Category Archives: journey

Thirty-three years of wedlock, headlocks*, missing socks,good times, hard knocks, or, Elvis really did leave the building

On a steamy-hot day in August 1977, Elvis falls from his throne and checks out of the building. It was the 16th and I remember it well. We were at the end of a short honeymoon, having been wed on the 14th.

We were married in a Brooklyn brownstone owned by a dear friend. We celebrated with a few good friends and family members. We served poppy-seed cake. Keith Jarrett’s Koln sessions were on the stereo. We agreed to do a few things and rings were exchanged, and soon afterwards we drove across the Brooklyn Bridge into our Manhattan destination.

Two years before, I was sitting in an orientation with a bunch of other like-minded folk. We were all going to save the world starting in Brooklyn. Our group was split in two..one group moved to Brownsville (literally on the block where a young Mike Tyson was living). Our half moved a number of blocks to the east to a neighborhood called East New York (ENY abutted Queens, hence the confusing name). In our group was a bossy woman, a meekish woman who did at least speak, and an ultra-meekish woman who seemed to be mute, along with another young woman who would believe anything (we really did try hard to make up preposterous lies, but she seemed to fall for all of them).

I attempted to get to know the mute. I took her to the CITY, where we museum’d, ate Greek and walked and walked. She said little and I muttered to myself…lost cause. Our work overtook us. Our group ate together, planned lessons together, ate more together, cooked together, and were forced to go out together en masse every Saturday night for forced fellowship.

A girlfriend came into the scene for me. She was fun and smart and pretty and it was a good adventure for me. But, my heart was slowly being taken over by the curious mute who happened to be quite artistic and occasionally funny, who wore these corduroy shorts safety-pinned together way on up there…Those shorts became quite intriguing.

We fell in love, spent a week apart, and were both miserable without each other. We rendevoused upon my return to NY at a restaurant called ‘Z’ on Union Square. We ate mousaka and discussed marriage. There was no proposal..no need for that. We both knew and began to plan logistics. I forgot to tell my parents that my other girlfriend and I had broken up, so when I called to tell them the good news, they became rather confused considering they really had not heard much at all about my new love.

That spring became summer. We were making plans. Elvis was still eating peanut butter and banana sandwiches and we were getting MARRIED. August 13th arrived along with family and friends. After stashing everyone away at friends houses and hotels, we fell down exhausted on the floor of the living room in which we were to be married, realizing that we had arranged for beds for everyone besides us. We fell asleep on that floor. Several hours later we awoke, the coffee was made, the friends and the family arrived and we were wed.

We head to Manhattan and then two days later, Elvis up and dies. We head back to Brooklyn, to our project apartment and our jobs. We both end up working in Manhattan. We had little money but we had low rent and a yen to know the city. I may not have been unfettered, but I was alive, and in love.

Years pass, children are born, anger arises, fights occur, feelings are hurt, and we don’t know if we can really do this. Marriage..the full-tilt-12-rounds-for-life is hard work, and don’t let anyone fool ya. We reared some kids, and we did well and we did poorly. I loved, and I loved to be angry.

I’m the tilt-a-whirl the hyperbolic yak machine, impatient and yearning. I’m married to the steady the even and the deep. Her perseverance, her love, and her even threatening seriously to leave have saved my life. Love doesn’t progress in a steady line. The euphoria of young love is glimpsed occasionally, but the depth of all that shared experience and the underlying belief that we could make it work served us well.

Today is the 33rd anniversary of a grand experiment, a long-lasting love, and a life together. We are battle-scarred and we do know the buttons to push, but sometimes we have the grace to restrain. Those glimpses of that youthful euphoria do gift us with the memory of why we pulled together, and why despite some quite difficult times, we stopped and caught our breath, and we remembered.

Our kids become adults and they have rich lives if not monetarily rich.

Today is the 33rd anniversary of being married to a strong, beautiful and hard-working woman. I have often been not worthy. Grace has pulled me through. I am still in love, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I would like to work on that second set of thirty-three years but I don’t take any moment beyond the one I’m in, for granted. I do know that my past and my future would be much the poorer if a mute from Kansas hadn’t opened up her life and her heart. It was clearly my charm and those safety pins..’

Happy Anniversary to the love of my life. I may have the world’s worst luck with electronic devices, printers and such, but my luck and fortune with you has been the best. Elvis hunka hunka’d off this mortal coil was a landmark passing and sad time for many. However, for me, and this is about me, the rumblings of Elvis death observed remind me that an anniversary is a coming and I best be aware. Thanks, Elvis, but the biggest thanks go to Lynn. *all headlocks are merely metaphorical in nature.

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The Appreciative Arts – A few sketches of appreciation…

After my friend Robert died and I wrote a heartfelt eulogy, containing thoughts and feelings that I had not bothered to share with Robert openly and completely before he died, I vowed to at least attempt to show my appreciation for the living, the people who love me, move me, kick my ass when it needs to be kicked and who, though certainly not perfect, appear to be well-centered, not just in their words, but in their actions. So far, I’ve written appreciations for a singer I don’t know and for this crazy, wonderful and wacky country that I love dearly. Now it’s time to move to a few folks I DO know.

Exception to the previous paragraph: My dad
My dad died at the RiDICuLous age of 59. I’m not that far away from that terminal year of my dad. I do not obsess about this..I don’t understand the complexity of genetics, but it does give me pause. My dad was an art teacher, and fashioned a world where respect for his Maker, love of sharing his passion about his art and his spirituality lead him to live one of the most blessed lives I’ve ever known. He was the child of the great depression and he wasn’t good at saying ‘I love you’ often. What I’ve come to learn (yeah, I got a piece of his wisdom)is that his every waking step with me though his life contained the words ‘I love you unconditionally’. He taught me that a man who understands and gives boundaries to his passion (a good number of feet from addiction), but who lives in his passion is a lucky man indeed. Ironically, this lead me to understand why Keith Richards is still alive. Watch the man when he is playing his guitar mid-song. You’ll understand.

My wife: I’ve told a few people this already, but I pulled the anti-Oedipal bit off..I married my dad. And I mean that in the highest extent of honor. My dad and wife, Lynn, were and are both incredibly hard working people. As an avid practitioner of one of the seven deadly sins (sloth), this has worked out quite well for me. I am as moved by her touch as when we were married almost 32 years ago (she may have touched me before that..) and I have come to understand, with some of that inherited wisdom, that I myself am a lucky man because of her. We’ve had some rough months, and even a rough year or two, but we both know it matters, and despite my occasional inanity, she puts up with me. Lynn, like my dad, is an artist and a true lover of the arts. When she is caught up in her painting, she glows, just like my dad in a classroom.

A few friends:
Roger Dinwiddie. I came to know Roger because my daughter is his daughter’s best friend. We spent some time together and I immediately was impressed. Sadly, when I was, in my younger years, around people who REALLY impressed me off the bat and seem to carry themselves in ways I can’t begin to attain, I often become aphasic and begin flapping and stuttering. Then I realized that the guy was way more impressive than I imagined. He’s a nationally known figure in education, the effects of bullying in education, substance abuse..and he’s the president of STARS. Look it up sometime..If I didn’t get aphasic when I met you, it’s because I’ve grown a bit, thanks to this guy!

More importantly, in my life (hey, this is still about me), he has been an incredible friend. Fierce, funny, inspirational and wise. If for no other reason than one phone call I made to him in anger (anger not directed at Roger), and he called ‘bullshit’ on my anger (I was actually totally irate with the person in the previous ‘sketch’). I was throwing verbal punches and just feeling so sorry for myself, the victim, the victim, the victim, and Roger called me on it, and told me that I had to get myself (he perhaps used another word at this point) together, and then proceeded to explain how to start. And he helped me walk through the fire to the beginnings of the truth (I didn’t have myself together, and like the cliche’ goes, when you are pointing one finger there are more pointing right back at yourself). It took a friend to get me to that point, and I am honored by his friendship. Plus he has one amazingly wonderful and talented and clever wife, Suzanne!

Dennis Dumbauld: Dennis is retired military. He’s in great shape, both mentally and physically. We don’t think alike or process alike. When I was getting whiny in something I wrote, he called me on it. I didn’t necessarily like his wording, but it didn’t take me long to realize something way more important. He was being a friend, and friends who are true, will call you on the things that need to be said.

Much more importantly, for his family, Dennis and his beautiful and wonderful and generous wife Josie, have molded a family that is individualistic and as healthy (in all aspects of life) as any family I’ve ever known. His kids are not perfect (similar to most kids), but they are so together. They have certainly figured a lot of this on their own, but it came to them quickly, because of Dennis (and Josie’s) completely unconditional love for those kids. His friendship is unconditional too. We process differently, but there are not many men I admire more than Dennis.

Another father and friend: Phil Kendrick

Phil is the brother of Robert, whose passing made me want to appreciate others in a more visible way while they are still here on earth. Phil has one of the greatest blueprints I’ve ever known for being a dad (his own dad). A brilliant combination of wisdom and humor cannot be repressed. He and his also-wise and wonderful wife, Karen, have fathered 5 boys and are now grandparents. I’ve told more than one person this bit: If a space alien landed and for some reason asked me to show him what a family should look like, I’d drive him out to Phil’s and tell the alien to shut up and observe. Seriously.

Another friend:
Susan Barber. Susan is the most generous person I have ever known (and it’s not like I wasn’t parented by generous people). She is steady and smart and funny and I have eaten lunch with her more times than anyone on the face of this earth, and I’m ready to go again (she’s out of the country and I’m missing her!). She gives her time and much much more, even though she keeps long work hours and participates (and has participated) in most every sport known to (wo)man. Leg and knee surgery have slowed her pace, but they have not stopped her from marathoning, playing soccer, playing tennis, playing golf, playing ultimate frisbee, inventing other games, and so many more things that I get tired just thinking about it.

At a time in my life when my wife needed a friend to help deal with me (I have been a pill more than once), Susan gave great assurance and friendship to Lynn, and had a lot to do with the healing process. There are many more, equally impressive deeds, but that is one that I will never forget, and one for which I am eternally grateful.

There are many many more of you out there. I plan to do keep this series going. But it’s late and I’m really missing my out-of-town wife and I can’t put off sleep much longer. Also, if you are on the list, I’m not asking for a loan or a reference.

In closing, I’d like to say a word about Don Finto, the man who led Belmont church from a small smattering of folks to a wondrous group of sojourners. Don spoke at Robert’s funeral.Even if you are not nearly on the same page spiritually with this man, and I really haven’t been around him much in years, and differ greatly in places, you cannot help but be moved by this guy.

My dad taught me something with his artistic eye that many people have heard, but few understand as well as a man of his observational powers. He explained that a person gets the face they deserve in the later years of their life. We’re not talking superficial standards of beauty here, but you probably know what I’m talking about. A negative person will have lines in their face that a centered person cannot (and should not) dream about. A centered person may be disguised as someone not so beautiful, but if you keep looking, you see untold depths. The fact that I may not be in the same place as Don Finto is not the primary point. The fact is that there is not a more beautiful 79 year old person on this planet…outside, in.

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Magdalena

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That’s Magdalena on the left (my wonderful daughter on the right). Magdalena is Erin’s ‘host sister’. She’s 16 years old and tighter than a tick with my daughter. This picture is from a restaurant in Lima where we ate the best cerbiche’ known to man.

Magdalena doesn’t have any English and my Spanish is pretty much limited to ‘banos?’ (bathroom) and ‘agua sin gas’ (non carbonated water), so Erin had to translate. Nonetheless, Mag thought I was hilarious because I asked her silly questions and made fun of the traffic cops in the intersections with their dramatic hand signals and gestures. We laughed about boy friends, the amount of bracelets and necklaces a person could possibly wear at one time, about the fact that her baby brother pretty much has the same name as her older brother (thanks to grand-dad who makes the rules around the house) and lots of other stupid stuff.

As we were leaving she told Erin to tell Lynn (my wife) that she must be a lucky and happy woman to live with such a funny man. The true meaning and aural sensation of the word ‘SNORK’ could be encapsulated by the the sound emanating from Lynn’s mouth and nostrils accompanied with eye-rolling worthy of a gold medal if the Olympics elected to add eye-rolling as an Olympic sport.

Personally, I’m thinking Mag is pretty dang smart, and boy does she have a great smile.

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For your Peru-sal..this is where i’m gonna be for a while..

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Looking forward to seeing the daughter. And for what it’s worth, if you are a burglar or have plans on intruding, one of the sons and the dogs will be at the house to greet ya. Back in a week or so.

Go Vandy!!

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Rook to Bat-shit 7, or, Death of the Fischer king

When I was a kid we didn’t have a TV in the house. I did a lot of reading (every Spiderman comic book, among other middle-to-low brow stuff) which occasionally included the shiny set of Encyclopedia Americana (we couldn’t afford the Britannica model). One of my favorite items featured Bobby Fischer, wonder kid of the chess set. The entry featured the opening 12 moves of a game in which he pwned some Russky master.

I memorized those moves and used them every game I played as a young teenager. It was one helluva of opening despite the fact it often made absolutely no sense in game context, piercing dagger-like into the heart of my opponent. My middle and end games sadly had no similar style or panache. If I won, it was because of Bobby Fischer and his early-game devastation.

I haven’t played chess in years, and I really don’t have the kind of mind that masters chess, but the other night when he died, I wanted to forget all those creepy sad years, and pay tribute to the fire of his youth, and what he did for all of us on this side of the cold war…yeah, you ‘Red’ bastards might have beat us into space, but we got a kid that’ll whip your mental ass.

Goodbye, you crazy diamond.

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‘You can TAKE the reservation, you don’t know how to HOLD the reservation, or, Jameson Suites will not have my bedding anymore

I’m a Dave Ramsey believer on some points, chiefly the deal about credit cards. I guess I should say I’m a near-believer because I do have a credit card, but I rarely use the thing. I like to pay cash. Tonight I’m in Jackson, TN and I’m staying at the Country Inn and Suites. They take cash and they give the state rate, their room is comfortable, the air conditioner works, the TV works and the bed is ample.

On the other hand, take the Jameson Suites, which is where I made a reservation. They do not take cash after 7:00 PM. In my previous stays I’ve always arrived before 7:00. I didn’t know about their no-cash policy after 7:00. There is no sign stating that cash policy. When I made the reservation, their computer ‘remembered me’ and I’m guessing they remembered I paid cash. When I made the reservation, I told them I would be arriving around 7:30 or 8:00 PM. The person who TOOK the reservation did not mention this policy to me.

Needless to say, when I arrived, cash in hand and I was rebuffed, I was steamed. I did not curse. I did not yell, but I did show more than a modicum of irritation. On the other hand, I had an epiphany…It relates to the fact that I believe that pretty much everything in life can be related to at least one Seinfeld episode. I realized that I could be more than just a sideline viewer…For one brief shining moment, I could be Jerry. I promise you that the following is pretty close to verbatim. I’ve rarely been prouder.

Jerry/John H: I made a reservation for a king-size room, non-smoking.

Agent/Desk Clerk: (noticing that I have cash literally in hand) We can’t give you the room after 7:00 for cash.

Jerry/John H: I don’t understand, I made a reservation, do you have my reservation?

Agent: Yes, we do, unfortunately we can’t give you the room

Jerry/John H: But the reservation keeps the room. That’s why you have the reservation.

Agent: I know why we have reservations.

Jerry/John H: I don’t think you do. If you did, I’d have a room. See, you know how to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to *hold* the reservation and that’s really the most important part of the reservation, the holding. Anybody
can just take them. (I was REALLY PROUD of myself at this point. Sadly, the clerk neither felt sympathy nor seemed to realize that she was taking part in a seminal moment of my post-modern life)

At this point, I veered off-script, but the results were nearly sponge-Seinfeld worthy:

Agent: I’m sorry we can’t give you a room. You can speak to the manager.

John H: ok, let me speak to the manager

Agent: I’m sorry..you can’t speak to the manager. She’s not here tonight.

John H: you just told me I could speak to the manager and now you are telling me that I can’t speak to the manager. Does she have a phone?

Agent: You can’t speak to the manager and you can’t have a room.

John H: (holding out a crisp $100 bill. You do see that this is legal tender, right (ok, at this point, I just may, just may have sounded a bit irritated)

Agent: I’m sorry, you can’t have a room for cash. You cannot speak to the manager until tomorrow.

John H: (leaving) trust me, I’ll speak to the manager tomorrow!

I really do think it’s sad that people who want to pay cash, can’t pay cash. It is worth something, you know! Jameson’s ain’t a bad place to stay, but they’ve lost my business.

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August is a big month for us..or, Thank you Elvis

Thirty years ago a quiet young woman married a long-haired young man who wasn’t quite so quiet. Both the bride and the groom wanted a small quiet wedding. They managed to obtain the beautiful front room of a brownstone in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. They only invited family and close close friends. Distance from home made the feat simpler. A friend helped us write the vows, and it was over in a flash. We had poppyseed cake (our favorite) and some chocolate cake and a bunch of stuff to drink, and then we borrowed a car and drove over into Manhattan for a couple of nights in the big city.

The date was actually the 14th (of August). While our short honeymoon was winding down (hey, we had no money) two days after the wedding, Elvis chose his time do die. I don’t know if he REALLY chose the time, but his death certainly overshadowed our wedding, at least in the Daily News. We drove the car back to a friend’s house, and took the subway home to our apartment in the not-so-wonderful neighborhood of East New York. It really wasn’t safe, but we didn’t care, because the friendship that evolved into love (and lust) helped us belie the fact that we lived in a scary neighborhood in a small apartment prone to break-ins. We were social workers. We came to save the world, but I think we mainly saved each other.

We lived in Brooklyn for five years and managed to have our first child. I had a cheap stereo (really really cheap so that it would not be stolen) and Lynn gave me Talking Heads 77 for our first Christmas. I still know every groove. Elvis remained dead, except in the pages of the Weekly World News. Thanks to his timing, I have a built-in reminder of my anniversary date every year. I really don’t need the reminder, but it does evoke a special day in a wonderful Brownstone in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn.

We are celebrating off and on this month. We began by having a fabulous dinner at the Canyon Cafe up on Lookout Mountain on the Georgia end. The off and on part is due to work and lack of leave (I had to take a lot of medical leave this year), but I think it is symbolic of something more. Marriage, or at least prolonged marriage, is damn hard work. Sometimes you want to leave the joint and drive into ‘Bolivian’ (as Mike Tyson once said) or maybe into the arms of someone else. Sometimes you just feel so damn lucky the world transcends magic, but one thematic argument later, you wanna jump off the roof. You don’t. You stay. You work and argue and love and work some more. Thirty years…the dividends compound.

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