Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Next Great Adventure

About a month ago, the company I work for announced they're closing our office, effective September 22nd. They offered all of us transfers to the main office. In Washington DC.

Let the shock of that sink in for a minute. You might be surprised in reading that. Hell, every single one of us in the room was stunned upon this news, and all immediately began to process the "what the hell" and the "what am I going to do" portions of life.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

It's not about what's supposed to be. It's about what is.

Note: I wrote a version of this for our church newsletter. I've edited it for the blog, and included the photos. My friend Greg edited it for me, and said "this is so wonderfully written, and your words are so kind, I wish it had a bigger audience." So, to that end, I'm sharing it here with all five of my readers to expand said audience.

Some of you don't believe in God or Jesus or anything like that, but perhaps you can take something away from what I'm trying to get at here that is true to your own heart and place.

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On Saturday afternoon, I was having a long talk with my mom. She turns 74 next week. She was commenting on the loss of one of my sister’s high school friends who died that morning.

“It isn’t supposed to be like this,” my mom said. “You kids shouldn’t be dying before me. I’m supposed to be gone before all of you.”  The sense of the unfairness of this fact was deeply reflected by the sadness and disappointment in her voice.

Thinking on that a little bit I offered the only consolation I could come up with. “Mom, it’s not about what’s supposed to be. It’s about what is.” She agreed sadly.

This time of year, thoughts turn to resurrection and rebirth: flowers escape their winter prisons; birds commute back from far off places; flip-flops escape from closets.

But this time of year I’m also reminded of death.
Chris P (aka Chrispy) on the left. Wayne on the right.
Conquered the "mountain" above Gloucester one fine late spring day
and shone victorious.
The death that is on my mind most this year is that of Wayne Hyde. Wayne died unexpectedly on April 13, 2015. Unlike my sister’s friend, he made it to the other side of 50. He left behind six fantastic children and a wife who showed more strength and grace in that private moment than I think I could ever imagine.

Several college friends were having a big discussion about our giant shared loss a few days after his passing. One friend said something to the effect of “Why are we sad? We know Wayne loved Jesus, lived his life for Jesus, and raised his children to love Jesus. We shouldn’t weep, but instead rejoice!”

Oh, but we did weep. And rejoicing was very hard, and still is very hard. I’m sure if you’ve lost someone whose life was so intertwined with yours, you understand that.

The discussion continued, and some were hurt by this sentiment that because we believe in the Resurrection and the Life that we should just turn our frowns upside down! But I think I understood where he was coming from. I explained that we weep for what he will miss, and will miss doing with us.

We weep for the “supposed tos” that are suddenly not going to be “it is.”

We’re arriving at one of those “it is” moments in this circle of friends. A few short weeks from now Wayne’s daughter Natalie will marry her college sweetheart, Caleb. Everyone looking at her, and I’m sure she will feel the same, will be aware of that twinge of the “supposed to” that my mom hearkened to this morning.

Wayne was “supposed to” be there to walk Natalie down the aisle. But instead there is the “it is” of her mom Marcia filling in, fancy dress and all.

When someone dies, all of those “supposed tos” are lost. We know we’ll be together again in glory when we meet our own homegoing, but the absence of the friend, father, husband is felt most powerfully. For some it is every day, for others it is in a church where a wedding is taking place.

This fact, this human fact, keeps us in mourning. No platitudes, self-help books, or good-hearted Christian friend telling you that you should rejoice will help you with this.

I look at the memorial garden that our church just dedicated to Steve Cunningham, and realize that if he had never passed, that would never be. It is a beautiful manifestation of the new reality of life without Steve.

The efforts of the congregation to dig in the dirt, lay wonderfully level stones, place the beautiful cross and welcoming bench in this spring garden remind us not just of our Steve, but of Jesus and His presence in our lives.

We look at the escaped daffodils and tulips springing from gardens. We look at those flip-flops contemplating pedicures going into the summer months. We hear the bird songs in the morning. We are reminded that there is life, life goes on, life returns, and life wins.  Things always happen in the wake of what was supposed to be, and those things become what is.

If you find yourself this spring feeling deep loss, and the veil of the sadness of memory of what was supposed to be, I wish you love and strength in connecting with the “it is” that is now with you.  I will not tell you to turn your frown upside down and cease your weeping or mourning. You will do what you need to do. You will handle your “it is” the way you see fit. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you in that journey. Go sit on the memorial bench, take a walk in the woods, volunteer, and smile at a wedding.

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Train Journey

I'm sitting on an Amtrak train.

I haven't ridden one since college, when I thought myself fancy to be doing the Boston to NY thing in the years before the Acela train.

In 2002, I recounted an adventure that I had on one trip, where yours truly was a young and wide eyed darling who had a man sit beside her and chat her up, only to whip out a naked man magazine to enjoy, and leave in the seat back when he departed. Additionally, I told tale of a man masturbating while reading Shakespeare.

If you would like to read that post, which I think is still one of the funniest things I've ever written, go right ahead and click here. Then come back.

I was 18 when those adventures happened. Shortly after I got a car, and would drive back and forth with friends or Douglas, and life was so much better. I've had plenty of car adventures but holy cow those two train adventures took the cake for young me.

Now me would probably speak up. I'd ask the first guy what his deal was. I'd ask the other guy to go sit somewhere else, that I didn't really want to watch him climax to Shakespeare. I find I have a lot less patience for shit while traveling.

I just want to get from point A to point B safely and happily.

So here I am on the train. Headed to see my sister. Nothing adventurous happening. Everyone on their phones. I thought this was a quiet car but I guess not due to all the people around me making lots of noise. I canceled two calls this afternoon because I didn't want to disturb anyone. But so far, every talking person is well behaved and nice. It's all business, and no penises.

There are little victories.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

"laissez le bon temps rouler" - Doug and Chris in New Orleans

Doug and I recently took a trip to New Orleans. I am semi-regretting the cost right now due to the fact we did our taxes today and owe a lot more than I thought we would. Oops. Anyway, you can't change the past and we have enough to cover the taxes overall. It just kind of sucks to see so much money swooping out of the account all at once.

I won't do a full roundup of the day by day events because a lot of it is a blur. Instead, I offer observations. And as always, pictures are here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/amusings/albums/72157682132141475 I need to move my cell phone pictures into that collection. There are some good ones.

First, flying home in a blizzard sucks. Especially when you get on the plane and you have to pee, and then the pilot tells everyone they won't be allowed out of their seats for the entire flight due to the turbulence.

Even worse is driving home from the airport in said blizzard. When your 40 minute drive from the airport turns into a longer trip than it is to fly up from Baltimore to NH you know it's not good.

I'm way too old for Bourbon Street.

However, we enjoyed Frenchman Street much more as it was a little more grown-up, even if it was drunk.

Nothing fires white people up like a 10 piece horn and drum band playing "Seven Nation Army."

White people are also really cheap. Tip the fucking band, tourist dip-shits. They're working hard for you. Cough up a 5.

New Orleans is not a place to live if you're an alcoholic. Bars are open 24 hours a day, and I think the temptation to drink on the way to the office would be rather great.

We drank a lot more than we usually do. Day drinking on a patio at 85 degrees and 80% humidity is mandatory, to help assuage the heat. After coming straight from 20 degree temps to the "tropics" I thought I may wither and die like a hot house flower.

Bartenders are pretty friendly.

If we walk into your bar, and it is empty, and you don't acknowledge or welcome us, chances are we'll walk out. If we walk in and you say "hey guys! Welcome! Whattaya havin'?" you've got a customer. It's easy. Try it. We tip ridiculously well. Yeah, we're tourists, you don't really care where we're from. But just make pretend for a few minutes and ask me if I want a second drink.

Stumbling upon a very real Mississippi river funeral with a brass band playing hymns like "I'll Fly Away" is very moving. Finding out the funeral was for a 14 year old boy who was a member of that band is even more moving. Especially when it was a suicide. You may find yourself standing on the sidewalk crying your heart out for someone you never knew, and a family you want to console but you know it isn't really the right thing to do, and you should just move along after the band shuffles across to Jackson Square.

Knowing that these people are sharing an intensely personal moment in a very public venue that makes them look like they are simply entertainers like any other jazz group playing hymns in New Orleans is mind blowing. I thank them for being there at that time. And will not forget the roses flowing down towards the giant container ships and riverboats rolling out of the city.

Streetcars are for tourists. Knowing the streetcar routes will prevent you from a 90 minute bus ride all over the place. But that 90 minute bus ride all over the place will show you a lot of a city that you may never see.

Trust the Tulane student who tells you where to get off the bus instead of the bus driver who tells you where to get off.

Pay attention to your social media. When you realize a friend is there at the same time as you, overlapping vacations, hit them up. You may see amazing things together and have big laughs and walk arm in arm like 30 plus years never passed since you last snarled at one another in high school.

People and musician watching with a giant iced coffee in hand is an art I'm perfecting.

We never made it to Treme. The French Quarter is far bigger than you think. Especially coming from Boston where the area around Fanieul Hall is kind of what you expected for the size and scope of the area.

There need to be more benches for people.

The WWII museum is a fantastic place to visit. We spent 6 hours there. Could have spent more. And Tom Hanks is a national treasure. God bless that man and the work he does.

Don't be these guys:

Voodoo Kid on Spring Break
Oh look at you. Guy in the airport wearing all kinds of beads and holding some sort of voodoo statue picked up at a tourist trap, droning on and on to some girls about how much you know about Marie Laveau and ritual and how meaningful and beautiful it is. Shut up. You were on spring break and now what, you're so "woke" about this? No one is impressed, and put that stupid statue back in your backpack as you go back to your Maryland College life.

Jazz Sax Guy
You're in a band. A five piece band. Act like you're part of the team. When your solo is over, don't walk off to the right and check your phone while the guitarist or keyboard player "takes it away." Appreciate what they are doing. Groove on it. If you look into it, we'll look into it. You have 20 people on a little patio all to yourself. Quit making "Oh I fucked up that note" noises when you fuck up that note, because you know what? It's jazz. None of us noticed. We were enjoying it until you groaned like a rabid boar.

I'm sure I have some more observations. And it only took me four days of being back at work before I realized how much I wanted to go away again. I think that's a record.

Enjoy the photos.




Saturday, February 18, 2017

Oil Tank, Steven Page, Canadian Barcelona Restaurant - all in my dreams

This morning, I woke up to go to the bathroom around 2:30am. Upon return to bed, I thought it was kind of cold in the room, and whipped the blankets back up around me before settling back to sleep.

Dream:

In the dream that came after, Doug and I were getting ready to go to Canada for the weekend (you can tell I need a vacation if I'm dreaming about going to Canada in February). I was telling Geoff to keep the wood stove going, we were out of oil and the oil guy wouldn't be arriving for a couple of days. He should sleep on the couch, and bring the blankets downstairs that the dog sleeps on, or, if she decides to sleep on our bed make sure the fleece blanket she likes. He was in agreement and understood, and began bringing wood in from the yard.

Flash forward to wherever we are in Canada. We end up at a book tour stop where Martellus Bennett from the New England Patriots is signing copies of his book "Hey A.J., It's Saturday!" He was surrounded by little kids, and one of them I presumed was the official A.J., his daughter. So I said, "Hey! A.J.!" like you do.

"Oh, that's not the real A.J.," says Marty. "That's an actress I hired to play her on the book tour, because A.J. is in school and that's very important." Truth. So I realized I was talking to a grown woman who looked and was the size of a child. It seemed a little surreal. "Also," Marty continued, "it gets weird with her being on the tour because people act like they know her and they get really pushy and grabby. I have to protect my daughter and keep her safe. That's very important too." Agreed.

At the book signing, Doug and I managed to get split up, and I was in a town similar to Marblehead Massachusetts. Word on the street was Steven Page had opened up a Barcelonian restaurant and would be performing kind of a torch-song, lounge singer set nightly. That sounded pretty awesome to me.

I had no ride to get there, so a blonde woman in an SUV with Texas plates offered to drive me. She was drop dead funny, and she told me that people treated her weird. "Oh honey, that's cause you're from Texas and this is Canada. They think you're amusing." So we laughed and laughed as we drove through the small town. We got pulled over by a police officer who said she was "suspicious," and I told her it was because of the Texas plates. He then danced all around the vehicle and gave us directions on where to park around the bend for Steven's restaurant.

Pulling up into the parking garage, there were little terraces overlooking the restaurant, and the performance spaces. We parked the vehicle and she promptly disappeared, but Steven Page was hiding in one of the overlooks. Women were searching for him, screaming for him, and he was hiding. So I asked him what was wrong and he said he hated this, it was an awful idea, that these women were just insane and wouldn't leave him alone. Night after night they were grabbing him and groping him. He was humiliated and ashamed and didn't want to go on stage.

I was disappointed because I wanted to see his performance, and because I was kind of disappointed because these fans were such epic assholes. I encouraged him to maybe do his stage show from a higher platform. We looked at the restaurant and all the places he could be where people couldn't grab him. He cheered up and went to get ready.

Going down to the restaurant, the place was gorgeous. It looked like he put so much effort into the design, the lighting, the open restaurant where flames were shooting up out of grills as they made food. It was truly impressive. I found a seat at a small table near where we decided that he'd be safer, and I was ready to run interference to protect him if I had to. I took out my camera and took all kinds of pictures. The lighting changed shades and these beautiful balls of colored lighting were pulsing and changing levels of brightness. Every picture was different - all because of how the lights worked. It was delightful. I couldn't wait to find Steven Page later and tell him how great I thought the place was, whether or not he was the nightly singer - this was an outstanding presentation.

People began to push tables closer together to make a big table around mine, and I was kind of angry. I wanted to sit alone, but there I found myself surrounded by a dozen strangers. None of them Doug, and none of them the crazy Texan lady.

The waitress came and began pouring drinks. I asked for my own tab, because I don't know these people. She didn't speak English, and ignored my request. A giant, and I mean giant, margarita-type drink was placed in the center of the table and everyone started drinking through these giant straws. There was a man next to me who put his arm over my shoulder and tried to get me to share his straw, which completely grossed me out.

The waitress returned with three other women and began pouring giant bottles of what looked like Tequila, but because I was in Spain I figured it couldn't be, all over the place. They covered over the tables and the chairs, and us. The people at the table thought it was outstanding and wonderful, and they were laughing and opening their mouths. Everyone was cheering this spectacle, and I looked around the restaurant and saw the same scene unfolding at every single table.

I had to keep my camera away and safe from this process, and they wouldn't stop when I asked them to stop. They told me they couldn't stop. This was a special ritual of blessing that needed to be done.

Most of all, I thought I was completely disgusted by how much the cost must have been for these giant bottles of booze.

Steven came out on stage to perform, and he was amazing. What a voice, what a stage presence! He looked at me and I gave him a thumbs up because I knew he was in a safe position, and could sing and perform without being molested.

But then all these women started climbing on our table, kicking over the giant margarita thing, slipping in the "blessing" of booze on the surface. That kept them from getting any closer to him. I realized maybe this was his bright idea to make the surfaces slippery and unstable and prevent anyone from succeeding in climbing up.

I never got to try the food.  I'm sure it was great.

I left after the first song, the crushing crowd, the smell of alcohol, the chance my camera was going to be destroyed... all of these were too much for me to cope with. I went back up to the parking garage. People were lined up in the terraces watching the show. Doug was there. And it was a perfect vantage point for some great photos.

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Morning:

The plan was to get up really early this morning and head to New York City for the holiday weekend. Doug came upstairs at about 10 am to wake me up and let me know that we had run out of oil.

So we had to wait for the oil guy to come, which he just did. I just saw a report on the morning news shows about Martellus Bennett and his daughter.

And unfortunately, no Steven Page sightings or Spanish cuisine have crossed my path today but ... I'm hopeful.