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?

To Boston, With Love

BostonI don’t know how many times I put my arm up, but it was approaching a countless number. The air was starting to chill, and I wanted to get myself and my girls back to our hotel. My arm went up again, another attempt to hail a cab that had no intention of pulling over. There wasn’t an empty one in sight.

We were still sweating, from the sing and dance-a-thon that was a two hour Coldplay concert at the Boston Garden: a great show featuring staunch musicianship, pyrotechnics, and stunning visual technology. I was with my wife, daughter, and our cousin from Ohio. We were wiped out and needed the comfort of our hotel room.


The concert was a cap to an outstanding day in a visit to my favorite American tourist destination – the city of Boston – and I say that as a diehard New York sports fan (rivalry, anyone?). After walking along the harbor, darting in and out of shops in the electric Quincy Market, my wife and I stopped in a Cantina there to have a drink and chat with the locals. And make no mistake: even when I wear my Yankee hat, the people of Boston are some of the friendliest around.

While my daughter and the cousin roamed the landscape, we enjoyed our time at the bar, and had great conversations with those who were just happy to be in this beautiful place – and we were happy to be with them. We segued from Quincy quickly to a North End restaurant, where we enjoyed a tasty slice of Italian America before heading to the Garden to see my daughter’s favorite band.

After the show, we did finally get back to the hotel. A taxi did stop. Persistence pays off.

It all would have been very impressive if that was the first, or one and only, trip to Boston. But, of course. it wasn’t. My first nerve wracking ride on a jet airliner to take an initial romantic weekend getaway with my wife (then girlfriend), more than 20 years ago, was to Boston.

For the purpose of love and romance, we couldn’t have picked a better town.

Trips to Fenway Park, as a Yankee fan, brought me back here many times. Bus rides taken with good friends, enjoying baseball in possibly the most intimate stadium in America. Most of the games the Yankees won. I’ve heard horror stories from others about the dangers of rooting for New York at Fenway, but have never experienced anything but good will and good natured ribbing from the Fenway faithful. I hope to get back there soon.

This past year, we have witnessed events that bring us to question human integrity and sanity. All of us wonder aloud why a bombing would happen at a marathon, how men can be so sick and indifferent to the lives of others. How they can target locations where children run and play.

I’ve been to Boston. Many times. I love it there, and can’t wait to go back. The city will rebound and come back better than ever because of the qualities of the people that live there. I have made memories with family and friends in the place they call “Beantown” that would be hard to forget. I’m thankful for endless hospitality and wish them god speed in repairing their lives and building on the strengths that showed in those harrowing moments that we have become much too familiar with.

We love you, Boston.

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Mike & Johnny

I was a bartender in my family’s restaurant for nearly 20 years.

It was probably the best job I’ll ever have. I served thousands of drinks to some of the most unique personalities I’ve ever known. I served lawyers who couldn’t stay sober, served guys who thought they were losers but they weren’t. Some were the best that humanity had to offer.

Lately, I think about sitting at the bar with my friend Mikey. Sitting with our drinks at the end of the night, as I was getting ready to close up. Closing time. Talking to each other through the murky haze of cigarette smoke.

CarsonAnd watching Johnny Carson. The Tonight Show. Remember Johnny? One of the funniest bastards to ever walk the Earth. With his sidekick, Ed McMahon. Hilarious.

I’d lock the front door, and sit back down. Have a drink. Smoke our own cigarettes. Maybe listen to a little Sinatra after Johnny signed off. And talk.

Mikey’s gone now. The memories remain. Thinking about the future is one of my favorite things to do. At times, it seems limitless. In my mind, I’m blessed with the best of everything. Even at my advanced age, my health is still pointed in the right direction.

Yes, there is a future. I have plans. Hopefully, God does not laugh. Even with the future ahead, it’s still fun to roll it all back. Play the movies in my head. The memories retreat occasionally, then come roaring back.

We’re at the bar, sipping a drink. The music of our lives playing in the background. Johnny sits at his Tonight Show desk, laughing. Closing time. Everything has to come to a close.

Image of Johnny Carson courtesy of Wikipedia.

A Boy Named Anthony

My Dad and his younger brother Anthony. Early ’50s

I have a recurring dream that tends to wake me up out of a sound sleep. In the dream, I’m riding a bike on 14th Street, the street where I grew up. I’m about 10 or 11 years old, and flying down the road, going like a bat out of hell.

There’s another kid on a bike in front of me, even faster. I can never catch him. He’s about the same age, pedaling furiously, like he’s trying to get away from me. The more specific details of my dream are the color of the sky – a deep, indigo blue, the kind you’d get just before a summer sunset – and the length of the ride.

You see, 14th Street is a side street just a few blocks long. In the dream, our two boy bike race goes on forever. The ride never stops.

Even though I can’t be sure, I’m convinced the boy on that bike is my Uncle Anthony.

I can’t be sure because I never knew him. He passed away when I was a baby, almost 50 years ago. He was only 13. Although I didn’t know him, I felt like I did from listening to all of the stories about him, mostly told to me by my grandmother. From her perspective, he was a loving and kind person, a real “Mama’s Boy.” But for purposes here, a slightly different perspective is required… anthony

(Note: The following recollections are not my words, but from the excellent memory of my cousin – also named Anthony.)

What Was – And What Could Have Been

Big Anthony was as solid as a rock, a good tough fighter. He could run like the wind, and in my opinion, could have been one hell of a halfback.

He was called Big Anthony because he was almost seven months older than me, and to make sure my mother and your grandmother knew who to blame for something when necessary. Thus, the titles Big Anthony and Little Anthony.

Little Anthony and Big Anthony, left to right
Little Anthony and Big Anthony, left to right

The best times we had were when your family lived lived downstairs and we lived upstairs on 14th Street. With all of the cooking going on on both floors, it’s no wonder I was 200 pounds by the 2nd grade.

Your uncle, on the other hand, was not a big eater. And the fact that he loved Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs really pissed off your grandmother. We would go to the ice cream parlor down the street and order two huge banana splits, at fifty cents each. I took your uncle because he could never finish his and I always ate the rest.

We were constantly together when Anthony lived downstairs. We would bang on the pipes to signify that something was needed, or that a meal was ready. We would spend every Christmas Eve together to wait for Santa Claus. We never slept. I can still hear Anthony telling me to shut up and go to sleep.

One year, two weeks before Christmas, we found the presents that your grandmother was hiding. To appease us and keep us quiet, she gave gifts of toy guns and holsters to tide us over until the holiday.

Your uncle had a very hard time in school. It may have been attention deficit disorder in today’s terms, but back then they didn’t know how to handle it. Your grandmother hired college students as tutors, but that didn’t seem to work. He had trouble reading, so I would read to him a lot. I wish now I could have helped him more.

My father was a big boxing fan, and he used to put the (boxing) gloves on me and Anthony, and your uncle always kicked the shit out of me. I told you – he was tough.

Football and basketball were not big sports back then, but we did love baseball. We lived and died with the Yankees. Mickey Mantle was our favorite. Anthony could play ball, too. He could hit, and as I mentioned before, run like the wind.

We would go to the newsstand around the corner to buy our baseball cards. And do I mean buy. We had hundreds. I know for a fact I had five Mickey Mantles and a Roger Maris rookie card.

Lastly, your father had a reel to reel tape recorder that we thought was the top! We used to fool around with it, making jokes. I still have a tape of your uncle singing a song about being in love with a girl named Mary Ann. I never knew who she was, but I remember the song well enough to sing it for you. It’s amazing, I can still hear him sing after 50 years.

There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of him. I still wonder what could have been.

(Thanks to Anthony Prezio for providing these great stories, and wonderful memories.)

The Ride Never Stops

I won’t forget the television images I saw this December of a father who just lost his six year old daughter to a violent end, a senseless tragedy. I couldn’t hear the audio or anything else happening around me. Just the images. The face of pain. I know my Nonna and my grandfather were once those parents, the faces of loss.

It’s hard to know how much grief they experienced. My grandfather was the strong, silent type, capable of hiding emotion. My grandmother would mention my Uncle’s name at the kitchen table, cry for a few minutes, and then fiddle with her coffee cup.

At my uncle’s wake, one of the Roman Catholic nuns that taught him in school told her that  he was an angel of God. That his time on Earth was meant to be short. That made my grandmother angry, and she would always tell that story with a defiant tone. But in her later years, she softened her stance.

Just because she believed in God and angels, and heaven and hell didn’t mean she had to buy the idea that her son was an angel before his time.

After a story like that, the two of us would always sit at the kitchen table in silence. No more words were necessary.

AnthonyIf the subjects of banana splits, Chef Boyardee, or Mickey Mantle ever make an appearance in my life, the first thing I think about and remember is my Uncle. Still here, still being thought of, not fading away with time.

In my dream, the race doesn’t end. On the bikes, still pedaling, sweating. That other kid is so far ahead there’s no reason for me to keep going, really. He takes a moment to peer over his shoulder, look back at me. All I can see are his eyes, and I recognize them from faded photographs. His lean frame on the bike fades into the distance just in time for me to wake up, and stare at the ceiling.

The race goes on and on. Bike tires kicking up dust into an indigo horizon, the summer heat soothing. The forever of 14th Street is my concrete paradise, as I chase a boy named Anthony.

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