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.

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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.

 

 

ENDWORLD – A Novel, The Shane Campaign Edition is NOW AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE!

Big news my beloved personal blog followers!

ENDWORLD - A NOVEL and THE ENDWORLD SERIES

Hello again, everyone! I hope you all are enjoying these last, waning days of the Summer and are looking forward to a long, holiday weekend filled with family, friends, beaches, barbecues and all around good times! Soon our focus will be shifting from milkshakes and peaches to Pumpkin Spice Lattes and apples (though you can’t really tell tonight; up here in southeastern Pennsylvania it’s hot and humid). While I love the Fall (and will likely write more about it in subsequent days, weeks and months), that is not the reason why I’m writing this tonight. I am writing this tonight for another, much more important reason. And that reason?

ENDWORLD – A Novel, The Shane Campaign Edition is NOW AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE! It went “live” as I’d hoped, and can now be ordered from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the iBookstore, Createspace, Smashwords, Kobo… you name it! Here are the links…

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ENDWORLD – A Novel, The Shane Campaign Edition

ENDWORLD - A NOVEL and THE ENDWORLD SERIES

Good Morning, Afternoon or Evening, everyone. I guess it all depends on when you are reading this. I know that it’s been some time since I posted anything to this website. Usually when I do it’s something about ENDWORLD – A Novel, or the ongoing saga of completing the sequel, CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD. I’ve even written a bit about the planned third novel in The Endworld Series, HEAVEN AND ENDWORLD. I’ve written about reviews, both negative and positive; I’ve written about sales and the like. But this update is not about any of those things. Far from it, actually. “To everything in turn, there is a season” and there will be time to update you on them in the future. At this moment, though? This is about something much more important. That said?

I’d like to take a moment to introduce you to someone you may or…

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Hashtag OnGrosslyUndervaluingOurInvaluableTeachers

Good Morning, Afternoon or Evening, everyone (whatever time of day it happens to be where you are). Yes, it’s me again: Your old buddy El Autoro, otherwise known as The Madchronicler, otherwise known as Frank Marsh AKA Daddy, Unkie Frank… You get the point (I sometimes think I have more names than Apollo Creed). Hashtag WhoDoesn’tLoveAPointlessRockyReference?

I’ll dispense with the pleasantries. I’m typing this whilst my youngest minion crawls all over me and my oldest asks me incessantly if I’m “done with the iPad yet?” I’d like to get this done and out pre-people in my area of the universe calling it a night. Why? Because a topic requires addressing. And I will do so in the most succinct way that I can (not always the easiest undertaking but I’m always open to testing my limits). So here goes.

Did you know that before I was a self-published author (Hashtag ENDWORLDANovel) and Branch Manager (Hashtag CareersUSA) I was pursuing my MA in Education? True story. I stopped roughly four years ago for a couple of reasons. The first? We had Cara, AKA my oldest minion, and a newborn + a full time job does not = time to study. The second? I simply could not “get” Probability and Statistics. Still can’t, and it’s a required core competency for an MA in Education. Hashtag BTW, if anyone can tutor me and give me 10K I’d be happy to go back, take it again and finish my degree.

But the third reason? It was perhaps the most important. I was making more money at that time as an Office Manager for a hydraulic and pneumatic distribution company than I would have as a teacher. Significantly more. Even though Nicole was and, of course, is a pharmacist it was still not feasible financially. So I stepped away from my dream since high school English with Mister Brantley, switched careers and am now what I mentioned two paragraphs ago. It is this that concerns me this evening… This that I need to address.

Teachers have always been one of society’s most invaluable commodities. They do everything from teach our children their ABCs, how to count to 10, 20 and onward and upward (Hashtag ToInfinityAndBeyond) to Pre-Calculus and AP Biology. They wipe our minions’ dirty butts and provide them a shoulder to cry on when they’re small, and they counsel them and provide them a shoulder to cry on when they’re older. My God, my oldest daughter would still be in diapers right now were it not for her “Get Set” teacher (Hashtag IMOPottyTrainingIsDownrightImpossible).

So if they are so invaluable, why do we as a society undervalue them so much? Hashtag CaseInPoint, over the last year plus I’ve watched a steady exodus of teachers from the daycare… The school that Nicole and I send our minions too and have since Cara was four months old. Good teachers… Teachers that both my daughters formed bonds with, some more than others. The exodus knows no grade level: From the “Infant Room” to the Principal of the school… All are gone. They’ve moved onto other things. Why? Not because they hated their jobs. Far from it: Many were so in love with their school and their students that they would never have left were it not for one indisputable factor: They were paid for their days, nights and weekends the equivalent of what I paid my Shift Supervisors… Hourly… At CVSStress, and that was almost 10 years ago!

How can this be, friends? How did we end up where we are? Who were our biggest influences? Outside of our parents (both good and bad), our greatest mentors were our teachers. I still remember the names of many of mine. My all time faves. Mister Brantley. Suzanne Stutman. Tram Turner. Mel Seeshultz. Vicki Abt. Don Jon Dugas. And those are just a few. I forged relationships with these men and woman that lasted in many cases well-beyond me leaving their classrooms. When I published ENDWORLD last year, I even heard from one. He found me on Amazon, navigated to the book’s website, found my email and sent me a congratulatory note. “I was always impressed with your writing saavy, Frank (just not your grammar). I am so proud of what you have accomplished. Continued success in your endeavors now, and moving forward. Keep ‘Looking Into The Future!'”

That was teaching then. Now? Now it is still a noble profession. Noble because of the hours and hours beyond nine to five that it entails. But it is a rotating door, not just in my minions’ school but everywhere! Why? Because a teacher cannot stay in one place for more than a couple of years. They need to keep looking… Keep finding better paying positions and jobs to supplement their income that inadvertently become careers because their lives simply are not sustainable on making a few bucks higher than minimum wage. Those bonds that I formed? My children… Your children may never have the opportunity to do the same because they sometimes go through two, and even three teachers a school year. They never develop familiarity. And when they do? When the teacher in question manages to “hang around” for more than a few months? Well guys and gals, they’re just more disappointed when the inevitable happens.

So what is the answer? How can we stop this vicious circle of life from perpetrating itself over and over again? Simple: We the people need to fix the system. Whether that means taking more of the outrageous tuition we pay on a monthly and yearly basis and putting it towards salaries and not technology upgrades (I’ve been using the same laptop for seven years and it works fine) or simply downgrading the facilities to something smaller, more intimate and manageable (but still nice; I’m not talking about a one room school house Hashtag LittleHouseOnThePrairie) it needs to get done. It’s time to start valuing our teachers for the invaluable work they do again. They are as much a part of our minions’ lives as we parents are. Parenting is a volunteer position. Teaching should not be a pledge drive. Hashtag WhoDoesn’tLoveAPointlessPBSReference?

End rant, friends. A special thanks to my minions who for the most part watched “Return of the Jedi” for the last hour and let me write this. Hashtag NothingButLove. Thanks also to all my teachers, both good and bad, even the ones that tried to teach me Probability and Statistics. And a big, loud, shout-it-from-the-rooftops “Booyakasha” to all the teachers that have impacted Cara and Natalie’s lives over the last five years. Missus Lee, Katie, Wendy, Chrissy, Kim, Melissa, Stephanie, Robin, Lori, Jackie One and Jackie Two, Joanna, Michelle, Kelly, Natalie, Jovi, Morgan, Danielle, Mary, Mister Brian and any others that I forgot (Hashtag InsertYourNameHere). Whether still around or gone, I owe you… We parents all owe you debts of gratitude. “I am so proud of what you have accomplished. Continued success in your endeavors now, and moving forward.” You deserve it. Hashtag Respect.

Hashtag NothingButLoveForYouALL.

F.