Archive for November, 2010

On the Eve of Thanksgiving – 2010

November 21, 2010

me, Addy, Zach, Pam, and my mom. Please note the big head on my boy...

I always think I should make lists of things I’m thankful for around this time of year and when I do I realize they are lists of things that just are chance happenings, things that no one really has any control over; like my being an American (it can’t get much better than that, can it?) or being a guy (I think if I was a girl I would answer the same – but I’m a guy). Then I jump to other stuff that makes me feel lucky (a friend from high school who was always better in English than I was pointed out that what I call lucky is really being appreciative – Thanks, Betty – I appreciate that). Things like gardens in bloom, the seasons, sunsets and sunrises, really good corn, the beaches and mountains and the places in between – all that kind of stuff.

But this is Thanksgiving and that means that you give thanks to someone; someone who did something for you, otherwise the holiday title doesn’t fit. Who do I give thanks to? And for what?  Should it be Steve Jobs because without him I wouldn’t have my iPhone, iPod, iPad, iBook and iMac (I have ‘em all – Maybe Steve Jobs should be thanking me, hmmmm…)? Should it be my good friends at NPR? They don’t want my thanks, they want my check and that’s OK with me. How about friends and family? Think about it…Have you ever met me? Those are the people who really deserve my thanks – they put up with me and I just want you all to know I appreciate it.

First, to my old friends that I rarely, if ever, see in person, but keep in touch with via occasional emails or Facebook updates – You are kind enough to have forgotten so many embarrassing episodes or polite enough to not bring them up – Thank you!  To all the great people I’ve met through MINIsOnTop – Thank you for your confidence and trust, as a group you are proof that people are, for the most part, giving, supportive and will do anything if you promise them a party. To the people at the Quabbin Middle School – Same as the MINIsOnTop folks, but without the party. I did not realize what a perfect setting you were for a first year teacher. Thank you for the lessons learned (and that goes for both staff and students). To Zonkaraz, not only the band, but everyone involved – You helped me grow up and were tolerant of my growing up in your midst, thank you for that and all the things I’ve listed for other folks (especially the embarrassing episodes bit and as to the party –  we were the party). Another reason to thank Zonkaraz is without the band, I would not have met my wife.

Without her, I would not be a teacher or a pilot. I would not have my sanity and the nice home that I keep it in. I would not have traveled. I would not have kids from A to Z (just two, Addy and Zach, but my mother likes that joke. She has grandkids from A to Z twice with Amy and Zoe being the other two).

Right now I am most thankful that the mother of our children is a nurse. Zach had called us at 3AM saying his head hurt, what should he do? Pam did not miss a beat. Get a cab, go to the hospital and call me when you are in the ER. He lives and works in Washington, D.C.  We are in Massachusetts. Pam and Addy were on a plane the next day to take care of him. As Addy put it, her brother broke his head. Zach fractured his skull from the right temple to the crown causing a loss of memory, smell and taste. He has gained stabbing pain in his eyes and ears, the sensation of ants crawling under his skin. These are not good trades. The long term prospects are so uncertain according to what I can glean from all my iDevices; everything could be OK, but things could also be very different for Zach.

Quoting from the Merck Online Medical Library:

Amnesia may persist and be both retrograde and anterograde. Postconcussion syndrome, which commonly follows a moderate or severe concussion, includes headache, dizziness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, variable amnesia, depression, apathy, and anxiety. Commonly smell (and thus taste), sometimes hearing, or rarely vision is altered or lost. Symptoms usually resolve spontaneously over weeks to months.

A range of cognitive and neuropsychiatric deficits can persist after severe and even moderate Traumatic Brain Injury, particularly if structural damage was significant. Common problems include amnesia, behavioral changes (eg, agitation, impulsivity, disinhibition, lack of motivation), emotional lability, sleep disturbances, and decreased intellectual function.

Neurologic function may continue to improve for a few years after TBI, most rapidly during the initial 6 months.

For a guy who has made his living based on his extreme motivation, near photographic recall, and high intellectual function (did I mention he takes after his mother?) these outcomes could be devastating. We will just have to wait and see, but patience is a virtue that neither Zach or I have (did I mention he takes after his father?).

I’m also thankful to my daughter who went to keep her mother company and help with her brother in any way she could. She has given up time with her fiancé to do this for her family. She has a wedding to plan (I can give her thanks for that while I’m at it – She is finding the best deals and scooping them up, saving tons of money while also making the wedding just right). Addy has always been there for her friends and family, sometimes I tell her that she is too giving of herself. This time I’m glad she didn’t follow my advice and my hope is that this event becomes no more than a story to share around the tables or in the receiving line on her wedding day.

So that’s who I am giving thanks to this Thanksgiving – my friends and my family. Thing could always be worse, but with you the worst is always made better. Thank You All! (with maybe just a little going to Steve Jobs for making it easier to keep in touch)

How I Met Your Grandmother

November 13, 2010

Tell me Gramps, what’s a Zonkaraz?

Well, you little whipper snapper, because of Zonkaraz I met your Grandma.

Someday (probably too soon) I’m going to have that conversation, so I should collect my thoughts while I can. If you are from the greater Worcester area and were born in the 50s you know Zonkaraz. This was one of Worcester’s premiere bands in the 70s and one that almost made it to the big time.

I was a college dropout working for Atlantis Sound with Tuesdays off. What did a young man with Tuesdays off do? Look for a place to rock on a Monday! A band played on Monday night at Zachary’s, which had the additional attraction of being within walking distance from work. The band was Zonkaraz. My manager had been in a local band, The Prairie Oysters, and said they were pretty good. I went.

I didn’t like them. Not loud enough, not Humble Pie enough and the only song I knew that they played was “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” My mother likes “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  That’s not rock and roll, but there were girls there and that made up for everything else. So I became a regular on Monday nights.

It was a well-behaved crowd, but one night I saw this guy leave right before last call who got met just outside the club by a bunch of bikers. As soon as he was outside these guys cold-cocked him and he went straight down to the asphalt sidewalk face first. Stupid got the better of me and not knowing any of the players in this drama, just knowing that four on one wasn’t fair, I decided to help a brother out. Peace and love.

Bikers on both sides showed up while I was on my way to save the day. On the ground and out cold the victim was getting kicked when I made out the door. Fights were all around him so my plan was to just pull him to the side so he wouldn’t get stepped on. Somehow I rolled him over, stood him up and, with my arms wrapped around him, slow danced him away from the melee. Now propped up against the side of the building I take a look around when I hear a voice ask if he’s a friend. I turn to the voice and I’m met with a fist – Christ! What the…  The guy who hits me gets nailed by some other guy and I’m still holding up the guy I went out to rescue. He comes to finally and there is that awkward moment when he realizes he is being embraced by some skinny long-hair. He wanders off. I walk to Lincoln Square to hitch-hike home to my parent’s house.

A couple weeks later I would be fired from Atlantis Sound and looking for work. I asked Paul Vuona if they needed help. I could roadie and do lights. I did a lot of college theater and had set up stuff for friends bands both in college and in high school. I was highly qualified. To my surprise Paul said yes because they just lost the guy who was doing the lights. Turned out Paul also knew my sister, though I prefer to think I got the job on my own.

For the next five years I had the honor of being part of the phenomenon that was Zonkaraz. The band played throughout New England, in clubs, at colleges, outdoor festivals, civic centers and even an occasional wedding doing nothing but originals (and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”). I grew to love the music. It really did rock if you just let yourself feel it. I got to meet Robert Palmer, Arlo Guthrie, Tom Rush, Harry Chapin, Pousette-Dart Band, Ambrosia, The Rolling Stones. I got to know some of the best musicians that played Worcester. The Mitch Chakour Band, Albatross, The Ellis Hall Group, American Standard, Tornado Alley, Crockett. I got to meet many people who influenced me in ways large and small.

Just as the musicians shared a bond when they play together the crew of Zonkaraz bonded in supporting that effort. On stage there were seven musicians and backstage there were five in the crew; we all were focused on giving a loyal audience our best each night.

Off stage we also gave each other our best, whether it was listening to Steve Martin at Jon’s, savoring Walter’s pancakes, bending Paul’s patient ear, playing farmland at Ric’s before there was Farmland. My first apartment was with “Smokin’” George Weston, the band’s soundman. From George I learned that you actually have to pay the landlord and that it is possible to keep a cigarette going in every room in the house. He introduced me to Shepard’s pie and creamed chipped beef in a boil-a-bag, the simple joys of catalog shopping with no intention of buying and “art” photography.  George also set an example as the elder statesman in the crew by NEVER saying anything bad about anyone. This feat is all the more remarkable considering that most of the people we dealt with were drunk.

Another of my crew mentors was Paul Hanson, Spider. From Spider I learned how to hit parts of an engine to make it run and that it is almost always better to finish what needs to be done that night instead of trying to get up early to do it the next day because you won’t. He taught me to not be a snob about education because he was one of the smartest people I ever met and hadn’t graduated high school. (Maybe I taught Spider not to be put off by all college kids – When I started it was pretty clear he didn’t much care for me, however one night when packing the truck he called for the guitar amps and I showed up announcing in my best barker voice, “You say you want kids, well I got Twins.” Spider laughed – We were friends). He taught me a thousand jokes – I can’t tell ‘em, but I know ‘em.

There was the band, the crew and one other part, the audience. We all hung out with each other. The band didn’t sit separate in the dressing room during the breaks. They went out and talked to folks to see how it was going. They were the stars, but some of their light bounced off the crew giving us the ability to talk to whomever we wanted to in the audience as well. And, let’s be honest here, that meant girls. This was, after all, rock and roll.

On New Year’s Eve 1977, playing at Simeon’s in Shrewsbury, a delicate blonde I had spoken to a few times after being attracted to the way she fit in her jeans refused me a New Year’s Eve kiss! The hook was set. Stupid took over and I hoped that there never was that awkward moment when she realized she was in the arms of a no longer skinny and now balding guy. From her I learned that kids are a blessing, that the world is much better explored together and little traditions are to be cherished like the one that began that night and has continued now for over thirty years between your Grandma and me – no nooky on New Year’s Eve. And it’s all because of Zonkaraz. 

Thanks Paul, Ric, Walter, Jon, Jo, Spider, George, Dennis, Mitch, Matt, Bobby, Ray, Tom, Kenny, Nancy, Larry, Kim, Dave and all the dogs – It’s all your fault.