8/30 North Carolina, slouchy socks & other assorted memories

i miss North Carolina.

God, how i miss it.

i miss the high ceilings and the old white walls of its architecture. i miss the trailer park parties and the new wave girls that inhabited them. i miss the tribe that we cobbled together – coming from across almost all 50 of the states and a multitude of races. i miss the “fashion” of slouchy socks and brightly colored vests, that danced side-by-side with “Ramones” t-shirts and torn jeans. i miss the relationships that i’ll never (seemingly) be able to regain, and maybe most of all, i miss the me that was there. Seems pretty odd that i would miss it so, considering that it was the only place to ever see me straddling a bridge, ready to jump… but there you go. North Carolina (Jacksonville and Wilmington to be specific) was the place to be in the late 80’s if you wanted to see this particular little boy grow into a man.

i came to realize all this the other night while watching “RuPaul’s Drag U”, as a result of seeing one of the celebrity guests (i’m thinking it was Jane or Julie, but then again, it might have also been a scene in a commercial for all i know. Suffice to say, there was a bit of vodka involved, and i can’t be too sure, so let’s just move on with the story if you don’t mind) hanging out in digs very similar to those i knew back in good old N.C.

The rustic white walls and the high ceiling shown in the pictures of Jane/Julie/the commercial had an immediate and unforeseen effect on me. Tearing at my heart to the point where i actually later woke from a somewhat fitful sleep to begin composing this post on my phone keyboard (and trust me , if you knew me you’d understand all the better what a sacrifice both those actions involved). But now, i feel sort of bad for having that reaction. i mean, while those were good times in a wonderful place, they’re now only a very small blur in my life’s rearview mirror – ancient history if you will. And there’s no turning back at any rate.  i can no more return to the Wilimington of my past than i can return to the me that resided there. And nor do i want to. My current life is quite nice, and while there is little money, much less free time and even fewer hairs to comb than previously, i feel rather “rich” with many blessings that were unearned as well as with a multitude of accomplishments that were. In short – it’s been a rough, but enjoyable ride. And i’m getting there. i’m getting better. Day by day.

So, what gives then with the longing that attacked me? Again, there was vodka involved, but i don’t really feel as if this was the trigger. Rather i think it simply served in opening the particular door in my mind that would allow for the experience. i can’t be sure, but i think the issue might just be this:

As noted before, i miss the me that was there. Not so much as in i want to actually be him again – but rather – i want to remember him and his times with; well, someone who also has those memories. i suppose i want to (only sometimes mind you) take a break from the “now” and remember the “then” – a task best accomplished when you have a friend nearby whom you can trade tales with. One who also remembers the same “then” that you do. So in other words, a task i’ll never be able to complete successfully.

In addition, there was more money to blow, more time to waste and more “freedom” to be exploited back then. More ignorance and poor choices as well, to be sure – enough that i’ll never want to go back. But still, i think it’s nice to remember a time when you had little to do, especially during those periods where you find yourself overwhelmed in your current place and time. The younger me had the task of getting off that bridge, but he never had to deal with being a parent, a “too late for college but still pursuing it” student, a manager (of sorts) or a son dealing with an ailing father and the mother who stands by his side. Had the younger me known all this was coming, i think he still would’ve gotten off the bridge, just not nearly as quickly.

Regardless, he is gone, and i am here. And North Carolina is gone as well. Well, at least my version of it. And that’s good. And, at the risk of being somewhat overly simplistic, it’s also good that i can revisit it from time to time. Maybe i should find the time (and friend) to do so. If nothing else, just to allow myself an occasional break from the “now” – coming back to it refreshed in the knowledge that one day, it too will be looked back upon fondly.

Yes, someday after i’ve retired to North Carolina.

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8/29 a rather utilitarian view point

My best friend is an atheist (he’s also gay, but that has nothing to do whatsoever with this post, unless of course it might at some point. We’ll have to see). He and i never talk about religion.

We never argue about which one of us is “right” and we never exchange ideas in the hopes of convincing each other to “switch teams”. We don’t, because we know it’s pointless to do so. We don’t, because we love each other for who we are versus who we could make each other into. And we don’t, because although we may feel differently about whether or not there is a God, we totally agree that each person has their own journey to make, their own road to walk. And regardless of whether the task was handed down to us on high by some Superior Being or simply by Chance – in the final analysis, each person must take full ownership of their own journey – a journey that they began, and will end, alone.

i mention this simply as proof that it can happen. There can be instances wherein two or more people with widely different ideas about life, the universe and – well, everything – can get along quite well, even to the point of being best friends. As such, the question i have is why can’t this simply be the norm? Why can’t we all take up on our own journeys without feeling the need to bump into each other so often along the way?

From the point of the religious, i understand that many feel they have a certain “calling” from their God to “spread the word”, and since my only real knowledge and experience is that of Christianity, i’ll keep my comments confined to this particular ideology. Understanding that Jesus said to “Spread the word”, i don’t recall him ever saying that anyone was supposed to “beat the word” into the head of every living soul who decides to not believe it. i also don’t recall him saying anything about taking unbelievers, kicking and screaming to the altar, for a redemption they didn’t ask for and don’t believe in.  i DO recall however, his being pretty specific about people staying out of other peoples business (yes, i’m alluding to that whole “judge not” deal – possibly his most ignored teaching). i also seem to recall his mentioning that to gain your life, you first have to lose it. i wonder how many wealthy Christian suburbanites are willing to stop beating atheists over the head long enough to take that particular challenge?

To my mind, “spreading the word” is much more like an invitation to believe than it is a mandate. And as with any invitation, you have the right to say “yes” or “no”. Should God exist, would they really want a relationship with someone simply because that someone fears punishment otherwise?  I can’t imagine so. Sort of negates the whole point of “Free Will” if you think about it.

Now if the followers of Jesus are working from somewhat of a misunderstanding regarding instructions he left, then i’m even more perplexed by the atheists. For in their instance, there were no instructions given, and no God to promote. But to listen to some of them, you’d swear that atheism almost is a religion itself.  While there is no bible in hand, there sure is a lot of thumping to be heard. And why?

As i asked another not too long ago, if i do believe in something that doesn’t exist, then what’s the harm in that? Why do you feel you need to make me believe otherwise? What drives you to force me to see your Light? As long as i’m not hurting anyone in my belief, why not just let me wallow in my ignorance? We’re both worm food at the end of the run at any rate, so what difference does it make if one of us will be totally surprised by the fact when it occurs?

i understand that religion has caused much pain on this world. But no more than money has. Or political beliefs. Or hunger. Or power (the lust thereof at any rate). In short, almost everything humans get their hands into ends in some sort of damage. Do the atheists who try convert the believers work as hard at convincing the rich that they need to share their wealth? Or those with an abundance of food that they need to share too? i don’t know, maybe they do. i’m really asking (seeing as i’m likely never to be on their radar in these regards if they do…).

Now i’m trying desperately hard not to use any Rodney King quotes in this, but it really is boiling down to exactly what he’s most famous for saying. And i too wonder why it is that we can not simply agree to disagree on certain things. Not all things mind you, just the ones that don’t matter in the larger picture. For instance – we should be spending much more time working against world hunger than arguing about whether its existence proves or disproves God’s as well. But as for the rest, we need to keep in mind that we each do have our own unique journey. And it is ours alone to make and we need to get there, not as others would have us go, but in best way that we see fit.

(to those on both sides who will now decry my line of thought as being too simplistic, naive or ignorant, i have good news – you’ve more in common than you know in that you’re both angry with me for the very same reason. i recommend you make use of that commonality to better understand each others stance on other matters. It still won’t sway either sides beliefs – and that’s quite alright – but hopefully at least a mutual respect of ideas other than “our own” will begin to grow.)

i’ve told my children that when i die, Jesus is going to have a LOT of questions for me, but none of them will have to do with what others did or why. I will have to answer for myself and only myself. And for the atheist, no one is waiting to judge or question whatsoever. In the end, one of us will have ended up being right – or both of us will have ended up being slightly wrong – and we’ll both be dead regardless. So until then, why can’t we be a little more utilitarian in our thinking? Until then, why can’t we love (or at least respect) each other for who we are, versus who we wish we could make each other into?

8/24 unwelcome visitors and Candymen

A most unwelcome visitor came to me last night. One that i haven’t seen in quite some time – and one that i would be simply thrilled to never have to see again.

It begins as it always does – with my bladder gently yet urgently nudging me awake, after feeling neglected for what it thinks is far too long. Rising in a stupor (only after realizing that the task of ignoring it further is just not going to work in either of our favors), i go to the restroom and provide it with the “quality time” it feels is deserving. And then It hits.

Now, i don’t know what exactly “It” is, but it’s there. Standing directly behind me, in front of me, all around me. And it means me grevious harm. i just know it – i can almost feel it’s hot and bloody breath upon my neck – it’s eyes boring into my very soul. It means to not only destroy me, but any memory of me as well. It wants to decimate me, grounding my very existence into the floor. And the worst part is i know that it can.

So much so, that at the age of 42, i still find myself running from the bathroom, eyes shut tight and being careful to avoid looking directly in the mirror. i blindly run down the stairs like a frightened four year old – risking a broken neck in the process – simply to get to the relative safety of my and C’s bed. C sleeping gently through the experience. After several minutes of very close snuggling with her, i finally find myself free of the god-awful fear that recently gripped me, so forcibly as to make me abandon my good senses. Eventually, i fall back to sleep.

Now, i do realize how ridiculous this may sound to the average observer, but to me (in the moment that it takes place at any rate) it’s very real. And much like Carter USM once sang “like many a nut job before him, he thought he was the son of God. And like many a nut job before him, maybe he really was.”, i sometimes almost think that just maybe It is really real. Which scares me even more – for if this “It” is a real something or other, then it must think i’m something worth its destroying. And if i’m something worth destroying, then that implies that i am more valuable then i care to attest to. And if i’m valuable, then that just won’t work well with the low self-esteem i seem to pride myself on. And – well, i’m sure you can walk down the rest of the road i’m headed in without my actually boring you with the details. Suffice to say, if it is real, i’m in a whole other ball of wax.

i have had friends and loves tell me of seeing angels and demons, and shadowy men in dark suits that say nothing – and i believe them, seeing as they are all smart people, who believing it themselves, have no need to lie or fabricate – let alone tell a tale that would potentially diminish their good standing in lieu of enhancing it. That being said, i don’t believe that my particular “It” really exists anywhere other than in my mind – especially the late night mind that is unguarded and not nearly drunk enough to sleep through the protests of a somewhat spoiled bladder. As such, it is still very much an “It” that needs to be dealt with. The question is how?

Do i make light of it? i’ve tried something similar many times in the past, and it has met with a certain amount of success. The best example i suppose i could give would also deal with monsters, but of a different variety. As a youngster, i had the bad habit of trying to be “a man” in a effort to impress my dad. As such, we would watch horror movies, and i would accordingly have the bejesus scared out of me for months afterwards. And i mean months. And by the way, these “horror” flicks were of 50’s vintage, black and white and overall just plain silly (yeah, i was badass). Regardless, after watching several, i had a nice mental army of monsters built up in my imagination, always there and always on the search for a way to, if not outright destroy me (and possibly even eat my head), then at least make my life a living hell.

They were constantly with me in my minds eye, and there were very few places i could go to be in peace from them, one of which was the bathroom (he says as he starts to see potential dots connect…). Then one day it hit me. Instead of running to the bathroom to escape them, i should invite them in with me instead. Surely a sign of friendship such as this might win them over.  And (not) surprisingly enough, it did!  For a spell, they still followed me around, but now as friends (well, acquaintances at any rate) instead of enemies. And one by one they slowly disappeared, fading to obscurity. And i again “grew in strength and wisdom”.

So, is this It just one final monster? One of my own making, that occasionally tries to pull me back into being that scared little kid again? Or is maybe that scared little kid actually still somewhere deep inside of me, pretending to be a big bad It to scare my slightly-more-sober-than-i-care-to-be mind? And if so, could it all be in a effort to “keep me in my place”, maybe out of fear that i might some day realize my full potential, thus forcing “It” into oblivion?

Quite honestly, i couldn’t give a shit anymore. i’m too damned old for these games or to figure out who or what is behind them – and i feel as if next time It visits, i will tell it exactly as much.

Wish me luck.

8/22 of “Live” albums and of Life

i have little concern, and even less knowledge of, albums of the “Live” variety. Accordingly, i will now tell you about two of my all-time favorites.

The first is odd in that it is typically not my kind of music. Well, it wasn’t when i purchased it at any rate. i had long known of a certain Mr. Peter Gabriel, and having heard no bad reports concerning his output, i still never felt that his stylings would mesh well with the punk rock lifestyle i was trying very hard to craft at the time. What with him being well known and (almost) respectful in certain circles, i just couldn’t see his music as being very much against the grain. As any of you who have heard his work (the earlier bits) know, i was wrong.

The album “Plays Live” first came to life for my ears after i ran across a copy of it in a pawn shop located in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Yes, a pawn shop. Now, i’m not certain why either i or the cassette containing this album were in this particular pawn shop – or any pawn shop for that matter – but there we both were, and after seeing that the cash in pocket met or exceeded the price tag, we left hand-in-hand (hand-in-reel? hand-in-spool? Whatever – we left together). It was my car stereo (residing in that damned light blue Escort that got me everywhere until it’s untimely and inconvenient death, halfway between Jacksonville and NY. And that simply because absolutely no one had felt the need to tell me that cars occasionally need infusions of transmission fluid) that first lent my ears to the sounds of what would become a lifelong friend.

The album starts off quietly, slowly coming into audio view, painstakingly methodic and comfortable – yet looming in a certain sense – it takes a full minute and forty nine seconds before Peter sings the first “Whooooah” on the opening track and you can hear by then the audience is in a fever pitch.

i was as well, and stayed so for both sides of each of the cassettes.

Gabriel had a way of controlling the crowd with a tight set list, one that deliberately took it’s time. Stretching itself over the full length of the concert, it never got too fast, but it never became boring either. Just enough ebb and flow to keep the ear ever-attentive, always waiting for more. If i had to lodge a complaint against this album, i guess the only one i could come up with would be his choice of using “Biko” to end the concert with. i understand the importance of the track, but it feels a bit sour of a way to end the show, especially to one who doesn’t really care for the construct of the song. And truth be told – if i wasn’t so anal about having to always “complete” things, i would normally be tempted to end the album at the much more uplifting “On The Air”.

The second album i like for almost exactly the opposite reasons as the first. With “Live Killers”, Queen also shows off their showmanship – OK, Freddie Mercury’s showmanship – but they do so with much more emotion, speed and well, i guess audio “jiggling”.

From the very beginning, where they re-tool their own “We Will Rock You” from the plodding anthem of the album version into an almost speed metal song (pre, pre-speed metal, of course), you know you’re in for a bumpy, but fun, ride. And much like Gabriel, they don’t disappoint. Except twice. In the first, they make you wait all the way until the second disc to hear “Don’t Stop Me Now”, and secondly, they follow it with the much-to-involved “Brighton Rock” – a song that i would suppose is pure joy to air guitarists (the ones that take it seriously, at any rate) and soundscape enthusiasts alike, but a bit too long and noncommittal for those of us who would much rather have our hearts tugged than of our ears stretched.

Sadly, this particular album was my brothers – Queen being the only band of worth that he ever “discovered” before me – and as such i have no fond memories of obtaining it. i am very glad, however, that my ears heard it then, and can still hear it today. Much like “Plays Live”, it has the ability to take me to an entirely different place of the mind. Not a better place necessarily, just a different one. And that can come in pretty handy when the children are in a mood, or the bills are due, or your in-laws are being, well, your in-laws. Don’t believe me? Next time things are getting out of hand, play “i Go Swimming” (preferably in a light blue Escort full to the hilt with transmission fluid, and preferably LOUD) and tell me how you feel afterwards.

Tell me also please, if there are any Live albums that you simply can’t Live without.

8/17 of pets and children

So, what is it that children and animals (besides the obvious of playing, eating, pooping and sleeping) actually need to do over the summer?

Now of the former, make no mistake – i will not go into a blustery blurb as to how much i wish i could relive those days. True, i did enjoy them greatly while i had them, but to revisit them now i feel might be a bit taxing. Of the latter, i have an idea. A really stupid and naive idea, but an idea none the less.

My youngest (by 11 years and 2 months) isn’t your average Christian (well, he’s not an average Anything really, but that’s a whole other tale). You see, while he’s down with the whole God/Jesus/Peace & Love thing, he also believes in reincarnation. I’m not quite sure how the two can coexist, but it’s not my faith – it’s his. He’s really the only one tasked with figuring it out in the end, and i can see that i’m quickly digressing to the point as to losing my point altogether…

His belief, combined with my almost aching desire to lead a “dogs life”, provided me with my idea, which was this. What if, when we die and go to heaven and are judged, God gives us one last “bonus round” on the earth – this time as the house pet of our choosing? i mean, it would seem viable from a numbers standpoint at any rate – there sure are a lot of house pets – almost as many as there are pet owners i would assume.

But you might be asking – how about those pets that are abused and mistreated while having their time on earth? How could that be considered an award of any kind? And you’d be right to ask (i know i did), but please keep in mind, when i said “judged” i was not implying “found worthy”. And it could be that a particular soul is very much in need of receiving a bit of their “own medicine” prior to being admitted into paradise.

Now before you come back screaming at me, please keep in mind – this is just a theory. A stupid and naive one at that. And i am not hoping to open any doors that would justify animal cruelty with it. But i also know that humans are cruel. To other animals and to each other. Instead of justifying it, we should be rectifying it. And screaming won’t help the process along.

So, the “dogs life” could be reward or punishment. Purgatory or – well – whatever the opposite of purgatory is. Or simply a chance to live life one more time – without worries. Without concerns. A chance to finally see the world, not through your eyes, but through those of God. Not as you think it should be, but as it really is.

As mentioned previously, i don’t feel the idea is very plausible based on the naive nature of it. But when i am dragging myself through the house at Dark O’clock in the morning in an effort to get myself out of the house and once again chase the cash – in hopes of ending up with a little bit of it in my pocket by days end – AND i happen to see my cat, lounging in the window with his “devil may care” attitude at the same time? Well, the theory becomes a lot more a hope than an idea.

Heck, sometimes the theory can almost become a prayer.

PS: remember – be good to your animals. Because it’s the right thing to do. And just in case i’m right.

8/10 Little Ms. Chatterbox

Words, words, words.

If you’re a lover of words – or at least the sheer quantity thereof – then you need to spend some time with my daughter. Taking the place of C last night, who was otherwise detained by work, my daughter spent the better part of an hour continually flapping her gums during our evening walk.

i won’t bore you with the details about what she talked about, because quite honestly, i’m pretty damned sure she covered every topic under the sun. She may have even mentioned you at some point.

All told, i think i might have been able to take up about 7 minutes of air time, but she covered the rest – with no commercial breaks. But don’t get me wrong – i’m not complaining.  Listening to her is much better than not.

Right before our walk, my oldest reminded me to “wear my ear plugs”. And how i wish i had to use the same advice with him. Unlike my daughter however, he is most decidedly mum on most points.  Even “i love you”s are acknowledged with mumbled “OK”s – if acknowledged at all. No need to ask that one how he’s doing either – both the ecstatic and the doomed are equally expressed with the same noncommittal monotone “OK”.

With both children “parenting” can be tricky. And by parenting, i mean keeping track of what’s going on in their lives and keeping up with how they feel about it. Whereas my son says almost nothing, my daughter says so much about any given subject, that you find yourself wondering, what exactly, she meant by all of it at the end.

In short, she’s going to be a Great sermon writer one day.

My youngest is probably the easiest to understand, but you might say that that is because of the three, he has it the easiest overall. Not being burdened with being “First Born”, he doesn’t feel the need to blaze any trails (so to speak), and not being a girl, he doesn’t feel the need to be, well, a girl (more to the point, a daddy’s little girl?). Of the three, i guess he gets to be – and feels most comfortable being – just him.

And the “him” that he is is a total nut case at times, engaging you in a topic that he himself forgets half way through the conversation. You’ll know it when it happens – his eyes turn sour, his lip curls down, and you can almost see the “wait… what were we talking about?” question practically sitting above his head like a cartoon cloud.

i can’t be sure if he feels most at ease because he is the youngest – and this just happens as a normal course of events – or if it’s because i made the bulk of my parenting mistakes on the first two. What i do know is that i love all three, each for their own qualities. Whether it be the mumbles, the incomprehensible insights or the verbal explosions of cascading words. Words, words, words.

Because whether they use a million words or just one, they fill my life with thoughts and feelings i never had before – maybe never would have had – had it not been for them being in my life in the first place. And while “love” itself is just another word, in this instance it has more meaning than i could ever express with any other.

8/8 as long as we’re driving…

Occurring en route to KFC with my youngest, who was at that moment joyfully snapping away (oddly enough) to Bobby Darin’s “As Long As I’m Singing”, the conversation went a little something like this…

So, do you actually like Bobby Darin?

“Yeah.”

All his stuff?

“Yeah!”

Now, is this just because i like him?

“No, I like him too”

So what’s your favorite BD song then?

“OH MY GOD daddy!  How could you forget my favorite BD song is ‘Artificial Flowers’???”

SORRY, i just forgot! It happens you know – say – what’s MY favorite BD tune?

(smile slowly creeping across his face) “Ummm, I don’t remember…hahahahahaha!”

See?!? Hahaha!

So, is there any kind of music you DON’T like?

“Not really. I don’t like all the new stuff though.”

Why?

“It’s all fake now-a-days. No real talent. You can tell it has a lot more machines making it than people. Besides, all of it is offensive and, you know, creepy”

Creepy how?

“Creepy like they say things that shouldn’t be said. Things that are disrepectful and hurtful. Things that are ignorant. No one wants to tell good stories anymore – they just sing about sex and money and getting drunk.”

In robotic voices…

“Yeah, like robots.”

You’re pretty well versed about music (and thinking to myself, life) for an 11 year old, you know that, right?

“Duh daddy! I’ve grown up with you like, my WHOLE life! And you’ve always had music playing. The stuff from all your binders and from your record collection. Of course I know about music and that’s why I like Bobby Darin.”

So, i’m kinda like a good influence then is what you’re saying?

(the same smile, creeping back across his face on more time) “You’ve got a lot of music is what I’m saying…”

just some of "the binders"