Damn this New Math.
When I set out on this little project – something I dreamed up almost a year to the day while I sat in a hospital bed, the morning after my emergency appendectomy, thinking up some sort of goal to nail before I hit Forty – anyway, at the time I was able to sketch a little mental road map of all the stops I wanted to hit as I backtracked my road of life, including – and especially – all those little off-the-beaten-paths I meandered along at various points in the journey. (Right now – all of my former English teachers are gathering together and in some case, rising from the dead, in a bid to wreak unholy vengeance upon that last run-on sentence… and this one too.)
The point is, I knew every place I wanted to hit but like most well-laid plans, life likes to toss you the knuckle-slurve when you’re waiting on the high heat. And so – I meandered a bit as the year flew with breakneck speed. Sometimes one post would lead to another; as one memory gave me the know-how to crack another vault.
Which is why we come up with a #39 & 1/2. See – I always knew how this story would end – what the last post should be. No, I haven’t written #40 yet. Like all of these, I’ll sit down on the morning I publish it – stare at the blank “canvas” and then just let the thoughts pour onto the paper. That approach seems to have served me well thus far. So #40 isn’t written and won’t be until this Wednesday, when the kids are on the bus, the steam is rising from my coffee, my out-of-office message is employed and I’ve got nothing better to do than to close this little project out properly. I know where that post begins – how it continues – and where it all ends. I just don’t want to write it until the time is right.
With that prime piece of real estate occupied, and me fresh out of numbers – I decided to grab a fraction of bandwidth and lay down a bonus track. Call this one a kissing cousin to the piece I wrote last week in tribute to my friends.
As the saying goes, “Friends are the family you get to choose.” – or something like that. I fully subscribe to it. ‘Circle of Friends’ left no doubt. I love my friends wholly and completely. They had me at “Hello”. May we never have to say a final goodbye.
But – I can’t fully subscribe to what that saying implies. Not when I love my family – both immediate and extended – with equal passion and fervor. As I wrote last week, I’m a man of modest means when it comes to wealth. We’ve got enough to be comfortable – to get by – to live a happy life wanting for nothing; but when you factor in the various personalities that have entered my orbit over the years and never spun off (at least too far) – well, I’m the wealthiest man on the planet and got plenty to go around to share with the rest of ya’.
The same holds true for my family. Over the last year, I’ve paid tribute to so many of them – from my children Colin and Aria, to my wife Andi, to my parents and grandparents. And while I set out with one mission; to not hone in too closely on actual people for fear of leaving someone out or ruffling feathers; as I near the finish line I’ve decided to say “To Hell with that“. These people are way too important to me to let silly rules get in the way.
That said, I’m not planning on writing about every single branch of my family tree. Again – we’d be here for decades. No, I just wanted to touch on a few of them for whom I have some anecdotes to share. Some funny – some warm; all of them emblematic of the love I hold for every single member of my family. Some of you have known me almost Forty Years. When I think of those who met me shortly after my birth – and now listen to me ramble on out here in cyberspace – it brings me to my knees. I know watching my own kids grow has been equal parts eye-opening, a sucker-punch and heart-warming all at once. I can’t imagine seeing someone age Forty Years in a blink of an eye. Sure, it will happen – but not having done it yet, I can’t imagine it.
If I put myself in their shoes – it has to be equal parts humbling, inspiring, terrifying… and hopefully interesting. And that’s just gazing upon me – as run-of-the-mill as dudes come. Face it – it’s not like you’ve got some world class athlete or rocket scientist here. No – you got to watch a normal guy with the gift of gab let his fingers do the walking. There must be paint drying somewhere just aching for more viewers.
Well, if you’re still here – I want you to know, I appreciate it all. This project is predicated on everything you’ve done for me as a family. A few weeks back I wrote about my Mom that without she there would be no me. Well, it goes without saying that without any of you, I wouldn’t be half the man I am today.
So – without further adieu, here’s a handful of family anecdotes starring some of my nearest and dearest. If I’ve neglected you in print, that’s not a slight. All of you are imprinted on my heart and mind and I carry you with every single step I take.
In no particular order, I lead with:
1. My Dad
You want to blame someone for my sense of humor – here’s your suspect. When I was a kid, I didn’t quite get my Dad. I always thought he was very quiet and stoic but I marveled at his work ethic. He also appeared quite legendary – with a big bushy beard capping his strong frame. Like my own personal Thor!
He was a telephone lineman who often left for work at the crack of dawn – drove for miles along that hectic stretch of I95 towards Waltham – put in tons of overtime before returning right around the time the street lights came on. After dinner, he’d rest his weary legs on the couch, tune in the Bruins and Sox game – adding his snoring to the play-by-play sometime ’round the midpoint of each game. At the time I wasn’t a sports fan, so we didn’t bond over the hometown teams; that would come later in life.
But, I secretly thrilled when I saw the neighborhood Moms (the original “Monkeybar Mafia”) delight in my Dad’s dry humor.
We lived on this awesome L-shaped street that was stocked with families – Moms, Dads and kids of all ages. As so many of us kids spent Summers playing up-and-down that street from the moment we rose from bed ’til the last of the Moms strained their vocal chords braying for their kids to “for the love of God and your own body – get your butt home now Mister!!!” – it was the perfect setting for families to come together from time to time and just enjoy our little slice of suburbia. And whenever we hosted a neighborhood BBQ – and the housewives started tossing back Bartles & James by the box full – they would be in stitches in no time, as my Dad let his sly sense of humor fly.
I think that’s when I really began to feel close to my Dad; the first time I really made him laugh. I would have been college-age; and for a guy with a photographic memory for my life’s events I swear I can’t remember the exact moment – but I recall being at a family function; holding court with my Dad, my Uncle Bill, his wife – my Aunt Linda, and a few others. Of legal age, I was enjoying a drink with them and we were just talking about all manner of things – and as the day wore on, I had them all laughing and my Aunt looked over at my Dad at one point, tears of laughter in her eyes and said “He’s your son.”
I’m proud to be his son.
2. My Mom
A few weeks back, I penned a love letter to my Mom on Mother’s Day so in keeping with the theme of this post, I’m just going to toss out one of my favorite anecdotes. If you want to get all weepy at a boy’s tribute to his Mom’s love; click the link above. Otherwise, continue on.
When I was five years old, my family resided on the Mean Streets of Everett, MA. At the time, I was enrolled in Kindergarten at the Hamilton Elementary School – a brick and mortar classroom that sat sentinel at the base of a large hill that stood between my home and the school’s foundation. There were multiple ways to get to school on foot but each involved journeying across several blocks of urban cityscape before arriving at that final destination – a foolhardy pursuit for even the toughest mofo. In those days, the swan song of the late 70’s, mankind hadn’t perfected the fine art of “Sue Everyone” so the school systems found themselves benefit of the litigious illiterate and etched a firm mandate – if you didn’t live 5 miles beyond the city limits, then you weren’t getting a bus. So I, like many of my peers, found myself getting walked to and from school with the companionship of my Mom.
Now, the details of my travails to and from that school are hazy and lost in the ether of time. I’m almost 40 years old so we’re talking 39 years of wine, women and song have done their best to rid my neural nest of anything but the most traumatic of childhood memories. Who’s to say what’s real and what’s imagined? That said, I do have a couple images that were potent enough to sew themselves to the mental tapestry and for all I know, I’ll keep them to my dying day. This one looms large.
My Mom lives to tell this story.
One crisp autumn day – shortly after depositing me off at school for another course of brain expansion – she returned alongside my younger sister Jenna to our portion of a 2-family duplex and began running through her daily chores. It was a bright, sunny October morn punctuated with the first wisps of Fall chill. The perfect day to throw open the windows and invite the cool breeze in. As she was pushing a broom or mop and pining for the day when some genius would invent the Swiffer, an alien visage caught her eye. Just at the edge of her peripheral vision, she caught a familiar tuft of hair bounding up and down past the nearest open window. As any Mom will tell you, all they need to spy is 1% of their child’s real estate and they could pick their kid from a line-up. She spotted a sliver of cabeza and knew instantly that her beloved son – her first born – was waltzing by the window when he should be romping at recess.
In a panic she threw open the shutters to see what was the matter. And there I stood, startled, but beaming. For I had picked a FINE day for a little skedaddle. Of course, it wasn’t the truancy that had thrown her into a tizzy but the fact that I had somehow ducked, dodged and wailed my way through one mile of burned out cars and automatic fire with nary a scratch on me. (You can debate the facts of this story with me but bear in mind that I’m recounting this from a frantic Mom’s perspective where a broken down VW suddenly becomes a flaming APC carrier. Were I to offer up my own observations of the day, what we lost in scorched vehicles, we’d gain in velociraptors).
All hyperbole aside, it was a rather impressive feat. I simply grew tired of the long school day (if it was Kindergarten in the late 70’s then my guess is once you subtracted the recess, play time and naps – I was probably in there for a healthy seven minutes of hardcore learning). So, having had my fill of the teacher’s rote alphabet lessons (please – I had passed that at the age of 3 and was now learning how to read from TV Guide – “This week, Potsie and the Gang fall prey to the wicked… (Momma – What’s this word?) Malachi… Brothers.”) – anyway, I decided to call it an early day and simply walked out of the school and headed home. Having run this route so many times before, I knew exactly how to get home and simply proceeded on my way through this blighted urban renewal applicant, eventually making my way home – safe and sound.
And it was on that day, that the much coveted ‘prisoner ankle bracelet’ was invented – taking the trailer parks by storm and changing the history of Rhode Island demographics forever.
3. My Sister Jenna
I’m going real recent with this next anecdote. So, many of you who follow my Blog are no doubt aware of a little prank I pulled this past April. And while ALL of you state you won’t get fooled again, we all know I could remind you of my annual April Fools jokes from not until next March and I’ll still manage to sucker every last one of you. I put this here in print to guard my sister next year; so she doesn’t roam her neighborhood proclaiming her brother’s greatness ever again. Not after this past April.
As you know, this year I decided to reveal my phantom BOOK DEAL!!! And so many of you were so excited to buy that first novel – although judging by the shear numbers who chose NOT to click the link to the supposed first chapter – WHICH REVEALED IT WAS ALL A HOAX – I’m not so sure any of you are actually up to reading the thing should I ever get published. Although, if you’ve come this far, maybe you’ve proven me wrong. In which case, did I mention my book is being made into a movie that will be remade next year in 3D?!?!?!?
Anyway, of all the reactions to the hoax, Jenna’s was my favorite. She has long been one of my best cheerleaders, and I am seriously humbled by that. She’s always telling her friends and family in Pennsylvania all about my Blog; urging them to check it out. And some have and become part of the community here (BIG SHOUT OUT TO CASEY!!!). Growing up a year apart; we had our share of battles when we were younger. And then when we struck out on our own – we lived so far away from each other that it was hard to stay close. If I harbor one regret among my immediate family it’s that I didn’t visit her often or even just pick up the phone to catch up – especially as we got older and learned to appreciate each other for the good people we’ve become; and those we’ve brought forth into this world.
That said – that’s the point of this Blog. Pure honesty!!! It’s always been my mission and I aim to let Jenna know that she has surprised and inspired me at every point of our lives and I marvel at the shear energy and creativity she has brought to life. If the world is infinitely better for her being in it – mine is doubly so knowing I have this amazing sister who is so warm and caring and though she may be six hours and several holidays away – technology has helped bridge the gap. These days I feel closer to her than ever.
So, I guess it’s with a tinge of regret that I allowed her to spread the word far and wide that her brother was set to become a Best Selling Author. She told the world – or at least everyone in her immediate vicinity – and later on, when she learned of the grand deception she took to my Facebook and said “You Jerk! I just spent the whole day telling people how great my brother is. Now what am I gonna’ say?”
My response – “Tell them your brother is a jerk!”
The thing is – she doesn’t have it in her. Too warm and friendly to toss me under the bus. And you know what – to get this far in life and know that I have a sister as great as she is – that makes it all worth living…
4. My Sister Noelle
…especially since I have two of them.
Noelle is 5 years younger than me – 4 less than Jenna – and early on, Jenna and I were always side-by-side while Noelle was the baby of the family. When I headed off to college and Jenna joined the military; which led to her relocation to Pennsylvania – Noelle and I bonded tightly whenever I came home from college.
At the time, it was just Noelle and my Mom living together. That’s how she spent her High School years. So, I’d stop in for a couple of months – disrupt their routine – and then head out again. But knowing it was just the two of them; I always made a point to bring my little sister out for a movie or some grub. And that’s when we started to grow closer. Plus – whenever there was a movie I wanted to see and none of my friends would go with me – I could always coerce Noelle to come see it with me – usually under false pretenses. I’d dangle ‘Sister Act‘ in front of her only to swap Whoopi G. for the T-1000 and make her see Terminator 2: Judgment Day (my friends having burned out on it after 4 or 5 screenings). Hey – it was all on my dime!!!
Later in life, our paths continually crossed and when she moved to Boston, I seemingly ran into her everywhere; despite the fact that I don’t live anywhere near Beantown.
I remember helping her move into her North End apartment. It was on this tiny little side street, in this five-floor apartment building – and she was perched at the top of all those flights of stairs. The details are tattooed to memory. It was mid-August and the mercury hovered in the mid-90’s. When we first pulled down that street and parked the moving van in a little neighborhood lot, we were chased away by a sketchy-looking attendant who Noelle quickly informed up was likely “connected”. Not wanting to end up a corpse in a Departed sequel – we stashed the truck elsewhere and began the process of unloading it – lugging box-after-box up flight-after-flight of stairs. Each time I came down, I weighed a pound less. And yet, I did it all with good spirits for one reason. I was thrilled to see my little sister all grown up – hitting the Big City – knowing that she was staring down a blank canvas. Who knows what life she would paint and what color the city would add to her?
I envied that. That fresh start. Living the city life. Walking anywhere you needed to go – with your feet set to the pulse and energy that comes from city living. I guess that thought permeates this series; the whole concept of turning back time – returning to a point where the world and all its possibilities lay before you just waiting to be discovered.
She still lives there today – albeit in a different pad across the way in Charlestown – where everyone is apparently a bank robber or dating one. At five years younger than me, I always look to Noelle as someone who has it all before her – who can do anything she wants. And as with Jenna, I can take comfort in the fact that not only do I have two great siblings; I also covet two close friends.
5. My cousins John and Tammy
It’s the same stupid story, told repeatedly at each family gathering I go to. I have two cousins, well technically I have several, but only these two had a front row seat to this story.
This whimsical true-life tale stretches way back to those sunny, innocent days of the 1970’s – a simpler time when Jack Tripper was shacking up with two broads much to the disdain of a mugging Mr. Roper while Iran’s Ayatolla Rock n’ Rolla decided to scrimp on gas thus shooting my milk money prices up from $.05 cents a mini-carton to $.25 cents. Suddenly calcium was a luxury of the rich and famous – hence all the silver in my teeth.
Anyway, every few months I would spend the evening at my cousins’ house, where John and I would whittle away the hours playing the Raiders of the Lost Ark board game while his sister Tammy would slave away over a hot Easy Bake Oven making us mini-muffins by the mouthful. You know, like all good women should. (Sorry for the rampant sexism ? It’s a slow week and I’m aching for some controversy.) The evening would soon grow long and eventually the time would come when everyone would take their baths for the evening. First went Tammy. Then John. Finally, with a shudder, my turn.
Now, as I’ve mentioned, these may have been innocent times but I was no Gump. At the tender age of six I knew only so well that the days of free love were waning. A guy had to take precautions.
So I would head to the washroom. I would draw my bath. And then I would lower myself gingerly into the steaming water. But I never dropped trou. That’s right, I would take that bath fully clothed. In addition to being a modern marvel of time management (washing my clothes and myself at the same time – I would have brushed my teeth and tossed a salad if I could have worked the logistics) it was also an act that salvaged my innocence.
How so, dear reader? Well, I ask you this. How is it that in the year 2012, two grown adults can conjur the same story (the only story they know, mind you) of a boy in the bathtub clad in his briefs if they had not invaded that privacy way back when.
Think back – this was the 70’s. Nanny cams hadn’t been invented and throwing metal spears at each other in the name of so-called backyard entertainment was considered the apex of modern technology. We lacked the techno-geek wizardry that has enabled websites like UpSkirt.com to provide us with hours of quality entertainment.
No, these two perps, as I, and the Massachusetts House of Corrections, affectionately call them had busted in seeking to sneak a peak. And now, the story gets told over and over, year after year and my family, or perp enablers, rolls with laughter.
So now that the truth is known and if you’ve been following this Blog, you know I kicked that habit when I got to UMASS Amherst and took to going a semester or two sans pants.
6. My Cousin Jason
In the late 90′s, as my cousin Jason was enrolled at Harvard University, I was feverishly working my way up the corporate ladder in the financial world while looking to keep my creative side exercised by working on an assortment of unfinished screenplays in my leisure time. While I had some decent ideas that I felt I could spin into something of substance, there were a few ideas that were half-baked and I knew would never sell in Hollywood – of course, this was in the innocent, carefree days before some idiot greenlit Battleship.
One of my more ambitious projects was titled ‘Two Roads Diverged‘ which focused on two assassins, friends since childhood, whose bond is ripped apart when they develop diverging feelings towards their latest assignment. I wouldn’t say the actual script was ambitious as it was derivative as hell from any number of legitimate spy thrillers but it was ambitious that a group of friends and I decided to film the damned thing ourselves throughout the streets of Boston – and the woods surrounding Walden Pond – in the midst of the snowiest winter I can remember.
I drafted Jason for the project and gave him the plum role of Niles Amireault – a young computer genius who had been targeted for assassination by the agency. My best bud Sean was the maverick hit man while my character had a change of heart and was racing against time to get to Amireault and protect him. The action came to a head on the college campus – which the picaresque Harvard University stood in nicely for.
Sean and I descended upon Jason’s apartment on some random Saturday to film his scenes and all morning long we bee-bopped all across the site looking for some nice photogenic spots to serve as backdrop for the action. My theory was if I could provide the audience with some pretty pictures I’d successfully distract them from the juvenile screenwriting and amateur acting.
While we were blocking one scene, I heard a loud, rhythmic banging coming from the distance. It grew in power and never seemed to quit. I asked Jason what the deal was and he replied that Harvard was hosting John Lithgow who was Grand Marshal in the morning parade.
It hit me. We could get a legitimate star in our pic – against his will.
No – we weren’t going to kidnap John Lithgow although now that I write that – that might make a helluva sequel – but we were going to stage some chase scenes alongside the parade. Think of the classic foot chase scenes in flicks like The Fugitive and then imagine them being run through by two guys trying to walk and chew gum at the same time and you have an idea of how dynamic the idea was.
So, we packed up our gear and in true guerrilla filmmaking style, proceeded to run up and down the procession with each actor taking turns filming the other guy running as if he were in hot pursuit of the other. Oh, and we made sure that a very fuzzy John Lithgow appeared distantly in the corner of each shot.
As long as we had a sliver of Lithgow on screen, I was giving the guy top billing.
I figured when we finally secured that coveted cable access debut, Lithgow could do one of two things.
1. Ignore us completely and therefore we could sell the thing as “a John Lithgow joint”
2. He could sue the hell out of us, granting me amazing publicity and likely landing me a 10-picture deal at Paramount.
Now, if only I could find the dailies. See, I have a full inventory of every single piece of film we shot for this flick but in the move west, the Lithgow tapes have mysteriously disappeared. It’s like my Blair Witch tape all over again.
My personal theory – While I would like to think that Lithgow had his people hire a real-world duo of assassins to break in to my abode and abscond with the offending videotape, the smart money is on the notion that what once was a crackerjack thrill ride through the streets of Cambridge is now grainy footage of Colin eating a Blues Clues Birthday Cake.
Either that, or Harvard figured out what we were up to and enforced their “No Filming on Campus” policy. Hey, if they weren’t going to open the gates for Fincher on ‘The Social Network’ what chance do three idiots and a Handycam have?
7. My Aunt Suzanne
(*Mental Note: I need a digital pic of me and my Aunt. Next time I see her, I’ll make it happen.)
When I was a kid, I stayed at my Grandpa Ned and Nana Pearl’s house almost every holiday break. Those are my Dad’s parents – both are no longer with us – but as I wrote about a few weeks ago; my time with them as a child was magical. They were real salt-of-the-Earth types from Newfoundland who had migrated here and while they could be boisterous with each other from time to time, they always melted around me. That’s one of the little perks you get for being first born Grandson. The male hair always gets the crown.
The other perk to staying there was I got to see my Aunt Suzanne – who was only 9 years my senior. She and I would assemble puzzles, play board games for hours on end and assemble the latest and greatest toys I got for Christmas – with Aunt Suzanne always taking the lead on applying the tiny decals to every G.I. Joe action set. Living in Everett – close to Boston – they got cable way before my suburban neighborhood did; so we often did this while the fledgling MTV played in the background and I became very familiar with the vocal stylings of Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman and Martha Quinn as they queued up ‘The Warrior’ or ‘Fishheads‘.
Later in life, I got to repay the favor – when Aunt Suzanne had a child, her son David. One year – I attended a cookout at their house. He was 4 or 5 at the most and I was somewhere near the end of my college career – if not fresh out. He and my cousin’s son Brian were having a blast playing with each other and I decided to take leave from the adult conversation and role play with the kids. I became the chief of police and they were my newly-minted deputies and we were on the prowl for evildoers – something very innocent; a candy thief or something like that. We probably played for about 20 minutes before I rejoined my Aunts and Uncles and just enjoyed a lazy late-summer day surrounded by people I wish I could see more often. And when it came time to leave, David and Brian came running to wish their Chief safe travels.
From that day forth, Suzanne would tell me that whenever David and Brian got together, they would talk excitedly about “the Chief”. It’s a small measure – barely a drip of the good fortune I had in growing up with a great Aunt – but a memory I cherish.
What goes around comes around.
8. My Uncle Ron and Aunt Sharon
When I was a young scamp, I was Vacation Man. I literally hunted down the recreation schedules of an entire bloodline (aunts, uncles, illegitimate offspring) and stealthily vaulted the proverbial velvet rope, inserting myself within the confines of the ancestral itinerary. You’re no doubt familiar with the Home Alone formula, where a slapdash journey to destinations unknown results in one child left at home. In my case, my relatives’ slapdash journey usually ended in one child too many. The only tool of my trade was the ability to grab hold of their personal data organizers – granted this was the neolithic 70′s so you had two choices: persuade a kindly pterodactyl to jot it all down on stone or secure an Etch-a-Sketch and get to work knob-spinning. From there it was just a simple matter of turning on the precocious waterworks and next thing you know; Sayonara Springfield! Hola Oahu! (or North Conway to be specific, which as the natives will attest, is commonly referred to as the Emerald of the North Atlantic.)
So, my Uncle Ron and Aunt Sharon dubbed me Vacation Man. Some people have a trick knee that tells them when bad weather is coming. Somehow, I could detect when family members were headed for warmer climates or simply a little R&R and somehow sweet talk them into taking me with them.
At a very young age,I really took to my Uncle Ron – my Mom’s younger brother. For starters, he was like an Adonis – athletic, tall as an oak – with a great big booming voice colored with such a warm and witty disposition. He’s what all little boys hope too grow up to be. At every stage of this boy’s life, I aimed to follow his lead. A true role model – that’s the impression strong, caring men leave on those little guys who look fondly upon them.
My Uncle is one of the great men!!!
Throughout the lion’s share of my childhood, my Uncle Ron was always there for me. He is, without a doubt, one of the nicest and most generous people I have ever had the good fortune of knowing and from an early age, I took a real shine to him. He was the first person to introduce me to the Boston Museum of Science, where their colossal (and historically inaccurate T-Rex) fueled a life long obsession with those grand thunder lizards. He took me on hikes up Mt. Chocorua and slotted me on his own family’s travel itinerary to become the unofficial fifth Clarke on their various vacation road trips. He also had a huge hand in fostering my love of film – as he brought me to enough genre flicks (think Dragonslayer, Clash of the Titans, King Kong Lives) to program the Sci-Fi channel for weeks.
He and my Aunt Sharon had a huge hand in creating Vacation Man who begat Movie Man who morphed into the Family Man you see today. Their loving familial structure helped inform a lot of the values I hold dear today and I will always be thankful for the great memories they granted me.
I have so many other family members that mean to much to me. By now, you’ve all either fled for the Exits or have collapsed on your laptops out of sheer exhaustion. For that reason, I’m bringing this piece to a close. But in parting, I offer this:
They all make me wish the Impossible Dream.
For me, that dream is of a life where every single person I’ve ever made a connection with – be they friend or family – never had to mosey on. I wish my life was so wide open – my responsibilities so few – time so malleable – that I had room enough to keep in touch with every single person that I’ve ever whiled away an afternoon engaged in the simple pleasures of good conversation.
I wish I never had to say Goodbye. Not even for an instant.