Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Fuck Cancer in the Goat Ass!

            In the past month and a half of my life I have learned that not one but two women I know have children with cancer. This sucks ass. One child is fifteen and the other is not even five. Both kids are fighting for their lives from some unseen crazy ass mutation going on inside of them. It hurts me to even think about it, but lately, it is all I can think about. I try not to think about it… and I always fail miserably.
            When I see these ladies or anyone in their respective families I see the mask of hope they wear like armor, but under that emotional armor I see the rust colored stains of weariness and stress. When I get close to them, I can smell the desperation seeping from their pours like the sweat of an Olympic athlete. When I catch a glimpse of them, when they think they are alone and no one is watching I can see the weight of the world pushing down on their shoulders as they try to cope with the unthinkable thoughts that crowd their respective brains for attention. All of these observations make my heart weep and my soul cry out in anger.
            These are good people, people who are caring, charitable and just down right pleasant. They don’t deserve to be burdened with this shit, let alone their innocent children. I don’t think there is anyone alive today who has not felt the uncontrolled and unfettered tendrils of cancer creep into their lives. But when an adult who has lived their life gets cancer we sympathize with them and are hopeful that a good outcome will eventually present itself. A lot of times it does, sometimes it does not. When those failures come and you attend the funeral of that person you will inevitably hear someone say “They had a good life.” Or “They lived life to the fullest.”
            How the hell can you say that about a teenager or even a toddler? You can’t. They never got the chance to have a good life. As a matter of fact, life dealt them a shitty hand from the bottom of the deck and someone should have to pay. But you can’t blame God, you can’t blame Satan. Hell, you can’t blame anyone. How can you point a fickle finger of fault at one person or being and say “You, You’re the motherfucker responsible for killing this kid!” Life, faith and core human knowledge tell you this on the logical side of your brain. But on the emotional side, you want to make some asshole pay and pay dearly.
            I was talking with a co-worker today, he is more of a friend, about this, he asked me “What would you do?” Without hesitation I said “I’d probably be looking at the wrong end of a gun and then have a few choice words with God and I’ll be damned if he tried to placate me without answering my questions to my fullest satisfaction.” This of course is my hubris, my way of tipping at windmills, rattling my sabers, but it also makes me not feel so helpless.
            If I feel this way, how do the families that are going through this mess on the front lines feel? I can only imagine and replay our conversations in my head. Conversations filled with hope, seasoned with tears and tainted with platitudes usually end in uncomfortable silences, shrugs of shoulders and long heartfelt hugs. After all, we are caring humans and the tragedy of these situations become a glue of sorts that bind us closer together. A glue that we should always have for one another but only seems to make itself known during times of great strife. I know I’m guilty of this sort of behavior but you know, even though this season of pain seems to be filling my life, I know eventually time will pass, people will live or die and other people will move on in their lives.
            The people who survive will eventually laugh again, cry again, love again and they even may have moments where the tragedy they lived through won’t be the only thought in their heads but deep down, down in their soul, there will be a living, breathing void of sooty, rotten pain that will wake them up in the middle of the night. That’s when they will shed tears of loneliness in a dark room, maybe they will be fortunate enough to be able to reach out a cold, shaking hand to a loved one who is softly snoring in the moonlight and they will feel the comfort of that person’s warm skin. Maybe they won’t be able to do that, maybe they will have become so damaged by what they have gone through that their own emotions get turned off and the cancer that took their child will have left them hollow inside, unable to feel the warmth of another human. In essence, they become a zombie.
            I’ve tried to give words of comfort to these ladies, I’ve tried to not show my anger and frustration I feel on their behalf, I don’t know if I’ve succeeded or not. But I do know that for the past few nights, when I’ve come home from long days at work I hug my daughter just a little bit longer and just a tad bit tighter. I can’t imagine what I would do if anything like this happened to her. I don’t want to imagine it, because I know what kind of father I am, I know what I’m capable of and I know that my wrath and anger would rattle the foundations of heaven and douse the flames of hell.
            So I only have one last thing to say, Fuck Cancer, Fuck Cancer in its ugly goat ass.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Skip's Musicology

            Some of my earliest memories involve music. Hell, I even remember the first 45 rpm I ever bought, for those of you who want to know what it was; it was Charlie Daniels Band “The Devil Went Down to Georgia. The first vinyl album I ever got was a gift to me from my cousin Billy, it was Styx “Grand Illusion”, and the first album I ever bought with my own money was Led Zepplin IV. The first band I ever bought all of their vinyl when I could afford it was AC/DC and then Rush. The first time I met my childhood girlfriend, I was playing basketball in my driveway and listening to Mozart’s “Requiem” on public radio simply because I could not get the rock station on my small transistor radio that I had sitting at the foot of the basketball hoop in my families’ driveway in Green Bay.
            To say that music is important to me is a minor understatement. I love music and mostly all music seems to have some place in my life, even some rap. But I have to say, I have yet to discover in my unfathomable CD and vinyl collection any type of POP music. That being said, my daughter is a big fan of POP music and sometimes I wonder where I went wrong. However, the fact that she listens to music and plays music comforts the blow of music I feel has very little impact in life is a bonus to me.
            Sidetrack…. The first rap song I ever heard was by The Rapping Duke, some of you older kids may remember that album. But, I digress… onward.
            Tonight, while at work, insane amounts of memories came flooding into my mind as I stood in the kitchen of the restaurant I work in. The first song they played was “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and the memory that filled my mind was sitting in my house in Green Bay and pulling the 45 off the denim turn table with fold out denim speakers while sitting on my older sisters bed, then pulling off the little red plastic chip that fit inside the hole on the 45 and placing Led Zepplin IV on the turn table and the first guitar licks of “Black Dog” came pumping out of the speakers. My youngest sister, who was about 3, came bouncing into the basement and jumped on the bed and directly on top of Charlie Daniels record sitting next to my thigh. The record broke and with it, my heart. Thinking back now, I am sure I responded inappropriately and with anger. I had bought that disk for .99 cents at a local record store and it had become a symbol of my upcoming independence. My two older sisters tried to calm me down and even comfort me, but I was having none of it. I wanted my record back.
            My anger and frustration was not lulled by the amazing sounds coming out of the monotone speakers. Eventually I calmed down, but I never did finish that listening session of Led Zepplin, I simply put the album back in its sleeve and then put it in the album cover. I then went upstairs to my room and tried to memorize the lyrics to “Stairway to Heaven” on the fold out cover. By the time I had enough money to go back up to the record store to replace my broken 45 months had passed and when I walked into the store I was greeted with a new favorite sound. The music of Molly Hatchet, I quickly found the album and bought it along with Led Zepplin II. When I got home I placed both albums on the Hi-Fi in the living room, first the Hatchet album and then the Zepplin album. While I loved “Flirtin’ With Disaster” the rest of the album left me wanting but when Zepplin II dropped and I heard John Bonom’s “Moby Dick” I was hooked. A few weeks later I picked up Zepplin III.
            All that is history, it wasn’t until the 1980’s that I discovered AC/DC and their great sounds. I became a member of a record club and bought albums when I had money. By the time I moved in with my father in Two Rivers I had a pretty respectable collection. But then Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Recourse Center “PMRC” started to burn records and my father and his wife jumped on board. In order to safeguard my music, most of which were on the PMRC burn list, The house, which was rented, had several upgrades to it which included a basement bedroom with a dropped ceiling, which is where I hid my album collection.
            A few months after I hid the albums we moved. During the move I forgot all about my albums. After the move, when I realized I had forgotten my music I tried to go back and get them, but the people that lived there would not allow me in the house to get them.  In my mind I believe they are still in sitting on four ceiling tiles in that basement, slowly rotting over the past thirty years.
            The only saving grace to my predicament was the consumer introduction of the Sony Walkman and Boomboxes that played cassette tapes. I worked hard to rebuild my old collection as well as add Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Beatles and many more bands to my tape collection. There was so much good rock music that my friends and I would end up buying different cassettes and dubbing them for each other. And, while it was great to be able to listen to the music that spoke to me as loud as I wanted, whenever I wanted, I still missed dropping the needle on an album and listening to all the pops and crackles coming from the speakers before the music came pumping out of the speakers.
            Today, I find myself with a pretty respectable digital collection of my favorite music yet I still miss the sounds of the vinyl. Which brings me to where I am today, you see, a few months ago at a local flea market a new vendor showed up with six milk crates filled with rock albums of the 70’s and 80’s. In the pile of cardboard and vinyl I discovered Zepplin IV and Zepplin II along with Molly Hatchet’s “Flirtin’ With Disaster” Album. I bought the Zepplin’s but passed on the Hatchet, I had to, simply because some crazy owner had written all over the cover of the sleeve. There was also a decent Rolling Stones “Some Girls” album. I almost bought it, but it was missing the album sleeve with the transvestite photos of the band members.
            My middle age is approaching faster than I can ride my motorcycle and I find myself trying to rebuild my lost memories of my youth through the music that comforted me, kept me sane and helped me deal with all the growing pains and angst I was unsuccessfully able to contain. The albums I’ve purchased, which numbers into the teens now, all are finding homes in album frames I purchase from a craft store and then hang on a wall at work. Amongst the aforementioned albums there are several Bruce Springsteen albums, the Beatles “White” album, Twisted Sister albums, The Who’s “Tommy” and many more. I hope to soon be able to look at that wall, see the amazing cover art, turn on my MP3 player and listen to the music that not only speaks to me from a young, inexperienced Skip, but also fill my soul with the fantastic journey from obtuse youth to myopic young adult to the journeyman I am becoming.

            Have a great week, now go listen to the first song you made out to. (Mine was “Sad Eyes” with a girl named Rhonda.)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Nine-Eleven Memories

            I don’t think I’ve ever written down my days events of this date. But, looking back now, twelve years of hindsight, I feel I can actually put down in words that unfortunate date in American history.
            I was working for the Portsmouth Police Department and I was midnights, I started my shift at 2330 hours (11:30 pm for all you non-military folks out there) on September 10th, 2001. The world was still safe, and no one anywhere in the general population had ever heard of Al-Quiada. After roll call we all headed out to our assignments, I was fortunate enough to be assigned a “floating” position, which meant I was on call to back up anyone or fill in for a unit that had to bring a suspect in for questioning or arrest. Now, I should say this at the outset, in the past, the date September 11 was also known as “National Emergency Personnel Day (Get it 911 the phone number you call for help?)
            So knowing this and also knowing that the Police Dispatchers are usually overlooked I made my first stop to a local donut shop and picked up a couple dozen donuts for the voices on the other side of the radio and telephone. This was something I had done in the past and I always felt the dispatching unit appreciated my effort in showing my gratitude for all that they do. The rest of the shift went off without a problem. A few arrests were made but it was mostly a quiet night. When my shift was over, at 0800, I made my way home, kissed my wife and daughter, had a snack and went to bed.
            The reason for this was because I had to get up at 1500 hours and get ready for my part time job. Yes, the same part time job I still have today. I slept like a new born baby that morning. No phone calls, because I turned the ringers off and I placed my pager on the nightstand next to my alarm. When I woke up, I took a shower, changed into my work clothes and drove to work. I didn’t listen turn on the television, nor turn on the radio in my car. I drove in silence and tried to shift my mindset from Law Enforcement Officer to Cheerful Waiter.
            When I walked into the kitchen of the restaurant I immediately knew something was wrong. The Chef/Owner had a small black and white television on and he was watching with great interest and ignoring his pre-dinner prep. I had seen the television mounted on top of the walk in refrigerator for years but I had never seen it broadcasting pictures. I ignored what was being said and went right to work cleaning my section of the restaurant. About halfway through my work, I went into the kitchen to get a broom and saw the Chef had not moved. I stopped and looked up at the grainy black and white pictures. What I saw almost made me fall to my knees. The images, each of us have ingrained in our collective memories, was being broadcast. I don’t know what was being said but I knew the world had changed.
            When I asked the Chef what had happened he looked at me as if I had just asked him why the sun is shining. I then told him I had been asleep since 0800 and he gave me a brief run down of the terrorists attack. I dropped the broom and dust-pan I had collected and immediately called my duty officer. By the time I got through to her ten minutes had passed, I asked her if I needed to come in to work, if I could go to New York or Washington, she just told me to report to work at the normal time.
            I felt helpless, lost, insignificant and a total failure. Why? Because I was unable to do anything. Here I was, a man who had trained all his life to help people and during the most horrific event outside of the Civil War, I was told to stand-by and wait. Surly is a word that could describe me at that moment in my life. I called my wife, she told me more of what had happened and asked if I was okay. I lied. In truth I was seething inside and wanted to hunt down anyone and anything to help right the worlds axis. I prayed that I would be sent North, that prayer went unanswered.
            The few customers that came in that night looked as if they had just walked out of their own personal war-zone. But one set of customers, people who I had never seen before nor have I seen since came in and were laughing, joking and having a grand time. I tried my best to ignore them. But my nature got the best of me. As I was handing out their entrees I asked them “How can you be so happy after all that has happened today?” the party of four looked at me as if I had just shit in the middle of their table. An elderly woman looked at me and asked what I was talking about. I told her and her table-mates, with all the graphic detail and un-adulterated honesty I could muster. They all looked shocked and then informed me they had been traveling down the inter-coastal waterway all day and had not listened to any news report.
            After I left them and their food I went back to watch more of the news reports in the kitchen. When a commercial came on I went back to check on them. They asked for their check and some boxes. I complied and stood near them as they boxed up their uneaten food. One gentleman handed me his credit card without even looking at the bill. I performed my duties and when I got back to the table they were already standing, waiting for me to give them their receipt. When they left, we locked the doors and shut down early for the night.
            I went into work early and changed. When I got to the roll-call room it was filled with other officers who were scheduled off or on vacation or just there to pull extra shifts. That night, none of us talked about what was going on in the world, we just stood there trying to understand the actions of people who seemed to hate us so much for no apparent reason that they would rather die than try to figure out a way to understand.
That’s my story. I could go into deeper detail but right now, I just don’t have it in me.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Night Riding.

            The older I get the more I realize that there are very few things in my life that bring me great joy that I can readily rely on. I’m speaking of course of something that is unique and personal. For some, maybe it’s shutting a good book after finishing it, or opening a new book, or it could be a bubble bath, or sipping a fine wine, I’m sure the list is as numerous as the entire population of earth. When I was younger, I had many things I could pour myself into that would bring me joy and a sense of wholeness, now, not so much. My life is hectic on the slowest of days and damn near impossible on regular days, so, when I get the opportunity to immerse myself into one of the few things that do bring me complete and utter happiness, I take it.
            Tonight was such a night.
            After a long, quiet day off and endless hours of television watching, house cleaning, cooking and utter relaxation, I found myself sitting on my porch wanting to write be creative or just watch something mindless on the internet. It didn’t work, my mind was racing and the thoughts that were bouncing off of my cranium were all vying for attention under the guise that each individual thought is the most important thought and should be addressed immediately. I knew then I needed to do something not so drastic but something that would purge my brain of the randomness and insanity inside of it.
            I walked into my living room, announced to my wife and daughter “I’m going for a night ride.” Upon hearing this news, my wife just smiled at me knowingly and my daughter pretty much jumped up, said she was going with me and went upstairs to change out of her pajamas and into some motorcycle clothes. I grabbed my helmet and keys, walked outside and put the passenger pegs down on my bike. I had not originally planned on bringing my daughter along for a night ride but it felt right.
            When she came outside and mounted my bike and wrapped her arms around my waist I immediately knew I had made the right choice. We left our neighborhood and the sultry heat of summer’s last gasp behind us.
            As we rode down the back roads of Hampton Roads feeling the cool breeze in our face and the rainbow shards of light twinkling off the headlights, taillights and windshields of the cars we passed I felt my mind start to clear. My daughter’s arms squeezed me tight as I throttled down and I tilted my head and heard her singing softly. The same cool wind that swept the sweat from my face also made her lyrics and her alto tones disappear behind us at fifty miles an hour. I felt her head tuck itself into my right shoulder blade and I then did something I rarely do when I ride, I smiled.
            I smiled for the love I felt for her and the love she was emanating towards me. I smiled for the freedom of the open road and the zen like waves of purity and wholeness that washed my brain clear and the cleansing purity of knowing I was doing what I was made to do. Not to be a biker, or a workaholic or even a semi-decent provider, I was at that moment in time, being the best I could be. I was the best father, best husband and the best rider in the world.
            I steered my bike towards the Great Dismal Swamp on South US 17 and the smells of the swamp, the inter-coastal waterway and the cooler air that brought goose bumps to my exposed flesh seemed to add to our shared experience of the open road and the freedom of life’s mundane living. That is when I felt my child release her hold on my waist, relax and lean back against the sissy-bar of the motorcycle. I knew then she had not only bonded with me but she was also realizing the magical properties of the open road, two wheels and the magic of being alone at night on an empty country road.
                I turned on my high beam light because inside of me I had this memory of traveling down a lonesome, country road in Wisconsin with my family and a deer, a doe I believe, jumped out in front of our car and my father trying to avoid it but failing. After the initial hit, the doe being stuck so hard in mid-stride flew over the top of our car and over the trunk, landed on its side. I watched the whole thing happen as if in slow motion from the back seat and as my father hit the brakes as the deer jumped out of the woods and in front of the car I turned my head and watched out the rear window of the car and saw it land on its side. The squeal of the brakes did not distract me from turning in my seat and watching the deer land behind the car. I watched as it struggled to stand up, only to fall on its side.  When the car came to a stop, my father got out and told me to come help him, by the time I got out of the car my father was standing by the head of the dying deer. He knelt down, stoked its neck gently and looked me in the eyes, “It’s suffering and we need to get it off the road.”
                I only nodded. He then grabbed the head of the animal, put his foot on the front haunches of the deer and twisted its neck. The night sounds of crickets were drowned out by a sickening crack.  I watched as the light of life disappeared from the eyes of the unfortunate animal. My father stood up pointed to the back legs and said “Help me drag her off the road.” I complied. The whole incident only took a few moments and yet, I still feel as if this all could have happened yesterday.  This memory flooded my cerebral cortex as I shifted into fifth gear, throttled down and sped up. I can’t imagine what sort of damage a deer could do to a motorcycle and its rider but that fear filled me with an ominous foreboding as I traveled down the back roads of Virginia.
                With my left hand, my clutch hand, I reached down and squeezed my daughter’s leg to let her know I love her and that I am thinking of her. She reached down and gave my hand a quick two squeezes with her hand to let she know she loved me and trusted me.  I knew then that my fears were unfounded. The night was perfect, almost all traffic lights were green, traffic was light and there was no way God or any other supernatural being could look upon the bonding of a child and her parent as being bad. We were protected by our faith in each other, our country and the God of the open road.
                It was at that time I realized my daughter’s summer was truly over. She has to report to school in the morning and while her summer has been filled with trips to Busch Gardens, the beach, sleepovers, movies and trips to other states, her and I have not spent a whole lot of time together. Sure, we had a very nice and educational trip to Monticello (See previous blog 2202-2578). The reason for us not spending time together? Simple, I work between 70 and 80 hours a week and by the time I get home from a long day of working, she has to be in bed and I have to decompress. To be truthful, I have seriously thought of checking into one of those plush California, Texas or Florida rehab clinics just to get some rest and to recuperate myself back to a fully functional individual.
                So, time with my daughter, quality time that is, seems to be a rare commodity in my life. To be honest, bloody honest that is, I yearn for moments where I can actually spend time with my child, to be able to share my views, my wisdom, my concern and my outlook for the future with her. But you know, time on two wheels, with the wind screaming in your ears and tears streaming down your cheeks and a cacophony of thoughts being whisked from your mind and the clarity all of that brings to a person doesn’t make you a better person or even a more complete human, then you are wrong.  Even though we don’t share words, we share the longing of the open road and the clarity it brings us.
                My child used to speak of purchasing a car when she turned sixteen, now she speaks of going to the Harley dealership and picking out a small starter bike. Maybe a sportster. She also talks of pulling up to school on two wheels, not four. Of putting her helmet into her locker and going to class wearing boots and not tennis shoes, her outlook on style is changing into one of practicality and purpose versus style and pop-culture. She speaks of having a scooter soon to get her used to the road and the traffic. All of this talk makes me feel as if I’ve actually had some sort of impact on her young life.
                An impact I rarely get to experience firsthand, yet an impact I feel is necessary in the upbringing of a child.
                I want my daughter to be able to drive a stick shift, an automatic and a motorcycle. I want her to see the magic in the open road, the simple things and the amazing, mind clearing magic that two wheels, open road and no stop lights afford.
                I hope I’ve succeeded.
                Have a great week.