Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Years Eve

December 31, 2016

New Years Eve

It’s almost 10:30 pm here on the east coast. I’ve only been home for twenty minutes. It’s been a long day. I woke up at 5:30 am this morning and an hour later I was at work. When I finished that job, I went to another with nary a break between the two.

I’m tired, I’m sore and all I really want to do is sleep but it is New Years Eve. We are supposed to stay awake and greet the new year. We are supposed to renew our hope in humanity and life in general.
And yet, here I sit, on my porch in fifty degree weather, smoking a good cigar and listening to the idiots in my adopted home town fire off their weapons like a bunch of drunken rednecks stranded in the woods.

I do have company however; Freddie is standing guard at the top of the porch steps. He’s a black cat so it is almost hard to discern his shape against the shadows that seem to be dancing in the wind. Actually, all I can really see is he outline. He’s crouched down and staring out into the blackness of my front yard and street. As if he’s standing guard against any evil that may even think about crossing the threshold of my or most likely, his domain.

He’s quite peculiar and has remained a source of amusement and confusion to me for the past year. Especially now that he seems to be enjoying the warmth of the interior of my home. For how long he will decide to stay here I’ve no idea and when he’s gone I’m sure I’ll miss him, but I won’t miss my feet being bitten in the middle of the night or how he seems to derive much pleasure from trying to suffocate me in the middle of the night by deciding to sleep on my face. No, I don’t think I’d miss that.

Onward.

The general consensus, if you go by social media that is, that 2016 has been the worst year ever. I can’t disagree. While I was affected by the passing of the multitude of actors, singers and other pop culture icons, that was not the main source of pain for most of us. Well, that is what I believe and since this is my blog, I can say that.

So, are we all in agreement? That 2016 can suck it? Suck it hard? Good.

But, I want to try and twist this around a bit. I want to look at some of the good things that I saw, that I experience and that made me feel good this past year.

I saw new born babies and I got to hold a few of them. That always makes me feel good. And for some reason, when I hold one, I can’t shut up. I end up talking to them for what seems like hours. Much to the bemusement and confusion of people around me. Babies just fill me with joy and hope. They are literally a tabula rasa, they can do and be anything. It’s amazing just being near them.

I got to hang out with some old friends and make new ones. That is always a good thing. Especially when said friends are genuinely happy to see you and be with you.

My relationship with my mom and my sisters has grown. To tell you the truth, if someone in my life today went back in time and told the twenty year old Skip that he would have a great relationship with the women from his past in just a few decades, well, that Skip would have laughed, flipped them the bird and walked away. But today, it’s not like that. That is truly an amazing thing.

Finally, my daughter… that young lady never ceases to amaze me. Her maturity, her generosity, her dedication and even her work ethic are to be lauded. She is not one of these modern teens who thinks everything should be given to her. She believes in hard work. She believes in being rewarded for doing a good job just by getting her paycheck. She has a genuine respect for others even if they don’t show her respect and she fights for what she believes in. (Don’t believe me? Then you’ve never seen her face down the entire school board and give a speech where all the board members changed their minds on a decision they felt was permanent. Yeah, she did that.) 

Lastly, you folks. You, my dear reader, you fill me with a sense of right. That what I’m doing is right. That my seemingly mindless brain droppings have some affect. Also, that occasionally, my published stories are liked as well. You guys make me feel like this year wasn’t as bad as all others seem to say it was.

Honorable mention… My crew in reading. By this, I mean not just Ron, Craig, Jezzy and Gregg, but also Slim and Mark and Clara, you guys amazed me by how much work, effort and shear gall, helped us all put on what I think was a great local experience of horror fiction. Yes, I know I’m the Donnie Downer of the group, the one who is never satisfied and a perfectionist in all the details, yet somehow, you all see past it and keep me on track to help put on a really cool event.

Okay, enough of this last blog of 2016… onward to 2017 where all our hopes, dreams and wishes are still fresh and can come true.



Monday, December 26, 2016

Absence and Pride

It’s been two weeks since my last blog. Not because I was sworn to radio silence but because my laptop decided it did not want to work. Because of this and the fact I don’t have the money to purchase a new one or even get the one I have repaired, I am trying to learn a new system with a computer whose logo is a fruit and not a flag.

So there is a learning curve. Not a steep one but one none the less. So, in truth, I’ve no idea what I’m doing with this word cruncher program. I wish I did. I miss the old word cruncher. It actually fixed mistakes I made as I was making them and it let me know how awful my writing was. This one, not so much.
So, enough excuses, on to the business.

I hope everyone has had a wonderful and remarkable holiday season and that you are all looking forward to the end of 2016 as much as I am. To say that this year has been a kick in the pants is an understatement. 

Truth be told, I’ve hated this year since even before it started.

Each day from January 1st, until now has been an effort in futility. For every three steps I’ve managed to take forward, I’ve ended up being pushed back four steps by life. Whether it’s car problems, work problems, life problems… well, you get the idea. Everything seems to just get in the way.

Then, on the rare occasion, when the sun is shining, the birds are chirping and everything seems to be going well, you know, those moments when you think everything looking up… life just comes along and kicks you right in the nether regions.

And that is what 2016 has been to me and almost everyone I know.

So, enough talk about the beast of the year. Onward…
My daughter had a great Christmas. A well deserved and hard earned Christmas. A Christmas that is going to be one of the few in her life that she will remember and I’m proud to be able to say that I was one of a handful of people who were able to make it all possible.

She broke down and cried on more than several occasions and she was humble enough to acknowledge the sacrifices people made to make her wishes come true. So much so, she called and thanked everyone involved.

A very proud moment indeed.

I hope you all get to experience pride in your offspring now or in the future. Seeing the growth, responsibility and maturity come to fruition after many years of hard work. Not just the physical work, but also the mental and emotional work that go into raising a family.

Fights with spouses over conflicting ideas over what is best for the child or in some cases, children; whose final decisions have outcomes you will rarely see. Simply because as parents, we are rarely around when our children show the results of the efforts we put forth in their lives.

I count my daughter as my biggest blessing. As one of the, no, she is the greatest accomplishment of my life. I believe she always will be.

This is my Christmas wish for you, my dear reader, that your child, your children will make you as proud of them as I am proud of my daughter.


Have a great week.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Unexpected

“You’re very interesting.” The reporter said to me and followed up with “I’d like to interview you around Thanksgiving or in early December if that’s okay.”
            I shrugged and said “I’m not really that interesting, I’m just a normal guy.”
            “Well, you have a very interesting story and I’d like to do a piece on you for the paper.”
            I looked over to where my wife was sitting, she was only a few feet away and there was a very odd grin on her face. The kind of grin I rarely see. One that said “Ha, I’ve been telling you for years and you’ve been hiding for years. I’m right, you’re wrong and no everyone will know.”
            I hung my head shook it a bit and agreed to the reporter’s request. My main thought, hope, dream was that between May and December the reporter would forget about me. After all there were seven months between meeting her and when she wanted to interview me. So the way I figured it, she’d completely forget about me between then and now.
            So imagine my surprise when I got an email from this lady two weeks ago following up on our conversation from May. Her inquiry was professional, polite and sincere. I responded back that my schedule was pretty full and the only time I’d be available on a Saturday morning. She agreed and asked if my wife could be there and that she was bringing a photographer.
            I wanted to say no.
            I should have said no. But I didn’t.
            I agreed and when I got home, I told my wife. Both her and my daughter smiled and laughed at me. They knew my level of comfortability with this sort of thing. Then, they chided me, teased me and basically played upon my fears and nervousness. All in good fun and I took it as such.
            Now, on the eve of the interview, I find myself running hundreds of questions through my head and then trying to answer them. Maybe I’ll blow the interview, maybe I’ll be struck down with a case of laryngitis. Hopefully, I’ll catch the flu and end up in the hospital and be unable to answer any questions.
            However; and this is an addendum to the email exchange and what I’m writing now.
            You see, not two days after I agreed to the interview I was standing on the second floor of the Winter Wonderland set up talking to the woman in charge of public relations for the museums and she commented that there should be an expose done on the exhibits crew and the museum and all the work that goes into setting up the exhibit. I agreed.
            As the conversation progressed I let slip that I was about to be interviewed by the newspaper. She got really excited and wanted to know why I hadn’t told anyone. I shrugged and said that I didn’t think it was that important. She then informed me that I was supposed to inform my supervisor, her and the director of the museums. When I asked why, she told me that the City Manager wants to know about any press that deals with city employees.
            My blood went cold and I could feel myself getting light headed. Why? Simple, while I’m proud of what I do and I love my job more than any other job I’ve ever had, I just don’t really like being in the spotlight too much. I’m afraid I’ll say something stupid, or I’ll revert back to my sailor talk or maybe even fall back into my Midwestern lilt. Basically, I’m afraid I’ll come off looking like a total idiot.
            Or, maybe that someone out in the great big world will find out what I do and then they’ll want to take my job from me. That really would suck.
            Now I should say that everyone in my life feels I’ll do well. I’ll come out looking like some great guy. They support this, they can’t wait for the article to be published. They say all will be fine and that this is a good thing.
            I don’t know. I’m skeptical. I’ve seen articles in the paper where the information that is conveyed is not so positive. Where the person or people who are the subject of the article comes out arrogant, smug and sometimes, even a bit despicable.
            I don’t want that. So, I suppose it’s up to me. After all, I’m the one who has to answer the questions. I’m the one responsible for what comes out of my mouth. I’m the one in charge of my own truth.
            And I’m afraid that my own truth is an ugly, mean, cruel and even disgusting truth.
            I’m told it’s not.
            I guess I’ll find out in a few weeks.
            Wish me luck.

            Have a great week.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Zen of a Rock

I am a rock in the stream of life. The water passes over me and onto me and tries to permeate my hardened exterior. Only I don’t give into it. Sure over time small fissures will be created by the onslaught of the never ending barrage, for the most part though, I am unmoved.
            Occasionally a fish will jump out of the water and I will stare at it in amazement. The beauty of the sunlight glistening off its scales. The majesty of the gleaming streams of colors that fill the air around it. I wonder how long it can last outside of its natural habitat. Then as quickly as it arrived, it disappears once again into the place where it truly belongs. And I feel a void in my existence.
            Now and again a turtle will crawl on my sun baked top and lay there and take a nap. It warms itself in the glow of the sun and absorbs the heat I am exuding. The relationship between us is one of mutual benefit. I get some company for a while and the turtle warms its cold blooded body in order to move onward with its life. When it is finally warm or when it gets hungry or curious, it moves on and I am again left alone to enjoy the peace and tranquility of my own existence. And another void forms.
            However; on the bad days, not the stormy days in life where a deluge precipitation pelts me from above or the freezing wind, ice and snow try to tear me apart, but the days when birds land on me and try to claim me for their own. They do battle as if I’m some sort of commodity to be bartered and traded for. They make me feel less than what I know I am. Like my existence is only useful if it is being used by them for the advancement of their lives. Days like that are awful. They sit on me, screeching and yelling in a cacophony of sound. As if the louder they become the more important they are. They hope that the largest and loudest gets claiming rights to sit on me and observe the world from my vantage point. Never do they realize that the largest part of me is buried under the stream. I just shake my granite head in frustration of their ignorance and try to ignore them. Which is about the time they start shitting on me. And then they leave. The good thing about when they leave. There is no void I feel
            I am alone again. Waiting for a turtle or fish to come by and make my passage through the present as enjoyable as it once was.
            This is my Zen. This is why I’m the rock in the stream of time.

            Have a great week.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving

The Wampanoag Indians in 1621 invited the Plymouth Pilgrims to their harvest feast. This has become known as the first Thanksgiving. However it wasn’t until President Abe Lincoln in 1863 declared it a national holiday that it became official. Now, it wasn’t that people weren’t celebrating Thanksgiving, it was just that the leaders of the colonies and then states held Thanksgiving whenever they pleased. So, like the great unifier he was, Lincoln made it universal for all of America.
            What does all this mean? Simple, we’ve been feasting and celebrating and giving thanks for 365 years now.
            And now I find myself in a bit of a pickle. You see, I could go on writing about the history of Thanksgiving. I could tell you about how President George Washington made the first official proclamation for Thanksgiving. I could tell you that at the first Thanksgiving that it wasn’t even called Thanksgiving. That the menu had lobster on it, seal and even swans for the survivors of the Mayflower. Or, I could tell you about my day and what I am thankful for. Or I could just combine the two in some sort of abomination of writing.
            I think... I think… I think I will just wing it. Why not? What’s the worst that could happen?
            This year Thanksgiving was an intimate affair for me and my family. No traveling. No guests and a small menu. We have our own traditions here in Casa de Novak. Especially when it comes to food. Thanksgiving we have turkey, Christmas is spiral cut honey glazed ham… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
            Weeks ago I had the menu set in my mind. I knew what I would cook, what sides we’d have and what desserts we would tantalize our palettes with. It is almost a set menu every year. Sure the sides may change, but we always have Turkey and mashed potatoes. So last week, when I stopped at the store and picked up a fifteen pound turkey and a bunch of sides and seasonings I wasn’t really thinking I was on my motorcycle.
            When I got the bags back to Bernadette, my motorcycle, I quickly filled my saddle bags with all the small bags. Seasoning, potatoes, fruits, veggies and milk took up all the room in both bags. Leaving me standing in the parking lot holding a fifteen pound frozen, plastic wrapped fowl in my arms. Now, understand this, you cannot operate a motorcycle with just one hand. Not unless you have an automatic clutch. It’s not happening. And, my model of Harley does not have an automatic clutch. So I tromped back into the store, went to the sparse hardware, automotive, miscellaneous aisle and found one small bag of what can only be described as the saddest excuse for bungee cords ever made. I purchased them, went outside and strapped that fifteen pound, frozen ball of poultry to my bike, all the while mumbling and cursing to myself. When it was secure enough, I climbed on, started her up and left the parking lot. But not before witnessing some very odd looks from other customers entering and exiting the store. I didn’t care. I’d secured my feast.
            Over the course of the next few days I made regular trips to the store to pick up other items I’d need, always making sure to take into account the limited space I had to place them into. Things went well.
            That is until a few days ago when I started to suffer from insomnia. Sure I’d fall asleep for a few hours only to wake up at one or two in the morning and then fight to go back to sleep. Which was usually about a half an hour before my alarm went off. The main cause of my insomnia? Pain.
            I’ve spoken before of my physical ailments so I’ll not go into detail here. However; they are getting worse. Last night was no different.
            I woke up at four in the morning. Which is better than one or two. I tried to go back to sleep. I tried clearing my mind of everything and I was almost successful. The black veil of slumber crossed my frontal cortex for just the briefest of moments and then, like a bad April fool’s joke. It left. Leaving me awake, in pain and my mind racing.
            In desperation I rubbed some natural ointments that were made for me by shamans in the Midwest. These ointments contain no preservatives, additives, subtractives, laxatives or any other kind of “Tives” you may or may not want in or on your body. Then I lay there for twenty minutes waiting for relief. It didn’t come. Sure there was some but not as much as I needed to relax. So I went to the bathroom and broke out the big guns of the ointment world. Arthritis cream with capsaicin. Then I washed my hands, went to the bathroom, brushed my teeth and went back to bed.
            I lay there for about five minutes before the ointment set fire to my genitals. You see, that stuff is oil based and it doesn’t wash off. Even as your standing in your bathroom pouring cold water and soap on your crotch and trying desperately to not cry like a four year old who just had all their Halloween candy stolen. Washing didn’t work. The burning intensified. I dried off, hobbled downstairs, grabbed an ice pack out of the freezer and for the next two and a half hours tried to watch television while freezing my junk.
            A great way to start the day. I suggest you try it.
            The rest of the day went well. Bacon was cooked, cinnamon rolls were made and the feast was prepared and the dishes were done. Football was watched along with a dog show and part of a parade and I even got to spend time with my outdoor cat. As well as with all of you.
            As for my list of things I’m thankful for. It’s simple. I’m thankful I live in the age I do. Where I have creams and ointments for my ailments along with pain pills when things get real bad. I’m thankful that I’m not one of only half the surviving pilgrims from the Mayflower. (Yes, over half of them died in the first year) I’m thankful I had the day off to rest and spend leisurely with my family. I’m thankful I’m not overseas fighting a war. I’m thankful for the few close friends I have. I’m thankful for my family. I’m thankful my talents are appreciated by the people I work with.
            Yet, here’s the funny thing. To me that is, you see, in order to be thankful for things, isn’t the opposite true as well? Aren’t there things we are unthankful for? I know I have a laundry list of those. I’ll not publish them now. No need for a downer when we are all fat and happy from a day of relaxation and overindulgence.
            Oh, one other thing I’m thankful for. Tomorrow, Gilmore Girls drops on Netflix. I love that show and I can’t wait to see what happened to Luke and Loreli and what about Rory? And all those other loveable characters from Star’s Hallow? Guess I’ll be doing some binge watching in the near future.

            Have a great week and Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 18, 2016

My Cynicism

Your cynicism is showing.” My wife said with a look of amused disdain.
            We were standing at the exit door of the doctor’s office. You know, when you hit middle age and you have to go in for all sorts of tests and poking and prodding? Yeah, it was one of those visits. Not a pleasant thing to go through but it is something we must all be subjugated to.

            I smiled at her. She was standing between me and the door. Her smile and sarcasm were exuding off of her like so many pheromones. “Yeah, well, it’s mostly just sarcasm. After all, I don’t really hate Christmas. I just don’t like it as much as I used to.”
           
            “Well, other people can hear you. You need to whisper.”
           
            I turned around, there was a middle aged man sitting in a chair looking at his smart phone and a medical assistant sitting behind a counter tapping away at her computer. I turned back to my wife and mouthed a bunch of words without letting and sound escape my voice. She smiled and then laughed.
           
            I couldn’t help myself. My sarcasm, my wit, my disdain for one particular holiday simply because I end up working on it for over four months of the year couldn’t hold me back. The season of love, forgiveness and joy, a season that in my young teenage years was filled with disappointment, sadness and loneliness that had been changed in my early twenties to become a season filled with happiness and exuberance had now become a season of work, pain, toil and unending tasks, has overtaken me.

            I’m sure there is a simple mathematical equation that can explain all of this in my life. However; if I put it down here, I’m also sure it would bore the shit out of all of you. It’s not that I’ve lost my enjoyment of the holiday season. It’s that the shine of the season is now tarnished to me.
           
You see, if I were a chef and I spent four months of the year preparing a dinner for Easter or Thanksgiving, I’m sure I’d hate ham and turkey. Or if I were an environmentalist, I’d hate Arbor Day. Or if I were a maker of fireworks, I’d deplore the New Year and all the independence days that came with it. You see, it’s a matter of perspective to me. Take away all the twinkly lights, take away all the feel-good songs, take away all the movies, the media, the food drives and what do we have left?
           
            I’ll tell you what we have left; aside from the mandatory over spending of middle class America, we have a consumer based hike in the National Deficit. Just kidding. But seriously folks. Don’t go out and go into debt for Christmas. It’s not worth it. Your kids wont really remember it and neither will you.
           
            Tell you what… I’ll go over some of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten in my life if you promise not to spend more than you can afford this year. Need I say this is in no particular order? Maybe I do. So, here are my top Christmas gifts in no particular order.
            1: a plastic palomino horse when I was about 6 years old. I loved that thing and I’ve no earthly idea whatever happened to it.  I received it the year my dad and mom moved us out of our house on Clover Lane in Green Bay and I had many adventures with it.
            2: My daisy BB gun. I had a ton of fun shooting that thing at all sorts of targets. Windows of my mean neighbor’s house. Paper targets. Sides of garages and the occasional bird, rabbit and squirrel. (Also, my friends when we got into BB gun fights. Even though they had the Crossman pump action I still managed to peg them with my trusty Daisy.)

            3: My unicycle that I never thought my mother or her fiancĂ© felt I needed. I learned a lot from trying to ride that blasted thing. Especially balance. And, I feel that most of the kids in the neighborhood who failed at riding it looked up to me because I could ride it.

            4: My K2 skii’s. I love skiing. I wish I could do it now. But, since I’m a middle aged man with bad knees and a back that hasn’t seen a day where it didn’t decide to cause me pain or suffering in one form or another, I doubt I’ll ever spend anytime barreling headlong down the side of a mountain with no worries or concerns in my life. It is an invigorating feeling. Being so close to the edge of the uncontrollable. Maybe that is why I ride a motorcycle now.

            5: My quilts and wall hangings. I have four. All hand made by people that care about me for some unknown reason. They say they love me and think I’m worthy of all the time, energy and effort they spend on creating things out of almost nothing. The love that was used in making them fills my heart and head with unfathomable joy, pride and respect.

            6: The cards. I’d like to pick one out in particular but I can’t. You see, back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, scrapbooking was all the rage and my family took to it like a fish to water. They made all these crazy cards and sent them to me. I saved every one of them. They are sitting in a drawer next to my bed. I have been known on very private and lonely occasions to take them out and read them. No matter how bad I feel, they seem to cheer me up and pull me away from the edge I’m straddling.

            7: My rainbow towel. It’s over twenty years old now and I still use it. Not on a daily basis. No. I can’t. Simply because it is threadbare and almost ready for the trash bin. It was something I once saw in a movie, made an offhand comment about and then, it showed up as a present on Christmas day. I love it and I always will. It not only reminds me of the diversity of life but how a simple comment can cause someone to go on the hunt for something that was damn near impossible to find in a life before the internet and e-commerce.

            8: The Atari 2600. This home video game brought more hours of enjoyment to me and my two step brothers at a time when our lives were filled with questions, concerns and a very real uncertainty of future in our lives. We didn’t have a lot of games but the ones we had, we played the shit out of.

            9: The Lionel Santa Fe train set. It wasn’t until about 6 or maybe 7 years ago that I was told the history of that train set and the impact it made on my family. But, as a young boy who was fascinated by all things mechanical, it was a great present. It helped me and my father bond by building a train layout in our basement and it helped me and my mother become closer after years of separation. And, once I found out the provenance of the train set, well, it just endeared the gift even more to me.

            10: The love of my family. I can’t go through my yearly struggles and tasks and not feel as if during these particular weeks that they don’t struggle and stress with me. I know how hard I work to help them and I know it is reciprocated by them to me. They don’t say it. They don’t talk about it. They don’t even complain about my grumpiness, my doom and gloom attitude or even my constant complaining of how terrible my body is and how it’s breaking down on me. They just keep doing whatever they can within their power to make sure I’m taken care of and my needs are met so I can take care of them. (This is not a gift you can wrap. This is not a gift that is given once a year. No, this is a gift that is given every day. And that is something that no one can ever truly put a value upon.)

            So, in short, I value the intangible. The gifts of love and affection that can only be given with love and affection and a small amount of money. I value time and connection. Not the latest and greatest. Just the vapors of a life with the people that mean more to me than the world can tangibly offer.

            Have a great week

Friday, November 11, 2016

and my heart broke

My daughter wept and my heart broke.

            It was the Wednesday morning. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen her cry; nor was it the first time I was blessed with having to comfort her. She was wrapped up in my arms, her face buried in my chest and her arms were wrapped tightly around me. My arms were wrapped around her shoulders and one of my hands was gently stroking her hair. I tried to whisper calming words into her ear. She made no acknowledgment of my words, instead she just kept mumbling the word “why” repeatedly.
            After a few minutes, she regained some composure and pulled away. Once again she asked “Why”?
            I looked at her and responded “Goose, a person’s vote is their vote. Just like their religion. What you believe in is strictly up to you. How you vote, why you vote and who you vote for is strictly a personal choice. A choice that no one has the right to discredit you for or debase you for. I’m sure there are plenty of reasons why people voted the way they did and it is their right to do so. You, me or for that matter, have no say in who or what they vote for.”
            “But…”
            “No buts Goose. Like it or not, we have to live what has been decided. You may not like it, I may not like it and many others may not like it but it is something that we have to live with.”
            “I think we should leave.”
            “Moving to another country will only create more problems in the future. What we have to do now is live with the situation and try to come out better in the end. Fleeing from a problem, real or perceived does not solve the problem.”
            “But… how could they?”
            “I can’t answer that. I don’t need to answer that. No one can. We just have to keep moving forward. America has survived forty-four presidents and it will survive a forty-fifth. No matter how good or bad that president may be.”
            “Did you vote for him?”
            “You know I didn’t.”
            “Did you vote for her?”
            “You know I didn’t.”
            “But…”
            “No buts, I voted for a third party candidate. Like I said I would. I voted my conscious. I didn’t base it on anything but the simple fact that I wanted a better world for you. For you to have more options in the future. I’ve more days behind me than I do ahead of me. And, maybe, just maybe, when you go to the polls for your first Presidential election in four years, you will have more choices, or maybe your children will. That is why I voted the way I did. Plain and simple. I’m looking for our country to grow, change and become better, I don’t believe that either of the two primary candidates could do that. So I voted for the strongest third candidate.”
            “I just don’t understand how America could do this.”
            “America didn’t do this, the people did. America is more than just people. America is an idea, and no matter how skewed some of the people are in America, America will always find a way to survive. So you need to stop asking why people voted the way they did and know that America will be just fine.”
            “I hope so.”
            “It will be.”
            “Have you ever been upset about an election?”
            “Can’t rightly recall. The last vote for President I cast and that President won was Ronald Reagan. I have a terrible voting record. Most of the people I vote for never win. They just fall off into obscurity.”
            “Doesn’t that hurt you?”
            “Nope.”
            “It hurts me.”
            “The pain will lessen. You’ll be okay. Besides, when you are older and people ask you if you ever voted for the Great Pumpkin, you can honestly say no.”
            She laughed. Not heartily, not enthusiastically, it was just a small chuckle really. The worry, anger and disappointment vanished from her face for just a moment. Then she looked me in the eyes and broke down again.
            I reached out to her, pulled her into my already tear stained shirt and tried to comfort her again.

            My daughter wept and my heart broke.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween Past (Part 3)

We stood there, the three of us, just staring at the six large teenagers walking towards us. I can only imagine that from an outsider’s perspective we must have looked like three kids who suddenly looked into the face of Medusa and were immediately turned into statues.
            It was Finn who broke our silence “Fuck, what are we going to do?” was all he said.
            “I aint giving up my bag to them fuckers.” Fish answered.
            “We gotta run.” Was all I managed to reply.                 
            “Hey, retards! Don’t you go anywhere! You gotta pay your candy tax!” one of the six yelled at us.
            “Tell you what,” Fish said, “You two run faster than I do and I’m a better fighter, so, take my bag and head down Karl street.” Then he handed me his pillowcase.
            “Nah Fish, you aint taking a beating for us. Let’s just drop one bag and all take off.” I said.
            “Screw that,” Finn said, “We follow Fish’s plan. We’ll meet up in my garage. They know about the rafters so if we get away, they won’t look at my house.”
            “Yeah, but then they’ll be pissed off and kick our ass’s later.” I said.
            “Not if I have anything to say about it.” Fish said and that’s when we heard a sharp click.
            I looked towards the sound and saw Fish had pulled out a switchblade and was holding the gleaming steel in his right hand. The street lights reflected off the polished surface. When I looked at Fish’s face I saw the crazy eyes he was famous for.
            “Fish, you don’t want to end up in Juvie. Shit.” I said.
            “I aint gonna kill them. Hell, I probably won’t even cut them, but they don’t know that. Now run fuckers.”
            Finn and I turned and ran.
            “Where the fuck are you going? Get back here!” one of the Nine Hundred Six yelled.
            We ignored the order and kept running.
            “Get them!” was the response.
            As Finn and I rounded the corner from Libel street onto Karl street I glanced back to where Fish was. He was standing tall, waving his knife around and in front of him three of the Nine Hundred Six stood with their hands in the air. The other three were in pursuit of Finn and I.
            “Shit, we got three bogies.” I said to Finn.
            “Fuck them. We run faster.” He said and started to pull away from me.
            The sound of our candy sloshing around along with the coins in our bags drowned out the sounds of the older bullies yelling for us to stop. I could hear Finn trying to tell me something but I couldn’t understand him. I tried to speed up but carrying two bags of candy and money was slowing me down.
            As we passed the large evergreen that was in the yard of the first house on Karl Street I saw there were still some kids walking along the street in costume. The kids were smaller and there were only a few adults with them. As we passed by them, Finn screamed something unintelligible to me and then we were gone.
            Halfway down Karl, when we should have cut into the back yard of the house at 600, which shared a fence with my back yard Finn dodged to the left. Towards 601 on the wrong side of the street. I followed.
            Once in the back yard of 601 Karl, Finn scurried to the back of the tool shed and stopped. He knelt down and tried to catch his breath. “What the hell are we doing? We’re supposed to go to your garage?” I said through heavy gasps.
            “Bags… slowing down… stash ‘em.” Finn muttered.
            I nodded and looked around, there was a couple of bushes near the shed and I quickly stuffed mine and Fish’s bags behind them. Finn followed suit.
            We heard our pursuer’s shouts and we peaked around the corner of the shed. They were standing between the houses. One of them was holding his side, another had his hand on his head and seemed to be crying. “Come on out you bunch of pansies! Come get your ass whooping!”
            We ducked back behind the shed “What do you want to do?” I asked.
            “Double back. They don’t know where we are, so we go back for Fish.”
            “Sounds good. Jump the fence and head up the back yards?” I said pointing to the fence not five feet from us.
            Finn nodded. “Just give me another second to catch my breath.”
            We didn’t get to wait as long as we would have liked, our three bullies started yelling and searching the back yard. We quickly shimmied the fence and ended up in the backyard of a house on Karl Drive. Neither of us knew who lived there and to tell the truth, we didn’t care.
            “Skip, aint this where that girl Laura lives?” Finn asked.
            Why the hell did Finn do that? I asked myself. Bringing up Laura. Ugh, as if I didn’t have enough shit on my mind right then. “No, man, she lives closer to the East River and on the other side of the street. Now shut up about her. Let’s go.”
            We headed towards Libel through the backyards. We were two houses from Libel when Finn started talking again. “So we got a plan? Or do we just blaze in there and rumble like the Sharks versus the Jets?” he said referring to West Side Story. The movie he and I had watched at least a half a dozen times over the past year. It seemed the local UHF station had gotten rights to it and decided to run it at least once a month to try and get ratings. Also, after school or on rainy days in the summer, we’d just make popcorn and watch the television. The afternoon movie theatre was usually a western, a kung fu film, a bad horror movie, but then they started showing West Side Story. Finn was addicted to it. I was bored with it, except for Riff. I liked his character.
            “No plan, but with only three of them, Fish with his knife and you and I show up, we may just win.” I said.
            “Yeah, one day we’re going to kick all their asses. I can’t wait for that day.”
            “I’d be happy if they just moved.” I said as we got to the sidewalk on Libel.
            We both turned towards Karl Street and saw Fish standing on the corner with two larger forms and on the ground were three squirming bodies. “What the hell?” Finn asked.
            “No clue, but let’s go find out.” I said and started jogging. Finn followed.
            As we got closer to Fish and company, we realized the two teens standing with him were the Jamrog twins. The bodies on the ground, squirming, crying and moaning in pain, they were three of the Nine Hundred Six.
            “What the hell happened?” Finn asked as we slowed to a walk.
            “The twins showed up.” Fish answered with a shit eating grin.
            “Yeah, we’ve been wanting to get a piece of these jerks for a while.” Dennis said. He was apparently the older of the two twins.
            “Yeah, hard to believe they’re related to the Sandovals.” Glenn said as he kicked one of the squirming bullies in the stomach.
            “Where are the other three?” Fish asked.
            “Last time we saw them, they were halfway down Karl in the backyard of one of the houses.” I said.
            “Where are the bags?” Fish asked.
            “Stashed them in some bushed behind a shed.” Finn answered.
            “Well, let’s go get them. No need to hang out here.” Fish said as he closed his knife and slipped it into his pocket.
            “Uh, guys, what about the other three?” I asked.
            “Don’t worry, Glenn and I will go with you guys. They aint gonna mess with you no more.”
            “Cool, thanks. Finn said.
            Twenty minutes later all five of us were crowded into the rafters of my garage, Dennis and Glenn were offered anything they wanted from our candy supply. They declined and quickly pulled out some Marlboro’s and lit up and started talking about girls.
            The three of us, Fish, Finn and myself, separated candy, divided it all up and counted the change.
            In the end, we all got what we wanted and spent the night eating as much sugar as we could handle and we learned that while running from a fight is smart, it’s much smarter to have friends who are older and bigger than the bullies who terrorize you.
            I know, not an earth shattering revelation, but as an up and coming teenager who is out wandering the mean streets of your town, it is a vital survival tactic.

            Happy Halloween.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Halloween Past (Part 2)

It didn’t take the three of us long to make our first rounds through the neighborhood. Simply because we split up. Fish would take the left side of a street, I’d take the right and Finn would scout the block over. We’d meet up at the intersection, compare notes and figure out which houses to avoid on our second and hopefully third trips.
            The scouting trip covered six square blocks and took an hour of daylight to go through. When we finished, we met at my garage and dumped our pillow cases in the rafter fort of my garage. We sat around staring at all the sugary goodness that awaited our eager and watering mouths.
            “Shit, I see a lot of dum dum’s, taffy and bubble gum.” Fish said as he poked his hand into his pile sending the candy scattering into Finn’s and my piles. When he pulled his hand out he was holding not one, not two but three Chick Track Cartoon books. “Ugh, fuck, I can’t believe that old man gave me these.” He said and tossed them to the side.
            I looked down at my pile, I spied the corner of an orange wrapper, the one piece of candy I’d been looking forward to getting since I’d stepped off the porch of 605 Karl Street. A nice man had seen my costume, gave out a laugh, reached down into his candy bowl and pulled out a Reese’s peanut butter cup two pack. He then put his hands above his head and said “Well partner, don’t shoot and I’ll give you this here peanut butter cup.”
            I smiled and said “Much obliged you willy varmit.” And opened my pillow case. He promptly dropped the candy into my bag and I left. But I remembered the house. After all, we were on a scouting mission.
            “Skip, whatchoo got there?” Fish asked.
            I help up the Reeses and smiled. “605 Karl street, we all need to go there.”
            Within the next ten minutes a slew of information was conveyed by the three of us to each other. We spat out addresses and what they were giving out as quick as we could. When we finished, we swapped masks, and headed out.
            The second looting took much less time. After all, there were really only a dozen houses to go to within the neighborhood and by the time we’d finished our first round and went back to the houses in different masks our sacks were half full of large candy bars and even some loose change. It seems one generous couple ran out of candy and decided instead of turning off their porch light, they would just drop whatever lose change they had in a large bowl by their front door. We went to that place six times.
            When the man looked down at Fish, whose mask was cracked and only covering half his face said “Hey, haven’t you already been here?”

            Fish looked the man right in the eyes and said “Nah, we walked from Webster Ave, but my twin brother was by earlier.” Then he smiled the biggest shit eating grin I’d ever seen and opened up his pillow case and offered it up to the man. I swear I could hear money jingling as he did this.
            When we got to the street Finn punched Fish in the arm and said “Man, you have got the biggest pair of balls of anyone.”
            We all laughed.
            As we walked toward my house, I looked up to the sky, it was dark and I could see pin pricks of light from the distant stars. “Guys, it’s getting late. Hell, most of the porch lights are off and I think we’ve done pretty good. Wanna head to the rafters?” The rafters is what we called the fort in my garage.
            “Sure Skip.” Fish said, besides, I don’t think we will get much more tonight anyway. Say, you remember those Chick Track books?”

            Yeah, the old man in the nine hundred block of Memory gave them to you. I think I got a few myself, but not from him.”
            “You remember where?”
            I nodded and gave him the addresses.
            “Good. Cause we didn’t get any treats so it’s almost trick time.” He said with a malicious grin.
            As we walked down Libel street, caught up in our own conversations of which candy we’d eat first, which candy was destined for the trash or our younger siblings, which excluded Finn since he was an only child, he usually gave his unwanted candy to his mom or left it in a bowl on the coffee table. Which we’d end up eating over the course of a few months, we didn’t really notice that some of the bullies from the nine hundred block were headed towards us.
            Now, I should mention that the nine hundred block of Memory Avenue in Green Bay, Wisconsin in the mid-1970’s was run by six teenage boys from three different families. Each one as dangerous and mean as a trapped snake. They were so vicious in        fact that Finn and I eventually refused to go to the bus stop down at the intersection and opted instead to jog the two miles to and from school. Rain, shine, snow or just brutal Wisconsin cold.
            We hated those guys. So much so we just called them the Nine Hundred Six. These cats smoked, in the open for all the parents to see them. And, on occasion, they were known to purloin beers and just sit on the corner and drink them out in the open as well. If they saw something they wanted, they took it. If you even looked at them wrong, you were the subject of endless noogies, half nelsons and full nelsons. If you really pissed them off, they’d gang up on you and beat the living hell out of you.
            We hated them. But out of all of us, it was Fish that hated them the most. Probably because he was the one who stood up to them the most and was on the receiving end of most of their abuse. Finn and I usually ran. After all, we both ran a sub five minute mile and very few people could keep up with that speed. Fish couldn’t run for shit. He could run his mouth, but his legs, well, they just couldn’t move fast enough. During the long summer days, when we’d hang out at the baseball fields and play pick-up games, he’d hit a ball into left field and would still be thrown out at first base. He was just slow. But, he was quick witted and had a sharp tongue and always carried a knife. Which inspired Finn and I to do the same.
            We were between Karl Street and Memory Ave when the Nine Hundred Six came around the corner and saw us. When they started shouting, we froze in our tracks.
            To Be Continued.

            Have a great week and a Happy Halloween.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Halloween Past (Part 1)

In the mid 1970’s, in Green Bay, Wisconsin, me and my pals always looked forward to this time of the year. Sure, school was in and our warm, care-free summer days were gone but, the Packers were practicing and football was the talk of the town. But underneath all the sports talk and evening pick-up games of two on two or four on four, we would plan our trick or treating route through our neighborhoods.
            Me being the local paperboy, I was continuously pumped for information as to which house tipped when they paid and which houses were behind on their payments for their daily dose of local news. I believe it was my long-time pal Fish, otherwise known as Al Minnow, who started the questioning and when asked why he wanted to know who was paid in full and tipped and who was behind, he simply answered “Well, if they are paid up to date and can tip then they have money to buy good candy, if they aren’t paid to date, then they will have the cheap candy. We’ll only go to the houses who’ve paid in full. And we’ll ignore the late payers.”
            We all nodded in agreement. After all, it made a ton of sense to our almost teenage ears.
            Two weeks before the fall looting and pillaging of the streets of Green Bay, we would sit around in our fort, or on the curb and discuss which costumes we’d wear. It was Finn, Jimmie Finnegan, who came up with the idea that we should all make sure our masks would be large enough to fit each one of us and that we should all wear at least two sweatshirts or t-shirts depending on the weather and make sure we each carried extra pillowcases in our pockets. You see kids, back in those days, no one ever spent money on a candy bucket in the shape of cheap plastic jack-o-lanterns. Nope we used either paper shopping bags or pillowcases.
            Pillowcases were better, if you dropped it, it would not break and spill your candy all over the street or someone’s sidewalk. And, pillowcases carried more loot, in volume and weight than a paper bag.
            On the great day of free candy we always met at my house. Well, that is to say, between my house and Finn’s house since he lived next door to me and Fish lived about a half mile away. You see, after school let out, Fish would ride his bike home as fast as he could and Finn and I, who usually walked to school together, pretty much ran to our houses.
            Finn went to his house to change, and I bolted into my room to get ready. Since the day was warm, I put on two t-shirts, one had a cowboy on a horse and the other was just plain white but had dark blue trim on the neck and sleeves. I remember thinking I should wear one of my Packer t-shirts but I thought better of it. What if one of the candy givers made a comment about my love for the team and I was forced to talk? What if they were giving out good candy, like snickers or Hershey bars? And when we went back they remembered the shirt except this time I was wearing Fish or Finn’s mask? We’d be busted. Nope, go with something people would likely forget and move on.
            I took my pillowcase off my pillow, it was a bit grungy, hadn’t been washed in a week, nut it was pale blue and didn’t really smell, I stuffed it in my pocket, went to the laundry closet and grabbed a fresh white one to start the night off. Then I headed out to Finn’s house.
            He beat me to my own back door, he was wearing a tan t-shirt and I could see the sleeves of another t-shirt sticking out from under the tan sleeves, his plastic mask dangled around his neck as he came in our back door. “Skip, you ready?”
            “Yeah, I was just heading over to get you. You got everything?”
            “Yup, two cases, two t-shirts and a sweet tooth ready for some candy.”
            “Cool, seen Fish?”
            “Nope, but he’ll be here soon. Hey, aint you forgetting something?”
            “Where’s your mask?”
            I smiled, reached into my right front pocket and pulled it out. It was a Lone Ranger eye mask. I’d tried to talk my mom into buying me one from the store, but she insisted she could make one cheaper from all the cloth lying around the house. You see, out of the three of us, I believe my family was the one in the worst financial straits. Which meant a lot of my jeans had home-made patches on them, I had a lot of thrift store shirts and hand me down shoes. I never really thought much about it then. Now, it is an interesting look back at my childhood.
            My mom, true to her word made the mask and it was black and it fit great.  She even made it large enough for my pals to wear. I dangled the mask in front of Finn and he just looked at it as if it were a wash rag that needed to be thrown away.
            “What the hell is that?”
            “It’s a bandit mask, like the Lone Ranger. My mom made it for me.” I said a bit defensively.
            “I thought we agreed on full face covering masks? What if someone recognizes you? What if we get busted going to the same houses again and again?”
            “I thought about that, look, when I wear it, they might notice my hair or my mouth, when you wear it you have different hair. Same goes for Fish, we all look different. And, this way we don’t have to worry about big kids trying to snatch our bags. I can see better in this than those full face plastic masks.”
            Finn turned his back to me, pulled his mask up and turned around with both thumbs in the air. “Ayyye! Ritchie, tell Al to bring me a cheeseburger!” he said in his best Fonzi voice. He was wearing the “Ben Cooper” Fonzi mask. I laughed.
            “Nice! Your mom got you the “Ben Cooper” costume! Nice!”
            You see, the “Ben Cooper” costumes were the best ones in our eyes. They always had a decent shirt or jumpsuit and the masks looked almost realistic. We all wanted them. It seems most of my friends always had them. However, in my case, I only had the opportunity to get one in my brief stint as a 1970’s kid. That was the “Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man”. I thought it was a great costume. My pals, not so much. But that is another story for another time.
            Finn pulled the mask off his face “Let me see your mask.” He said with his hand out. I handed it over.
            A minute later he was wearing it and dodging imaginary bullets from behind our kitchen table. “You’re right, I can see better with this than the Fonzi mask. Okay, but whoever is wearing it has to keep a look out for the teenagers.”
            Which is when Fish showed up. “Finn, what the hell are you wearing?” was all he said from the landing to my back door.
            “It’s a bandit masks. Skip’s mom made it. It’s pretty cool. And I can see better than with my Fonzi mask. What are you going as?”
            Fish pulled his mask up and let out a loud roar from inside his Frankenstien mask. “Fire Bad!” he added in a low guttural tone.
            Fish and I busted up laughing.
            After a few minute Fish punched us both in our arms. “You two finished, we’re losing daylight.”

            To be continued...


            Have a great week.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Vagabond Planet

Almost twenty years ago Astrophysicists discovered something called “Vagabond Planets”.  These are planets that have been flung out into space that don’t really orbit a star or other large body in the galaxy. They are just sitting there in space all alone, no other mass around it. No one living on it. No real orbit to speak of. It’s just floating all alone in space. This is a pretty cool phenomenon to me. Just being alone. Nothing to bother you. No one pulling you one way or another. You just sit there, existing.
            When I heard about these galactic hermits I immediately liked them. Given, I knew nothing about them and the scientists that discovered them don’t know much about them either. They just know they exist. Which is cool. They are like a giant mystery that we can’t really solve. Sure, we can beam all sorts of rays at them and see what they may be made of but they can never really know what they are or how they got there. Sure, they can speculate but to know exactly what caused them to be flung out of their past orbit into the great void to live its life alone and floating through time on its own course is a bit of an enigma.
            Maybe I like them because they are alone, they have nothing but themselves for company and they are dependent upon nothing for their existence. They are just there. Which is cool to me.
            You see, I am by nature, a person who likes to be alone. I like solitude and being alone with the maniac that lives inside of my mind. I enjoy sorting through my thoughts and figuring out who I am. Why I said what I said in certain situation. Why I acted the way I did in front of people. Not all of these thoughts are pleasant, not all of my answers are positive. No, instead, I spend a good portion of my time beating myself up for past mistakes and trying to figure out how to not make those mistakes in the future.
            Of course, I’m not alone I have a wife, I have a daughter, a family so to speak. I have brothers, sisters, parents, cousins, aunts and uncles. My life is filled with people who tug and pull on my life in many different ways. Just as you do. Just as our planets tug and pull on each other. But you know, the most demands in my life come from my daughter.
            Children will tug and pull on your life like no other force in creation. In my case, it has been an honor and pleasure. Tomorrow my child turns seventeen. Since her inception she has been a constant source of joy and wonderment in my life. Through all of her ups and downs. Her daily and weekly passions that fade as quickly as they arise, through her crushes, loves and heartbreaks and through her continuous daily life, she has struggled, succeeded and grown in ways that amaze me.
            She is far more mature and ready for life than I was at her age. Probably more mature than I am at this age. She has a focus that would put a trained sniper to shame and a vision for her future that most people never have and never will.
            Her attitude when faced with obstacles and adversarial conflict is one of determination and pragmatism. Through all of her experiences she keeps a good attitude, wit and sarcasm that speak to her upbringing and how she sees the world.
            Her self-reliance and dignity are two traits that I know will help her make the right decisions in pretty much every situation she will be faced with. Not to mention, at her age, that of a teenager who should be rebelling against her parents, her teachers and the status quo of the world is pretty much non-existent. I’ve no idea how she became so well rounded, so accepting of others or even how she became so passionate about equality and justice for everyone.
            I believe that she is the one force in my life that has had more impact on my life than any other force. From the second I found out I was going to be a father, to those fleeting moments when I held her on the day she came into the world to those wonderful hugs I get from her every day, I have been pulled into the solar system of her life simply by being her father. I am honored to be her dad and even more honored to be recognized as her father by others.
            My dream of being a vagabond planet, a hermit so to speak will never come to fruition, simply because the strongest force in my life is my own child. I love you Goose and I hope you have an awesome birthday.

            Have a great week.