Friday, November 20, 2009

The Bubble People

Some days, I am surrounded by optimists’. Oh, not most of my friends- most of them are as crotchety as I am. But people I know. People who like bubbles and insist on happiness at all times. Frankly- they are annoying. I really can’t say I know one person who has not had some difficulty in their life. Sad events, loss of loved ones- financial woes- or all of the above. If you look at the numbers, life ain’t so rosy. Sometimes, you just have to look at the facts and acknowledge them for things to change and get better. Say it out loud. Life is shitty sometimes.

Yet we plug along- well most of us plug along. Sure- I see rainbows occasionally. I see acts of kindness for no apparent reason. I see the good stuff- and I file it. But I file the bad too. The senseless murders, wars, child abductions, mothers killing their children, friends killing friends-the permeate evil making its way around the world.

In the last few weeks numerous acts of violence have caught my eye and turned my stomach. A little 5 year old in my former home of North Carolina, was found dead in the woods. Shaniya Davis’s, mother- and I use the term mother loosely- accused of trafficking her baby for sex and an aunt refusing to believe that her sister could harm her baby. Someone must have known this woman was a crappy mother – at best. But those rose colored glasses people are so wont to wear protected the villain and not the victim- the 5 year old child whose short life must have been a living hell.

Yesterday- a friend of mine posted on facebook about a friend of his murdered in his home. The man was a former Marine and a Las Vegas police officer. He interrupted a robbery attempt standing in his own garage when he had just returned from work. Shots were fired and in the end Trevor Nettleton was dead, but his family inside the house, his wife, visiting mother and two children were safe. He was the third Las Vegas Metro Police Officer killed in 6 months.

Today, I was walking my sister’s German Shepherd. Bella is a good dog. She is wary of strangers but normally friendly. Today, Bella growled at a man on the trail and would not stop until he moved aside. My immediate reaction was to say, “No Bella, it’s okay”. I thought for a second though and realized maybe her instincts are better than mine- so instead I said “good girl”. I know the man heard me and I’m sorry if it offended him. But I would rather be sorry than dead.

People tell me I am negative- even my own son, a bit of a skeptic himself, said so last week. Maybe I am. I prefer to think of myself as a realist. Do I expect the worst from everyone? No, not really, but I am ready for it if it comes.

I believe that many of the horrible acts of crime committed are committed because people don’t want to see or get involved. I don’t know about you, but I report suspicious people in the neighborhood or suspected drunk drivers. I keep my eyes open at the grocery store, department stores, and parking lots. I don’t like surprises.

To believe the world or even any part of the world is free of malevolence is just ignorant.

It seems to me- most of the prayers for peace and goodwill go unanswered. I’m not blaming God- or Satan either. I blame people- and I blame people that won’t open their eyes and see things the way they are as well as people doing the violent, despicable acts.

If you think keeping a smile on your face and ignoring the hatred and vile incidents humankind is capable of will make the evil disappear- you are wrong. But…the 10 % of me that is optimistic wishes you were right.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Just Say Thanks

These last two Veterans Days have been a little different for me. I’ve always admired our military heroes, the men and women who have sacrificed their time, energy and some- their limbs and life to serve our country. I have always thanked them for their service when given the opportunity or lent a helping hand when I was able.

The faces of veterans are changing though. Beside a craggy-faced sixty- something from the Vietnam War, or octogenarian- plus from WW2, are twenty-three and thirty year olds. While many of their friends were in school having keg parties, most of our new veterans were in Iraq or Afghanistan serving their country. My own son is twenty-four years old and a combat veteran.

What I have learned since my son and the son’s and daughter’s of my friends became Inactive Reserve Status, is with the end of their military career; where staying alive was a primary concern, often comes new problems. From PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), physical disabilities and mapping the VA bureaucracy, to finding jobs, translating rifleman or tow-gunner to a resume, dealing with people that don’t know how to work as a team or how to give it their all; or finally mourning their losses. Being a veteran can be hard work. Many of them find it difficult to function in a world where there are so few rules. Some of them need help.

I thought when my son got out of the Marine Corps people would line up to hire him. Who wouldn’t want a man that could work four or five days in a row with no sleep? Or make decisions with bullets flying at his head, or someone that had never called in sick? I was surprised and disappointed to find that some applications wouldn’t allow him to include his military status or history. He decided to go back to school instead of explain the four-year gap in work history to people who didn’t care.

This Veterans Day I salute and thank all veterans that ever served our great country. I realize now, they were all once young and somebody's children.

For more information on how you can support the troops and our veterans, visit my website

And if you get a chance- just say thank you – it means the world to those who have served.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Russian River Summers

My mother was a sun worshiper. Every summer she would pack us up and take us to Russian River for however long she could afford. Sometimes a week sometimes two, if we ever stayed a month I don’t remember.

When I think back now it really wasn’t much of a vacation for her. She still cooked up a storm and still had to clean up after us. Then as we got older, it got easier in some ways and harder in others.

We usually stayed at the Hi-Tone Motel. My mother’s cousin Tony Luchessi owned and operated the motel with his wife and son, Isabel and Rich. We all loved Uncle Tony. He was an affectionate Italian who never appeared to be anything but happy. Tony built a house in the back of the property, overlooking the kidney shaped pool, and we stayed in the house. There were four of us kids, my brother John, sisters Linda and Angie, me, my mom and alternating fathers- old and new, visiting when they could.

The stories generally swirl around my head in no chronological order. I’m sure sometimes I mess up the years in a roughly ten-year time span of my early life. But certain incidents I recall as clear as a bell.

We always had cousins or people who my mom said were cousins at the motel and all over Russian River. All the adults were called auntie and uncle- although to this day I don’t know if half of them were actually related to us- even though I do remember that most of them were Italian.

I got my very first and last spanking from my dad in Russian River at “Uncle Bob’s house. My dad had brought my sister Linda, his new sister in law Carol and me to Bob’s house for a weekend. I was about seven years old and when Linda and Carol, both 12 and nearly 12, got to go off without me. I threw a tantrum. My dad took me to the bathroom, put me over his knee, and gave me two or three whacks on my butt. I was used to my mom’s swift backhands, but my dad had never hit me. I don’t think I talked to him the rest of our time there. I held grudges when I was young.

The Hi-Tone Motel was located on Old River Road, halfway between downtown Rio Nido and downtown Guerneville. There was nothing much to do when we were there other than bother Uncle Tony who frequently gave me jobs like cleaning the pool ring with Ajax cleanser and a cloth or helping Aunt Isabel make pizza for the gang. I got to put the salami on the dough. Occasionally my brother and I would go play pee-wee golf but most of the time I just wanted to swim. My mom once told me that the year I taught myself to dive I spent 8 hours one day just diving. My stomach and face were beet red from the belly flops but by the end of the day I was diving like a pro. Other times I perfected my underwater techniques, holding my breath and diving for pennies- something that would come in handy later in life.

One of the most standout days for me is when my father saved my little sister’s life. Angie was just a baby- and like all top-heavy babies, when she leaned over the deep end to look in the pool- in she went. There were several people there- all good swimmers, but none as quick and alert as my Dad. He had her scooped up so fast she never knew she was in trouble. My sister, who had a different father, always had a soft spot for my dad- I wonder if somehow she felt the cosmic connection they had.

I think it was the following year that my sister Linda became the recipient of my bad attitude then, in turn, I was the recipient of my mom’s uncontrolled rage.

I had found a puppy in the field behind us. I’m not sure if I was alone or with my brother but of course I brought the puppy back to the “cabin”. It was some kind of mutt, a ginger color with a brown muzzle and he or she took right to me. I can no longer remember how I or we convinced my mother to let us keep the puppy. Maybe she was just too tired to fight me knowing I would never give up when it came to a dog. The pup however, made a mistake when later he pooped in the house. My sister Linda told me I had to clean it up. Well I didn’t think that was part of the deal I guess- or maybe I just didn’t like Linda telling me what to do. Eventually I got some newspaper and picked up the poop – and just to have the last word- pretended to throw it at Linda. “Here” I said. Unfortunately- for the pup- and me the runny poop went flying off the paper and hit Linda right in the neck. She ran screaming to my mom and I was severely punished - worse than the crime called for. And the pup was sent elsewhere. I’m sure I hated Linda and my mom for the rest of that summer vacation.

The following summer was a bad one too. I can’t remember what my mom’s marital status was at the time. I am guessing split up from my stepdad for one reason or another. She was a head turner and never let moss grow under her feet in-between men. So that summer she was dating someone younger than her and I remember even at eleven years old thinking he was very good looking. When she went out on her date-I had a total melt down. I’m not sure what it was about- but if I were to guess now it would be I felt unloved. I decided to steal the car and go for a ride. Well I guess I had trouble starting it or maybe getting it out of the driveway. My Uncle Tony took the keys and then I really flipped out- and then some Aunt- whose name I don’t remember- was smart enough to take over and instead of fighting with an eleven year old- took me out for a malt. I remember talking to her- telling her my problems whatever they were. She was warm and compassionate – calmed me down and in retrospect- I think she may have had a chat with my mom because I was never punished for trying to take the car.

The next summer was my best. I had my first two-piece bathing suit and even a little something to put in it. My “cousin” Patrick was there and he was the cutest boy I had ever seen. He had blond hair, beautiful green eyes and a golden boy tan. I don’t know how old he was but I think about sixteen. I followed him everywhere. He would be downstairs in his room reading comic books at night- and I would just go sit in his room- just to be near him was enough for me.

One sunny day when we were all at the pool and Patrick was actually paying attention to me, I postponed going upstairs to the rest room just as long as I could- my bladder was bursting. When I finally did go up there I was in a big hurry- and started tugging my bottoms off on the way into the dark cabin bathroom. I sat my fanny down on the toilet seat without a thought- and all of a sudden, something big I mean BIG hit my privates. I put the seat down and tried to flush while pulling my drawers up as fast as I could- and screaming to the top of my lungs. I could hear the thing hitting the top of the toilet seat and my screams grew louder and drew attention. My cousin Patrick, Uncle Tony, mom, sister and brother all came running. When I told my Uncle and Patrick what happened they thought it must have been a bird. So off they went to rescue the bird. Then I heard a yelp come out of one of them and my Uncle Tony swearing something in Italian. It turned out Mothra was living in the toilet. If you remember the Japanese horror film of the giant moth you will know what I am talking about. That moth was so big it would not flush. My Uncle said it was the size of a small bird. I was molested by Mothra, but saved by my heroes. That summer erased all the bad ones.

I don’t know why we stopped going to Russian River. Maybe because Linda got married - maybe because we moved to Marin and we didn’t need to be in search of the sun anymore. Or maybe Uncle Tony got too old and sold the business. Whatever the reason I’m glad I have the memories. I remember my mom looking voluptuous and beautiful in her black bathing suit on her bronze body and her fancy sunglasses, turning heads in her convertible. I remember my sister Linda with her perfect figure and her thick brown wavy hair, going to Rio Nido to the dances where she would probably break a few hearts. I remember my brother Johnny following Uncle Tony around with tools in hand- helping fix things. And my sister Angie, in her little bathing suit bending over the pool and tumbling in or me playing with her in the shallow end for hours at a time. And I remember me- practicing swimming and diving and holding my breath- as if my life depended on it. Maybe it did.