Monday, December 31, 2012

Ringing Out and In

Time is ticking.

Time is running out for the year 2012.

The whole world – at least the parts that count years the same way we do – are prepping for the big celebrations.

It’s quite silly that we do make such a big deal about all this New Year stuff. Anything for a party I guess.

I’m not against the “anything for a party” line of thinking, but really, we are simply incrementing the year counter by one.

Ya got to love the human race.

I myself enjoyed 2012 quite a bit for the things that happened to our little family this year.

Alannah and Ashley-Rae both made the all-star team in their Turtle Club fast pitch softball league and we got to travel a little bit and make new friends in the process. I even got to be a coach in the house league.

I had a ball leaning against the fence spitting sun flower seed shells and yelling important advice to the girls like “let’s get ‘em started here Lacey” and “stay in there and watch it all the way Loren … atta girl”.

And our own Detroit Tigers won their Division, then the American League … but only to get blown out by those damned San Francisco Giants in four straight games.

I think that hurt more than not making the playoffs at all.

Things at work went bat-ass crazy this year with tons of growth and expansion. It was all so incredibly positive – albeit frustrating – and very exhausting.

I only played one round of golf this year. That’s disappointing – and I am now at an age that I find I can’t simply put such a game aside and pick it back up at a competitive level like I used to. I hope that golf does not completely evaporate from my life. I really do love the game.

Financially our little family had some success this year – thanks to my lovely wife Darlene’s persistence. This allowed us to finally turn a couple of corners we had been struggling to get around.

And I did finish my book. The reviews from the few personal friends I sent copies to seem to be very positive – with a few constructive tips that shall be implemented. But to consistently get responses like “It’s a real page turner – a joy to read – you paint the picture so clearly” – well that is the greatest non-monetary reward a dumb guy who wants to be an author could ask for.

Next year I will sell this book. And then you can read it.

And I will start on the next one, because this story’s only just begun.

Yup, I am looking very forward to 2013. It holds a lot of promise.

Hopefully our company can continue to grow – continuing to increase it’s capacity to enhance the common good.

And hopefully I can grow with it.

And this year Alannah made a travelling fast-pitch team – a team that has grown out of that Turtle Club all-star team from last year and expanded to pick up a few really exceptional players that left our club to play travel ball elsewhere – now coming back to play again with us.

That team will be called the LaSalle Athletics, and from what I see so far – this squad of young ladies will prove to be formidable competition. It will travel the states of Michigan, Oho, perhaps Pennsylvania and the upper New York state to play against the best in those areas.

It should be exciting! I only hope Alannah understands the tremendous privilege and opportunity that awaits her.

Meanwhile, Ashley-Rae – a good player in her own right – and myself – will return again this year to the hallowed diamonds of Turtle Club to play house league. I really love the Augusta National feel of the Turtle Club. The tree tops whispering the tales of past exciting provincial and national championships teams that passed by there.

And the Tigers acquired Tori Hunter from Los Angeles, and expect Victor Martinez back from the disabled list to join Triple Crowner Miguel Cabrera, Cy Young-er MVP Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder, Johnny Peralta and the rest of the boys that will wear the old English D in 2013 in the quest to return to the World Series – where this time they might actually win a damned game or two. Better yet – win the whole damned thing.

And this snow will all melt, and summer will return, and the gardens that we worked so hard to design will all bloom throughout the whole year – to be enjoyed again in another season of writing on the back deck by the pool.

I can’t wait.

We have so much positive opportunity waiting for us in 2013 that we might actually need to run three concurrent streams of the year to achieve everything we want to achieve.

But somebody somewhere will likely start up the talk about the world ending again. The survivalists who sell such fear as a commodity as they turn former underground nuclear missile silos into mult-million dollar condo-bunkers complete with underground swimming pools and tennis courts and schools and such.

They need that fear factor or their bottom line bottoms out.

This time I’m betting on either giant asteroids smashing into us or Venetian sex goddesses landing and taking all the women of earth into slavery because of their deplorable treatment of men.

Yeah, that’ll sell some tabloids, eh?

But I doubt if it helps the million dollar condo-bunker sales much.

Happy New year to you all. I hope that what you see in your future is even more promising that what you experienced this past year.

Once the Americans finally find a safe way down from there pending financial cliff!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Peddling Papers

Remembrance Day has come and gone again.

My Dad’s birthday was November 11th or Remembrance Day here in Canada. Everyone here dons a red poppy pinned to their lapel to remember our fallen soldiers.

When I was a little boy, I always felt bad for Dad having a birthday on Remembrance Day – because everyone would be remembering other people and nobody would remember his birthday.

Birthdays are important when you’re a little boy.

But since Dad passed away some 22 years ago, I spend a good portion of that day simply remembering my Dad.

My Dad had some really great sayings.

When he would greet us in the morning he would ask “How’s your belly for spots?” instead of “How are you?

When someone would offer Dad something he would smile wide and say “We take all free gifts”.

When he would find my brother and I to be a bit to rambunctious, he would tell us to “go peddle your papers” or “go play in traffic”.

But my favorite expression was used anytime that my brother and I and Dad would know that we were in trouble with our Mom.

Before Paul and I could even conger up any feasible resemblance of an excuse or alibi, Dad would simply smile at and almost with a wink he would say to us

You lie and I’ll swear to it”.

This year I was thinking about all the technology that has evolved over the last 22 years. I was thinking about how it was too bad that Dad didn’t get to experience how personal computers would have revolutionized how he did his job as the Manager of Southern Region for Business Products Sales for the 3M Company.

He likely would have fought it.

Dad would spend hours working on the visuals – the transparencies that he laid on top of the lighted screen of the overhead projectors he sold to schools and businesses as he prepared to give presentations to very large audiences.

Of course, programs like Microsoft’s PowerPoint would have made this task a breeze – although Dad was very much a person to pay attention to detail.

Spreadsheets and word processors would have greatly helped both my Dad and my Mom – who appointed herself as Dad’s private secretary.

They were a great team.

But Dad got very sick in 1983. He was forced into an early retirement just a year or so before the very first IBM PCs came onto the market. Dad passed away in 1990 a couple years before the Internet came along in such a way that the public could access it.

Dad never saw e-mail, or instant messaging. He never saw a web page like this one. He never would have dreamed of things like Skype or Facebook or Twitter or YouTube.

Or the iPhone.

In retrospect – much of what the personal computer came to be replaced what the very business products my Dad’s teams sold.

Except Post-It notes.

Sad, Dad never saw the 3M Post-It notes. And the computer never really found a way to replace them.

And Dad never saw any of the professional social networking sites like LinkedIn.

My Dad often told the story of being hired by Blue Cross Blue Shield in Michigan – about how when asked what University he went to, he replied “Why the University of Western Ontario”. When challenged by whoever he told the story to, he would rebut, “I most certainly did go to Western, every Thursday … to sell Encyclopedia Britannica”.

And Dad would laugh.

I like to tell that story on behalf of my Dad now. But that was then – before the Internet - before Google – before being able to validate such facts nearly instantaneously online.

I don’t think my Dad would have tried to pull that kind of stunt today.

It’s funny though, because most people I know have their professional credentials on LinkedIn. Their whole resume is on their profile; their education, their certifications, their acquired skills, and their employment history.

It’s all there.

IT people are funny when it comes to listing their skills on a resume. It’s as though they list every technology they ever heard of as a skill they have acquired. There seems to be no regard as to what they will do should they get hired to work with that technology they know by name only.

And now, others can attest to your mastering the skill. They simply click on the skill link in your list of skills and select Endorse.

That person does not have to prove that they know that you know that skill. But with a mere click of a mouse such a claim becomes a verified fact.

Or as my Dad would have said, “You lie and I’ll swear to it!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Our Boys of Summer Play On

The first half of October is a visual smorgasbord here in southwestern Ontario.

The reds, the golds, the browns …

The frost …

The end .,,

Still there are remnants of summer past left lying around … the ball diamonds still have players practicing, the decks all still have tables with umbrellas unfurled, the sun still feels warm to the skin as it reaches its daily apex.

But soon those summer artifacts will all be packed up as though raked into piles like the brilliantly covered leaves that could no longer cling to their branches.

Thank god there's still ball.

The young ladies of the Turtle Club Athletics team continue to practice outside as long as the precipitation stays away and the temperature stays warmish. Once that evacuates to make way for the undeniable oncoming of winter – the young players and their coaches will move into a gym at a French school on the other side of our little village.

The Detroit Tigers are still contending in post season baseball – having defeated the last-minute winners of the American League West – the Oakland A’s – who wear the uniform that inspired our Lady Athletics from the Turtle Club copied and turned into girlie versions of green with gold trim.

I much prefer the old Turtle Club logo. As silly as some may think a turtle could be to represent a high quality baseball team – it means the world to us with its legacy behind it.

But now they wear the same cursive styled spelling of Athletics that the dastardly Oakland Centerfielder Coco Crisp wears.

As a Tiger fan, I despise Coco Crisp.

Crisp (whose name likely violates Nestle Copyright and Trademark rights) single handedly kept the Athletics of Oakland in this series with jump catches robbing home runs and base hits that drove in tying and winning runs and base stealing’s to move into position to score and cause various accounts of trouble that base runners distract middle relief and closing pitchers with.

Crisp got into the Tiger’s players heads.

And their fans too.

But the Tigers rendered the Oakland A’s - seemingly a team of destiny – to merely another remnant, another artifact of autumns transition to winter.

Most have a favorite sport. Mine is baseball. My daughter’s is fast pitch softball. I talk about the two as though they are the same.

But ball is so unique – no other game is like it – not even Cricket.

No other sport is so North American – even though it’s played seriously and elegantly as far away as Japan.

The smell of the red-clay dirt of the infield as the leather bound and red thread stitched ball bounces through the freshly cut grass of the infield – into the thick padded leather glove – and the throwing hand reaches inside that glove to grasp the ball and hurl it across the infield to first base – mastering the balancing challenges of a bent over runner reaching, clasping, grasping, and then planting and throwing.

And the outstretched gloved hand of the first baseman straining to meet the ball in flight before the runner who hit the ball travels at their fastest sprint up the first baseline to stomp on first base.

Safe? Or Out?

The question answered throughout the course of the game.

Where is the next play to be?

Ashley-Rae (with Rally Towel
waving in my face)
and I at ALDS Game 2 vs, Oakland
 As I sat in the stands with my ten year old daughter Ashley-Rae, watching the second playoff game between my beloved Tigers and those bastardly A’s – I continually challenged her with that question – pointing to the situation on the field.

So Ash, they got a man on second – Coco Crisp - and one out – what does Miguel Cabrera do if they hit the ball to him at third

Ashley looked at the field as though it were a math problem and solved almost like pretending to write with chalk on a chalkboard.

You check the runner at second to hold him then you throw it with all you got to first, and you can’t throw a big loopy throw, you gotta throw it hard so it gets there fast Daddy”, replied Ashley-Rae.

We punched fists in celebration of her correct answer. Then she adjusted the brim of her Turtle Club All Star team hat with the same greens and golds as the Athletics A’s hats – only her hat has a gold TC instead of an A.

I love that hat.

And she was wearing her Justin Verlander fan t-shirt over a sweatshirt.

My girls understand baseball.

Maybe they don’t understand everything totally yet, like the infield fly rule. But apparently even some post season National League umpires don’t exactly understand the complexities of the infield fly rule either – having cost the Atlanta Braves their post season chances in a single game wild card elimination match against St. Louis.

I hate the St. Louis Cardinals too.

Now as we move into the third week of October, and the playoff contenders dropping off at the same rate as the leaves from Windsor trees, our beloved Tigers pick up the American League Championship Series – the ALCS – against the even more dastardly – even more bastardly New York Yankees – led by my favorite short stop who I cannot stand – Derek Jeeter and their former Tiger center fielder Curtis Granderson.

Our pitching army of Verlander, Fister, and Scherzer, with a side of Sanchez will do their best to stifle the bats of the Big Apple pin-stripers. And the clout of Triple Crown winner Cabrera, 1st baseman Fielder, and a slew of other guys on this squad who can easily run into a home run now and then – they will do their best outpace the Yankee hitters through nine innings.

And whoever wins gets to play in the World Series.

And whoever loses – their boys of summer will fall into winter like the umbrella on my back deck that still needs to be furled up and put up in the rafters of the garage.

Ready for next year.

Monday, September 03, 2012

How Can It be September Already?

September rolled in to stay awhile this weekend.

Politely enough it brought a three day weekend with it – like it does every year with Labor Day – like the friend that always brings you a coffee when they stop by.

A nice gesture – but not enough to offset the symbolism of September as the true end of summer.

In my books – September sucks.

How mature of me, eh?

Perhaps – but the end of summer always brings out the spoiled little boy in me – spoiled by long lazy summer days of no school – sleeping in late and staying up even later.

But I don't get summers off anymore – not since I grew up.

I think my little girls get robbed every summer myself. They have to keep going to school all the way to the end of June. When I was a kid growing up outside of Atlanta – June was the BEST month of summer vacation. Here in Ontario – summer vacation only lasts two months and not three.

Maybe the kids here are smarter? Well, they are very nice kids – but I don't know if I could say they are smarter. They don't even know they are missing a month of summer vacation.

This summer was really extra special at our house this year.

There was lots of fast pitch softball at the Turtle Club; and lots of Detroit Tigers baseball on the radio; and tons of Olympics to watch when they were on. And there was lots of barbeques and tons of swimming and the girls had more than their share of sleeping in until ten in the morning – except for when ball practice started at nine.

Poor Darlene. The basic law of physics as they relate to time in the summer is that the fun time gained by my daughters is exactly proportionate to the loss of fun time extracted from my lovely wife.

This summer – for myself at least – seemed exceptionally deceitful as it always seemed to be on its way – as I worked from one small block of vacation days to the next. Now that the last of them are gone, I ponder if I spent them wisely?

And I did. Most of them were spent helping out at the girls ball practices. Catching batting practices – infield practices – you name it – this fifty year old man felt fifteen all over again each time we stepped on the reddish dust of a Turtle Club infield.

Life is so grand.

Me and the girlies made up a game in the pool that was our version of baseball – where the ladder is first base and other landmarks on the side of the pool were second and third. We played that game for hours and hours on the hottest days of the year – days when the pool water was tipping ninety degrees Fahrenheit (or 30 degrees Celsius depending on your tolerance for metrics). As soon as you stepped out of the pool you were dry and just wanted to jump back in again.
My little girls force me to stay younger than fifty. Thank God for them.
We travelled a little bit – for ball tournaments and to visit – but more than all else – we just stayed home this summer – because with the pool and the deck and the gardens in our own yard – and the Turtle Club ball diamonds just around the corner – a driver and a wedge shot from the house – how could anyone ever want to pay money to be someplace else that you don't have to be?
Did I ever mention that I love summer?
And summers living in Canada are much more dear because for the other nine months of the year, all you can think about and wish for are these three months of June, July and August.
Like a cruel joke.
I think that when all is said and done – and those final moments of one's life flash before their eyes, my own visions will be of summers from days past – days when I was a kid – and days when my kids were kids and
I was a kid right there with them.

So this year I will start a new tradition – I will call it the September Resolution – the one promise that I make each year that I will work all through the non-summer months to achieve ready for when next summer gets here again.

I will get back in shape again.

I will do more than to continue not smoking – I will exercise and get my body back to a state where if I had to, I would be able to slide into second base, so that when my foot hits that bag I can pop back up and be ready to run for third. I could even slide in face first on my batting gloves again. Even better yet, those first two strides I would take after hitting the ball and exiting the batters box on my sprint to first base – I will work hard so that I don't pull a thigh or hamstring or calf muscle in the process.

And I will work on my running stride too, so that when I run in the outfield to track down a fly ball – that the whole world doesn't shake and bounce with each stride causing me to lose sight of the ball – instead I will regain that smooth stride one masters by running on the balls of their feet and toes – to simply be able to once again glide underneath the ball.

Are these things possible after three knee surgeries and a back surgery and thirty years of voluntarily sucking tar and nicotine into my body?

Maybe – it's sure worth a shot, don't ya think?

What's the worst that could happen?

Well, yeah, there is the whole heart attack or stroke thing to worry about – and Jim Flick did die while jogging – the Grim Reaper cared not about how many books he wrote about the joys of running.

But what if I did it in moderation? A little bit here, a little bit there. I am fifty you know – it's not like I'm trying out for the Tigers. It's just so I can be a better coach in the summer. So I can show it, not just describe it.

Easier to say than to do though.

But now that it's September, I have a whole nine more months to work on it.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Playing Ball With The Brill Girls

We've had a busy summer so far this year.

Lots of swimming in the pool – even though I nearly blew our water pump out by running it for a day with the hose valves closed after backwashing.

I finally finished my book – although I am still in proofreading mode though – but I am extremely happy with it and anxious to get some guest readers looking at it.

But best of all – miles better than anything else this summer – has been watching Alannah and Ashley Rae play fast pitch softball for the Turtle Club this year.

Alannah had practiced year around this year as a member of the LaSalle Athletics Under 11 team. Ashley had to miss those tryouts as she had sprained her knee. So Ashley spent the off season watching Alannah – and learning from Alannah.

It really paid off this year!

The season started by the girls playing together on a house league team that I was lucky enough to help coach.

Actually the director of the league basically told me I was going to help coach – there really wasn't any room for negotiation.

And it was great! I got to stand in the dugout or out coaching first base with a pocket full of sunflower seeds – spitting shells and yelling things like "where's the next play?" and "good eye" and "Atta-girl!" and giving high fives and punching knuckles.

I had to stop calling the girls darlin' though. That was part of the left over southerner in me – and Coach Joe, who was the head coach of the team let me know in a kidding way that we can't call the girls darlin' anymore. Coach Joe coaches for a living. So I stopped.

I guess it's just another of the million zillion signs that our world is changing.

Now house league is over – and both my girls – Alannah and Ashley Rae – made the Turtle Club All Star team. And Coach Joe is coaching them – along with Coach Larry and Coach Gay – all three excellent fantastic coaches who have been practicing the girls from 9 – 11 AM most every other weekday mornings this whole summer.

So every other morning, Alannah and Ashley-Rae pack up their wagon and the pull it and each other to and from practice. The coaches tell me it's a pretty cute sight to see. I'm usually at the office wishing I could be there to watch.

I'm so jealous.

But I hear all about it. When I come home from work, and have a seat out on the back patio by the pool with a cold drink. The girls tell me all about all that happened at practice that morning , with injections of "shut up I'm telling this part" and "I wanted to tell him I did that".

My girls love ball!

And the Brill Girls are just now starting to make their mark at the Turtle Club.

"Dad, I hate it when you call us that", says Alannah when I refer to her and Ashley-Rae as the Brill Girls.

"But your Grandpa Brill would be so proud" I tell her.

Alannah hugs my neck and kisses my cheek when I tell her that.

"Oh, you always say that", she replies.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

June Perfection

Not my yard!
I love the month of June.

If it were possible – my dream would be to live in a place where every day takes place in the first week of June.

The weather is still perfect. It’s not too hot – but warm enough for swimming. The gardens are still perfect and most everything is green, lush and in bloom. The lawns are still perfect. The grass is still green and not yet stressed to turn brown.

Perhaps we have misunderstood the scientists of the world – perhaps this is the purpose of global warming – to make every day of the year feel like the first week in June.

I doubt it.

But today is perfect. A wonderful morning to sit out on the back deck by the pool and look out over the gardens under the patio umbrella as the mid-seventies breeze blows across the skin.

Man the coffee tastes good on a morning like this. It’s a real shame I quit smoking.

But to be honest, had I not quit smoking, the gardens would not be quite so perfect, nor the grass be so perfectly green and trim. It seems smoking was the root cause of my procrastinating ways.

Today every muscle in my body aches. The blisters on my fingers have broken open and are sore, and the Motrin I took this morning is just now starting to melt some of the aches away as it mixes with the mocha flavored Kailua in my piping hot cup of coffee.

My faithful black lab Suzy is in her own paradise now – stretched out on the deck in the sunshine enjoying the breeze. She’s dreaming about something – likely lying on a deck in the sunshine like this in a breeze like this one.

That’s my guess anyway.

It’s one of those days where – well – you just have to come to the conclusion that all Darwinists hate – that such a day as today – with all the beautiful birds enjoying this day in our back yard – that a day like today could not simply be the result of random evolutionary chaotic coincidence.

There just has to be a divine plan.

A master designer.

There has to be an artist deity who knows just how much blue goes in the sky and how to swirl it with the white of the clouds – matching it with the greens in the grass and the leaves and the brown in the woods of the bark and the plant stems.

There must be a master aromatologist – a master of creating the most perfect aromas – as a deity – to mix the smells of lavender blossoming and cut grass blades and tree leaves that waft across in a gentle breeze – it can’t just all be Darwinistic coincidence.

The Darwinists will all comment here that such a thought is absurd.

But I bet deep in their own hearts – to experience such perfection as is today – to see such amazing beauty – more beautiful than any of the great masters could ever paint – more wonderful than any event planner could ever construct an experience – deep in the Darwinist’s heart they would find the awe that leads one to believe in a power higher than ours.

A God.

There must be.

Hoppy the squirrel just popped up on the fence that borders the back of our property. And Suzy took notice and scrambled down and across the yard – all the while Hoppy knowing Suzy’s limitations as a black lab – merely stands on the top of the wooden fence mocking her by cleaning his hands and face.

Yeah, there’s a God alright.

Or maybe I’m just a bit more sentimental today – on this beautiful June morning. Maybe I am just more emotional because of the aches in my body from all the work I did yesterday weeding and primping the gardens and trimming and feeding the grass to bring out its best shades of green.

Or perhaps it's due to that very exciting win the Detroit Tigers pulled off in the bottom of the ninth inning by a walk off pop fly hit by new rookie catcher Omir Santos to knock in the runner from third to defeat those bastardly New York Yankees to hopefully put the Detroiter’s back on track this season – perhaps that has me a bit more wistful this morning than usual.

Damn those Yankees.

Or maybe it’s just the Kailua in my coffee.

Yeah, that’s likely it.

But there is no denying this is a perfect June morning.

I am savoring every nuance of it. All the way down to how the sunlight twinkles on the top of the dancing water in the pool.

It’s all so perfect.

Until a neighbor in a nearby yard decided to start his lawn mower.


Perhaps if I pour another cup of … coffee.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Final Pint

I lost another friend this week.

My next door neighbor passed away from the same esophagus cancer that took my buddy Don a couple of months ago.

We just came back from the memorial service. It was very quaint and very moving, with moving music by a guy playing guitar and singing songs like I Did It My Way.

I would be lying if I told you he and I were close buddies. That just didn’t play out to be. Interesting though because we both have so many things in common; a great love for golf, huge Detroit Tigers baseball fans, the same generation of beliefs.

But we just never really had that friend bonding event occur.

But as I sat in that ceremony – listening to the music of the very talented guitar player, and listening to the words of inspiration from the preacher – the same non-denominational minister who married my lovely wife Darlene and I and who christened both of my little girls – I was moved.

And I was inspired.

I was inspired to the point that when I die, I do not want to make my friends and loved ones sit through such an uncomfortable setting.

I know – this is not a new idea.

I want a wake. I want a great old fashioned Irish wake.

I want all my friends – everyone who knew me well enough to care that I was dead – I want all those people to gather at a pub – and have a beer – maybe two – maybe twelve – and all hang out together – and maybe listen to music of the play list from my iPhone (which is actually an awesome play list which can easily last sixteen hours before repeating a song) and join in on playing some pool or maybe some darts or maybe some cards – hang out together and just enjoy each other for as little or as long a period of time they wish to stay.

My very plain and simple urn would sit at the end of the bar.

Sure, I know the memorial is for the people you leave behind. People need a way to say good bye.

But I do know that the majority of people who would care enough to say goodbye to me would walk out of the chapel and say – “c’mon let’s go get a drink”.

So I am saving them that unnecessary step.

And only my brother Paul can say my eulogy. Only Paul could get it right. Only Paul would know everything about me to speak final words on my behalf at the end of this game of life. Only Paul could get away with being honestly objective so as not to leave behind any false impressions I may have left lingering about my own greatness.

Only Paul could bring could get away with making the statement to this group – “but it’s too late now Brother Fred … I bet it’s hot down there”. And I would smile in my lingering spirit – maybe make a beer glass fall from a waitresses tray just to let him know I’m listening.

Only Paul … and my lovely wife Darlene. Nobody knows me today like she does.

I would be so honored if my lovely wife Darlene would stand up in the front of the pub – underneath the big screen TV mounted on the wall playing a collection of pictures from our life together – and she might explain again to all who might listen – who I was again.

But the very best part would be left for my adopted Irish Brother Ray, who in that wonderful Irish brogue of his would simply read a few words that I might leave behind for him to say as my voice …

“I just want to thank you all for coming out today to enjoy the last gathering at a pub with me. I’m glad that you could make it, you rotten buggers; although I wish you would have come out with me before this … it would have been a lot more fun. Now, I’m pretty much dead. You can’t even buy me a beer now. ‘Happy Dead Day – here have a pint on me’ you could have said today … as you passed me a pint … you rotten cheapskates … but thanks for coming … really … because God did we have some really great laughs … didn’t we?”.

And all around the pub would be Bristol board posters – each containing one of my headstuffing stories – but only the really funny ones – and maybe this one too to make me appear so prophetic.

I did go to one wake … many years ago … totally by mistake.

I used to hang out at an Irish pub in London called Yer Man’s. It was run by two fine Irish immigrants Jimmy and Annie. And one of their Irish mates – a very important person in their life – had passed away. The casket was at the front of the pub. And when I got there – just stopping in for a pint in the passing of an evening with friends – I discovered a pub full of very drunken and emotionally distraught mourners.

Booze does not really enhance the way a person mourns. Instead it exaggerates it like a cartoonist exaggerates the nose of a political caricature.

“He wazsh shusch a lovely man … “, followed by the sound of sucking snot back into ones nose is made, “I really lubbed dat guy”.

That wake went on for two and a half days non-stop.

Okay – I’m not asking for that. But I do know I have several friends and several other acquaintances who would think two and a half days was just enough time to get warmed up.

In truth, I’m very proud of every friend I have ever made. If I were not, they would never have been my friend.

You can pick your friends, you know.

As for my family, well, I couldn’t have picked a nicer more loving family to come from. I love them all deeply. I couldn’t have been more blessed.

But in the end, as you find yourself wrapping up this amazing journey of life, perhaps seeing the end coming, perhaps not seeing it coming at all – I know that for myself – should it happen now – I would be quite content.

I’ve always said that when I go, I hope it is sudden. Perhaps standing outside and looking down at the ground noticing that the shadow that surrounds me is getting bigger very quickly and then just before I look up …

The piano hits me.

I have seen too much cancer. My Dad. My Uncle Fred. My buddy Don. The list goes on and on. My Mom is the only person I personally know who beat it.

I have quit smoking for a week shy of five months. I’m fifty and I started at the age of nineteen. That’s thirty years of smoking. And I’ve quit for only five months.

I hope it was soon enough.

If not, the first pint’s on me.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Too Cool For The Stones

I had the Rolling Stones playing on the radio this morning in the Jeep.

I was driving my two lovely young daughters, ages eleven and nine, to school on my way to work.

The song was Honky Tonk Woman, and the school is only two and a half blocks from our house. My two little princesses could easily walk – but every morning – even beautiful warm spring mornings like this morning – I drop them off on my way to work.

It's two and a half blocks out of my way.

Now I like this song. Who doesn’t like a good Rolling Stones song? At home – the Stones are littered all throughout my playlist that we listen to downstairs playing pool and hanging out, and they seemed to like it – sometimes they even dance to it.

But this morning, as we approached the front of the school – packed with kids milling about waiting for the bell to ring, my eldest Alannah asked from the back seat of the Jeep …

Dad, can you turn that off, we’re almost there

Huh? Why? Don’t you like the Stones?” I asked.

Daaaad … please … c’mon”, replied Alannah in that eleven year old diva ‘no-you-di-int’ type of hip hop attitude.

Ashley-Ray, sitting in the front seat, reached over and pressed the on-off button – and the car went silent.

Hey … what’re ya doing?”, I asked as I pulled the car over for them to get out and join a group of their friends. I reached back over – like any good father would do … and I turned my Stones song back on. And I turned it up just a bit …

Daaaaad .. hmmmph …“,moaned both the girls. The car doors closed as my daughters rolled their eyes and explained to their friends that … well … their Dad just isn’t that cool.

And I drove off thinking … since when did the Rolling Stones become .. un-cool?

I know they are in their seventies now … but this was the original song.

... she blew my nose and then she blew my mind ...” screamed my car radio as I drove away – now with the windows down.

As I turned the corner to get on the main street, I wondered to myself “What the hell happened?

When did the Rolling Stones become un-cool?

Do they have to rename the magazine?

Now I will grant you, at the age of fifty, I am older than most if not all of my daughters' friends' parents. In fact, quite often when we are out – there inevitably is someone who will comment

Isn’t it nice that your grandfather brought you out today.

And all three of us get a kick out of that and we play along, so as not to hurt anybody’s feelings.

But this is the Rolling Stones we are talking about here?

Their music – their rock and roll has passed the test of time better than even the Beatles.

They are so cool they made Elvis look like Evil Kneivel without a motorcycle.

And the only guy who was cooler than Elvis Presley was Johnny Cash.

My Dad loved Johnny Cash. He never cared much for Elvis.

When my brother Paul and I were little boys in Jackson Michigan, younger probably than my two daughters now – my Dad would play his Johnny Cash Albums on Saturday nights – and my brother and I would dance around the living room – using the old top to a crystal whiskey decanter as a pretend microphone - and we would sing all the lyrics to all the Johnny Cash songs.

Even Cocaine Blues.

Early one mornin' while makin' the rounds
I took a shot of cocaine and shot my woman down
I went right home and I went to bed
I stuck that lovin' forty-four beneath my head.

Okay – that’s kind of violent – especially when you realize he sang it in the early sixties –

Dad loved Johnny Cash He never cared much for Elvis. And he never really got the Rolling Stones – they were a bit young for him.

I don’t really like that boom-boom bang music” he would say.

I remember one time, Dad had an old Johnny Cash 8-track tape in the car that we would listen to … and we would all sing along to. And I remember him pulling up to the school one day to drop me off – while “I Walk The Line” was playing, and I reached over and I turned it off when we pulled up in front of the school.

Funny, I don’t ever remember thinking Johnny Cash wasn’t cool. I guess I thought I wouldn’t be cool if my friends saw me listening to Johnny Cash.


I guess it makes sense after all.

You know what’s really funny? My little girls like Johnny Cash too.

Only I don’t think they know all the words to Cocaine Blues.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Don's Bad Break

I lost a good friend a couple of weeks ago.

About ten years ago, my lovely wife Darlene started bowling in a league run by her friend Sheila. I happened to work with Sheila, and so within the next couple of years, I found myself bowling in this league too.

That’s where I met Sheila’s husband Don.

As it turned out, Don had known Darlene’s family all his life – as his father and Darlene’s father were good friends. Don told me one day at the alley as we had a pint together that he had babysat my lovely wife and her brother Glenn.

“I changed your wife’s diapers, you know”, he said as he handed me a fresh pint from the pitcher.

As time went on, I would find myself at Don and Sheila’s house – usually under the guise of fixing her laptop computer or her wireless internet setup – but once quickly completed Don and Sheila and I would find ourselves playing pool on Don’s beautiful table or standing at Don’s beautiful stone bar in their family room.

Don actually got me back into playing pool again.

Before I moved back to Windsor, I would spend every winter weekend stuffed away in a fancy billiards parlor behind my apartment building in London – playing snooker and nine ball and eight ball with my cousin Andy or anyone else who would play. I would spend evenings with my mates at Yer Man’s Irish Pub trying to maintain or regain control of the little Valley table stuffed back in the corner.

The first date Darlene and I ever went on – the first time we really met and spent time together, we pulled over into the first roadhouse we found that had a pool table, and we played all afternoon.

Huh – I never really realized that before. But we did.

So that first time we played on Don’s beautiful table – as level and true as you could ask for – the rails lively and consistent – it was like playing ball on a major league diamond.

It was perfect.

We played a lot of pool, Don and I.

When my best mate Ray came over from Dublin, Ireland for a couple weeks to visit, Don and Sheila came over to meet him. Of course we found ourselves downstairs at the pool table. Unbeknownst to Don, Ray is a better player than Don and I put together. When you take a European snooker player like Ray – used to much smaller balls and a much larger table with smaller pockets – and you put them on a standard North American nine foot Boston table like mine – the game is much easier to them – like playing volley ball with a balloon.

Ray consistently ran table on me – on my own table – never allowing me even a shot – as he would chide and chastise me for letting somebody else beat me in my own home on my own table.

But when we went downstairs to play with Don this evening, I neglected to let Don know on the side how good Ray is.

So Don, while unpacking his pool cue case, and fastening together his breaking stick and his famous  Balabushka stick (the Stradivarius of cue sticks), he began giving Ray a bit of a primer on how to strike a billiard ball with a cue, and how 8-ball is played.

I didn’t want to embarrass Don, so I sat quietly on the side and watched.

Don broke, but nothing went down.

Ray chalked the most bent up house stick I had on the wall, and rolled it on the table to show us how badly warped it was.

Then Ray proceeded to run the table sinking every striped ball – chalking his warped cue between each shot – putting the perfect English spin on the top or bottom or side or corner of the cue ball to make it move into perfect position for the next shot – just like a European snooker player.

I glanced over at Don – who winked at me - having quickly realized that Ray needed no primer as he smiled and watched with real appreciation as Ray pulled off perfect shot after perfect shot, and as Ray called and sank the eight ball in the same pocket as his previous shot, Don reached out his hand and shook Ray’s – he smiled at Ray and with a mischievous look in his eye – like only Don could – he said

See, you learned something today”.

Aye mate I did so, thank you for the lesson”, replied Ray.

One summer day several summers ago, Don and Sheila invited us over to their house to spend an afternoon in the back yard while the girls swam in the pool. During the course of conversation, my emergency room registered nurse of a lovely wife Darlene was concerned by some blemished she saw on Don’s skin, and she urged Don to see a doctor.

I guess he went.

That September, Don called me on the phone to ask me if I would play league pool with him that year. I told him I would – and we would play at the Legion every Monday night. But Don was now suffering from a cancer in his esophagus – and being treated every day with radiation and chemotherapy. His voice was but a whisper – and it hurt him to talk – and his once sturdy frame was now very thin and frail.

We were not able to play on the same team – so as the nights progressed through that season I would look over to the other table where Don was sitting – frailer night by night – watching the match on the table – some nights sitting on his hands – sometimes sleeping sitting up – exhausted from the chemo and the radiation treatment earlier that day.

Don took second place in individual play that season. And he made it all the way through that season. I didn’t think he would – let alone finish in second place. 

Don in centre - arms crossed
was a leader in our league
Last summer Don called me on the phone. His voice was back – and he sounded strong. He told me that it looked good so far and that he felt great. And he bought a new car – brand new Dodge Challenger SRT8 built custom for Don with specifications I’m not smart enough to know – and he wanted my advice how he could get back on Sheila’s good graces after the purchase.

We played in the same league again this year, again not on the same team. And again Don was one of the top players. But this year, work and other commitments forced me to back away from league play in January.

And a week or so later, I got word that Don’s cancer was back.

But Don had beaten it last time, so I thought he would beat it this time. I at least thought I had time to go see him, so busy with my other commitments – I didn’t realize he would go so fast.

But he did go fast. Very fast.

I still don’t understand how that could be.

Sometimes you have friends who are acquaintances. Don wasn’t one of those. Don always went way out of his way to let me know he was my real friend. He stood beside me when there was controversy – and he was always glad to see me.

I wasn’t nearly as good a friend to Don as he was to me.
And now it’s too late to fix that.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Quitting On Smoking

I quit smoking yesterday.

I guess I should really just say that I stopped smoking as of yesterday. A guy like me won’t be able to say I quit until I’m dead. And then it would have to be other people saying it for me.

I can't say I gave up smoking. Smoking is easy - so I can't give up on something easy. But I might give up on quitting - because contrary to popular motivational speakers - quitting is actually hard.

And I'm no quitter.

So I stopped smoking yesterday.

It’s driving me nuts. It’s only been twenty four hours.

No, I am not using the gum – nor am I on any patch – and no pills either.

It’s hard enough to quit smoking, I don’t need next to worry about quitting gum, patches or pills.

Cold turkey.

I’m trying so hard not to think about it that I thought I better sit down and write about it.

It’s lunch time at the office, and this is when I usually go down stairs for a smoke.

Now I have no place to go, no reason to go.

If you’ve read headstuffing before, you will know that I do very much enjoy the act of smoking.

And after many years of analyzing how I could possibly quit smoking, it has become clear and evident that there is only one solution man has not yet attempted.

The act of quitting smoking has to be enjoyable.

In fact, the alternative to smoking has to be more enjoyable than smoking!

Some people eat. I don’t really eat out of boredom. It’s not more enjoyable than smoking.

There’s only one thing more enjoyable than smoking, and I’m not having any of that here at work – no matter how over-creative my lovely wife Darlene’s imagination is.

But it left me thinking. If quitting smoking is hard – and I’m here to tell you it’s one of the toughest things in life to quit – then I could only imagine these people who are sex addicts must just sit in a fetal position and cry for six months when they supposedly quit.

See – that’s just the thing. Sex addicts don’t actually quit having sex. They just likely try to tone it down a bit. Probably ease off the leathers and perhaps move the occasion indoors for a while.

But you do actually have to completely quit smoking.

Have you ever met the person who says “I only smoke on Fridays nights when I have a couple of beers?

Yeah, right. Liars.

I can quit anytime I want to”, replies the non-smoking smokeless smoker.

You realize that to quit means you can never smoke again?” I reply to the liar.

But why should I stop forever if I can quit anytime?”, they retort. This line of logic is also likely the same line used by sex addicts.

The biggest obstacle to overcome is to defeat that never ending pounding driving want that wells up in your lungs craving what it’s missing and the nervous angst of not being able to satisfy that desire.

Your fingers twitch. So you do your hands, arms, up to your shoulder, up your neck and into your eyelid – where a cramp forms in your eyelid as though you're arm-wrestling Sylvester Stallone with your eyelid and you are losing badly because he is arm-wrestling your eyelid with his arm.

It’s just like that.

And sometimes – in these early stages – all levels of concentration are overcome by a simple buzz that erupts between your ears – the buzz, I believe, is actually the combined firing of every nerve in your body and brain saying “GIVE ME A SMOKE!”

To combat that buzzing in the ears, you can only sit there and pray that it goes away – if you just stop moving your eyeballs for just a moment or so – it should be fine.

Yes, I agree.

Smoking is bad for me. And it makes me stink. And it makes my mouth taste bad. And it costs an awful lot of money I could put to better use than to simply light it on fire and breathe in the fumes.

I know. I am not arguing.

But I’m sure gonna miss it.

I just hope I can survive it!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Only Groucho Could Make Italian Cruise Ship Tragedy Seem Plausible

A captain, I was always told, is supposed to go down with his ship.

Or at least be the last man off.

But not Schettino.

Captain Francesco Schettino, of the now capsized Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia, will likely go to prison for manslaughter for sharply deviating his course from the one chartered and running his ship aground. As you likely already know, the Captain was one of the first off the ship and into a lifeboat heading for shore.

So far eleven people are confirmed dead. A number at least double that are still missing.

This is no laughing matter. This is a tragedy.

But still, I can’t help but think, If only Groucho Marx were still alive to see this. There’d be a movie satire in the works for sure. But could it be as insane as what really happened?

We all heard the audio clip of a high ranking Italian Coast Guard officer and Captain Schettino.

But the audio recording sounds more like a scene from a Marx Brothers movie and Chico Marx – who always played the Italian peasant complete with an insulting accent - is playing now the Italian Captain. Groucho would be there in the background – unheard on the audio but he is giving the Captain his advice – his advice causing more harm than good.

It’s the only way any of Schettino’s story could possibly be plausible.

The scene opens as Captain Chico holding on to a walkie-talkie like handset – sitting in the row boat.

Harpo sits at the back of the boat rowing – but rowing them in circles – his arms rowing the oars in opposite directions.

Groucho clad in a rumpled tuxedo sits at the front of the boat, his feet up as he slouches back with a bottle of champagne in one hand, smoking his cigar in the other.

Just as Groucho would have written it …

Coast Guard Captain: (heard through the radio handset) “SCHETTINO! GET BACK ON THAT BOAT”,.

Groucho: (shakes his head and advises Captain Chico Schettino) – “Oh you don’t want to do that, the girls are waiting for us at the club”. He pauses thinking – eyes in the air - “Tell him it’s too dark”, takes another drag from the cigar and says “Tell him the boat already sank”.

I know, there are likely twenty eight people – perhaps more – who died in this tragedy. It is anything but funny.

But the gall of this Captain is incomprehensible.

He simply left.

When asked how he came to be in a lifeboat, he said he tripped and fell into it.

Groucho couldn’t make up a scene more insane than this.

It’s not funny. It is incredible. It is incredible in this day and age, with all the modern technologies to monitor the waters for depths and rocks and such, where the media is instantaneous – and cynical – that this imbecile thought every move he was making was the right one.

How would Groucho write the scene as the accident occurs? I think it would go something like this …

The scene opens as this flamboyant arrogant ass of a captain, Chico Schettino standing at the wheel, looking in a mirror to see that his curly hair properly flows out from under his captain’s hat, white gloves primping while depth monitor alarms ring and Harpo running around the deck honking the horn he keeps in the huge pockets of his first mate’s coat.

Groucho: (yelling) “Watch out!!”

Chico Schettino: “Relax-a, I do this all the time …”.

The whole crew on the bridge fall to the floor from the force of the impact.

Groucho: “Did you feel a bump”

Schettino: “It’s-a nothing, just a big wave-a”

Harpo: “Honk honk … Honk”

Schettino: “Let’s see what-a happened” and he leaves the bridge stepping out on the deck “Oops – I tripped-a and I fell into this life-a boat – quick help-a me out”

Groucho: “Okay – here take my hand – hey wait” and Groucho falls head over heels also into the boat “…. Ooof … oh great” and he gestures for Harpo to help them both out.

Harpo: “Honk Honk Honk” as he jumps right in the boat with them, and he pulls out a large pair of scissors that cuts the ropes holding up the life boat – the boat falls and splashed down into the waters below.

Schettino: “Oh-a great-a. “How am I gonna expain-a this?”

Groucho: “Just tell them the truth, oh wait, let’s not”.

Meanwhile, twenty people or more are fighting losing battles for their lives.

The inevitable trial to follow this fiasco will likely be just as incredible – as only Groucho could write it …

Groucho: “Your honor, my client is not responsible for his own actions, as he is suffering from the effects of imbecilicitis”.

Judge: “I beg your pardon?”

Groucho: (leaning into the judge) “Okay, you’re pardoned … now how about the same for my client ... you didn’t have to beg you know … but I like that you did … I like you too you know … those big blue just melt my heart …” as he shakes the ashes off his cigar raising his eyebrows – his eyes rolling far to the side – his painted on mustache hiding his glib smile.

Judge: (frustrated) “Excuse me?”

Groucho: (Yelling) “I said I like you too” (Normal voice as he turns to walk away from the bench) “Well if you’re gonna play hard to get … my heart already belongs to Lady Concordia – owner of this great ship and my heart” – pointing to the lady of high society.

Lady Concordia: (seated in the audience – blushing) “Oh my”

Two constables then drag Groucho out of the court room as he still puffs on the cigar and gestures his love to the Lady Concordia.

Captain Schettino: (On the Stand testifying in his own defense) “Schettino doesn’t deserve to go to a prison – it was an accident – oops”.

There is nothing funny about this tragedy. This guy needs to go to prison for a very long time.

Twenty or more people are dead. And twenty or more families now mourn the lives lost by one arrogant imbecile who somehow was deemed responsible enough to actually captain a cruise ship.

But the best punishment for this flamboyantly arrogant imbecile of an ass is to forever use his name to describe all the other flamboyantly arrogant imbecile asses.

They will forever now be known as Schettinos.

If only Groucho were still alive to see this.

I wonder how he’d write the prison scene?

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