It Changes In A Second

This weekend my kids learned that life can change for the worse in a split second, and that there are rarely do-overs.

Mood music:

Saturday we drove an hour north to Nottingham N.H. for an outdoor gathering of some friends in the security industry. Duncan was delighted to find they had a playground, and ran for the monkeybars. Before any of us had a chance to react, he slipped and landed on his wrist, breaking bones in two places.

We spent the afternoon at Exeter Hospital and the staff was terrific. They quietly moved Duncan to the front of the line (you should never leave an 8-year-old sitting in agony, after all) and got him x-rayed. They had to take him to the operating room to re-set the bones and now he’s walking around with an enormous splint on his arm.

He’s taking it like a champ, and in the hospital, when they had to repeatedly stick him with a needle in search of a vein for the IV, he was much tougher than I was at his age, when my veins were equally elusive during hospital stays for Crohn’s Disease flare ups.

But Sean was particularly upset to see his brother in pain like this, and it brought him to tears more than once that afternoon. On the car ride home, he kept talking about the suddenness of it all. If we could just go back that one second and prevent what happened, he said.

Erin and I explained that sometimes in life these things just happen, and the key from that moment on is how you react to the unexpected. In this case, we did the right things. We got Duncan to the ER quickly and have followed all the doctor’s instructions since getting home. But Sean still has trouble accepting what happened.

At one point I laughed and told him we’re shocked it took this long for one of them to break something.

By age 10, I had already been to the ER for a broken finger (I flipped my brother off and he promptly grabbed the finger and snapped it in half), a butter knife through the hand and a broken leg. The leg cast used to make my skin itch something fierce, and I tried to get at the itch by shoving my father’s golf tees into the hole for my toes. When they finally cut the cast off, a bunch of golf tees spilled onto the floor.

And this stuff was in addition to all the Crohn’s-related visits.

Either we’ve shielded these kids exceptionally well or we just have an abundance of dumb luck.

Sean wasn’t comforted by the explanation. He kept obsessing about how he wishes we could have traveled that second back in time.

We’ve all played that game. We love to go over the what-ifs and think about how much rosier life would have turned out if we had just done that one thing differently.

But it’s never worked that way. We break bones. We crash cars (multiple times in my case). We get sick unexpectedly.

Trying to go back never makes things better. Never has. The key is in how we respond to the rude surprises life hands us.

You all knew that already. Now Sean and Duncan know.

Snowstorm Gratitude

It’s 6:14 a.m. and it’s still snowing. But I am big-time thankful for one thing:

The power was on when I woke up, and may yet go out. But I managed to get my coffee made first.

It’s the little things. Or, for this coffee addict, the huge things.

I also stepped outside and found that in my corner of New England, the snow accumulation was not nearly as bad as predicted. Clean up should be easy here. A lot of folks are without power and got up to 2 feet of snow, particularly west of here. My heart goes out to them.

Whatever the weather outside your door, just remember: It could always be worse and this too shall pass.

My neighborhood got off easy so far, but I’ve lived through many catastrophic storms in my day (The Blizzard of 1978, the 1991 Halloween “Perfect Storm” and the 2008 ice storm, to name a few). After all of them, life moved on and it was all good.

Family and friends always helped us through, making sure we had warm shelter and food, especially in the wake of the 1978 blizzard.

It’s like Mister Rogers’ mother once told him: When bad things happen, watch for the helpers. They always appear.

Take care, folks.

An October Snowstorm? It Could Be Worse

New England is in the crosshairs of a rare, October snowstorm that could dump 3-6 inches on parts of my state. People on Facebook are freaking out. But let’s look at the bright side. Yes, there is one.

Mood music:

I’m not typically given to positive attitudes in the face of bad weather. In fact, I’ve written at length about the crummy impact too much cloudiness, rain and snow can have on me.

My moods almost always hit the depths when there’s too much rain, snow, cold and darkness.  It throws me into a prolonged period of discouragement and depression. All I want to do is fall asleep in my chair, but that’s not possible most of the time. It becomes a lot harder NOT to binge on the things my addiction craves.

I’m not a special case. In the book Lincoln’s Melancholy” by Joshua Wolf Shenk, we see how long periods of gloomy weather drove Abraham Lincoln to suicidal thoughts in the 1840s, two decades before he was president. It’s a common problem.

All that said, Saturday’s weather forecast should be freaking me out. A few years ago, it would have. I have plans for the day, and a storm like this will probably ruin them. There are warnings of power outages, which make me particularly uneasy.

It’s not freaking me out though, and it shouldn’t freak you out, either.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not particularly happy about the forecast. I just want to have the Halloween weekend I’ve been expecting. But as sucky as it may seem to many of you, there’s a positive perspective to be had. Simply put, it could be much worse. Consider the following:

–On Halloween 20 years ago, we were hit with a devastating storm that left coastal communities deep under sea water. I was living in the Point of Pines, Revere, at the time and mine was one of three houses in the neighborhood that escaped the flood waters. The neighborhood as a whole resembled a war zone after that storm. This storm is nothing like that.

–The arrival of snow means we’ve seen the killing frost, which means the outdoor allergens are dead until spring. That’s something to celebrate in my house, where allergies hit all of us hard.

–Snow in October is unsettling, but it also shakes up normal patterns and habits we need to be jolted from once in awhile.

–Whatever happens, the sun ALWAYS comes out again. In fact, the forecast calls for a warming trend next week. Not a bad way to start November.

So don’t get mad at the weather forecasters. They are merely delivering the picture as it looks to them now. And the only reason that picture drives us to depression and distraction is because we let it.

7-day forcast

Teddy Roosevelt Did It All. What’s Your Excuse?

Today is Teddy Roosevelt’s birthday, which I bring up because his is the ultimate story about staring adversity in the face, grinning and spitting in its eye.

Mood music:

TR was a sickly boy whose asthma often left him struggling for breath. He could have used that as an excuse early on to avoid life’s big challenges. Instead, he lifted weights obsessively and built himself into a bull of a man who would live what he called “the strenuous life” until it drove him to the grave.

TR went through a lot of bad stuff in his life. Let me demonstrate with a little help from Wikipedia:

–Sickly and asthmatic as a child, Roosevelt had to sleep propped up in bed or slouching in a chair during much of his early years, and had frequent ailments.

–His first wife Alice died young of an undiagnosed case of kidney failure two days after their infant Alice was born. His mother Mittie died of typhoid fever on the same day, eleven hours earlier, in the same house.

–His youngest son was shot down behind German lines during the first world war.

Despite all that hell, he lived every day like it was his last.

–He was a prolific author, writing with passion on subjects ranging from foreign policy to the importance of the national park system. wrote about 18 books (each in several editions), including his Autobiography,[90] The Rough Riders[91] History of the Naval War of 1812,[92] and others on subjects such as ranching, explorations, and wildlife. His most ambitious book was the four volume narrative The Winning of the West, which connected the origin of a new “race” of Americans (i.e. what he considered the present population of the United States to be) to the frontier conditions their ancestors endured throughout the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries.

–He was a political warrior. We all know he was president, but before that he was governor of New York, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, vice president, NY police commissioner and a state assemblyman.

–While running to win back the presidency in 1912 (he didn’t succeed), he was shot in the chest. He delivered his speech anyway, speaking for 90 minutes.

–After the presidency, he lived hard right to the end, going on expeditions of Africa and South America (the latter journey nearly killing him) and staying active in politics.

I think of him whenever I have a tough day, get sick or experience tragedy. He never took it lying down, and neither will I.

So, what’s your excuse?

R.I.P. Daddy’s Junky Music

I just saw a news clip about Daddy’s Junky Music closing after nearly 40 years. What a shame. I always loved that store, and when Skeptic Slang was up and running, they were very good to us.    

We went to the Peabody, Mass. store in search of gear in 1993 and they hooked us up with monitors, 2 massive PA speakers and a mixing board. They let us take all this stuff on a monthly payment plan and, when we broke up and needed to unload the stuff, they took it back. They probably saw us as we were: Young pups who had no idea what we were doing. But they still made us feel important and I’ll never forget that.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             I was living in Lynnfield, Mass. at the time and we rehearsed in a nuclear bomb shelter build under the garage.

Hanging out in that room for a year with all that equipment, making music, writing and hiding from the world, was a blissful time sandwiched in between all the turmoil. Daddy’s Junky Music helped make it happen, and I’m forever grateful.                                                                                        

Here’s the story on its closing from New Hampshire’s Union Leader:

New Hampshire Union Leader, Published Oct 27, 2011 at 3:00 am (Updated Oct 26, 2011) 

Daddy’s Junky Music, the 39-year-old company that flourished thanks to the New Hampshire Advantage, folded on Wednesday, a victim of the struggling economy and shifts to Internet sales, founder Fred Bramante said.

A page on the company website said the company ceased operation as of the close of business Wednesday. The company thanked customers for a wonderful 39 years.At its closing Daddy’s counted 12 stores in four states, including locations in Manchester, Nashua, Salem and Portsmouth.

Bramante said Wednesday was one of the worst days of his life.

“I had to tell people who had been working with me for decades they were losing their jobs, and it was heartbreaking,” said Bramante, a member of the state Board of Education.

He said the four New Hampshire stores employed 52 full-time workers and 14 part-time workers. The company also has stores in Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Bramante made his first guitar deal in 1972, when the lead guitarist of his basement rock band said his friend needed to sell a red Hagstrom 2 guitar to raise bail money.

Bramante knew the guitar was worth more than $600. He bought it, resold it and entered the world of music retail.

His business grew on the New Hampshire Advantage, as wannabe rocks stars flocked to New Hampshire from surrounding states to purchase instruments and amplifiers.

Financially healthy, Daddy’s branched out into all New England states and New York. Recognition followed: New Hampshire retailer of the year, national retailer of the year and best service of any company in America.

Bramante’s stature grew too. He ran for governor a couple of times in the 1990s, and he was an early advocate of a state education focused property tax.

But for the last three years, the company has struggled because of the sour economy, he said. And another tax-free entity started eating into its sales.

“The New Hampshire Advantage is real, it worked, but the Internet advantage is really similar to the New Hampshire Advantage,” he said. His stores in sales-tax states lost sales to the Internet.


Before You Hate Someone For Life, Consider This

We all have someone in our personal life who we hate. There’s often a good reason for it, especially if you’ve been molested. But we often loathe someone before we’ve considered all the complexities of the relationship.

I’ve been there. But as I get older, the chip on my shoulder gets smaller and I’m better at seeing the other side. In that spirit, let’s consider the following:

Mood music:

A lot of us hate one or both of our parents because we felt neglected or we were physically and verbally abused as kids.

People think I hate my mother because we haven’t spoken much in 5 years, but the truth is that under all the bitterness and resentment I still love her. In hindsight, two of her three kids were very sick as children and one didn’t survive. Her marriage to my father ended badly. She was also from a line of women who had the chronic urge to lash out. Inevitably, some of that’s going to rub off.

In hindsight, I think she did the best she could with the tools she had. The problem now is just learning to get along and setting boundaries that will be respected.

People who remember me from my days at The Eagle-Tribune probably think I hate some of the bosses I had while there, especially between late 2000 and early 2002. I did for a long while, but no longer. Looking back, one or two people struggled with their own health problems and were equally prone to depression.

When you spend every waking hour in fear that you’re not going to measure up and that someone somewhere is out to get you, you will have a hard time being a nice person. When we feel embattled, we have trouble seeing that the person at the focus of our anger is dealing with his or her own pain. Pain makes you do bad things — sometimes to yourself, sometimes to others.

On the flip side, some have questioned my devotion to the Catholic faith. A lot of people hate priests who sexually abused children and I can’t blame them. Molesting a kid is one of the best reasons to hate someone that I can think of. You’re especially going to be inclined to feel that way if you were abused or if, like me, you have children. It’s also easy to hate when you run into churchgoers who hammer you with all their self-righteous views while hypocritically ostracizing people who don’t fit the prim and proper mold. But in our moment of anger, we forget that priests are human with all the same weaknesses we have.

Those who act on their darker impulses deserve to be removed from the picture. It becomes a matter of safety and justice. But when you consider how close a lot of us come to stepping over the edge, it’s hard to keep hating. Besides, a person’s faith shouldn’t be about the damaged humans you have to deal with at church. It should be about you’re direct relationship with the Man upstairs.

If we want to hate and flip off the guy who cuts us off on the highway, it’s worth considering that the guy probably had as shitty a day — or worse — than you’ve had. We’re all capable of being dicks after a rough day.

If we want to hate the weather forecasters because it’s pelting rain and snow when we’re craving warm sunshine, we should remember that at that moment, we’re just being stupid. Especially if we live in New England, where the weather patterns often defy even the most seasoned meteorologists. Besides, its supposed to be hot in summer and cold in winter.

Get In The Van And Head To The Channel

A friend from the Point of Pines, Revere shared a memory yesterday. It involved getting in my brother Michael‘s van and going to see a rock legend perform at the Channel in Boston.

Mood music:

Julie Doyle Frascino read my post “Lost Brothers” and posted this on my Facebook page:

“Michael was such a good kid! I remember one time we all piled into that van he had and went to see the Joe Perry Project at The Channel rock club in Boston. It looked like a Cheech and Chong movie when we all pratically fell out of the van in the parking lot! Kids! We were all crazy back then!”

That van was quite a site. The paint was peeling off and the body was covered in rust. Exhaust fumes rose through tiny holes in the floor and into the back. It probably wasn’t good for his asthma.

But that van shuttled kids to a lot of shows at The Channel, which used to stand at 25 Necco St. in Boston. It’s where I first saw live Rock ‘n Roll and I would go on to spend a good chunk of the late 1980s there, usually with Sean Marley, Dan Waters and an assortment of others.

Bands I saw there included Gang Green, The Neighborhoods, Kix, King Diamond, Flotsam and Jetsam, Extreme, The Circle Jerks, Slapshot and The Ramones.

The place had a bar called The Cage for the obvious reason that it was caged in. I couldn’t go in there for the first few years because I was under 21. There were a lot of 18-plus shows there, but I did manage to sneak into one 21-and-over show, which was The Ramones. I skipped the senior prom for that, and never regretted my choice. I couldn’t find a date for the prom, anyway.

They used to have Sunday afternoon shows that I loved going to because they were more lightly attended. It was also typically when the more obscure bands got to play, though one of those shows was The Neighborhoods, which Dan took me to see. Before that day, I had never heard of them. It wasn’t the type of band Sean was inclined to go see, because his tastes by that point were veering off to industrial metal, which wasn’t popular yet.

Dan shared his passion for that stuff, but he also had a deeper appreciation for the more melodic, pop-driven bands.

I spent a lot of angry nights heading to The Channel. I had a chip on my shoulder the size of Texas and I could slip through the front door, become invisible and shake my fist all night to whatever band was playing until I was exhausted and felt like I’d been kicked in the gut. Once I reached that state, I would feel better. That kind of pain is perfect for pushing the anger out a young kid’s pores.

Since my brother was five years older, I didn’t get to go to any shows in that van. But like him, I would shuttle a car full of friends to The Channel in a beat-to-hell, putrid green 1983 Ford LTD station wagon I bought from my aunt after I got my driver’s license. The radio didn’t work so I kept a portable radio in the front seat; one of those big cassette players we used to call ghetto blasters. That car also made a lot of packed runs to the Worcester Centrum to see the bigger bands, including four Metallica shows in 1989 alone, during that band’s “And Justice for All” tour.

But the trips to The Channel were always a lot more fun. They were short runs from Revere, which meant less opportunity for the car to break down en route.

In the worst of times, those were some of the best of times.