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.

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