Tuesday, July 4, 2017

July 4, 2017



When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Damn I just love Thomas Jefferson’s writing. Don’t you? He’s so elegant, simple and just plain poetic. 

Now, normally, on this day I post the entire Declaration of Independence. Why? Because I believe in it as I do our Constitution. So much so that I joined the United States Navy and served our country. I swore an oath to uphold the constitution and I did my best to do so.

However; this year, on this day, I’m having a hard time finding anything to be patriotic about. The state our country is in concerns me greatly. People everywhere are fighting about this or that. Blind loyalty is only being rewarded with sophomoric leadership. It seems everyone has a finger pointed at everyone else for the problems they perceive to be plaguing the country. 

The funny thing is, there are no two sides to the issues. There are a plethora of sides for a cornucopia of issues. Everyone has an opinion or a solution, yet all those opinions and solutions seem to do is alienate more and more of us fellow americans. 
The rift between the classes has grown wider than the Atlantic ocean and the strife between the races is a close second.  People everywhere are scared, concerned and worried. I’ve observed people in the streets not looking each other in the eyes. They just pass by, head down, not making any attempt at acknowledging the other citizens as the y pass by about their daily ways.

This worries me. I know the cause of the problem. It’s trust. Things have gotten so bad with the leadership in this country that no one can trust anyone else.  After all, the last thing you want to do is to get into a fight with someone who doesn’t believe the way you believe or think the way you think. Whether it is right or wrong. This is America, we are all entitled to our beliefs. We are all entitled to our own sense of right and wrong. What we are not entitled to is getting verbally or physically abusive when someone says or does something we don’t agree with. Which is part of what makes this a great country. But if you can’t even trust someone to listen to your opinion without them lowering themselves to name calling or verbal assault, well then, your self preservation kicks in and you just end up keeping your head down and mouth shut.

The first amendment of our constitution gives the citizens of the united states these rights: Prohibition of Congress to making any law respecting and establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.

That’s just the first amendment. That’s a lot.

Now, I know, I know, some news sources have a bias whether to the left or to the right and finding a source that just gives you the facts is an exercise in futility. I find it best to listen to as many different sources as possible and then after I’ve got enough information, I make up my own mind as to what was actually said or done in whoever’s name. It’s hard but it makes my own life a bit easier. 

I suppose that is what I’m trying to get at here. I’ve heard people screaming about “Fake News” for months now. People claiming they are going to boycott such and such station or paper or website because they don’t agree with the reporters. Well, that is your choice and right. I won’t take it away from you. I however find that the more you know, the better off you will be when it comes time to make a decision. Also; there are times where I learn details from other news sources that some say are fake. (And yes, both sides of this problem are guilty of throwing that stone.)

I’m for an open and honest communication of news, thoughts and ideas. It makes a person better for knowing as much as they can about any and all situations. To aggressively act out in hostility towards someone who doesn’t agree with you is just childish. Maybe if a person or people listened to what others had to say, they might learn something. To naturally assume you are right and have all the best ideas and answers is beyond arrogant and egotistical. So beyond that I don’t even have a word for it. It’s just downright childish.

What is the solution Skip?

This is a tough one for me. Simply because I like Mr. Jefferson like a bit of revolution every now and again. I think it’s healthy.

That is what I wish would happen. But it wont.

What needs to happen is that our leaders need to start acting like leaders and listening to both sides. Not just one or two people who have agendas that you agree with or that will make you even wealthier than you already are. Listen to the people in need, the people who are hurting, the people you take for granted.

Why should you listen to those people? Because I am those people and I know many others like me. Matter of fact, there are more of us than there are of you. And we’re getting tired and sick of your rhetoric, but mostly we’re getting scared of what you’re doing. And scared people are a dangerous people and scared people with nothing to lose are deadly.

So, I say to you, the leaders and wanna be leaders, read that opening to the Declaration of Independence, I mean, really read it. Read it until you understand it. Until you have it memorized and remember… this country was founded by men and women who were fed up with the fact that their voices weren’t being heard.


Have a great week.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Fathers Day


It’s cool here on my front porch. The thunderstorm we had earlier washed away most of the humidity and heat. Now, it’s quite temperate out. the streets are quiet which is unusual. Normally I have to struggle to listen to music while I write as the neighborhood kids chase each other in made up games. Their screams and shouts scaring most of the squirrels, cats and birds away from them. Now, however, it seems the semi-wildlife of my adoptive city know that it is safe to move around.
I can hear the chirp and calls of birds over the frantic piano playing of Dave Brubeck and the insane rhythms of Joe Morello on drums, somehow the call of the wild seems to meld in with the great jazz. This brings a smile to my face. After all, it’s not often when two worlds fit so snuggly together. This is a happy experience for me. 

Which I suppose brings me to the upcoming non-holiday. What? Non-holiday? What is that? Well, I’ll tell you…

Father’s Day.

To me it has always been a non-holiday. After all, I can’t say as I really know any fathers who actually celebrate it like mothers do. Mothers get all the credit as they should. Us fathers, yes, I am a father, don’t really think about it too much. Well, in my experience that is. 

Sure as a child I would make a card for my dad and maybe buy him a gift every now and again. Then with a sheepish grin on my face and a anxious and fluttering heart I’d present it to him with shaking hands. He would of course take the gift from my hand, smile and tussle my hair. He’d open the card or gift, pick me up and hug me and thank me. Then I’d be off to my room to do a puzzle, play with my action figures or go outside and go on adventures with my pals.

Then came the divorce and my mother got custody of us kids. There was no more celebrating fathers day for years after that simply because we didn’t have a father around to give cheap trinkets, ties, cards or cologne to. Fathers day was lost to attrition. 

Then my mother remarried and us kids were expected to give her second husband fathers day cards and gifts. I never felt comfortable with that for more reasons than I wish to go into here. We obliged. Me grudgingly and mainly for the sole purpose of making my mom feel good.

When I left that home and moved in with my father and his family we celebrated in the usual way that families do. Cards and gifts and that was about it. While I went along with this ceremony, I still did not feel completely comfortable with it. After all, it’d been seven years since I’d really had anything to do with my real father and the man that had replaced him was in my opinion, a total ass.

Still, I cowed to the tradition and supplied a card or a token of respect or both and carried on with my life. I never truly understood why I was uncomfortable with this holiday until many years later.

I was in the Navy. Serving my country. Doing my duty and following in the footsteps of my own father. He served in the 1960’s and now I was serving in the 1980’s. During those years in the fleet, I can’t remember sending him a single card for the celebration of his contribution to my life. However; this time, it was not because I didn’t think about it or didn’t know it wasn’t coming up. After all, the Navy is one place where they do not allow you to forget Mothers or Fathers day. No, this time I do believe I made a conscious effort to not send warm thoughts and peaceful wishes to the two men who’d try to shape and influence my life in their own unique way. 

I was in a very arrogant and pissed off position. I was on a journey to prove to those men that I was in charge of my life, I would do something they said I couldn’t do and I would succeed without them and their views on who and what I was.

Did I succeed in this quest?

Maybe, but it wasn’t without help.

In 1988 I met a man who would change my life. He was an older man, grizzled, tough and wise. He had a family of his own and in fact, he was the father of the woman I was dating and would later marry. Through his quiet acceptance of me and his encouraging words and patience with my naive youth, he helped mold me into a better person.

Then I went to work at his machine shop for ten years. In those years he taught me more about mechanics, machinery and life than I think I could have gleaned from the wisest of men in the history of the world. Every day I found myself learning something new, and when I’d make a mistake he didn’t get angry and yell at me or hit me, although he most likely wanted to. Instead he took his time to explain my error and how to correct it and even how to avoid making it again.

This sort of reserved teaching was not something I was used to nor had ever experienced in my life. A patient master teaching an eager apprentice. He taught me more than he could ever know.

Respect.
Patience.
Understanding.
Wisdom.
Responsibility.
Love.

He taught me how to be a man and more importantly he taught me how to be a father. For that, I am truly grateful. 

So today, right now, I’m want to wish all you fathers day out there a “Happy Fathers Day”. 

And for you George, I want to say “Thank you, your presence in my life has been invaluable in more ways than I can express. I love you and while you are not my father but my friend, I want to wish you a very happy and wonderful fathers day.”

Have a great week.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Curds with Gwen...And Kay-O


The smell of a campfire fills my nose as I sit on my porch tonight. Someone, somewhere in my neighborhood is having a small gathering of friends over for an intimate night of conversation and good times. Sound bites of their conversation drift on the wind and land upon my ears and I almost feel apart of their group. 

This feeling makes me miss even more the event that I wanted to be at tonight. The event is called “Curds with Gwen” and it is taking place in a small town in Wisconsin. People I knew from another century and another high school are getting together for an ad hoc reunion of sorts.

And in case you’re wondering about the name “Curds with Gwen”, well, Gwen is the one who came up with the idea for everyone to get together and eat fried cheese curds… a staple in any Wisconsinites diet. The crispy, tender, golden crust hides the liquefied magma of melted cheese inside… damn I wish I had a pound of them right now sitting in front of me… I’d devour them and be thankful for the blisters on the roof of my mouth in the morning.

But more than that, I miss the folks who are there, and even the folks who aren’t. I don’t normally get nostalgic about my high school days. After all, I attended three different high schools, so it was hard for me to make lasting friends. But somehow, the kids from Roncalli High School, class of 1985 seem to have burrowed their way into my psyche. 

How do I describe Roncalli in the 1980’s… it’s hard… it… well… 

It was like a John Hughes film. Pick any of them, “Pretty in Pink”, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, “Breakfast Club”… that was Roncalli.

We had all the stereotypes in abundance. Jocks, Preps, Geeks, Dorks, Druggies, Greasers… you name it, we had it.

My first day there started halfway through the first quarter of school. I was transferred in and as soon as I stepped foot on the school bus I knew I didn’t fit in anywhere. After all, I saw in myself not just one stereotype, but all stereotypes. I was a geek, a jock, a greaser, a prep, a druggie and a dork. Within a week of attending classes, I’d made friends in each clique. 

I played chess with the chess club, I helped rebuild an engine with the greasers, I programmed computers with the geeks, I was on the wrestling team, for a short time, I dressed like a prep, I smoked weed with some of the jocks and I had a voracious appetite for the schools library.

My friends spanned the cliques and I had no problem talking to anyone. Even if it was someone I didn’t know. Well, with one exception… a girl…

A girl named Jody.

Our lockers were next to each other and I rarely said anything when she was around. Yes, I had a crush on her and it killed me. Anytime I’d ask anyone about her, they’d say she was going out with so and so, or she was dating a linebacker or that she was stuck up and wouldn’t talk to anyone.

So when she actually came up to her locker one day as school was letting out and asked me for a cigarette, I about damn near shit myself. I quickly fumbled for my pack and pulled out a Marlboro and handed it to her. She said thanks, turned and left. Her ponytail slowly swaying back and forth across the middler of her back.

I was in shock. So much so that I didn’t even see Brother John walk up and start scolding me for having cigarettes in the school. It wasn’t until he grabbed ahold of my arm that I realized he was standing there. I quickly apologized, shoved the smokes back in my pocket and ran away from him hoping he wouldn’t come after me and try to confiscate my illegal Marlboros.

On the bus ride home all I could think about was Jody. Did she try to set me up? Why didn’t I know she smoked? How come I’d never seen her at any of the parties I’d been to. Why the fuck didn’t I talk to her?

Teenage bullshit… that’s what it was. Being uncomfortable in your body and not really knowing where you fit in… I know that now. Then, not so much. I was awkward, a bit shy around girls I liked and definitely in fear of getting my ass kicked by the football team.

So, when the invite went out for this “reunion” I really wanted to go. To see these people and how they’ve changed over the years. Are they married? Do they have families? Divorced? Alive? Dead? Hell anything.

Social media only gives you the filtered information of what someone wants you to see. I’m not saying the person posting pictures of kittens, hiking the Appalachian trail, espresso under the Eiffel tower and shaking hands with some Hollywood star is lying, what I’m saying is that they are putting out what they want you to see.

It’s different then when you hear the stories from their lips and see the light of joy gleam in their eye as they tell you what they’ve done and how they've done it. That’s what I miss. 

That’s why right now, at this very minute I wish I were in Manitowac, Wisconsin, hanging out with a bunch of people I only spent two years of my life with. Because they are awesome to me, even if they don’t know or realize it.

Have a great week.


PS. I don’t normally  do this, however, my third high school, Washington High School, the one I graduated from, you guys, if you're reading this, mean as much to me as well. I love the friendships I made there and I wish I could give you all a big hug. We went through some crazy times together, both good and bad and this blog is written in honor and memory of friends, you guys are included as well.









Thursday, June 1, 2017

Little Things


I was about a half a mile from my house when I realized something was wrong. I leaned forward on my motorcycle so I could hear the engine a bit better. No, she wasn’t misfiring. I pulled in the clutch and applied breaks, she slowed perfectly. I accelerated a bit, swerved a bit to test the tires, everything was fine. I shook my head and saw my shadow on the road do the same thing.

I took a better look at my shadow as I slowed to a stop sign. My shadow looked funny. the top of it was blurry and fuzzy. My shadow shouldn’t look like that. As I came to a full stop I placed my feet on the ground and looked closer at the dark silhouette stretching out from my bike. I laughed when I realized what was wrong. I quickly turned around, headed back to the house and fixed the problem.

At home I went inside, walked up to my desk and picked up my helmet and strapped it to my head. Another small chuckle escaped my lips and I went outside and mounted my trusty steed once again.

Seconds later I was blasting through the neighborhood streets.

This isn’t the first time I’ve forgotten my helmet. As a matter of fact in the forty years of riding I’ve done, I can actually say I only remember getting on a motorcycle without a helmet twice. Both times have been in the last six months.

Growing up in Wisconsin, where helmet laws are pretty much non-existent, or at least they were back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, it was not an uncommon occurrence to see people ride without helmets. I never did. Simply because my parents and my friends parents would not let us kids ride without them. Makes sense. After all, the last thing any parent wants to witness is their kids injured. 

So strapping on a helmet is second nature to me. It’s like putting on my socks or my boots. It’s something I always seem to do when I get ready to go somewhere. It’s just something I’m trained to do. 

As I’m sure there are things you’ve been trained to do, whether it’s double check the lock on the door when you leave the house or jiggle the toilet handle to keep it from running all night. It’s just something that we as humans learn to do to make our lives safer, better and easier.

So, what would cause me to forget my helmet and hop on a motorcycle and run pell mell into the abyss?

Simple, stress.

Well, in my case that’s what it has been. I allowed my mind to be distracted by all the craptastic events in my life and in doing so, I put myself in harms way. Lucky for me I didn’t get into an accident or pulled over by a cop and given a ticket. No, each time I figured out what was wrong and fixed the problem.

Still…

I forgot.

I put myself in danger because I was too concerned with things that truly don’t matter.

This is where I find myself a lot lately.

Thinking about shit that doesn’t matter. Well, won’t matter in the grand scheme of things. For some reason I’ve developed a strange sense of placement in my world. I don’t feel as if I actually belong where I am. As if I’ve been displaced by a ghost of myself and the real me is actually just an observer to the events that affect my ghost. Which leaves me standing by the roadside trying to figure out what just happened.

Its not a good feeling. It feels as if you’re lost on a strange planet and home is an obscure concept you think you remember.

I’ve no true idea how to fix this problem. I have an idea. And for now, an idea is good enough.

I’m going to have to shut down all the incoming bullshit in my life for a while. I feel this will act as a pressure relief valve for me. Just stop caring about all the unnecessary crap that seems to be distracting me. And, if somehow some crap starts to creep back into my life, I’m just going to have to smile and wave and send my mind off to a place where I don’t have to listen to the garbage that is in front of me.

This is my solution to my forgetful and dangerous behavior. I just don’t have the amount of concern for shit in my life that does not matter. If that sounds cold or cruel, it really isn’t. It is a form of self-preservation.
Which is the only thing all of can really do. Preserve ourselves and sanity for the ones that matter to us in our lives.

Have a great week.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Audiophile Nightmares


This past March I I ordered four albums off of Amazon to flesh out my record collections. Yes, they were Jazz, but more importantly they were the four iconic Jazz albums from 1959. Charles Mingus “Ah Hum”, Ornette Coleman “The Shape of Jazz to Come”, Dave Brubeck “Time Out” and of course Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”.

To be honest, it wasn’t like I didn’t need them. No, this was strictly a purchase for my favorite music. I of course had a few of those recordings in digital format and they sound great. Remastered by technological wizards in the music industry. However; I wanted to hear them in their original format. You know, like when you watch Star Wars “A New Hope” without being digitally remastered, where Han shoots first, there aren’t platoons of storm troopers everywhere and no storm trooper is riding an oversized lizard. It’s like that but only for my ears.

Eight days after I ordered them, three of them arrived in the mail. I was happy and excited. I however did restrain myself from opening them. I knew I had to take them into my office where the rest of my records are kept, so I sat the three records on my desk and dreamed of what they would sound like. Oh, you want to know which record wasn’t packaged with the other three? Okay, I’ll tell you, it was Dave Brubeck’s masterpiece “Time Out”.

When I walked into my office the next morning, being ever so careful with my records, it was all I could do to not just sit down and play them. Instead, I bided my time, went to work getting the museum set up for the day and in no time I was opening my records. 

The first one, Ornette Coleman, opened easily, I stared at the cover of the legend holding his sax and I swear I could almost hear his tonality and fingering of that brass beauty. I pulled the record out, placed it on my turntable and began to listen. I pulled up a chair and just watched the vinyl spin and I could almost see the notes drifting out of my speakers.

It wasn’t until I was halfway through “Eventually”, the second track on side one that I noticed something odd about the record. More to the point, the label. It wasn’t the green over red label. I became disturbed. So I picked up the album cover and looked for the label marks. What I found was the name “Wax Time” where the “Atlantic” name should be. I became upset.

Now to be fair, I didn’t expect an original 1959 copy of the record. What I did expect was an official “Atlantic” reissue of the record. Not some company using public domain music to make a quick buck.

Which is about the time I opened the Charles Mingus album only to discover the same thing. Only this time, it was not by “Wax Time”, but another company just like “Wax Time”. Not the “Columbia” label. Not even close.

When I picked up the Miles Davis album I knew it wasn’t a Columbia record. After all, the cover art was all wrong and so was the back. I almost didn’t open it. But I did and I was once again disappointed.

Don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’ve listened to those three records on numerous occasions since I’ve bought them. And, with each listening, I love the music even more but there is something that always bugs me.

You see, I’m sort of an artist. I write and that is not just a skill but an art form. When I sell a story, I expect to get paid. When someone else sells my story, I don’t get paid. When I die and all the rights to my stories get turned over to my daughter, I expect she would get paid for any publication of those stories. That is where my mind was. Who is getting the money for these records since they are in my opinion “Bootlegs”?

Since that time, I’ve managed to replace one of those three albums with an authentic labeled album and I’m still searching for the other two. I know eventually I will find them. It will just be a matter of time and effort.

As for the fourth album, the Dave Brubeck album, well, that is an interesting addendum to this tale. You see, when I purchased that particular album from Amazon, it was from a private seller. This was a fact I didn’t know. When it came in a week after the other three I fully expected it to be another bootleg copy. It wasn’t.

What was it? It was an original 1963 black six eye Columbia recording. How do I know it was a 1963? Simple, 1963 was the only year that Columbia used the black six eye label. I was over the moon. It wasn’t a modern reissue or remaster. Nope, an original, period record. It has become one of my favorite finds and almost makes up for getting taken on the other three.

But that is okay. This is what life is all about. Learning and moving forward.

Have a great week.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Human Mechanics


This upcoming weekend, in particular, Sunday, I highly recommend that if you are located anywhere in the seven cities and hear massive amounts of yelling, cursing and the throwing of metal objects at other objects… please leave me alone. That is, unless you want to volunteer to come change a water pump on a jeep and throttle cables on my Harley.

It’s not that I don’t know what to do, or even how to do it. After all, I’ve changed starters, head gaskets, heads, valves, pistons, batteries, radiators, water pumps and, well… pretty much anything else gear related in my years. It’s just that I don’t enjoy it. Okay, that’s not totally true, I enjoy it up to a point… what that point is I can not say. 

I spent ten years working part time in a machine shop, tearing apart engines, cleaning them, fixing them, rebuilding them and even grinding, planing and refurbishing them back into fine tuned, high octane burning, carbon emitting, transmission grinding and tears in the eye joy machines. 

That type of work I don't mind. When the material I’m working on is staring me right back in the face. Working under a hood, stooped over fender, crawling around on the concrete or even sitting in the grass… well, it just makes my bones ache thinking about it. 

Now, truly these are not really complaints, these are just moments of uncomfortableness that I’m most likely exaggerating in my own little mind. You know, like we all do. Oh? You say you don’t? Really? Do tell me your story. I’m all ears.

You can’t. I know you can’t. Hell, I can’t. I wish I could.

Which is something I don’t understand. I like to fix things. Cars, motorcycles, toy trains, puzzles and hell… just about anything that’s broken, I’ll step right up and try to fix it. That seems to be a characteristic I was born with.

For as long as I can remember I was curious about how to fix things, how to build things and, how to make things better.  I never went to a trade school, but over the years I’ve read a few books, puttered with enough mechanical things, electronic things that I developed a breadth of knowledge on things that I can’t even begin to fathom how deep that well is.

No, I never went to a trade school. What I did do was simple.

I just showed up.

That’s it.

I showed up, kept my mouth shut and listened to the journeymen who taught me everything I know. However; like good journeymen, they never taught me everything they knew. Which is good. Some things you just have to learn for yourself.

  Which brings me to today.

You see in my life, my family that is, we’ve been going through a pretty damned hard rough patch. Not my immediate family, no, my in-laws to be specific. They are going through a rough patch. They are both pretty much incapacitated. My wife, being the good daughter she is, has stepped up to the plate to take care of most of their needs. Bills that need to be paid, or socks that need to be bought, or even a salad from a restaurant they might want to nibble on, she seems to be the one they call. Now, to be fair, her brother also helps out. From what I understand it is a lot as well. I’m just not around to see what he does nor am I around to see what my wife does all the time. I do however hear about it from her.

And, as you can probably guess, this type of activity can take it’s toll on a person. Just like a fourteen year old water pump with over one hundred thousand miles on it can break. Or, throttle cables on a motorcycle that gets ridden almost everyday of the year can break. People under stress or overuse can break.

Like the water pump or throttle cables, the stress, wear and tear go mostly unnoticed. By the operator as well as the people around them. That is… until…

Little things. frowns start becoming more prevalent. Exhaustion even after eight hours of rest. A less than approachable attitude towards any type of inconvenience and well, a general change in personality and disposition. The person who is going through this, wont notice it. Hell, they’ll even fight you if you mention it. Like a machine whose parts are failing, you know there is something wrong, but you just can’t communicate it to the machine.

So what do you do?

Simple, identify the problem, implement a solution and wait for resolution.

Int the case of the jeep, a new water pump. In the case of my Harley, new throttle cables… and in the case of my wife… on her birthday which is only a few short days after mother’s day… an all expense paid trip to the spa. Something that she’s never experienced.

This evening when I saw her for the first time since this morning when I left for work, she looked happy, relaxed and even a bit like the young lady I met thirty years ago. The mechanics at the spa spent over three hours working on her and it paid off. 




The months of wear and tear magically disappeared. She looked renewed and invigorated. This made me happy.

Now, if only I can get away with three hours of mechanical work on two vehicles on Sunday without messing anything up, I will be thrilled.

Have a great week. Do something that will make you smile and relax. And maybe, just maybe, you will have fixed something you didn’t know was broken inside of you.