Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Did you just say something?


Funny to note this word has been consistently showing up this past year. In both the most heady and lowest-of-brow conversations. I've been sucking and tucking it in, using it as a term of endearment and also as a hilariously sharp, knee-jerk slam with my closest friends. But mostly? I've been trying to listen to and respect that pleading voice. The serious one that lies well beyond the one that points out it's likely time to do some additional weighted crunches.

I have been a little bit pissed off at myself this past year. For not really respecting and listening to my gut.

Because that guy always knows.

You really don't have an appreciation for that when you're an 18-year-old college freshman, first away from home and being smartly groomed by a Lambda Chi senior for your first, and thankfully only, physically-abusive relationship. I have long forgiven that very foolish girl for ignoring her inner gut and sticking with the sinewy, spiteful guy who could indignantly pin her down by the neck with his forearm, choking her face red while pulling off her jeans without permission.

That young girl hadn't really had the opportunity to develop her listening skills (I suspect she already thought she knew everything) or the strength and inner confidence required to push aside the familiar fear and bruises fostered by that debilitating relationship. Let's face it. Even though her gut and her friends screamed till they were likely hoarse, all involved generally agree that the fragile, anxious undergrad deserves and gets a pass for her stubborn, nieve choices.

But that was over two decades ago. Now the girl is an adult with an 18+ year relationship/marriage in the rear view mirror and priorities that include two young children. Yeah, if you've read my past rambles you know how that tired old story goes. But we all survived. Quite well, in spite. The gut and I came out from behind the perfect facade that politely hid our flaws and we were properly armed with a much better understanding about the convoluted, profoundly beautiful and sometimes fucked-up nature of relationships.

Therefore one might also think I'd be ready to successfully use my post-divorce mulligan, being fully-armed for the next round with all of these fancy life and love lessons now stuffed like clubs in my golf bag. Without the stupid visor.

But no.

With my gut knowing full well what is right and good for me, I still almost completely screwed up my do-over with a giant scary divot.

How terrible.

I blogged about the end of that relationship a bit. My mulligan. The one that hit the green on the first swing and was a seeming lovely near miss. I considered it my first real chance to start over. To hopefully do, and get, better. But if I am being completely honest here, my gut was always poking me (instead of me poking at its overhang). Instead of paying attention to the wise, knowing voice trying to caddy me through this sand trap, I repeatedly beat my gut's intuitive echo down with a Callaway Hot iron.

I'm telling you your gut always, always knows and gnaws when you are making a bad choice. Or being a foolish dumb ass.

Sure, you can ignore its pleas with creative justifications. I was pretty fantastic at that, actually. But the centered, smartest and truest place inside me always tried to remind me I was doing the wrong thing. I just didn't have any real trust in that voice. Or in myself. I never fully listened.

I went through such profound sadness when that relationship ended. The kind that cripples your insides and outsides and inspires (forces) your friends to show up and shove Kleenex in your hand while dragging you out the door for a day of retail therapy even though you look so horrible that you have no business showing your frighteningly pouty face in public. Unless you are going to Walmart. Which we were not.

At first glance it looked like all of the horrible blubbering and sniveling was rooted in the loss of the guy and the fairy tale ending and came with the certain realization in the first 24 hours post-guillotine that there was absolutely no winning this round.

I'm certain some of it was because of this.

What I soon realized however, with a little distance and perspective, was that I was actually most sad and pissed off with myself. For not listening to my patient, reiterating gut and for ignoring the voice that became so loud that perhaps the other guy heard it loud and clear and chose to listen on my behalf and save us from a costly, horrible next round. Perhaps.

But that part doesn't really matter.

What matters right now is that my gut and I are happily shooting under par these days. I'm guessing I'm a better listener these days and I actually like what it has to say most of the time. And while this isn't a self help or advice column, if you're sweet enough to be reading this, I likely know you and probably give a shit about you in some way so I kind of hope you take the time to carefully listen to what your gut has to say when it talks to you. And I'm also hoping in the future, when it has something really important to offer up to either one of us, it doesn't require an air horn or a titanium sand wedge to the noggin to get our attention and keep us listening.

Jackass + Golf + Air Horns =You're welcome...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

He is Superman. And he knows what's happening...

My dad is Superman.

No really. He is.

He doesn't wear the tights and flowing red cape. Instead, he's the hero who would quick knot a turquoise beach towel around his neck and skip through the house bare-chested and arms flapping wildly a la Chris Farley to save us all from a deadly serious or boring moment.

I say this all the time: I am certain about life's uncertainties. But I am quite certain my dad is Superman. I am also certain I am beyond lucky to have been able to ring up my dad today and hear his very kind, sweetly mellow voice on the other end.

For those of you who know my dad's health history...well, you know. For those of you who don't, my dad has kicked cancer's ass in no less than four separate steel cage death matches since he discovered his first lymphoma lump weaseling in under his armpit when he was only 32 years old. Over 30 years ago. He was told it was terminal, was told to get his affairs in order, and was given only 90 days to do so. Instead, my dad informed the doctors he had some things he would need to be tending to besides this cancer business, one of which included making an appearance at my high school graduation ceremony, which was still several years off.

And he did.

More recently, my dad has miraculously survived two open heart surgeries in the last seven years which were necessary to deal with the nasty effects of the massive amounts of radiation blasted at his tic tac toe-scarred chest over the years. And while having your chest cracked open to fiddle about with the very organ required to keep you alive is never a cake walk, it is particularly complicated for a man with only one kidney and only a few decent, sturdy veins required to do these sorts of things successfully. But he survived, and in his true wise-assey fashion was fighting through his anesthetic haze several hours before medically scheduled to slur a sleepy "MOOOooooOOOOooo" to the nurses to celebrate the new bovine valve that was now helping to keep him alive.

He's a very cheeky Superman. I'm not kidding.

So today is the day we celebrate our dads and I've started this entry, oh, a half million times. I'm tired and frustrated. I do not want this to sound too heavy, because that is so not my dad's style. Today I want to find a way to thank my Superman, because as Michael Stipe sings, he knows what's happening. My dad has obviously learned a few important life lessons and I feel lucky enough to have payed attention to a few. Far more attention than I paid in World History class, which I was thankfully able to squeak through, and therefore graduate so my dad could actually see that ceremony he beat down round one of cancer to attend.

So thank you, dad, for these lessons listed in a rather random, quick but very heartfelt manner. Mainly because I really need to get outside and finish the raised beds I'm building (side note: you would be proud. I've only said the f word twice. And I don't think the neighbors heard.) And because I've already been lucky enough to tell you over the phone today how much I love you. And that's what's most important, right?

1. It's not just about you.

The night before my dad's first open heart surgery I drove up to Portland to meet my folks for dinner. We met at the hotel, nervously joked with dad about where he wanted to go to eat for his potential Last Supper, and after my mom and I talked up our Mexican cravings, dad decided on Margarita's. While settling up the check after eating more guacamole than any person has a right, I noticed the large amount of food still on his plate. I asked if the nerves about the surgery had ruined his appetite.

This was when I learned my father doesn't really even like Mexican food.

WHAT?! My mother and I were just gobsmacked. Why in the HELL were we shoveling tortilla chips and pico into our faces then? Why were we here and not somewhere else shoveling penne a la vodka down and chasing it with Malbec if that's what he preferred?!

Because he wanted to make my mom and I happy, that's why. Sometimes it's not just about you. Even when perhaps it should be.

2. Best fashion lesson? Wear your heart on your sleeve.

My dad takes the side of Rosey Grier over Robert Smith. It's alright to cry, boys. Whether it's exuberant tears of joy when your son gives his acceptance speech for winning the coveted Fitzpatrick trophy, tiny tears of gratitude when your daughter tells you she is expecting her first child,or whether it's tears of profound sorrow like the ones we shared yesterday when his best friend lost his own courageous battle with cancer, "Blubber away." And while you're at it? Scream joyously from the high school stands, shake your fists furiously at the TV when the "Red Flops" lose,tell people you love them, because in spite what some songs say, the word is NOT overused. Step in when someone is being bullied and be angry with your children when they fuck up. Accessorize your sleeves with the true emotion that propels you through each day and moment.

3. Be Loyal.

My dad believes in loyalty. Unlike pro athletes, most politicians and those people who marry knowing they can simply file for a divorce if shit goes south, my dad has those beautiful old school notions of loyalty. As far as I can tell he's been completely loyal to my mom, every employer, his friends and his family. Even to Giants football. See? When he pledges to do something, he means it. He does it. Shouldn't we all?

4. Everyone should have a good nickname.

You know you have truly arrived in my dad's heart or on his shit list if he has appointed you with a nickname. This isn't so much a life lesson as it is one of my favorite things about my dad. Every neighbor, family member, squirrel at the bird feeder, bad driver, or unethical politician had a nickname granted by my dad while I was growing up. They still do. And there is nothing like hearing my dad tell a random tale without calling a single person or pet by their actual name:

"Big news. Pomp's scagdog was hit by the snow plow last night. Looks like spacedog will be running the neighborhood now, huh Gerbis?"

It's something endearing and rather hysterical. It's also likely the reason why our guinea pig currently goes by a million other names (including Little Manny Manatee) instead of his real name, Oliver.

5. Send in the clowns.

Be mature enough to know you don't always have to be mature. You know, tell your brother when he shows you a picture of his colonoscopy and mentions it looks like outerspace that you think you can "see Uranus." Watch Beavis and Butthead. And then quote them. A lot.

Find ways to laugh. At life. And at yourself once in awhile. It really just might be the best medicine.

6. Believe.

This is the last, but probably the most important lesson my dad and my mom (who as you might imagine, has some of the most fabulous nicknames thanks to my dad)etched into my noggin. Well. This and the infamous "don't you DARE run away with that German carnie blaring Sweet Emotion from the DJ booth in the Raupen-Bahn, because he is still a GD carnie!" lesson.

But anyway. Yes. Believe in stuff.

You should start with yourself. Believe in your abilities. And in those of your kids, family and friends. Believe the USA can win a gold in hockey and that the Red Sox can win the pennant again. Believe that something bigger might be at hand. Believe things can and will improve. Believe in a day when you'll get to see your daughter bobby-pin her Bulldog blue graduation cap on her noodle because she somehow passed that awful test on the Visigoths. Believe you will get walk her always anxious, sweaty hand down a wedding aisle, and believe you will get to wrap your weathered hands gently around your first grandson. And then your granddaughter, who follows.

When life hands you kryptonite news, kind of like Fox, my Superman reminds me it never hurts to believe otherwise.

Thanks for all you have taught me, Dad. I hope you know I love you more than this ramble likely shows.

And Happy Father's Day, Superman.

Monday, May 30, 2011

They Called him Pappy

I called him grampy.

My memories of him are few, but very vivid. I remember his chiseled face topped with serious heavy eyebrows. I can remember sitting under the shady purple maple on his front lawn, me in his lap in an aluminum lawn chair watching what would be some sort of construction on my future home happening directly across the street. We could look behind us and if we craned our necks left we could also watch the smoke stacks from the mill where he worked as a pipe fitter. I remember he smelled of faint cigarette smoke. While he didn't ever say too much to me, at least that I can recall, I remember someone (I think my mother) saying I was the apple of his eye.

I also remember the day he died. I remember grabbing my books off the sticky bus seat and getting ready for my stop but suddenly hearing the high pitched voice of Priscilla LeBrun, a neighbor who lived on the street prior to mine, walking up onto the bus and calling my name. Then my brother Kirk's. She said we needed to get off the bus here. She didn't say why, but I had an idea. My grandfather's lung cancer had spread in the weeks earlier. I remember the sores that had developed on his thinning face. I remember feeling so scared for him, not because of the look on his always brave face, but because of the looks on the faces of others as they came and left his bedside. I remember how painfully long and anxious the stay felt at our neighbors until they were able to put his tiny body into the back of the hearse and take him away before my brother and I were allowed to come back home.

I also remember walking up to his casket at his wake. My mom encouraged my brother and I to go up with her when there was a lull in the lines. She whispered that it was OK if I wanted to touch his hand as she reached out to do the same. I remember feeling that familiar nervous flush flash into my face, hot. It was like she was reading my mind. A curious enough child, I lacked all confidence to verbalize my innermost thoughts on most days. But standing here and watching her reach out to touch her father's hand, I wanted to do the same. I wanted to feel what death had done to Grampy.

And so one of the final memories with my grampy is my hand mimicking my mother's, reaching out to lay on his grey crepe-wrapped cold knuckles that were folded perfectly still on his belly.

My grandfather was known to many as Pappy. Staff Sergeant Kenneth A. Sanders was very young when he served in the army infantry and fought in what is known as the single most bloodiest battle fought on foreign soil. Yet he was the oldest among his men, and so they nicknamed him Pappy.

This morning I am reminding my kids for the millionth time to brush teeth and to get dressed so we can ride to Rochester to see the Memorial Day parade with friends. It's become important to me. We're getting ready to watch the wreath and carnations fall into the waters below the memorial bridge and to clap as the wheelchairs filled with the few remaining vets from our area are pushed by. My daughter is already scared about the volume of noise from the anticipated gun salute as taps plays out.

I am thinking about Pappy Sanders as I always do on these particular days dedicated to our heroes.

Beside my cup of coffee sits his his Bronze Medal case, black with gold lettering. My Uncle Kenny shared it with me and and I am so grateful he's entrusted a piece of our important family history with me. It opens lengthwise to a buttery gold velvety lining. Just under the Bronze Star Medal which says "Efficiency, Honor, Fidelity" is a folded letter type written on communion wafer-thin paper. It says this:

Headquarters 89th Infantry Division
APO 89, US Army


Staff Sergeant KENNETH A SANDERS (then Sergeant) 31281973, Infantry, United States Army, distinguished himself by heroic achievement in connection with military operations against an armed enemy as assistant squad leader, Company "I", 353d Infantry, on 5 April 1945 near Forha, Germany. After his platoon leader advanced alone into enemy territory to rescue a wounded man and was wounded himself, Staff Sergeant SANDERS with complete disregard for his personal safety, crawled under severe small arms fire to the exposed position where is platoon leader lay, he administered first aid, still under fire, and then carried him 150 yards back to safety. Improvising a litter, he enlisted the aid of four comrades and carried the wounded leader two miles over rough terrain to the battalion aid station. His courage, initiative, determination and devotion to duty saved the life of his platoon leader and was in keeping with the best traditions of the armed forces of the United States.

Thank you, grampy, for your brave service to our country. I love that I am cut from your brave cloth. I am lovingly remembering that faint smokey smell of your chest as I sat on your lawn chair with you. And I am so very proud to share a little bit of your story today.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Secondary Thoughts from the Third Row

My most recent date landed me in the third row of the Portsmouth Music Hall in the semi-center of the seacoast arts scene where seats were filled with foodies, Chuck-Taylored nominees and pockets of vocally rabid fans (made up of mostly of our local theater & music punks) who were out celebrating at the Spotlight on the Arts awards show last night. I had a couple of very smallish, sweet dates who were excited to stay up late on a school night with friends and family front and center to watch their dad and many others in our extended family perform.

Although I'm not a big "awards" fan per se, I do love the notion of celebrating the hard work of the diverse and deep talent pool we swim in. That's nice, right? And after taking a few mental notes last night, I'm thinking why not jot down some post-show "awards" based on the offbeat and amazing stuff that organically happened upon cramming hundreds of talented, interesting, creative and intoxicated artists under one roof for a night. After all, I haven't finished a complete piece of writing since November and I can burn an hour on my lunch break and pound this out.

So here they are. A few of my favorite highlights from The Spotties, in no particular order and with apologies for shitty grammar and errors I'm just too lazy to get nit-picky about on such short notice:

1.Best Vocals (non-performance) - Three way tie between the amazing casts of The Gay Bride of Frankenstein, Rent, and local punk and music icon Tom Colletta. There is no arguing with the infectious enthusiasm of the GBoF and Rent cast members who flanked me last night and were out of their seats with fanatical screams (in harmony, of course) and hands in the air for most of the show. And this was long prior to them winning their well-deserved awards. And for the GBoF crew, after spending what I imagine was half the day driving up from NYC to attend the show. Bottle that enthusiasm and forward to me, please.

And while I'm not quite sure what Tom was evangelizing to both the performers and the audience during the Dio tribute, in his patented bespectacled style he grabbed just as much attention as anyone on and off stage for his stiff-armed, animated vocals. Can I just state that I love "Aunt Edna" and the history both he and his hair bring to any musical event? He really is our Billy Ruane, isn't he? Just without the financial backing.

2.Best Vocals (performance) - This is tough. I truly loved Ashley Kelley's soaring solo performance (see it below. AMAZING!)and the fabulous ensemble medley that kicked off the show, but I think it's got to go to Sam Vlasich from Red Sky Mary who had the chore of tackling the vocals for the Dio tribute. I'm guessing he might be 17 years old. I'm too lazy to go and find out. Let's just say I now completely understand why everyone is raving about Red Sky Mary. That vocal performance in Rainbow in The Dark was truly impressive. This guy needs to be a on a bus straight to the Strip in LA. Once he graduates from high school, that is. Bravo, Sam. Well done.

3.Best Visuals & Vids - Another tie. So how about that fun video by Eric Ott featuring the music and millions of mugs that sprinkle our seacoast stages and clubs? Very nice work, Eric. Next shout goes to the creepy, hallucinatory Skeleton Bones video done by the very talented Harry McCoy. Yeah, yeah. Cry nepotism all you want, but the video is fantastic. Keep in mind the guy co-wrote and directed a movie that is still being touted by the Sundance Film Festival. He is one of the most visually creative people in our area and he proved it on a great and larger-than-life backdrop last night. Believe it.

4.Best Hair (& share) - Another tough one, but I'm going with Jon Nolan. Not sure if J-No woke from a pre-show nap with his wife and beautiful kids, but his hair stood up (literally) well during the entire show. And I really appreciate him sharing a delicious sour lemon candy ball with me. Because they are one of my few favorites. Thanks, Jon.

5.Best Use of Explicit Language (in front of my kids) - Another tie! (Sorry. If you don't like ties, make up your own list). First award goes to Scottie McLaughlin (who won Best Actor in a Musical for his role as Tom Collins in Rent) for quickly catching himself post *BEEP* and pausing during his acceptance speech to apologize to my unsuspecting daughter, who was likely admiring his shoes during the tongue slip. The second goes to Eric Ottfor dropping a genuinely unintentional but very enthusiastic f-bomb into the compliment he gave directly to my son for his performance in the Skeleton Bones video. Side note: These are the known and oddly-endearing inherent perils one faces when escorting children through The Founders Lounge to the bathroom.

And you know what Eric? He was effing good. :)

6. The "I Would Believe You if You Said That Randy Rhoades, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, or that Yngwie Guy is Your Dad" Award goes to Tim *Texas* Theriault and Jon *MC* McCormack for that crazy amp-crushing dueling Dio tribute. I mean seriously. What in the hell was happening up there last night?!?! Thanks for the total time warp back to '83. My ears are still ringing angry.

7. The Sweet Surprise of the Night Award - What a great sight to see Christopher Tierney walk himself out on stage. That was rather beautiful and heart-tugging. Christopher's horrifying Broadway Spiderman mishap has made big news, especially in our little sandbox where he once used to play. It was fantastic to see him on the mend and to hear him sincerely pat his peers (our beloved and insanely talented Billy Butler and host/head honcho at The Rep Craig Faulkner) and our arts community on the back. I love that this scary and sad story has a happier ending and that Christopher was able to be part of the celebration.

So congrats to all of you who were nominated and to those who won. There's too many of you to name. Thanks to those who make delicious art (OK, I have to shout at Kevin Hahn...I love your amazing brunch and Bloody menu at Pepperland Cafe and I am happy you got yourself a Spottie again this year)and special thanks to all of you who volunteer, who own or book our favorite haunts, and who put in personal time and energy to make a night like last night so accessible and free to our community. I look forward to seeing the photographs of the MMOS belly promotion (Scott Yates and Denise Wheeler, I'm talking to you) and to hearing more stories from the post-party show because hey, someone had to get the very-excited-for-their-dad (but slightly exhausted) Mini MCs into bed at a semi-decent time.

Simply put, it really was a really great night. It seems fitting to just echo what was said several times last night from the Music Hall stage, in the Herald, and on many of your FB updates today:

This really, truly is a brilliant place to live, isn't it?

Here's a few links featuring some of last night's performances and winners. I am still waiting for them to post a Dio clip, and will add when they do. But until then, enjoy. :

Ashley Kelly KILLING it:

Miss M gets an "I'm sorry, baby" from Scottie:

Dan (I own as much of his amazing artwork as I do his amazing music) Blakeslee:


Martin (I call him 'Tini) England:


Tim (Who would rather I call him "former" vs "ex" and so I call him "ex" to poke fun) McCoy and The Papercuts: