Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I Am Soooooo Happy

For anyone who's a baseball fan, you know how this picture makes me feel. For those of you who understand what happened to the Mets last year, then you really understand why this photo soothes our collective souls, like a warm salve, healing the wounds inflicted last September. Now, all he has to do is pitch well and we're half-way home.

Honestly. I look at this and still can't believe he's wearing a Mets' jersey. Okay, okay. I know $150,000,000 had something to do with it happening. Still, I'd like to think that was only a part of the equation.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

'It's A Family Affair"

It's not a show I would normally choose to attend. Seriously, I'm not a huge country fan and I'm even less a fan of "American Idol." Having said that, I like Reba McIntyre from what I've seen of her and today's country music isn't the country music of Conway Twitty and George Jones. Also, even though I don't like "American Idol," I did see parts of that first season and one would have to be an idiot to not notice what incredible voice Kelly Clarkson has.

So - I went to see the Reba and Kelly perform this past Saturday night at KC's Sprint Center. And it was great.

It's A Family Affair - In a nutshell ... a childhood friend called a few weeks back and told me that Reba McIntyre was coming to KC and that another childhood friend, Jim, has been touring with her for years so ... Jim's sister, Susan, another childhood friend, was thinking of making the trip from MA to MO to surprise him. Great idea. I mean, why not? It would be fun and I could use the company of some old friends out here. So, the caper was set into motion with Susan making her travel plans and my brother, (who is a good friend of Jim's and has performed and written music with him), helping to set up the rouse. We were ready to roll. Jim thought Stuart was going to be visiting me in KC and that we'd be heading over to the show. He set aside some tickets for Saturday night and that was that.

Great plan.

Well, it was a great plan until I caught some kind of death respiratory virus a few days before the show. Still, I'm not going to go into any of that here. The fact is I'm now writing about this after the event and I'm happy to say (1) I made it to the show; (2) the surprise worked; (3) I had a terrific visit with Susie after not seeing her too many years; and (4) the two of us had a great lunch with Jim before the show. And I did all of that while sucking on crushed ice for the better part of two straight days. Who knows? Perhaps it was stupid for me to be out and about feeling the way I was feeling but the truth is, I had told Susie this was going to happen and I wanted to keep my word, no matter what.

The Smile - "Look what a great time he's having up there." Susie must have said that five times during the show as she snapped of photo after photo. And each time I glanced over and watched her, watching her older brother up on the Sprint Center's stage in front of 14,000 fans, playing guitar with Reba and Kelly - I couldn't help but be inspired by the whole scene. Susie must have taken 40 pictures or so; every time Jim's face popped up on the huge video screen, she was right on it. And as I've already written to Jim since the show - I don't have that many people in my life who are really enjoying what they do for a living. It's just so rare. So to see him that way ... that night? It just felt plain old good, chest cold or no. And I don't know if it was a coincidence, (maybe it was the ice cold Cokes and soft pretzels) but I could have sworn that on the way home that night, I felt better physically. And to think I was just going to drop Susie off and return after the show to pick her up. I'm just glad I chose to take the shot. What a frickin' treat. Once again, I figure it goes somewhat like this: when life presents chances to have these kinds of special moments, it's pretty much up to us to notice these opportunities for what they are. And then it's up to us to make a choice as to whether we grab hold of them - or not.

I'm glad I chose right the other night.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Scrambled Eggs

I talked and talked. Stopped to wipe a tear that started running down my right cheek. And then I talked a bit more. It wasn't so much that I was thinking it through, I wasn't. I allowed my mouth to move, giving voice to something that was occurring right at that moment, flowing directly from what seemed to be my stomach area. My brain seemed to have very little to do with anything as I stared at the top of my kitchen table, picking at the chipped metal edge as I talked away into my cell phone.

My brother had placed his phone next to Emma's ear as she laid in her bed at Heritage Hall up in Agawam, Massachusetts. A strange series of events had brought Emma to this point. What point that was or is, we're not even all that sure. But one thing I am sure about. Last week, I experienced a couple of minutes that broke new ground for me.

Emma Foote is ... - I've never really known what label to put on her. My nanny? That's too shallow a term, although she did serve in that role for me and my brother and sister when we were first born. A housekeeper? Sure, Emma played that role, too. But to refer to Emma as a mere housekeeper is to insult her and I just won't have that. A grandmother? Now, that's one I've always loved. I like referring to Emma that way because in every way possible, Emma has been and still is a grandmother to me, as she is to my siblings. Convention dictates some hesitation to label Emma as a true grandmother simply because she is not, in fact, my mom or dad's parent. And one look at her, it doesn't take much to notice that she's a black woman so - of course, the next phase of someone's analysis would be for them to look at me and ... well ... at least want to ask a question or two about how someone like Emma could possibly be my grandmother. I mean, how could such a thing be, right? But, I have to tell you, that's precisely what she is to me. And add to that - friend, mentor, teacher, coach ... and quite possibly the best fried chicken maker in the history of the world - and that's what Emma Foote has meant to me and my family. That's what Emma Foote has meant to just about anybody who's ever met her.

And there I was one week ago. Sitting in the same chair I'm sitting in now as I write this, talking to her as she laid in her bed up in Massachusetts, seemingly out of it, unable to respond with more than a few grunts here and there.

"I don't know," Stuart said as he sniffled. I could tell he was holding back tears.

"What are you saying?"

"I'm not sure," he added. "I think ..." He paused. "I think this may be it."

The Head Rush - When Stu said that - you know something? It's not as though I can explain what happened next. I had spoken with Emma just moments before, telling her about my planned visit to Springfield for her March 2 birthday - her 99th! I asked her what kind of cake we were going to get this time? And Stuart told me later that her eyes seemed to light up when I asked her such things. Just three minutes before, I was pretty much figuring everything was going to be okay. Even though she couldn't talk, Stuart told me Emma was definitely able to understand my words. Sure, she was recuperating from a surgery to get more circulation into a bum right leg and she was out of it, yes. But dying? Come on.

"Stu. I need to get back on the phone. Do me a favor and put the phone near her ear again," I added.

A Second Chance - And as I spoke this second time, it was like I was a different person. I had crossed over. This time, it wasn't words about preparations for an upcoming birthday. This time what drove me was the idea, the unfamiliar idea that this might very well be the last time I would be able to speak with Emma while her soul was of this Earth. As I talked, I just could not compute that thought. That sad thought. My mouth kept moving as I told her how much I loved her, what she's meant to me and our entire family all these years. I told her that if she felt it was time to go, then just know how much I loved her and that I would always be connected to her - every single day of my life until it's time for me to go.

She's always been there for us in the ways that mean the most - no matter where she or we lived physically, geographically. First in our home for many years as a part of our family. Then in her own apartment, when she would then visit our home for prolonged stays, always welcomed back to her old room. And then in her next home where she lived for many years as most of us moved to different parts of the country. Phone calls kept us in touch and we always worked out ways to get back to Western Mass. to see our Emma.

For me, one experience that always comes to mind is sitting in the chair next to her as she sat in her rocker chair and footstool, the TV on in the distance, her stories (soaps) on as we watched together. 99.9% of the time, I fell asleep in that position. I mean a good, calm, deep nap. Spending time with her all those years, talking with her, confiding in her when I went through my divorce, etc..., Emma has been like a human sedative for me. So it's always been natural to feel that heart rate decrease and doze off while watching "One Life To Live" with her.

And the phone calls that obviously never substituted for the real thing. Those calls always end with me telling Emma how much I love her.

"I love you, too. You know I do," is Emma's routine response. And when I tell her I'm heading up to see her, she always adds, "I'll be lookin' for ya."

The phone. We think we can pick it up anytime and the people we love, the people we've been speaking with for all these years - it feels like they voice is always going to be there on the other end. Whenever we need to hear that voice. The other day, I suppose it hit me - the reality of it. The fact is these people will not always be there. It is going to end.

Okay, so for all of you who have been through this, I'm sure I sound like a child right now. I know I've been blessed simply because I haven't had to go through this before. This is my debut.

* * * * * * * * * *

Update - The good news is that Emma seems to have rebounded a bit. We think she may have been over medicated (pain pills). So when they cut down the dosage, she started to come back to us - slowly. I'm heading up to see her and, hopefully, we'll be able to share a little of that big 99th Gus & Paul's birthday cake.

But, for now, I'm going to make dinner and think about her recovery. I'm going to have an omelette. And when I beat the eggs, who do you think will be on my mind?

That's right.

Add "cooking teacher" to the above referenced list.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

It's Time Of The Season ...

First of all, I understand that unless you're from New York or Boston, the events of the past week probably don't mean all that much to you. Still, while working in the library today, I couldn't help but to write just a bit about the following two things:

1. Last night's game - A few observations. To say it was one of the best Super Bowls would be an understatement ("The Catch" - when it happened, you pretty much knew how the game was going to end). And as most NFL fans know, the game usually has a habit of rarely living up to its hype. And even though last evening's 4th quarter ended up being one of the most dramatic quarters of pro football I've ever watched, there was still something strange to me about the way the game unfolded. I'll preface the following comment by saying this right up front: I'm a baseball fan - to the core. And while I enjoy all sports and still like to get out there and toss around a ball, it's still baseball for me. The fact is, as the final seconds of the Super Bowl wind down each year, a quick glance at a calender always brings a smile to my face as three words pop into my head: pitchers and catchers. More on that in a minute. Back to last night.

I don't know if it's just me but, what's the story with the "one play - three commercials" ratio? I know, I know - the game is just as much about the commercials as it is about ... well ... the game. But I enjoy the game. And as a fan, I found it hard to get into the flow when, every time a play would be run, Fox would quickly cut away to a series of ads. Then they'd come back, run another play and, whoooshhhh - off to another commercial break - and then another and another. At one point I couldn't help but wonder, "If I'm having trouble getting into the flow - and I'm just sitting there watching - how the hell do the pro athletes deal with this herky jerky rhythm? Okay, so I know this is part of Super Bowl lore but, more and more I'm finding it doesn't work for me.

In the end, I was thrilled for the Giants, I really was. I was torn during the game because, being from MA and growing up around the Patriots, I was caught up in their quest for the perfect season. I would have liked to see them get it - I like the team and Belichick a lot. But on the other hand, I love Giants - ever since the Homer Jones, Tucker Fredrickson, Fran The Scram days. And how could you not be rooting for Eli Manning. Talk about an athlete weathering the storm. I can't imagine what it would be like being a legend's younger brother (and Dad, too) and having to put up with the NY sports press the way he's had to deal with it.

So - congrats to the Jints. And to the Pats? I have a hunch they're going to be right back in there next year - and with even more to prove now.

2. Ahhhh ... Those Three Words - 10 days? It's funny, as soon as December 21 rolls around, just the mere knowledge that the days are getting longer by milliseconds seems to pick me right up and out of the winter doldrums. But now - a mere 10 days before pitchers and catchers? To me, spring is already here. I swear I can smell freshly cut grass and hear bird chirping, mitt popping and bat cracking in my dreams. But this year, just this past week, there is something else to be excited about. Something really big.

Amazin' Ace - Johan is here. I won't go into it now but, after last years Mets' meltdown, this is the tonic the Mets' faithful needed. What a lift. Sure, when I see the huge amounts of money being thrown around - an average of $22,000,000 each year? For a guy who only works 1.5 days a week? - the whole thing is obscene. I know this. Still, I love the Mets. More than that, I love the game, even with all it's steroid/HGH warts and the ridiculous money flow.

10 days and then it's time to play ball. That beautiful, drawn out 162-game schedule starts to play out and through the spring, dog-days of summer and into the autumn chill. Months and months of morning box score analyses, standings changes and, hopefully, this year - a much needed World Series championship. What a perfect cherry to top off a final year at Shea.

And, worth a mention before I sign off - March Madness isn't exactly what I'd call chopped liver. The combo of college hoops and baseball ... it's the time of the season, for loving.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Just Like That!

It's February 1st. I can't believe it.

One year ago to the day I was stuffing as much as I could into two bags and setting them down in Howard's hallway as Max (Howard's cat) watched me from the top of the stairs. I checked my freshly compiled iTune's CD's before stuffing them into the last available section of my bursting bag while figuring out which CD I was going to use first. After all, within 24 hours I was going to be driving from Wichita, Kansas to Dallas, Texas - hitting the open road. Was I excited? Are you kidding?

One year.

Just like that.

February 1, 2007 - "Off We Go ..." - I remember looking out the plane window, watching Shea Stadium and the new Citi Field construction shrink and fade into the thickening clouds. I was on my way to the middle of the country; my days of merely flying over the flyover states were about to end. As I sat back and closed my eyes, I remember taking a deep, happy breath. I was letting go of something big, even though I couldn't pinpoint what that something was. Truthfully, it didn't matter. I just felt downright good. After thinking about driving cross country for, I don't know, 30 years? I was finally doing it. Chalk one up for Eldercation. A decade's worth of stored up stories about taking leaps, not regretting things, and the like - it was time to take some of that wisdom out for a test run in my Enterprise car rental.

And, as I pecked away on my laptop and started to write what would end up becoming my road-journal, certainly the last thing I figured was that I'd end up living in Kansas City, Missouri. So it just goes to show you - it simply doesn't make any sense to ... well ... figure on anything. For the most part, life unfolds on its own. I smile when I think back to that first day of the trip and how, after landing, I found myself staring at the shiny black baggage belt as it kept running by me from right to left, bag after bag. That belt kept running and running until there were no more bags. I had made it to Wichita; my bags hadn't. As Frank Rizzo like to say, "Ehhh, I see we're off to a bad start, Paul."

The thing I remember most about that particular moment? I smiled. I'm not kidding. I actually smiled. Well, okay - so I freaked out for about 10 seconds and then I smiled. But pretty soon, after filling out the lost baggage forms and meeting the young man who was to later become my luggage hero, I walked over to an airport bar and ordered a cold beer. I was celebrating that fact that my bags were somewhere else in America besides NYC and I was sipping a beer in the Wichita, Kansas airport. Breaking free of the New York's sometimes mesmerizing hold, I had finally moved forward, starting the process of fulfilling a dream. And, boy, it felt great.

February 1, 2008 - "Brick By Brick" - I've been using that phrase a lot lately. The Eldercation project is (and I know I'm obviously biased), quite a remarkable experience collection, I have to say. My focus now is to convert these interviews into a format where I can share just a small sampling of what I've been seeing and hearing as I've traveled around meeting some of the best people you'd ever want to meet. A lot of work was in the can before I left last year; hundreds of interviews were already in place. But, this trip, this adventure - it's allowed me to spread my wings. Something started to click with me and it seemed to happen almost as soon as the plane's wheels left the LaGuardia runway. Dallas to Austin to Liberty Hill to Fort Worth to San Antonio to Oklahoma City to Kingfisher to Stillwater to Tulsa to Hot Springs to Benton to Little Rock to Eureka Springs to Branson to Springfield to Columbia - back to Wichita to Lawrence to Kansas City ...

And it wasn't supposed to stop in Kansas City. The fact is, I had already made plans for the next leg - up to Nebraska and then over to Iowa. And the interesting thing is, whenever I fantasized about making this trip, for some reason it was always Nebraska that popped into my head. Which is a pretty strange thing considering I had, as you already know, never been there before. Go figure. Maybe it was memories of being at the 1969 Orange Bowl, watching the Cornhuskers beat LSU that year. From that day forward, I always felt kind of attached to Nebraska football. Which wasn't such a difficult thing to do, seeing as they seemed to be in the hunt for the national title every year up until very recently.

But, Nebraska and Iowa would have to wait. Like everything else on this trip, instinct took hold and something pushed me to stop the trip in its tracks. It was time to write, compile - write and compile some more - and then write and compile some more. The fact is all I've been doing for the past six months (besides working part/time) is writing and compiling. Tedious at times? Yes, I can't lie. There are no shortcuts. For every interview conducted, it means listening and combing through that interview several more times, culling out the one or two things that I want to pass along to readers.

Which reminds me.

It's time to write and compile.

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