Friday, October 30, 2009

October nights

After this morning's post I decided, as much as that story makes me smile, I need to lighten the mood around here a bit. So, without further ado, here are a couple or four pictures I shot from my balcony of recent sunsets.

These two are from Oct. 18.

And these two are from Oct. 20.

Have a happy weekend every, watch out for vampires, mummies and the Holy Ghost.
Happy Halloween!

Has it really been eight years?

I remember the day easily enough, Nov. 1, All Saints Day. That’s easy. But I had to stop and take a moment to remember exactly the year.


Eight years ago today me and my sisters, brothers, dad, brothers-in-law, sister-in-law and a future sister-in-law sat in one of those anonymous rooms hospitals seem to have in abundance, listening to the doctor. The news he had for us, while not unexpected, was still the sort you never want to hear.

Our mom, the woman who’d raised all five of us, who’d beaten cancer 12 years prior, and who was doing a pretty good job of beating it again, had fallen victim to what my friend The Doc would later describe as an “opportunistic infection.” She’d breathed something in during the previous week and that little bug had quickly taken advantage of an immune system weakened by chemo.

The doctor (as opposed to The Doc), gently laid out our slim options (option) and then withdrew to let the family talk amongst ourselves. As I said, the doctor’s news wasn’t unexpected, it was just the time to make a decision had come so much sooner than we’d expected. Even though we knew what the decision had to be, we still took time to talk about it.

We had but one request: Could the doctors wait one day? One more day would make it Nov. 1. One more day would make it not Oct. 31. One more day would make it not our sister’s birthday. On this we were agreed.

My dad got up, walked to the door and started down the hallway toward the room where his wife of 43 years lay to tell her doctors the family’s decision.

The door closed and it was just us, the five kids, three spouses and a future wife. The silence, as you’d expect in such a situation, was deafening.

And then one of us, and to this day I couldn’t tell you who it was, broke the silence in a way that brought a little light into a very dark day.

“Well, there go a lot of secrets.”

I smile even now thinking about it, because it was the truth. Our mom had been our secret keeper. More than 100 years of childhood secrets would now be forever safe. Not that any of them were really bad. Some instances of drunk and stupid – my dad knew my sister split her chin open during homecoming one year. What he didn’t know was that prior to putting in 20-plus stitches the doctors probably didn’t need to give her anything for the pain since she’d had an entire bottle of Jack right before she fell. A minor brush or two with the law – like when … well, we’ll leave those to your imagination. Bad report cards. Letters from teachers. Emergency loans (OK, grants) to pay the rent because maybe, just maybe, you used the money she gave you last week to buy a keg. For that spring break trip you told them, really Mom, you weren't going on.

The list goes on and on and on. All those things you thought you got away with, trust me, your mom knows. That’s her job. The good ones give you enough rope to go out into the world thinking you’re on your own. But that rope, instead of being there to hang you, is there to hang on to. It’s a safety line back to mom, one you can always tug on twice knowing there’ll be someone there to pull you back and rescue you from your stupidity.

Those of you who’ve lost your moms know this. Those of you who still have your moms, well, you might want to think about giving them a call to say thanks for keeping your secrets.

Friday, October 23, 2009

They Came in Peace

Some of you may recognize this post. It’s pretty much the same one I wrote this on this day last year, but it bears repeating. Changes for timeliness are in brackets.

I still remember walking out of church [26] years ago today and hearing the news that someone had driven a truck loaded with explosives into a Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. I was young then, still in middle school in fact, but the memory sticks with me to this day. The attack made a powerful impression on a young boy.

A few short years later, I found myself stationed at Camp Lejeune, home of Battalion Landing Team 1/8 (a.k.a. 1st Battalion, Eighth Marine Regiment), and the memories of the attack on that unit were still vivid for my fellow Marines.

Still raw.

I spent almost six years at Lejeune between the Marine Corps and working as a reporter there after college. It wasn't a bad place if you had to be stuck somewhere in (or near) the military, and the 14-or-so miles of beach put it way ahead of the alternative just up the road, Fort Bragg.

Through all of that time one of my most favorite places was the Beirut Memorial. Actually, there are three memorials to the 241 Marines, sailors and soldiers killed Oct. 23, 1983: The wall, a plaque and a living memorial of 241 Bradford pear trees.

According to the Camp Lejeune Web site: “At the Northwoods Park Middle School, a group of classes, taught by Mrs. Martha Warren, initiated a support project to write the families of the men who had lost their lives. These students also helped to raise funds for the memorial trees and became a focal point in this effort. A ninth-grader auctioned her Cabbage Patch doll and raised $1,500 for the project. One tree was planted for each lost serviceman along Lejeune Boulevard and the completed tree project was dedicated on March 24, 1984.”

The gray granite wall of the memorial resembles those the Marines saw every day on patrol throughout Beirut – broken and jagged. Set in the middle of the wall is a statue of a single Marine. Rifle in hand, dog tags hanging out he stares out into a distant horizon. The wall beside him bears the simple phrase, carved deep into the Georgia stone:

They Came In Peace.

It’s a quiet place, the memorial is, tucked under a towering cathedral roof of Carolina pines and animated only by the wind whispering through the trees and the distant rush of Highway 24. But no matter the time of year you visit the memorial, there are always little tributes placed at the base of the wall. Flags, Teddy bears, a bottle of Jack or a six of Pabst with one or two of the tops popped.

[Eleven] years ago, I visited the memorial about a week after the 15th anniversary of the attack. Tucked between the slabs was a letter. A letter a 16- or 17-year-old girl wrote to her father telling him how her life had been going since she last saw him when she was just 1 or 2. It also told him how much she still missed him every day.

So, if you have a free moment today in amongst the hustle and bustle of your life, perhaps you could spend it thinking about these young men [and the many who’ve joined them since] who never had the chance to become old.

Semper Fi.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Boyhood dreams, adult realities

When I switched jobs and companies earlier this year, one of the biggest perks of the new job was moving from one side of the office to the other. From the side surrounded by walls, to the one with a window.

Now I’m not saying my view is like this:

Or this:
But at least I can see the sky (which is a beautiful blue today) and, on occasion, let the mind wander a bit.

That was not the case yesterday. I was concentrating pretty hard on a task when I saw this out my window:

Either someone had put the finishing touches on their escape plan (personally, I’m going to try to get out like
Edmond Dant├Ęs) …or the window washers were here for their six-month visit. The next sight I saw confirmed this hunch.

And a little later on while they were working on the other side of the courtyard my window looks out on:
This all got me to thinking, yanno, being a window washer wouldn’t be a bad job. In fact, it could be pretty interesting. You get to see new people all day long. It’s generally nice outside when you’re working since no one cleans their windows in the rain. And, most important, there’s a bit of adventure involved swinging from a rope off the side of a building.

I think this gets added to my list of jobs (kind of like Mike Rowe, but he actually does them) that I’d like to try out. The jobs I may have dreamed about having as a kid, but pushed into the background when reality intruded as an adult.

Like this one:

I have always wanted to drive the back of the fire engine. That would be so freaking cool! That, my friends, is a 100-foot-long truck. Can you imagine how much fun it is to be the guy steering the back as you’re flying down the streets of D.C.? Or wherever?

Other jobs on the list include: iron worker on a new high-rise building or suspension bridge; condom field tester is another (for obvious reasons); the First Gentleman; a Naval aviator (Top Gun was a huge influence on my formative years); and a carpenter (full disclosure: I already do this as a hobby).

So what jobs do you sometimes daydream about as you sit in your cube doing this and that? What job would you take if, just for a day, you could answer the question “What do you do?” with “I’m a ________.”

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Double trouble

Who's got the cutest nieces in the world?

Yep, I do. Here's the evidence:

Quinn and Neve: BFFs
Somewhere, there are little 1 and 2 year old boys who have no idea their hearts will be broken somehow, some way, someday.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Living with roommates

I just looked out my window here at work and saw the rain has started. It’s just a gentle rain, for the time being, but I’m wondering how it might affect my new roommate, Bob.

Bob moved in over the weekend and set up his stuff in a corner of my balcony I don’t normally use, and I’ve been just fine to live and let live. Although, I wish he’d have shown up about two months ago when he might have actually been useful.

Oh yeah, I took a picture of him yesterday just in case he went missing and I had to make a report. Here’s his good side:

Hi! My name's Bob. What's your's?

Like I said: Live and let live. I’ve pretty much got no problem with spiders. In fact, I believe spiders are our friends. As long as Bob stays out on the porch, he can hang out as long as he wants. Although, like I said, he really would have been more useful back in August when there were bugs flying around my balcony. I’m guessing one of the moths that made a habit of hanging around outside my patio door would have set him up for days and days.

But alas, I think this afternoon’s rain might drive him off to greener pastures. Perhaps a chink in the building’s mortar where he can pass the cold winter months? Or, if he’s really lucky, a door or window carelessly left open. Of course in this case his luck might only hold out long enough for him to get inside and get set up in a new web before being discovered and squished by some less enlightened soul.

Perhaps, if I can think of some way to do it safely since I don’t know what kind of spider you really are, maybe I’ll relocate you to one of the building’s stairwells. They’re little used, quiet and I’m sure you’ll find a nice cozy corner to string up your next web.

Note: I decided to look it up and it turns out Bob is a Barn Spider, a common species found in Virginia and the eastern United States. Just thought you'd like to know.

Monday, October 5, 2009

To the Barricades!!

Red - the blood of angry men!
Black - the dark of ages past!
Red - a world about to dawn!
Black - the night that ends at last!
- The ABC Cafe, Les Mis


First, check out this article, then come back.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm about as American as they come, but something about this just smells sooooo wrong. Seriously? A McDonald's, in the Louvre?


I love me a Royal with Cheese just as much as the next guy. And McDonald's fries? Someone should definitely give some thought to adding them to the DEA's Schedule I. I just don't feel like smelling them as I head in to visit Mona and some of the world's greatest art treasures.

McDonald's at the Air&Space's Udvar-Hazy Center? Fine, no problemo. Let the kiddies go to town on their Happy Meals. The Golden Arches near the Cour Napoleon and the Louvre Pyramid? Ehhh....not so much.

I've never been to the Louvre, but I hope to go someday soon. In fact, earlier this year, I gave my best friend a ration of shit for visiting Paris on his honeymoon and not going to the Louvre. This was before he told me he and the wife were only there a short time and went to Notre Dame de Paris instead and there was a strike of some kind messing things up. A toss-up, but life holds some hard choices.

Putting a Micky D's in the Louvre should not one of them.

According to the Daily Telegraph, this is what one art historian had to say: "This is the pinnacle of exhausting consumerism, deficient gastronomy and very unpleasant odors in the context of a museum."

I'm forced to agree.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Going green…in my head

It seems the big thing these days is saving energy. We use compact fluorescent light bulbs. Wind turbines and solar panels are springing up everywhere (although more are needed). We recycle and compost and try to drive less because all of these things help save energy.

I’ve decided to go on another energy-saving kick in the coming months, a mental/emotional energy cutback if you will.

Let me ‘splain.

As a guy, last year was an amazing vicarious success for me. In order, the Pittsburgh Steelers, North Carolina Tar Heels and Pittsburgh Penguins all won their respective championships. A Lombardi Trophy, an NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship trophy and Lord Stanley’s Cup: Not a bad sports haul for one guy to cheer about in six months.

Hell, my teams won the same number of championships during the first six months of 2009 that all of the professional sports teams in Philly won during the last 26 years. Not too shabby. To twist the knife into Philly a little more, my teams have won more championships in the last five years (another Super Bowl and NCAA title) than Philly has since 1975.

But last Sunday, as I watched the Steelers stagger around Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium only to lose a second game in two weeks in the last 15 seconds, I realized something. That something is rooting for a team takes a lot out of you. All the “Damn it! Why the Hell did they do that?” and “How the heck do the Super Bowl champs lose to the fuckin’ Bengals?” well, there’s an emotional toll to be paid and I’m tired of ponying up every weekend.

Since I’m not going to stop watching college hoops, and hockey really isn’t televised until the playoffs begin in April, something else’s gotta go. That something is going to be football.

Heinz Field: This is how it will look in the Black 'n Gold recesses
of my mind this year
Just like I cut a number of TV shows out of my life last year, I’ve decided that since the realities of professional football (salary cap, injuries, the Pats) militate against the Steelers repeating as Super Bowl champs in 2010. So I’m going to endeavor to be less emotionally involved with them this year.

It’s not that I’m not going to be a fan; it’s just that I’m not going to anxiously scan the TV listings to see if their games are on. I’m not going to religiously read the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s sports page every day.

Most importantly, I’m not going to get my panties all in a bunch if they lose. Also, since the Heels lost – through graduation or the leaving early – a goodly number of the players who beat the ever-living shit out of Michigan State last April, I’m pretty sure they’re not going to win either.

So I got that going for me.

For those of you wondering what effect this change of heart will have on the annual Gumbo Championship Party and its associate the Super Bowl Chili Party I can answer you in one word: Nothing. I enjoy gumbo/chili and football as much as the next guy.

The only question I have left is this: What do people do on Sunday afternoons in the fall?