Friday, February 8, 2019

Didja Ever Wonder

This photo has nothing to do with the entry I just couldn't find anything that matched up well with the sentiment
The last couple of weeks have found me both mentally and emotionally disconnected. Usually, when I'm writing, my thoughts seem to have a certain flow to them. The passing of my father, kind of knocked it out of whack as I dealt with feelings of loss and an unusual sense of calm which comes when something expected has come to pass. Then, of course, is all the business and property matters which got dropped on me at the same time.

This morning, I was looking at my timeline on Facebook, and noticed somebody had posted the song Knock Three Times. Since I really like the song, I shared it and a few moments later a friend of mine reminded me a while back I had written this about the song.  l When I'm going to post a link to an old blog entry, I take the time re-read the entry to see if I missed any grammatical errors or need to add notes because of things which have changed. In rereading this old entry, my imagination took over for a while and I began to wonder about the people I had written about who were from earlier in my life.

The Internet is a very big place, and there are lots of things to read, see, and do but in all the time I've been writing this blog, almost a full decade, I have only heard from one person I've written about here. Granted a lot of the people I write about are women and if I do include the last name it is probably their maiden name which makes it even less likely they would've run across it.  Knowing all of this doesn't prevent me from wondering what happened to all those people.

Like most folks, there are people in my past I would prefer to leave there. But there are people in the past whose positive memory makes me wonder what they're up to today and if they are doing okay. One of the people I knew in high school was a day nicknamed Pyro (Yes, he did, in fact, blow up the high school chemistry classroom in high school). Where is he now? The experiment he was working on was supposed to be an alternative energy source derived from raw sewage. Did it ever make it past the drawing board?

Several of the talented people I went to school with have gone on to have careers in music, theater, and elsewhere in the arts. What about the ones I haven’t heard from --  the ones whose life took a different turn and ended up only singing for their own children or painting in their basement. There's nothing wrong with that, but it would be nice to know they are still enjoying what I admired about them.

Then of course, there were all the friends and relationships which wandered in and out of my life and turned me into the human being I am today. Where are you people at? Growing up as an Army brat, I would be on a base a year or two and then move on. This was at a time before the Internet and when long-distance was an expensive proposition. Usually, those relationships just ended. I wonder all those people are -- I hope they are all happy wherever they are.

Anyway, enough time pondering this-- time to get back to work on my book. But first, I think I'll give this old song a listen.  Rosetta Britton, know I remember you fondly and hope you still have reason to share your wonderful smile often. If you ever wondered – I’m doing fine.


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

You Will Live On, Dad. Farewell For Now

As a kid, it puzzled me why my father would refuse to drive anywhere on Christmas day. The biggest impact to me as a kid was if a Christmas present needed a battery we did not have, it would have to wait until the next day. When I was older, I asked my father why he refused to drive on Christmas, his explanation was simple: he didn't want to risk getting in an accident and destroying Christmas for them and their family going forward. It would've been devastating if someone was killed. It was years later when I was in the Air Force before he gave me a fuller explanation. 

My father was a company commander in Vietnam during 1968. It was one of the worst times to be a Captain in the country because aside from the normal dangers of war, there was a bounty on the head of all company commanders. Also, America's attitudes were shifting due to the Tet Offensive. By all objective accounts, if we kept going after the Tet Offensive, we would've won the war. The press lost the war. In the latter part of December, one of his troops was severely wounded while out on the last patrol in the days before Christmas. The soldier as taken to the Evac hospital, and once my Dad's company stood down for the holiday he made a trip to the hospital to visit his wounded man. When he got there, he was told the man died. 

Dad went over the Mortuary to say farewell to his fallen trooper, and the specialist who worked there took him to where the body was stored. Looking down at the paperwork, my father noticed the man's date of death was listed as 25 December. Dad found that completely unacceptable, and asked the specialist to change it. The Specialist refused because, in the pre-computer Army, he would have to retype the entire form just to change the date. Also, the Specialist didn't want to be late for the special Christmas dinner at the chow hall. My father nodded and walked out; he returned a short while later with a fifth of Jack Daniels. 

The Specialist accepted the offering to retype the form, changing the date of death the 27th. In doing this, my father ensured the man's family would never associate Christmas day with the anniversary of his death. It was a lesson I remembered. Because of that lesson, when my father passed away, quietly in his sleep, on 21 December 2018 the only people notified were family. He would not want his passing to negatively affect everyone's holiday. I made sure it did not.

My father has been mentioned in this blog before, among them, his genius for inventing the after-breakfast nap and the frustrations of the past three years as his health declined. He was a man who actually lived three different lives as an adult. First, he was a soldier, after he retired, he became a DOD civilian, then after he retired from again, he became a gentleman farmer. I grew up with the soldier for a father, disappearing for at least two years of my life, one in Korea and one in Vietnam. My brother came along at the end of his military service and for part of his life as a DOD civilian. Both of us as adults knew him as a retiree. It may seem each one of those things is different, but they really aren't in the way he went about them. He never lost his soldier spirit and way of doing things. Along the way, he taught us the same lessons of patriotism, selflessness, integrity, caring, reverence, and charity. All of those traits he possessed and led to his being awarded the Silver Star while he was in Vietnam, read the citation above.

Dad taught me to watch people and see beyond what my eyes told me. Find the story underneath and appreciate everyone for who they are. Never prejudge anyone, because you will always be wrong. He possessed a wicked sense of humor and often would say something funny when least expected.  He was also generous with both his money and time to charitable endeavors.
Dad was very specific about what he wanted for his funeral, and we did our best to ensure the sendoff was exactly what he wanted right down to the wood coffin Like his life, there were three parts: the church funeral, a Masonic funeral, and military honors. Standing behind his flag-draped coffin, I related the story about his Silver Star and a few other tales during the church service. Most of those stories have a basis in his humility. It was revealed how silent he was about his history when local friends and associates came up and told me they were surprised to learn of his heroism in Vietnam. Many did not even know he was a Vietnam veteran. 

Even though my father was not killed in combat, he was honored with a 21-gun salute for his service. The second youngest of his great-grandchildren cried due to the noise, I found myself crying at the realization we were closing the book on his physical existence. One of the most solemn moments in my life was when Master Sgt. Ortiz kneeled in front of me to hand me the folded flag with the thanks of a grateful nation. It was difficult because at the same time I was feeling the enormous amount of patriotism while my heart was breaking at having to say goodbye. 

The last three years or so my father's life have not been easy. My mother passed away 17 years ago leaving him on his own, and he reached a point where he needed help. I found myself continually going to battle against the VA and unscrupulous charities on his behalf. In an ultimate moment of cruelty, a call came the Monday after his funeral from the VA. They were finally processing the paperwork I submitted last February. Bureaucratic bastards. 

During those years the man in front of me was slowly fading away as CTE and dementia took its toll. Anyone else who's been through it can tell you it is difficult not to be angry at the person but the disease which is not their fault. Three years is a long time to deal with those difficult emotions. Then, I was presented with an opportunity to work my way through them when I volunteered to go through his home and sort through things separating mementos from those things needing to be donated to things which just need to be thrown away. In doing the work, I rediscovered my father and all the pain of the last three years started to fade away. I would suggest it to anyone who has a parent or loved one pass away. It is a way to rediscover all the things you remember about them, and at the same time, you occasionally run across something which affirms how much you meant to them.

My father lived for almost 83 years.  Full, happy, and productive years that left behind a legacy living on in two sons, six grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren (so far).  


Friday, December 7, 2018

More To The Story Than Adrian

A lot can be said about Sylvester Stallone. He's an actor, choreographer, producer, and writer -- like most people he does some things good and others badly. The one thing he must be given absolute laudatory credit for is the ability to tell a story and to make the audience invest themselves in the hero. No better place in cinema is this shown than in the Rocky series of movies. I was reminded of this when I went and saw Creed II last weekend.

The movie is not a Rocky movie per se, but it is built inside the Rocky universe, and the main focus of the film is a character from that universe, Apollo's Creed's son Adonis. If you are not familiar with Rocky or the personalities in the movie series, it really doesn't matter because my focus is on the type of story Sylvester Stallone tells. Since the very first Rocky movie, his story formula has been straightforward but done so well you are willing to watch movie after movie just to root for the hero even though you know he's going to win in the last 10 minutes of the film.

He uses the essential elements of any story.  He introduces a hero and allows him to be an underdog against seemingly insurmountable odds. The hero is likable and has a persona the average moviegoer can identify with, either personally or through life experience. The hero goes through various trials and tribulations, ending with a sudden epiphany or realization of reality which will allow him to enter into battle against a seemingly insurmountable foe. By the way, the adversary does not always have to be an evil person – – Apollo Creed, introduced in the first Rocky movie, was not a bad guy, Apollo was just surrounded by bad people. Creed and Rocky eventually become good friends.

Everyone in the audience is rooting for the hero as he enters the ring for the primary battle of the story. Anyone who has seen any of these films knows the hero, in the end, will win. It just doesn't matter. It is too much fun rooting for the underdog, the hero you've come to identify with and in some ways admire. A hero who was overcome adversity to finally stand toe to toe against his nemesis.

The fight itself will go back-and-forth, with the hero almost losing several times before mentally grabbing hold of words spoken earlier which will allow him to win. The audience’s emotions are building during all of this, and they cheer when the known element is discovered and used to bring the champ to a win -- while the familiar Rocky theme crescendos in the background. For most Hollywood movies with the expected happy ending, this is where the film ends. It is also where Sly is smart enough to use the emotional high he has given to the audience to make that high last a little longer.

Unlike the Marvel superhero movies, which feature a sneak peek trailer at the end to fuel the audience forward, Sylvester Stallone realizes the audience is on a high for the hero and other characters in the movie. Rather than wasting the emotional investment, he gives the audience one more hurrah in a final scene which provides them with a lasting memory to carry out of the theater beyond the battle of good and evil. 

I don't want to give away the end of any movie in case a reader hasn't seen them. Instead, I invite you to watch any of the Rocky movies to see what I'm talking about. But please, don't watch the film with a jaundiced eye, instead watch it through the eyes of an audience who has come to be told a story. Watch the story for the enjoyment of it.

Note: For those who will say the first Creed movie departed from this formula, I agree. However, the feature was not written by Sylvester Stallone. The only writing credit he received in Creed was for the characters he created not the story.


Monday, November 12, 2018

RIP Storyteller Stan Lee -- Excelsior!

As a writer, I am often asked what novelists are my favorites or provide me with inspiration.  I've written about it at length when discussing self-publishing and once specifically about PJ O'Rourke. But as much as I get asked about writers, I never get asked about people I consider great storytellers. I was saddened today to hear of the passing of one of the great ones: Stan Lee.

I was told that as you get older, the first thing you do when you hear someone has died is to subtract their rage from yours. Considering Stan's age, those numbers are not much of a concern since it is still a two-digit number representing over three decades. So, after a bit of math, my thoughts moved on to the things which most impressed me about the man and his storytelling. In the end, I came up with three things, in particular, the man did which will forever impress me. Allowing the hero to be flawed, providing a satisfying ending to each story while allowing the universe to exist forever, and having fun in the world you created.

Stan created or helped to create a zillion or so superheroes. The primary signature of Stan's creations is that every hero, no matter how powerful, is somehow flawed and very human. From Peter Parker's (Spiderman) insecurities and the pain of his uncle's death to Wade Wilson (Dead Pool) who is entirely ruthless-- each and every hero will ultimately have to face and overcome their own flaws. To me, it was one of the greatest gifts a storyteller could ever give an audience. After all, we all have our own shortcomings, and Stan gave us heroes just like us-- flawed.

I'll be the first to admit at first read some of his stories ended in less than satisfying ways.  However, because he made his universe endless, the next story would always provide the answers which were missing from the first and gave a plausible way for things to go on. This serialized method of storytelling is not new, but Stan took the time to perfect the craft. He could leave you hanging, but you let him because you knew eventually you would get a satisfying payoff.

Stan made cameo appearances in every superhero movie made from his stories. Fans would spend the entire film waiting for his arrival and more than a few tried to piece the cameos together to create a new story. He also appeared as himself on many TV shows, hosted a game show for people who wanted to create their own superhero, and an extensive social media presence. In almost every instance, he was visibly having fun being there. After all who wouldn't have fun being Stan Lee?

As with the passing of anyone worthy of admiration, I found myself considering the main regret I had which was that I never met the man. Of course, spending three seconds shaking hands of someone who inspired you and maybe getting a picture seems trivial. But as I pondered that thought, it occurred to me that I had met Stan-  many, many times. I met him through all of my favorite Marvel characters: Capt. America, Spider-Man, Drax, Iron Man, Dead Pool, Star-Lord, Nick Fury, Black Widow, Loki, Groot, Rocket Raccoon, Gamora, … with my introduction of these characters to my grandchildren, Stan Lee will be telling stories forever.


Thursday, October 18, 2018

Life Goes On, With Pauses Here & There

I've always tried to create at least one entry every two weeks, with the goal being to write one every week. I guess my reason is twofold, I want to have some sort of discipline to what I'm doing, and I'm following a model that was given to me by my 10th grade English teacher of trying to write something original every week. Additionally, I feel like if I don't share a particular idea, thought, or memory that occurred to me I might lose the spirit and meaningfulness of it if I wait too long to capture it in written words. This is a goal I don't always meet, in fact back in 2014 I only wrote two entries for the entire year, choosing to blame Mark Zuckerberg for my lack of discipline.

Anyway, for the past year, I've been dealing with something in my personal life that has pulled me away from writing regularly. That means not only writing in this blog but also getting my latest book finished. I'm facing something that a lot of people of my age group are starting to have to deal with: an aging parent. Without going into a lot of details, his situation has changed over the past year, and it requires more and more time on my part, as well as my brother’s. We are continually adjusting our thinking and adapting to the amount of time spent interceding to ensure that he is safe, everyone who encounters him is safe, and that he is happy. I often speak of the benefits of being a military brat, but there is one severe downfall in that because of the distance between you and your extended family you seldom see someone age nor what is required as they get older. Therefore, a lot of what I'm seeing and doing is brand-new to me.

It is the love of my father keeps me motivated and contributes to my willingness to give up my time to ensure he has proper care. I am by no means claiming anything close to sainthood, there are plenty of times when his deliberate actions are frustrating to me and cause me to question if this is the same man who raised me since he seems to be breaking every rule of life he ever gave me. I'm continually reminding myself that he is indeed the same man and that with the passage of time his perception of the world is changing and causing him a significant amount of frustration as well.

But alas, I find that I’ve allowed myself to create another entry that attempts to explain and address a situation that I neither want to explain nor address. My intent when sitting down today was to write an entry about Sock Science, instead of discussing why the clock stops for no man.  It just didn't work out that way. So, I will close this for now and ask for your understanding and patience as I try to adapt to this new normal and still find some way of sharing my thoughts, musings, and something about Sock Science.


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Still At It

Nine years ago, I sat down at my keyboard and wrote this.  That first entry was not an earth-shattering epiphany of the need to collect and record my priceless thoughts and philosophy.  It was more like a subsurface urge to capture my musings when I noticed calendar reached a particular date.  

Now, nine years later, I'm still at it and covering a wide range of thoughts, observations, and opinions.  Except for one entry, I wrote on November 3, 2012.  I have avoided politics and politicians.  

The idea for an entry usually starts when somehting crosses my mind then gets stuck rather than moving on.  Due to my persona, lots of varied things seem to wander through my brain.  I started out writing about riding and my dog MacBeth,  you will notice many entries feature both MacBeth and Falkor.

I also went to Kuwait for 18 months and talked a lot about living there,  I was even there for one of the worst rains in recent memory.  But then the next year, I spent distracted -- damn you, Mark Zuckerberg.

I discussed my Dad, adventrues in mail order, and the dawning of home voice devices.

Over the years, I reviewed movies, talked about TV shows and tons of concerts including finally getting to see Lynyrd Skynyrd live.  I also talked about new music I discovered and great comedy too. I spoke about music’s effect on me and even though Linda remains one of my favorites,  why Joan and I will always be a thing.

After taking some time off to finish writing it, I talked about my latest novel, to include details on the cover design

I talked about teachers good and bad 

Lots of entries -- almost 300,  lots of readers --over 168K from all over the world, lots of words from lots of thoughts.

Proud to say my blog continues to be 

The thoughts and musings of a man at the precipice of middle age, starting from his 50th birthday.


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

My Year In Live Music 2018, Act IV: Thomas Bailey

When I buy a concert ticket, it is usually because I'm a fan of the headliner.  The investment in a ticket something that requires a bit of consideration, given the price of current concert tickets, it can be a significant investment. Recently, I bought tickets to a show because the three acts performed 80s era music. Each of the three had songs that I really enjoyed and that I looked forward to hearing performed live.

Due to various issues, I have not attended as many shows this summer as I did last year. So, when I bought tickets for the show, I splurged and bought good seats – – even though I was stuck playing the seat roulette game of the Ticketmaster monopoly process. With tickets in hand, I set off hopeful for a show that would be both memorable and full of memories.  

The first act of the evening, was Tom Bailey, formerly of the Thompson Twins. Of the many bands that I listen to in the 80s, the Thompson Twins seemed to be omnipresent. When I was researching songs to use for my concert prep playlist, I discovered they performed a lot of songs that I loved. That made Tom’s appearance more anticipated.

Tom’s current band lineup features a trio of dynamite backing musicians. I was surprised when they walked on stage, and I saw an all-female band was backing him.  Being a big fan of Joan Jett, Nina Strauss, and Ann Wilson, I can appreciate talent regardless of gender. But this was the first band I had seen where the male was the solitary minority as opposed to the other way around. Another surprise was that they were all wearing white outfits which gave them a more formal and cohesive look.  Aside from the Temptations, it has been a while since I saw a band have that level of disciplined professionalism.

But I was there for the music, and the performers did not disappoint. Tom deftly moved from one instrument to another back and forth across the stage as the band treated us to a blend of both old songs and new songs from his recently released album. 

Vicky Warkwick provided solid basslines for each song, and if you're familiar with Thompson Twins music that bass is essential to drive the music forward. She also played keyboards from time to time which added to the fullness of the music when one keyboard simply wasn't enough.   

In almost every concert I find myself concentrating on the motions, or antics of one musician in the band. For this act, it was Amanda Kramer who provided background vocals and keyboards. She was fully engaged and having a great time. She had a wonderful smile and invited the audience to join her in clapping along or raising their arms in the air. I always love it when I find that one musician who seems like they are having the best night of their life.  It looked to me like she was. Aside from the spirit she brought to the music, her playing and singing were on point. 

Paulina Szczepaniak kept the rhythm flowing with her work on the drums. I hated the way the stage layout hid her behind other equipment and prevented me from seeing her perform, but the sound of her expert drumming drove the entire performance forward.

As I mentioned, the performance was a blend of both old and new songs. The newer songs came from the album Science Fiction which Tom had recently released. When I go to concerts to hear the older music, I dread it when an artist tries to re-imagine their hits or tries to introduce a new album that lacks the power and vitality of their original music. Tom Bailey broke that paradigm.

While his Science Fiction album has a similar style and feel as his earlier music, it is not a copy or an attempt to recapture the older style. Instead, he somehow manages to allow the original spirit to flow through the new work without it being a copy or cheap duplication.  Yes, it is the first time that I have ever picked up a freshly released album on my way out of the concert venue.

There were two other acts that night, but in my mind, both of them failed to capture the way they were then or the way they should be now. I have been disappointed by concerts in the past, and I've reviewed them here. I'm not doing it this time, because the entire night was not a loss and I would rather concentrate on the good time and enjoyment of Tom Bailey's music over those who failed.  

If the Thompson Twin's Tom Bailey is coming to a venue near you, buy tickets, and go --  Enjoy it for all it is worth. Likewise, any band that includes Vicky Warkwick, Amanda Kramer or Paulina Szczepaniak  Is likely worth seeing – – (Amanda also plays with the Psychedelic Furs).

Long live 80s Rock!