Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hope in Destruction

For the past 7 years I have lived, worked, loved, laughed, cried, made friends, lost friends and basically poured my heart and soul into my work at the Children's Museum of Virginia as the Train Technician for the Lancaster Antique Train and Toy Collection. My office was my cave, my shelter, my safe harbor for any and all storms Life and Work have been able to throw at me.
Now, it is non existent. Gone. Poof. Past Tense. The place where I was most comfortable and knew that only a handful of people in the World would be able to come in and make me feel like an imbecile when it comes to my knowledge of the job I was lucky enough to get is about as real as a four-toed-one-eyed-french fry stealing-cow eating-gun toting-3 horned-red and blue striped-flying-land locked-Norwegian Ridge Backed Dragon.
I have a lot of great memories there. I met some of the greatest kids in the Tidewater area, I gave lectures to classes, I learned from not just my peers in the model train industry but from almost every child who walked into my train room with wide-eyed wonder and amazement. I was put in the position to host one of the largest train meetings of a National Toy Train Collectors Society. Congressional Senators and NFL Superstars came to see me, yes, they called me and requested to meet ME. Insanity. It was a heady time filled with rowdy and rambunctious behavior by grown men reliving their childhood dreams by proxy through my job. But you know what? While all that was amazing and almost unbelievable those memories pale in comparison to four kids that were called "Skips' Train Kids".
I am not going to go give their names here in a public forum such as this but these four little guys meant more to me than anything else. Every time I saw one of them enter the Trainroom I would stop whatever it was I was doing and give them my complete and undivided attention. Every one of them still can't understand why we are closed even temporarily for the expansion and improvement of the new Museum. Every one of them felt as if they would one day replace me as the "Trainman". That is what they call me...Trainman. That is what is on my license plate too. It is not a name I gave myself it is how those four kids saw me. It is for them and others like them out in the world today and in the future that I try to do my best everyday. They see the trains as an amazing technological and magical mode of transportation through space, time and life. Two of these little gurus of a simpler bygone era don't really have the capacity to talk but we were still able to communicate through the interaction of toy trains. One of the boys would only be still when he was watching the trains move and screamed at the top of his lungs when it was time to shut the museum down for the day. The last one, he knows more about trains than I probably ever will.
Today I stood in the empty space that once was my office and my train room. Over 5,000 square feet of trains display cases and shelves, four operational train layouts with fourteen separate operation tracks in three different gauges...GONE. Dust. I felt sadness deep in my soul for what the room once represented but that sorrow did not even come near the weight of responsibility that I have when I once again have to explain to these Train Savants why they can't see the trains for another year. Why "their" Trainman is now sequestered to a 20 square foot cubicle with no trains or toys on display. With no trains to run. No toys to play with. No Hudson's, Big Boy's, Shay's, GG-1's, SW-1500's, Prairie's, 10 Wheelers, J-class Northerns, Little Joe's, EP-5's....but I digress, I am sure that extremely few of you even know what I just said or even care. They knew, those four little guys knew...They knew and they cared. They loved that room and it was their Safe Harbor as well.
I have experienced a lot in the Trainroom but nothing has been as worthwhile as those golden moments that I was able to spend with them. I was reminded of that today too. As I was walking to my car I saw one of my "Train Kids". He was with his grandmother and she was trying to explain why the trains were not on display and why there where giant holes in the walls of where the museum is. Why there were no trains anywhere for the public to see. Why he could not turn on the trains and watch them run and cry out in amazement and wonder when the horns and bells started to ring and clang. They called out to me. I smiled at them as they approached me. I knelt down and talked to him. I told him everything his grandmother had been trying to tell him. I explained that in just a few short months there would be something NEW and SHINY for him to play with. I told them both we were going to set up a temporary train exhibit at another museum. And all he wanted to know was if the Orient Express was ok. Was it safe? Where is it? Can he see it? Will it be back in the new museum. He was worried. He needed assurance. He needed the safety of the Trainroom. He needed his magic. I tried my best to give it to him.
After 10 minutes of answering all his questions and those of his grandmother, he calmed down. Grandma thanked me, he hugged me. He said he would see me soon and I felt a lump grow in my throat. We said our goodbyes quickly. Grandma knew by looking at me I was having a tough time. She knew I was on the verge of a breakdown right there on Middle Street. She knew just by looking into my eyes as they started to cloud up that her grandson was as just as important to me as the trains. We said our goodbyes quickly and went in opposite directions.
I am sure we will see each other too. I am sure that all four of the "Train Kids" will be around for a long time and they will always go to the top of my Importance List every day. I can't wait for that day too.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Condemnation through Literation

So, I am sitting in the waiting room of a local hospital waiting for my name to be called so I can can be poked, prodded, stuck and tortured by Nurses, Doctors, Flobotomists and other minions of the semi-literate offspring of Torquemada and his approved practices of torture during the Spanish Inquisition. When I hear a voice a few chairs away from me saying "Eww, what is that your reading? Your going to Hell for reading that! How do they even allow people like you in a nice place like this?" All of this is said in just moments, mere seconds, a blink of an eye.

I look up from the book I'm reading and gaze directly upon the elderly woman who made such a bold assumption about my choice in literature, my Faith, my immortal soul and my affable disposition. What I see upon glancing at this lady is nothing new or remarkable, she appears to be in her late 60's early 70's, white hair, wrinkly skin, a mole on her chin and she has a look of prejudicial judgement that I have seen amongst my peers and supervisors for my entire life. Her attire is that of a woman who has been left alone for a long time. Her eyes had a dull look to them as if there were no joy left inside her and that she has spent more time alone than with friends and family. I smiled at her and waved. I then looked down at the cover of my book on it there is a color drawing of a devil sitting in a chair and the title scrawled above the devil "Sympathy for the Devil" by Brian Keene with a sub-title of "The best of Hail Saten Vol. 1" The book is basically just a collection of Opinion articles by author Brian Keene. Quite good ones too. Also, it appears that the author made many friends and even a few enemies while he wrote these pieces. I chuckle to myself and think of the old adage "Never Judge a Book by its Cover." I laugh a bit more. I look at the woman and smile again. She scowls and spits some more vile words my way "Why would anyone want to read something like THAT?" and she points a gnarled, twisted and arthritic finger towards the book I hold in my hand. "I like it" I say, "and I served in the Navy with the author. He is actually a pretty decent guy."

"Why is the Devil on the cover? Hmm? Anyone who puts something like that on their book is going to Hell and anyone who reads a book like that is going with him!" The lady is practically yelling in the waiting room. I scan the room and see that other patients, nurses, administrators and even janitorial staff are now looking at us. I smile and I shrug my shoulders in the universally accepted gesture that says "I'm sorry. I did not mean to upset anyone". Some folks glare at me, some walk away to attend to their personal business in and around the hospital. I look back at the woman who has been ranting about my book and I simply state "To each their own choice Ma'am, I am sorry you don't like the cover of my book." I get up to move to the other side of the room where she can't see me. "You people make me SICK!" she shouts. "Enjoy your time in HELL!" I smiled, waved and walked away.

Later, sitting in another waiting room, still reading my book a nurse walks by me and scowls at me and mumbles under her breath "The nerve. Bringing a Devil book to a Catholic hospital." I smile, look up and wave at her. She storms away. I go back to reading. When I finally get called in to have my blood drawn and other things done to my body that just seem unnatural to me a nurse with tattoos, odd piercings and multi colored dyed hair says to me "You and your little book have created quite a stir here today and I just wanted to say Thanks for making an otherwise boring day more fun." I look at her and say "Uh, do you even know what this book is about? Have you even heard of the author? Oh, and for the record, I never tried to cause a ruckus or upset anyone. I am just trying to enjoy some quiet time and read my book while waiting for my tests." The nurse just smiles and walks away. "Sure" she says.

When I do finally get home and have a chance to process all that has happened to me just because I chose to bring a book to the hospital to pass the time I realize that people in general just make automatic assumptions about EVERYTHING! They do. The old lady in the waiting room thought I was a devil worshiper and the nurse thought I was just trying to stir things up. In reality, all I wanted was some peace, quiet and a good story. What I got instead was harassment and admiration. Go figure.

Oh, and if any of you torturers are reading this... "Thanks for an Unforgettable Morning and please feel free to call me if you want to go on a date."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Salvation Comes Home

DISCLAIMER! When you read this please know that all of these events happend to me about 8 years ago. This is also one of the most RAW moments in my life and there is only one reason that I am sharing this. The reason is I am Honoring a Man I respect, admire and have looked to for advice in some of my most vulnerable moments in my life. Do not PANIC by about what your about to read. I survived with his help and am now a better person for it.
And now for the show, Mr. MC please do the honors and draw back the curtain, Conductor, please cue up some Wagner, dim lights and let's roll....

Salvation Comes Home
I had lost control. I could not see any way out of the mess I had made of our lives and I believed that there was nothing I could do to make things better for me, my wife or our 2 year old daughter. I felt hopeless. The world had beaten me down so much that I had decided that I had lived my last day and that before the sun rose on a new day I would not be part of that world. So I prepared.
I made sure all my things were in order at work and that everthing would be ready for at least a week. I made sure all the household bills were taken care of and, when I felt all my Civic and Home responsibilities were completed I went to the store and purchased 2 bottles of sleeping pills and then I stopped at the liquor store and picked up a pint of bourbon. I felt like garbage. I loathed myself. I could not even look at myself in the mirror. I was defeated.
As I left work that evening and I turned out the lights to my office for what for what I believed would be the last time I said a quick goodbye and attempted to sever all emaotional tiesto the best job I had ever had. I walked out of the building and got in the mini-van with my wife and we went to go pick up our daughter. I really tried to enjoy what I felt were the las hours on earth. My wife, who has always been quite tuned in to my feeling s knew there was something wrong and with only 4 blocks to her parents' house she as me what was wrong. I tried to ignore th question. I tried to stay strong and play it off but I could not. I broke down. I told her how I had messed up our lives. How I had lost control. How I had failed. How I planned to end things.

She cried. She yelled. She got us back on the road. We picked up our daughter and went home.

After an evening of tense pleasantries and intense broken conversations I still felt there was nothing I could do. Then she aske the question tha tliterally changed the course of my life "Do you want me to call Pastor Shannon?" I did not know what to say. I was on our couch with my head in my hands crying. I knew that if I did not get some help I would not make it through the night. I knew that if I were to even try and think about any kind of hope for a future I need to toalk to a person of Faith and Hope. All I could do was nod my head.

Within an hour Pastor Shannon was at our house sitting on our couch and praying with us and for us. Counseling me. Explaining to me how our "Adversary" had used outside influences to try to destroy my life. How God Loves me and wants me to Live. He prayed some more. He listened to me. I listened to him. I Prayed. I changed my mind.

Over the course of the next six months I met with Pastor Shannon on a weekly basis and we talked. Which is to say, I talked and he listened and prayed. I worked through a lifetime of garbage that had built up in me. He listened and prayed. He was there the whole time. Listening and praying. Holding true to his Service and Calling to God. Teaching me how to be a better Man and a better Christian.

Now, today, I know that I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Pastor Shannon for assisting me in that period in my life but also for the times that I received a card or phone call from him stating simply "I was thinking about you Bro, everything ok?"

There were other things too; whenever I had a question of faith he took time for me. When I was being attacked by an atheist about the existence of God and the Faith that I have, Pastor Shannon was there. Whenever I felt I was straying off of course I knew I could look toward Pastor Shannon and know that he was keeping his on on God and that he would help me over whatever obstacle I was facing.

I am alive today through the works of God and the instrument that God has used on earth to save me is Pastor Shannon. I am sad about his departure from Faith Alive Ministries and I will miss him every time I walk through our doors. I will miss his emotional sermons and honest faith that he carries wtih him. He is going to be missed and not just my me but also by countelss others in our Church Family.

Monday, January 11, 2010


I am Socially Retarded.

I can't lay claim to that little phrase. Iwish I could but I can't. What I can claim is that it was said about me by my Mother no less and as anyone should know your Mother knows you best.
Now all of this was said about me in a conversation that I was not privy to but I did recieve the news second hand by one of my sisters. The sister who told me thought I might be upset about the incident but in truth I laughed. Laughed hard. And I agree with my Mother. I am a Social Retard.
I don't like crowds or groups of people, I don't enjoy going to parties or functions. As a matter of fact I try to avoid any and all social functions. I don't like them. They give me a headache. But, occasionally I do find myself in a position of a semi-large to large gathering of people that I could not get out of and I resign myself to an evening of loud people who have lost most of their common sense. And when that happens I find a semi-quiet corner of the room or house or bar or where ever I am and I observe.
I watch. I listen. I make mental notes. I get a massive headache.
Mostly though, I just think to myself "When can I leave and what is all this B.S. they are a spewing forth from thier mouths?"
Here are some snippets that I have overheard;
"And then she said."
"Can you believe he slept with her?"
"My Boss is an asshole!"
"Guns are not the problem"
"They make the best anti-pasta there."
"The delivery guy was such an asshole."
There are more locked away in the trap known as my brain but it is just painful to bring them all forth and write them down. And these little nuggets of wisdom all blend together in my head and they start to make connections with other crap and I will inevitably blurt out something apparently random and inapropriate at the most embarrising time. What? you don't believe me? You need an example?
Ok, I will give you one. I will take one from the list;
"The delivery guy was such an asshole." to which my response would be...
"Sour milk tastes bad." and no one if the room knew what I was talking about. See, socially retarded. I don't think I need to go into too much of an explanation here abou the "Sour Milk" comment. Just believe me there is a connection to Sour Milk and Asshole Delivery Drivers. Well at least there is in my mind.
This is probably why I don't make friends easily and why I can't seem to fit in at these wonderfully painful gatherings during the holidays.
I am more of a one-on-one kind of person. I do well with small groups of people, not so much to keep track of I suppose. Just simple conversation that can be steered toward issues and topics that seem more relavent to my life. I know that sounds self-centered but I don't think it is. What is more self-centered? Just aimless B.S. with no purpose or a conversatoin that just oozes with wonderful thoughts and ideas. Even then, when the conversation goes above my train of thought or out of my league of intelligence I just sit back and enjoy what is being said.
To prove exactly how "Socially Retarded" I am I am not even going to finish this blog. I am going to leave it open ended and see what happens next....

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Things I learned in New Jersey

I recently took a six day vacation with my family to New Jersey to visit more family on the Apple Orchard/Farm there. While there we, my wife, daughter and I went to the island of Manhatten but that is a Blog for another time. This Blog is dedicated to what I learned in New Jersey. So without further fanfare and Bullsh&^ I shall now start to let you all know what I have learned from my travels and stay in the Garden State.
In New Jersey you can't pump your own gas but you have to bag your own groceries.
In New Jersey you get into the state for free but they charge you to leave.
In New Jersey you can get almost anywhere you want by the New Jersey Transit but don't try taking your car on a country road unless it is a Hummvee.
In New Jersey the Municipalities actually call the DPW workers out at night or even on Holidays to salt and sand the roads. Also, they will call them out to plow the roads too once the snow stops.
In New Jersey if you want booze you have the option of going to any "Privatly Owned" Liqour store you want to and the State does not tell you when or where you can get your liqour from.
In New Jersey you can see giant "McMansions" built on 2 acres of land and next door to them there is a trailer park.
In New Jersey the "Real Mansions" come from really OLD money but they don't let it go too much to their head.
In New Jersey even the "Poor" farmers are able to put GINORMOUS Christmas Wreaths up on their silos.
In New Jersey there are Dunkin Donuts every half mile and Krispy Kreme donuts are nowhere to be found.
In New Jersey the best "Seafood" seems to be at the local "Red Lobster".
In New Jersey the best food is found at Locally Owned "Dives."
In New Jersey the "Jersey Girls" you meet seem to be extremely friendly, dress as if they are going to a cocktail party and always have food and booze on them to share with new friends.
In New Jersey you can't seem to make an enemy and no one seems to have been born there but seem to have migrated from the other 49 states in the Union.
In New Jersey if you don't drive on the 206 then your on the Turnpike.
In New Jersey the local Police seem to know who you are and where your going even before you planned your trip either to Jersey or through Jersey.
In New Jersey if you want good service at a restaraunt stay away from the National Chains.
In New Jersey on New Years Eve 2009/2010 it snowed and I held my daughter in my arms while we watched fireworks go off. She then told me "Daddy, this is the BEST NEW YEARS EVE EVER!"