Tuesday, October 27, 2015

For Mike S.

Johnny Cash’s gravely and deep baritone voice fill my ears right now. He’s singing about the Grim Reaper taking souls. Which is fitting, the Reaper took a friend of mine today. I’m not happy about it. I’m not pissed off, just saddened down to my soul.
            My pal’s name, Mike S.
            I remember the first time I met him, we were at church, I was working in the audio visual booth, well, on the cameras actually. I was getting my headset and preparing to head out to my box where my camera was set up. Mike was escorted into the booth by our director. Mike had a big grin on his face.
            But it wasn’t his smile that caught my attention at first, no, it was his full head of neatly trimmed, stark white hair. As white as Santa Clause’s. He was about my height and only a few years older than me but I felt an immediate connection to him. When he was introduced around his smile grew bigger and his quiet voice greeted us each as if he’d known us for years. His handshake, firm and confident. When he spoke to you, he looked you directly in your eyes.
            We didn’t become instant friends, which was fine with me. For you see, we had that in common. Like me, he never judged a person on first impressions, no, he took his time, observed you and if something was amiss in your world and it showed in your actions, he took the time to figure out what was wrong and see if he could help.
            Him and I worked the same shift on the cameras every third Sunday. When our church expanded, him and I stayed on the same shift even though we had an influx of cameramen. Eventually, his family and mine became friends. He had a lovely wife and two beautiful daughters. All of us went out to lunches, and occasionally, dinners. And, on rare occasions, when the Green Bay Packers were playing the Chicago Bears, we’d get together at his house and watch the games.
            My daughter was much younger then. Barely seven, I remember her sitting on the floor of their living room and playing with their pet dog while we sat on the couch and ate nachos, tacos and various other football food. Mike and his wife made us feel welcomed and comfortable, even though I rarely feel comfortable in social situations.
            Mike was able to break through those barriers.
            When our work at the church increased, he was the only other cameraman who stepped up to the plate to work almost every Sunday for two services. Between services, we’d go up to the A/V room, sit on the floor, eat yogurt, granola bars and bananas and talk about work and how things were going with our family.
            When he confessed to me the troubles and pains he was having with his wife’s fight with cancer, we prayed, we hugged and we cried. When he expressed frustration with work, or with life in general, I comforted him. Just as he did with me.
            When our church started falling apart, he and I were the only two A/V guys left standing. I felt bad for him. I had been promoted to director, he was still on cameras not a few weeks before. When the dust of destruction settled, him and I would meet before church, discuss how we would block the shots. One of our pastors’ had gotten another director to come in and help out. We liked him and his wife, yet we didn’t always agree with what they wanted to do. But we remained.
            Then, one Sunday he dropped a bomb on me. His family was leaving the church and going to start attending another. I was heartbroken but I couldn’t stop him. I knew there was nothing I could say to keep him or his family in our flock. I just nodded and wished him and his family well.
            When I found out his wife was cancer free… I rejoiced.
            When I found out he had cancer… I cursed and prayed.
            When I found out his treatments weren’t going well… I cursed more and prayed more.
            When I found out he was in the hospital… I cursed so much I got hoarse. Then I prayed.
            When he got out of the hospital, I reached out to him. It wasn’t the first time I had done so, but I was hoping to hear from him. I called and left voice messages, I texted and even posted on facebook. He never answered back. Can’t say as I blame him. I know when I’m ill, the last thing I want to do is talk to anyone.
            Then, when I found out last week he was back in the hospital, I cried, I prayed and I cursed. I wanted to go see him. I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to tell him how much he meant to me. But I didn’t. Instead, I went to see older friends.
            Friends who I believe could have waited.
            Then, I found out things were going south fast. But I still didn’t go see him. Instead, I headed out to see my older pals once again.
            When I found out he was going home for hospice care… I was empty inside. I cried.
            When I found out he died… I was frozen.
            My friend, a man who had been in my life for barely a decade had expired without me telling him how much he meant to me. To my family and how not a week goes by and I don’t think about him and his family.
            I know he left in peace and tranquility. But I am anything but peaceful and tranquil about this.
            Another person who actually took time out of his life to get to know me and still liked me for who I was is now gone. I am down one more friend. No, I am down one more very close friend. I don’t have many. Three maybe four left in my life and I’m getting to old to even try and find another.
            So I’m going to say it here and now what I should have said at least a week ago:
            “Mike, you were a true friend to me. Your friendship meant more to me than I will ever be able to express in words. Your faith was something that I wished I’d had. Your commitment to family was enviable and your service to this country and church was admirable. I love you and I hope that you are in a better place today.”

            As I wrap this up, Johnny Cash is now singing about meeting again. I suppose that is a fitting ending to this blog. Because I can’t wait to meet Mike again.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Interview

“You’re going to be interviewed at one o’clock today.” My supervisor informed me upon our first meet up this morning.
            “Interviewed? For what? I can’t be interviewed. I haven’t shaved all week, my shirts a mess and I don’t interview well.” My excuses peppered out of my mouth like bullets from a Gatling gun.
            “Doesn’t matter. They want to know about the trains, the collection and the winter wonderland layout. You are the expert, you get interviewed.”
            “C’mon, you can’t make me do this. You stand on camera and I’ll feed you the answers.”
            “Nope, I’ve got to talk about other things. Also, they are going to ask about your qualifications and how you got started here.”
            “I’m sick. I need to go home.”
            “You’re not sick. You’re not going home and you will do the interview.”
            “I’ll give you a hundred dollars.” This made him pause. Then he shook his head and said “Nope, this is all you.”
            “I hate you.”
            “Olive Juice too sugar pants. Don’t be late, it’s at one… and in case you don’t understand that, thirteen hundred hours.” And with that, he turned and left.
            I walked back to my office and looked for something I could break. I couldn’t find anything so I sat at my desk and seethed. Pretty soon, my thoughts of suicide or “accidentally” breaking a non-essential body part faded to the tasks I needed to do for the day. Also, one of my volunteers showed up and he was full of energy and looking for work to do. Which is good, this provided me an excuse to forget all about the interview.
            By the time I was supposed to be on hand to do the interview, I’d forgotten all about it. I was actually in the midst of building a scene for Winter Wonderland and gathering up supplies I would need to finish the task. Which is about the time my walkie-talkie squawked and a disembodied voice requested my presence to the interview site. I cursed under my breathe and tried to come up with an excuse to not show up. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t come up with an idea outside of calling in paramedics to the museum. So I trudged down to the interview room.
            My supervisor was standing there, a rictus grin on his face made me want to punch him. The interviewer was standing beside his camera man and they both were grinning at me. The LED lights from the camera was casting an eerie glow on the Christmas train layout I designed and built with the help of several people.
            “I hate you.” I repeated my sentiments.
            “You’ll do fine snuggle bear. It’ll be over before you know it.”
            “I’m not your snuggle bear today. Eat hot death.”
            “You two done with your mating ritual?” the interviewer asked.
            I stared daggers at him and wished he’d spontaneously combust and that his flames would leap onto the cameraman and they’d both go up in a fiery winter fueled blaze.
            “He’ll be okay, just tell him where to stand and ask him questions.” My boss said and then turned to me and pointed a finger at my chest “No snark, no wit and no dick jokes.” He warned.
            I shrugged and realized I would rather be on death row at that very moment.
            “Stand here.” The cameraman said.
            I looked at him. He was pointing to a spot on the floor between his camera and the front of the train layout.
            I shrugged and moved my feet to the spot. I then looked at the man performing the interview and said “You sure you want to interview me? I don’t look good. I take terrible pictures and video. I also have very little control over what comes out of my mouth.”
            “You’ll be fine. Besides, no one knows more about the collection or trains than you do.”
            “Not true, I know several guys who know more than I do about trains. If you want, I’ll call a couple of them and have them down here in an hour.”
            “Just how many guys would you have to call to be able to give me all the information you have about this stuff?”
            “No clue. But I can get them here for you.”
            “Nope, no time. You’re here. You’re approved and you’ll do fine.”
            Moments later I was being interviewed. It took half an hour. When we were done, I started to walk away and then the cameraman stopped me.
            “We didn’t mic him. The audio is shit. We need to do a retake.”
            My blood froze. I started to head for the exit. My boss stopped me, pointed back to the camera and like a big wimp I turned and slugged my way back to the one eyed monster I loathe.
            A few moments later, I was miced up, and being asked the same questions again. However, this time, I was informed I could shorten my answers. Which I did. When we finished I was told my first interview, the one without the mic was better, more eloquent and more touching.
            I informed the interviewer that I can’t recite verbatim what I’d previously said nor should I be expected to. Which is about the time he told me he interviewed me a couple years ago and that I told the most touching story out of all the people he’d interviewed. He was hoping to catch that magic again.
            “Then ask me different questions.” Was all I could answer.
            His response was this “Tell me how you feel when you see people looking at what you do.”
            Here was my answer:
            “How do I feel? Good. I love being able to stand in the background and listen to parents explain to kids what they are seeing. To hear squeals of joy and gasps of surprise when they walk into a room where I’ve worked for endless hours to create something that will bring to the surface of their consciousness the joy and wonderment they felt as children. I don’t want credit, I don’t need to be acknowledged, I just need to know that what I’ve done, what I’ve toiled at is appreciated. Nothing more, nothing less. I feel a great sense of pride when return visitors from years past recognize changes that have been made and I’m there to overhear the comments be they good or bad. I feel pride in knowing I helped create a sense of wonder in kids of all ages as they walk away from their experience and I feel a sense of satisfaction when I hear people talk about going home and trying to create something similar to what they’ve seen. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I see the wonder in visitor’s eyes. I feel like I matter in some small way in the inspiration they have garnered from not just my hard work but the hard work of my co-workers. That’s how I feel.”
            “Perfect. We’re done.” Was his answer.
            As I walked away, I silently kicked myself in the ass for actually being human for a few moments.
            Have a great week. And avoid interviews.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Our Own Petard

Anger, frustration, disappointment and defensiveness… where do these emotions come from? I have an inkling of an idea but that is all it truly is… an idea. See, I’m not a brain doctor, or a social expert or even a human relations board certified mentalist. Nope, I’m just an observer of human behavior and interactions.
            A voyeur so to speak. For example, if I go to the mall, airport, park or even at either one of my jobs, if I’m not careful, I end up watching people for endless hours. Usually it starts of innocently enough, just wondering where they are coming from, where they are going, what they are buying and if they are truly happy. Then, my maniac gets loose from his chains and all sorts of guttural thoughts come to mind. Is that man cheating on his wife with that woman? Has that kid just stolen something from that store? Does that young girls parents know she is not at school in the middle of the day and that she is at the mall with someone who is at least twenty years her senior?
            Yeah, and those are just the light thoughts. What I don’t see is a young couple out shopping for items for their first apartment. Or the fact that this young kid just finished his shift at the store he is currently employed at or even that the man is taking his daughter our shopping for her birthday and also to celebrate that she is an honor roll student. Nope, my head goes right to the dark side of human nature. Which can suck in life. Always seeing the bad and fighting to see the good.
            I could blame television and social media. It would be easy. After all, if any of you ever sit at home during the day and flip through the endless channels that are available to us, you will see what I mean. Steve Wilkos, Oprah, Maury Povich, Whatever-Court, any reality show and the news is enough to drive you to the dark side and call Emperor Palpatine your daddy. However, if like me, you get disgusted and try to find something on the internet to watch, like youtube videos or shows on demand, it just gets worse. I don’t understand how a video with Neil DeGrasse Tyson talking to congress on space exploration only has a few hundred thousand views and some idiot teenagers fighting in a school parking lot over something inane has over two million views.
            Actually, that’s a lie, I do understand why. It’s because at our core, as human animals, we would rather see conflict and ass-whooping over trying to educate ourselves and learn something that could be helpful to our future existence. Which is why I suppose I avoid popular shows on the black box and on the internet.
            I find myself listening to debates between creationists and atheists or watching informative videos or programs based on the advancement of the human race. No, I don’t watch cat videos, or fight videos and I try my damndest to not watch any reality based programming. It’s not easy, simply because there are times when people in my life are watching them and I can’t avoid them. When this happens, I usually end up just replaying what I’ve heard or seen on an educational podcast or video and replay the information in my head and try to understand a deeper meaning to what was said.
            I suppose my point to this so far is, we, as a human race, as americans, end up taking our cue from what we input into our own brain. If we see on television or internet men and women fighting and bickering over trivial bullshit even though they are not married and the woman has four kids from three different daddies and the man has five kids from four different women yet they both expect each other to be faithful to each other seems like a contradiction in human intelligence. After all, how can you expect someone to live up to your expectations even though you can’t live up to those expectations yourself? You can’t. And I’m sure I could look up on the internet the probability numbers on this situation, but I don’t want to. Because it just makes my head hurt and my heart ache for our future.
            Which brings me to my initial point, where does all the strife come from? I’d like to be able to just point to the media and blame them, but I can’t. Simply because the media only broadcasts what is consumed by the public. If the public likes to watch idiots fight on television over paternity tests or misdemeanor damaged property, then they’ll give it to them. If the public wants to watch half naked self-proclaimed celebrities argue the trivialities over who has the best smelling vagina, then so be it. But be warned media, I won’t partake. Sure, I’ll eventually get the information through the social networks weeks, months and sometimes years later, but to expect me to stay current on the comings and goings of the shenanigans of the media decreed kings and queens of the world at whatever moment they feel. Also, these pronounced rulers of pop culture seem to change not just on a daily basis but on an hourly basis as well. Which even writing about gives me a migraine.
            This is the crux of my problem. You see, I believe that this is where most of all the bad shit in life comes from. Not the media, they are just corporations trying to make money. Which they do through commercial sales. The only way to get good commercial sales is by showing the numbers of the people watching the programming they have. Which means, the corporations are subject to the wants and desires of the general public. Which means, we, as media consumers actually have the power to improve what we watch and what is programmed for us on not just the airwaves but also the internet. I have little faith in the American general public though. It seems they, as a whole, more than relish in the travails of the trivial.
            So, when I feel angry, frustrated, defensive or even insulted, it would be easy for me to point the finger at the media but I’d be pointing to the wrong culprit. The true culprit is the wonderful men and women of this country I served to protect and serve not just in the united states military but also as an employee of a law enforcement agency. For they are the true guilty party.
            Guilty in the fact that they demand to see people more devoid of humanity than they themselves are, just so they can feel better about their lives and how insecure in their positions they are. They thrive on the angst and frustration of people they deem less intelligent, less righteous and even less moral than they are, and those feelings in turn become a spark for their own lack of self-control when a situation comes up where they should act level headed and sane. Nope, they shelve those thoughts and dive head long into an empty pool of disaster because that is what they have seen and learned from. They end up imitating the information they themselves have demanded. Then, when the outcome is more explosive than what they thought it should be, and they are surprised… I laugh, because I know, they are only responsible for their own actions by their own actions because of their own actions.

            Have a great week.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Hopeful Birthdays

Next Tuesday marks the sixteenth birthday of my daughter. An epic birthday for just about everyone. I’m happy for her. She is seemingly well adjusted. Has good relationships with myself and her mother as well as just about everyone in her life. She likes school, has friends and is involved in several extracurricular activities. In other words, she is a lot more advanced at her age than I was.
            All of this is makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something. I mean, after all, as parents, all we really want is for our kids to have it better than we did when we were at whatever particular age they are. I like to think I’ve been somewhat successful in this goal. After all, when I was her age nothing in my life was concrete. Most days, I didn’t even know when or if I was going to eat, let alone where I was going to lay my head for the night.
            As for my birthdays, they were never really anything special and I don’t remember very many of them. However; for my child, I’ve tried to always give her what she’s wanted for her date of entrance into this world. I like to think I’ve been successful with this. Of course, I’ve always had help in doing making her special days come true.
            This year, her wish was quite simple. She wanted a girl’s weekend in a hotel at a beach. Since her birthday is in October it is off season for most beach front resorts. Now, financially, I really can’t afford for her to go off for a full weekend, or even one day. Yet, when I thought about her request I really couldn’t come up with a reason to say no. Aside from the bills. On the heels of that thought was maybe the maniac of my conscious saying “Do it. Damn the bills. Let her have her weekend.” Of course my pragmatic side attempted to skewer the maniac with a flaming spear gun. The maniac ducked, laughed maniacally and shouted “LET HER GO!” he then bum rushed the pragmatist in my head, kicked him in the junk and then proceeded to stomp the level headed imaginary sense of self into a greasy, bloody puddled of primordial ooze.
            Yup, the maniac won, and in doing so, my daughter won.
            She, my offspring, two of her friends and the mother of my child are all going on a road trip starting tomorrow. They have a beach front hotel room, a swimming pool, a metric ton of snacks, music and boy talk to catch up on over the next forty-eight hours of estrogen fueled reprieve.
            I couldn’t be happier for them. If not a bit jealous.
            I mean, I can’t imagine how much fun they are going to have. I can imagine what I would have done at sixteen with two of my best pals and my father or father figure in a hotel room at a beach resort for a weekend. Especially since where they are going is going to have a ridiculously large car show going on all weekend. Not that these girls are gear heads. Although my kid loves Harley’s and Mustangs, I’m sure she will see a few motorized transports that will catch her eye. Not to mention, she has her learners permit and wants nothing more to do than drive all day and all night. Yeah, I’m sure they are going to have a blast.
            I’m glad I could do this for them.
            Which brings me to this past week.
            I met a man and his mother this week. When I met them, they looked as if they’d been run through some sort of medieval torture device. I saw the stress and pain on their faces and in their eyes. So I talked to them. What I found out was tragic.
            I’m not going to go into too many details of their situation simply because I don’t have permission to do so. What I will say is that the man with the help of his mother are from another state and embroiled deeply in a custody battle for the man’s four year old little girl. It seems this battle has been going on for several years and across several state lines. Somehow, they ended up in my adoptive burg I like to call home. Also, oddly enough, they ran into me, the semi-self-proclaimed “Prince of Portsmouth”.
            I say semi-self-proclaimed because I never used that title until a good pal of mine called me it one day. That, however; is a story for another day. Regardless, once they laid their burden upon my shoulders I knew I had to help them in any way I could. When they informed me of their local attorney’s name, I recognized it as one of the best family practices in town and told them so. I also informed them that I knew the attorney’s personally and when they meet them again, tell them I said hello.
            When the mentioned the judge who is handling the case, coincidentally enough, I knew him as well. I assured them that they were in good hands and he is a just and fair man. Which is about the time the grandmother of the child pulled out her phone and showed me pictures of her grand-daughter. A small, curly blonde haired, blue eyed cutie, playing in the snow. Making snow angels, snowballs and hugging her grandparents. My heart leapt with happiness to see such a wonderful moment in life. Then it tore apart. Thoughts of this young lady growing up without the influence of her father or grandparents and all the joys of frolicking in snow, baking cookies, making hot cocoa or even just enjoying a walk amongst the fall leaves while holding hands of the ones who care for her was almost too much to bear.
            So I gave them more information about my fair city. I told them who they should speak with in the court system and who would help them. Gave them the names of the people who make sure the proper paperwork gets filed on time and filed properly and without mistakes. I encouraged them to look up these people and I also informed them that if they were religious and thought they needed prayer, I could help them in that aspect as well.
            They were grateful for the knowledge and then asked me where they could get pictures of the child printed. I readily told them.
            When they departed, they didn’t seem so distraught, so oppressed or even so hopeless. No, they actually seemed happy. Which is cool.
            Not twenty-four hours later, I got word that they in fact had gone to court, met with some people I had advised them to meet with and everything went off pretty much without a hitch. Also, I received a friend request on facebook from the father of the young lady.
            I don’t know why I did all this for them. Not that I really did much really. I just tried to help them work their way through southern politics and paperwork. Most days, I’d just wish them well.
            Maybe it is because my daughter is so near and dear to me. Maybe I can’t imagine a father not being able to have a healthy and wonderful relationship with their kid. All I know is that something inside of me compelled me to help them. So I did. And now, I hope for the best outcome for them.
            After all, there is no greater joy in a parent’s life than when they are able to make the dreams of their children come true. If you don’t believe me and you are a parent, just wait until Christmas morning when your offspring open that unobtainable gift that youscoured the internet for, fought other adults at the toy store for or even called in more than several favors to obtain.
            The joy, the love, the sense of accomplishment and the unadulterated bliss a parent feels at those moments is more than one human can humanly contain. Nope, it has to be shared. Shared with friends, family and passer-by’s. It’s what we do.
            We give the gift of small miracles in the hopes that one day our children will be able to do the same for their kids. A lesson they learn from the feet of their parents.
            Goose, Happy Birthday! I hope you have a great weekend and that you have a hundred more miracle birthdays ahead of you.
            For the rest of you, you know what I’m going to say…

            Have a great week.

Friday, October 2, 2015


Tomorrow, if all works out, I will be doing my second ever public reading. That is, if the weather cooperates for me and my fellow readers. Unfortunately, two writers have already canceled on us. I can’t blame them. After all, their trips would have them drive about five hours here, relax for a bit, get a bite to eat, read their tales, go to their hotel room, sleep, wake up and drive home another five hours in rain. So yeah, no one can blame them.
            In light of the recent meteorological events, we have been preparing for this night since February. By we, I mean myself, my buddy Mark, my co-worker Slim and all the writers. We’ve been meeting in person, talking on phones, building websites, writing stories, passing out flyers, practicing our readings of stories and fighting over food, snacks, beverages and any and all basic details of the logistics of the event.
            Yet through all of this, I’ve been practicing my story and helping another writer with theirs. Which is cool since this is actually going to be her first reading and she was and most likely still is, very nervous and that is to be expected. After all, I remember how nervous I was last year and I can only imagine what she must be going through. I hope she does as well as she has in practice.
            As for the other guys who are reading, I know they’ve had years of experience. They are professional, well as professional as writers can be on a dismal, rainy October evening.
            No, my biggest concern is with the attendance. I’m hoping for a good turnout. That the weather won’t be a deterrent for visitors who’ve been looking forward to attending. Yeah, to say that I’m nervous about attendance is like saying the universe is big. I have no idea what is going to happen and I don’t like it.
            People are worried about weather, hurricanes and getting stranded. I don’t worry about such trivial occurrences. I worry whether or not we can pull this event off and if it is a success, can we do it again next year.

            So where does this all lead too? Simple, if you are in the greater Hampton roads area, and you have nothing planned for October 3rd between 7 and 9 pm, get yourself and loved ones to 420 High St. and support your local horror writers who are starving for your attention.

Have a great week.