What Thanksgiving Means To Me – The 2018 Edition

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.

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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

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.

Remembering the Mayor of Maple Street

In life, some individuals loom larger than others. Politicians, athletes, actors and actresses, authors… all seem at times inaccessible. Even in those moments when you are fortunate enough to meet one they appear larger than life. They might come across as the friendliest person you’ve ever encountered when you’re standing face-to-face with them but there’s always something about them that seems unattainable. You ask yourself “how could I ever be friends with this person?” In my own personal experience I’ve encountered everyone from Bruce Willis to the former Governor of Maryland and once-Presidential candidate Martin O’Malley. In both… in all cases we shook hands, chatted a bit and then went about our own separate ways. But even then—when my hand was clamped firmly in theirs—I felt separate. Not equal. That’s what celebrity is, I guess. Separate. Not equal. A chance encounter. You have an impact on each other’s lives briefly but thereafter? It’s over. Remembered only as “that time when,” or “remember when,” in the years to come.

That’s an adult’s perspective. A 41 year old Madchronicler’s take on celebrity. But as a child? That’s different. As a child celebrity is redefined. Sure the above mentioned, public figures remain celebs but there are others when you’re a child. Not just movie stars and sports heroes but parents, siblings, uncles and aunts, teachers and even neighbors. Before age and adulthood take a hold of you and you realize that your world is much, much bigger than the little town or towns that you grew up in there are people… celebrities that represent something greater. People that you look up to. People that you want to be like. And those people? One in particular? He is the reason why I’m writing this long-overdue piece of Mental Flatulence tonight.

You may have heard of him. Maybe not. But I want to tell you about him. Why? Because a person’s impact is not always measured by the size of his bank account or how many people know her name. Growing up in a once-little, now larger than life town on the outskirts of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (thanks to an actor named Bradley Cooper and a sitcom called “The Goldbergs”) called Jenkintown, there was this guy. “The Mayor of Maple Street” we called him. His was the most recognizable face on my street save for the faces of the family I lived with in my little twin house. This was likely due to his almost constant presence upon his porch, looking out over the droves of children that ran laughing, screaming and sometimes crying up and down the street. His street. Maple Street was Mister Ring’s community and he oversaw the goings on there with the firmness of a leader and the gentleness of a friend. His booming voice was a daily reminder that it was dinnertime and his shrill whistle signaled the end of the day—oft times after nine or 10 at night.

Calling us all home.

And we children? We heeded. We didn’t question. Because Mister Ring? He was larger than life. He was the celebrity on our street and around town. Everyone knew him. From the Hungerfords and the Parkers on Cedar Street to the Scharnikows and the McCreavys on Hillside Avenue. “Alley Kids” and Publics, Catholics and those who were somewhere in between… he was familiar to all. And as it happened I was doubly fortunate, for Mister Ring was one of my best friend’s Dads. He was also the coach of my Basketball team. My Baseball team. My Soccer team. The guy basically taught me how to play every sport that I dabbled in as a kid. I was never really that good at any of them but what I could do I learned from him.

I also learned how to win and lose graciously. You hear so many stories these days of coaches getting into altercations with referees and other parents. Not Mister Ring. Nope. Whether we won or lost he was as steady a presence on the sideline as any. Everything we did was a teaching experience. Not just sports either. Life. Anyone that knew me back in those days knew that I was a… well, I was a bit of an odd bird. Not very athletic; a bit of a clutz. No lie: I was a bit of a pansy at times, too. I cried a lot. What can I say? I was and remain an emotional guy. I’m a writer slash artist for God’s sake. It comes with the territory.

Those times when I was down on myself because of something someone had said or done… when I missed a foul shot or struck out or when someone called me a name and I broke down Mister Ring? He never smacked me across the face verbally or physically. Never told me to “man up.” No. He calmed me down with that same old, steady presence of his. He convinced me to “try again” or “don’t let the little things get to you.” And do you know what? I did. Maybe not so much at first. At first I was a bit reluctant to listen but as I got older I wised up. Looking back now I realize that a lot of the serenity I experience daily, i.e. my ability to “let shit slide” came from him. I should thank him for that. In truth? There’s a lot I should thank him for.

Sadly, I cannot do that in person now. I found out yesterday afternoon as I was home with my girls for All Saint’s Day that Mister Ring is no longer with us. Big Bill Ring (not to be confused with his son Little Bill) passed away on Monday night. He was 70 years old.

It seems almost unrealistic to think that someone who was such a force in my early life is no longer with us. I’ve been grappling with this for the last 24 plus hours. When my sister told me the news I’ll not lie: I teared up. I’ve watched a number of people pass this year but for some reason this one hit me the hardest. I now know why. Because when I was a kid, he loomed larger than everyone else. Even my own mother (sorry Mom). He was a politician and an athlete. Not an actor, though amazingly enough as I grew into my teens and started to gravitate away from athletics and more towards the artistic—acting, writing et cetera—he was one of my biggest supporters.

High school ended and college happened. I spent the first couple of years of my education at home and Little Bill went away. Mister Ring? He was still there, even then, hanging out on his porch and watching over the new generation of kids that ran laughing, screaming and crying up and down our street and the old generation of kids turned pre-adults studying for or embarking upon their careers. We talked a lot. Then I went away to school and left home for good. But when I graduated and came home to visit? He was always there. Always on his porch. Inquiring about me and my life. My job. My prospects. A few years later when he met my girlfriend Nicole I remember being a bit nervous. Would he like her? Strange, I know. And then my girlfriend became my wife and I remember him congratulating me when I told him. I remember my oldest daughter Cara being a bit nervous the first time she saw him. “He’s so big Daddy” she told me after I introduced her.

In truth? He was. Definitely larger than life. Definitely a celebrity. Funny that in my later years I grew to almost the same height as him but I can imagine what that must have been like for her, looking up at this towering behemoth of a man with a booming but passive voice. Because once upon a time I was her. Looking up at him. Looking up to him. The Mayor of Maple Street. Gone but never forgotten, even by someone that hasn’t lived on Maple Street in over 20 years. Before celebrity put Jenkintown, Pennsylvania on the map there was “J-Town” and that shrill whistle that signaled the end of the day.

Calling us all home.

God Bless you Mister Ring. Rest in Peace. And thank you.

What Thanksgiving Means To Me By Way Of Hashtags, The Bastard Child Of Zumba And Crossfit, A Little ENDWORLD, A Few More Hashtags And A Life Less Extraordinary

Well Good Evening, Morning or Afternoon to you ALL. Happy Thanksgiving Eve, or #HappyThanksgivingEve to those of you that love a good Hashtag. I, myself, really REALLY love a good Hashtag. I use them religiously across all of my Social Media platforms. I don’t know if I really understand the whole Hashtag thing–mine vary from one devoted to my youngest minion–#NatNatBoo–to one devoted to my every-other Saturday morning routine–#Crumba. Yes, #Crumbaisathingnow, or so that @fmarshauthor guy Tweets. For those of you that are wondering what Crumba is, Crumba as the bastard child of Zumba and Crossfit: Two activities that participants are fervent, and in some cases militant about. I hold nothing against the practitioners of both. In truth? I’m a bit envious. My idea of activity right now is yard work, cleaning house, doing laundry, playing with my minions and trying to top 10K steps daily on my Fitbit, something that I’ve only managed to achieve two or three times in the six months since I bought it. So let’s get that out of the way now. Dear Crossfit and Zumba peeps: Keep on keepin’ on. Keep rocking those deadlifts and “ooh ooh’ing” to “Uptown Funk.”

There are a probably a few of you reading this right now that are wondering “hey, where the f*ck has this guy been for the last year?” You’d be right to wonder. My last blog post (incidentally also a “What Thanksgiving Means to Me” ponderance) was on 11/26 of 2014. That’s an eternity for a guy that used to pride himself on writing every day. What can I say? The same thing I always say when I disappear off the literary radar for a bit: Life, man. Gul’darned, cotton-picking LIFE. It gets in the way. Between being a good Branch Manager, being a good dad, being a good husband (all things that I’m always trying to improve upon) et al et AL, writing with any sort of consistency has been a tough thing to do. The good news? Over the last two weeks, I HAVE been writing more. CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD mainly, otherwise known as #CHILDRENOFENDWORLD in my own, subjective Twitterverse (#Amwriting #Homestretch, baby). If everything goes the way I hope it to, I should be done the first draft sometime within the next few weeks, so those of you that have been waiting patiently for the continuance of William’s story? Your patience will soon pay off. And if you want to Beta read it, message me here, on Facebook or on Twitter. I’ll be lining up about a dozen once it’s fully edited and ready to go.

Is it any good? That’s a tough question to answer. I’d be lying if I said I personally didn’t like it. I actually like it more than ENDWORLD. A LOT more. I’ll be honest with you: While it continues William’s story, it’s a very different story. Darker. But deeper, too. More spiritual, really. In fact, spirituality is a huge theme in it, one that I expect will carry over into Book Three, HEAVEN AND ENDWORLD (#HEAVENANDENDWORLD #Areyougettingtiredofthisyet). Okay. I’ll ease up on the Hastags moving forward. #Acceptmyapologies #STOPF*CKINGHASHTAGGINGEVERYTHING!

Anywhos, I digress. Focus. Focus and we’re back on point. I’m not here tonight to write about my writing. I’m here tonight because I cannot let a year go by without a “What Thanksgiving Means to Me” blog post. It’s tradition. And LIFE cannot get in the way of traditions. The thing is? It’s been a rough year, friends. At times REALLY rough. It’s definitely had it’s high points: Disney World with my minions, my wife and my in-laws, a new Mad Max movie (still the best movie of the year, IMO; at least until the new Star Wars movie comes out next month). There’s more but my head hurts a bit too much tonight and I’m sure you don’t want to read 5000 words about every little, piddling good thing that’s happened to me this year. Back in April, I passed a Kidney Stone and it hurt like a MOTHERf*cker. See? That’s a good thing but do you really want to read about it? Survey says: HELL no.

In truth? It’s been for the most part a challenging year. Sick loved ones, saying goodbye to my childhood home (booyakasha, Maple Street and J-Town: RESPECT), turning 40, turning 40 and did I mention turning 40? Yeah. That’s a tough pill to swallow. #Thisis40 and let me tell you the Judd Apatow movie was on. F*cking. POINT. The only thing it was missing was the overabundance of white hair and a sagging stomach. That said, it’s a bit tough to ruminate on the good when so much of what has happened this year has been… well? Not great. But ruminate I will because if I’ve learned one thing over my now 40+ year life on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence it’s that it could always be worse. And at the least? There’s THAT to be thankful for.

So what does Thanksgiving mean to me… hell, to ANYone in a less-than-spectacular year? Well, it remains a time to give thanks for the basics: Family, friends, good health, a roof over my head and food in my belly, a new Mad Max movie and NOW a new Star Wars movie to look forward to, a six year old minion that enjoys reading and writing as much as I do (and has her mom’s aptitude toward Math and Science, as well; it’s a powerful combination), a three year old minion with a propensity for “twirly skirts,” princess crowns and “squeezy hugs” and a wife who at 35 is just as appealing to me as she was when we started dating 14 years ago this month (11/11/01, a day that had lived and will continue to live in infamy). But it goes deeper than that, perhaps moreso when you’re coming down the #homestretch of 365 daunting days and already looking forward to embracing 2016 with open arms and a plea: Dear God please do NOT be like 2015. Pretty please? Thank you, Baby Jesus. Like CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD, there’s something spiritual about it.

I can’t really describe it save for through experience. Feeling. It’s that experience… that feeling of wandering out to the curb on a chilly night after you just got done making Sauteed Apples and Cornbread (or as #NatNatBoo calls it “Corn Cake”) for Thanksgiving Dinner, lighting a cigarette, looking up at the full moon, inhaling deeply and smelling wood burning in a fireplace somewhere near. For no reason whatsoever a little smile graces your face and a little bit of serendipity wells up inside of you despite your pounding head and dire need for a good night’s sleep. As Creed sang back in the days of my wayward youth in a song that STILL has meaning for me today, “There’s a peace inside your soul/Let it be your friend/It will help you carry on/In the end/There’s a peace inside your soul.” That peace? It’s what sustains me through the tough times.

But there’s more. I’ve come to realize something over the course of the last 11, soon to be 12 months. I feel it every time I see my girls after a long day at the office (and man? Some of them have been really, REALLY long; maybe not physically but mentally? Aw hell yes; a few have taken me to the brink of passing out), get a “squeezy hug” from Natalie and I hear about Cara’s mandatory Three Things she must reveal to Nicole and I every night that she did at school that day (which usually revolve around a subject–Math for instance–recess and either Spanish, Music, Art, Library or Computers depending on the day). That feeling? The aforementioned “more?” Simple, friends. Love with a capital “L.” It wells up inside of me to the point where I can barely suppress it and focus on driving, or making dinner, or giving Natalie a bath and spotting Cara while she showers. I look at their Cherubic little faces–still so much like Nicole’s and for that I remain grateful–and listen to them speak, or sing, or even bicker. And I smile. Maybe even shed a little tear (though I’m quick to disguise it from their view; they hate it when I cry). And I think to myself: Thank God for them. For my wife. For my friends who I can still talk to about any and everything from the most mundane–Rousey losing to Holm for instance–to the most complex–discussion of the respective books we’re working on. For my family who I can still call if I need advice.

THAT’S what Thanksgiving means to me at the ripe old age of 40+ guys and gals. It’s a time to give thanks for all of the intangibles that I have. Money? Fame? Success? All are wonderful and I’ll never stop pushing myself to achieve the highest level that I can achieve and obtain of each. But all of those things really are secondary. In a way I’ve come full circle. When I was younger, I didn’t have ANY of those things. I learned to live and learned to love without them. I grew from a boy to a man and suddenly those things were there in spades and they WERE important to me. To a certain extent they remain so though the thing… the THINGS that are the most important to me now are not the amount of money in my wallet or my title; not whether I sold 1000 copies of ENDWORLD or 10. Family. Friends. Those little moments of peace like standing by moonlight on a chilly, Autumn night, the smell of burning wood in my nostrils and the taste of Apple Cider on my lips, waiting for my girls to return from a hayride to the Witch’s House (booyakasha, Linvilla Orchards: RESPECT) while I chat with a close friend. Or lying in bed next to my wife at midnight and laughing ourselves to sleep with anecdotes. Even sitting here tonight, typing these words while listening to the soundtrack to the Rocky movies (it’s called “The Rocky Story” if you want to pick it up or better yet, stream it via Spotify, iTunes et al et AL) and discussing with Nicole between paragraphs how the f*ck we’re going to get out and see “Creed” in the near future when we can’t get a babysitter and all Cara and Natalie want to see is “The Good Dinosaur” and in Cara’s case, “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.”

Life, friends? It doesn’t have to be extraordinary all the time. Sometimes a life less extraordinary is better for the heart, mind and soul. It teaches you humility… teaches you to really, REALLY appreciate the things you have. By the cold light of a full moon on Thanksgiving Eve 2015 while a cigarette hangs from one corner of your mouth, you realize that once upon a time…

‘Cause all good stories begin as such…

You thought you’d never have the things you have today. You were miserable. You spent your days and nights pining away for an ideal that really was nothing more than a fictionalized autobiography of your life. What you envisioned, not the really, really REAL world. The really, really REAL world is a what waits for you inside your little, two story Colonial on a sleepy little street in Suburbia, US of A. It may not be the dream you originally dreamed–the sometimes impossible dream–but guess what? It’s the dream that THAT dream became while you weren’t looking. And amazingly enough, you realize as you flick your cigarette out into the street and turn and stroll up your driveway, your shadow cast in front of you in full relief that this? THIS was what you always wanted. A home. A family. Consistency. They’ll always be a little part of you that yearns for a bit more. Use it, friends. Let it drive you. Never give up. Find peace inside your soul… let it be your friend, but never totally stop reaching for the stars. If you grab ‘hold of one, make it your b*tch but never, EVER neglect what you already have. #Noregrets, folks. To quote the great Paul McCartney, “money can’t buy you love.”

And with that? I’m spent. #Itsgettinglate #IvealreadyneglectedNicolefortoolongtonight. But I’m glad I did this. And I’m glad that if you’re reading this right now, you once again came along for the ride. I appreciate you in ways you can’t possibly imagine. Your support. Your candid feedback both good AND bad. I oft times end these little ponderances with a long list of arbitrary thank you’s but tonight? I’m not going to do that. #Keepingitreal. I’ll just end it with one. Thank YOU, friends, readers and fellow sh*theads. And have a Happy Thanksgiving.

#THEEND.

What Thanksgiving Means to Me By Way of CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD, Hans Zimmer and the “Interstellar” Soundtrack

Good Evening, Afternoon or Morning, fellow Sh*theads. Happy Thanksgiving Eve to all of my fellow denizens of this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. It’s been a while since I last wrote… almost too long. For those of you that have been waiting patiently for a new blog entry I’m sorry. Thank you for your tolerance of me and my inconsistency as a writer, lately.  As before, I assure you that it’s not for lack of wanting. I want to write every day. But sometimes, life gets in the way and this aspect of me has to take a backseat to other aspects of me. Husband, father, friend and working stiff. Not to mention laundry, chores, homework and playing princesses with my minions. Birthday parties, holidays… you name it. I do what I must. But tonight? Tonight it’s me, my trusty old laptop, the soundtrack to “Interstellar” and a blank page. And it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without another of my yearly “What Thanksgiving Means to Me” entries.

I promise not to be too long winded. I’ve been accused of that in the past. And really? I don’t feel the need to be so anymore. There’s no need for embellishment to tell you how I feel right now. In short? I feel blessed. Thankful this year more than I’ve been in years past. It’s not that my life has changed much. It hasn’t. Short of my kids being a year older, my marriage being a year stronger and my new-old career coming up on it’s one year anniversary things really aren’t that much different than they were at this time last year. On the surface. Inside? I don’t know. I just feel… what’s the word I’m looking for? Ah, yes. Two words actually…

At peace.

As I sit here tonight with the soundtrack to an incredible movie playing in the background (Hans Zimmer is so very, very good for the soul) I type these words with a sly grin upon my face beneath my bushy, salt and pepper beard. Why? Because I’m at peace. It’s nothing concrete… substantial. Like I said, my life isn’t much different than it was a year ago. But I feel it. I felt it at my daughter’s Thanksgiving Feast today and I felt it as I watched my girls play in the snow outside this afternoon. I felt it when I closed my eyes and took a brief, half hour nap this afternoon and when I woke up and started baking for Thanksgiving tomorrow–Pumpkin Bread and Corn Bread from scratch; I accept no substitute. I felt it watching “Caillou’s Holiday Movie” for the first of many times this season earlier and I felt it when I read my girls their nightly story, tucked them in, kissed them on their respective foreheads, told them “goodnight,” “sleep tight” and “I love you.” It was gul’darned serendipitous, friends. Like now as the composition “Stay” soars.

Serendipity.

I could type a laundry list of the things I’m thankful for this year. I could. But I won’t. Because really? There’s only one way to explain it without filling up Kilobytes upon Megabytes of text here on WordPress. I think I’ve mentioned this before and if I have, sorry for repeating myself. Yet if I haven’t? Well heck, now’s as good a time as any. I’ll admit: I’ve been stymied on CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD lately. Again, not for lack of wanting to work on it. Life, man. It just gets in the way sometimes. But there’s the scene in CHILDREN that I’ve always looked forward to writing. I call it “The Thanksgiving Scene.” It happens around page 300 of 400 or so and without giving anything away, it’s the scene where my hero, William MacNuff is reunited with his brethren in totality for the first time. Past, present and future: All intermingled, as some in Endworld would say. All one.

The other night, after not working on the book for weeks I sat down and finally… finally wrote it. I’d always had an idea of where it would go and who would be involved. A few things have changed from the moment I re-wrote the first words of ENDWORLD until now (sarcasm fully intended; the whole damned thing changed) but surprisingly? The same people that were in it the first time I conceived of it were in it again. Through a hundred and one twists and turns… new characters, unplanned demises et al, the same people showed up the other night in my living room to eat wild turkey, drink Wild Turkey and toast each other on an undetermined day of an undetermined month in the year BLANK of the BLANK (come on; I can’t give that away, can I?). The same people went around the table and said what they were thankful for. And yet when I got to William’s moment I stopped typing. Because really, what was he thankful for? His loved ones. Sure. His life. Definitely. But how could he… how could I rank the things I’m thankful for? Fact: I can’t. And neither could he.

So what did he do? What did he say? That, I can tell you because it applies this cold and snowy night here on my side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. Art imitates reality and vice versa. And what follows sufficiently answers the question posed by the title of this blog entry, “What Thanksgiving Means to Me,” perhaps better than any laundry list ever could:

There was not a lot to be thankful for in Endworld. Living under the proverbial boot of a totalitarian Administration bent on suppressing humanity? Constantly running for our lives to a hypothetical freedom? There once was a poet, whose name I cannot remember that wrote that “nothing gold can stay.” “So Eden sank to grief, so dawn goes down to day.” I believe that’s how it goes. And yet at that moment as I sat there amidst my brethren… my friends after so much time apart an undetermined day of an undetermined month I knew. I knew that there was one thing I was thankful for… the same thing that we were all thankful for, originality be damned. Slowly, I stood from my feast. All eyes followed me as I did so. I picked up my half-filled glass, raised it to the ceiling and spoke.

“I’m thankful,” I began, paused, and completed, “for now.”

Smiles graced the faces of all those assembled around me. A few people nodded. I heard someone sniffle. And then, in a rousing chorus, all of my counterparts spoke in unison.

“To now,” they all said as time moved onward without check, as time always does in Endworld.

Okay, so I edited it down a bit. There were a few “tells” in the passage and I don’t want to give away what’s coming. But that statement? “I’m thankful for now?” That’s really the crux of it for me. Let’s face it, gang: You never know what tomorrow will hold. Carpe Diem, baby. I’d like to think that I’ll be here in the morning to see my wife off to work and watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade with my minions. I’d like to think that I’ll be eating store bought turkey at my mom’s house tomorrow afternoon and thereafter watching the Eagles beat the stuffing (pun intended) out of the Cowboys. But who knows? Anything is possible. If life has taught me anything over the last 39 plus years it’s to expect the unexpected. And if the world ends sometime between now and when I wake up on Thanksgiving morning to a snow-bleached world and a bright, blue sky at least I’ll be able to say that I did. I lived for now. I’d urge you all to do the same. That, friends, is my Thanksgiving wish for you. Seize your respective days and make them your b*tches and b*stards. Booyakasha. Respect.

And that? That’s the end of this little piece of pre-Turkey Day mental flatulence. Thanks as always for your time! May your turkey be warm, your mashed potatoes and gravy be un-lumpy, your stuffing be… well, awesome (’cause stuffing is just awesome) and your yams be sweet. May your afternoon be filled with love and high fives every time the Eagles score. In short?

Happy holiday, fellow Sh*theads. Winky emoticon. Smiley face.

When My Past Meets Her Present: Daddy Wisdom For My School-Age Minion

Good evening, all. It’s been a bit since I last wrote. My apologies. I’ve been caught up in a whirlwind of a million and one other “things.” I could elaborate on what those “things” are but to do so would be frivolous. They are the usual “things” that dog us all: Work, family, friends, unexpected and anticipated hospital visits… it’s been a wacky couple of weeks on that front. Note that I did not include writing in that list. Yep. Your old buddy the Madchronicler has been doing everything and anything BUT writing lately. Hopefully that changes in the very near future.

A couple of housekeeping points before I get to the topic that is plaguing my always plagued mind this evening. The first? ENDWORLD – A Novel, The Shane Campaign Edition has sold pretty well. Thank you to everyone that bought a copy! It’s still available via the usual channels: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, et cetera et cetera. Links to buy at www.theendworldseries.com/where-to-buy/.  Remember that all proceeds go to Shane Lee and his ongoing fight against DIPG. I had initially intended on doing so for a month but have since decided to extend it indefinitely. IMO, it’s worth it. So if you haven’t yet picked up a copy and you want to donate to a great cause and an even greater kid I urge you: Pick up your copy TODAY. 4.5 stars on Amazon and 5 on Barnes and Noble, not to mention 4.8 on Goodreads. The masses seem to like it, and I’m pretty confident you will too! Thanks for your continuing support! #FightForShane!

The second? Plans are in motion to take my talents err… my ramblings both here and over on the Endworld site to a new home. In preparation for the eventual completion and publication of CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD I have decided to encapsulate everything into a one-stop-shop website. It’s not live yet… I’ve got a ways to go on it but when it’s done? I promise that you’ll be the first to know. Stay tuned!

And that, friends? That’s really it. There’s more but as I said previously, it’s pretty unnecessary.   Nothing really life altering just piddling little… “things” (I know; I’m feeling pretty creative tonight, sarcasm fully intended). Rather than waste your time I think I’ll get to the crux of what’s stewing in my noggin this early October evening in the year 2014 of our Lord.

As you may or may not know, my oldest minion Cara is now in Kindergarten. Yes, that’s right: I’ve got a school-age daughter. She started back at the beginning of September and has been doing great since! She’s learning new and exciting things every day (though when you ask her what she learned at night she often replies with “I don’t remember,” an answer that does NOT stand up to a bit of persistent grilling) and turning quickly into a little lady. Before I know it she’s going to be sleeping until noon, eating cold pizza and asking to borrow the car but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, ‘kay?

I’m proud of her… DAMN proud. I’m proud of Natalie too but it’s a different kind of proud. It’s the “I’m proud that you didn’t blow out your diaper and said ‘please’ before you took my phone” kind of proud. With Cara? It’s different. She’s learning how to write her letters and her numbers. She’s learning how to sound out words, combine them with sight words and read a little. It’s the fold your arms across your chest, smile and nod your head kind of proud as opposed to the “aw, that’s so CUTE” kind.

Yet with the good? The bad. I mentioned the term “little lady” a few paragraphs ago. That’s an accurate one to describe her now. Yet another something-something has lately reared it’s ugly head. Just slightly, but for the first time, it’s there and admittedly? I’m a bit “wigged out” by it (thank you, the 90’s, for teaching me phrases like “wigged out” and “sheah, right”). The other day, I picked Cara and Natalie up at school and went through the usual routine. “Hi, how are you? How was your day?” When I asked Cara the latter question she got really quiet. So I persistently grilled her and found out what was irking her. In short? She was sad because two of her classmates had played together that afternoon and had not included her.

Okay. So this is not an uncommon occurrence. And I told Cara that. I cited examples of when she had played with one of her friends and not the other. And it seemingly got through to her. But she remained visibly upset about it. By the time bedtime rolled around she was okay, and the topic has not come up since but that moment? It’s stuck with me like a tick, embedded in my something-something since.

My wife and I both came from similar… situations growing up. Neither of us was exactly Mister or Missus Popularity in school. If anything, we were both outcasts for a time until we found our respective “niches.” I’ve said this before and I will say it again: I do not begrudge ANYONE how they treated me when I was younger. If anything, I’m thankful because that persecution that I endured between roughly 11 years old and 15? It made me into the person… the man I am today. Because of it, I grew a thick skin… learned to laugh at myself… learned to love what I once considered my abnormalities, i.e. weight, buck teeth, a bowl cut and a love of Journey (when everyone else was listening to Iron Maiden; not that I don’t like Iron Maiden, but seriously? Journey is WAY better). That persecution led me to the people that I am fortunate to count my closest friends too date–a group of similar “outcasts” that shared the same kind of background as me. And I would not trade a lick of that or them for all the popularity in the world. Booyakasha. Respect.

Yet the thing is? I remember how it felt. And admittedly? It turns my stomach and makes me throw up a little in  my mouth. Is it behind me? Yes. But are “the feels” still there? Yes they are. They’re a part of me… I embrace and live with them because they contribute to what I call my controlled angst. I need those feels. Yet I would not wish them on anyone else in the world. Specifically? My oldest daughter, Cara.

You see, her little tale of woe–of two classmates playing with each other and excluding her–concerns me. Because I don’t want Cara to go through what I went through. True, those experiences molded me but I remember the times I cried quietly in the corner all too well. I remember the feel of a noogie all too well. I remember the name calling… remember being excluded. I remember how hard I tried to change myself… to conform to what my peers considered “the norm” and remember failing miserably. ‘Cause really? A pair of Nikes, sweat pants and Oakley sunglasses did not and will never an outcast make popular. You can change the surface but beneath it? In those places Jack Nicholson doesn’t like to talk about at parties, who you are remains. Acceptance of that comes with maturity. Anyone that can do it at 11 years old has my immense respect. “I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy!”

I’m not saying that Cara’s going to go through even a fraction of what I went through. She’s a Kindergartener. Who she is and what she will become is evolving on a daily basis. Those classmates aren’t all going to be there in a year or two. She’s going to meet new people in the months and years ahead and while I love the prospect of “friends for life” I’m a realist. Nine out of 10 times you don’t meet your “friends for life” until, at the earliest, middle school. In most cases you don’t meet them until high school and in some? You don’t meet them until college. Try telling that to a five year old, though, or even an 11 year old. In all likelihood it’s not going to matter squat in the present.  All Cara wanted was to play with her classmates and she couldn’t. And she was sad because of it.

What to do? Well, guys and gals, you do what I did: You explain it to her in the best and gentlest way that you can because right now? Your word is law to them. They haven’t reached the Age of Reason yet though signs of it’s approach are quickly beginning to appear. You assure her that it’s not her; that her classmates like her just as much as they always did and that they’ll probably play with her tomorrow (I’m assuming they did, because this happened a few weeks ago and it hasn’t come up since). You give them a hug if that’s what they want and you let them cry on your shoulder if they have to. You offer them a treat–Vanilla Ice Cream with rainbow jimmies, maybe; it’s Cara’s “fave”–and do whatever they want to do. Draw? Play a game? Play babies? Watch “Sofia the Second” for the umpteenth time? Let’s be honest: You’re not going to explain the meaning of life to a five year old. But you can comfort them. Make them feel wanted. Loved. You can say “I know what it’s like, sweetie. Daddy went through it too. So did Mommy. But let me tell you something, kiddo: Both Mommy and Daddy made it through okay. Mommy, Bear? Mommy’s Daddy’s ‘best friend for life.’ And we didn’t meet until we were older. So’s Daddy’s friend Caren and Mommy’s friend Erin. Uncle Matt, Uncle Terry, Mister Tom and Miss Michelle? Miss Sarah and Mister John? We all had our days where we felt like no one wanted to play with us. And we got sad, too. But in the end? In the end…”

In the end, all “things” pass. As we get older we realize that all the sh*t that we dealt with back when we were kids made us into the men and women that we are this early October night in the year 2014 of the Lord. All the noogies and names? They taught us both how to treat others and how not to treat them. They taught us so that we can teach our own children in the hopes that maybe… one day… “things” like bullying disappear entirely. Maybe in my lifetime? Maybe in Cara’s? Maybe not for another 100 or more years. Who knows? But if we commit to it… if we make a concerted effort to teach our children that no matter whether your wearing Nikes or Whale Shoes… whether you’re wearing sweat pants or black jeans and a trench coat… whether you’re wearing Oakley’s or sunglasses you bought for $10.00 off the rack at CVSStress, you and that person there, and THAT person there and THAT one? That one across the room crying in the corner? You’re all equal. Amazing little miracles with unlimited potential. Apart you can only remain static but together? Together you can change the whole f*cking world.

Booyakasha. Respect. And good night.

F.