalized, we each have our own tipping point. My guess is that while other things may factor into it, it is an individualized response. That would explain why some people tap out at age 30 and others still lace up the gloves every day at 90.

All that being said, the effect of the words did not bring me down, but gave me hope. It spells out the solution in a very simple, straight-forward way. It tells us to turn to the next generation, and to teach them to learn from our mistakes, but not to follow them, so the sins of their fathers will not be handed down to them. That sounds so simple as to be ineffective, but sometimes it is the simplest things that are the most powerful. So much so, I found myself thinking that maybe it shouldn’t just be a wish for each child to be made aware, but each person. If each child can learn to care for the fellow men and women, what’s stopping us from teaching each other, from learning this ourselves?

I know, lots of things are, including but not limited to institutionalized racism, financial inequality, gender inequality, political beliefs, religious dogma, xenophobia, etc., etc., etc. But here’s the thing about all of that. None of those things are going to change if we ask somebody else to change them for us, if we expect somebody else to pick up the yoke and do the heavy lifting. One of the phrases I’ve heard a lot over the last year and couple of days was that you can’t think your way into right action, but you can act your way into right thinking. And what better season, what better time of year is there than right now to do the next right thing? You’ll never know who might learn from it.

It might even be you.

December 17, 2018

I want to talk to you for a few minutes about brass rings.

Most people are familiar with the phrase “Grabbing the brass ring” as a metaphor (or simile, or whatever) for striving for something out of reach, trying to accomplish something challenging, taking a risk, etc. What most people don’t know is where that metaphor (or simile, or whatever) came from. Decades and decades ago, carousel operators installed a little contraption on their rides that would place a little brass ring just a bit outside from the path of the ride. People could reach out, and if their arms were long enough, their timing was right (what with the horse going up and down,) and they were lucky, they would be able to grab one. The machine was set up so that another one would fall into place for the next rider, and it was a cheap way to entice people to spend money riding again and again, just to have the chance of grabbing a brass ring. Those who got one would naturally brag about it to their friends, who would be encouraged to try and grab a ring of their own.

Today, I picked up a brass ring of my own, sort of. It’s more like a bronze medallion, and when I say “more like”, it’s actually a metaphor (or simile, or whatever) for “exactly”, as in it’s exactly a bronze medallion. It’s got a triangle on the front and a 25 word prayer on the back. Oh, and on the front, there’s a number 1 in the middle of the triangle. There were times I didn’t think I would earn it, times I thought I didn’t need to earn it, and times when I thought I didn’t deserve to earn it. The most recent time I didn’t think I deserved it was about two minutes before I actually got it. Seriously, I had an urge to stand up and leave the meeting when it was getting to be that time, but I stayed, and when they said, “Does anybody have a year today?” I stood up.

Honestly, I thought I’d feel a bit differently right now. There’s an odd sense of emptiness, a sort of anticlimactic “That’s it/what’s next?” sort of vibe. I was talking with a friend earlier, and she pointed out that, although there are times in life to be humble, there are also times to say “Yeah, this was hard, but I did this.” The problem I’m having right now, beyond my general typical dismissing of my accomplishments, is that, I feel less like I’ve moved ahead so much as just finally caught up with where I should be. It’s like saying “Look at me! I filled in this hole!” Except that I’m the guy who dug the hole in the first place

December 7, 2018

I want to talk to you for a few minutes about Paul Gregory.

Paul Gregory was a theater and film producer in the 1950’s and 60’s. His hallmark style, as displayed in such plays as the original “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial” and films like “The Night of the Hunter,” was one of stark realism, especially in his theatrical productions. He would do away with scenery and props, sometimes having nothing more than stools for the actors to sit on, as he did in his touring production of “Don Juan in Hell.” For nearly two decades, he amassed hit after hit, before tastes moved on, as they always do, and he eventually became just another anonymous old man living in Desert Hot Springs, CA.

I learned all of this when I read his obituary this week in the NYTimes. What stood out even more than his accomplishments, however, was the fact that he had died in 2015. It took almost a year before anyone put together the recluse and the resume and wrote an article about him in a small regional paper where he lived. The Times only learned about his passing recently, when they assigned a reporter to update his obituary, which they had written in advance in 2012– a common practice among news agencies.

When I was younger, I imagined how your death was announced in the Times was a barometer of the life you lived. From bottom to top, it went: no notice, paid obit in the back, wire article included in the paper, article written by staff and included in obituary section, mention of your passing on the bottom of the front page, article beginning on the bottom of the front page, article beginning on the top (“above the fold”) of the front page, and finally, your own whole damn section. I used to wonder back then how much of a life was I going to lead, and what level of posthumous mention it was going to warrant. A particularly morbid way to take stock of one’s life, especially while one is still living it.

Thoughts of my own mortality have come back recently, in a larger way than I am comfortable with, and I’m not sure why. I have, in my own estimation, never been living a better life than I am now. I am excited about the prospects of the new job I have and getting more so every day. Beyond being in love with my living situation, I find it giving me an extreme sense of peace and safety, the warmth and comfort of a nest. I have been averaging close to 10,000 words a week with my writing, and feel both propelled by the sense of success I am having and also not destroyed when a day or two goes by without any progress, knowing that it is still there inside me.

And yet, at night, more often than not, I lay awake and stare into the darkness of the unknown. That, more than anything else, is the fear. I am such a devourer of history – at one point, a roommate walked in on me watching a documentary on the history of Akron, OH, and I had no good explanation as to why I was doing that – because it is the one way for me to know what came before me, what I missed. I have no way of knowing what will come after me, and it is that realization, that there will be a point that I am no longer part of what is going on, that keeps me awake.

Today, I caught myself in a moment where none of that mattered. I was listening to music, making juice, alone in my own world, when I realized that I was in my own world. I had spent so much of my life believing both that it would go on forever just as it was and also that there would come one moment where it would all change. It was as if I was living on a roller coaster, and my life was nothing more than being dragged up the hill on the chain lift, but there would eventually be the top of the hill. The track would dip, the chain would disengage, and my life would become a completely different experience. As one of my favorite songs says, I was waiting for my real life to begin.

Today, I understood that moment was never going to come because it already had. Not through some gut-wrenching drop from the clouds – although there have been times like that along the way – but in a thousand quiet ways, truths slowly building up, decisions being informed by previous mistakes, all working together. You climb the mountain a little at a time, sometimes following the trail markings, other times blazing your own path, stopping to rest from time to time and sprinting to make up for lost time later, before you finally get there and see how far you have come. You don’t simply go from peering through the long grass, snapping your fingers, and suddenly seeing the world laid at your feet.

I don’t think my life is complete, and I certainly don’t feel that it is over, something I was afraid I would feel when I got to a moment just like this, one where I felt successful and confident and content. These fears could simply be a residual feeling built up over years of anticipation, and will probably take some time before they go away, if they ever do. Take any benchmark you want, and it’s clear I am in the second half of my life. But I am not in the twilight, nor do I plan to be for a very long time.

From where I sit, the sun is up and the sky is blue.

November 30, 2018

I want to talk to you for a few minutes about reggae.

Most genres of music are pretty wide open. Bands as divergent from each other as E.L.O. and ACDC are both make what is considered rock music, pop music was still getting made even when it wasn’t popular, even if that’s what its identity basically is, and country music is so arcane that there are separate subcategories known as Country & Western AND Western Country. But reggae is reggae. It may have been born from ska and spawned subsets such as reggaeton and dancehall, but none of them would ever be mistaken for the original.

Some people will say that there is a downside to this singularity of style, and that is most of the music is interchangeable and unremarkable. There are certainly plenty of unmemorable songs, just like there are in any genre, and some songs are just so awful and stupid, they boggle the mind. I recently heard a reggae version of Dave Brubeck’s seminal “Take Five,” its hallmark sound achieved by the 5/4 time signature it was written in. Whatever reggae band did the cover couldn’t be bothered by such intricacies, resulting in three and half minutes of my life I will be arguing for having back on my deathbed. But bad songs are everywhere, as are truly great songs. “No Woman, No Cry,” Many Rivers to Cross,” and “Sitting in Limbo,” just to name a few, will remain long after you and I are gone.

More than just musicianship, however, what gives reggae its life is the mood that it creates, even without natural additives if you will. That interchangeability allows for an experience to happen, one that almost immediately induces a peaceful and relaxed state, one that fosters feelings of happiness and contentment, of inclusion and acceptance. Like the song says, every little thing’s gonna be all right. This mood is so enticing, even when the subject matter is dark, the mood is still one of hope.

Yesterday, UNESCO, the U.N. organization tasked with protecting all that is good in this world, added reggae to its collection, citing its intangible cultural heritage. The organization went on to say the music’s “contribution to international discourse on issues of injustice, resistance, love and humanity underscores the dynamics of the element as being at once cerebral, socio-political, sensual and spiritual.”

What I like most about this news is learning that UNESCO has a Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Think about that for a moment. In the middle of all the shit this world is swimming in right now, there are people from around the world that work together, across their own political borders and religious differences, to find what is good about this world, what it is that humans have created that makes this world a better place, things that not only help define us, but also strive to give meaning to a sometimes meaningless world. They work to find those things, and they strive to save them. As Leonard Cohen says, “There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.” These people are that crack, the splinter in the monolithic façade of modernity, and the light they let in helps dispel the darkness that we can all feel far too often.

I’m not saying that listening to reggae is going to change your life, but it might. It might remind you that not everything is bad, that there is always some good; that sometimes when things are at their worst, people are still out there trying to find the best. At the very least, it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.

And who doesn’t feel even a little bit better after dancing?

November 21, 2018

I want to talk to you for a few minutes about Venice.

Venice has always been a fascinating place to me, and I think some of that is, at least as I remember it, its outsized place in early education. It’s an anomaly, to be sure, a place where the streets are canals, and what ten-year-old kid isn’t going to be somewhat enthralled by that? Years later, it’s easy to come across other places throughout the world that are similar, but my guess is that Venice is the one we all learn about because of its size and place in history. I don’t remember learning any of that history, mind you, but it’s been documented many times I wasn’t always the most attentive student.

Lately, Venice has been in the news for a few different reasons. It has become such a popular tourist spot that the city has passed restrictions not only on the size of the cruise ships that can come calling, but also on the number of tourists that can visit the main part of the city, and even when they are allowed to do it. The crowds have become so big that it was becoming impossible for people living there to do their job.

Another job impediment has been the rising water. There’s a viral video of waiters serving customers in a restaurant, and having to walk through ankle deep water to do so. This is more than just rising sea levels, though; for decades, Venice has been slowly sinking. The city is built on landfill, like most major waterfront cities, and as the city grows in both physical size and population, all that weight presses down on that fill. Finally, that fill isn’t clean dirt from far away places but, more often than not, literal trash and garbage. They call your dump a landfill now, because nobody wants to build a city on a dump, but that’s what they did for centuries in Venice.

These aren’t the things, however, that have pushed Venice off (or at least much further down) my bucket list. The greater reality than that, to me, is the recognition that Venice isn’t some mythical, Disney-fied location of singing gondoliers poling me through quaint, charming side “streets,” but instead is a fully functioning city. Some of that comes from me simply getting older, some of that comes from having lived several years behind the scenes if you will in another mythical-type place that people think isn’t a real place, and some of it comes back, once again, to authenticity and experience.

I can go there and get on one of those gondolas, just like I can go to New York and get in a horse drawn wagon, but neither of them are what they were. The gondolas existed because once upon a time they had, that was how people got around, just like 100+ years ago, people got around New York under literal horsepower. My fifteen-minute jaunt through Central Park is no different, and no more real, than going to an amusement park and driving an “antique” car around a guided path. The gondola experience I have in my mind? I should probably go to Vegas instead of Venice.

What it boils down to, for a person, is the location and not the experience itself. It is the history and the aura that comes from being somewhere that measures its life in centuries and not decades, the gravitas a person feels when they walk into a castle that goes back a thousand years versus what a person feels walking into Cinderella’s castle at the end of Disney World’s Main Street. There is certainly emotion to be felt when that happens, one that varies in direct proportion to how one feels about Walt, Mickey and the gang, but it is not the same, by far, and it begs the question:

What is the experience you are looking for?

When I was half my age, I envisioned traveling the world and believing I could do so. Now, although I know that it is still possible, my eyes aren’t quite as rose-colored, I see the challenges to doing it all, and in recognize the constricting limitations of time. I hope to go to Europe still, possibly as early as next summer, but I also know to winnow down my list of where. The more I try to squeeze in, the less of any of it I’ll experience and retain. Instead, I see myself focusing on England, Scotland and Ireland. Half my family is from Scotland, I speak the language (mostly) and I have friends that live there I could visit that I haven’t seen in years. It is the sensible plan.

Except, right across the channel, there lies a place, Mont Saint Michel, that I have always wanted to visit. It is a fascinating, historic, beautiful, and, yes, mythical place that has loomed large in my imagination. And if I go there, Normandy beach is right there, a chance to walk some of the most hallowed ground.

And the Loire valley, home of some of the greatest vineyards in the world, is only a short train ride away…

And what is France without Paris…

And Germany, my mother’s side homeland, is right next door….

And from there, Venice is so tantalizingly close…

At some point, I’ll decide. I’ll make a plan that is formalized by the purchasing of airline tickets and the reserving of hotels, I’ll draw my line in the sand, and remind myself that, instead of regretting the things I do not do, to cherish and celebrate the things I do, and to live fully in that experience. Somebody will tell me that I should have done something else or that I should have skipped someplace I didn’t (they always do,) but in the end, I am not forged by other people’s experiences, but my own.

Finally, I can’t talk about Venice without adding this: How do you make a Venetian blind?

You poke him in the eye.

November 16, 2018

I want to talk to you for a few minutes about leaving.

If you’ve known me for any length of time, then you’ve probably heard some variation of my moving stories, that I spent the first 18 years at one address, and then made up for lost time by moving what seemed like twice a year. Some of the moves were big – 4 times across the country in one direction or another – and some were small, like the 3 different apartments in San Francisco in an 18 month period.

The problem with moving so many times is that it creates a feeling of rootlessness and restlessness, and fosters a separation between myself and those around me. It still surprises me that I have so many good friends and people who care about me in my life, considering how often I’m quick to abandon where I’m living. Most of my moves have been made with a careless, directionless energy, done more as a knee-jerk reaction to life, always choosing flight instead of fight when life turned hard or I wasn’t getting what I felt I deserved.

That’s part of what is making this move difficult, because I can recognize my patterns and find myself feeling like I’m doing it again, especially if I choose not to focus on the positives, and there are many, that are part of this transition. Mostly, though, I think some of that disappointment comes from how excited I was to move back here. I will never forget that feeling I had, when i sat down on the plane to come work on a novel two months before I moved back, when I knew I was going home. It was inexplicable and undeniable. It might seem like it was also a bit a premature, but I don’t think so.

Home is where we go when we need to, it is the place that takes us in when the rest of the world has thrown us out, it is where we remember who we were and become who we are. i didn’t know 21 months ago that I still had challenges to face, both from without as well as within, but seeing who I am today makes me glad they happened. I’m a changed person in ways I didn’t think imaginable, and I believe that many of those changes have made me a better person.

They say you can’t go home again, and in a sense I think that’s true. The New York I was living in two years ago isn’t the same one I first lived in, and my relationship with Key West today is not the same one it was in 2005 when I first moved here. But both those places, as well as Connecticut, will always be home to me, because they are the places responsible for making me the person I am. If you can carry that with you, if you can take those lessons and grow with them and from them, then you don’t have to go home again, because home will always be with you.

Finally, a musical note. Whenever I move, I always post a song, the same song. It’s a beautiful song by my favorite band, all about leaving, but when I was thinking about it the other day, I realized that it is also a truly sad song, a funeral dirge basically, and nobody’s dying today. Don’t get me wrong. I love you more than words can tell, but I’m not going home by the waterside to rest my bones. This song came to mind, and even if most of the lyrics are borderline nonsense, the ones that aren’t are pretty simple and straightforward: follow the day, and reach for the sun. (That the video also features one of my favorite shows is just a bonus.)

I’ll see you when I see you. Peace.

November 4, 2018

I want to talk to you for a few minutes about licorice.

Last Sunday’s New York Times magazine was all about candy. One of the articles was about the search for a very particular style of licorice from Finland called Salmiakki. In the article, the author, Mark Binelli, cited one of my favorite candy/rock-n-roll crossover quotes, and then took it to the next level:

“Licorice candy has been compared, astutely, to the Grateful Dead, by none other than the Grateful Dead singer, Jerry Garcia, who allowed in an interview: ‘Our audience is like people who like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice.’ To extend Garcia’s simile, albeit imperfectly, that would make salty licorice – salmiakki in Finland, where they consume the most potent flavors – the candy equivalent of a 47-minute version of ‘Dark Star.’ Meaning, for superfans only.”

I tried continuing on with the article (and I really need to, considering next week’s magazine shows up in about 12 hours) but I got caught up in a series of questions and thoughts, each growing out of the previous ones. It started with really wanting to hear a super jammy “Dark Star,” followed by wondering what era of the band would have the best one, then wondering if they could do it justice now with the current line-up, and finally wrapping me up with this question:

If a band who wasn’t the Grateful Dead played an epic 47-minute version of “Dark Star,” would it count?

Not surprisingly, my first reaction was “No, it wouldn’t.” But that’s an answer based out of nostalgia. Think of me what you will, but some of my happiest memories are being at shows where the band was just…ON! Everything from performance to song selection to the atmosphere was just so perfect, it colored how I think all concerts should be. One of the most powerful moments for me musically is still the image of the band, Phil, Bob and Jerry standing back near their amps, everybody – including Bill and Mickey and Vince – just tuning up a little, 2 and 3-second fragments of songs emerging, before they picked a song, started into it and then, as they dropped in to the song, the three of them would step up to the mics, the lights would sweep over the audience, and we’d be off into the music.

But the more I thought about it, the more I understood that the answer could be yes. I could listen to a “Dark Star” from ’69 or ’77 and get into it so much that I could feel transported, but I could never really be there. More importantly, I could be told I’m listening to a recording of the Dead from some show years ago, when in reality it could be some other band, talented enough to pull it off, who recorded it two days ago. Sure, I’d like to think I’ve been to enough shows and heard enough tapes that I could tell them, and especially Garcia’s voice, from a cover band, but I also know that I could lie to myself, because I would want to believe it was them.

It becomes a desire for authenticity, and in searching for it, I think it is something we miss more often than we think. It’s like over planning a party, only to have the best part of it be when everybody ends up in the kitchen. Certainly, there is a material need for authenticity. I buy an authentic Craftsman tool (shut up, I use tools sometimes!) because I know it has a history of dependability. Even then, however, it can become buying a name and the legacy behind it while not getting what you would expect from that same name. if you don’t believe me, just ask anyone who bought a Harley-Davidson when they were partnered up with AMF, the same company that ran bowling alleys and made backyard volleyball sets.

A few years back, I went to see Anders Osborne with a couple of friends. There were two opening acts, the first was a local Irish rock band and the second was a group called Atlas Road Crew. They were from South Carolina, and they played really good, really solid, straight up hard southern rock and roll. Their last song was a cover of “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones, and it was awesome! They absolutely blew the place wide open with it, and in that moment, I didn’t find myself thinking “Oh, I shouldn’t be liking this as much as I am.” They owned that song, and that time and place – a club in Brooklyn with two of my best friends – is always what I’ll remember when I think of that song.

The point was driven home for me last night as I watched and listened to Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen. Listening to these songs was creating a new memory and moment for me, one I may or may not go back to when I hear the songs in the future, but I realized that, while these moments may also be memorable for the two of them, they aren’t the moments of authenticity for those songs. I have heard REK’s version of how he and Lyle wrote the song “This Old Porch” several times, and hearing Lyle’s side of the story made me realize that if I wanted an authentic moment for this song, that was when it was, back in Texas some 30-odd years ago.

I guess in the end, then, authenticity is what you make of it yourself, a “It’s real to me” ethos. And if I ever do hear that perfect 47-minute “Dark Star” jam, regardless of where it’s happening, my gut tells me that, as the music carries me away, I won’t be thinking of that song and that show, but other shows I’ve been to, other experiences I’ve shared with friends, even conversations I’ve had with friends about the band and their music, and I will be filled with the joy that those memories bring me, the joy I am searching for, the peace of fulfillment and contentment, that I am searching for in the first place when I am creating those moments in my life. That is what I like best in my life.

Far more than I like licorice.