The Blue Chair

When my husband, Tom, our son and I were first introduced to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, not knowing anything about the place, we entered the main lobby. We were impressed with the sumptuousness of our surroundings – the lavishness of the chandeliers, the plushy furniture, and the gilt framed portraits of the founders of the hospital. After registering we were given directions to the pediatric ward on the second floor in an older part of the building. We learned that this section was around the corner with its own less impressive lobby. A much larger, modern pediatric wing was in the process of being built.

Our son, David, 14 years old, had been diagnosed with leukemia at our localGlen CoveCommunityHospitalonLong Island. We felt very lucky to have Memorial accept him. This was the spring of 1973 and it was very difficult at that time to gain admittance to pediatric floor.

When we stepped off the elevator, what a shock to us. It was so strikingly different from our grand entrance of the main lobby. Our hearts fell as we looked around the dismal, drab, and dimly lit entry way, which was small with a cluttered nurses’ station immediately to our left and to our right, a dark wall with a public phone in the middle, Ahead and perpendicular to us was a long hall with rooms opening to the right and left.

As we were standing there, trying to acclimate ourselves to our new surroundings, a nurse went by pushing a young boy in a wheelchair. The boy, about 10 years old, had only one leg. When David saw him his face fell. He asked, “Am I going to lose a leg?” At this point we really didn’t know ourselves, but I said to him, “No, Davey, don’t worry. I’m sure you won’t, but we’ll talk to the doctor about that.”

Then a nurse came to direct us to David’s room where there were two beds. David did not have a roommate for the first few days. Once we had him settled in, I took him for a ride in his wheelchair to explore the hallway and the rooms, all on the windowed side of the building. The view was simply the roof of the first floor.

At one end of the hallway was a playroom with a television set and toys and games mostly appropriate for the younger children. There were a few books for older patients, and often, we learned later, special programs designed to entertain all ages. Outside the playroom at that end of the hall was a tall window overlooking a private elementary school. At the other end was a similar window overlooking a tree-lined street with an apartment house and an Irish pub, Gleason’s.

The restaurant and bar, Gleason’s, was a popular meeting place for hospital staff and the families of patients. There is where Tom and I had dinner most evenings so we could be close to the hospital. We rarely left David alone more than an hour. Noisy and busy as it was, it was the one place we could meet and discuss the day’s prognosis from the team of doctors who saw David daily.

As we became familiar with the second floor, we noticed that every once in a while we would catch a glimpse of a blue leatherette lounge chair in a patient’s room. It was always the same chair, actually more aquamarine in color, bright and gaudy, and quite shabby. We learned later that someone had brought it to the hospital privately and then just left it.

After a week or so at Sloan-Kettering Tom and I were summoned to a small office, and David’s attending physician, Dr. Grossman, informed us that David’s illness was more serious than was first thought. After all the testing, the doctors diagnosed him with a rare form of lymphosarcoma. When I asked if that meant he was going to die, Dr. Grossman said, “We never say die here. There is always hope.”

Those were the words we clung to in the following weeks while David went through aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments as bravely as any teenager could. Despite the pain he rarely complained even when he couldn’t eat even though he wanted to. He gradually lost more and more weight and became completely bed bound.

During this time we were vaguely aware of the blue chair being shifted from room to room, but Tom and I were too busy caring for David’s needs as best we could. Because conditions were so bad on the floor at that time, hospital regulations were relaxed allowing parents to spend as much time as possible with their children. The hospital was so short staffed the nurses were glad to have the parents’ help informing them when IV’s ran out and providing small comforts for the children and their roommates allowing the nurses more time to tend their medical needs.

David had one roommate among many, of whom he became particularly fond. Jonathan Most was a loveable five year old with a charming personality, quickly becoming a favorite of the nurses who teasingly called him “Mostly Jonathan.” Tom and I also fell under his spell and enjoyed his company as well as that of his parents who were with their only child almost as often as we were with David.

I spent almost all my time at David’s bedside, sitting on a straight back chair and sleeping with my head and shoulders resting on his bed. Tom relieved me when he could but he still had to work to pay doctors’ bills. We were more fortunate than many parents in that we were told that our hospital bills were covered by a grant because David’s cancer was so rare. It was also convenient for Tom to visit often since his office was in the city.

Then Jonathan was moved to a different room farther down the hall. These changes occurred frequently so roommates would not become too attached to each other. I continued to stop in for a few minutes each day to check on Jonathan whenever I could. One day when I popped in, his mother was sitting in the blue chair by his bedside.

David was going through a particularly difficult and painful stage at the time, so I had no opportunity to visit Jonathan for a day or two. When I asked the nurse checking David, how Jonathan was doing, she said looking at David with a smile, “Fine.” As she was leaving, she motioned me to follow her out into the hall. There, with tears in her eyes, she softly and gently told me that Jonathan had died that morning.

For us, things were looking up when David began to eat a little and seemed to be responding to his latest treatment. The one thing he had been longing for was to be able to go home to his golden retriever,Sandy, if only for a day. The doctors gave their permission, so we made plans to take him home, but the next day he had a relapse. When he recovered from that he contracted a staff infection which really set him back. The visit home was not to be.

Even though David had lost all his hair and was down from 110 to 58 pounds, Tom and I did not give up hope. We were sure he was going to beat the odds and make the medical books – until the day we walked into his room and saw waiting for us by his bedside, the blue chair.

By Marge Craig Petras     Submitted by Susan C. Burke (w/permission)

Hope Restored

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Dedicated to L.L. & K.L.

The song “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” is dated, cornball, and a bit lame. Yet it is accurate, especially if you are old enough to carry an AARP card.

When the RELATIONSHIP EVICTION notice is nailed and mailed to your heart you are in disbelief. You patiently wait for Allen Funt to make an appearance and explain this was just a misguided joke gone awry. When you regain your composure you realize that Allan Funt is dead and apparently so is the relationship you valued and counted on.

You frantically transform into a forensic accident investigator. You measure the ghastly tire skids leading to the jagged guardrail. You naively attempt to interview the other party but upon advice of counsel, they clam up. That frustrates you to no end.

Your friends reach out to you and they hear hours and hours of the same drivel. They are on the brink of calling a suicide hotline, not for you but themselves. Your poor 86 year old aunt had to invest in caller I.D. for her pink, princess dial phone. Even the Native American wooden statue (guarding the tobacco store) winces as you turn the corner.

You try to heal but you can’t help but notice all the landmarks of your relationship. They dot the landscape like roadside memorials. Adding insult to injury, this pain-fest is happening during the NFL offseason.

You create a morose soundtrack for the misery you are wallowing in. You play two hauntingly beautiful songs – Warren Zevon’s “Who Moved The Moon” and Dave Matthew’s “Some Devil.” The lyricists clearly traveled the same path you are trudging through.

Time heals, but the hands of time seem to be moving painfully slow. Maybe that is because you are hanging on to memories and the clock hands just as frantically as a dangling Harold Lloyd. Mercifully spring follows a bleak winter. Flowers bloom and that Zevon track doesn’t have the same sting. You’ve come to the realization you’ve squandered away much valuable time, energy, and emotion. The folly of your nonsense is starting to dawn on you. You’ve patiently and loyally waited at the arrival gate for a flight that will never ever arrive. Your ex is three time zones away and left you behind in their wispy contrails.

In the spirit of moving on you reluctantly re-enter the murky waters of online dating. You feel like an escaped aviator taking a bumpy ride back to the stalag. Three years later you see the same faces naively waiting for their utopian prince (who doesn’t exist). Their profiles don’t reflect any urgency. They are still walking the beach and cuddling on the couch with a good movie. Not a one likes rap music either. You want to scream!

You shake off the rust with a few dates. Then you run into a serial eater (not dater). She is more interested in a square meal than square you. As you yank the feeding tube, you realize dual ambivalence is not inspiration for a memorable love song. On your next date the chemistry set is working in overdrive. A short “meet and greet” turns into a marathon date and not once did you think about “what’s her name.” Things progress so well that you can’t believe your good fortune. Ultimately circumstances dictate that the time you shared under the sun was short (but ever so sweet). You felt like you captured a shooting star with your bare hand. You didn’t want this or the Sopranos to end but you were happy you experienced both. As it turns out, this messenger was a registered nurse. She delivered the medicine you so desperately needed. She graciously administered a transfusion of what every broken heart needs….hope, glorious hope.

Promises of Grace (Part 1)

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“The File Exit command exits the Aztec Designer program. If any open design has been modified since the last time you saved it, you are prompted whether you want to save the changes to the file.”

I am technical writer. That means I write books no one reads – computer instruction manuals. Be honest, have you ever read one. “Insert the disk in drive A and press Enter. Open the Save As dialog box, select a file name, and press Enter.”

I drifted, turning away from the computer.

I carry my past around like an old suitcase. It’s hard to explain without sounding crazy. The past shapes my decisions even as I see the future implications before acting. And sometimes it makes me freeze – unable to take action.

“Goddamnit. . . Back to work. Still gotta pay the bills.”

Ten years ago I wanted it all. Thirty then, I thought I’d have everything: success, family, money. Now I’d settle for having my wife back. Back then, I dreamed of working as a hotshot computer consultant, making a lot of money. There were years when I came close. But lately I had to struggle for every contract. Too much effort and too little satisfaction. I was Burned Out.

Why was I wasting my time? All the time typing away, banging out another technical manual. The darkness grew until I turned on the desk light, a companion for my glowing computer monitor.

“Fuck!”

Six o’clock. Enough technical bullshit for one day. I shut off the computer, put on a CD, and grabbed a beer. Sprawled out on the couch – blue jeans, white polo, bare feet – I took a big gulp, knowing there’d be plenty more this evening. In my small apartment, the room was nearly dark making the city lights outside my window stand out, beckoning.

As I drank my beer, I imagined I was a kid in the kitchen of our house in Queens, seated at the chromium kitchen table. My grandparents were just outside the kitchen window arguing again in a mixture of broken English and Italian.

The TV was all I took from the marriage. That’s about all I wanted. The rest of my furniture was new – straight, simple lines and muted colors. The couch faced a large picture window overlooking the Burbank studios and the beginning of the San Fernando Valley. The trees were swaying in a warm breeze. A Santa Ana. Tomorrow, it would be hot and windy. Hot in the middle of February! How depressing. Which was just what I wanted to be – depressed.

The music was old and sad, and it made me remember the first time I heard it. It was back in New York, on a cold and wintry day. I had moved to California to escape that last, long winter. I vowed never to see snow again. Now, I missed it more than anything. The smell of fall and the crunch of the leaves. The quiet winters with long, cold shadows.

I had been married for 12 years, and our sex life was a lot like one of my manuals. 1) Remove clothes. 2) Insert dick. 3) Press Enter. Once even the pretense of sex ended, it wasn’t long before everything else evaporated – conversation, civility. Gina was a California business woman. In moments of deep introspection and honesty – especially after 3 or 4 beers – I knew from the beginning we didn’t stand a chance.

Time for another beer. The view was shimmering, black and gold with street lights and rows and rows of buildings and houses.

One of those houses used to be mine – and Gina’s. She was probably there now, fucking the Boyfriend (the one she was dating while we were still married), and fucking me. What a deal.

I saw myself as the poster boy of a new Lost Generation, drifting through college into a career for no reason, all the time trying to discover the meaning of life. Occasionally, for a few of us, life presented a defining moment. For fewer still, when that moment came, they understood what it meant. A point in time which snapped us out of lethargy and helped us find a reason to go on. But most of us drifted without ever finding their moment, and after a while, we stopped looking.

If I wrote one more computer manual, I’d go nuts.

The Leader has no Readers (L.V. Impressions)

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I’d kill to have the copy of the Locust Valley Leader with a cover picture of the trestle with the words, “The Leader has no Readers” emblazoned across the top.

I think it was the guys from the class of ’69 who started the tradition of painting the trestle. (Please feel free to take credit if you were involved.) Somehow, it evolved into to war with the local paper, ending in the above the fold picture. A couple of years later, we thought it was a wonderful tradition, and so my friends and I added our own messages. (I am sure the statute of limitations has run, so I can now safely make a confession that I was one of the perpetrators.)

After one or ten drinks, feeling gin brave, we grabbed whatever leftover paint we could find from our parents’ garages and climbed the hill along the tracks by the trestle. It was always late at night, and we always had an emergency escape route planned for ducking into the woods.

“Bye Bye Billy”, “It’s Bye Bye Bonzo”, and “ELBDA” (East Lattingtown Beer Drinkers Association) were the kind of inspirational things we painted. Mostly the slogans had something to do with a friend getting married.

A later generation, for some reason, thought our words were scared, and so the last message we painted, remained for many years. Then, it was unceremoniously painted over with a coat of bureaucratic gray paint.

I know a certain person getting married in about a year. Maybe it’s time for some of her brothers and sisters to get a few cans of paint (there must be some in the garage) and renew a tradition. Just be careful, and don’t get caught!

Along the Water’s Edge (L.V. Impressions)

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“But the old man always thought of [the sea] as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favours.” – Ernest Hemingway

Growing up you take it for granted, but Locust Valley, in fact all of Long Island, is a giant seaport. Water is all around you, but you many not notice, because the woods block most views. You have to drive to Bayville or Center Island or Cold Spring Harbor to really feel how close you are to the Long Island Sound. From Memorial Day through Labor Day a part of life revolves around this large, rejuvenating body of water.

The beaches open on Memorial Day, boats are launched and summer gets under way. The people with money head to their summer homes in the Hamptons. Those with less money head to places like Greenport on the North Fork. Those with less money still, remain behind in the City, coping with the heat as best they can. Traffic in the beach towns is nightmarish.

Softshells at Bayville Seafood by Bill Burke
Softshells at Bayville Seafood by Bill Burke

In May soft shell crabs are in-season. Every restaurant has a special, and everyone looks forward to this crunchy delicacy. Later, the bluefish run, and you can practically catch them by hand. Bluefish are hardly served in the rest of the country. If prepared right, they are delicious, but not so much if prepared by the wrong hands.

Shark fishing out on the Island inspired the book (or was it a movie), “Jaws”. Charters run all summer for would-be Hemingways to match their skills against game fish big and small. It was a long time ago, but I still remember going for blackfish with my Uncle Vincent off a jetty in the Sound. Sometimes, we’d rent a small boat and try our luck in Oyster Bay. Don’t know how much we ever caught, but it was a lot of fun.

In California, clams are from Manila, and they are sold by the pound. On Long Island, clams are sold by the dozen, and they come in sizes, cherrystone, little neck, and top neck. People can even earn a living clamming.

Labor Day marks the end of summer.

“Summertime has come and gone and everybody’s home again…They’re pulling all the moorings up and gathering at the Legion Hall. They swept away all the streamers after the Labor Day parade.” – Billy Joel

Back to the Bar (L.V. Impressions)

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excerpted from “Promises of Grace”
Two rooms filled with memories of underage drinking, late nights, sex in the parking lot, and old tunes on the juke box. How strange to be back. It had changed. The drinking age was now 21, and the once seedy tavern was now a fancy restaurant. Early American decrepit was replaced by preppy as only Long Island’s North Shore can do. Duck hunting was the theme, what else would you expect. The bar itself was new, but still rustic. All the old, torn bar stools were replaced by rich woods and plush seat covers. The walls were hunter green, and a big stone fireplace filled one wall in the dining area. The lighting was low, as if lit be candlelight. Tables, now with tablecloths, and chairs were dark wood. The chairs were comfortably padded, but not too comfortably. After all, turnover was still important. It was a new restaurant decorated to look very old. And let’s face it, the building was very old, and it needed some work, especially the outside. The prices were very modern however.

I was early, so I decided to have a drink. As I sat down, I noticed that the mirror behind the bar hadn’t changed, even if the reflections had.

I ordered a Bass Ale on tap. As I got used to the darkened room, I began to look around. Seemed like a small crowd for a Friday. “Oh well, it’s early,” I thought. The beer was cool, and the air conditioning felt good. I forgot just how humid New York could be in the summer.

Halfway through my second beer, Malcolm and Diane came in. After hugs all around, Malcolm said, “Let’s line up a table.”

The Waiting Game

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Everything was up in the air, and Jake wasn’t a very good juggler. College was over. His parents had moved to California, leaving him without a job or a place to live. So he rented a tiny, furnished apartment near the beach, with inadequate heating that kept him cold throughout the winter. He got his first real job writing for a near-bankrupt local newspaper. He worked long hours and ate lots of TV dinners. He wasn’t sure what else to do.

Sometime in the spring, he began seeing a girl he met at work. Donna was hired as a receptionist and Jack-of-all-trades. She was going to night school at Hofstra – getting her degree on the ten-year plan. The course of their relationship followed a simple routine. Work, followed by drinks and dinner. Then he and Donna would head back to his apartment. Soon Donna began leaving a change of clothes there, so they could go into work together when she spent the night. They tried to keep their relationship secret, but it was no use. Middle-aged Jewish women—their own grown children off to college—thought of Jake as their other son. They winked their approval, knowing these two kids were right for each other.

But for those who looked carefully, Donna had an air of inevitability about her. Her path was fixed like a meteor burning as it streaks across the night sky.

Until now no one had been looking too carefully. “They make a cute couple,” people kept saying. Watching them made everyone remember something, some special moment long forgotten, like the memory of a first kiss, irretrievable until now.

The path to inevitability often meanders, and for a time Donna would be allowed to stroll in a garden, protected from her fate. But it wasn’t long before the jungle intruded again. Donna turned cold, distant toward Jake. It was as if she had shut down. She cringed when he tried to touch her. And she barely spoke.

One Friday night, they left the paper about 6:30 and drove in silence to a little, Italian restaurant down by the beach. It was now late August, still hot and humid, but with the first hint of fall was in the air. Under a full moon, the Sound looked like a mirror, reflecting back the light without revealing what’s below its surface. A world away, across the Sound the dark outline of Connecticut was barely visible.

Tony’s was about as authentic as you could get: red and white-checkered table cloths and Chianti bottles lining the ceiling. The food was basic Italian, and the room smelled like sautéed garlic and onions. A waitress, dressed in black pants and a white shirt, greeted them at the door. She had her hair in a pony tail, chewed gum, and spoke with the Long Island version of a New York accent.

“Hi you guys,” she said snapping her gum as she directed them to a table in the corner. “Where ya been?”

“Too busy to eat,” Jake replied.

“No way. Let me tell you about our specials. We have swordfish sautéed with lemon, basil, and butter. We also have penne with roasted fennel and tomatoes…”

“What’s the soup tonight?” Donna asked.

“Minestrone.”

“Can I get you something to drink while you decide?”

“Always.” Jake ordered a bottle of wine.

When the wine was poured, they clinked glasses.

“Cin Cin,” Jake said. Donna smiled.

“What can I get you kids?”

“I’ll take the veal parmesan with a side of spaghetti.”

“Just soup for me.”

“Are you sure that’s all you want? The manicotti is really good.”

“Just soup is fine.”

“Marsha, was on my ass all day about the airport story.”

“She only does it because she likes you.”

“She has a funny way of showing it. When she gave me the story, she said, ‘And don’t screw it up.’”

“She talks like that to everyone. I think she looks at you as a protégé.”

“I don’t look at her as a mentor.”

“The guys in Shipping are betting you’ll be gone before the year’s out.”

“I wouldn’t take that bet. Los Angeles is calling.”

“That would be good for you.”

“You sound like my mother… I was thinking it would be good for both of us.”

The dining room was filling up and it was noisy, the noise forming a barrier between Donna and Jake.

“Here ya go.” The waitress put the food on the table, and refilled their glasses.

Donna went through the motions of eating the steaming soup. In between bites, she absently stirred the bowl with her spoon. Jake ate quietly, twirling the spaghetti on his fork.

“You’re such a slob”, Donna said as she reached over with her napkin to dab a spot of sauce from Jake’s shirt.

“Maybe we should get away this weekend. Drive Upstate.”

“Maybe.”

Jake poured the last of the wine; Donna was quiet.

“I’m not a very happy person.”

“I wouldn’t have known it a couple of weeks ago.”

“I’m serious.”

She finished the last of her wine. “It was seven years this month… ”Nervously, she lit a cigarette.

He took her hand. “Do you want to talk about it?”

There was a long pause.

“My father was abusive. When he was drunk, he beat my mother. And he was always drunk. He beat me, and my sister too. And…”

“Go on.”

“He had sex with us.”

Jake looked everywhere but in Donna’s eyes.

“It started when I was 13. My mother and sister were out for the evening. He raped me.”

“Shit.”

“And he told me not to tell. At first he said he was drunk and didn’t know what he was doing. Said it would kill my mother. The next time it happened he said he’d beat me to a pulp if I told anyone.”

“What did you do?”

“Nothing. I tried to keep away from him. But it was impossible to stay away all the time.”

“And is this what’s been bothering you?”

She looked right at Jake.

“I got pregnant. He took me for an abortion. I was only 16. I was so scared. And he was all drunk and everything.”

“Where is he now?”

“I moved out when I turned 18. I saw my mother, but never when my father was around. He died about a year ago.”

“Did you ever tell anyone?”

“No, I was too scared to tell anyone. Until now.”

“Have you thought about talking to a doctor, a shrink?”

“Don’t you understand? I’m all fucked up inside. Do you know how hard it is to talk to you? I feel like I’m falling, and I can never stop.”

“Aren’t you close to Father Sullivan? Maybe you should talk to him.”

“I can’t. I had an abortion.”

“So?”

“It’s a mortal sin. I’d be excommunicated.”

“But you were raped!”

“That doesn’t matter. Nothing I do will help.”

Jake was playing with the empty wine bottle. Absentmindedly, he replaced the cork into the bottle. When the waitress came by, he asked for another.

“Don’t say things like that.”

“But that’s how I feel.”

“But we can work this out. It doesn’t have to affect us.”

“It changes everything.” She took a long drink of wine.

“Why?”

“I think about it everyday of my life. I can never forgive myself.” She was crying now.

He took her hand.

“You’re not to blame, for what that bastard did.”

At 11:00, there was no one left in Tony’s. When someone began vacuuming the floor and stacking chairs, it was time to go.

“Let’s go to the beach.”

At the beach, he tried to hold her, but she pulled away. They didn’t speak. Clouds rolled in over the moon, and it grew darker. The air was cool and salty. All that could be heard was the sound of the waves licking the sand.

“I can’t see you again.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t want to see you anymore.”

“Why are you throwing this away?”

“I have no choice.”

“That doesn’t make sense. You have cancer, then you have no choice. But this?”

“I knew you wouldn’t understand.”

“No, I don’t, because it’s crazy. Even sinners are forgiven. You don’t have to punish yourself forever.”

“I’m not asking to be forgiven.”

Donna quit her job the next day; she was gone before Jake arrived. He tried to call her a couple of times, but he didn’t try that hard. Time was his ally; he moved on with his life.

More than a year later, Jake got a call from Donna’s friend Susan.

“I had no idea. But do you think she’ll listen to me.”

“I don’t know who else can help. I’ve never seen her like this. I’m really worried.”

“All right I’ll talk to her.”

Jake called Donna. Reluctantly, she agreed to see him. It was fall now, and the beach where they met was deserted. The sky was empty, and the water was clear and green. The sound of the small waves was muffled in the fall air. Donna had lost weight. She was wearing all black, and it made her look even thinner. Her perfume had a musty scent. She smiled at him, but her eyes were lifeless. Jake found it hard to keep his expression calm.

They walked down the beach.

“You could come with me. It would be like before.”

“I don’t think it will ever be like before.”

“No, I guess not.”

They walked along the beach.

“I know I was no use to you before. I didn’t know what to do.” Jake looked at Donna. Something in his eyes had changed, making him look older.

“It doesn’t matter now.”

“I should never have let you go.”

“You didn’t have much choice.”

“Damn it Donna, you don’t deserve this. You’re one of the good ones. You’ve earned some happiness.”

“That’s what I told myself.”

“I wish I could take your pain away.”

“I know you do.”

Jake stopped, picked up a rock, and skipped it across the water.

“How often did we come here?”

“A lot.”

“I haven’t been here since…” He never finished his sentence.

After a time they began walking back.

When they returned to their cars, Donna said, “I’d better go.”

“Are you going to be OK?”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Why don’t you come back to my apartment tonight. You can have my room; I’ll take the couch.”

“I’ll be OK.”

“Don’t do anything…crazy. Promise me.”

“I promise.”

“Promise me that you’ll call me tomorrow.”

“I promise.”

“Let me try to talk to someone, then we’ll talk again, OK?”

“OK.” Jake turned to walk away. “Jake?” He stopped.

“It was good to see you. You look good.”

The next day Jake left a message for Father Sullivan – a message he should have left a lifetime ago.

An hour later the phone rang. It was Susan. Before she spoke, Jake knew he had run out of time.

Brigadoon on the North Shore (L.V. Impressions)

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I know a place where time ticks by in years instead of minutes. Ten miles from a major highway where cars speed towards towers of steel, yet in this place nothing changes. The liquor store is still on the corner after 30 years. The hardware store and the local restaurant are still the same. There are no McDonalds, no Starbucks, no Panda Express. In fact, there are no chains of any kind. You can still get a regular coffee – that is with cream and sugar – at the local deli, a fixture in the center of town. ATMs are fairly new; most people prefer doing their banking with live bankers. Land line phone service may never disappear.

Facebook is something to be frightened of, as old fashioned notions of privacy prevail among the townspeople. There is something soul stealing by revealing yourself on the Internet. Cocktail hour, Memorial Day parades, and patriotic songs in church still rule the day. Around every corner, you can imagine seeing an “Elect Ike” sign. The cars may have changed – SUVs have replaced station wagons – but they are still unlocked when parked in the driveway. The train to the City is now electric, but the ride still takes forever.

You have to go out of your way to notice what’s new. A new house here; a new clothing store there.

And it is all very comforting.

Locust Valley. I could go back… I could go back.

Rock and Roll Lives!

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I am pleased to report that rock and roll isn’t dead. The empirical proof was a recent performance of the Winery Dogs at “Freebird Live” in Jacksonville Beach. The cool venue brought me back to my youth and the great bands I saw in a little hole in the wall, “My Father’s Place” on Long Island.

Since I am now a geezer, I have strong opinions on what is and what isn’t rock and roll. A dilettante that refuses to perform and creates a riot in Montreal is not rock and roll to me. Snappy videos of a group cavorting on exercise equipment like they are in a Busby Berkeley musical doesn’t cut it for me either. A dusty, love bug splattered tour bus (toting a modest equipment trailer) embodies rock and roll in my world.

The word super group has become a cliché. The Winery Dogs have earned that title and the three members are equally and supremely talented. A power trio can be a risky enterprise. You are exposed on that stage and you either deliver the goods or you don’t. These veterans played their hearts out and didn’t hide behind pyrotechnics, banks of synthesizers, double necked guitars, or choreographed backup singers. Just three guys with a guitar, drums, and a bass guitar. Richie Kotzen also played piano on the poignant “Regret” during the three song encore.

In this standing room only crowd, these artists created a wall of sound that Phil Spector would envy. The mastery of their respective instruments was jaw dropping. I quickly observed why Mike Portnoy is a perennial winner of accolades in every drum publication out there. His energy and passion are unbridled. Aside from skilled, he is very theatrical and animated. It is no wonder that Billy Sheehan is respected as one of the top bass players in the genre. He put on a clinic with his overall performance and astonishing solo. The ‘kid’ in the group is 44 year old Richie Kotzen. He has evolved as an artist from his breakthrough instructional video ‘Rock Chops’ that he created as a 19 year old. Kotzen is a prolific writer, has a soulful voice, and his guitar skills are ridiculous. When the band played “Hey Joe,” he almost seemed to channel Jimi Hendrix. I’ve often wondered, “Why is this guy not more famous?”

It was evident that these guys like each other, love what they do, and truly appreciate their fans. Portnoy is involved in a myriad of side projects. He has indicated that the Winery Dogs will be his primary focus. That is great news for rock purists like me.

For additional information about the band and Richie Kotzen, click Winery Dogs and Richie Kotzen.

Children at Heart

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Recently, some family friends came to visit and we decided to take them on a getaway vacation for a few days to Big Bear City. Normally, we go there for the ski slopes during winter to get a dose of cold Californian weather after a long, hot summer. It’s nice to be able to spend a few days in the snow and then come home to a warmer climate again. It’s a perk of living where we do.

This time, to beat the heat wave we’ve been having recently, we took our friends up the mountain to enjoy a relaxing stay in a cabin. Although the temperature was cooler up there, it still felt like we were burning to a crisp. Maybe because we were closer to the sun? Okay, perhaps not, but that’s a joke my dad always tells, which always makes me laugh. Unfortunately, the cabins up there aren’t built for heat, which means most don’t come with air conditioning. We just had to open all the windows and hope for a cool breeze to put us out of our misery.

There is always one sure-fire way to beat the heat, however, and that’s to take a refreshing trip across Big Bear Lake. We’ve done the regular boat tour that goes around the edge of the lake pointing out famous landmarks, but because we were all children at heart, this time, we decided to book a trip on a pirate tour ship. Funnily enough, it was actually the same boat used in the movie Time Bandits, which gave us something else to look forward to.

We went the entire way across the lake to the dam and then back around, seeing sights we hadn’t been able to see before and learning information about certain celebrities that own houses on the shore. We eventually looped back around to the other side of the lake, where a wedding was being held and all of the guests had water balloons and super soakers. We might have been a little toasty in the heat, but we definitely weren’t after we were bombarded with water. It was a great laugh, however, and I’m sure the wedding photographer got some great shots of our surprised faces.

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend and even though we didn’t exactly beat the heat, it was a fun getaway and a great way to spend time with some of our dearest friends.