Promise and Pain: The Year of the Unforgettable

Image - Wikipedia Image – Wikipedia

When John F. Kennedy made his now iconic address to the nation concerning the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, two young boys sat side by side, taking it all in. It was dramatic prime time viewing, in which nervous Americans were informed of missile sites primed to attack our shores just 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

My cousin (Little) Anthony along with my uncle (Big) Anthony watched transfixed as the President told them of “a clear and present danger”, and then spoke of initiated steps for the defense of our security from the Russian and Cuban threat.

My uncle’s response to the telecast?

“Well, there goes Christmas!”

My uncle was just a boy, knowing nothing of political strife, or wars between countries, or the madness of men seeking to rule the world.

He cared about his family, and about how this new situation with the President would ruin the holidays.

Their paths would converge again, in 1963, as darkness would fall and the world, and its history, would change in a profound way.

Nothing But The Pain

I was born in the middle of a ferocious snowstorm in March of that year, a new member of a family that was growing and becoming more prosperous. My parents hadn’t been married a year yet, and here I was already making my appearance.

The first child and grandson, I was new royalty, and these were happy times. The American Dream was being formed right in our household. An occasion to celebrate.

It was a time of celebration that was short lived. My uncle passed away only months after I was born, leaving a gaping hole in our family, and my grandparents wracked with grief and despair.

They had nothing now but the pain, and their adopted country soon followed suit. The year got no easier with America’s deepening involvement in Vietnam, escalation of racial tension in the south, and the final blow – the assassination of the President.

In the working class neighborhood where my family lived, the same shock was felt everywhere when hearing of the nature of Kennedy’s death. They had heard it on radio, read it in a special afternoon edition of the hometown newspaper.

If you were able to afford a television, you watched as Walter Cronkite gave you the timeline of events, wiping his eyes because he knew a promising young life had been cut short. The axis of history had been moved.

The Promise

Today, fifty years later, I find it hard to believe that my grandparents gave the President’s killing more than a brief thought. A life they held close, their Anthony, had already been cut short. There was no grief left to offer the Kennedys, or our country. They couldn’t have cared.

As my cousin said to me in a phone conversation, “It took them a really long time to get over it”. If they did at all.

1963 was my year, my beginning.

The year that began with much promise on a winter’s night took a turn down a wrong highway and could not turn back.

Our nation, with that promise of hopes and dreams to be fulfilled, became a bleak and bitter landscape. In Washington. In Dallas. On the edge of my town, in a house on a corner lot where my grandparents lived, there was sadness.

Fifty years later, there is remembrance. Our country was changed, our lives were altered. The promise was taken away, and we can never know what might have been.

We can only remember.

Winning at the Lottery of Life

diceWhether fair or not, there’s a lingering stereotype that Italian Americans can be fond of the activity of gambling. While I will admit to playing an occasional football game, poker match, or horse race in the past, wagering my money is not something I do anymore.

However, when the Powerball or state lottery here in New York rise to obscene dollar amounts in prize money, most of my office mates (and myself) pool our money and go buy some tickets for the win.

When I was younger, I used to take my Grandfather to the local mom and pop grocery where he could play his lottery games. He liked to win (and he did hit big a couple of times), but he mostly liked to play for fun.

We play for fun as well, but I find it interesting how people can become overwhelmed with an urge to play all the time, for the remote chance at millions. Because that one big score will change your life and make all of your problems disappear.

If we could only win.

That one prize takes all of the issues of life, the ones that consistently beat you down, and makes them go away. Forever.

I’ve heard it from people who don’t have two nickels to rub together. And from people with asset portfolios in the seven figure range. Interesting, right?

For most, the lottery is nothing but a pipe dream. We can play, but we won’t win. We can fantasize about the new house, fancy car, and exotic trip, but chances are we’ll be going to work the next day.

Should that depress you?

The answer to that question should be “no”. Because in the lottery of life,  you have already won.

You live in America. As much as our government tries to make a mockery of our systems, it’s still the best country you can call “home”.

We are in a time of unprecedented technology. Our every need and desire can be met. You, and you alone, can determine the level of your prosperity. All you need is hustle.

Here’s my favorite quote, that I will take credit for and believe to be the truth:

Any day you are above ground, in good health, and able to enjoy the company of friends and family, it’s a good day.

See? You have officially won the lottery!!

I can tell you, now at 50 years old, I have hit the lottery numerous times. You’ll guess that I’ll mention my wife and kids here, and you would be right.

How and when and where I met my wife was truly a lottery score. Nothing but total blind luck. I can only thank the alignment of the planets that night for finally getting me that “right place, right time” moment.

If you go back through the archives of this site, and read about other members of my family (especially the Sicilians), you’ll know that I practically owned the lottery growing up.

And the “friend lottery” is an example of where I continually cash in. My buddy Mike and I hung out for nearly 30 years before his passing in 2012. I can’t emphasize enough what a wonderful friend he was, and how fortunate I was to know him.

Lottery winners just don’t get that lucky.

Many of us will rate ourselves and our level of importance by the things we collect. The titles we acquire. The promotions we achieve. The time spent at the companies we work for.

The trinkets and toys that fill our lives. The stuff that lottery dreams are made of.

It all would be easier if our numbers would just come in. Life is a game of chance, God’s game. We already have the best of luck if we’re here, and get the chance to play.

You already know the truth. A lottery cash prize would be the icing on an already extraordinary cake.

Just play for fun. Because you’ve already won.

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How “Old School” Still Brings Value To The Table

Midnight Special host Robert Smith AKA Wolfman Jack. Courtesy of Wikipedia
Midnight Special host Robert Smith AKA Wolfman Jack. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Old School.

It makes people groan a little bit and roll their eyes. And mutter to themselves, “Oh God. Really??”.

Want to insult someone? Whisper behind their back, “He’s so Old School”.

I’m curious as to how this bad rap came about. Really, is it that bad to embrace the past, keep tradition alive, and keep the fires of old school lessons burning?

You wouldn’t want to be trapped in the 70’s, I understand that. Modern advancement and technology is a wonderful thing, a blessing.

I’ll give an example. When I was a kid, I had pen pals. If you’ve never heard that phrase before, don’t worry, it’s just because you’re young. But, pen pals were guys and (hopefully) girls that you wrote letters to, with similar interests, usually in other parts of the country or world.

Write. With a pen. On paper. Then you had to stuff the letter into an envelope. And put a stamp on it.

And here’s the best part. The last phase of this project was to take the letter and walk it out to a mailbox for delivery. At times the mailbox was close, other times not so much. Then, the recipient would probably receive that letter in several days.

The Beauty of Modern Life

Here’s where the modern (mostly) trumps the Old School. Now when I write a letter, I can compose it on my laptop, and skip all the other steps. To send that letter, the Post Office need not get involved. I can do it by pushing a button, and it’ll be received in two seconds. Two seconds!!

Email…is amazing.

And I also know that the letter has been opened and read! With a pen pal, how could you possibly know? Hypothetically, that letter could have gone straight from the mailbox to the fire pit.

Modern technology, if its not abused, makes you more productive and efficient. I’m all for it.

Old School Value

An example of the value of old school thinking can also be drawn from my youth. On weekend nights, I would typically stay over and my grandparents‘ house, and you could find me up late watching one of my favorite TV shows, a musical variety program called The Midnight Special.

Midnight Special featured all of the big music acts from the 70s, and I would lay on the living room floor, in my feetie pajamas, mesmerized by the large console TV with live concert footage from my favorite bands.

Only one issue. It was on late. Remember, it was the Midnight Special.

Many times, my Grandmother would try to get me off to bed before the show was over. I’d ask her why.

“It’s late and you need your sleep”.

There was no arguing that position. My Grandmother was old-school smart.

There was no need for her to quote from a study, but the eggheads at the National Sleep Foundation find that if you are sleep deprived for any length of time, you won’t stay healthy and/or bad things can happen.

Here’s my point. Common sense and old school thinking eventually merge on the super highway of living a quality life. And when you combine them with smart modern efficiencies, well, now you can really blow it up.

Whether it’s work ethic, exercise, eating vegetables, holding traditions, raising kids, money issues, or just learning how to take a breath and age gracefully: the raw simplicity of the old school just works.

The Super Combo of Old and New

Like I implied, working old school common sense and ethics with modern advances is a win-win. Don’t just make anything overly comfy or convenient. Students of the old school, no matter their age, tend to shun practices that will turn them into cream puffs.

Examples:

Old School – Still listening to the beautiful and funky sounds from the 70s and 80s. There’s nothing better.

New Age – My, that’s a large and impressive (read: space destroying) album collection you have. You do know you can listen to Kool & The Gang on an iPod, right?

The new school is more efficient here. This example is solid and remarkable. What has happened with music seems to be a necessary part of life. But I think that’s the exception rather than the rule. Read on:

Old School – This smart phone does everything. Damn, how did I live without it? Oh, I do need to put it down occasionally so I can actually enjoy my real life.

New Age – Hopeless. Never, ever puts the phone down. Especially when around friends and family. In the future, won’t see that water fountain straight ahead, or that school bus bearing down on him. Tragic.

Old School – Will use the occasional app to track calories, finances, et al. Wants to ensure things are staying on the right track. Uses tasks to free up time to enjoy with actual humans.

New Age – Apps equal advertising. Look at what I did! I upgraded my iPhone for the 6th time! I saved on my car payment, it’s only $550 a month!!

Old School – Uses social media sparingly. May still think of blue jays when they hear the word “tweet”. Removes people from Facebook that always complain or are excessive braggarts. Uses blogs and websites to advance their agenda. 🙂

New Age – Again, hopeless. Addicted to hashtags. Wants to know via update when you go to the bathroom. Becomes morose and sullen if there are less than 100 “likes” for their latest update. Checks their phone to see what their friends are doing…when they are at a party with the very same friends.

You get this gist. When you temper our coolest and latest with a little old school mentality, the result can be spectacular. Better life, less stress, more health, and you seem a little more informed where you may not have been before. That’s the perception, anyway.

If you prowl the hallways of the Old School, you know better.

That’s my take. What do you think? Is that combination of old and new thinking a necessity these days? Or should I take my head out of 1973? Comments in that little box sure would be nice (ain’t technology great?) !

How To Harness The Power Of Summer: Falling Off The Grid

Many of you that commented on the last post may have noticed it took a painfully long time for me to respond to those comments. It wasn’t because of a sudden surge of laziness or arrogance – I appreciate every comment I receive, whether I respond or not, and think they equal internet gold.

The reason is I simply fell off the grid – and I have nothing to blame but this beautiful season they call summer and the equally important summer vacation. There was no checking of blog stats, no Facebook or email notifications. For the better part of two full weeks.

The obvious thing to do is when traveling, leave the technology at home. The kids did have their iPods with them to entertain during rainy periods – and there were a few of those. But my wife and I left the laptop at the house – and if you read the last post, you probably figured out we don’t own an iPad or a smartphone. This sets us up to enjoy important vacation activities.

Beach2013Our most anticipated summer activity is the trip to Cape Cod, to enjoy the Atlantic Ocean and its breathtaking views. We usually splurge on this trip, renting a loft room at a hotel facing the ocean, just a few steps from a beautiful beach. We are all about being beach bums here, so we spend a lot of time sitting on/ walking down the shoreline and jetties. We also do our fair share of dinners out, drives for ice cream, and a round or two of mini-golf. Total relaxation.

Whenever we cross the Bourne Bridge to head to the highway and leave the Cape, it is always with a heavy heart. It’s our favorite getaway destination, bar none. This year, we stopped at  home to refresh our suitcase, and we were gone again. Many of our summer weekends are spent boating and swimming in Lake George, and we are fortunate that my wife’s parents have a house nearby that makes for a very short trip to the lake. Total relaxation mode is still in high gear here, as the boat is anchored in the warm bays of the lake for the kids to swim, kayak, and snorkel.

Done on the lake, we’ll head back to the house we call “camp” and spread out on the spacious front porch for cocktail hour. Accompanied by fine hors d’oeuvres, drinks will be had and dinner preparations made. From the comfort of Adirondack chairs, I may spy my daughter on her iPod, and feel a slight twinge of internet deprivation.

“I could be missing important information!”, I’ll think to myself. Thankfully, the feeling lasts only a few seconds and I’m back to sipping vodka.

Another favorite summer pastime is attending rock concerts in Saratoga Springs. Thanks to a good friend, we were able to see Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers from 5th row seats to initially start the vacation. Of course, high technology was prevalent at the show, with the majority of people in front of us using their phones to take photos of the band…and themselves. My “dumb phone”, which takes 1890’s quality photos, stayed right in my pocket. Had no choice but to simply enjoy the music and watch a band whose talents have been honed razor sharp over the last 35 plus years.

Actually watching the band play their entire set without taking a single photograph with your phone is a very old-school way to enjoy a concert. Very few people do it that way.

Yup, we were this close. Thanks to my friend Jeff for the primo seats!
Yup, we were this close. Thanks to my friend Jeff for the primo seats!

I know it sounds like the above was enough to fill vacation time, but I enjoyed yet more low tech, high touch activities. I played golf with my Dad and his friends in a country club setting, read a couple of chapters in a book (yup, I turned pages on an actual book), and cast a fishing line into a river a few times as well.

A summer vacation like this one reminds me of the summers of past, free from school. Outdoor activities were the norm and the only “high technology” that was enjoyed was falling asleep to the television, being too exhausted to watch. Or spinning albums on my stereo turntable long into a warm, breezy night.

It also brings back memories of my grandparents. Television was their technology of choice. Or perhaps an old transistor radio, its sound echoing to the back yard patio, among the fruit trees and grape vines.

Twitter, Facebook, and email fade into the distance. The summer sunset, my family on our deck, and the rising of the moon are all important in the seasons of here and now, and those that we may be privileged enough to have in the future.

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How To Stave Off Old Age

Two favorite video subjects: Nonna and my infant daughter, 1995. Forever young.
Two favorite video subjects: Nonna and my infant daughter, 1995. Forever young.

First days of school. Halloween, complete with princess costume.

Christmas and Easter, northbound trips to camp, birthday parties for young and old alike.

Magical footage of my kids on the Cape Cod beaches that we still haunt. The ritual of making homemade macaroni with my Grandmother and Godmother, with my very young children “turning the crank”.

One project I’m undertaking (on a list of many) is to review old video tapes that need to be converted to DVD before the tapes disintegrate. I was able to watch all of the above and more.

The old is new again. Overcome with everyday events which, as we were running the camera so many years ago, seemed ordinary. But not so. They were sure and concrete steps that turned out to be the details of a big life – a time on Earth that can’t be replicated or replaced.

In a previous post, I turned 50 and wasn’t sad about it – I was in pretty good health. Then the knee, the left one to be exact, turned to a pile of shit. Had me using the elevator for the first time in a while. The original diagnosis at the doctor’s office was osteoarthritis. An x-ray revealed an injury, what is referred to as “soft tissue damage”. Just a little something that needed to heal.

Bullet dodged. There you go.

Although I’m glad not to be in the throes of arthritis, there should be no kidding myself. The sands of time are marching on. To keep the concept of advancing age at bay, the most important thing to do is think young. The videos helped. Access to a video camera and using it with any regularity provided me with the quickest trip to the fountain of youth.

You can see amazing things. Like:

  • Seeing a friend who was gone away, directly in front of you, smiling back at your camera
  • Watching your mentors apply the tasks that had built their lives – and influenced yours
  • Watch your son bounce uneasy through a tiny wave on the Cape Cod shoreline, basking in the glory of a June sun
  • To see your daughter in that princess costume, stalking your old neighborhood, taking candy from the people you grew up around yourself

Easy Ways To Stay Young

With a title like the one this post has, you probably came here with the idea of finding useful and pertinent information, and not just listen to me wax poetic about the recent past. Fair enough. Though I think most people aren’t much for following advice, I’ll put in my two cents.

Feeling young for me includes having a catch in the yard, running/walking with/chasing my dog, or beating a heavy bag while listening to Aerosmith and Van Halen at ear splitting decibel levels. The most important way to capture that elusive essence of youth is movement, or exercise. If you’ve got that one covered, fantastic. The following tips may be helpful as well:

1. Fast Food? Really? – Neither inexpensive nor convenient, fast food is still a go to for millions of Americans daily. And I still don’t get it. The advertising is sultry, but the food never looks that good when you finally get it. Yeah, I may take my son into the drive-thru occasionally for a treat. But the kid has probably just played a game, a practice, or has run sprints for twenty minutes.

I’m guessing your average American isn’t involved in that kind of activity before going to McDonald’s.

Skimping on food and buying to reduce expense in this way is idiotic. I once knew a guy who would go to Subway and Burger King because it was cheap, but he had multiple cars and boats (and insurance policies) sitting in his driveway. Now there’s a way to prioritize your spending.

Stay young by avoiding fast food.

2. If It’s Not Life And Death, Forget It! – You know the drill: stress is the silent killer. Work place stress equals financial stress, leads to marital stress, yada yada yada. Everybody has stress. I’ve had plenty of the workplace variety myself, in the past. I decided that working for that particular company wasn’t worth the stress. Inevitably, we parted ways.

I know people that stress out because their IPhone isn’t working right, or their Starbucks isn’t hot enough. Or they found out they didn’t qualify for the financing on a $400K house. Poor babies.

Although it’s not perfect, one rule I try to remember whenever I’m feeling any type of stress is this – if it’s not a matter of life and death, it’s just not that important. Unless you’re dealing with death or severe illness, your perception is worse than the actual likely outcome.

To stay young, chill out.

3. Take It Easy On The Carbs – This is one that’s hard for me. Imagine an Italian American that has completely given up pasta or Italian bread. No such thing, right? Correct. I’m starting to think there’s a bit of good sense tied to a diet of protein, vegetables, fruit, and good fats, hence I’m working to reduce the amount of refined carbs that I eat. Although I could never see myself not eating pasta at all, there is a fantastic product called Dreamfields that I love. It’s what they call low glycemic index, and quickly becoming the only brand of pasta I’ll use.

Watch the stuff that makes you fat: white bread, potatoes, rice, and yes, macaroni. In moderation only.

4. Catch Your Zzzzzzzzs – My wife has this one right, for sure. She tends to be in bed most nights before 10PM, and she always tries to get me to come up with her. 😉 But, I have always been a night owl, and as much as I want to change that, there are still going to be nights when I’ve got things to do. I’ll stay up late. If I’m writing a post like this, rest assured I’ll be at the laptop past 10, or even 11PM.

I’ll keep trying to make it an earlier night. When your body’s used to being up late, it’s a difficult transition.

5. You Are The Sum of The 5 People… – There’s an oldie but goody. Want to stay young, energetic, and stress free? Get rid of the jerks in your life. Plain and simple, just like most old-school mantras. Whether they are family or “friends”, people that are negative, unsupportive, nasty, and without criticism of the constructive variety have got to go. If you are not willing to jettison these malcontents, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself.

With the possible exception of number 3, I’m sure my little old Sicilian mentors would have agreed with all of these. That alone makes the above fantastic advice to stave off your aging process.

Start a conversation in the comments section. How do you keep the attitude of that young person you are or used to be?