Monthly Archives: May 2012

21 Gun Salute ~ Memorial Day observed.


Old Glory ~ Long Island New York circa 2012

I lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of my bishop. If he had waited a few more minutes before heading in to enemy territory I could have sent my knight in to watch his back. The lone rook sat dumbly behind the king watching his fellow soldier sign his own death warrant. As for the lovely queen she flirted with her lowly pawns on my right flank, hopefully giving them a pep talk. My brother smirked on the opposite side of the table. His win streak is climbing and my frustration is not far behind. But I don’t mind so much. I looked to my right and watched my niece and nephews play innocently in their sandbox as a soft breeze carried mellow rock around the backyard. My step-dad flipped burgers rolled the dogs and kept one eye on the kids as Memorial Day weekend settled upon our little part of the country. It was a peaceful time brought to us by the good men and women of our military. Thanks to these protectors of freedom and guardians of liberty, we can enjoy moments like this with loved ones.

My fellow Americans, on this most sacred of holidays we celebrate heroes from the past, of the present and the inevitable future. We hang flags to honor the country and light candles to remember the fallen. The children started to run around the pool with no worries; concerned only with being children and doing kid stuff. I sat back in my chair and contemplated the beauty of freedom and how lucky I am to abide in its’ shadow. I hope and pray my flesh and blood will enjoy it when they turn thirty.

In the past, I have been privileged to work with veterans who like to tell war stories and share experiences. Luckily for me I enjoy this sort of thing. They transport me to worlds of bombs and bullets, of fear and loss, of bravery and companionship. I will never know the bond which binds the lives of soldiers. It’s a blurry picture my creative mind has a hard time focusing on. It’s a day in the life of someone’s shoes I simply cannot fill. These blessed creatures of all color, code and creed have been unified to one single absolute truth; they have all heeded the call of duty for this great nation and gone to war countless times over. Not just physically, but mentally as well. They took up their swords and walked in to battle with heads held high and hearts filled with determination. The earth shook beneath their feet; they fought the good fight and stood their ground. Many made it through unscathed but too many stayed behind in shallow graves. For those who returned, they lived their lives with a new sense of pride, a new hope for things unseen.

My heart is heavy though. I say this because our media has turned this holiday in to nothing more than a moneymaking enterprise. Everywhere I look there are ads for car sales, clothe sales and even airfare discounts. Granted all these things are nice, but for it to overshadow the true meaning of this day is almost sacrilegious. Some paid with their lives so others can hate without prejudice, discriminate without reason, burn our flag and mock our people. This particular blog is not about the haters and the radicals who seek to destroy this nation with words and deed, but in a sense rise above their pettiness and speak to those of us who love life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When we see the red, white and blue parading over our neighborhoods this weekend let us all stop, bow our heads and take a minute to respect those colors and what they stand for. There is an inscription at a chapel in Normandy, France at the Normandy American cemetery which perfectly describes the people we are honoring this weekend: “These endured all and gave all that justice among nations might prevail and that mankind might enjoy freedom and inherit peace.”

To every veteran, M.I.A, P.O.W and deceased hero…thank you for our freedom. Thank you for liberty. I owe my life to you all. Salute and God bless.

All ye who enter here…

In my mind’s eye I was taken in the spirit down a marble hallway aligned with brass plated elevators. From east to west they stretched for miles, like war horses preparing to march into battle. Only these machines were not for war. How I knew this remained a terrible mystery to me because after all, this was my first time traveling without a body so I had no idea what to expect. I drifted slowly, observing each monstrosity with terror hoping to find some sort of rhyme because reason eluded me. I noticed how there were no buttons to push or numbers illuminated above the brass frames. They stood silent and waiting, ready to open up at the whim of some hidden master engineer. I am sure this person was behind a computer screen watching my every move with laughter etched in an evil grin.

I continued down the corridor made of marble and stopped abruptly as the walls began to come alive. Ivy shoots split through them, sending out long fingers of green talons like asp’s out of nightmarish holes. They crawled upwards and overtook the ceiling with record speed. If it weren’t for the gong I never would have noticed doors opening towards the west. The sound emanating from the invisible instrument echoed down the hallway and rushed past me faster than light and shook whatever innards resided in this hollow thing I called a body. The ivy drifted down from above and struck out at me as if I offended it. Without hesitation I sprinted towards the opening of this great mystery, some black hole I had never imagined, or perhaps, one I never wanted to. Before I reached the cavity in the marble a long hand came forth from its’ empty darkness and beckoned me to take hold. I retracted mine once I touched the icy flesh. Death waited in this pit. Without a word the thing took its’ smoky finger and pressed a button only it could see. When I dared to, I stepped forward and asked this horror what harm it meant to cause me. What vendetta had it meant to fulfill?

I learned quickly this being had no talent for small talk so I remained hushed as we began to ascend. Several moments passed before the number eighteen lit up high above my head. I inquired of this kind spirit if this was the men’s department. Once the doors re-opened he roughly took me by the cloak and flung me out. I landed with a thud in front of two, massive white doors and looked about only to see people running to and fro in hospital scrubs. I came to the conclusion these were busy people. Important people. I remembered the proverbial cat that ventured too close to curiosity but decided to see what was on the other side regardless. I wanted to be with these people. I pulled the silver handle and swung the door wide and entered. A part o has never left.

Naturally all this ranting is nothing more than nonsensical balderdash. Truth based fiction trumped-up several degrees so you can get an idea of what was going through my mind the other day as I watched a family mourn the loss of a loved one. As I watched this sorrow unfold I thought back to the first day I started working in an I.C.U as a nurse assistant. The trepidation I felt on my way up the elevator was palpable because I had never dealt with sick people. I waited like a dope in my green scrubs like I had any inkling as to what the next four years of my life would bring. When I started out I was the man described above; confused, lost, curious, brave, and ready to take on the world.

But now I am tired. I have aged to the point where I don’t recognize the man in the bathroom mirror. I am full of vain answers to those with painful questions. You never realize how absolutely powerless you are until you witness someone dying in front of you. These finite hands of ours can only care so much, our words of comfort can only heal on the surface, our prayers are left in the winds, hoping the Lord leans over and maybe snatches a few out of the air. When you work in an atmosphere filled with suffering, a piece of you dies. When we go home for the night, a part of us stays behind and I don’t know if we ever get it back. But even if we don’t, I believe something else moves in to the vacant spot in our hearts making it whole again. Kindness. Goodness. Mercy. These come back ten-fold when we reach out to the broken. We earn the satisfaction in knowing we helped a fellow human through hard times.  For me, I have learned to perceiver. I am beginning to understand the meaning of not giving up when the going gets tough. This place will break you, yet mold you at the same time into the people we are meant to be. When you stand above someone ready to walk towards the light always remember you are in a privileged position. When they look in your eyes they are counting on seeing someone who cares for them. For many, we are the last people they will see on this earth. As hard as it can be, it is not without honor.

All ye who enter here know this; sorrow will be found behind these doors. But take comfort, we are waiting here to help lift some of the burden. This is what we were made for. This is our testament to life.

The apex of our lives.

Cast Away. One of my favorite movies of all time. Actually, I am listening to the main theme as we speak. Music helps kick-start my creative side and makes the whole writing experience somewhat surreal and if you listen along while reading my work you will understand where I am coming from. I like to paint pictures for my readers. Pictures made not from brush or pencil but from words and feelings and music…I enjoy setting the stage so everyone can experience what exactly is going on inside of this numskull of mine.

Every movie has an apex. Whether it lasts sixty seconds or gone in the blink of an eye, every movie has a moment when people can reach out towImageards the screen and say yes, this is why the movie was made, this is what I am going through today. When I watch Tom Hanks float along the vastness of the sea on his broken boat I understand this man and his anguish. I can’t say I was ever stranded at sea, but I still feel for him. I understand the desperation on his face and the anguish in his heart, the tears on his cheek. I know the sadness he felt when he realized there was nothing left for him to do but lie down and weep and hope that maybe someone somewhere would throw a life jacket in the water and pull his wasted frame from the coldness of death. This was his apex. This was him being human. When he landed on the cursed island, he had a decision to make. Survive the unknown and make it back to Helen Hunt or succumb to the melancholy and slip away from earth through means of suicide. He chose to survive and take on whatever came next. Please don’t misunderstand I realize the movie was fiction and Hanks really doesn’t work for Fed-Ex and drive around with a volleyball named Wilson, but I believe the movie had a great message. He took what was placed in front of him and made the best out of a real crummy situation. In the film this was the path he was supposed to take.

I was sad today. Sometimes I picture myself on a broken raft in the middle of nowhere with no wind to take my sails and no water to quench my thirst. Most of the time I walk this earth in a confused state of mind waiting for someone to show me the way. I know many people wouldn’t dream of admitting it but who cares? I believe the majority of people do the same exact thing. We search for clues, we wait for signs, we pray for guidance. A friend of mine asked me today if I had any real concrete plans for my upcoming Great American road trip. Other than routing it out on my map and working overtime to pay for it all, I really don’t. Some people will call it foolishness; I am calling it the fulfillment of a destiny thirty years in the making. I am at peace with the unknown. As nerve-wracking as it is, nothing will stop me from taking this leap of faith. Life is not made for the timid. I like to think Tom Hanks’ character felt this way on the island. He didn’t know the outcome, he had no idea what to do next but he did it anyway and became world-famous. People will say I am running from something. I say nay and nay again! For I run towards the apex of my life and all the goodness to follow.

Welcome to Bangarang.

The sun melted as it struck the horizon to the West. The once orange globe now burned fiery red as it descended back to hell to refuel for the opposite side of earth. Purple mixed with blues and yellows shot forth in to the nothingness of the Milky Way where it lingered for light years before reaching the doorway to Heaven and vanishing altogether. An invisible hand took hold of massive clouds and shifted them slightly, causing people far below to bow in awe as the sunset began to reach its’ zenith. Far above the outstretched arms of mankind, stars began to awaken from slumber and the moon rose to victory as his eternal foe was snuffed out beyond the Pacific and was no more.

The sunset described above was concocted in my imagination on the way home from work the other night. It is a figment of my heart. The real sunset was rather uneventful yet beautiful in its’ own right. No fireworks. No orgasmic blast of colors raining down from above. No altercations between sun and moon. The people driving in front of me continued on their paths towards wherever while I rested my head against the cushion and listened to Lyle Lovett sing about flour tortillas and the woman he loves.  I began to wonder what type of words would describe moments of true happiness. When I listen to him sing about over-easy eggs and sleeping in on Sundays, I am convinced the hype we see on television is nothing more than smoke in mirrors. I wonder if the most precious moments in our lives really do commence over breakfast with a loved one. I watched the hula-hooped Hawaiian girl bobble back and forth in agreement on the dashboard of my van. Traffic crept along blissfully unaware of the perplexing dilemma which I faced so I rolled my window down to ask the little old lady beside me how she felt about the word Bangarang. She asked if I wanted a blue orangutan. I rolled up my window and sped away with images of blue monkeys throwing bananas and causing anarchy around town.

Image I believe we are allotted a handful of wonderful experiences in life which sweep away depression and cast light on the shadows of loneliness. We wait patiently for good tidings and great joy because some clever person told us it was a virtue and all that jazz so take a number, sit down and wait your turn. Do yourself a favor and bring a book because it may be a long wait. In all honesty, I am tired of waiting. Sometimes we need to step out of our shells of fear and uncertainty and take the plunge because nothing will ever happen if we stay stagnant. If we never have the guts to go off the beaten path once and awhile we run the risk of never finding the secret doors God intended us to find. These doors are not your main objective mind you, just interesting side quests. But there is a catch. Like our fragile human frame, these expeditions are vulnerable to time and will be swallowed up by the past if we are too timid to step out on a ledge and claim what so rightfully belongs to us. It makes me sad to think I passed up many doors in my own life that I was supposed to unlock. Fortunately I know there are more waiting for me to walk through. Actually, if you were to look down the road of my life at this moment, you would see a bunch of blue apes hanging a sign over what appears to be an ancient wooden door overrun with ivy and suspense. I think they are welcoming me to Bangarang.

In the Land of Ancients.

In the Land of Ancients.

Long Island New York circa 2012.

Grilled cheese Melt-down.

I suppose it could happen to anybody. It was an honest mistake. When I think back on some of the positions I’ve held in various companies and sweatshops, there may or may not have been some instances where I forgot to do something I should have. When I was eighteen I neglected to set the breaks on a three-hundred-pound lawnmower.  The damn thing took off on its’ own, jumped a curb, and for good measure slammed into my new 87’ Camaro before I had a chance to catch up with it. It wouldn’t have been a big deal if my co-workers weren’t watching along with a potential client. A few years later I left a hammer on top of a ladder before going to eat and when I returned to take the ladder down, the hammer promptly fell and cracked the imported Italian marble tiles. I was politely given the boot the following evening. One time I just plain old forgot to go to work. Probably would have slipped under the radar if it had it not been Memorial Day. I will leave it up to you to figure out what happened next.

We ordered take-out for lunch today. When it arrived we opened the bag unleashing a delicious aroma of roast beef, panini bread and melted cheeses. After ruffling around the sack and handing out the goodies to everyone I upended the cursed bag to see if mine had made its’ way out of the delicatessen. Turned out the guy left my Ultimate Grilled Cheese sandwich on the grill…Hunger is a fickle thing. Makes you do things you would normally avoid doing and causes all sorts of inner turmoil. It starts in the gut, slowly snaking its’ way up the spine and into the backs of your eyeballs and drops down into your stomach at the speed of sound sending rippling hunger pangs to the tips of your toes. This sounds dramatic but we all know what the hunger monkeys can accomplish if the appetite is not properly taken care of.

When everyone was enjoying the delectable feast I was walking around trying to appear calm. But I wanted answers. I demanded to know the meaning for such deception. I moaned and groaned on the inside and snapped at people. Sorry about that guys. Turns out I still have character flaws to rectify. An hour later the guy returned with my meal and we parted in peace with no bloodshed. Three hours later I felt foolish. There are millions of hungry people in this country who won’t be eating today. While I am looking for heads to roll over bread and what is essentially mold, kids are crying because their little bellies ache from starvation. When I stopped to think about it I felt shame. After remembering the ice cold refrigerator I had at home and all the contents within I stopped to say a quick prayer of gratitude because in the grand scheme of things I won’t die if I were to skip a meal. I won’t collapse if an ice cold caramel macchiato doesn’t quench my thirst. But someone will die from lack of water tonight. Someone will succumb to poverty, fall victim to famine. The next time I feel the beast begin to stir I shall restrain it with the knowledge of how fortunate I really am.

Sleepers awake!

When I close my eyes I can see the maestro standing amidst the audience proudly in his penguin suit. The moment is silent. The crowd ready. He sends his arms skyward and pauses just a moment to allow people to edge forward in their seats. He lowers the baton and ushers forth an invisible stream of music which captivates the crowd behind him. Violins make their angelic tunes as waves of bows sway back and forth like reeds alongside a river bank after the tide returns to sea. The orchestra delivers Johann Bach perfectly to the listeners who in turn applaud with enough emotion to raise the dead guy from his eternal nap. But this is why they have gathered en masse tonight. They showed up for a performance never to forget. They came to wine and dine and be enraptured by the entire shebang before hailing down a cab and heading home.

I think of crap like this when listening to classical music. I’ve had several songs looping through my brain for a few days now so I figured if I write something about it maybe the madness will cease. I am currently infatuated with “Wachet Auf!”For those of you who slept through rudimentary German in high school it means “Sleepers Awake!”  And it happens to be one of my favorite pieces. Not that I am a classical music aficionado but I do enjoy it when the mood is right. I wonder what it must be like to compose symphonies and write cantatas that will bring joy to millions of people. Do you think Bach knew the impact he would have on people decades in the future? Sometimes I picture him sitting on his uncomfortable wooden bench with his silly wig in hand contemplating the meaning to his music and wondering if it was all for nothing. I can see him walking around with those goofy stockings and buckle shoes cursing the wind and flinging pencils across his room.

Years ago I read a wonderful book entitled “Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh” which led me to search out this misfit, this vagabond, this sad man stuck in a whirlwind of poverty and mental illness. Just for the record Vinnie never actually wrote an autobiography but composed hundreds of letters to his beloved brother Theo and they were compiled into a book by Irving Stone. In between the pages Van Gogh describes life as a wanderer looking for love, friendship and meaning to things he cannot comprehend. He was labeled an outcast and obsolete by the same society who would come to love his paintings. It’s depressing when I think of him sitting in his seat with his gun loaded and no one around to care for him. I like to think all he wanted to do was inspire someone, to feel wanted. He traveled through London and Paris seeking his place on this globe. Unfortunately, he never found it.

I hope to inspire someone before I walk towards The Light. Once you get passed all the muck, the mire and all the crumby stuff in between most people just want to know if they did life right, if they counted the needs of others more important than their own. I strive to live this way, but I know I don’t always succeed. I just hate knowing (and I am using the word hate here) there are wonderful human beings out there walking around without a friend or uninspired. If I were a king or the President I would make some sort of law that banned unfriendliness…Oh I don’t know, maybe it would go something like this:

         I, Gabriel Papparaci, President of the United States and founder of the Foundation for Friends hereby order all to follow these simple yet powerful rules to live by: Be kind and considerate, include all, greet strangers and buy them coffee, do not judge someone by their clothes, do not argue, do not belittle, show respect, invite everyone to your party or no one at all, never forget to say thank you and please, share your lunch with the poor kid, dance with the unpopular chick, accept the nerds invitation to dinner. When you play a sport don’t set a maximum limit on how many can play at one time even if the teams turn out to be sixty-three verses fifty-two. I understand this may get confusing but so be it, just play with more basketballs. Be aware of the bus driver’s feelings even if he is a grump, remember that we are all equal in God’s eyes and no one is better than anybody else, honor the Golden Rule. If any of these laws and bylaws are broken you will be publicly dunked and/or pied depending on which region you live in. Thank you. Also, I love you.                                

                                                    Respectfully yours, the Prez.

The lion and his den.

             I stood on the Eighteenth floor bridge today and watched a cloak of mist drift in from Connecticut and overtake Long Island Sound. It was subtle, like the tide taking away my footprint one grain of sand at a time. The silhouette of earth bowed down to the gloomy clouds as they filled the heavens with awe and majesty. A rumble of thunder was followed by a flash of electricity somewhere in the near distance. Seagulls soared above the neon green trees dotting the landscape making their way to and fro to who knows where. I assumed they were trying to find protection from the incoming phenomenon. The bridge did precious little to appease my desire for security. I could feel the damp and dreary chill in the air miles away.

              Sometimes I feel honored to be able to go to work and have a view like this. Whenever I find myself stressed out I glance out the window and remind myself to breath because what we go through is not as important as how we go through it. On a sunny day you can see the island zigzagging east to west for miles and if you look really close you can see waves breaking along the rocky shoreline. During the summer months boats cruise along the water splitting blue ocean into white froth behind them. Many would say the view is breathtaking at sunrise; others will speak of romantic sunsets.

              Unfortunately there is another side to this token, another edge to this sword. On my side of the glass patients lay broken and in need of a few good strangers to care enough to show them some love, to take care of them, to remind them kindness is alive and well and not some relic of decades past. It’s not an easy thing to awake each morning knowing you are going into battle, knowing you are going into the proverbial lion’s den. Thankfully there are other nut jobs out there who have volunteered to jump in with me. These chosen few are called nurses.

              I work in the company of the best of the best. It is an honor and a privilege to stand beside them. To call them friends. Not many go to work knowing what we know and manage to get out alive or at the very least sane. To all of the nurses reading this I want to say thank you. Always keep the flame of kindness kindled in your heart and when it starts to dim I implore you to take a moment and watch the sky because storms will eventually retreat and the sun will shine again.