Handle With Care

grocerystorechecout
Standard

grocerystorechecout

I’m not one of those people who believes the world’s going to hell in a hand basket but if there’s one thing that’s different about now, than before is how people act based on their advertising. The woman who fortified my trust in humanity and my religion, Christianity, seemed straight out of central casting from a black and white movie in the 1940s. Her show of kindness and follow through on how she presented herself were so spectacular, it taught me a lot about myself.

Other than my job, house, and gym the place I spend most of my time is the grocery store. My wife and I maintain an equal partnership and one of my duties to keep the family dynamic strong is hitting the local market three to four times a week.

With a new bed delivered, moving out the old one, renting a truck and helping my wife putting everything together my day was already overwhelming. I had my list all 2015’d, in a note on my phone. I stumbled into the store knowing I’d forget something, because it’s what I do.

Attention defective as I am, I still people watch. The older woman who moseyed behind me as I checked out was small in stature, impeccably dressed in a gray dress, her white and black hair as close to a bouffant as this era would allow. She was at least my parents’ age, mid sixties, and proud to be so.

I counted my items, checked my phone, and realized I’d forgotten the penne pasta, the key ingredient for what my wife was making. Sensing my demise, I sighed, apologized to the clerk, and turned to the lady. That’s when I noticed the silver cross around her neck and the religious symbols on her coupon book.

“Ma’am, I’m so very sorry. I forgot something, do you….”

Before I could finish, she smiled, revealing a crooked toothed grin, and replied.

“Honey, me waiting a few minutes is nothing compared to the trouble you’ll get into if you go home without whatever you forgot. Just, go.”

I’ve been struggling with my Faith, not in my belief that Jesus Christ died for my sins and I need to live my life according to his teachings, seeking salvation at each turn, but my Faith in others, especially fellow “Christians”. Being a lefty or progressive Christian who makes part of his living writing online has been trying the past few years. Politics aside, because they don’t pertain here, I’ve watched my fellow believers disappoint and anger me, mostly with how they treat others. I’ve found myself more short-tempered, increasingly cynical, and losing hope that those who profess one thing about themselves rarely reveal it to be true.

I ran to the pasta aisle, snatched a box then showed some sweat when I jogged back to the lady, the teenaged boy clerk, and the rest of my order. She smiled again and remarked.

“We barely knew you were gone.”

Fluorescent light caught her cross and I was frozen for a few seconds at how perfect the moment became. I paid and thanked the woman for her profound kindness.

The times are rare that people who present themselves a certain way deliver on their promise, but when it happens, it’s fantastic. I can’t wait for it to happen again, because that’s what I’m praying every day. I hope I can follow her example.

No Compassion

talking heads
Standard

The first time I walked into a therapist’s office, I counted the steps from my car to the front door, forty-eight, and I made the trip four times before I went inside. I was broken, mired in a divorce, hobbled by the crutch of alcohol, and unsure if I wanted to see the thirty-sixth year of my life till it’s conclusion.

Within a few not quite one hour but paid for as such sessions, my pro determined I was not only battling mental illness but was also a grade A type 1 co-dependent. I was capable of grand empathy and compassion for others, but at the cost of my own identity and well-being.

After nine years of on and off therapy, quitting drinking several times, and remarriage that brought my family to five, a wife and three daughters, I’ve improved my ability to take care of myself, but only incrementally. I’ll fill every person’s cup in the room then realize I’m thirsty an hour later because I forgot mine.

Years ago, I rejected the traditional notions of “manhood” and decided being compassionate, kind, emotional, and empathetic was who I was and perhaps something to be mocked politically or by other men, but not something I’d apologize for any longer.

My oldest daughter is a 19-year-old college freshman, recently pledged to a prestigious sorority, member of the honor roll, with dreams of becoming a surgeon. When I was her age, I wanted to be a famous writer and journalist. Almost everyone I knew discouraged me because it was a lofty goal and they thought I should be more grounded. I give my daughter the opposite advice. I tell her to be selfish, for now, because when she’s older, she won’t be able to look after number one. The irony is, these words come someone who has never been selfish enough. My “do as I say not as I do” must make my girl laugh hysterically when my back is turned.

One of my favorite songs comes from the Talking Heads, No Compassion. It’s a punk classic and the actual definition of ironic because it’s the opposite of what the songwriter meant and definitely the polar position of my worldview.

I know I need to be more compassionate to myself, but there always seems to be someone who needs it more. At least I know who I am.

 

Bury Our Friends

Standard

funeral home one

Cold-natured and prone to complaint when discomforted, I left my coat in the car, braving the walk across a parking lot in February air toward the funeral home doors. The wind was sharp but it spoke to me, so I stopped a few steps short of the entrance and felt the chill of needed wisdom.

A friend from high school whom I’d kept in touch with through social media lost her father suddenly, two days before. He was only in his late 60s, the same age as my own dad, and represented only the third parent of anyone I’d known or grown up with who’d died. There are markers in your life that shake you. When grandparents or anything with “great” in the prefix pass, it’s sad, but understood and accepted.

My wife lost her father a couple of years ago and my cousin, whom I’ve treated as a sister, lost her mom shortly after. It stops you when the generation just ahead begins to leave, because, well, you’re next.

I just wanted to walk in, pay my respects, tell the person whom I’d shared math class and a lot of high school football losses with how sorry I was but I listened, to the wind. It told me to make the time I have more precious, meaningful and worth the scars my mind and body had endured.

I went inside and saw regret. It was everywhere. Most of all, it was in my heart. As I watched the sweet remembrance video of my friend’s good-hearted father, I realized that if I were to die now, the second half of my tape would probably just be me sick with worry, staring at my phone.

It all made me understand that I’m not afraid to die, but I’m terrified to live. I knew my friend and her sister loved their dad and their thoughts of him were amazing to hear and see.

When I left the visitation, I stopped a few feet short of my car and felt the cold move into my bones. As I reach this certain age and begin to bury my friends, I’m reminded of what wind represents, as the records I’ve listened to by Bob Dylan, Bob Seger, and Scorpions document. Change is evitable but it doesn’t have to be definable. Before it’s me in a casket or urn, I need to be the father my friend is missing now. Most of all, I need to pay attention to the small moments caused by the big things.

Here’s Sleater-Kinney.

What’s So Funny About Peace, Love And Understanding?

applebee's booth
Standard

As I walk on through this wicked world,
Searching for light in the darkness of insanity,
I ask myself, Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain, and hatred, and misery?

And each time I feel like this inside,
There’s one thing I wanna know,
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding?”

 

A booth at Applebee’s is probably the least likely place for an epiphany to occur, but it happened to me today. While I waited for my wife to meet my 10-year-old daughter and I at the Nickelback of eateries, I delighted in my youngest kid’s fascination with watching a Hulu Plus replay of WWE’s Raw on her phone. Then, one of my favorite songs played on the sound-system, Elvis Costello’s What’s So Funny About Peace, Love And Understanding? Its perfect opening lyrics crystallized my mood, quieted my three-month brainstorm, and led me to figure out what to do with my writing future.

As a city person residing in suburbia, a liberal surrounded by the conservative blood-red state deep south, and a moody, dark weirdo dude in love with and living among 4 sunshiny women, I’m used to not ever fitting in. Lately, it’s affected something that means a lot to me, writing.

I’ve been in a 3 month funk, frustrated by failed publishing ventures, overwhelmed by my real job and future projects, and burned out by hate mail generated by my online presence, I found myself on hiatus from hitting “send” on anything.

As the man also known as Declan McManus’s guitar filled the restaurant, I found the “note” app on my phone and typed a few sentences including “I know who am” then hit save. After 4 1/2 years of prompts, fiction, knee-jerk commenting on current events and pop culture musings, I decided the personal essay is how I’ll spend 2015 with My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog.

I’m not a happy person. But lately, I’ve been flirting with contentment. Eight months ago, I started a personal physical improvement project that’s seen me drop eighteen pounds, and use exercise as a way to help manage my mental illness. I have two books in final manuscript ready to edit and rewrite, with release dates coming this spring and summer, just like I did in 2013 when I published my first two fiction novellas.

As much I like discussing politics and pop culture, it seemed to bring me more pain, hatred and misery than light in the darkness of insanity. Maybe I’ll mix in my lefty perspective and contrarian snobbish views on entertainment but there will be a point combined with my personal life.

Elvis Costello spent the first decade of his career pigeon-holed as angry young man looking for a fight. He entered middle-age laughing every time he played What’s So Funny About Peace, Love And Understanding? There’s nothing funny about those sentiments, except that so many others don’t see the humor in thinking they’re a joke to begin with.

It’s time I expressed myself in away that’s more honest.

Here’s my favorite Elvis.

Unwrapping A Holiday Classic, The True Story Of Christmas Wrapping

zchristmas
Standard

Unwrapping A Holiday Classic, The True Story Of Christmas Wrapping

At some point this Holiday you’ll find yourself in line to pay for your cousin’s gift or driving to that side of the family you only see once a year and that poppy, fun song will come on and you’ll ask questions.

Is this Chrissie Hynde? Does she ever take a breath? Why do they call it Christmas Wrapping, they never mention that in the song? Is she saying Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, I think I want mittens this year?

The answers are; no it’s The Waitresses’ lead singer Patty Donahue, yes, because songwriter Chris Butler let the record label name it, and it’s “I think I’ll miss this one this year”.

But how did a throwaway song on an alternative Christmas album become a classic, so much so, that it’s been covered by artists as diverse as The Spice Girls, The Donnas and the cast of Glee? The true story’s so improbable it makes the song even more endearing.

thewaitresses

Avant-garde musician Chris Butler (the guy in the bottom left corner of the above picture) grew up in Akron, Ohio. He attended Kent State University in the early 1970s and was on campus, in the crowd, when National Guardsmen fired on student protesters, killing four and wounding nine. He would come up through the Ohio musical ranks with Chrissie Hynde and Devo. He almost became famous with bands The Numbers and Tin Huey, but they both disbanded by the late 1970s.

By 1981, Butler had moved to New York on the strength of a regional hit song, I Know What Boys Like, which caught the attention of upstart new wave/alternative record label ZE Records. Blondie had gone from New York punk clubs to mainstream success with the disco record Heart of Glass and the rap pioneer song Rapture. New Wave music had replaced punk as the likely way for more artistic groups to break through. Butler knew his final shot at success was in front of him when his bosses came to him in August 1981 and said.

“Write a Christmas song. We’ll release it in 3 months.”

Years later, after his contribution became popular, he remarked.

“A Christmas album? On a hipster label? With a bunch of junkies on it? Eurotrash? Come on. Never happen…..OK, they were not all junkies and Eurotrash. But they were extreme individuals.”

Ze_Christmas_Record

The artists on ZE Records included Material with Nona Hendrix (who was infamous for performing nude), Was Not Was (many years before Walk With A Dinosaur), Suicide (known for songs so dark and depressing they were banned from many venues in the late 1970s), and Butler’s struggling new band, The Waitresses. ZE Records eventual LP, A Christmas Record, is so “out there” that it went out of print several times and the only way The Waitresses’ Christmas Wrapping could be found was through their own Greatest Hits. This made Christmas Wrapping’s climb to the top of people’s Holiday playlists even more improbable

Butler, singer Patty Donahue and the rest of the Waitresses culled guitar riffs, sax solos, piano parts, and melodies involving bells and drums from unrecorded songs, made Christmas Wrapping in less than two days, then went back out on the road in the Fall of 1981 trying to make I Know What Boys Like the tune that made them famous. But when Butler called his girlfriend from a Rochester, New York tour stop in late November her news shocked him.

“Chris, you’re all over the radio! Your song made it!”

Butler swelled with pride and said.

“Great, I knew “Boys” would do it.”

Then the girlfriend responded.

“No, the Christmas one.”

Five minutes and twenty two seconds about a girl living in the big city, wanting nothing to do with Christmas because she’s alone, puts the world’s smallest turkey in the oven but forgets the cranberries and runs to the store where she finds that guy she’s been chasing all year and they both end up spending the Holiday alone, together and wa la – happy ending. It sounds like a Lifetime Network movie my wife watches. But instead, it’s the most relatable Christmas song ever written.

After the initial success of Christmas Wrapping, The Waitresses got the attention of former Saturday Night Live writers then producers of the 1982 television show, Square Pegs, writing and performing the theme song. I Know What Boys Like hit MTV in 1982 becoming popular enough to be put on many “Best of The 1980s” compilations. But the group broke up in 1984. Butler and Donahue found success as studio musicians and singers but times got lean until the mid 1990s. That’s when The Spice Girls covered Christmas Wrapping and the royalties started kicking in for Butler.

zepattydonahue

The real star of Christmas Wrapping was and still is, Donahue. Her “devil may care but I sure as hell don’t” vocals are so perfect, they’ve been impossible to mimic. None of the covers have captured her emotional detachment that allows for the listener to attach themselves to the tune. She died of lung cancer at the age of 40 in 1996, never knowing the vast cultural impact of Christmas Wrapping.

It’s my favorite Christmas song. The real life, gritty lyrics about being too busy for the Holiday came from an intellectual honest place. Butler is a self-described “Scrooge” who just did what his boss wanted but created a world truer than Paul McCartney’s “we’re all having a wonderful Christmas time.” If early 1980s New Wave music and ZE Records’ intentions were about irony, then Christmas Wrapping is their finest achievement.

I’ll take my hot chocolate, socks and underwear presents, and post-Holiday debt just fine as long as Christmas Wrapping is playing.

(an edited version of this piece originally ran on Raisedontheradio.com on December 5, 2013.

The Dad Zone

girlswithsantaclaus
Standard

As my three daughters grow there are stages you adjust to, but the one that you never quite get over is when you don’t become the most important person in their lives. It started a few months ago,I ignored it at first, then sulked privately, before finally going the stages of grief, my middle daughter, age 11, an official pre-teen, has stopped calling me daddy, now, I’m just dad.

I have a blended family. My oldest daughter is 18, a college freshman at a local university in downtown Atlanta. I met her when she was twelve. We were buddies at first, she sold me to her mom one night while on the way home from my house when she scooted up in her seat and asked, “so, mom, when are y’all getting married?” The day after I made her mother an honest woman and we became a family, everything changed. I went from that funny guy her mom was dating to dad. I was never daddy with her.

My youngest daughter is 10. She’s the most different personality of the three. She was 3 1/2 when I met her and the most guarded of everyone when her mother and I got married. Now, she calls and treats me as a father, even calling me “daddy” in the sweetest, not ready to grow up yet, tinny voice you can imagine.

My middle daughter, I don’t know, I guess I just thought our run was going to be something else. I changed her first diaper, did her first bath, performed 2am feedings while ESPN Sportscenter played, and was a single father with her in between marriages. She was “little” with me. I can quote her first 100 or so words. Yet, there she was, walking off her afterschool program bus, not returning my smile or wave and giving me the “whatever” treatment as I checked her out to go home. One of her school friends said, “Hey, look, it’s your d….” before the little girl could finish my pre-teen shot back, “yeah, I know, okay, it’s my dad, big deal, I can see him.”

Attitude and that word, just dad.

It used to me daddy. ” Daddy, can you put me on your shoulders?”, “Daddy, show me how to draw a dog”, “Daddy, why did you call that person in that other car a dummy?”

I’ve researched articles on pre-teens, begged my oldest daughter for answers as to why her sister doesn’t love me like she used to, and broken down all of my parenting interactions to see where I went wrong. The answers are all the same.

She’s growing up and I’m not her whole world anymore. In fact, I’m Pluto, not even a planet in her solar system.

My wife tells me I should focus on our youngest since she drops daddy like I like it, and still lays with me on the couch. To say  my heart isn’t a little broken would be a lie. According to a deal my daughter and I made when she was a baby, she’s supposed to love me forever the way I want her too. I should consult an attorney, I’ve been wronged.

I’m not ready for two girls in my house to have me in the dad zone. Watching them grow up is a honor, but watching it happen so quickly is a horror. Maybe one day both of those daughtersthat now call me dad will throw me a daddy just one more time. Until then, they’re getting more love than they think they want and need.

girlswithsantaclaus

Looking for Christmas gifts under $10 for the readers on your list?

 I wrote two books. They got good reviews. The third one, a sequel to the first, Woman Of Troy, is on the way, very soon.

The Ballad of Helene Troy, an underdog story about a female musician in New York City, and Soul To Body, about an ex-1990s guitar player trying to raise his teenage daughter after the death of his wife, her mother, are available, digitally, on Amazon.com for your kindles, and in paperback from Lulu.com

bookcoverpicajjhkasfpaperbackpicturesad

For What It’s Worth

Standard

I’d been staring at my phone for so long I didn’t notice the tear until it had settled at the bottom of the black. Watching a live feed of a split screen, the President spoke to the nation urging calm in the wake of another young unarmed black life gone at the hands of a policeman and the local legal authorities announcing there wasn’t enough evidence to indict, while the town, Ferguson, Missouri, was being pelted with tear gas on one split. It looked like a video from fifty years ago, during the turbulent 1960s, when the Man and the oppressed Man clashed over civil rights. I expected the next video to be The Beatles on Ed Sullivan and for me to watch it while I took up chain-smoking. Then I realized it was now, today, 2014 and at some point, I cried.

No one really talks to each other anymore, hence the phone, this blog, and the media that are sort of social, but not really. It’s a dumping ground for opinion, misguided anger, and a lot of wrong.

Missing from the night, and now the day, is care for each other. It’s called empathy by some, I prefer to call it compassion.

The guy, Darren Wilson, who pulled the trigger, on the unarmed dead teenager, Michael Brown, in the Ferguson case, never mentioned his victim by name, calling him “a demon” and “it” then later releasing a statement never even acknowledging Brown or his family. This is the way the sides have been drawn in debating what happened. Names are replaced by labels and no one even considers what the other is thinking, especially if their skin color is different.

“Do as you’re told and you won’t get hurt” and “It’s about the choices you make” are the lectures given to people hurting as their community burns and they mourn a body left in the street for hours while being referred to as “it”.

I don’t even care about the politics anymore. I just want to know where is the compassion? Do you hit send through a sociopathic hadron collider that breaks down your humanity?

I’m afraid to die. I’m convinced my wife and kids will be trolled by my Facebook friends list like a Westboro Baptist Church picnic celebrating my decaying flesh.

All lives matter. For what it’s worth, nobody’s right, when everybody’s wrong.