On the Year That Was, and What Lies Ahead

You know friends and sometimes constant readers? I had a whole blog post/piece of Mental Flatulence planned for this New Year’s. It involved Time Travel, the Eagles repeating as Super Bowl Champs et cetera et cetera. I even started writing it, but I quickly realized that finishing it before the ball drops in Times Square at midnight tonight/tomorrow would be impossible. So I scrapped it in favor of this. FYI: This is not going to be a long post which, for me, is a bit of a surprise and for many of you is likely a relief. Breathe easy, folks. I’m only going to take up your time for a few paragraphs. I expect that many of you have plans for tonight and are anxious to get to your revelry. I am, as well—whatever that revelry will entail. But before we crack open our respective bottles of champagne and sing “Auld Lang Syne,” a few… parting words before we close the book on 2018.

I’m sure that one or two of you reading this are looking forward to burning this past year in effigy and embracing 2019. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t ready to do the same. As you know, 2018 has been… a bit of a rough go for your old buddy the Mad Chronicler. I’m not going to rehash the events of the last year herein. As my friend Heather said in a Facebook post earlier today, it has been, at times “a bit of a crapfest.” She’s not lying. It has. And while much of what has happened was… expected? Foreseen? It doesn’t lessen the impact. But surprisingly enough, I’m not ready to… what did I say a few years ago at the tail end of 2016? Oh yeah. “Take a barbwire-wrapped baseball bat” to the year that was. I tend these days to look for the positives in each negative. The silver lining or linings, so to speak. And this past year? I learned a lot. A veritable f*ckload of things, honestly. I’ve talked a little bit about those things over the last few weeks but the most important thing I learned this year is resilience. I’ve always been someone that could role with the punches. That’s a trait I inherited from my mother, a single mom who survived cancer, worked two jobs to put food on the table, survived a couple of at times ungrateful kids and never once flinched. My mother is the definition of an Iron Woman, guys and gals. I don’t speak about her enough in these blog entries/pieces of Mental Flatulence and I should. Mom? Thank you for teaching me that I am, in fact, “Braver than [I] believe, stronger than [I] seem, and smarter than [I] think.” I didn’t know it until this past year. I thought that was just another of your convenient clichés (and you have a lot of them which is not a bad thing) but this year? It proved to be integral. It’s not just a cliché for me, now. It’s a mentality. Thank you for that. Even at 43 plus years old on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence, I can still learn a thing or two from you. Booyakasha, Mom. Respect. I love you.

This past year, I also learned that perception and reality are two completely different things. I’ve often confused the two in the past. Call it a product of naiveté, even at the ripe age of 43 years young. I confused the two because I wanted the outward perception of what was my reality to be my actual reality. Another, less elegant way of referring to this is in referring to the difference between a Sh*t-Eating Grin and a real one. A Sh*t-Eating Grin? “So nice to see you! Everything is GREAT. My wife is GREAT. My marriage is STRONG.” That was how I wanted to be perceived for the longest time. Always striving for acceptance by the cool kids or, in this case, my peers. That’s been me and was me for a good portion of my life. But in the end? I realized that a false smile betrays who you are deep, down inside at places you don’t like to talk about at parties. The fact of the matter is? I’m still Frank Marsh. Still that geeky kid that you remember from grade and high school. Still a hopeless romantic and eternal dreamer. Still the guy that used to go on four hour, round trip diner runs at 12AM the night before a Midterm or a Final. I’ll never be a facsimile of a smiley face and I don’t want to be one. When I smile now, I want it to be genuine. And there are moments. When I look at my minions and think, “if I do nothing else good in this life on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence… if I achieve nothing more than I have too date, at least I had a part in THAT. In THEM.” That’s the real thing, everyone. And that may be my goal… my resolution for 2019. At least one of them. I also want to start running again and who doesn’t want to drop a handful of pounds? No one, I’m sure. But above all else? I want my smiles to be genuine next year. No more outward perception of peace. If I’m at peace, you’ll see it. But if I’m not? If I’m tortured? I’m not going to force a grin to save someone’s ego. Long story short? “This is me.” Deal with it or don’t? I’ll wish you well in all your future endeavors either way.

And finally? Everything that has happened over the course of this past year has gotten me writing again. Whether it’s this little blog entry/piece of Mental Flatulence, HEAVEN AND ENDWORLD or that new story idea I referenced in my last blog post and finally figured out/jotted down a rough outline for yesterday, I’m doing it. Maybe not at the speed and production levels that I was writing at back in my recent heyday of 2011-2013, but give me time. I’m building up a tolerance for it. It’s just like running in that sometimes, you’ve got to walk, and then walk quickly before you can run. You’ve also got to stop smoking cigarettes and lose weight but damn, y’all: One thing at a time. I can’t change everything at once.

Which leads me to a quick little announcement here, on the cusp of 2019. Are you ready for it? Okay. Here it is.

CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD is coming.

Yep. You read that right. Over the last few days I’ve spoken with my editor and my cover artist. My editor is almost finished (booyakasha, Amy. MAD respect) and my cover artist has my concept in-hand and is starting to work on it. Assuming everything else including formatting goes according to plan—which it almost never does but I’m optimistic this time—I’m targeting a Spring, 2019 publication to coincide with the six year anniversary (six? Has it really been six years? Jesus, I feel like George R. R. Martin) of the release of ENDWORLD – A Novel. So for those of you that have been waiting? Thank you for your patience. A million and one thank yous. You will soon get to read the continuation of William MacNuff’s story which, I’ll not lie? Heads down a dark path or two between the covers. I hope you enjoy it. And I hope you know how deeply personal a book it was for me to write. At times even more personal than these little ditties. If the last six years brought me anything, it brought me perspective and that bled out of my reality, and into the pages of CHILDREN at a number of points. It’s still got robots, and supernatural, existential sh*t, and one or two little plot twists which I will NOT reveal herein but at it’s core? It’s a vision of my life over the last half dozen years. A true autobiographical fiction. Damn. I really need to patent that term at some point.

And with that everyone? I’m done. I could write more but I think the message I wanted to convey with this has been conveyed. Am I ready to burn 2018 to the ground? F*ck yes I am. But I’m not going to do so without carrying the lessons I learned this year, however hard, with me into the future. 2019 awaits. It is a blank slate, guys and gals. Maybe the Eagles will repeat as Super Bowl Champions. Maybe Time Travel will be discovered. Maybe CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD will go onto sell a million copies and launch me into the realm of literary super stardom. Or? Or. Maybe I’ll simply continue to let life come to me and just… exist. On this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. Eternal optimist. Hopeless romantic. The once and future Mad Chronicler. Frank Marsh. Me.

“Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne.”

Happy New Year everyone. Winky emoticon. Smiley face.

F.

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My Christmas Carol

Last night, as I was driving out to meet up with friends under the light of a spectacular full moon, I was taken with an idea. It felt like a story but in truth? I haven’t yet been able to figure out the full extent of what’s involved. Might have been the drinks and good conversation, something which has been… not neccesarily lacking in my life recently but definitely not as prevelant as it’s been in the past. Something about new beginnings. That’s the thing about writing. Believe it or not? An idea doesn’t happen all at once unless you are very, very lucky. It usually takes time to develop, and then more time to revise, and still more time to complete… you get the picture. So I’m going to let this one stew for a bit. All I can tell you now is that it’s there. It’s there, and we’ll see where it goes.

But then, driving back, I was taken with another idea and that one has stuck with me since. That’s why I’m sitting here in my sunroom, typing this presently. It’s no secret to anyone that knows me that when it comes to Christmas movies, there are a few that have been and always will be personal favorites. “White Christmas,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Die Hard” and others have taken on an almost mythical quality in my life over my last 43 plus years on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existance. But nothing… no Christmas story has ever resonated as strongly with me as “A Christmas Carol.” You may know it as “Scrooge,” or “Scrooged…” it has taken many forms over the years. For me? The best adaption is the 1951 one starring Alastair Sim. It’s easily the truest to Dickens’ original story and Sim’s portrayal of miserly old Ebenezer Scrooge is hands down the best one ever.

The fact that “A Christmas Carol” has been redone in so many ways, shapes and forms over the years (Muppets? Really?) makes it pretty clear that any sort of new adaption of it will be… well? Not new. Maybe robots would work but I write enough about robots. I’ll save them for the pages of The Endworld Series and… other, still-to-be written ideas which I will not get into now. But one particular aspect of “A Christmas Carol” stands out to me: The concept of ghosts. Specifically, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. You see, the idea of time past, time present and time still to come has been a constant theme in my life lately. Introspection has been a big way in which I fill the silence 50 or so percent of the time these days. Where have I been? Where am I now? And where the f*ck am I going? I believe that the key to moving forward is to use the first two questions to extrapolate the answer to the third. Whether you agree with that approach or not is your perogative. For now, it’s mine. Letting life come to me is only part of the process.

So that’s where I am this afternoon. That’s why I’m writing this piece of Mental Flatulence right now. This weekend, I was visited by two of Dickens’ three ghosts. Now before you go and reserve me a room at the nuthouse understand that I do not believe in ghosts. At least not ghosts of the Casper variety. The idea of wispy, white and occassionally sheet wearing dead people hanging out in my living room… well? It scares me a bit. And I dig a good ghost story or horror movie. But I feel like if ghosts do exist, then they do not exist in the form that pop culture has portayed them in for millenia. Maybe it’s a dimensional thing, like in that Doctor Who episode, “Army of Ghosts” where the “ghosts,” it turned out, were nothing more than the Cyberman, crossing the dimensional plane to interact with people on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence in the interest of eventually invading and conquering them. Spoiler alert: They failed. But the Doctor’s companion and burdgeoing love interest Rose Tyler got locked away in an alternate dimension and… well? I may or may not have cried at the end, but that is neither here nor there. I digress. Back on task, Frank. Back on task.

That’s one interpretation of ghosts that I’m inclined to entertain. If anything it makes for good fiction. But another and, for me, more reasonable and realistic explanation is that a ghost is nothing more or less than an idea. A concept. A reminder of a person that once existed or a state of life that once prevailed. So this weekend? Yes, friends. I was visited by two. Past and Present. The Ghost of Christmas Past actually showed up after the Ghost of Christmas Present but for the purposes of structure and staying true to Dickens’ original concept, I’ll start with the Past.

I mentioned earlier that I went out last night to hang out with friends. What I didn’t mention was that two of the three friends were people that I hadn’t seen in decades. A lot has happened to me over the last handful of years. Some would argue (and have) that it caused me to lose a part of myself. Via introspection–that thing that I do a lot these days and probably shouldn’t–I’m inclined at this point to agree with them. But spending time with the people I spent time with last night? I was reminded of who I once was. By recounting what once was, I remembered for the first time in a long time how it felt to be young, not 43 years old and divorced. How many of you reading this know I used to act and sing in plays and musicals? Probably a bunch of you. Bad example. How many of you know that pre-that, I was in speech and debate, otherwise known as Forensics? Maybe a few less. Another piss poor example. STOP. Okay. But the point here is that rarely over the last handful of years did I even consider those days as I was going about the daily grind of my existence. Who I was was a married father of two, working a job that I hated, all the while trying desperately to stoke a fledgling career as a professional writer between loads of laundry and birthday parties. Writing sporadically was as close as I got to the artist, i.e. the art-eest that I once was. In short? I pushed that part of me aside so as to focus on my obligations. And meeting with the Ghost or Ghosts of Christmas Past brought that back full center. Am I inclined to forsake responsibility and embrace the life of a starving artist again? Hell no. But is there a way to be both? An artist with a relatively full belly, perhaps? Hmm. My thanks go out to the people that I spent time with last night for reminding me of who I once was. In the past. And I’m really excited for the opportunity to get together again soon. To paraphrase Ali G? Booyakasha. Respect.

Which brings me to the Ghost of Christmas Present, whom visited me on Friday night as I ventured out to CVStress Swarthmore for wrapping supplies and stocking stuffers. It should be noted herein that I do not believe in shopping at big box retailers after roughly December 15th of every year. I spent 13 years working in retail at Christmastime and have made it a point to avoid it as much as I can since leaving it behind me in 2005. I could have saved money had I gone to Target but it was worth it, if only to get in and out unscathed. Anywhos, no sooner had I walked in the door than I saw my former work colleague of two years. We talked briefly… she was on her way out and I was on my way in but in a short space of time, we talked about life, work (her new job and mine), and compared our respective states of mind now to where they were a few, mere months ago. In short? We’re both better… much better than we were while slaving away at our previous employer. Not that our lives Monday through Friday are less busy. If anything, they’re busier than they were. But being someplace where we feel respected and needed is a step up from being someplace where we felt expendable despite consistently overperforming and succeeding. To her, let me repeat Ali G’s litany. Booyakasha. Respect. Whereas the Ghost or Ghosts of Christmas Past reminded me of who I was many, many years ago the Ghost of Christmas Present reminded me of where I am now, and how much better off I am than I was a few weeks ago. Let’s be honest, here: My life is not perfect. Far from it. I’m re-learning how to support myself with the extra added variable of supporting two little ladies. I’m lonely some of the time, and introspection/finding things to fill the void only gets me so far. But I’m learning that these… aspects? These things are normal for someone in my position. There will be days but if the good ones outnumber the bad? I guess I’m doing an okay job.

So there you have it. Christmas Past and Christmas Present. Both have visited me over the last couple of days. See? No need to reserve me a padded room at the asylum. If you believe in structure, it stands to reason that I’m due a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future either tonight or tomorrow night, otherwise known as Christmas Eve Eve and Christmas Eve. If so? Two words: Bring it. Or am I? I spoke earlier about another ghastly definition of the term “ghost” and that’s where I’m going with this, friends, and occasionally constant readers. Maybe Christmas Future is not a thing. Not a white fog clad wraith or a metal man from another dimension. Maybe it’s not even a person that once was or a state of existence that will be. Maybe… Just maybe Christmas Future is nothing more than a synthesis of what I learned from the Past and the Present. The child of the two, so to speak Over the course of three days, in between watching the Eagles, wrapping presents and doing laundry (among other things), I was reminded of who I once was, and who I am now was reinforced. Maybe Christmas Future is simply a matter of brokering those two understandings and determining who I want to be moving forward, within the confines of my obligations and the requirements of my life as a single dad, supporting and hopefully growing a new home for me and my little ladies. Is it possible for me to be an art-eest while continuing to foster a life of security and stability, i.e. in between working full time, cleaning my house, doing laundry and attending birthday parties if needed? Well sh*t, guys and gals. It has to be. There really isn’t an alternative for me at this juncture. I’m not going to allow it. And whether that allows room for a companion sometime down the line? My own Rose Tyler? Well, I’m going to leave that where I left my burdgeoning story idea from last night. In the Stew Zone. Because now is not the time. Still, I wouldn’t be carrying the mantle of the romantic idealist if I didn’t mention it, right?

So? So. If the Ghost of Christmas Future does want to swing by for a Powerade Zero and some dill chicken? Come on by. We’ll watch the Chiefs hopefully beat Seattle and allow the Eagles to slip into the second Wild Card spot. And we’ll talk a bit about balance and how to resolve time past and time present into… You guessed it. Time future. Because in the end, that’s the moral of my Christmas Carol. Not learning from a bunch of spooks how not to be a Scrooge and Keep Christmas Well. But learning how to live the best future that I can: A synthesis of the boy I once was and the man I am today.

And that? That’s it. Thanks for reading. As I prepare to close out this piece of Mental Flatulence and go make dinner, I am reminded of my drive out to meet up with friends last night under that spectacular full moon. I texted my buddy beforehand that it would be “good for my soul.” And it was. On a number of fronts. And as for that story that I mentioned? It’ll arrive soon enough. Spoiler alert: It starts with a full moon rise. It’s about new beginnings.

And there are no robots.

Merry Christmas Eve Eve, friends. If I don’t speak with you beforehand, have a terrific holiday. And as Tiny Tim once said: God bless us. Everyone.

F.

On Christmas, Spirit and the Holiday Season in 2018

Full disclosure everyone: I’ve had a bear of a time getting into Christmas this year. I guess it’s understandable. 2018 hasn’t exactly been a status quo year for your old buddy the Madchronicler. It’s been a year of monumental change and anyone that’s been keeping up over the last few months knows what I’m talking about. So I’m not going to rehash everything herein. It would be counterproductive and, quite frankly (pun intended), exhausting both to you AND me. But this Christmas thing? My lack of spirit? Yes. It deserves… A rumination. Or a blog entry. So? Here we are.

On the surface? Christmas 2018 is not and has not been much different than in previous years. I started early with the decorating and the music. I even had the bulk of my shopping done pre-December. By design: I wanted to FEEL it this year. I needed it. After everything I’ve been through it was neccesary. And every time the minions were over? I wanted them to feel it, as well. And I feel like they have. I’ve always had this vision of how I wanted my home to look at Christmas time. It’s a combination of too many old movies (“White Christmas” remains a personal fave) and that scene in “Star Trek Generations” where Picard wakes up in the Nexus and has a confab with Whoopi Goldberg, AKA Guinan (I hope I spelled that right). If you’ve seen it you know the scene I’m talking about. And if you haven’t? I can’t recommend it. It’s not a very good movie. But it’s worth Googling the scene. Really. Its organic. Warm. And downright beautiful. Did I get there? As much as I could. There was no way I was fitting a ski lodge or a carousel in my living room.

But I digress. Despite it all, there was still something… Off. Not necessarily missing but… Askew. That’s the best way I can and could describe it. It felt empty. Without substance. Superficial. And after a lot of thought I was able to key on a couple of reasons why. Loneliness? Yes. A silence 50 percent of the time that I was and may never get used to, and no matter how many times I watched “Elf” or “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation…” No matter how many times I listened to the Jethro Tull Christmas album or Michael Buble, that silence remained. It hung around me like a putrid cloud of pine and spice scented Christmas dung and try as I might? I couldn’t shake it. I even considered listening to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” and to anyone that knows me? That’s enough for you to question my mental health. But I didn’t. I let it play out and it lingered.

Honestly? It came to a head this past Sunday night. I couldn’t sleep. At almost midnight I decided to go for a drive to the local WAWA for a Powerade Zero. I got there only to find that they did not have Powerade Zero. I was forced to settle for sugared-up, Lemon Lime Gatorade. Thereafter I drove around for a bit, sipping my drink, my radio set to B101 and heard everything from “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole to “Winter Wonderland” by the Eurythmics. I looked at the lights on the houses in my new neighborhood. Nothing. Eventually I returned home and with the assistance of a late night, hot shower and a half hour or so of reading, I was able to nod off for a few hours before my 6:30AM alarm abruptly summoned me back to another week of work. Obligation. Responsibility. All the things we adults abhor like the Plague, or Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”

And still there remained that emptiness. All the way up until a few hours ago when suddenly? Everything changed.

Tonight was my oldest minion Cara’s Choir Recital and this year was a big one because at last, FINALLY she got her much sought after solo. The song was not one that I was familiar with pre-her being awarded her big moment a few weeks ago. “Season Of Peace.” I’ve mentioned before how proud I am of my girls… Of their resilience and their drive to succeed. But the way Cara threw herself into the task of learning and polishing her part? It was next level, guys and gals. I swear that not 10 minutes of wakefulness went by in the last few weeks without her singing it in some capacity. Tweaking it. Making it hers. And tonight, when she stepped up to the microphone at the 2:52-2:53 mark of the song, adjusted the mic stand (like a boss), smiled and opened her mouth, I swear to you, friends and sometimes readers? It hit me. Her voice. The lights lining the walls of the Parish Hall and the prevelance of red, green and “sparkly” outfits surrounding me and on display before me. It was Christmas. At LAST. Everything took on a deeper hue. There was warmth. And I felt… Full. To be honest? I even teared up a little. Just misty. No full blown, “It’s A Wonderful Life” ugly cry. Finally.

She finished her solo, they finished the song, we all cheered and the concert went on for a while. But that moment? I was lost in it. Sh*t, I still am, even now, as I sit here in my sunroom under a blanket, drinking a Powerade Zero and typing these words while “Elf” plays on mute in the background. I realized something tonight. Something that has alluded me this Christmas season. You can’t force it, folks. The spirit of the season? It will arrive when you’re most ready for it. It always has. But I was so focused on it this year I… Basically? I overcompensated. I was subconsciously course correcting my life from what it is NOW to what it was before. And that life? It’s behind me now. I get it. Now? There is only this… what surrounds me daily, and what lies ahead. New adventures. A little chaos. Hopefully no more heartbreak (I’ve had enough of that in my 43 plus years on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence). I’ve been so focused these last few months on letting life come to me. I forgot to let Christmas do the same.

That’s the moral of this story, everyone. Different is okay. Maybe better in the long run? Who knows. Only time will tell. There will be moments of loneliness. There will be days where I miss my minions and feel empty, ensconced in the putrid stench of candy canes and Harvest Wreath Yankee Candles. There will be moments where Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas but really? The key is to cherish the moments when it does. Live IN them. Live FOR them. Because they will sustain you. And when all else fails?

Well sh*t, there’s always “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Tonight, as I was driving back to Swarthmore from the concert, I turned on B101 and low and behold? There it was. I’ve avoided it all season. Longer than I ever have before. But tonight? Just this one time, I’ll admit? I smiled, turned up the volume, rolled down my windows and sang…

“I don’t want a LOT for Christmas, there’s one thing I’m asking for…”

Merry Christmas, everyone. Happy Hanukkah, and have a blessed holiday.

F.

What Thanksgiving Means To Me – The 2018 Edition

You knew this was coming, right? Sure, it’s been a few years since I wrote one of these but in light of everything that has happened this year on my side of the proverbial wormhole of existence, I figured it was time to dust off an old tradition and make it new again. So? Here we go.

New means not a retread of what I’ve written in the past. I can’t promise that this blog entry… This piece of Mental Flatulence won’t have echoes of past compositions in it, but I’m going to endeavor to freshen up the formula as much as I can. It all starts with the title. No “by way of” this time. Nope. Just the 2018 Edition tagline. And the question that proceeds it.

What DOES this Thanksgiving mean to me? After all that has happened since I last wrote one of these, what could I possibly be thankful for? Well there are the obvious answers. A roof over my head, food in my belly, money in my pocket… You’ve heard the litany countless times. My family and friends? Of COURSE. I’m more thankful for them then I have been before. My minions especially. I’ve gotten accustomed to spending Thanksgiving Eve and Thanksgiving with them over the course of their lives. While others go out and drink, dance et cetera, I stay home, bake cornbread, watch “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” and the Parade (booyakasha, 6ABC. Respect) and chill with them before heading over the river and through the woods to Mom’s/Mom Mom Minnie’s for dinner. Our trip is always strategically timed to coincide with one of the airings of “Alice’s Restaurant” on WMMR (booyakasha, Pierre Robiere. MUCH respect). And after dinner? Homeward bound to wrap up the day and hit the sack. Maybe do some online, Black Friday shopping after midnight. That’s Thanksgiving in a nut shell for me.

But this year? It’s a different… Feel. Sure, the tradition and schedule is roughly the same, but it’s just me and the girls this year for the first time in as long as I can remember. And because of that? I appreciate it and THEM even more. I mentioned in my last blog entry/piece of Mental Flatulence that I’ve learned to make the best of my reduced time with them and today of all days? That holds true. Heed my words, friends and somewhat constant readers: Treasure the moments you have with the ones you love because you never know where you, or they will end up down the line. Live for the NOW. Don’t dwell on the past. Embrace your present because it’s fleeting. It’ll be over before you know it.

The same holds true for my family and friends this year. I’ve always been thankful for them. But this year? Moreso than before. No one man or woman is an island and there is NO WAY I would have survived this year, and the last couple of years without them. You all know who you are. You’ve been my constant… THE Constant for decades and without you I would have thrown in the towel/stopped fighting a long time ago. You were my Mickey and then? When Mickey left you were my Duke. “One more round, Frank.” Keep punching. You urged me to do so and I did. And here I am. A bit emotionally punch drunk but alive. Maybe not thriving just yet but there’s time. Sure, that whole line of thought was a completely gratuitous Rocky reference but sh*t: This is Philly. And Rocky is a part of my DNA. He’s a part of our birthright. Kind of like the Eagles and Cheese Whiz but easier on the stomach.

That said, there’s more… A LOT more to cover in this new and hopefully improved What Thanksgiving Means To Me Edition but for now? It’s time to clean up and head out for dinner. I’m going to do something I rarely do. I’m going to pause writing for a tic. I’ll be back but in the interim?

Wait for it.

WAIT for it.

MIND THE GAP.

Home now with a full belly and an afternoon of football watching, online shopping and family time under my belt which is, I should add, stretched taught around my waist at present. No minions now: They’re with their mother leaving me alone in my single family twin in Swarthmore with only my thoughts as company. Don’t worry, everyone. I’m okay. Really. The silence that ensues 50 percent of the time these days is becoming a companion. Not feared, nor regretted but accepted. Kind of like an old friend that I can’t hug. Filling it can be a bit trying but so far, I’ve managed and will continue to manage because… Well? That’s life now. Better to accept it and not rail against it. I’m adaptable. I evolve. We all do. I’ve evolved a lot in my 43 plus years. And I’m sure I’ll evolve a lot more before the inevitable end, many, many moons from now.

A few nights ago, a good friend and I had a long “talk” about life, the universe and everything on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. The word talk is in parentheses because I find myself not talking as much as I used to in the traditional sense of the word. Talk = Text in 2018. I probably spend more time texting now than I used to and for some, specifically certain people who shall remain nameless that have accused me in the past of being a “bad texter” (if you’re reading this, you know who you are and in a quick, parenthetical aside that virtually NO ONE reading this will get, dude? You were right. And I’m sorry) this is likely a relief. Welcome to the modern world, Frank. Mind the f*cking gap.

But I digress. Our conversation was an enlightening one and in the grand scheme of my life, it was probably the one conversation that I needed to have at the perfect time. Consequentially, or INconsequentially depending on your stance, it was about ENDWORLD. Specifically the completed sequel and the as-of-yet, virtually unstarted, final book in the trilogy. I say “virtually” because I did begin writing it, I just haven’t gotten full on into it yet. It’s in the Literary Foreplay stage. A lot of kissing but little else.

Anywhos, she brought a number of things to my attention and in doing so, answered a question that was almost the subject of another blog entry earlier this week. I mentioned, the last time I wrote that I had stories to tell. A little “magic to do,” so to speak (booyakasha, Pippin. Respect). One of them is, of course, HEAVEN AND ENDWORLD but there are others. Ideas that I have been considering for years and am eager to tackle. But what to write? Do I finish William’s story, or do I go in a different direction and leave William MacNuff and his not-so-merry band of revolutionaries by the roadside for a bit? It was quite frankly (no pun intended) a tough decision. Thankfully, Amy (yes, I’ll name you kiddo… You deserve it) helped me realize what I needed to do.

I need to finish HIS story. William’s. The ENDWORLD Series. Because his story is my story, and has been for a good portion of my life. It, too, has evolved over time. The faces and the places have changed a bit but the ENDWORLD books remain, despite all the changes, an autobiographical fiction. My life as told through the eyes of a man, similar to me staring at a world that is LIKE mine but not mine. Another place on another side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. Some might think that a spoiler. Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. All will become clear… Crystal clear soon enough but for now? There is only THAT. Because in order for me to move on, I need to finish his tale. And that, folks, is the ever-present crux. The rub, so to speak.

What does Thanksgiving mean to me this cold night in late November, 2018 as I now sit in the sunroom which in many ways has become the center of my subjective reality? It means that I should be thankful for everyone and everything that has played and continues to play a part in my life too date, both bad and good, hero and villain. As I said earlier and will repeat here, I didn’t get to this moment, on the cusp of whatever comes next by myself. I had a lot of help along the way. But this last part? It falls on me. From within the silence that wraps around me like a warm, fleece blanket tonight comes a resolution. THE resolution. Six words that ring true in my mind in a hundred and one voices past, present and future.

Finish his story.

Finish YOUR story.

Well sh*t, folks. I may not know everything but one thing I DO KNOW is that when the universe speaks to you, you’d damn well better listen. So universe? I’m all ears. Let’s get it done.

One last thing I’m thankful for. I’m thankful for the strength and the ability to be like Mike and JUST DO IT. What does Thanksgiving mean to me in 2018? It means a future, born of the past and the present, leading on into what I hope will be an exciting, and awe-inspiring finale for your old buddy El Autoro, AKA The Madchronicler. Stay tuned.

William MacNuff? Let’s dance.

F.

On Endings and Beginnings

Endings are never easy for me. Beginnings? They’re the best. Exciting and full of possibilities. Beginnings make me feel younger than my 43 years on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. And I’m currently in the midst of what I hope will be my last, new beginning. But before I can embrace it entirely and give myself over heart, soul and mind to the future I need to address how I got here. My last and hopefully my last ending save for the big, bright ending that happens at the end of all things when I finally close my eyes, draw deeply my last breath and shuffle off this mortal coil many, many moons from this rainy, chilly night as I sit in my sunroom, under a blanket, my computer on my lap debating the How. How do I write what I need to write tonight? Well I guess I’ll just let my fingers do the walking across my keyboard and see where they take me. That’s always been my way. Why should this moment… why should tonight be any different?

So… so. In case you don’t know, I am no longer married. I might as well cut right to the chase. No longer married, and no longer a resident of Broomall, PA. Nicole is still there. So are the cats and the demon dog, who despite popular opinion and my own, twisted sense of humor, I actually like. I now lay my head in a little, single family twin in Swarthmore, PA–hence the above, sunroom reference. Three bedrooms, a bath and a half, the aforementioned sunroom and a finished basement, not to mention a couple of fireplaces, a small deck and a covered stoop. It’s different in many ways from where I was before, but the girls seem to like it here and I’m pretty comfortable. So there’s that.

Speaking of the girls, AKA my minions they’re doing great. Surprisingly so to be honest with you. They have great strength and I am daily impressed with their resilience. I am proud… damn proud of them and although I see them less than I used to, we make the best of our time together and that is what matters.

As for Nicole and I? We are doing well. We remain good friends and are committed to raising the girls the same way we always have. The rules at Dad’s house are the same as the rules at Mom’s. Consistency, I believe, is the key to co-parenting and I hope, nay pray that I am right. Only time will tell but for the moment, 30 plus days in, things seem to be progressing smoothly.

So that’s the How. How I ended up here. How I ended, and then began anew. Logic would seem to dictate that I now address the Why but to be honest with you, friends? There’s really no need. No point. Why did Nicole and I split up? What did I do? What did she do? No. I will not point fingers because that is not my way. Nor is it hers. Simply put? We ended because it was the right and only move. The logical, next step in our respective lives. Sometimes relationships work and serve a purpose for a time and Nicole and I served each other well for many, many years. But people grow apart. They drift. They decide that they want different things out of life and if they can walk away amicably with a friendship and a co-parenting relationship intact? Well sh*t guys and gals, that’s about the best outcome you can ask for, isn’t it? Nicole will always mean a great deal to me and I, I hope, to her. We had a handful of wonderful, experience and fun-filled years together and we have two beautiful, albeit sassy daughters to show for it. And those two, little ladies will always bind us together in life and beyond. But where she goes from here and where I go? Who knows? But I wish her all the success and happiness in the world, and I hope… I know she wishes me the same. Booyakasha, kiddo. Respect.

So… so. Here we are. Back to me. The Madchronicler. El Autoro. The once and future, hopeless romantic and eternal dreamer. Ironically enough, things have kind of defaulted back to where they were once upon a dreamer’s dream. I live by myself and support myself again. I sleep by myself in my bed and watch the shows and movies I want to watch on television. I eat a lot of sandwiches and drink a lot of Powerade Zero (that’s honestly not a change; more of a parallel move). I work, probably harder than I should but what can I say? It’s me. And I’ve never been lazy when it comes to my life, or my career. I say my prayers every night before I close my eyes and I thank God every morning that I wake up for another opportunity to make my mark on the world that exists on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence.

Am I happy? Content in my new life? Well I’d be lying if I said “yes.” Despite a bit of a return to my once-norm and the bizarre sense of comfort that it brings, I miss the life I led up until a few months ago. I miss my house in Broomall, PA. I miss my cats. And yes, I even miss the demon dog who, I should note, appears to like me more now that I am not a permanent fixture in her home. I miss seeing my minions every day though Skype/Facetime is a beautiful invention. Yet all those things that I just mentioned? Missing them and at times longing for them is normal. If I didn’t I’d likely be a different Frank then the Frank you all know and, I hope, love. Or at least like. You don’t have to love me. Hell, you don’t even have to like me. But if you respect me and who I am? That’s cool. And if you don’t? Reach out to me offline and let me know, and I’ll try to change your mind.

Please listen and heed my words, everyone: I am not writing this out of a desire for pity. I do not want that. I’m writing this because I need to and that is honestly the only reason. Those of you that have known me the longest know how I heal. How do I heal for those that haven’t? Simple. I heal via writing. It’s the last stage in the process. And it’s taken me until this rainy, chilly November night–as the rain pounds comfortably on the roof of my sunroom and Chris Cornell sings in the background–to embrace it. I am reminded of what a psychic once told me many, many moons ago as I stood upon the boardwalk in Atlantic City, NJ on a night similar to this one, albeit about 20 degrees warmer. She told me how my life would take shape. First? I would find stability. Then? I would find a career. And finally? I would find love. I remember thinking back around the turn of the century give or take a year or two that I was there. I had a stable roof over my head for the first time in years. I had a career at good old CVStress and I had met, and fallen in love with my Pharmacy Intern. And for a time? I believed it. It was arguably the only time a psychic hit the proverbial nail on the head.

Subsequent years have shown me a different interpretation. Now? I have stability. I never really lost it. That’s first. Next comes the career and as of this moment? Well, there really isn’t one though there is a paycheck and a chance. Let’s assume that one solves itself and I’m back at two of three. But the third? Love? Well, I had it. There’s no doubting that I did. I was in love despite what any naysayers or pragmatists believe. And maybe… just maybe I’ll find it again but right now it’s not about that. It’s about an old ending and a new beginning. Life anew. Another sunrise and what I hope will be a long and beautiful, cloudless day with a bright, blue sky vaulting from horizon to horizon until the next, inevitable sunset. I’m not ready for that yet. I’m only 43 years young on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence, friends. Even if I’ve already passed midday… well. Days like the one I described above? They seem to go on forever. And I hope… I truly hope that this one does. Because there’s potential in this one. I can feel it. I may not be able to see it yet but it’s there. Waiting just beyond my reach like a word on the tip of my tongue or a drop of rain, barely clinging to the limb of the tree that grows outside my sunroom window. Close. So close. And if I close my eyes I can almost smell it. Taste it. I don’t need to see it yet. I just need to believe.

And that? That’s the end. Nothing more to write this evening. Thank you for reading my ramblings. You’ve been doing so for years now and I promise you that more will follow. This too is just a beginning. There’s a story or two to write, as well. So stay tuned for updates. They’re coming soon.

Winky emoticon. Smiley Face.

F.

Of The Philadelphia Eagles, And The Man That Made Me A Fan

I considered staring this blog entry with an Eagles chant because… well? That’s what this blog entry is about. But doing so seemed a bit formulaic, this week especially. In case you don’t know–and unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few weeks, or in some far-flung suburb of Ishcabible–the Eagles… my Philadelphia Eagles are about to play in the Super Bowl for only the third time in their long and illustrious history. Just the opportunity to witness another run at the Lombardi Trophy (all three appearances have happened in my lifetime, but only two resonate with any significance for me… I was a few months shy of five years old in 1980) is an amazing feeling. I have high hopes for them this weekend… I’ve been saying for weeks that they’re the only team in the NFL currently that can run with the evil empire, i.e. the… grumble, grumble… New England Patriots and on Sunday? I get to find out if I was right. Am I skeptical? Of course I am. I’m a Philadelphia sports fan. And if they lose… again… I’m going to be very, very distraught. But if they win? Oh my goodness if they win? Wow. Just… wow. It will be the culmination of decades of bleeding green, and routing for them with every ounce of my heart, mind and soul.

But here’s a little known fact about me, and for those of you that have known me for decades, this may come as quite a shock. Believe it or not? I was not always a tried-and-true Eagles fan. My love affair with this team only goes back about 30 of my 42 years on this planet, somewhere on the right, or wrong side (depending on your perspective) of the great wormhole of existence. I came to the Eagles as a pre-teen, and first fell in love with the Kelly Green wearing collection of personalities that dominated the face of sports in this town in the time of Lee Elia and Von Hayes, Tim Kerr and Paul Holmgren. Names like Randall Cunnigham and Reggie White, Jerome Brown and to this day, my all-time favorite Bird, the legendary Keith Byars, i.e. Buddy Ryan’s medical marvel. And Buddy… oh, Buddy. You were just the guy to skipper those teams. Your personality was Philly, and Philly believed in you like they’d never believed in anyone before. Sure, you never won a playoff game but memories? Oh boy did you give us a million. Bounty Bowl and Fog Bowl? Man! Just writing it makes me smile.

So how did I come to embrace the Eagles at the ripe, young age of 13? Well? It wasn’t a decision I came to on my own. I was invited into the fandom by someone that is, sadly, no longer with us this chilly night in 2018 as we prepare for the biggest football game anyone in this town has seen in 14 years (only three more sleeps until Super Bowl Sunday!). I’ve met a lot of Eagle fans over the years but this guy? This guy was and always will be the biggest member of the Bird Gang that I’ve ever encountered. A gruff and chiseled, chain cigarette smoking ex-Midshipman who was… well? Whether he was fond of me or not I don’t know. At least early on. I can only speak for myself when I say, quite transparently that I couldn’t stand him and I did everything in my power to eliminate him from my life for a long time. That changed as he got toward the end of his all-to-short stint in this world in the late 90s but I’m getting way ahead of myself. Back to the 80s. To the time of Def Leppard and Tim Burton’s “Batman,” Jams and Jellies. And, of course, Journey, a band that is, incidentally, playing in the background as I write this.

One day, I was invited by this gentleman to sit down and watch an Eagles game with him and my mother. I remember that I knew football. I played it with my friends and watched the Super Bowl every year, but that was it. I can’t remember who they were playing that day though for some reason, I think it was the Redskins. It was one of the rare times I’d been invited by him to do anything so of course, I obliged. I sat down with a cup of powdered iced tea and a bowl of Snyder’s pretzels in front of me and tuned in. I remember I asked a lot of questions as the game went along. “Who’s that?” Eric Allen. “And that?Cris Carter. I learned that the Running Back was a guy named Anthony Tony and that the Kicker was a guy named Luis Zendejas. And by the time the first half ended and the second half began, he’d basically named every starting member of the team for me, the endless flow of questions ceased and I was able to watch and enjoy… really enjoy what I was seeing. I can’t remember if they won or lost the game. I guess a bit of research would answer that question. But it wasn’t the outcome of the game that stuck with me and caused me to come back and watch again, two weeks later, and every other Sunday after that from September until December, and some years into January well into the 90s. It was, quite frankly (no pun intended), the first time he and I had ever shared something in common. Watching the Birds play on Sunday became our church and temple. Our spirituality. Whether at his house or mine, we always sat down with our powdered iced tea and Snyder’s pretzels and gorged on football. We suffered through Rich Kotite together. We shared countless mainly first, but once or twice second round, playoff bounces together and grew fond of the adage, “there’s always next year.” We never went to a game live together, likely due to the fact that by the mid-90s, he had been diagnosed with Lung Cancer, an ailment that sadly took his life in March of 1997. He never got to see Andy or Jim, Five or Weapon-X. He never got to experience four straight NFC Eastern Division Championships, culminating in the 2004 Super Bowl versus the… grumble, grumble… New England Patriots at the onset of their now over a decade long dynasty. He was gone long before, his last memories those of Ray Rhodes and an embarrassing 6-9-1 record.

But do you know what, friends? He was there, even after he was gone. He was never far from my thoughts in the years following his untimely passing. My first thoughts were of him in 2001 when they advanced to their first of four consecutive NFC Championships. My first thoughts were of him in 2004 when they beat the Mike Vick-led Falcons and advanced to the Super Bowl (even as I drunkenly partied on the streets of Roxborough with my friends and then-girlfriend, Nicole Gentile). And when I cried after they lost two weeks later, it was his voice that I heard in my head and our oft-shared adage, “there’s always next year.” Next year happened, but it was an injury-riddled wash of a year that at one point found some scrub named Mike McMahon quarterbacking our team. Then came 2008 and the Birds’ last run at glory with Big Red at the helm. It ended with a loss to the Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game and that gruff voice, speaking in my head once again, “there’s always next year.” The Andy Reid era came to long-overdue close a few years later and gave way to the Chip Kelly era (shiver). And when I declared on the day that he was hired that “they’re going to win a Super Bowl under Chip,” it was his smile that I saw in my mind. Through all the highs and lows of my life bleeding green since the late 80s, he was there. Whether in body or in spirit, he was a constant presence, routing on our team, teaching me the Eagles Fight Song, urging me to get a Hugh Douglas jersey and not a McNabb one because “Defense wins Super Bowls, kid.” And this past Christmas, when my now-wife Nicole Marsh surprised me with a Carson Wentz jersey, my first since Hugh, it was his voice that I heard in my mind congratulating me on “finding a good one, Frank. She’s a keeper.”

I hear a lot of people talk about what it means to be an Eagles fan. It’s never easy. It’s an invitation to heartbreak. It’s always being an underdog. It’s a fraternity of beer swilling, cigarette smoking, five o’clock shadow wearing a**holes that like to throw snowballs at Santa Claus and cheer when Michael Irvin goes down with a season-ending injury. People don’t like us. The only thing that gets the routing world behind the team from Philly is when they’re playing the team from New England and even then, a good portion of Texas still tells us to go piss up a Crisco-greased light pole. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I’d never try to impose mine upon anyone. But the thing is, friends? There’s more… so much more to being an Eagles fan than the above listed criteria. Ask around and you’ll find that almost everyone that bleeds green has a story like mine. A tale of how they became a fan. A tale of that first memory of sitting down to watch a team of Kelly Green or Green, Silver and Black clad brothers going toe-to-toe with the expectations. Those brothers? Those teams? They’re family, folks. I may only watch them on Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from early August to the first of February, but they’re as much a part of my life, and the lives of many people here in and around the City of Brotherly Love as anyone. This Sunday night? I’m excited to sit down in my customary spot in my living room with my unwashed, number 11 jersey on, my Chip Kelly visor on the floor beside me and the remote control perched precariously on the arm of said chair beside me and watch them hopefully unseat the evil empire (because I’m not superstitious, sarcasm fully intended). The man that introduced me to them? The first person to tell me all the names of the players I was watching? He’ll be there with me too. Never far from my thoughts. And if …

No… when they defy the odds yet again and win? Then I’ll shout, and cheer, and sing the Eagles fight song over and over again, surrounded by my friends and family and yes, I’ll likely cry a bit because I know that somewhere, somehow the man that made me a fan of the greatest professional football team in the country with the most passionate fanbase of any team in the country will be doing the same. I’ll hear his voice in my head and this time? He won’t be saying “there’s always next year.” He’ll simply smile that big ol’ smile of his and say, with all the pride in the universe on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence…

“I told you so, kid.”

#FlyEaglesFly

F.

Of Bath Nights, Listening to Albums in Sequence (Not on SHUFFLE) and Water Wars. 

As anyone who knows me knows, two nights of every week are just me and my minions (Nicole works). And it just so happens that those nights, most weeks = Bath nights. Back in the day, bath nights were… well? A bit stressful. But then one night–as water flew everywhere, #NatNatBoo cried about having water in her eyes and Cara… well, was just her typical, dramatic self–it dawned on me how I could make the experience better for everyone. Not just for the girls but for me as well. That realization?

Music. I would play music. 

There was no “Hoops Hysteria Playlist” or playlist entitled “If ENDWORLD Had A Soundtrack…” this was pre-playlists. Pre-Spotify. Basically I just plugged my iPod Classic into its Sonos base, picked an album and hit PLAY. Never shuffle… oh no. Not in a world pre-playlists and pre-Spotify. Back then (and still occasionally, despite my proclivity toward selecting a random playlist on Spotify and hitting SHUFFLE) I didn’t mix it up. If I wanted to mix it up I put on one of my old mix tapes. No. I grew up listening to albums. WHOLE albums in sequence from start to finish. 

There’s a lot to be said for that. It’s really the only way to understand the artistic progression that the singer or band intended. Case in point? Well sh*t. Pick an album. “Tommy” by The Who. “The Wall” by Pink Floyd. “Sergeant Pepper” by The Beatles. The order of the music is integral to appreciating the album as a whole. Who wants to listen to “Us And Them” and then “Breathe?” NO! “Us And Them” needs to be followed by “Any Colour You Like,” “Brain Damage” and finally, “Eclipse.” It’s how Roger Waters and David Gilmour intended it. And it’s one of the most incredible four song sequences in the history of music. Still not as good as the shorter and more poignant “Golden Slumber Suite” from “Abbey Road” but masterful in a different way. And that’s not just the opinion of a reformed Wacky Weed smoker. There’s a reason why “Dark Side Of The Moon” is one of the biggest selling albums of all time, even to this day, 40+ years after it first came out. 

But I digress. Sh*t, when do I ever not? My reason for writing this summer-like evening in April, a few days away from Easter is not to talk about music. Well, at least not directly. In truth? It was my decision tonight, on yet another bath night to listen to an album from start to finish and that album? The one I chose? “Ten Summoner’s Tales” by Sting. The girls haven’t really listened to a lot of Sting and in truth? I haven’t in years. But tonight it just felt… right. I don’t know why. Sometimes intuition defies explanation. Anywhos, I made it through the first two songs–“If I Ever Lose My Faith In You” and “Love Is Stronger Than Justice”–but the third song on the album in sequence was the one that caught my attention. I’ll give you three guesses as to which one it is. Feel free to list them in the comments section though admittedly, I’ll reveal it long before you get there so why bother? Ready? Here goes. Better to just embed it, I think. That way you get the full affect.


Yes. “Fields Of Gold.” A classic ballad circa 1993 that many of you reading this (or in my case WRITING this) likely danced to. Or kissed to. Or did… other things that I won’t go into here to. Those memories are yours and mine alone and should remain that way. This isn’t about, as I used to say “getting schazzy.” I found myself listening to the lyrics as the children went about their bedtime routine and my mind? It went back. Time travel? It’s a funny thing. It’s not just Science Fiction… the topic of “Doctor Who” and selected episodes and cinematic treatments of “Star Trek.” Anyone can travel back in time in their mind if the stimuli are there. The smell of rose perfume. The sight of a parking structure in a town far detached from the one you lay your head in now. The touch of silk, brushing against your hand. And the sound. The sound of a song from your childhood that takes you back… 

Back…

Back to the Summer of… was it 1994 or 1995? I honestly can’t remember. My gut is telling me 1995 but it MAY HAVE BEEN 1994. Anyone that can confirm the actual year please do so at the end in the comments section. Or don’t. It really doesn’t matter when it was. It was summer and I was younger. Yes, much younger than I am tonight. My grey hair was… prevalant (sh*t, I started going gray in high school) but not over abundant. I was still beardless. Yes, me: Beardless. There was a time when my face was as hairless as a baby’s bottom. My gut lacked the sag it has at almost 42, a sag that remains apparent despite almost six straight weeks of working out. I knew nothing of marriage or children. I knew of college, working two jobs to pay for it and my bedroom at home on good old Maple Street in J-Town. And Wacky Weed… I can’t forget that. That may have been when I developed my deep appreciation for “Dark Side Of The Moon,” sarcasm totally intended. 

Those summers… those days of youth “upon the fields of Barley” were much, much simpler. Days and nights… social gatherings were dominated by two things: Alcohol and water guns. Specifically, Super Soakers. That was the time of the great Montgomery County Super Soaker Arms Race. It’s difficult to say when it started. One day, someone simply showed up at someone’s house with a water gun and the rest? History. A blur of one person buying a bigger gun than the next person and doing everything in his or her power to “out soak” everyone else. The result? Two successive summers of Water Wars. Water War I was nothing special–five or six of us on a rainy night on my friend Matt’s country property. I can’t remember if I won or lost that night. Matt and I were always on opposing teams and he was good. REALLY good, so I probably lost. The guy had the mentality of a military man despite the fact that the closest he, and for that matter I ever came to actual military action before Water War I was a late night viewing of “Aliens.” Water War I was, for the most part, unmemorable. I couldn’t even tell you who was on my team. But the next year… Water War II? Well sh*t. That engagement was epic. And it all started with a decision. THE decision by Matt and I to team up for the first time against all would-be challengers. 

Our team was small. We liked it that way. Matt, myself, his then-girlfriend-now-wife Caren and our friend Heather. The opposing team was a hodgepodge of friends both past and present… roughly eight or nine participants total. The site of the battle? Pennypack Park in Huntington Valley on a mid-summer afternoon. It was a neutral site and thus of advantage to no one. But Matt and I had done our homework. We’d scouted the park beforehand… devised our attack plan. Smaller and faster. “Hit and run” back to our hidden basecamp where we had stashed everything from backup Super Soakers to water balloons and gallon jugs of water. When the afternoon of the battle rolled around it was 80 degrees, humid and sunny. And we were ready. 

Or at least we thought we were. The early stages of the engagement didn’t quite go according to our plan. Heather went down early, the victim of a well-thrown water balloon by our friend and wilderness guru Ed. That left eight or nine people against three. But we were able to rally and even the numbers. When Caren was finally taken out some 45 minutes or so after the battle started the only participants left were Matt and myself on one team, and our friends Alex and the aforementioned wilderness guru Ed on the other. The final confrontation took place in shadow–as thunderheads massed in the sky overhead–on a narrow dirt path bordered on either side by heavy undergrowth. I remember charging downhill toward Alex and Ed, dodging water balloons and soaking streams the whole way. Sadly? I was unprepared for the exposed tree root that lay in my path halfway down the slope and with a scream and an audible “click,” I went down face first in the muck, my ankle screaming in pain. 

To this day I don’t know if I sprained it or not. I was not one for seeking medical attention back in those days. But I remember that it hurt. A LOT. I remember the water balloon that hit and exploded upon my chest. It had been thrown before I went down. The good news? Matt managed to flank our opponents while they were distracted, take them both out and ensure victory for our side a moment later. The bad? I could barely walk for about a week. But the pain was tempered by the thrill of victory. We’d done it! An unholy alliance = An epic victory. And in hindsight? That partnership between Matt and I that afternoon… that moment when we set aside our competitive history and finally teamed up was likely the catalyst that started one of the greatest friendships of my life. Booyakasha, Mattias. RESPECT. 

Shortly after we left the park the sky opened up. It rained all the way from Pennypack to our dinner in Abington. We ate as friends after competing all afternoon and I remember it being one of the greatest meals of my life despite my throbbing ankle. Those people? The ones that participated in Water War II? They were and thankfully remain my friends… my family to this day. Perhaps that is why the memory is so vivid, even after 20+ years. We’re I to think hard enough… we’re the stimuli right, I’d likely be able to remember exactly what I ate that night. But it’s late and let’s face it: Memories DO have limits, especially at almost 42 years old. But what I remember? It’s like Sting sings in “Fields Of Gold.”

Many years have passed, since those summer days, upon the fields of Barley. See the children run, as the sun goes down, among the fields of gold. You’ll remember me, when the West Wind moves, upon the fields of Barley. You can tell the sun, in his jealous sky, when we walked in fields of gold. When we walked in fields of gold. When we walked in fields of gold. 

Do I miss those days? Of course. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t. Would I give anything to have that afternoon back for a moment? Well, not anything. I mean sh*t: I like a lot of what I have now. And I’m fortunate to still know many of the people who were there with me that afternoon so at the least, we can relive it and our other adventures–and oh BOY did we have a couple; I’ll write more of them another time–when we’re together, now with our partners, watching our own children run and play as the sun goes down. Sting’s fields of gold? They’re a state of mind. One that gets passed down from generation to generation. I still look forward to the day when I buy my own daughters their first Super Soakers. Maybe they’ll one day team with Caren and Matt’s children in Water War III. Who knows? Time travel into the past via memory is possible but time travel into the future? Sadly we can’t go there yet. But we can mentor them… teach them… revel in watching our children experience all that we experienced. We can teach them to not just hit SHUFFLE on their own iPod and iPad iTunes or Spotify playlists but instead, listen to an album as it was intended to be listened to. After all, “Going To California” SHOULD lead into “When The Levee Breaks,” not into “Black Dog,” right? 

The point of this whole piece of Mental Flatulence friends and foes? Never lose sight of where you came from. Never forget who you were 20+ years ago, happily charging down a narrow, dirt path in a park a long ways away from the place you lay your head in currently. That person? You can always get him or her back. He or she may be forgotten in the stress of bath night or the sadness of a sometimes mundane, routine existence and that’s okay. But you are more than just the you you see in the mirror every day. You’re that person too, but you’re also the Super Soaker toting pre-adult with a less saggy stomach and a touch less white hair “up top,” reveling in what feels like an endless summer day, “upon the fields of Barley.” 

G’night, all. Winky emoticon. Smiley face. 

F.