Thursday, September 30, 2004

Can We Tawk?

Just one more mini-post
I will be getting back into (and hopefully finishing) my "LA Stories" series tonight, but I just wanted to make a few stream-of-consciousness points today because they've been on my mind.

• I really appreciate you guys. The discussion and flow of positive comments you've all contributed here in the last month have been awesome and extremely gratifying to me. Thanks to all of you for your input.

• A few of us are going through struggles right now on a number of fronts. Some have been expressed that via their respective blogs, others through e-mails or both. Let me just say that I am extremely proud of our community for it's willingness to offer itself for help and encouragement to anyone who needs it. I'm grateful to all who were there to encourage me last week when I was so horribly down. And I'm equally grateful and glad for the opportunity to return the favor.

• Is it me or did someone put Benedryl in the coffee this morning? I'm about to fall asleep here at my keyboard. That’s on my mind too. Must be the change of seasons, the alignment of the stars or some other metaphysical event. I need a nap.

• I'm a very happy man right at this moment, and you guys are largely to blame...Thank you.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

I Dream of Bloggie

If only I really remembered my dreams
This is a quick entry spawned by my third consecutive night of having a blog-related dream. I wish to heck I could remember the rest of them, but recently I became aware of the fact that I've remembered practically nothing about my dreams for several years now.

I have no substantial recollection of the dreams I had Sunday and Monday nights, only that they involved either my blog, my blogger friends, or both.

However the one I had last night, I was mindful enough to get up this morning and jot down a few notes about. I was out at some kind of reception with a bunch of people I seemed to know. Dad and his new wife Helen, were there as well, but they insisted on bringing along a friend who was by all that I could perceive, a loud, obnoxious man in drag who walked like Norm on Cheers but sounded like Gilbert Godfried.

As I walked around talking to people I would tell them about my blog and how writing it has changed my life. This "thing" kept following me and drawing attention to itself, purposely disrupting my conversations and embarassing the hell out of me, saying things like, "Is this the beer swilling convention, or did I get the wrong place again?" A few people would respond with a nervous chuckle, then everybody would stare at me sternly and move on.

I have no idea if it means or represents anything, but I sure felt embarassed when I woke up. Guess it could have been worse. At least I wasn't naked or paralyzed...

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Et Cetera Addendum

Intimacy or Over-Exposure?
I was thinking about yesterday’s blog and decided I wanted to expand on something that actually occurred to me as I was writing it (I really love when that happens), which I briefly alluded to in the story.

I’ll admit to being somewhat of a dramatist when I write, especially at the end of a post. Hopefully it doesn’t come off as too cheesy, but hey, I’m a sentimental fool as I’ve stated much more than once. What I mean is, I like to leave both the reader and myself with something to think about in relation to the topic of the story. The second half of yesterday's story was about another one of my friends, Az, and how our friendship has actually increased over the years, despite the fact that he lives in California and I live 1500 miles away in Tennessee.

I indicated that until recently, my first inclination is to lament the fact that I have very few close friends here locally. Since moving to Nashville, I have never been able to develop the closeness, which was the hallmark of so many of the friendships of my youth and young adulthood. It was frustrating, and I felt that way for a very long time. I was pretty depressed about it, actually.

However now I look around me, I look at the subject of about 70% of what I write about, and guess what — all I see are friends. I’m still on an island, but now it’s almost as if the ocean surrounding me has dried up, and I can step off in any direction onto dry land and travel to be with my friends. This is nearly as much a physical reality as it is a figurative one for me.

Physically, the fact that Airline travel has actually gotten cheaper, along with free long distance cell phone plans has made what was once prohibitively expensive travel and communication with my family and old friends feasible once again.

Figuratively (so to speak) the Internet has made phenomena such as e-mail and this blog community a reality, and a true means of establishing and nurturing friendships. We’ve had varied flavors of this same discussion before, but while there certainly is greater risk of deceit under the cover of cyberspace, the reverse is true as well. Online friendships can hold the possibility of true honesty and self-disclosure, ergo, true friendship, because the physical obstacles that might inhibit otherwise normal interaction are removed.

I guess the point I was driving at, as it relates to me and the realization I had when writing my blog yesterday, is that I need to change my way of thinking. There is so little that can now stand in the way of communicating and being communicated with. There’s no reason for any of us to ever be without friends, whether they are newly established or revitalized lifelong relationships, which had been neglected via barriers of time, distance or both.

The reference to George Bailey and It's a Wonderful Life is one that I think can apply to all of us. We can all be “the richest man in town” if we recognize and nurture the friendships we have, as well as the potential to make more.

I wanted to throw out the topic for discussion here. I’m anxious to hear what your opinion is and how your relationships have changed with the onset of technology over the past 10-15 years. Is it a blessing or a curse? What about your “online friendships? How “real” are they? How much do you trust them? Are they worth the risk? Does the potential for fraud negate their benefits?

Am I full of crap?

Wait. Don’t answer that.

Talk to me people…

Monday, September 27, 2004

LA Stories (Part VIII)

Et Cetera continued (yep, there’s more…)
Finally, the last of my “short stories” (yeah, right).

• Pier group
As I mentioned in Part I of this series, on Friday of my SoCal trip, I traveled to Santa Monica to have dinner with fellow-blogger Michael. I got into town a couple hours early to beat the traffic (and because having already had lunch in Burbank with my old boss, I didn’t really have anything better to do in the meantime). So I took in the sights in and around the world-famous Santa Monica Pier, just a few blocks down from the restaurant where I would later meet Michael.

In a small, well-shaded park adjacent to the pier, I sat and wrote about my impressions of what had already been a fantastic week. These were the notes from which I reconstructed much of this Et Cetera portion of the series. As of the time of this writing, only one month later, I now recognize how important it is to always have some kind of notepad or other means available to record the events that go on around me, if I ever intend to write about them. About 80% of what I had written in my notepad, is now only, either fuzzy or has completely flown out of my head. So I am really glad that I did take the time to spend those two and a half free hours writing, instead of checking out bikinis (not that I would ever do something like that…right Michelle?).

Most of what I wrote were just notes that I've expanded and transcribed in this section, but for the purposes of this final anecdote I’ll tell it exactly as I wrote it, sitting on the bench.

I’m sitting here writing this at a park bench on a bluff adjacent to Santa Monica Pier. Since I sat down at 5:00PM, the adjacent portion of the bench on my left has featured two different tenants. The first was a pair of young Filipinas who sat down to cool their heels while their boyfriends went down to check out the pier for a few minutes.

I wasn’t paying too much attention to what they were saying until they began critiquing the fashion sense of the other women walking by. “Oh she is not wearing those shoes!” One of them said. Pretty funny stuff.

A few minutes after they left, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a handsome, clean-cut, but obviously over-tanned man, walking toward my bench. He looked to be in his mid-to-late thirties and carried two large, tightly stuffed duffel bags, one of which was the size (and appeared to be the weight) of a heavy punching bag. As he approached and I got a better look at him, it became apparent that he was homeless. However he seemed to have a greater wherewithal than most of the others who dotted the little beachfront park. He appeared to be in a different station than the rest. Diagonally across his back, he carried the larger duffel bag. And when he slung it off of his shoulder, it made a resounding thud on the bench next to me, indicating how heavy it actually was.

I didn’t really look up, but kept on writing. However, after a few minutes I became aware that the man was nowhere to be seen, but his bags were still sitting next to me unattended. I looked up and briefly turned, searching around to see if he was anywhere in the vicinity.

I have to admit that my initial reaction was a brief moment of panic. I flashed back to the previous Tuesday afternoon at the airport in Nashville. An unattended piece of luggage left near my flight’s gate check-in counter elicited an announcement from the attendant, asking for the owner to immediately come and claim the baggage, or it would be confiscated by airport security. And for a brief moment of stupidly unwarranted hysteria, I found myself imagining that I was sitting next to some terrorist’s bomb. It is a sad thing indeed that post-9/11 realities have done such a number on us, making us so suspicious, and replacing the healthy wariness of the unknown we should all possess with this abject distrust and paranoia that now seems to permeate our collective psyche.

Only seconds passed, but it seemed much longer. The homeless man was actually standing nearby, but out of my field of vision. He saw me looking around, and possibly sensed my concern as he rushed back over to the bench, apologizing for leaving his bags unattended.

He explained that the strap from the large bag was starting to wear a hole in his shoulder and that he just has to set it down for a few minutes. He went on to say that his two parcels weighed 45 and 85 pounds respectively. I smiled and told him that I could understand why his shoulder was hurting.

He then began engaging me in small talk about being homeless. He was very matter-of-fact about it, with no apparent tone of shame or anger in his voice.

“For someone who is homeless, I’m pretty lucky to be here (in Santa Monica),” he offered. “The shelters provide you with a place to shower and shave and the churches and city programs feed you pretty good too.

“Now I don’t plan on being this way for very much longer — I’m trying very hard to get back on my feet and get myself out of this — but if I was a person who chose to make this a way of life, this is the place I’d want to be.”

I smiled and said it’s good to have some options. He nodded and returned my smile. He never asked me for money, but he did inquire about my notepad and the scribbles that now covered three entire pages.

“Are you a writer?” he asked.
“It’s just a journal,” I replied.
“That’s a good idea,” he nodded. “I wish I’d done that.”
“Well until recently, I never had either. It’s never too late to start,” I said.
“Hmmm…guess you’re right,” he nodded again.
“It’s good to get stuff out of my head and written down…to make room for other things,” I offered lightheartedly.
“Yeah,” he chuckled. “I know what you mean.”

During our little exchange he was preparing to continue on his daily trek to who-knows-where-by-the-sea. He hoisted the large duffel bag from the bench beside me and pulled the carrying strap over his right shoulder so that it again lay diagonally from his right shoulder to his left side.

“Well it’s time to move on,” he said as he grabbed the other bag with his left hand.
I reached across my body to extend my right hand up to him. As we shook hands firmly, I looked him in the eye and said, “Best of luck to ya, man.” He grinned and nodded, “Thanks. Thanks a lot.”

“And good luck on your writing," he said as he walked away — as if he knew all along that it wasn’t really just a journal after all.

• Az
That’s Az, as in smartazz, dumbazz, and/or pain-in-the-azz. And of course, it’s not his real name, but a shortened partial sound of the name of a band he founded years ago and still dabbles with on occasion today. Az is my friend; one of my best friends, actually. And the real reason I’ve chosen to call him that is for no other reason than to make ass jokes. I think it’s funny, and there’s not a damn thing he can do about it.

And what’s great about Az, is that if he ever reads this (and he may very well be reading it now), he would think it’s funny too. That’s the hallmark of our friendship for me. Az laughs. He laughs his azz off, actually (sorry…couldn’t resist). Most importantly, he laughs at things that *I* say, and always has. That in of itself puts him kinda high up on my list if you know what I mean…

Az is what you might call, an uninhibited person. He knows no shame. He has a goofy sense of humor that’s identical to mine. Yet all the while he’s soft-spoken and unassuming. He carries himself with such class, it’s hard to remember that underneath that thin veneer of dignity lies the soul of a total goofball.

He is an extremely talented musician, which is the real reason we became friends. Back in the days when the band was together, I was unofficially commissioned by Az to design the album cover for their first record (an LP — this was long before CDs were around). Prior to that point, I knew him casually as another childhood friend of my former roommate, Dee. Az, like my other common friend, Bee, played in Dee’s rock band in high school. So although I knew him, and liked him, at first I still never pursued getting to know Az, because of the fact that he was “Dee’s friend.” It wasn’t a conscious avoidance, just nothing I ever really considered — until he asked me to do the album cover.

Unfortunately the record deal fell through, and the album cover never made it beyond the pencil sketch stage. But the friendship that began from it has blossomed into something much more valuable than a piece of artwork could have ever been.

Az has actually become a much closer friend since I moved to Nashville. For some reason, I just always made an effort to see him during my semi-regular business trips to SoCal throughout the 90s. We shared some difficult circumstances with our marriages for a period of time, and the conversations we had seeking to encourage one another really sealed the friendship we now enjoy.

During my first of two trips I took to California this past spring/summer, Michelle and I stayed with Az and his family for four nights (albeit not consecutively). He offered his home to us as a base of operations for our travels up and down the California coast. We had a great time getting to know his kids, who were just babies when we left for Nashville.

Az’ wife Katy and Michelle really get along well, so the friendship, while decidedly stronger between us boys, is not completely one-sided.

To make things even better for furthering our friendship, the company Az works for recently acquired a few clients who are local to the area of Greater Nashville in which we live. So on two other occasions this past year, Az has been able to come and visit in my neck o’ the woods as well.

You know, something just now occurred to me. I have for years lamented the lack of friends I’ve had locally since I left SoCal. And yet, as I’ve written my blog for the past couple months, practically all I’ve been talking about is how many great and wonderful friends I have and have had (and I still haven’t even written about my very best friend yet…sheesh!).

I’m realizing how weak my argument really is, and it’s just a matter of taking the time to really look at yourself to recognize just how rich you are.

George Bailey ain’t got nothin’ on me…

Next: Redux

Friday, September 24, 2004

LA Stories (Part VII)

Et Cetera (continued)
I don’t know if I would admit to being a full-blown ham, but I’m close. I certainly don’t mind being noticed, but I generally tend to go about it on the low-key side of things. Some people aren’t quite as subtle.

The following are a couple more airport stories along those lines; one involving myself, and the other featuring a person I observed.

Let's pick up the story again at Nashville International Airport on the front end of my trip to California. To this point, my airport experience had been pleasant, but not necessarily fun. That would soon change, however.

• Angels flight
Following my conversation with the woman on her way back home to LA from a family wedding in Alabama, I went to a nearby snack bar to ask directions to the nearest ATM. I had run myself out of time packing and hadn’t been able to stop to get cash for the trip.

After getting my cash, I was walking down the concourse back to my gate. I looked ahead and couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought I was having a vision.

I saw Angels.

Oh…no…not that kind. I just saw a couple guys in Anaheim Angels baseball jerseys and caps — although in Nashville, that’s almost as rare as catching a glimpse of an actual cherubic being. As I got closer, I realized that the two appeared to be a late thirtysomething father and his adolescent son. They were sitting on opposite ends of a long bench that lined the outside of the gate waiting area. It was obvious that they were just cooling their heels, waiting for the call to board the same flight as mine. Now, I could have just walked up and introduced myself as a fellow Halos fan, but that would’ve been too easy.

I’m generally a good judge of whether or not someone has a decent sense of humor just by looking at him. The Dad was a husky Hispanic man who didn’t actually look all that friendly. I thought I’d have better luck with the kid, a fresh-faced 14 year-old. They were just kind of hanging out, sitting about ten feet apart, taking in the scenery.

I nonchalantly walked up to a position about four or five feet in front of the bench, in between the two of them and deliberately violating what most people would consider their “personal space.” I set my suit bag and smaller carry-on duffel bag down in front of me, only a few feet from the young man seated to my left. I never made eye contact but knew that I had his attention. I was so close to him that he had no choice but to be actively wondering what the hell I was doing.

My duffel is actually a nice, medium-sized gym bag. It has a zippered half-moon shaped front opening and is nice and deep on the inside, capable of holding a lot of stuff.

I kneeled down and casually began unzipping the bag, which I had positioned so that the open side was facing the kid, whom I knew was watching my every move. As I lifted the open flap, revealing my bright red Anaheim Angels cap, I looked up and smiled at the boy, who broke into a grin from ear to ear. A few feet away, his Dad had been watching as well. As I glanced at him he started to chuckle.

“I just had to come over and introduce myself,” I smiled. “You guys are the first Angels fans I’ve met in this town in the 12 years I’ve lived here!”

The Father extended his hand and introduced himself and his son. “I’m Joey and this is my son Jay,” his friendly smile belying his rather rough-looking face. Naturally I was curious as to what they were doing in Nashville wearing Anaheim Angels garb. Turns out Joey and his son live in Anaheim and are Angels season ticket holders. As a sort of tradition over the past few years, they follow the team on one short roadtrip each season. They were now on their way back to SoCal after following the team on its two-city road trip to Tampa Bay and New York. And they had made this trip even more special. Following the three-game series at Yankee Stadium which the Angels swept (sorry Michael), they took a day before heading home to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. I was really excited for them, because going on a roadtrip with my favorite baseball team is something I have always dreamed of doing with my own son, not to mention visiting the Hall of Fame. So needless to say, I was getting more jealous by the minute as Joey described the great time he and his son had together the previous eight days.

I mentioned that I was going to be attending two games that upcoming week and Joey suggested the possibility of getting together (the opportunity really never presented itself; but maybe next time...). I continued talking with my fellow Angels fans for about five minutes or so. Joey was really cordial and Jay seemed like a really nice kid. It was great. Finally we said our so longs and I wandered over near the gate desk. People were beginning to line up in anticipation of the boarding call. After a few minutes the woman at the desk announced over the intercom that there had been a gate change for our flight (likely perpetrated by the previous Chicago flight’s rescheduling. We were asked to please move to a different gate, which of course was at the far end of the concourse, about 100 yards away.

Everyone let out a collective groan, but quickly picked up and began moving briskly en masse down the concourse in anticipation of acquiring the best spot in line as possible (remember this is Cattlecall…er…I mean, Southwest Airlines we’re talking about here).

It was a hassle to be sure, but amusing as well, to observe this sea of humanity moving as one, trying not to be obvious in the fact that they were all racing each other for a good spot in line. Reconvening at our new gate we waited another fifteen minutes before they finally allowed us to board the plane.

I ended up being among the last group to board, so I knew I would be stuck in the back of the plane. I was pleasantly surprised to see Joey and Jay occupying the window seats of the two back rows. Joey offered me the aisle seat, which I happily accepted. Needless to say there was no lack of conversation between the two of us for nearly the entire four-plus hour flight. Now I know that it probably makes little sense to anyone, who has never been alone in their allegiance to a sports team, as I have been with the Angels, particularly throughout the years since I moved to Tennessee. But it was truly a treat to talk to another fan as into the team as I am.

It made for a very good beginning to what was to be an incredible week.

• If only I’d had my camera phone…
The return flight home on Monday was just as pleasant, although not quite as eventful. However the security checkpoint did provide one pretty amusing anecdote.

I have been fortunate enough to only have gone through the increased airport security a half-dozen times since 9/11. Each time has been a pretty smooth experience, with no pat downs, wand sweeps or strip searches. My flight home from LAX was no different. I’m sure the woman who was behind me in line wishes she could have said the same thing.

She was a tall, beautiful blonde in skin-tight clothes that quite illustriously highlighted every curve of what appeared to be the best figure that money could buy. And perchance she wasn’t getting the message across well enough already, her tight-as-a-tourniquet crop-top offered the following suggestion, emblazoned in bold letters across it’s bountiful bodice:

Take A Picture…It’ll Last Longer.

It was obvious that this chica wasn’t interested in drawing any undo attention to herself. I’m sure she just abhorred the idea of causing a stir or something. She obviously wanted to just get through the checkpoint and to her gate, slipping unnoticed and anonymously into the airport terminal crowd. So I’m sure that she was just mortified by what happened next.

Without incident, I came through the metal-detecting frame under which everyone has to walk as they pass through security. I was at the end of the counter, gathering up the items I had placed into the plastic bypass tray — you know, the one you hand to the attendant containing your pocket belongings and other things that shouldn’t be scanned, like my camera, which already had film loaded into it. I was quickly reloading my pockets and carry-on bag, when I heard the buzzer go off on the metal detector; then again; then a third time. The woman kept setting the alarm off as she passed through. I grinned at what was (for me anyway) an amusing scene. It didn’t matter how much stuff she took off — first her little jacket, then a bracelet and rings, then her shoes. That buzzer just kept going off.

At this point people were starting to go around her and on through to get to their flights and I didn’t want to hold up the line. But I’m sort of kicking myself now for not cashing in on the irony of the moment and grabbing my camera, which I could have easily done, to take a picture, in accordance to her “mandate.” It was such a classic blog moment! If I’d had a camera phone, as I do now, I certainly would have captured it.

But I didn’t want to be obvious, so I gathered my bags and moved on before the woman’s mystery metal was discovered. As I walked away I remember wondering if perhaps they’d re-calibrated that metal detector to scan for silicone, but then I quickly dismissed that idea when I remembered how close LAX is to Beverly Hills — and of course that wouldn’t make a lot of sense, now would it?

I just hope she didn’t miss her flight before they figured it out. I’m sure it could have been a lot of things, but if I were a bettin’ man, I’d lay money that the culprit was the 12-guage underwire in that boulder-holder she was wearing…

Next: Et Cetera continued (yep, there's more...)

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

This just 'IN'

According to my Blogger Profile User Stats, my blog has either hit a significant milestone, or become a significant millstone, depending on how good a speller you are or how much you dislike long stories, such as the type I'm given to write.

I started my blog on Monday, May 24, 2004. One Hundred and twelve posts later, in the second to last paragraph of today's "LA Stories (Part VI)" in the sentence that read, "When she arrived in Birmingham, she cut her losses and decided to fly home when the time came," the word “in” was my blog's 100,000th word published.


Just call me The Big Verbowski.

Cue the dancing girls.

Free Wheel of Fortune: Home Edition games for everyone. The vowels are on me.

Thanks to all of you who have invested the time to read through a goodly portion of my long-winded yarnage, tedious tales, and wordy repartee.

Apparently, out of all the words in my vocabulary, "brevity" just isn't one of them. I'd like to change that but — sheeyeah, right — who am I kidding?

Now, let's see if we can hit 200K by Christmas...

LA Stories (Part VI)

Et Cetera
If you pay attention to such things, you realize that the preceding stories were not in chronological order, not that it matters. And while I’m in the mood to be random, I thought I’d talk about a few of the other people, places and things I experienced during my busy week that I thought were interesting, if not exactly noteworthy.

• My friend Jay
The only one of my college buddies with whom I’ve made any effort to stay in touch over the years, Jay was my weekend host in Long Beach. He’s truly the sweetest guy you'd ever want to know, and I can honestly say, he is also the singular friend I have who almost completely mirrors my temperament and inner personality. Jay is on the outside the person I believe I am on the inside: shy, but quietly confident. However, it might be questionable as to whether you’d come up with that observation if you spoke to us individually for five minutes. I can come off as a pretty gregarious conversationalist, and have no qualms about chattin’ it up with complete strangers. Jay isn’t that way (at least I don’t think he is). He seems to be more the type to wait for someone else to speak first, but once you get him going, he can be quite engaging.

I had a great time with him; we covered a lot of ground and hopefully rekindled a friendship that had flagged in recent years due to the discontinuance of my regular business trips to SoCal. Jay is truly the artist that I always wanted to be. He has had a successful career as an illustrator, and until recently, was partner in a company that produced extremely high-quality clip art, and did it well.

But the one thing he’s done that I envy the most, is that he’s making the commitment to scratch the itch that every artist has — to take the time to paint for himself. He wants to create enough of a body of work to possibly enter the gallery world. This is something I’ve been aching to do for years, but know that I never will until I retire. I’ve never spoken to another artist who thinks they’ve already done their best work. There’s always an inner ache to bring forth that elusive masterpiece that lies somewhere deep within them. I was really happy for him, but when he told me, inside I was groaning, “Maaaaan...I wanna do that too!”

Jay left the clip art company (although he still gets a percentage of sales) and streamlined his life. Now he’s supporting himself through teaching a few classes at our Alma Mater and devoting himself to his art. He’s never been married, so he doesn’t have a lot of distractions — that is unless you consider being able to walk 2 blocks to get to the beach a distraction. He was fortunate to get a great deal on a small one-bedroom fixer-upper in a great neighborhood back in the 1990s, just before SoCal real estate prices surged to their current ridiculous rate. And as I said, it’s two short blocks from Ocean Avenue, overlooking the Pacific and just a half-mile from the wonderfully renovated downtown Long Beach area. Years later, the house renovation is still far from being completed, but it looks good from the outside and is neat and comfortable on the inside. Being single, Jay has the luxury of being able to take his time on fixing up the house, and he’s doing a lot of the work himself. He’s got some ambitious plans, but when it is done, it’ll be a showplace.

I look forward to seeing all of his masterpieces.

• Flightseeing
Coming and going, my airport experiences were fairly pleasant, with only a gate change on the way out being the only significant wrinkle in an otherwise smooth operation.

Oh it could have been worse. I could have been going to Chicago, as were the dozens of people I found at the crowded Southwest Airlines gate my flight was scheduled to depart from, waiting to be reassigned. Their flight had been grounded due to equipment problems — after they’d already boarded. That would’a sucked. Or, I could have been on the last leg of a return trip from Birmingham, Alabama, like the travel-weary woman I spoke with, heading back home to LA from a family wedding, preceded by a harrowing Greyhound bus trip on the way out.

The Chicago-bound passengers were clearly not happy, but were all well mannered — no one appeared to be particularly agitated. They all waited patiently for their individual names to be called out to receive their new boarding passes for the flight leaving from that gate prior to mine. I was looking around thinking I might spy a TV camera from that A&E Reality Show, “Airport,” but no go. I guess they figured that not enough people were screaming to make it worth their while to show up for this little crisis.

As I sat with one eye observing the displaced Chicago passengers, I ate the sandwich that Michelle had made and scanned the ESPN Magazine I brought from home. About ten feet straight ahead and to my right sat a younger middle-aged African-American woman in a plain but smart-looking grey suit. She was sitting by herself (and trying not to look like it). Every so often we’d make eye contact.

To that point I really hadn’t caught on to what was going on with the crowd of people milling about the terminal, so I looked over at the woman and asked if she knew what the story was. Not that I was sorry I'd asked, but needless to say, that magazine wasn’t going to get read again for another 45 minutes.

After briefly recounting what she’d heard from one of the waiting passengers, and clueing me in on the canceled flight scenario, the woman and I made small talk about our own travel plans that day. I mentioned that I was returning for my 30th High School Class Reunion. She said that she was coming back home from a reunion of sorts herself, on the occasion of her cousin’s wedding. I moved over to the next row of waiting area seats, just adjacent to where the woman was sitting so that I could hear her better over the blaring din of CNN playing on the overhead monitors.

She said that it was the first time she’d visited her family in the South since she was a little girl. When I commented “It’s a little bit different than LA, huh?” you’d though I’d just asked Cosmo Kramer his opinion of Cuban cigars. She leaned forward in her seat quickly and her eyes grew large with amazement. “Those people don’t even lock their doors down there!” she exclaimed in a half-gasp. I assured her that I had already recovered from the similar shock I experienced when moving to Nashville and discovered much the same thing, although the phenomenon is getting less common as things continue to expand in my neck ‘o the woods.

She went on to marvel at how her cousin even left her keys in the ignition when they stopped to quickly get something at the store on one occasion. And the lack of paranoia over crime was not the only remarkable aspect of life that she found on her visit. She seemed overwhelmed by the gentility and hospitality of Southern people as compared to the fast paced road rage mentality of LA. I nodded in agreement, noting that it was a welcome perk to getting out of the rat race when I did 12 years ago. Somewhere around that point of the conversation she revealed that she lived in the Wilshire district of LA and was 53 years old (which surprised me — I thought she was about my age). We talked about street crime in LA, and she told me that she has come to wear her purse a certain way when she’s walking down the street in her neighborhood. She said that the purse she was using at the time had too short of a strap to demonstrate properly, but she motioned to the effect that she places the purse strap over head and around her neck, with the purse hanging down the front like a necklace. She said that she’d had it snatched off her shoulder before, so now if a would-be thief would want it, “They’re gonna have to take my head too.”

Later the conversation turned to transportation and to her horrendous magical mystery Greyhound bus tour from LA to Birmingham. She said she had the time and wanted to save some money, so she decided to ride rather than fly. The trip was supposed to take three days. It ended up taking five, with numerous delays and an unscheduled bus change due to mechanical failure, for which Greyhound had no backup plan or replacement bus. When she arrived in Birmingham, she cut her losses and decided to fly home when the time came. Her commuter connecting flight had to go through Nashville and that why she was there, continuing on to Los Angeles.

I knew that it was getting close to boarding time and I suddenly realized that I had forgotten to stop at an ATM to pick up my cash for the trip. I excused myself and wished my new acquaintance a safe trip and the best of luck. Little did I know that a little of that mojo affecting the previous group of Chicago passengers was still hanging around, and that my flight would be hit with a last–minute gate change as well.

At least we hadn’t gotten on the plane yet…

Next: Et Cetera (continued)

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

LA Stories (Part V)

Friends (continued)
Among all of the friends I hold dear, two stand out as the most influential and most longstanding. The one you’ve met one already, Cindy, was a consistent companion for years between my Senior year of high school and the time I became involved with Michelle. Naturally, I began seeing less of her individually as I spent more time with Michelle, although I still saw her often, in group situations. By the way, as somewhat of a Cindy postscript, just in case anyone was wondering about how Michelle feels and has always felt about her, there has never been any problem. I think she may have been a little “ify” at first, but it didn’t take long for Michelle to see why everyone else who knows her loves her so much. It’s actually harder to explain than it is to understand, but there you go.

The other friendship I want to talk about here is easy to explain, but is made complicated by yet another.

Note: I feel it necessary at this point to inject somewhat of a disclaimer. I have already experienced an uncomfortable episode (which I will write about in some detail in the future) with a family member over what was perceived to be a misrepresentation of that person in one of my previous stories. Happily that situation has been diffused, but I will talk about it and publicly apologize to the offended party following the conclusion of this current series. That being said, the reason it happened was because, one, I was not careful to think of how my opinions would paint that person before I wrote them, and two, because I never thought that person would discover my blog and read it in the first place. However, “two” did in fact happen, which led to “one,” which led to an angry phone call. But as I said, we talked it out, and the problem has been resolved.

With that as the backdrop, I need to recognize the fact that the Internet is not a private forum for anyone. This blog has, for the most part, taken on a larger role in my life than I ever imagined it would when I started it back in May of this year. As I continue to write about my life and the important people I have known and loved, there will be times when I make an observation that while accurate, might not be complementary of a person or persons. And while I have, and will continue to avoid bringing up subjects that would make those occurrences likely, there will be some that are completely unavoidable, IF the story is to be told truthfully from my perspective.

I DO NOT believe in political correctness, but I DO believe in being fair. If the truth hurts, it hurts everyone involved, not just the person who is the subject at hand. That’s life; that’s reality; and that’s what I will always endeavor to deal with here.

I hope no one is disappointed in the fact that I’m not getting ready to dish up a bunch of dirt about my friends in the following story, but I think you’ll understand why I made this preamble statement when it’s finished. I’m making it a blanket statement for future posts as well, because I know there will be other streams to cross in this regard.

On with the story…

Bee & Dee
One of the other life-long friendships I made during those years of early adulthood, was with someone who played perhaps the most significant role in the development of my personal tastes. My friendship with “Bee” was a casual one, and I would say, was much more one-sided than most that I hold in a similar regard. We have never really ever spent a serious amount of individual time together. Back in the day, nobody had Bee to themselves, really. He was one of those guys who was so well liked by everyone that it was odd to ever see him out anywhere, and not be surrounded by at least two or three other people. The other obstacle to my spending much time with him was the fact that my roommate, “Dee” was Bee’s best friend, and had been from childhood. And I’m sure we’re all familiar, if not intimate, with the “horning in on a friend’s friend” dynamic in our inter-personal relationships — it’s just something you don’t do. So I was content to lay back and engage Bee as a “group friend.” It still gave me the opportunity to get to know him, to observe him, to admire him.

Bee is a gifted musician. He plays guitar like a professional, and could easily have made it his life’s work if he had pursued it. My ex-roommate Dee is an erstwhile professional picker himself, and largely supported himself with music until he got into his current profession as a SoCal radio ad executive (which pays a little better than Youth Camps and Coffeehouses). Bee played in his band when they were teenagers, but got married young and went to work for a SoCal public transportation entity. Dee has been married three times and has no children of his own. Bee has been married to the same woman for 27 years and has three teenagers, all of whom could be models, particularly his daughter, who is one of the most stunningly beautiful girls I have ever seen.

The great thing about Bee is his heart. He is as warm and kind a person as you’ll ever want to know. He’s basically a shy person, and isn’t necessarily the life of the party; but engage him in conversation, and he could easily be the most interesting. He has the soul of a poet, but the passion of a linebacker. He throws his entire self into his art: music and photography, and it shows. He is amazingly conversant in anything having to do with Rock, or Bluegrass music. Bee is the one person I hold responsible for pointing me in the direction of being a music aficionado. He was the person who introduced me to artists like Poco, Jackson Browne, and Dan Fogelberg, long before they were mainstream (and in many cases, sold their souls to “the Man”) in the 80s. Most of Bee’s influence on me was sort of by osmosis; I received them just by hanging out with the crowd that always seemed to follow him. However in recent years, on a few occasions, I’ve been able to see him on individual business trips I’ve taken to California. Those are rich times in my memory, because of the opportunity I had to pick his brain about music and find out what new stuff he was into. We e-mailed occasionally as well, but as is the case with long-distance friendships, the work required to maintain them can easily become swallowed up by “more-pressing” matters. Years passed, I stopped going to SoCal on business, and Bee became increasingly difficult to get a hold of.

So when it was decided that Michelle and I were coming out to California in this past May, I called Dee, who offered to host a barbecue get-together of some of the old gang, at his place in Dana Point, and urged him, “Make sure Bee is there. I really want to see him.”

Dee replied something to the effect of, “That may not be easy, AJ. I think he’s mad at me. He never returns my calls or e-mails. He just doesn’t seem to want to get together anymore.” Sure enough, Bee was non-communicative with Dee (or anyone else, including me, who tried to get a hold of him) in the weeks leading up to our arrival. Not surprisingly he was a no-show at the barbecue.

Fast-forward a few weeks to June, after we arrived back home from California. I was talking to Cindy on the phone, making arrangements for those Angels baseball tickets for my return trip in August, when I asked the question. “Does anybody really know the story about this apparent one-way feud between Bee and Dee?” I asked.

“Oh, I do,” Cindy replied. “I was there. I’ll tell you all about it when you come back out.” And so she did.

Without going into a lot of unnecessary detail, suffice it to say, Bee was offended deeply by a remark Dee once made which made light of what was a very painful subject — his financial situation. Unfortunately the incredibly high cost of living in Southern California had put a strain on Bee, as it does and has done with so many others. And with three teenagers, that’s certainly understandable. Dee on the other hand, has had the great fortune to build a very good living out of shrewd business dealings and being at the right place at the right time. He built the foundation for his business before even having step-children to support, and certainly no one can have anything but admiration for his success. He is truly a self-made man, and is to be respected and congratulated for it.

But remember that little disclaimer at the beginning of the story? Here’s where it comes into play. With all of the good things I can say about my ex-roomie, having lived with him, I’m also familiar with some of his flaws (as I’m sure he’s familiar with mine).

While Dee’s comment was certainly ill conceived, it was surprising to me only in that he wasn’t better aware of whom he was teasing. Bee is a sensitive, thoughtful man, and in recent years has been under the financial stress of raising a family in a difficult economy. Dee is a great guy, but for as long as I’ve known him, has had a remarkable tendency for insensitivity. But that’s Dee, and most people who know him accept that about him. However the fact that he would say such a thing to a guy he’d known since grade school, someone he should know inside and out, is inexplicable. He should have had a better idea how Bee would react to a teasing comment about his financial struggles. You don’t have to be Mother Theresa to have the compassion required not to do that to a guy, particularly in a group setting as was the occasion when it occurred. So when Cindy told me about it, I finally understood the reason for “Bee’s Boycott” of any group occasion in which Dee might be present as well.

Cold Call
On Sunday afternoon I attended the Angels game with Cindy. As we were leaving of the parking lot, Cindy began suggesting contingencies as to how we might be able to “run into” Bee, knowing how badly I had wanted to see him, if but only to just say hello for a few minutes. She suggested we first take the direct approach and just drop by his house. If he wasn’t there, we’d try his church, where he usually volunteered his musical talent, playing guitar and leading worship songs during Sunday Evening services.

When we pulled into the driveway, it certainly appeared that there was somebody home, as there were two cars in the driveway. As he greeted us at the door, we were surprised to hear Bee say that he was home alone. It was great to see him, and we sat in his living room, catching up on everything from his job situation (he had just been layed off), to his kids, his wife Denice, and then to my family news. I pulled out the pictures I had stashed in my notebook. Bee called my attention to his daughter’s picture near the fireplace. I marveled at what great-looking kids he and Denice had been blessed with.

Soon the conversation directed itself to it’s inevitable destination: music. Bee pulled out his guitar and began to play. I don’t think I could have stopped grinning if I had to. So effortless, so skilled his fingers worked the strings as he continued to talk and play simultaneously, as if the man had two brains.

We talked about some of the concerts we’d seen recently. I told about the DVD taping/concert for Poco I had attended in June. We talked about the great musicians and stars that band has spawned: Richie Furay, Rusty Young, Jim Messina, Randy Meisner, and Timothy B. Schmidt. We talked about the recent battle with prostate cancer that one of our old heroes, Dan Fogelberg, was undergoing. He talked about how great he thought Dan’s latest CD was.

Bee told the story of how he traded his vintage (i.e.: old) peddle-steel guitar for a banjo. He brought the banjo out and began to play. More pickin'. More grinnin'. My cheeks were starting to cramp.

This was the good stuff. This was the Bee I remembered. Cindy was just as involved in the overall conversation as I, but (with no disrespect to her, of course), I couldn’t tell you a word she said. It was just as if Bee and I were the only two in the room.

It became so apparent as the conversation progressed from life to music, which part made Bee come alive. Not to indicate that he doesn’t love his family, which he certainly does, but the fire that sparkled in his eyes while he talked about and played his music was pretty astounding to me. I so wish he could have found a way to make it his life’s work. Perhaps he still will. Nothing could be a happier ending to his story, the way I see it.

About an hour or so of great conversation, Denice and the boys arrived home. She joined us in the living room and the conversation returned more to family and the collective lives of our children. As we talked on, the sun started going down. We soon found ourselves practically sitting in the dark. Denice stood and announced. “Well we can sit here in the dark…or I could go make us some dinner. Anyone hungry?” We’d been there talking for two-and-a-half-hours. I was starving. Dinner it was.

Denice got up, flipped on some lights, and proceeded to prepare some very tasty meatball sandwiches while Bee, Cindy and I remained in the living room talking. It was then that I discovered another part of Bee, one that I in one sense already knew, but had forgotten; but in another sense, because of the years that have passed, it was a part of him I never knew existed. When we first sat down in Bee’s living room I was reminded of Bee’s love for the art of photography, both by others as well as his own. The wonderful Ansel Adams print displayed above his fireplace jogged my memory. I also remembered that he had done his own work and was getting fairly accomplished at it 15 years ago, when I last saw him on a regular basis.

Cindy called attention to a small 12x12 framed photo that was leaning against the wall, indicating that she had finally decided where she wanted to display it in her house. She announced to Bee that she was ready for her to make her a print, and they discussed the size and cropping of the picture, a wonderful scene of an old building with a red door which Bee had taken when in Montreal on business several years earlier.

“This is one of yours? I asked. “Wow!”
“Oh you should see some of the work Bee’s done, AJ. He’s really good!”

So I asked to see more. I was amazed. Over the last 15 years, Bee has taken the virtuosity of his music and applied it to his photography as well. He went out to the garage and brought back several more large framed prints. He has too many to hang on his own walls; wonderful stuff. Nature landscapes, still-lifes, more street scenes from old Montreal, all images that anyone of taste would proudly display in their homes. I hope to be one of those people eventually.

After dinner, we finally had to tear ourselves away. Bee and I exchanged current phone numbers and e-mail addresses so that hopefully we’ll be be able to stay in touch a little better than we have in recent years. We said our so longs and I drove Cindy back to her house, where she insisted Michelle and I would be staying the next time we visited SoCal (remember earlier I said I was roundly chided for staying at the motel?). We said so long and I headed back to my friend’s place in Long Beach.

What a great day it had been. Hours of time spent with two of the most important friends of my lifetime, and another Angels victory to boot!

For me it was one day that was just about perfect.

Next: Et Cetera

Monday, September 20, 2004

All My Blahs Are Belong to Me

Mornin' all...
Ever have one 'a those weeks? I sure did. And I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who expressed concern. I'm better now, but the fact is, someone in my family is in tremendous difficulty right now and there's little to nothing I can do about it. That was what was bumming me out last week, and why I stopped blogging. I know I don't need to apologize for it, but I still feel as though I do. That's my problem, I guess.

At any rate, I will hopefully be back to continuing my "LA Stories" series tonight. But this time I make no promises, and then hopefully I won't feel bad if I can't come through. Sorry to be so flakey, but this has been a tough thing for me to deal with. I'm just glad to have the friends that I do here, and I'm tremendously thankful for the support you've always given me.

Thanks to each and every one of you. I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

Friday, September 17, 2004

I gots issues...

Just a note
To apologize for the no-post bender I've been on for the past two days. I can't get into it now, and perhaps never will, but I'm emotionally spent from some real-time family issues I'm dealing with. I just can't concentrate on anything else right now.

Sorry if all this sounds abrupt and horrible, but I'm just not in a happy story-tellin' mood. Hopefully I'll feel better tomorrow. Thanks in advance (I hope) for the good thoughts. I really need 'em right now guys...

No need to worry about me, I'll be fine, and I'll be back soon.


Tuesday, September 14, 2004

LA Stories (Part IV)

Friends (continued)
Note: Wow…this series, and this part of the story in particular, is really taking on a life of its own. I’m adding this bit of pretext at the point that I’m realizing that just what I have to say about my friends, which was originally planned to be just a single entry, will now be at least three, and probably four. As a result, I’ll be going back and numbering the “Friends” sections once I figure out how many there will end up being. I just wanted to explain in advance that the navigation and story links will be changing so as to avoid any confusion…

Now I really don’t mean to brag, but a few days ago, I just had to chuckle. The Holy PUN-tiff of Blogsville, Michael, posted a very funny, self-deprecating lament on the “support” (or lack thereof) by some of his friends. Seemed that some of Mike’s buds like to remind him of some of the less-than-complimentary feats of his younger days. It’s a classic theme, and Michael is certainly not to be singled out. After all, friends don’t let friends forget the times they’ve made a fool of themselves.

I won’t claim to have not gone through my share of that with plenty of my friends over the years, but it struck me as I read Michael’s story, just what a contrast in that regard one particular friend of mine has always been. She was one of the quality people I had a chance to spend some time with in California.

She was “everybody’s girlfriend,” as somebody once playfully dubbed her back in my high school/college age church youth group. She was a couple years older, and easily the coolest chick I’d ever met; witty, intellectual, and streetwise. She seemed to know everyone, and everything that was hip and important. As you might guess from such a description, she was also extremely self-confident. Her persona was absolutely magnetic. To me, that was her most attractive attribute. Cindy never seemed to “try” to be beautiful, as beauty is judged by the world — she didn’t have to — she had a natural beauty that the world doesn’t even have the ability to measure.

As to the aforementioned moniker, Cindy was the type of girl you could hang with, go to a movie, and go to dinner with — any type of social event — without the trappings of it being any kind of “date.” She was completely non-threatening to the other girls in our group. Cindy was never gossip material, because everybody knew exactly what she was about. Cindy was sold out to The Lord. And if there was anything at all that could ever be considered intimidating about her, it was the depth of her commitment to God.

Cindy was no “Jesus Freak” either. There was absolutely nothing freaky about her. She was real. She wasn’t judgmental or critical. She didn’t look down on people — she loved them. As a matter of fact I can’t remember hearing her ever say a disparaging word about anyone. She walked the walk, and has always been one of the people I’ve looked upon as the truest example of what those who call themselves Christians should be.

Michael’s story detailed the tendency we all have to disparage others — even good-naturedly — for no other reason but to make ourselves look better. Not that this is such a horrible thing when the person on the receiving end knows it’s being done in innocent fun. But as I said earlier, it just made me think about the incredible contrast in the common behavior Cindy displayed.

Cindy featured a rare quality. Instead of constantly talking about herself, or endeavoring to tell people what was wrong with them, she went out of her way to remind a person of what is right about them. She would always bring up something you do, or did in the past that cast you in a positive light. The cynical person might call it “sucking up,” but I don’t see it that way. The only payback she ever got was the fact that it just made everybody love her all the more. And what better or more deserving reward is there than that?

I’m not really sure when I became aware of her little motis operandi, but when I did, I remember watching to see how she applied it in relation to other people. I noticed that Cindy’s ploy wasn’t limited just to the guys who loved to hang out with her, but the girls as well.

It had to be a conscious effort. Somewhere in the conversation, Cindy would find a way to direct things to the subject of some event in the other person’s life, usually highlighted by an act, an attitude, or a talent that the person displayed, which was admirable or positive. I liked to watch the eyes of the person receiving the complement, to see their reaction. I have never discussed this with her, so I’m sure that she was never aware of my pointed observations. Almost without exception, Cindy’s targets of unsolicited praise would look down and smile in embarrassment, but when they looked up you could see their countenance rise to a new level. As the McKenzie brothers would say, “beauty, eh?”

There is no way I could ever be as selfless a friend as Cindy was and is, but she was my role model for what a friend should be. Funny, but as I’m writing this I’m realizing that I’ve never told her that. I need to do that soon.

Making up for lost time
As I’ve mentioned before, this recent trip to the Left Coast was my second this spring/summer. Michelle accompanied me in early May, when we spent eight days reacquainting ourselves with some of the favorite spots we used to enjoy during the 20+ years we lived in SoCal. The trip was a belated second honeymoon to celebrate or 25th wedding anniversary in March. We traveled up and down the coast from San Diego to Santa Barbara. It was a wonderful time. We saw a few friends and spent the better part of one day with my Dad and Helen, but the biggest emphasis was on spending time together doing things we used to like to do. It was Michelle’s first trip to California since we moved to Nashville at the end of 1991.

Although I knew I was coming back in August, it had been over six years since I’d seen Cindy and a number of other friends from the old crowd. So I asked one of my old roommates if he could arrange a get-together for a few of us to meet at one time. He gathered a few people together at his home in Dana Point, CA for a barbecue. I was disappointed that one friend, who I really wanted to see didn’t make it. Apparently he and my old roomie have had a falling out over the years, and they just aren’t a part of each other’s lives. But Cindy was there, as I knew she would be.

As we sat at the table outside eating, I waited to see if she would start working the crowd. As it turns out I wasn’t the only one who hadn’t seen everyone in quite awhile. Only two of the people at the gathering were in regular contact with anyone else in the group, so it was a reunion of sorts for most everyone.

Sure enough Cindy began sizing up her victims, and the “remember when” engine started up full-throttle. First one person, then another was swept up in Cindy’s casual web of complements and kudos. No one could escape!

With me it has always been about my success in gymnastics or my career in the music industry. Another guy used to have popular local rock band. On yet another guy, she bragged on what a successful businessman he had become, all the while supporting something like eight kids or some ridiculously high number. To Michelle, Cindy marveled at what a great job she had done raising our two kids — and putting up with me for the past 25 years.

Cindy hadn’t changed a bit. Thank god.

My inside connection
While at the barbecue, Cindy looked over to me and Michelle, smiled and said, “You guys wouldn’t happen to have time to take in an Angels game while you’re here, would’ja? Because, you know my Mom has season tickets…

My heart dropped to the freakin’ floor. I had really wanted to figure out a way to take my Dad to a game on that trip, but expected that I’d have to make arrangements to buy the tickets myself (which I was perfectly willing to do). However the way things shook out, itinerary-wise, we just couldn’t make it work.

“You really know how to hurt a guy, don’t you,” I thought to myself. Cindy knew that I was an Angels fan, and the offer was legit, I just wish I’d known about it sooner.

I thanked her profusely for the offer, but said we just couldn’t fit it into our already-booked schedule that week. I did tell her that I’d certainly take a rain check in August though. “You got it! Just let me know when you’re gonna be here,” she said.

Fast-forward to my recent trip. Not only did Cindy secure tickets to the Sunday game that week, which I attended with her, I had mentioned the fact that I wanted to take my Dad to a game also, and she came up with tickets for the Wednesday game as well. When I asked how much I owed her, she said emphatically, “There is NO WAY you’re paying for any of these tickets!”

The game with my Dad I’ve already talked about. The Halos won in a rout. On Sunday, it was a pitcher’s duel, with the lead changing hands twice during the game, but ending up tied in the bottom of the ninth inning. Again the Angels prevailed on Adam Kennedy’s game ending home run. The great times and great memories that those two games provided me were courtesy of Cindy. Additionally, throughout the afternoon we discussed a number of important subjects, not the least of which was the aforementioned feud between my old roommate (who we’ll refer to as Dee) and another good friend of mine who chose not to attend the barbecue in May because of it (who we’ll refer to as Bee). I’ll be talking more about Bee in the next entry.

Me and my friend Cindy at the Anaheim Angels game on Sunday. GOTS'TA wear red at an Angels game. Great seats...great time!

I don't think I would go so far as to say that Cindy was ever my very best friend, but she's certainly high on my all-time list. She would probably be quite surprised to know that I consider her a mentor of friendship. And along with being unassuming, she is the most guileless and genuine person I’ve ever known — of that I’m certain. She is one of a handful of people who I can’t go too long without seeing, just because of the way she refreshes me, without obligation, without expectation of anything else in return. And in so doing, she inspires me to try to be that kind of friend to others.

In my opinion, that’s what friendship is about, inspiring you to be a better person, to be more than you are on your own.

Thanks, Cindy…

Next: Friends (continued)

Sunday, September 12, 2004

LA Stories (Part III)

As I’ve already mentioned a couple times, my week in California was crazy, to put it mildly. My dance card was absolutely jammed, which isn’t something that I’m usually accustomed to. The normal pace of my life is anything but fast.

Although I’m not easily bored, practically the only time it happens is when I’m around people too much in general, or around the same people for too long. I don’t know exactly what it says about me, but I’m never bored when I’m alone, yet I adore the time I spend with my friends.

Psychoanalysis anyone?

As a result, I like to have a lot of time to myself. My wife has learned this, and I honestly think it’s one of the reasons we have such a happy marriage. It took a while for her not to take it personally, but now we come together for a time each evening, and then we go and spend time doing our own thing. She seems to enjoy the solace as much as I do, although I’ve learned when it’s time for me to come downstairs and spend an extra hour or two watching TV or talking with her. We’ve become much more in-tune with each other’s needs as the years have passed. It’s nice. But in reality I know that she accommodates me more than I do her, and sometimes I feel badly about that. So I make a conscious effort to make it up to her every now and then by going shopping (yes Leese, I am an excellent shopping companion for my wife — and I don’t even try to embarrass her…most of the time…*LOL*). I'll also go antiquing, and run errands with her whenever she asks. I do it because I know she appreciates it. She knows that I’d rather not. But it's the least I can do for her in giving me the space that I need.

I like to have time to think and/or veg. Too much activity usually frustrates me. I could so easily become a couch potato that it scares the hell out of me. I’ve written about it before, but when I’m left to my own devices, I am a ruined man. That’s why even when we’re on opposite sides of the house, I am just so happy to know that Michelle is there. When she is not, I feel hollow inside. I don't think I'm over-dramatizing the point to say that Michelle is the failsafe switch that keeps me from self-destructing. I guess I’m really just a big baby, and though I’m a little ashamed of it, I’ll be the first to admit it. If push came to shove, I have no doubt I could learn to function on all levels by myself again, but 25 years is a long time; and it’s not just the things that Michelle does to take care of me that would be hard for me to deal with if she wasn't there. She’s a part of me — a huge part, despite my efforts to sometimes try and deny that fact. That is something that only our years together could have taught me. I am now able to understand the phenomenon of elderly, longtime married couples, in which when one passes away, the other soon follows. The hole in their life left by the departing spouse is so huge, that while they may not necessarily want to die, they simply no longer have the will to live.

So what, you ask, does that long preamble have to do with my trip to California? Or with the title of this entry, “Friends?” I just wanted to lay it out as a backdrop for the continuing impressions I’ve gained as I think about the time I spent there; the time I spent with my Dad, but mostly the time I spent with my friends.

Mirrors and Smoke
In my opinion, the truest reflection of a man is the one he sees of himself in his friends. There is a saying I heard once that said “Love is when you take away the feeling, the passion, and the romance and find out you still care for that person.” I would add a similar corollary with regard to friendship to say that a true friend is someone you find who can’t ‘do’ anything for you except make you feel good about yourself. Ultimately that’s what friends do for one another. They go out of their way to make the other person feel appreciated and special. It doesn’t have to be anything more than acknowledging a kind gesture, laughing at their jokes, or showing genuine interest in what they have to say. Sometimes it’s a fine line that determines the veracity of such a relationship, sometimes it doesn’t really even matter, but always, when you hit upon one, it’s a wondrous thing indeed. Years and miles can separate you and your friends, but the love never dies.

It’s pretty easy to find people who want to be your “friend” when you have something they want, or can benefit from. You know, the kind that blow bubbles up your ass until they perceive that you no longer have some tangible benefit to offer, and then they move on. Not so coincidentally, I refer to those kind of people as, “Jacuzzi Friends,” based on a guy I once knew.

There was a guy who was pretty popular among the crowd I ran with in high school and my early years of college. Dude never gave me more than a passing hello for years even though we had almost an identical list of friends. Oh, but that changed once he discovered that I’d moved into an apartment complex that had a Jacuzzi. Suddenly when I’d see him around he was always stopping to talk to me, asking how things were going, etc. At first I felt pretty good about the fact that this cool dude was finally treating me as if I existed. Then one evening when I was almost out the door headed for work he called and said that he’d just finished working out and that he’d really appreciate it if he could come over and sit in the Jacuzzi for awhile. I told him that I wasn’t going to be around, but my roommate would be, so sure, come on down. I didn’t think much of it until he’d called two or three more times within the next couple weeks, not to get together or hang out, but just to use the damn Jacuzzi. I started to get the picture. I cut him off after he came over one day, and finding no one home at the apartment, tried to jump the pool fence but was confronted by the apartment manager. Of course I found out about it later and of course, got my ass chewed for it. Funny thing, he never had much more to say to me after that incident. Go figure.

The Pursuit of Happiness
Now to be completely fair, no one is completely non-mercenary in their expectations regarding friendships. The nature of any healthy relationship is give and take. We all have every right to expect to receive something in exchange for what we give. However our “takeaway” can be many different things. I have found that in most of my friendships as an adult, that I have had to be the “pursuer” in most cases. There have been few friends I’ve had who’ve made the effort, either to engage me initially, or to continue striving to keep the relationship vital. I always seem to be the one who sends the e-mail, or makes the phone call. If I haven’t seen someone in years, and have fallen out of touch with that person, it’s generally me who makes the effort to find the new contact information, make the call, and reconnect the flagging relationship.

But while it probably appears that I’m painting myself as some kind of martyr here, please understand that is not my intent. Pursuing and keeping friendships vital, I have decided, are one of my callings as a social being. It’s my “give.” A lot of people aren’t willing to do it. However I am, because the “take” is so precious to me. It’s hard work, and it’s often humiliating to sometimes discover that your effort is wasted on people who, while they mean no disrespect personally, just aren’t interested in being your pal.

There are a very few friends whom I have that I would go to the ends of the earth to keep. My week in California was filled with them.

Next: Friends (continued)

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

LA Stories (Part II)

There are times in life — and they don’t happen very often — that make me sit up and really take notice; moments of clarity that surprise me; thoughts that mark time, and usually make me feel stupid for not being aware of them sooner. The fifteen dollar word for such an occurance is epiphany, but there’s another term I like better. I can’t remember which teacher it was, but one of my high school instructors had a name for the phenomenon. He called it an “Ah-HA! Moment.” I think you know what I’m talking about. When something you hadn’t previously realized becomes suddenly apparent? When that little image of a light bulb appears over your head and clicks on? Yeah, one of those.

I had an ah-HA! moment early in my recent vacation to California. And as with most others, my ah-HA! was quickly followed by a well, DUH! moment, because of the obviousness of it all.

So just what was it that suddenly enlightened me?

Reality sets in
After arriving at LAX on Tuesday evening, I decided to stay in a motel (a decision for which I would be roundly chastised by a number of people throughout the week) in the Long Beach area. I would then head out to my Dad’s place in Hemet, CA (a desert community near Palm Springs) on Wednesday morning. I had procured tickets for me and Pop for the Anaheim Angels baseball game that night. So the plan was that we would go to the game, come back, I would spend the night and the better part of Thursday out there, and then return to the Long Beach area to spend the night with my friends Randy and Linda, Thursday night. In hindsight I realize now that perhaps I forced a bit too much activity into an already non-stop busy week. Taking nothing away from how great it was to see Randy and Linda, the time with my Dad and his new wife, Helen was simply too short.

I suppose my epiphany was borne of my writing about him and the amount of thinking I’ve done about him over the past few months. As I mentioned previously, I delivered hard copies of several of my blog stories to him in a notebook that he read over the course of those two days. The more he read, the more he expressed to me how thrilled he was with what I’d done. We spent the bulk of our time talking about the years surrounding our lives in Indiana and my Mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Through the course of those conversations I really became aware of just how much time has marched on, and how much water has flowed under the bridges of both our lives.


It finally sunk into my thick skull that my Dad, at age 81, is getting older, and that the time has come for me to stop taking him for granted. It finally dawned on me that I should no longer assume that he would always be there whenever I decided to take the time to travel to California to visit him, and that I had better savor every bit of him that I can while he’s still with me. That’s when I decided that I would no longer wait for a reason to come up to go see him — because that may not be an option for too much longer. I resolved to begin making regular, frequent trips to see him, rather than waiting for him to come see me, or for years to pass in between. Previous to this summer, I hadn’t seen my Dad in three years, and that is simply too long a lapse at this stage of his precious life for me ever to allow to happen again.

Dad and Helen

This is not to indicate that Dad’s days are imminently numbered. Aside from a little trouble he’s been having with his knee, he’s in excellent health. Following his heart bypass surgery in 2002, he’s trimmed down and is as svelte as anytime I can remember seeing him. He’s vivacious, alert, and can still talk the leg off of a chair. He’s the same person he has always been, which, I suppose, is the reason it has always been so easy for me to take his age for granted. Apart from the mild heart attack, which precipitated the bypass surgery, Dad has always been the picture of health. There have never been any “warning signs” that he was fading, or that he was in any way coming to the end of his long and wonderfully eventful life.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame
In what has become somewhat of a tradition (well okay, we’ve only done it twice, but ya gotta start somewhere), that evening, Wednesday night, I took my Dad to see our favorite MLB team, the Anaheim Angels. While we were there a football game broke out! No, guys weren’t tackling each other, but there was definitely some hurtin’ goin’ on. The Angels put up a football-like score on the Kansas City Royals, 21-6 (the Royals missed the extra point…)! It was a great game for the home crowd. And we had awesome seats too, courtesy of my friend Cindy, who I’ll talk more about in the next entry. We arrived an hour and a half early to the game and just enjoyed the ambiance of the beautifully re-conditioned Angels Field of Anaheim. It’s a gorgeous ballpark and this was the first time I’d been there since before the refurbishment. The game was obviously a romp, but was memorable for more than just the score. Jeff DaVannon, who is essentially a utility outfielder for the Angels hit for “The Cycle,” which means he had a single, double, triple, and homerun in a single game. This is one of baseball’s rarest offensive feats, with only an average of two or three of them accomplished per year. In fact, since Major League Baseball’s inception in 1869, the Cycle has been neck-and-neck with the “No-Hitter” as one of the game’s most outstanding rarities. In the last 50 years it has actually been slightly even more rare than the no-hit, no-run game. So needless to say, DaVannon’s Cycle was a treat that was special, and one we will never forget. But in all honesty, the guy could have struck out 5 times and it wouldn’t have diminished the specialness of just being at a ballgame with my Dad.

When we returned from the game, I was happy to see my brother TK napping on the couch waiting up for us. He went to a lot of trouble and drove several hours from a business meeting to come out to see me, if but only for a little while. I wish we’d had longer; it was the first time I’d seen him in over four years. The three of us sat up drinking coffee and talked about TK’s kids, business and presidential politics until the wee hours of the morning before he had to get back home to Pasadena, another nearly two-hour’s drive away. His current business venture would have him in meetings early in the morning.

…and an order of nostalgia on the side
Thursday morning Dad and I went out to breakfast at one of his favorite local coffee shops, and we talked some more over bacon, eggs and flapjacks. He told me that in light of what I’d done with my blog, that he might want to take some time in the near future to write out some of his own memories, to tell his own story.

A few years ago my Stepsister had given Dad an outline she downloaded off of a genealogy web site. It asks questions about a person’s life and memories, and provides a corresponding space to answer and elaborate. He pulled out the manila folder he brought along to show me the worksheets. The pages were still vacant, waiting to be filled with memories. “This always seemed like it would be a good idea, but I’ve just never gotten around to it,” he said. I enthusiastically encouraged him to take the time, and told him that I would love to see what he could come up with. He seemed genuinely excited about it. Hopefully he’ll follow through.

He suggested that I could use his notes to combine with mine to possibly include in a complete family history at some point. So I guess I’ve now been anointed the keeper of the family chronicle, which is in itself a mind-blower to me. My new stepmother was also extremely complimentary of the blog stories, and stopped just short of insisting that I write a book about the family someday. She told me, “I’m not even a part of this family (she and Dad were married in December 2001), and I’d buy it! Your stories are that interesting!” That obviously made me feel pretty good.

Speaking of Helen, in addition to the wonderful quality time I got to spend with my Pop for the two days I was there, it was also extremely nice to get to know her a little bit too. This was only the second time I had met her (officially, anyway — I had actually met her briefly as just a friend of my Dad when I was out for Maxine’s funeral in 2000). I had spoken to her a little on the telephone, but the only other face-to-face encounter was a few months earlier in May of this year when Michelle and I were on our second honeymoon trip and spent a day with them on our way up to Santa Barbara. Helen is a wonderful companion for my Dad, and I’m so glad he has her. She lost her husband of 57 years to cancer several years ago. She essentially keeps to her self when it comes to the lives of my Father’s boys, but my brother, TK, has grown quite close to her, and now I feel as though she and I have bonded as well. However I told her that I really couldn’t call her “Mom” as TK does, but she completely understood, saying that she could never call her own stepfather “Dad” even when she was growing up and still living at home.

We spent the afternoon looking at old photo albums, and boxes of old, loose photographs of Dad and my Mother, Annie, dating from the 1930s to the 1960s. I was genuinely surprised when he told me to take whichever ones I wanted. He said that he preferred that I get them now, as opposed to taking the chance that something might happen to them after he was gone. I felt so honored. Among the photos were a few of a young, beautiful Annie, one of which I knew — her high school graduation photo — but a few that I’d never seen before. Dad also gave me several portrait photos of him that I hadn’t seen in many, many years, but most of which I recognized from childhood.

As the afternoon wore on, I realized that I needed to get going to keep my dinner arrangement in Huntington Beach with my Thursday night host, Randy, my good friend and former business partner. But I didn’t want to go. Finally at around 3:30, I began saying my good-byes and collecting my things. I had a 2-hour drive ahead into the teeth of Orange County rush hour traffic.

The time with my Dad went fast, as it always seems to do, but it was among the richest stretches of time I can ever remember spending with him. It caused me to realize how much richer I am as a man in his presence. It reminded me just how very valuable those riches are. It convinced me that I need to get as much of him as I can, while I still can.

Well, DUH!

* * * * * * * * *

Note: I had more than just the intention of getting Dad's reaction to my blog stories when I gave them to him to read. I also wanted to have him check them for accuracy. A lot of what I had to go on in writing my family recollections were only childhood memories, and while I did do a lot of research to verify dates and places, I also ended up getting some details incorrect, which he called to my attention on his first reading. I have made some of those corrections to the individual stories already, and will make more immediately following this series. I will then detail all of my faux pas and make the proper retractions for the record in a postscript blog entry.

Next: Friends

Friday, September 03, 2004

LA Stories (Part I)

I mean, what can you say about a legend? Good question, huh? When somebody out there figures it out, be sure to drop me an e-mail.

In the meantime, I’m gonna talk about my friend, Michael.
Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk…

Friday was day four of my six-day tour of the known and the unknown that was my trip to SoCal. It was also the only day out of the six I spent there in which I really wasn't sure what my schedule would hold. And for that reason, it was one of the busiest, but also one of the best days of what turned out to be a phenomenal week.

Thursday night I had spent the night at the home of my friend and former business partner, Randy, in Huntington Beach. Friday morning I had a chance to spend a leisurely morning drinking coffee and talking with his wife, Linda, catching up on subjects like their kids (who are a bit younger than mine), and her plans to go back to school to become an RN. I speak to Randy on a semi-regular basis over the phone, but this was the first time I’d spoken Linda in several years. It was kind of unexpected, but nice.

Later that morning I said goodbye to my overnight hosts and made my way over to Long Beach. My weekend host was the only college buddy that I’ve kept in touch with over the years, Jay. I had a chance to check in briefly with him before heading up to Burbank to have lunch with my old boss, George, the former VP of the record company at which I worked for two years before moving to Nashville in 1992.

After my lunch meeting, the next thing on my Friday agenda was the loosely-laid plan to have my first face-to-face with a fellow blogger, the ever-popular Michael.

We had e-mailed a couple times before I left for California, and it was decided that Michael would give me a call at 2:00 PM Friday to decide what we were going to do and where we would meet. As it turned out, my lunch meeting ran a bit late and I was still hanging at George’s new office until about 2:30. I kept expecting my cell phone to start buzzing at any moment, but it never did. No biggie. I figured that Mike had gotten busy and forgotten to call, so I just went ahead and enjoyed my visit, which had to end at 3:00 anyway, due to a late afternoon appointment George had.

So when I got back to my car, I decided to give Michael a call to touch base. I dialed him up but got no connection. I then looked down at my phone and saw the two most frustrating words in the English language for a cellular user on my display: No Service. So I hopped back on the 5 Freeway and headed back towards LA, figuring I’d soon be in a good enough cell area to be able to make a call. Almost immediately I had “full bars” on my signal indicator and I gave Michael a call.

“AJ! There you are!” a friendly voice said on the other end of the line.
“I saw that you tried to call a while ago. I’m glad we were finally able to connect.”

In the small-talk that ensued, Michael suggested we meet at one of his favorite little Italian restaurants in Santa Monica at 7:00. He gave me thumbnail street directions as I precariously negotiated cell phone, steering wheel, pen and paper while driving in stop-and-go traffic. I managed to get enough down to recognize my own chicken-scratch writing and hoped that my former familiarity with the beach end of Santa Monica wouldn’t fail me once I got there and tried to find the place. But getting to the opposite end of the LA Basin would prove more daunting a task than I’d planned. Not only was the traffic obscene (and it wasn’t even rush hour yet), my foggy memory of LA’s Freeway interchange intricacies made me thankful that I had over three hours to kill.

Aside from the obvious, one of the suckiest things about near-gridlock traffic is the fact that you can quickly find yourself on "riptide highway" if you wander into the wrong lane. The exit that I thought was taking me towards Santa Monica had instead pointed me in the direction of the San Bernardino Mountains before I realized what was happening. By the time I got myself turned around, the traffic was really starting to bog down. It was then that I noticed one of the products of LA’s 10-year growth spurt, at least on that portion of the Santa Monica Freeway. There were no longer any shoulders on the sides of the road. They had both been turned into traffic lanes to expand the already smothering capacity of motorists who travel that very well worn artery each day through Los Angeles. God forbid that someone were to break down along that stretch; they’d have absolutely nowhere to go.

It took me nearly an hour to travel the approximately 25 freeway miles from Burbank to Santa Monica, so when I finally got off the road, I was ready to get out and stretch my legs. Fortunately for me, the restaurant Michael had chosen was on the main drag in Downtown Santa Monica, one that I was familiar with. That street, Colorado Avenue, ends at the famous Santa Monica Pier. I parked at the adjacent all-day lot and began taking in the sites.

There were still plenty of people on the beach at that late afternoon hour. The food stands, shops and carnival rides on and around the pier immediately brought back my best memories of this area, when I used to compete in the Santa Monica Gymfest gymnastics meet that was held each Labor Day weekend until around the late 80s. “The Beach Meet,” as it was known by most everyone, was held right on the sand, in an area just south of the pier. It was the place of my final competition as an active gymnast, in 1986. I was 30 years old, and it was my first competition in over two years at that point. I took third place on Rings that day, and it still ranks as one of my fondest memories as an athlete.

After putzing around the pier for awhile, I still had well over an hour to kill, so I went over to a little park area on a bluff just north of the pier that overlooks the beach. It was a peaceful little stretch of mature shade trees, park benches and jogging paths. I sat down on a bench, pulled out my notepad and wrote for about an hour and fifteen minutes. During that ime I was joined by a variety of people who sat for awhile and then moved on. The only one of my fellow benchers who said anything to me was an especially chatty homeless man, about whom I’ll talk more in another entry.

Around 6:15, I headed out for the restaurant, which was six blocks straight up from the pier. It was still plenty early, but I wanted to make sure I could secure a good table, assuming the place would likely end up crowded on a Friday night. Besides, I was really starting to get TB from sitting on that darned bench.

Scenes from an Italian Restaurant
Upon arriving at Fritto Misto, I was happy to find the very front corner table vacant in the tiny establishment. It’s a friendly, unassuming place that reminded me more of a neighborhood deli than a restaurant. I sat down, ordered a beer, and enjoyed a few slices of the fresh-baked Italian bread they bring to your table. For another fifteen minutes or so I continued to write in my notebook about the events so far in the week. Then my hand started to cramp (I’m so not used to writing longhand), so I decided to put away my writing and just spend the rest of the time people-watching until Michael showed up.

The people I saw coming and going were nothing too far out of the ordinary. Most everyone seemed to be happily in TGIF mode. The further it got past 6:30, the more people continued to show up, and the more happy I was that I’d decided to get in there early. I was just hoping that nobody minded me occupying a four-seat table all by myself. The quarters are pretty cozy at Fritto Misto — the tables are quite close together. It’s hard not to appear to be staring at your neighbor’s plate — or their date — unless you're careful.

There was a young thirtysomething couple sitting two tables to my right. The woman was heavy with child and the man spoke with a pronounced British accent. Soon another couple came in and seated themselves at the table in between us. I overheard the Brit happily responding to the other patron's inquiry about the menu item he had chosen. He mentioned that this was his third meal at the restaurant this week and that his goal was to have eventually sampled the entire menu before all was said and done.

I glanced at my watch. It said 7:12. No sooner than you could say, “fashionably late,” my cell phone started buzzing.

“AJ…Sorry I’m running a little late,” the friendly voice said. “I’m exactly 20 blocks away.” I told Michael that I supposed I could wait for another measly 20 blocks.

From that point on, once five more minutes or so passed, I began to examine the cars as they turned the corner of the intersection just outside the window I was facing. I was playing a little game of “Find Michael,” wondering if I’d be able to recognize him from the few photos of himself he’d posted on his blog. I thought I’d seen him a couple times, but the cars would either keep going straight or turn in the opposite direction.

Finally, about 10-15 minutes after receiving the phone call, a slender young man walked into the restaurant. He stopped, turned and stared, then smiled broadly at me. The smile looked familiar, but the Mr. Clean haircut took me aback just a little. As he ambled across the room towards my table, I reached out to shake his hand, but the first words out of my mouth were, “Geeze, since when do you have a shaved head?”

The MakeMineMikester smiled and said that he decided to try it a few years back and really liked it, so he’d been going clean ever since. I told him it did look good on him but I really wasn’t expecting it. He said that I looked exactly like my blog picture. Pleasantries exchanged, it began to occur to me that we were going to have a great time getting to know one another.

I found Michael to be extremely pleasant and engaging. The wittiness of his writing is only exceeded by the comfortable manner and sincerity displayed in his person.

If I had to describe who he looks like, I suppose he reminds me of yet another Michael — R.E.M.’s lead singer, Michael Stipe — with his high, chiseled cheekbones, but with much kinder eyes. And as he has already written of our conversation, we did talk about a number of things, both blog and non blog-related. He told me about his family, about his own relationship with his Mom and sister, about how he came to LA, and about his aspirations and successes as a screenplay writer. He also told me of his budding interest in tree-dwelling South and Central American mammals.

We had a great time. The food was magnifico. Michael had the Lobster Ravioli and I went with the Pasta Pancetta, which was outstanding. The Chianti was fruity and fabulous, and considering that it didn’t give me a hangover, was probably pretty high quality as well. Fritto Misto gets four stars from this critic. Check ‘em out the next time you’re in Santa Monica.

And if I may be so cannibalistic as to take bite out of Michael’s “Blog as Restaurant” analogy, if our blogs were all as tasty as both the food and conversation Michael and I shared that Friday evening, we would all have to go on a diet. We’d be frikkin’ porkers.

Next: Dad

Thursday, September 02, 2004

LA Stories (Prologue)

“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”
I suppose that it’s safe to say that the locale in which one comes of age remains a special place throughout their lifetime, and that would probably be the case no matter where you go. However there’s something special about the Hotel California. And just as the Eagles only implied as to it’s specific location, I’m sure it has always been easy to figure out that the place I’ve always referred to in general terms as “SoCal,” is specifially, greater Los Angeles. This is where I spent six days last week, and these are the stories I have to tell about them.

I lived in and around Long Beach for twenty-two years, from the burbs to the projects and back again. I worked in the San Fernando Valley for the last five years before we moved to Nashville in 1992. For those who aren’t completely familiar with the geography of LaLa land, Long Beach is one of the Greater LA’s largest suburbs, located about 35 miles due south of Downtown Los Angeles. It’s the largest city in the “South Bay Curve,” located at the bottom of the peninsula, which frames the western border of the LA Basin. The San Fernando Valley, home of the “Valley Girl,” lies northwest of Downtown, and is the area in which much of the entertainment industry and bedroom communities of the LA megalopolis reside.

I grew up in Long Beach, from the 8th grade on, but worked in and around the Valley during my Record Industry career in the mid 80s to early 90s.

There is no doubt that moving to Nashville was one of the best things I ever did, for both my family and myself. We have all benefited from the change in venue. But just as Don Henley’s lyrics indicate, you can check out of the Hotel California, but you really never leave. There are few people that I’ve ever met who grew up in LA and moved to another part of the country, that don’t still miss it tremendously. Why is that? Two words: the weather. There is something almost metaphysical about the Southern California climate. I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on it. I think it must be its combination of warm of sunshine with the low humidity and the cool Pacific Ocean breeze. For me, it just injects an inexplicable sense of well being deep into my psyche. It has affected me that way since my first visit there in 1967, when I was eleven years old. I felt so comfortable, so at peace, so at home. Perhaps there’s something about the angle of the sunlight, I really don’t know. However there’s got to be something that continues to draw people to this one little area of the country; this sprawling patch of paradise which the locals dubbed the City of Angels over two hundred years ago.

I agreed to move to Nashville, but only at the insistence of my wife, who didn’t grow up there and had no serious ties to the area. All she knew was that we weren't making it financially, that it wasn't a safe place to raise our kids, and that she was tired of the struggle. I never wanted to leave. This was home. This was where I felt significant. This is where I wanted to make my mark.

But it just wasn’t meant to be.

The good news is that where I am now is truly a better place on so many levels. I'm truly happy here in Nashville and have no regrets for having left the Left Coast. But I do have tremendous respect for those who live in Los Angeles and really live as opposed to the many who merely survive. I’ve always said, it’s a great place to be if you’re single and have a lot of money, but it’s hell to raise a family there, so god bless ya if you can pull it off successfully.

Not long ago, I stumbled across a web site of quotations by the immortal Samuel Clemons, AKA, Mark Twain. I was amused to find a reference to a 1950s Reader’s Digest article in which Twain was unofficially credited with coining the oft-used phrase, “It's a great place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there.”

He was referring to Los Angeles.

For the purposes of this story, I tried to relocate that web site, so that I could provide it as an interesting link, but unfortunately it didn’t turn up on any of my searches. However, just as interestingly, I found other references to the Twain and that phrase, but with a twist — the key words were reversed. These other sources reported the Twain quote as, “It's a great place to live but I wouldn't want to visit there.” I really had to laugh, because when you stop and think about it, those two similar approaches to saying the opposite thing are both completely appropriate in describing life in LA, the only difference being whether the person talking is a visitor or an actual resident.

Los Angeles is a wondrous place, but can be a little intimidating. While it may be a bit too fast-paced for some, there’s always something exciting going on. But unless your last name is “Trump,” anyone would consider he cost of living there exorbitant — and becoming more so, seemingly with each passing year. Yet tens of thousands of people are more than willing to spend in excess of forty per cent of their monthly income just on housing and a car payment. Not only do you have to survive in LA — it's extremely important to look good doing it.

But enough sermonizing. The fact is, if you live there, LA is the only place on earth. It’s the kind of place that once it gets in your blood, it just takes over. That’s the way I felt for the 22 years I lived there; and last week I got hooked on the feelin’ for six days more.

I was fortunate enough to see and do just about everything I had planned, and a few more things that I didn’t. This series will at least touch on all of them.

Next: Michael