Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Letting It All Go

Well, hello cave dwellers.  It's been awhile since I've felt the urge, or the need, to express myself in a public forum.  Needless to say, a lot has happened since I last meandered in this dankly-lit man cave in the summer months of 2013.  People have come and gone from my life; many have moved on and others have passed on, including my mother in July of 2018.

I've had a few experiences lately that have made me decide to pick up the proverbial digital pen and lay it to digital paper in an effort to, maybe, exorcise a demon or two that have been inhabiting this cave for far too long a time.

Recently, I met a woman.  She was mesmerizing: drop dead gorgeous; an engaging personality; a wicked smile that would sexily creep across her beautiful face; home-schooled and preternaturally intelligent; and she knew the proper usage of "their," "they're," and "there." A feat, it would seem, that befuddles most social media-prone people.  So, of course, I was instantly intrigued by this grammar muse.  We dated for a ridiculously short period of time, yet she made an impression on me that again made me take up this silly little blog.

While she may be a peripheral character to this story, she said something to me that has always plagued me, years prior to her early-August reinforcement of that notion.  She said that we all come into each other's lives for a reason.  Actually, her late night profundity was that "everything happens for a reason." A que sera sera bon mot that could encompass most things or events, but be equally dismissed by someone who places little stock in the supernatural or fairy tales. And, while I may put a modicum of belief in her notion, it really made me think of something that happened a few years ago and how it still, and most likely always will, affect me.

I was sitting in Orlando International Airport in late October of 2017; I had gone down to photograph several senior picture sessions and my good buddy Dan had dropped me off at the airport a few hours prior to my flight.  Being a Global Entry holder, it was a relief that I was able to flash my passport and Global Entry card and be through security in about three minutes flat.  From drop off to my gate, it was a mercifully simple experience, unlike the poor folks leaving Disneyworld sun-burnt, broke, and now the purveyors of one of the longest lines in airport security that I had ever seen, Which, I imagine is a daily Groundhog Day-like occurrence in that tropical heat.  Compound that nightmare by several hundred sunburnt, Mickey Mouse ear hat-wearing children and it paints a fairly accurate picture of Hell's seventh level.  I suppose if you're looking for a form of birth control, a few hours amongst hundreds of overstimulated, nap-deprived four year-olds would be pretty close to the best damn morning-after pill that exists.

Anyway, I got to my gate and had a few hours to kill; I pulled up Facebook and started perusing the local news. A Fox8 story nearly took the wind out of my lungs: A few months prior to my Florida trip, a beloved Strongsville teacher had been brutally murdered.  She had been both stabbed and shot and the perpetrator hadn't been found. Well, in my seven-day absence from the 216, the Strongsville police had coerced a confession from the murderer.  The killer, it seems, was her daughter's live-in boyfriend and the father of the slain teacher's newborn granddaughter.

And, of course, I played a central role in the entire affair.

Now, I don't mind inserting myself into situations that are interesting or positively life-affirming, but this event is one thing that I wouldn't want to touch with a three meter cattle prod. Where does our responsibility to others start?  Where does it end?  To what do we owe each other, strangers, close friends, or family?  These questions, among many others, always enter my mind when I'm just trailing off into the twilight of sleep.

In 1994, I worked as a manager at a Blockbuster Video store. Remember those antique establishments?  You'd rent a "videocassette" to put into your "VCR," than you had to be kind and rewind it before driving back to the place and shoving it into this little mail slot, where it would hit the floor with a deafening thud, making you believe that you just broke the damn thing.

My girlfriend and I were going through a lot of problems, complicated by the fact that we were soon expecting a child. She was being difficult, due to whatever thoughts of motherhood might have been feverishly passing through her head and, presumably, if the lunkhead who knocked her up would make a good father. We weren't speaking; to this day I still don't know what motivated her to do what she did.  I don't even know if she has an answer, almost two-and-a-half decades later.

But that summer, in my dazed twenty-eight year old state, I needed to be around people.  Even people that I didn't know well or particularly like very much.  I coveted the comfort and closeness of friends on a very primal, unexplainable level.  So, one day a fellow manager from my Blockbuster dropped by.  We had a few beers and talked endlessly, as it would seem, about my situation. I was grateful that a guy who was a little callous most of the time was there to give me a mental helping hand.

Then out of the blue a good friend of mine, someone I've known since the third grade, dropped by.  She came to check in on me and started up a casual conversation with my Blockbuster buddy.  They left, coincidentally, at the same time, and I found out a few weeks later that they had started to date.

Flash forward a few years:  They ended up getting married and had three children, punctuated by a miscarriage that would have resulted in a fourth child. By then, my buddy had left the dead-end world of retail management and enrolled at the police academy.

He became a Cleveland cop and, due to the inordinate ravages of relationships strained by parenthood and other miniscule, ego-driven cosmic forces, the three of us didn't really talk too much any more.

I reconnected with her, my third grade confidante, about ten years ago and we collapsed a thirteen-year absence from each others' lives in about an hour at an Arby's on a rainy Saturday evening.

We discussed our children; we talked about our dreams; our aspirations; my nascent travel bug.  Over the ensuing years we drifted apart again. I guess the friendship wasn't what it once was and the time apart had taken us into two dissonant directions; her children were still in the ravages of their teenage years and my son was already out of high school.

Through friends, I heard her son had gotten his girlfriend pregnant. Not too out-of-the-ordinary these days, but the two were still in high school.  Deflated, my two friends accepted the fact that their oldest was soon going to make them grandparents.

To make matters worse, the young couple had moved into her parents' home with their newborn.

Apparently, one evening the future mother-in-law confronted my friends' son about the handgun and knife he had brought into her home.  Feeling threatened, or perhaps due to an over-inflated sense of self, he brutally stabbed and shot his future mother-in-law to death. Her murder sent shockwaves through Cuyahoga County.  She was a well-loved teacher and mentor and her death made the local news for a few weeks.

This is the part where I come in.

 I understand that we, as individuals, can't be responsible for someone else's actions.  But, because of me and my pitiful 1994 self this couple met.  They started dating, married, and had this son whose destiny was to become a murderer.  Is it my fault? 

For what reason did my friends come into my life, literally, at that moment to console me?  Years later, what put him, a rage-filled teenager, into that innocent woman's life?

And whenever I probe that question the only answer that comes to mind is one singularity: Me.

And what of the beautiful muse who shared such a short amount of time this summer?  Why did she come into my life?

I don't know.  Maybe there is no answer.  Or maybe to remind me that we're all connected and that one singular act...an innocuous meeting between two disconnected people...can have horrible, fatal consequences many years later.

But I'll tell you this: It keeps me up at night, pondering that a woman who didn't know me, had no idea that I even existed, is dead because of me.  In a twisted, gnarled, fucked up way, you could say that I pulled the trigger just as much as the confused, angry boy who murdered her in cold blood.

And that, even more than the beautiful smile on my early August muse, is the hardest thing to let go.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Swaying To The Music

I photographed another show last night.

I'm a little tired; I've seen and photographed six bands in the last nine days as well as having attended two movie sneak previews, a comedy club performance and a late Friday after-show party for visiting comedian Bill Burr.

It's tough being me.

But last night was different and, perhaps, worthy of a few words.  As I stood pressed up against the stage with the mainly female audience members I saw something that made me feel good about where our culture seems to be headed.

The singer took the stage.  Her band came out before her; twin brothers book-ended the singer, Brandi Carlile, as she made her way onto the House of Blues' main stage to a chorus of cheers, whistles, and catcalls.

She played for almost two hours as her slight frame bounced up and down on that dimly-lit stage to a set of country/rock/folk tunes that bellowed from her and the band.

The crowd knew the music well; the sold-out throng was mainly female.  And a good part of it were lesbians: tall ones, fat ones, some were of the lipstick variety, others formerly-married-then divorced/outed ones, and a bevy of others in various stages of defining their sexuality.  One couple was perched to my left; a very tall black lady proudly dressed in her army fatigues stood with her arms around her partner, a short, stout white woman.  They swayed back and forth with the music.

Next to them stood a family; mom, dad and two young daughters were within elbow distance of the swaying partners and no one uttered a disparaging word or attempted to cover the young ladies' eyes from the two women, obviously in love, who stood indifferent to the crowd around them.

I smiled when I saw that.  We've come a long way since the early 1990s when Melissa Ethridge and kd lang dared to reveal their sexuality to a somewhat-shocked America; after their famous coming-out parties (do you remember the magazine cover where a scantily-clad Cindy Crawford "shaved" kd lang? How quaint that cover seems today.)

Brandi Carlile, a phenomenal singer and songwriter, played for another hour after that sight, her voice echoing off the rafters of the club.  As I peered around the audience behind me I saw an awesome sight.  People of all stripes, men and women, women and women, and families alike all listened to the lyrics and, it seemed, each listener took away something a little different from what they were hearing.

It reminds me of a few friends of mine.  They have a daughter who is an amazing young woman.  She just finished up her second year of veterinarian studies at Ohio State.  She just returned from a relief trip in Central America bringing much-needed vet services to animals of small villages.  She is an accomplished equestrian.  She loves her parents, friends, and animals with a ferocity.  She has a sparkling and sometimes-biting sense of humor. 

She also has a girlfriend in a years-long committed relationship.

I don't think they'd mind me talking about her in this fashion, and any of you who know me personally know of whom I speak.  My friends accepted their daughter's sexuality a long time ago and are committed to her happiness and that she be treated equally in the eyes of the law.

A generation ago all of the things I mentioned about her would have been relegated to the back burner in favor of one defining characteristic and caustic description: Dyke.

When I see her postings on Facebook or think about her academic accomplishments that's the last thing that comes to my mind.  I see a young woman who is so much more than that; maybe if the bigots and close-minded fools who spread so much hate and fear around the planet would take five minutes to have a conversation with a wicked sense-of-humor-vet-student/animal lover/awesome daughter our world would change for the better.

Or if they attended a concert and saw a smoking hot songstress sway on the stage while belting out a throaty rendition of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," they'd see things a little differently.

For all I saw last night was a great show peppered by people from all walks of life, clapping along to a tight band.  Two hours of great music made almost fifteen hundred people happy about their lives and a respite from the fact that life can be tough.  They were taken away from their homes, their troubles, and the fact that, in some places in the world, two women in love can be jailed or even killed for daring to sway to the music, even if the songs being sung were the soundtrack of their lives.

So Brandi Carlile sang and sang; her lithe frame and booming voice filled the House of Blues.

And the thought that she's married to another woman didn't affect my appreciation of the music one little bit.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ten Bucks

I guess it's good to know where you stand in the world, right? 

Some people go through their entire lives and never have an idea of how the rest of the world perceives them. A great example would be Hitler; he thought of himself as the savior of the German people, elevating the Visigothic horde in a thousand-year reich, all to the tune of some Wagnerian opera.  The rest of us see him for the little-dicked monster that he was: a failed artist rife with daddy issues, trying to prove on the world stage that he was an overachiever, unlike his absent daddy, by killing off most of Europe's Jews.  He went to the grave with an ever-so-slightly elevated opinion of himself,  with a glaring lack of self-awareness as to how the world would truly remember him.

On the other hand, I know exactly where I stand and, apparently, I'm like one shower away from looking like a homeless person.

Last week I had an opportunity to hit the road with my truck driver buddy Jeff. We've been good friends since the fourth grade; he was recently home for about ten days to celebrate Easter with his family.  One night, over a few beers, it came up in conversation that he had to make a run to Philadelphia, NYC, and Boston to pick up a load.  His mission: pick up all the gear for the upcoming Dropkick Murphys' tour and deliver it to the Left Coast by mid-April. After the final stop in South Boston he planned on coming back through Cleveland. 

We've talked for a few years about me tagging along for a ride to see how truck drivers live.  I made arrangements for my son and his buddy to house sit the herd while I would be gone.  I packed a bag, charged up my camera batteries, and climbed aboard his truck for a week of sight-seeing, no responsibility, and a Kerouac-style existence all punctuated by an intro to basic CB lingo and copious amounts of late-night road food.

Which begs the question:  Why is every other restaurant in New Jersey and New York a diner?  I've never seen so many diners in my life; the proto-typical rectangular 1950s-era eatery should be on New Jersey's state flag. Or maybe it needs to replace their current state symbol.  I used to think that the Garden State was just a gaggle of track suit-wearing mafiosos with bad comb-overs.  Now I have the unfortunate visual of said mobsters eating in a bright chrome-and-neon diner with a blue-haired waitress named Irma serving them, conversing in that Joisey twang while wolfing down huge portions of chicken-fried steak.  Oh yeah, by state law a framed picture of Sinatra must adorn a wall somewhere in the diner with a special spotlight shining upon it twenty-four-seven..

So now you get to have that visual, too. And, yep, it's a fairly accurate one.

However, they may not have been mafiosos...they may have been public-sector union retirees too lazy to change into appropriate clothing.  Or comb their hair properly.

To be fair, the diner food is generally very good, portions are large and the prices very reasonable.  So, take that, Denny's.

Four days into our trip (ever pee in an old cider jug while standing in a truck bouncing along at 70+ miles an hour down a mountain?  Checked that off the bucket list--a few times, actually) we were parked in a field that, until recently, housed an old gas station.  It was now an overnight truck stop about thirty miles south of Boston.  A sports bar called the Great American Pub stood sentinel across the busy two-lane road that connected Boston to Fall River.  The night before I had one-too-many Sam Adams, a personal pizza and a dozen (or two) spicy wings.  Somehow, I've forgotten that I'm not twenty-two any more and these Bacchanalian rituals usually lead to unintended consequences the next day.  Or two to three days.

So, I rolled off my three-inch mattress tucked, all bunkbed-style, six feet below Jeff's snoring, lifeless body, mustered outside in my underwear and socks, needing to relieve myself all trucker-style in the parking lot.  As my one good eye scanned for cops who may have a problem with a chubby white guy from Ohio peeing all over the commonwealth's sacred soil, I focused on the immediate surroundings. I noticed a Dunkin' Donuts not a hundred feet away, visible through a copse of trees. Thankfully, no cars were idling at the drive-thru to witness my makeshift potty.

After hauling myself back into the truck, donning the proper clothing and grabbing a towel, shaving-kit, and a fresh pair of underoos, I hopped down the six feet to the ground and made my way to the donut shop with the notion of cleaning myself up in their bathroom.  I gotta admit, I felt a little uncomfortable using a public bathroom as a shower but no one gave me any grief when I locked the bathroom door behind me and quickly washed my hair under the faucet.  I brushed my teeth, ridding myself of the morning breath that was punctuated by a hint of hops, a dollop of anchovy, and the slightest aroma of medium-heat buffalo sauce; a reminder of the lost-by-seven-points near-victory we had in last night's trivia contest at the Great American Pub.

So I unlocked the door, meandered to the counter and ordered a large coffee and two jelly-glazed donuts.  Upon taking my seat and gazing around the restaurant, I saw a scene not unlike a donut shop you'd encounter anywhere else in our united states.  A Boston radio station's morning zoo crew obnoxiously blared through the ceiling-mounted speakers. Five men, brandishing baseball caps, torn jackets, and walkie-talkie radios sat two tables away.  They were talking about their wives, the Red Sox, and plans for the upcoming weekend. 

The only noticeable difference from the same type of conversation in my hometown was this groups' apparent disdain for the letter "R."  It seems no one in New England likes to use this letter.  "Beer" becomes "bee-ah" somewhere a little bit north of Newport, Rhode Island.  I overheard a guy talk about sharks.  I wasn't sure what he meant because I only get a "shock" when I stick my finger in an electrical outlet, not when dipping my toe into the cold waters of the North Atlantic.

I sat sipping my coffee, munching on a donut, and nursing a too-early-for-this-shit thousand-yard stare when an older lady appeared in my peripheral vision.

"Young man?" she said. 

I snapped to.  Young man?  I looked at her and an age-spotted hand pointing in my general direction.  I smiled at her.  "Here," she said.  I looked at a crisp ten-dollar bill in her right mitt. 

"It looks like you've had better days; why don't you get yourself a hot meal."

I sat back, confused, for a moment. 

Jesus Christ, I thought.  This woman thinks I'm homeless.  A quick glance at my table probably confirmed that notion:  my towel, rolled up, sat next to my coffee cup.  The shaving kit was next to my half-eaten donut.  I hadn't shaved since Monday and a scraggly three-day shadow covered my chin.  If I would have had a large garbage bag tied and sitting at my feet the ensemble would have been damned-near perfect.

I must have sat quiet for a good thirty seconds before saying anything.

The five guys two tables away stopped talking and were now intently listening to my little drama.

Uhhhh, I spit out.

"Thank you for your kindness but I'm okay."  The smile somewhat left her face.

I explained that I was a photographer traveling with my buddy.  I pointed to the big white truck inhabiting most of the adjacent  lot and told her that life on the road wasn't exactly the Ritz; I grabbed a little hot water whenever I could.  Her smile was replaced by embarrassment.  She apologized profusely, to which I smiled.

She wouldn't stop apologizing and begged me to take the ten bucks, probably to relieve her embarrassment.  I declined, but thanked her for her kindness; a rarity not found in most of the world's chain-store donut shops.

She slowly backed away, red-faced and humiliated from her no-good-deed-goes-unpunished faux pas.

I finished my donut, added more cream to my coffee and then grabbed my stuff.  As I started to walk out the five guys gave me some good-natured ribbing.  "Ya shoulda kept the money!," one of them said. 

I smiled and walked out the door.  It wasn't even eight o'clock yet and I had received a sobering, eye-opening experience.

Apparently, a Sam Adams-induced blank stare and the lack of one lousy shower is all that separates me from looking indigent. 

My hangover was now gone, replaced by a chuckle and the realization that I needed a haircut and that maybe...just maybe... I'm not cut out for life on the road.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year's Steve

I'm sitting here in the man cave attempting to put words into an order that somewhat resembles my mother tongue.

The screen on my laptop is still a little out of focus; perhaps my contacts are dirty or it's just the inevitable afterbirth of being out, well, maybe just a little too late last night.

Almost twenty-four hours after the fact, there's a slight ringing in my right ear and my equilibrium is still a tad off.  Maybe it was the half bottle of DayQuil that I chugged last night before heading out. That was a surefire college-tempered remedy used to combat a worsening cold/sinus infection/ebola thingy that's been bothering me since my Typhoid Mary son coughed directly on me the day after Christmas.

So I had a gig last night.  After stuffing my pockets with cough drops, I made my way downtown to shoot Cleveland's hardest-working band, Nitebridge, at my favorite hangout.  The music was loud. The drinks flowed freely.

The blondes were pantiless.

First of all, it's a difficult task to shoot a band when the entire dance floor is filled with elbow-to-elbow drunken revelers from within spitting distance of the lead singer back to the far wall, where the serious gropers were getting busy. I thought that hard-core groping and tongue-darting was a high school endeavor best left to the hallowed spaces of a school gym during a tenth grade Christmas mixer.  I guess not; much of the back wall was filled with middle-aged people in the various stages of heavy petting.  It looked like a late night Cinemax movie with much of the good stuff edited out.

I tried to flit through the crowd; I'd get a shot or two off before being elbowed by an overzealous drunk.  My new lens almost took a direct hit from a PBR; after that close encounter I decided to stand off to the side and attempt to shoot from the relative safety of a perch inside the server station; my camera and I were wedged between the computer monitor and a bad-dye-job-dishwater blonde making out with some Mr. Clean-looking guy with a big pirate earring in his left ear and a shiny, recently-polished chrome dome.

As I moved away from the couple, trying to protect my camera body from her body, a gorgeous blonde, about five-foot-nine, wearing a little blue dress came into my peripheral vision.  A guy sauntered up to her.  They started dancing. He looked a little like an Israeli commando: short, sawed-off even, shaved head and a five o'clock shadow.  Maybe, I thought, Mossad has a small presence here in Northeast Ohio?

So they started canoodling, getting closer and tighter with every song.  If I had to rate this guy's performance I'd give him a solid B+; It was just after midnight and the floor-to-ceiling windows were now getting steamy from all the sweating and gyrating on the makeshift dance floor. As this couple moved in tandem with each other, it was only a matter of time before they'd be grabbing their coats and heading for the Holiday Inn Express right around the corner from the club.  They were smiling.  She whispered something into his ear.  He pulled back, instantly laughing.  I wondered what she whispered to him.  Was it a simple joke?  Her hotel room number? Ten minutes passed. They were getting very personal with each other when I witnessed something so monumentally stupid, so out of character for a man who is about to close the deal, that I could only laugh at this bush league wrinkle.

His hands, over several minutes, had gravitated towards her ass. Instead of resting them on each cheek and slowly caressing her butt, he did something that goes against every commonsensical I'm-about-to-get-laid-so-don't-do-anything-stupid-at-the-last-second errors.  I'm at my perch, having been joined by a few others, and had a play-by-play. He put his hands on her ass...they started moving around in little circles in a whole Mr. Miyagi wax-on, wax-off motion.  He grabbed her dress by its edges. Then he flipped it up quickly, exposing her itty-bitty-thong-covered-ass to about fifty people.

He then broke out laughing.


The half-drunk smile instantly left her face. She pursed her lips and squinted her eyes. By the look on her face she was embarrassed. I heard her say his name. "Steve, why would you do that?" He looked at her, trying to come up with a rational explanation as to why he would moon her lily-white ass to a whole crowd of unsuspecting  people, other than it was funny to him at that exact moment.  Steve looked at her in silence. They exchanged quiet words for a few moments and within a minute or two were dancing again.  But there was a look of defeat on his face; his smile had now become something else.

Then, to my right there was a small disturbance on the dance floor. A pasty white dude strutted up to the band with a request.  He pointed to his woman, a raven-haired beauty, and lulled her onto the hardwoods with a slight gesture of his index finger. She obeyed and they started to tear up the dance floor. I can honestly say that, since the human race took up dance as a form of deeply personal expression a few thousand years ago, there's never been a worse dancer.


This dude pulled out the textbook of cliched dance moves and had, within fifteen minutes, entertained every shitty one of them from the 1920s all the way through 1995 or so.  He especially hovered around 1977 and displayed as many disco moves as his memory and hips could muster.  I saw the Charleston mashed up with some Tony Manero, peppered with a dash of Fred Astaire and topped off with a smidgen of Martha Graham free-form reminiscent of an epileptic seizure that I had witnessed while walking down my high school hallway in the ninth grade.

He pulled out the pistols, shot them off, blew the smoking barrels and put them back into their imaginary holsters.  He licked the tips of his fingers and stroked tight little circles around his nipples. He did Travolta's Saturday Night Fever pose, right hand and index finger triumphantly pointed into the rafters, twice in about five minutes.  He ran his fingers through his hair and did the whole She's-a-Maniac routine from Flashdance.

I was mesmerized.  I watched for a good twenty minutes as he owned that dance floor.  It was the most amazing piece of performance art I'd ever witnessed.  He was abysmally horrible on that floor; people were giggling from the sidelines while Dance Fever, with laser-pointed focus, boogied away the night.

Oblivious to anyone or anything around him, he danced on and on.

And on.

They danced until the band took a short break.  He extended his right arm and offered the brunette his awaiting hand, sweating through the white button-downed shirt and, perhaps, memories of a disco fever that had enveloped him decades earlier. Their exit from the dance floor was very dramatic; it reminded me of Dracula summoning one of his vampire brides to his side.

As the band left the stage, the Mossad agent walked by me and smiled.  I asked him how the night was ending.  He mentioned that Miss Thong was his older sister's friend.  Blondie was 38 years old.

And a virgin.

She, apparently, told his sister that she wanted to do something about that. Perhaps even on New Year's Eve.

He appeared to be in his late twenties, full of vigor, testosterone and a few too many Red Bulls and vodka molotovs.  He told me that he was very close in sealing the deal that would have ended the night with her little blue dress on a hotel room floor. He so wanted to deflower a woman that liked little tiny thongs, blue dresses and an unhealthy grip on her overly-ripened hymen.

I laughed a little.  I asked him why he flipped up her dress if it was a sure thing?  At least he copped to a truth.

"Because I'm fucking stupid," he said. He shook his head twice, lowered it, and sulked with the knowledge that he truly was fucking stupid.

He smiled and shrugged his shoulders; we shook hands and he walked away, his conquest nowhere in sight.

A few minutes later I packed up my gear and waved goodbye to the band.  It was close to two-thirty ay-em, they were still playing and I was having difficulty hearing much out of my right ear.  A constant ringing had replaced most of its auditory functions a few hours earlier; a thirty-something blonde with a cardboard "Happy New Year" tiara had struck up conversation an hour earlier and, even though I was standing two feet from her, couldn't hear a word she was saying.  She may very well have asked me if I wanted to hook up and ring in the new year with a bang, so to speak, and I wouldn't have understood that.  Whenever she said something I just nodded in agreement and tossed back an appropriate "uh-huh," or "yeah!"

I shook the club owner's hand and wished him a happy new year; I walked towards the door and saw the blue dress virgin, feverishly talking to a guy in a white shirt and pink tie.  Not the most masculine-looking dude, but perhaps he would do what Mossad couldn't.  Good luck, I thought as I walked past, you may get a bounty almost four decades in the offing.  She slipped him a tongue as the door closed behind me.

I realized how deaf I truly was as I made my way into the Cleveland night. Most sounds were muted as if I was wearing a pair of loose-fitting ear muffs. It was lightly snowing and a few people, sans winter coats, were huddled into small groups.  I saw Dance Fever and his woman, standing under a street light, away from the curb and near the entry for the House of Blues.  They broke out into dance again.  There was no music except, perhaps, for the soundtrack in his mind.  As I scurried across Euclid Avenue I took one last glance back at them.

Tripping the light fantastic, they ushered in the new year in their own specific way; oblivious to the rest of the world around them.

And I smiled.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Golden Showers.

In the pantheon of Christmas stories, I'm sure there have been many thousands of stories that have much more meaning than mine or are universally remembered as a parable, teaching a story either to or about a whole culture of people. Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas is one.  Or that whole Nativity/Three Wise Men thing could, I guess, be another one.  But my own favorite story relating to this time of year has nothing to do with presents, Bing Crosby tunes or, yes, even flaming rum punches.

My journey back to Northeast Ohio had started more than twenty-four hours before the wheels of a tired 747 touched down upon the muddy gray concrete of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.  I had endured a hurricane the likes of which Hawai'i had ever seen before or, thankfully, has seen since.  After three-and-a-half months of helping friends dig out, suffering from large roof rats running across my chest at three in the morning, and a litany of thoughts surrounding my future on my garden isle, I decided to take a small sabbatical and visit Ohio for a few weeks.

I had packed my bags and sent most of my stuff back to the North Coast; there wasn't anywhere to live and real estate prices had soared.  The rent on my oceanfront condo had gone from a measly $800 a month to a little over $2k for that same thirty-day period.  Illegal?  You bet.  But the speculators and opportunists had done their best to make as much money off of the victims of this disaster as they could, jettisoning much of the Aloha Spirit out the window in favor of a large return on the FEMA money that had poured into Kaua'i after Iniki tore most of the island to shreds in late summer of 1992.

What do I do?  Should I stay and tough it out?  My roommates had decided to abandon any hope of finding  lodging and had gone back to Cleveland in mid-October.  I was without a safety net, a place to live, and the mental resources to make a rational plan.  So I hopped on a plane to spend time with my family and decided that I'd see how I felt once I arrived back in the balmy climes of Northeast Ohio.

I left my adopted homeland after a few tear-filled goodbyes, a glance at the remains of my condo, many palm fronds still glued to the interior walls of my home due to the excessive force of  a hundred and thirty mile winds, and a last meal of musubi.  As I walked across the tarmac to the awaiting plane a slight Hawai'ian breeze heralded my farewell. The bougainvillea was fragrant and I inhaled its sweetness one last time before I was greeted by the flight attendant.  I took my seat and, over the next day, changed planes four times.  My layover in San Francisco was the longest.  I sat, waiting for my plane to Cleveland, with a tattered copy of Bram Stoker's Dracula at my side.  I attempted to leaf through the first few pages but couldn't concentrate on the century-old prose.  My mind was scattershot; thoughts of Hawai'i and my impending return plagued me.  Should I go back?  Should I move to Honolulu and attempt to find work there instead of returning to Kaua'i?

What about home?  Would I be welcomed back?  Had my friends forgotten about me after I had abandoned them a year earlier?  I didn't sleep at all while awaiting my flight. At about midnight an announcement was made to board the aircraft.  Once I boarded the plane I saw my row; I had asked for an aisle seat and a cute, pixie-cut blonde had plunked down next to me, her head leaning on the bulkhead and blocking the window. Sweet.  She smiled at me and we commenced into conversation. We talked for almost four hours.  By dawn the next morning we were making the final approach into Cleveland.  The blonde was headed back to Cincinnati to see her family.  She worked in the TV industry as a  makeup artist.  We had something in common.  She told me to call her if I made it to Los Angeles and the movie career that awaited my arrival.

She gave me a kiss on the cheek and smiled as I walked towards the plane's exit.  Prior to landing, I had glanced past her perch and wonderful-smelling neck to peer out the window.  My hopes of a Bing-Crosby-White-Christmas homecoming was dashed when I saw the landscape surrounding the airport.  It was gray, overcast and raining. Typical Cleveland-in-December weather.

Oh well.

I grabbed my bag at the carousel and awaited my mom's arrival.  She walked past me, not recognizing her first born with my tanned, tropical skin and shinier, long hair.  To this day she denies that she didn't recognize me.  But I was there.  Sorry mom...you've gotta admit that your tanned son was a stranger until I spoke your name.

We made our way to my sister's house ten miles south of the airport.  We had tipped off my brother-in-law that I was coming home but wanted to surprise my younger sister.  We got to their house and my sister, expecting the early delivery of her Christmas present, was quite shocked when the anticipated bow-wrapped puppy was instead the return of a not-so-prodigal son.

We talked for an hour about the hurricane, Hawai'ian food, my production assistant work on Jurassic Park and the delicate differences between local Kaua'i girls versus their mainland counterparts.

I must have looked glassy-eyed because our mom decided it was time for me to get a shower and some sleep.  I hadn't slept in almost two days and it must have shown in the severe case of bedhead that I had inflicted upon myself while talking, bent-necked, to the pixie blonde as we made our way across the continent at thirty-five thousand feet.

A half hour later we arrived at my mom's house.  Nothing had really changed in my absence. My old bedroom was there; the same swirls of dust inhabited my dresser, exactly as I had left it twelve months earlier.  My bed looked inviting.  And, more importantly, the shower awaited me.

Oh my god. The heavenly shower.

In the 100+ days since the hurricane I had been blessed with about five hot showers.  One hasn't lived until they've been vanquished to an outdoor, homemade shower.  Our showerhead was a hose, tossed over the top of the plywood shower stall.  Our makeshift bath had two temperatures and they depended upon how cold the ground was the evening before. The water was either very cold or, as on most December Hawai'ian mornings, just. above. freezing.

I shed my clothes and turned the water on in my mom's shower. I made it as hot as my deprived, sore body could take and just stood there until, forty-five minutes later, the hot water ran cold.  My almost-hour shower was a re-birth of sorts.  I finally got out, prune-fingered and soggy-toed, and dried myself off. I collapsed into my old bed and slept for seven hours straight, awaking only when my mom shook me from my slumber.

We then met my sister and brother-in-law at a TGI Fridays in North Olmsted, a favorite watering hole until it closed a few years later due to a dubious rent scuffle with the mall owners.

We sat and talked.  We drank too many sweet alcoholic drinks.  We laughed. It felt good to be home. I felt warm. The shower, a godsend, was still on my mind.  As we settled in to our meal Hawai'i and my ohana became less important. As I looked out the window I noticed a slight snowfall, a dandruff almost, had started to slowly cascade over the parking lot. Twenty minutes later it was a coating; our cars were covered.

We had dessert and after-dinner coffees.

We buttoned up our coats and walked out into the crisp air.  The new-fallen snow, now about an inch deep, crunched under our footfalls.  The weather was a jarring contrast to the warmer tropical conditions that my body had been accustomed.

I hugged my sister goodnight.  I shook my smiling brother-in-law's hand. My mother and I got into the car.  I closed its door and started the engine.  My favorite radio station hummed to life, broadcasting their familiar station-identification jingle that I hadn't heard in a year.

Looking back I know that my decision was made that night.  Hawai'i, with its beauty, wonderful people, and fantastic food had lost out to a hug, a simple snowfall, and the warmth of a Christmas spent with the people that really mattered to me.

Oh yeah, and that damn shower too.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Conversation

I pulled up slowly, apprehensively.  After all, it had been almost twenty-two years since I'd been in this neighborhood. I didn't quite remember which block the house was still on; many of the landmarks were gone.  A moment earlier I glanced at a flat, paved parking lot inhabited by police cars, realizing only after I passed it that the spot used to house the gas station I worked in for eighteen months during my college years here in Bowling Green, Ohio.

Finally, I saw it.  It looked about the same; the white clapboards hadn't aged much and the front porch had recently received a new coat of paint. I got out of the car and raised my camera.  I snapped several pictures, walking on the cracked, uneven sidewalk for a minute or two before the house finally spoke.

Excuse me, do I know you?

Yes, I said.  I lived here about twenty-five years ago, remember?  I took that large branch off your roof after the big ice storm.

Of course, the house said.  I remember you now.  I apologize for not recognizing you.  Your hair is a different color...gray. 

Among other things, I said, pointing down to the sixty or so added-pounds acccompanying me on this unplanned sojourn.

Oh yes, said the house.  I didn't want to say anything.

It's okay, I shot back.  It's been a long time since I've seen you too.  You look the same, except for the new stairs and the absence of that big oak tree.

That tree?  I miss it.  It had been here for many, many summers protecting me from the heat.  It finally came down a few years ago after a big spring storm.

I'm sorry to hear that, I said.  I liked that tree.

The house paused for a moment and finally asked me a question.

I don't want to pry, but you seem sad.

Yes, I said.  I wasn't a few minutes ago but coming here and seeing you has made me think about many people and things I haven't thought about in years.

Is it something you want to talk about, asked the house.

I stopped and thought.  How long had it been since I thought of old college girlfriends and roommates?  I still kept in touch with a few of them, but being here, now, in front of my college apartment of two years brought memories screaming, in a chaotic disarray, back to the present.

Uh, sure, I said to the house.

It's weird seeing you, I said.  Your stairs remind me of my friend Roxanne.  Do you remember her?

Yes, said the house.  She had such an engaging laugh and I remember her bounding up my stairs to see you.  Her smile kept me warm on many cold days.

Me too, I said. 

Well, she died three years ago and being here right now is...painful. I didn't think I would have this type of reaction...the thoughts that I'm thinking.

I'm sorry, said the house. 

Seemingly to change the subject the house spoke again, She had a second friend who lived here, didn't she?

Yes, I said.  Tabitha.

What ever happened to her, said the house.

I don't know.  After I graduated from BG I was supposed to have lunch with her one day.  But, something came up and we had to cancel.  That was twenty-one years ago and I haven't seen her since.

That's too bad, said the house.  You seemed to have fun with her and Rox.


How about that beautiful redhead that spent so much time here with you?

Yeah, I said.  I don't know what happened between us.  We just drifted apart...after I graduated we attempted to stay in touch but...I guess other things happened.

Oh, said the house.

What about the two Steves, do you still see them?

I smiled.  I see one of them.  As a matter of fact, I was in his wedding.  We're still friends and see each other about once a year.

The other one? 

No, I said.  The last time I saw him was the day that we moved away from here.

I'm sorry, said the house.

I started to think.  Me too, I said.

Well, you seem to be doing okay, I said.

Thank you, said the house.

You look good as well. Was your time here well-spent?

I think so, I said.  I learned alot...a good many things not in my classes, but here on this street.  After leaving here I moved to Hawai'i.  I came back after the same type of storm that took your tree took my island.  I'm glad I did because I met someone.

Oh, congratulations, said the house. I'm happy for you.

Well, it didn't last too long...but she gave me a son.  He's eighteen now and looking at colleges. As a matter of fact he's looking at Bowling Green.


Yes, I said. 

That would be nice, said the house.  Perhaps I'll meet him some day.

Maybe, I said as I put the lens cap back on my camera.

Well, I need to go, I said.  It was so nice seeing you again.

It was so nice to see you, said the house.  Please, don't be a stranger; my rafters are getting creaky, I'm not too sure how much time I have left.

Oh, I said, I'm sure you'll be around for many more years.  You're almost a hundred years old now, right?  And you still look fantastic.

Thank you, said the house.

I started to leave.

Wait, there's one more thing.  Your friend Roxanne?

Yes, I said.

Just remember me and you won't have any problems remembering her.

I smiled.

Thank you, I said.  I'm sad because she's no longer here.  But seeing you makes me remember her laugh and her smile.

Yes, said the house.  A house gets its warmth from the people who live within it.  When you were here, your friends and their laughter gave me so much warmth.  I felt needed. Like a real home.

Yes it did, I said.

With a smile I said goodbye and walked back to my car.  Thank you, I said.

Don't stay away for too long.  Will you bring your son here so I can meet him?

Of course, I said.

And I will.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Wrath of Con

Holy crap.

I got a package in the mail today from a buddy of mine living in Vegas.  We grew up on a steady diet of science fiction movies and TV shows, spending many hours of our youth tucked away in a dark theater on a hot summer day watching some sci-fi geekfest that we waited a few hours in line to see and, of course, several years anticipating its release; we clamored for tiny tidbits of info in a pre-internet age where Starlog or Famous Monsters magazines would dump a sneak-peek photo that only piqued our curiosity even more.

I opened the box and inside the carefully-wrapped plastic bag was a signed photo of Richard Hatch, the first "Apollo" from the 1970s incarnation of Battlestar Galactica and more recently the villain "Zarek" from the newer Battlestar series from a few years ago. 

A smile grew across my face as I held it up and read the inscription.  He signed it to me and my son in silver Sharpie ink, which, I thought, looked very futuristic. It would take a place of honor between my Alex Ross-signed Justice League postcard, a Jack Johnson-signed tour poster, a photo of my son standing next to Lee Unkrich, the director of Toy Story 3 (and a fellow Clevelander) and a recently-added Meat Loaf-signed Bat Out of Hell album cover.

My buddy included a booklet showcasing the industry that is the traveling Star Trek convention.


Like a herd of banthas, these conventions move across the country, stopping at various cities for a weekend of mirth and nostalgia.  Well, and to cash in on fanboys' fixation on cancelled TV shows and impossibly large-breasted superheroines. 

Which begs the question:  How does Power Girl fly with those massive boobs weighing her down?  Her physique reminds me of a hot air balloon needing lift and its pilot madly tossing anything heavy out of the gondola just to gain a little altitude.  Note to DC Comics:  In an age of amped-up, cinema verite heroes, please bear in mind your female characters need to be a lot more aerodynamic to become a little more realistic.

This booklet, more like a multi-community Yellow Pages tome, listed the events for "The Official Las Vegas Star Trek Convention, August 9-12, 2012."  It was huge and read like a college course guide.  This three day convention had events on the hour, every hour, and showcased several interesting Trek-related themes.  I glanced through this book and, much like anything related to Sin City, realized this was an event squarely designed to remove as much money from the average Star Trek nerd's pockets as possible.  Who needs slots and craps tables when there are photo opps, autograph signings, live theater performances and hall upon hall of merchadise for sale all populating the three-day schedule?

You could buy event tickets to get in line before anyone else to meet the Ferengi guys from ST:TNG (for those of you who don't speak Geek, that translates roughly into "Star Trek: The Next Generation), or attend a summit, no shit, on "Asteroids, propulsion and NASA's Dawn Mission to Vesta," whatever the hell that is.  Appropriately, the seminar was subtitled "Think Ion Propulsion is Limited Only to the Eymorgs of Sigma Draconis?"

Why, yes, I did.

I'll admit it:  I'm a geek.  I've always loved sci-fi movies and the promise of space's final frontier.  I daydreamed a lot when I was younger, which explains why I'm writing this blog from a mancave instead of the Bat Cave (A little geek humor, for those of you that don't speak Klingon is a reference to Bruce Wayne, multi-billionaire and part of the 1% who would never write from the comfort of a Mountain Dew-stained carpeted mancave...) 

I can tell you the genealogy of the Skywalker clan.  I can name the USS Enterprise's first full crew, most of ST:TNG's crew and may even know the Kryptonian names of Clark Kent's real parents, but some of this stuff made me, a die-hard geek, feel a little, well, uncomfortable.  I love sci-fi but never took it this seriously.  I never fantasized about the green-skinned chick that Kirk banged in one of the first season's episodes of the original series ("ST:TOS"). 

People really freaked out when Kirk kissed Uhura, the black chick on the Enterprise.  Big deal, you might say, forty-plus years after the fact.  But it was scandalous for 1960s television; CBS was threatened by boycotts and lawsuits when Kirk locked lips with a, gulp, woman of another race. How come no one said anything about Kirk copulating with a girl from another species?  I'm sure hot sex with a green chick should have been more scandalous than a black chick, right? 

Oh well.

Anyway, I read through the next several pages of this Old-Testament sized booklet and was fascinated by how much money must have changed hands at that convention.  If you want someone's autograph you need to pay for it.  The minimum price that I saw was twenty bucks, and most of the names commanding that bargain basement price were actors that I had never heard of and apparently died within the first fifteen minutes of the show, the infamous "red shirts" whose duty was to accompany the captain and first officer to a new planetoid and be unceremoniously fed up as fodder to an alien ray-gun or a pissed-off demigod.  After their television deaths they apparently lived the rest of their professional days on the convention circuit, assigned to a purgatory of mid-fi hotel rooms and re-heated cafeteria food.

Apparently, it's a good living.  Stan Lee just attended a Columbus comic-con and the asking price for a photo opp was $400.  That's a lot of jack for a thirty-second meet and greet.  I could think of a lot better things on which to blow four hundred bucks.

Like that table full of Justice League comics right across the aisle.