Come N Get Me

Come on over boy
Waitin’ in Snoopy’s satchel
Take the blues away

What’s takin’ so long
Dont you love me no more boy?
Ain’t you hurt enough

Nobody else knows
But i know boy,take a taste
Better than pussy

Blanket of roses
Pillow of the softest wool
Melt like wax with me

What’d you say boy?
You “Cant make it”? WTF?
Your ass is mine now

I will bust your head
Rack your soul with mad pain
Come back my lover

I will forgive you
Again and again my pet
Til’ the end of time

Just give me your soul
Give me everything youve got
Give it all to me

You will not need it
When my work is through with you
You wont even care

Coyotes

I often work outside in the yard at night. We live in a very rural section of central Connecticut, on top of one of the tallest hills in the area. We see and hear many different types of wildlife – from Eagles to Eastern Coyotes.

The Coyotes sing at night – last night I left my little Tascam digital recorder running, set about 12 feet above the back yard on a ladder.

Coyotes – Coyote Chorus
Coyotes vs. Dogs – Coyotes Vs. Dogs

Enjoy

RIP – my mother, Lily Strange Socci July 30, 1924 – January 31, 2013

We’ll have more to say later. For now, the obituary I composed. Rest in peace ma…

Lily Strange Socci
Lily Socci

Lily Strange Socci of Centerbrook died at Middlesex Hospital, Middletown, CT on January 31, 2013. She was 88 years old.

She was born Lily Louise Strange, the youngest of three children, to Louise (Wright) and Charles H. Strange on July 30, 1924 in Pottsville, PA.

Lily was best known for her one woman show, “The Pink Lady”, which included original comedy, songs, and impressions of Hollywood stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Mae West. She had appeared on stage or worked on stage productions with such notable celebrities as Art Carney, Joe E. Brown, and The Public Theater of NYC’s Joseph Papp.

She was the mother of two sons, Joseph Peter Socci born 1964, and Charles Strange Socci born 1966 of Centerbrook. She was the former spouse of their Father, Peter Joseph Socci who was remarried and died in 2005 in Danbury, CT

In addition to her theatrical activities she was a tireless advocate for closing the large state institutions and integrating the mentally challenged into the community. She cared for her Downs Syndrome son Joey at home until his death in 1992.

She also briefly taught art in the public school system, and was a lifelong lover of painting, drawing and pastels.

She obtained her undergraduate degree in English at Penn State, her teaching certification at Southern Connecticut State University, and a Masters in Liberal Studies from Wesleyan University.

Lily was an active member of many organizations during her life time, including: The Daughters of the American Revolution, the National Association for Retarded Citizens, the Cappella Cantorum, Trinity Lutheran church choir, and the The Middletuners singing group of Middletown, CT.

She was predeceased by her son Joseph Peter Socci,  her Father Charles Hodgetts Strange of Jacksonville, FL, her Mother Louise Wright of Centerbrook, and two brothers; Charles Alfred Strange of Milford, CT and Walter H. Strange of Pelham, NY.

She is survived by her son Charley and daughter-in-law Kristin Lynn Socci (McGarigle) of Centerbrook, two grand-children, Alexander David Charles Socci, and Norma Lucille Louise Socci of Deep River, her beloved dog Champagne “Shammy”, and dear family friend of 50 years Frances Outland of Middletown – as well as her lifelong childhood friend in Pottsville, Evelyn Berger.

Family and friends may visit the Swan Funeral Home, 1224 Boston Post Rd., Old Saybrook, Thursday, February 7, from 5 to 7.  Funeral Services will be held Friday, February 8, at 1 pm at the Trinity Lutheran Church, 109 Main Street, Centerbrook CT.  Interment will follow at Centerbrook Cemetery.  Please visit www.swanfuneralhomeoldsaybrook.com for tributes and condolences.

Published in The Middletown Press  on February 5, 2013

 

I’ve composed a photo album for my mother, which may be viewed by clicking the following link. If you have any photos or video to share, please let us know! Our number is +1 860 581 8361 Lily Strange Socci Photo Album

 

Africa, What Have You In Store For Me?

Something I wrote down a while back.

Lake Kivu, Bukavu DRCOh, Africa, what have you in store for me?

I come from the west with a seed in my heart, what have you in store for me?

Things i can’t imagine, what does it mean to be human? Africa what have you in store for me?

Batuuli was raped by the rebels yet showers her love without limit on all she meets, Africa what have you in store for  me?

Haji’s hand was taken by the rebels yet today he plays the guitar, Africa what have you in store for me?

People with nothing yet rich beyond any measure in the things of the heart, Africa what have you in store for me?

Beautiful dawns, lush green days and tropical rains – nights filled with the smell of wood fires, Africa what have you in store for me?

Squirrels

When I got home this evening, two huge squirrels were sitting at my back door gorging themselves on a bag of birdseed that an unnamed resident of this household left out.

I approached and the two squirrels looked up.

     “Who the fuck are you?”, said they.

     “I live here, and I can’t believe my dogs haven’t eaten YOU”, said I.

     To which the fat squirrels replied, “YOUR dogs?”.

Then they ran ran off up a tree and I entered a quiet house – which was somewhat odd since if someone so much as farts at 3AM our dogs raise all hell…

Group Survival

Holidays often bring us together with people who share vastly different opinion and philosophy from us.

One can argue, or find common ground.

One thing I know is the survival of groups – be it from a scientific and evolutionary perspective, social or religious perspective; Groups only survive when their members learn how to take care of and look out for each other.

Who’s got your back today?

Time Travel

I’ve heard men say time travel isn’t possible. This past weekend I discovered it is real.

I went to an outdoor music festival with my son. I saw myself at 18, standing there among the crowds. I heard myself at 18 singing along to the music. I felt my awkwardness at 18 trying to meet a pretty girl dancing beside me.

Like one of Dickens’ ghosts I watched it all before me, my life at 18.

I think I might have even caught my own eye, looking and wondering what that grey haired man was doing there.

I Am the Captain of My Soul

My Mother used to quote this poem to me when I was a child. I hadn’t heard it since, until recently, spoken by actor Morgan Freeman in the trailer to the film Invictus, while I’ve yet to see.

Invictus
by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul

In the fell clutch of circumstances
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of change
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the year
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Jitterbug Waltz

I adore Fats Waller’s Jitterbug Waltz. As I continue on my journey to become a “real” pianist, it is one of the tunes I really enjoy playing.

Here’s my latest version – http://www.socci.com/jitterbug06.mp3

And for a recording of the master Fats Waller, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1R0vWC9PzM

My Piano

I’m not a professional pianist. While the saxophone is my main axe, and the one I used to earn a living with, lately I’m more at home on the piano. When I return to the saxophone, the things I’ve worked out on the piano are there for me. My chops get a little rusty – but conceptually the things I’m learning and hearing seem to get worked out far more efficiently at the keyboard. I also feel a frreedom at the keyboard because I don’t hold my self to any particular standard, past or present.

I bought a full size Yamaha upright piano a few summers ago and I’ve been wanting to record it – just for fun, and also to analyze what I’m playing so I can get better. My wife Kristin bought me a pair of CAD GXL-1200 mics for my birthday.

Its a great sounding piano, at least I think so. I have it tuned every season, but its really tough this time of year. Even with the humidifier, the temp and humidity are all over the place and it doesn’t stay in tune for long. But it isn’t bad.

The mics were about $100 for the pair! Including cables!

If I were mic-ing the piano for real, I’d take the case apart and expose the strings. But I can’t leave my piano like that with two dogs and a cat… and I wanted to mic inside the case so I could just sit down and record it when I feel like it.

So I ended up mounting the mics inside the kick panel on two pieces of styrofoam about a foot in from each edge and halfway up from the the bottom, with the mics pointed in toward the strings and soundboard at about a 45 degree angle. It actually sounds ok – the levels were a few db’s too hot – so there is a bit of distortion on some of the peaks. listen to my new CAD gxl1200 Mics and Yamaha 52\" upright piano… Kind of unbelievable what $100 can buy in terms of audio quality today…

Haiti

First of all – you can help right NOW by text message the word HAITI on your mobile phone to 25383 to make a $5 donation via the International Rescue Committee.

Second of all, I feel so helpless. I want to be there digging, or passing out bottles of water, or cleaning porta-potties or SOMETHING… anything to help.

I suppose this is a terribly ignorant point of view, but I’m following the world’s response – in particular the United State’s.

I’m thinking if EVER there were a *GOOD* reason to invade a country, this is it.

I mean we can walk all over Afghanistan and Pakistan. We tore Iraq apart at the seams.  But the 82nd Airborne has to circle the island for five hours? Aid workers are backed up at the airport? What the hell? You know?

We’re the USA for Christ’s sake. With all our wealth, and all our patriotism and flag waving THIS is best we can do???

Send in the Marines. Take this shit over man. Provide security. Get water, food, shelter, sanatation, and security where it is needed, NOW, before it is too late.

Dig them out. Secure the perimeter. Protect the weak and the innocent. Get it together and then get the hell out.

When The Silence Is Too Loud

I made a trip to Africa recently. I work in technology an engineer and network manager for a humanitarian organization with a large, well funded program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I was sent to spend a week in Bukavu helping to set-up some IT equipment and do some troubleshooting.

I’ve been on the African continent a few times – in the 1990’s working as a touring musician I visited Egypt, Morocco, and Kenya – which was as far south as I had ever been. The most powerful impact of this trip, with the exception of the friendships I made in Bukavu, was my layover in Rwanda.

The trip from Bukavu back to Rwanda involved a 45 minuite “puddle-jumper” flight from Cyangugu Kamembe airport on the DRC border to Kigali. It was a short flight, but over the most intensely beautiful country I have ever seen. My seat mate was also employed by an NGO and we decided that we’d spend our afternoon Kigali layover visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial. My seat-mate Laeticia was the one who told me about the history of the genocide and pointed out Romeo Dallaire’s book, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda
which I purchased from the gift shop after the tour.

Many people don’t know about the genocide in Rwanda.  As the world watched a different tragedy unfold in the former Yugoslavia; and questioned whether or not O.J. Simpson’s hands fit the bloody glove – A million people were brutally slaughtered in an organized wave of death based on nothing more than their identity as a Tutsi or Hutu moderate.  The world didn’t pay much attention.

It is hard to explain what happened in the scope of a sentence or two, but basically humanity went nuts. Rwanda had a division along ethnic lines – something that was encouraged and enforced during Rwanda’s colonial occupation by Belgium. Great hatred developed between the Tutsi (the favored, the ones given high positions and status) and the Hutus (the common masses, farmers, and workers). In the late 50’s and into the early 60’s, just five years or so before Rwanda gained full independence, the Tutsi monarchy was eventually driven from power and exiled themselves in the neighboring countries of Zaire (DR Congo), Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania. Rwanda’s history into the 1990’s was one of various factions – Hutu moderate government forces, Exiled Rwandan Tutsi Forces that had mobilized outside the country, and internal Hutu extremists who held high contempt and hatred for all Tutsis and Hutu moderates. As the tensions and political power began to mobilize and strengthen between these groups, a United Nations force was installed to keep the peace. The figurehead of the force was Canadian Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, who has written a book (now a movie ) about his experiences. Essentially Dallaire failed in his mission. While signs of an impending tragedy echoed across the desks of the most powerful nations in the world, they were ignored. Dallaire did the best he could do with what he had – and I believe that for that he is a hero. Unfortunately he was not given enough resources to prevent the slaughter of nearly one million Tutsi and Hutu moderates by rogue government forces and the extremist Interhamwe over the next few weeks.

Visiting the memorial is tough. Rooms filled with cases of bones, shoes, clothing, identification, photographs and personal effects stand to remind of what happened here in 1994. 1994. Another area serves the memory of other genocides such as those in Cambodia, Bosnia and Nazi Germany in World War II. Clearly we never learned our lesson. Viewing the small remains of a child whose skull was fractured from the blow of the back of a machete is not something one can soon forget. While I’m no Romeo Dallaire, sometimes the silence is too loud even for me.

Why am I blathering on about all this? I guess it is because I know that this ethnic genocide continues in parts of central Africa. I know that armed militias control and wage war over various mineral resources in the DRC of gold and coltan. Many people starve. There is widespread lawlessness and gang rape by armed militias is a daily occurrence both women and men experience on a regular basis. Large masses of people are constantly uprooted and must move due to the conflicts. This stuff keeps me up at night.

I watched a documentary of General Dallaire – and he spoke of his post traumatic stress and suicidality after returning home. He said the silence became so loud. He spoke of the persistence of horrific visions of corpses and the stench of death and the feelings of helplessness and failure.

Dallaire has spoken of his faith. It remains difficult for me to believe in a god who would sit by and let all these things happen – in the same way it is difficult for me to believe in a government or even a planet that could sit by and let these things happen. They say 26,000 children die of starvation every day. Why would a god who could fix that and feed them, not? Why would he let a young child or infant watch his parent be shot or machete’d to death – before being raped and murdered herself? How does the god of little children I was taught to believe in stand by and watch that happen?

Human beings are capable of some awful things. It doesn’t seem to require any mental illness to me. Perhaps Manson and Bundy were mentally ill – antisocial, sociopathic, incapable of remorse or empathy. But surely not every genocidaire involved in the muder of a million Rwandese fit the DSM category for antisocial sociopathy – (any more than those German people who were complicit in the extermination of 6 times as many Jews murdered in the Nazi Holocaust). I think people who “know” they are right, and are just that sure of themselves are dangerous. This is what happens when we go so fully into the us and them mentality. This is what happens when we so strongly identify as right or left. When we identify as groups and stop identifying as individuals – we start to lose our humanity. When our humanity is gone, the most horrible shit happens.

A Letter From Rudyard Kipling

(I’d like to add, this advice to his 12 year old son could just as well apply to a daughter on becoming a woman)

“Letter to the son” by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired from waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor loose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run:
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

The Song of a Life

I’ve posted this before. I keep returning to it – and it never fails to remind me how deep and complex we are. It is so easy to trivialize, to label, to stereotype… and we forget that each of us was once somebody’s child. We’re not cartoons. We’re not liberals and conservatives. Inside each of us lives a child who longs to be understood.

Years ago when I first met my wife, she gave me a copy of a beautiful story.

I was anxious to share everything there was to share about myself – and I wanted her to know everything about me – both the good and the bad.

We spoke about things like regret and we also spoke about forgiveness. We spoke about what it means to lose yourself and lose your way.

I long for a community like the one in this story. I long for love and support of those who remind me when I’ve lost my way and help me find the real me whom I forgot.

How many of us could benefit from hearing our song sung to us when we’ve lost our way? How many of us sometimes need to be reminded who we truly are?

    The Song of A Life

When a woman in a certain African tribe knows she is pregnant, she
goes out into the wilderness with a few friends and together they pray
and meditate until they hear the song of the child.

They recognize that every soul has its own vibration that expresses
its unique flavor and purpose.

When the women attune to the song, they sing it out loud. Then they
return to the tribe and teach it to everyone else.

When the child is born, the community gathers and sings the child’s
song to him or her. Later, when the child enters education, the village
gathers and chants the child’s song.

When the child passes through the initiation to adulthood, the
people again come together and sing. At the time of marriage, the person
hears his or her song.

Finally, when the soul is about to pass from this world, the family
and friends gather at the person’s bed, just as they did at their birth,
and they sing the person to the next life.

In the African tribe, there is one other occasion upon which the
villagers sing to the child.

If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or
aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the
village and the people in the community form a circle around them.
Then they sing their song to them.

The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not
punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity. When you
recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that
would hurt another.

A friend is someone who knows your song and sings it to you when
you have forgotten it.

Those who love you are not fooled by mistakes you have made or
dark images you hold about yourself.

They remember your beauty when you feel ugly; your wholeness
when you are broken; your innocence when you feel guilty; and your
purpose when you are confused.

You may not have grown up in an African tribe that sings your song
to you at crucial life transitions, but life is always reminding you when
you are in tune with yourself and when you are not.

When you feel good, what you are doing matches your song, and
when you feel awful, it doesn’t.

– Author Unknown

Nine Eleven 9/11

Me and friends. WTC 2001
Me and friends. WTC 2001

I’ve almost never spoken about it. I certainly never spoke about it publicly.

Personally, that day was a mile-marker. It marked the beginning of a massive spiral downward. My life hit it’s lowest point ever nearly a year and many substantial events later. I gave up – on myself and everybody else too… and I really fucked my life up. I don’t know if I can blame that day alone – but it is an irrevocable part of the whole story to be sure.

I was here, in Manhattan, and watched it from the window of my apartment. My wife watched too, saw them fall, from her rooftop, though back in 2001 – though she and I had yet to meet.

I slept in that morning, on the pull-out bed Jennifer Convertibles leather sofa that filled most of my studio apartment, 49B.

I heard sirens pass by outside – not an unfamiliar sound. They didn’t stop and kept going, and going until I abandoned my cozy bed and got up to look out the window and take a leak.

I didn’t see anything right away, but checked my email and saw an ABC Breaking News Alert in my inbox. “Small plane may have flown into World Trade Center…”

I stood on my tub and looked out the bathroom window where I could get a good sight line downtown. I could see plumes of smoke rising.

I flipped on the TV, and by then the second one had hit.

I alternately paced back and forth from the TV to my bathroom window.

I saw the first one fall on live TV.

The next day, Wednesday, I walked down as far as they’d let me and stood with crowds and we applauded the crews exiting the site.

We smelled that smell together. I won’t even try to describe it. It lingered for weeks maybe months. Sometimes I still smell it.

– Photo: Charley and friends at Christmas Party. Windows on the World, World Trade Center Tower One, Top Floor.

Come Forth Into the Light of Things (Let Nature Be Your Teacher)

The Tables Turned by William Wordsworth

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless–
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:–
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

— William Wordsworth

Awesome. Simply awesome. Reenchanting the World Through Art.

Kid's Chalk Art Project Alameda Naval Air Station
Kid's Chalk Art Project Alameda Naval Air Station
This is a 90,000 square foot chalk drawing visible from space. It achieved a world record. The drawing was created by school children in concert with artist Mark Wagner.

Mark Wagner is a California artist and parent who’s life mission has become crusading the message that art education is a vital part of childhood education. You can read more about him and his projects to promote the art education of children here.

Michael

Wow… Michael Jackson is gone. We are a bit beside ourselves in this household. Its hard to imagine that the death of someone you never knew could stir such emotion.

I guess in a way I feel like I did know him. At least I knew him through his music and his videos. I always respected and admired his prodigious talent to the highest degree.

As a little kid, just seven years younger than Michael, I grew up seeing him perform on television with the Jackson 5. Ben was one of the first songs I learned to play on the piano. I always loved that song.

His songs and singing alone were magic, coupled with unparalleled showmanship he became a one of a kind performer.

I know he brightened many a dreary day for me through his music. What he gave his audiences and his fans is amazing, wonderful, and as close to anything divine I can possibly think of.

I spent many moments of my day today choked up. I listened to him on the train on my in to work. I watched the news during my workout at the gym. I thought about him all day. I just can’t get over it.

I don’t know whether to follow that ever present impulse to move and groove when they play his clips on CNN, or hang my head and cry knowing the show is over.

Stephen Colbert’s Iraq Haircut from Gen. Ray Odierno By Order of Pres. Obama

Kristin sent me this and I had to post it. I have to say I really admire the General and the President for being such good sports to play along. The troops must have had a good and well earned laugh…

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Obama Orders Stephen’s Haircut – Ray Odierno
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Stephen Colbert in Iraq

On Dying And Everlasting Life

I’ve given a fair amount of thought to death.

It isn’t something I talk to other people about very often, death, so I can’t say I really know very much about what other people think. It does seem to me that there is a lot of denial. Religion attempts to soothe our worried minds with a promise of everlasting life. Thoughts of things like euthanasia or assisted suicide are beyond rational consideration. Doctor shows and drug company ads seem based on the premise that death is the ultimate failure. Life must be preserved and maintained at all costs lest we give in to a simple fact: everybody dies.

Someday I will die. You will too.

I realized that there are a few simple questions that when I faced honestly were very enlightening.

A dear friend once said to me that when she died she hoped to go to a wonderful place and be reunited with her lost friends and relatives. Its a very lovely thought, but it’s veracity is neither here nor there for me. What really made me think was the statement that followed, where she explained that if she were to find out there was no after-life, no heaven, and no friends waiting on the other side she would get a gun and blow her brains out.

I tried to imagine the millions of people living in misery, enduring pain with the hope that something better will await them when they die. Being the person I am, I of course had to pose the question – what if there isn’t anything?

I realized at that moment that regardless of a heaven, regardless of religion, living this life in misery only to hope for better luck or a happy reunion in the next is madness.

Immediately I asked myself a very important question: if I were to die tonight – if I knew I had an hour or two left – how would it feel? Would I feel frightened? Sad? Angry? Relieved? Guilty? Happy? It might be a little bit of all those things. But that question put my life into immediate perspective.

I realized that when my physical body is gone, the things that will be left of me are the impressions and effects I had on others. There is my wife, my children, my job. There are the students I have had. There are the people I was unfair or unjust to. There are the people who read my blog. There  are people who love and who hate me.

So if I were to die tonight, what could I say of these relationships? Did I make my wife happy? Did I give my children enough information, enough of myself? Did I teach them? Did they know how much I cared about them and that the *only* thing I ever wanted from them was to see them happy and perhaps share in that joy? Was I an honest worker and did I serve my disciplines well? Was I a good teacher, and did I give my students anything good that they carried forward in their lives? Did I leave even a single reader with a kernel of something that sparked some positive change in their life? Did I try to take responsibility for my mistakes and make up for them if possible? Will even those who hate me, have enough respect to say I tried?

And what if I were given ten more years? Would I use them to be sure I left a rich legacy to those that follow me?

This is *my* concept of ever lasting life.

Some Buddhists meditate on the image of a corpse decomposing. I once read of Buddhist monks who would go to burial grounds of another religion (Zoroastrians?) who left their dead to decay in the open. There they would meditate on death and their own mortality.

A little creepy maybe, but doesn’t it make you value life just thinking about it? Does it shift your focus? I hope I can learn to better make the most of mine.

– link: my visit to an outdoor crematorium and grave yard in Mumbai (Bombay) India

When My Brother Died

JoeyMy only brother was Joey. He was born in December 1964, which made him fourteen months older than me.

He was a Downs Syndrome baby. He was severely retarded and spent his entire life at a mental age of between two and four years.

He was primarily a happy child. Much of my early childhood experience revolves around doing what was best for Joey. I was raised with the belief that his care would be my primary responsibility when we grew up. The phrase, “…my brother’s keeper…” was one I learned early and thought about often.

As a young adolescent I moved away from my brother emotionally. As I continued to try and pursue my own life as a young adult, the distance became greater.

Toward the end of his life, my brother’s personality changed drastically. He went from being outgoing to withdrawn, happy and complacent to angry and violent.

My mother didn’t know what to do for him. She had taken him to a string of psychiatrists, neurologists and others. Nothing helped him. It was suspected by some at that time that there is an Alzheimer’s-like syndrome that occurs in Down’s patients in some cases. This remains the only physical explanation for his outbursts. Whatever perception he had of himself – perhaps an understanding that he would never grow out of his limitations – was never discussed. There was little anyone could do. He was becoming physically dangerous and decisions had to be made.

My Mother committed him to a very prestigious psychiatric hospital. This was utter desperation on her part since the main propulsion through her own adult life had been “keeping Joey at home…”. Indeed she had participated in many efforts to close the state institutions and integrate the mentally challenged into public life.

After a few weeks she brought him home. She installed a wire barrier and removed the door handles in her car so he could ride in back without incident. She hired various and sundry people to come to the house and help out.

He was sick when he left the hospital. She thought it was a cold. It got worse, and he appeared to be very ill. She took him to the ER.

This was the same day in 1992 that I had decided to try making my move to New York City permanent. I had been living with my mother in-between traveling gigs and trying to build a career. She called me in New York and told me that he had been admitted, tubed, and was on a respirator.

I returned home. My brother had a very severe case of pneumonia. His chest x-rays, to quote one physician, looked as though someone had painted them with White Out. I later went to school at that same hospital and studied to be an x-ray tech. For one of my assignments I checked out his films. The school didn’t work out, but we’ll save that for another story.

His oxygen saturation plummeted lower and lower. The doctors explained that his organs were all still working well, but that they would eventually fail. One nurse pointed to his catheter bag and showed me the urine which meant his kidneys were still functioning.

It was explained to me that the respirator was set as high as it could go. The oxygen concentration being delivered to him was high. The oxygen saturation was below the level necessary to sustain him and going lower. The pulmonologist assured us that he was not going to get better. The medical staff assured us that there was no brain activity and we needed to make a decision.

My mother decided that they should turn off the machine. My dad and his wife came. The doctor and a nurse came in the room and the doctor turned down the dial on the machine. He explained that he was turning down the supplemental oxygen and left the machine on. The machine would continue to fill my brother’s lungs with air from the room.

I sat next to him and held his hand. He was very swollen and a fungus had started attacking his eyes – likely a side-effect from the massive antibiotics they had given him to fight the pneumonia.

The monitor beeped with every beat of his heart, and I watched the line trace across the screen.

The doctor turned down the dial. My brother’s face turned immediately bright purple. The beeps began to slow down and the predictable line began to zig-zag across the monitor unpredictably.

His body arched up from the bed. The doctor explained that the muscles were in spasm from the lack of oxygen.

My father left the room.

Soon the spasm settled. The line went flat. The beeps were silenced and we made plans for his funeral.

My brother was gone.

Today on the Subway

I had to run one of those really shitty errands today. You might know the kind – where you have to deal with bored, under-paid, municipal employees and call on every last bit of patience you have left, just to avoid going ballistic on everyone in ear shot.

I held it together.

After my errand I took the A train home, which is about an hour long trip.

As the bell ding-donged and the closing doors closed, a small, bearded African-American man began to go into his sales spiel,

“The DVD man is back… Ladies and Gentlemen, today I have only the finest feature films to offer you for the extremely low price of $5…”

He began to read off a list of at least ten movies…

“These aren’t screen shots ladies and gentlemen… No bobbing heads or background voices… My films are from screeners and downloads only…”

I was a bit annoyed at the idea of someone re-selling Bit-Torrented movies… and the thought occurred to me that I’d do my own pirating, thank you for very much… But as he continued I began to admire his near *perfect* diction and delivery. Its always refreshing to hear people speak when they know how to speak… Imagine P.T. Barnum… in an African-American body on the A-Train at 6PM on a weeknight in NYC.

Just when I was admiring his grammar and delivery, he did it again in Spanish – perfectly articulated – and then in French!

I wanted to ask him if he could do it in Chinese or Korean – I think I would have bought his whole bag out of sheer amazement and fascination…

When he left I turned to my medium-difficulty Sudoku puzzles and finished one in twenty minutes flat… Just in time for my stop.

Stay tuned for more tales from the NYC Subway…

Mardi Gras

I visited New Orleans one year – long before Katrina ever thought of unleashing her fury against the aged and inferior levees of Lake Pontchartrain.

I was part of a touring musical theater production and by coincidence, it was Mardi Gras. Not being the crowd loving type, I would likely not have attended the celebration otherwise. It isn’t that Mardi Gras isn’t a significant and wonderful cultural event – just simply that the drunks and tourists partying with their associated mayhem and antics aren’t my idea of a good time.

So anyway… it was Mardi Gras and I found myself in the Quarter, on Bourbon Street taking in the festivities. I was in the middle of a crowd that completely packed the street. Like a school of fish the crowd moved forward, left, then right… once absorbed by the mass of the crowd there was no escape. You went with the flow.

There was a very attractive young woman in front of me. She was in her mid to late twenties with a lovely shape and long brown hair. Immediately behind me were a group of rowdy youths. As we were flowing down the street, one of the youths reached forward around my right side and grabbed the young womans shapely bottom and gave it a squeeze. Having never seen anything quite like that my jaw dropped in shock and then I smiled as if to say, “Holy shit! Did you see that!”.

The young woman turned around and saw my expression and thought I had done that deed! Without missing a beat she struck me, POW! – right across the face.

I often think of that. I wonder if any of them even remember.

Like Money In The Bank, Or Sowing And Reaping

Comparing life to a mortgage….

We are born with nothing. We have no clothes. We rely on our parents or guardians to provide for us. When we become adults, many of us will purchase a home. We start careers or businesses. Most will need to rely on a mortgage – and know that if we live long enough we’ll see our investment grow. Then, one day, we’ll be able to cash in on that investment for a different life somewhere else – or leave behind a nice inheritance to whom we please. We work, we invest, we end up with a profit and – we hope – time to enjoy it before we are too old or too sick.

I’m thinking that the real payments in life aren’t the ones we make to the bank. Every time we are devastated by some illness, pick ourselves after some disaster, or even suffer at the hands of our own mistakes we make a payment to ourselves. Our internal bank of wisdom and compassion grows ever larger. The more we keep going, the more we endure, the more adversity we overcome the richer we become.

The catch is that, quite unlike the home equity we can cash out and spend, by the time we have enough wisdom to really do something with it we are too old and have burned so many bridges we can never return to reap the rewards for ourselves.

The only sense I can make of my comparison is that the only consumption, or spending, of this amassed wealth is through helping others. We live our lives, we learn our “lessons”, and maybe we get a chance to tell some younger person, or some person more poor in wisdom and experience, or someone who simply wants to listen to the lessons we learned.

The only illness or infirmity that can keep us from spending this type of wealth is our own bitterness and reluctance to accept the events of our lives as the lessons they are – or perhaps the short sightedness of those who need to hear it.

Thinking of Miles

Miles Davis is quoted as having said that a note or a musical idea isn’t wrong until you play the next note. His statement was about context – it is the relationship of that note to the music that follows it that makes it wrong or right. This concept is very important to an improviser, a composer and I’d guess probably a painter or any other artist as well.

I was doing some thinking in my favorite sanctum for thought – the NYC subway. Miles’ quote came to my mind. Now I don’t know if he intended it to be interpreted in the fashion I plan to explain – but his thought about notes and context inspired me to entertain some ideas.

I work with a group of people who are going through some difficult issues. The issues are all different, but we share our struggles. We commiserate. We give advice. Occasionally we even call people out on their internal struggles and arguments. I’ve seen a lot of joy as well as pain. Mostly what I’ve seen is a lot of little boys in men’s bodies struggle to come to terms with the reality of life.

What does that have to do with Miles?

I started to see the construction of a jazz solo like the construction of a life… It is a series of choices. You might slip and play a wrong note – but sometimes that note can be a happy accident and lead you onto something you may have never found otherwise. Sometimes it is a God awful clam of a mistake and there is just no denying it. And even then, maybe you’ll find some kind of meaning in that clam that change the way you do it next time.

Someday in the future when we’ve all parted ways I’ll look back on my group of guys. I may boast of some brilliant insight I had that changed someone’s life. Or I may look back and think I was a colossal ass for thinking I could get past my own bullshit enough to be there to help someone else. Whether I’m a genius or an ass, the significance of this time in my life will be defined by what follows it.

I don’t have any proof – but I strongly suspect that the most successful people (and I mean the happy ones, the ones who’ve stood the test of time, and the ones who’s head is firmly on their shoulders and not up their bum…) are probably the ones who have made the most mistakes. It only stands to reason. Try more, fail more. Try more, win more.

Charles Mingus took Miles’ idea even further and said simply, “There are no wrong notes…”

I guess we may have to see how that turns out. But I think this is a pretty good start.

Time Machine

My son Alex asked me a question the other day, “What super power would you like to have?”… It is an interesting question…

My first thought was that it’d be pretty cool if I could fly…

Then I thought it would be pretty cool if I could be invisible; but on second thought the idea seemed just a little creepy…

Then we decided that having a time machine and being able to move through time would be the most interesting of all.

Immediately I thought of Einstein, who’s Special Theory of Relativity predicts the ability to move through time. I also though of the huge paradox often mentioned in regard to time travel. The paradox being, if people from the future are able to travel back in time then why haven’t we seen or met any of them?

I thought of an answer to that paradox, but it is a little depressing. The answer is that we aren’t meeting up with our descendants traveling back in time because they don’t exist. Maybe we just don’t survive long enough to develop that technology.

Maybe some Christian President will give Jesus the keys to the country so the Rapture can come. Then all the good boys and girls will go to heaven. Then fire will rain down from heaven on all the scientists and humanists and they’ll be cast down into a great fiery hell.

Or maybe it will just be a great big rock from outer space…

Passing Judgment In The Subway

I write a lot about the subway. I spend a lot of time there. It can be a depressing place. It can be a fascinating place.

The train was not full today. I left for work quite a bit later than usual and missed all the rush. I sat down in my favorite seat on the end near the door. A man got on the train and began to panhandle for change.

“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen… My name is John… I am homeless… Can you spare some change so I can get something to eat…?”

This is a daily event. There is always someone who gets on the train asking for money. As a rule, I do not give out money in the subway. I just don’t. I don’t often have money readily accessible and getting one’s wallet out in public in New York City is one of those things you try not to do.

John was nicely dressed in comparison to some of the other panhandlers. He was young and wearing clean clothes.

When John got to the other end of the train, he said,

“Thank you, God bless, have a nice day…”

This is typical – but I always thought it was at least somewhat polite.

At this point, a middle-aged man sitting at the other end of the car spoke to John,

“Are those ROCKPORTS you are wearing on your feet…?”

John replied, “Rock WHAT…?”

Man, “Those are $200 shoes… and you are here begging in the subway… why are you begging…”

John, “WHAT? $200? Hell no! If that’s true, I’ll sell them to you for $100 right now!”

Then there was more conversation back and forth… the self-righteous comments from the man; and John’s replies… it was pretty clear John was a bit off balance…

As I listened to this unfold, the anger in me began to grow, and grow, and grow…

Finally I walked over to them. I spoke to the man –

“What gives you the right to pass a judgment on him? What do you know?”

The man laughed uncomfortably and mumbled something about begging and handouts…

I said, “Would you like me to pass a judgment against you…? Well… I think you are an ASSHOLE”

At this point I pulled out my wallet, gave John $20 and returned to my seat.

You could have heard a pin drop.

John got off the train and as we pulled into the next stop, a man across from me said, “I really respect that…”

He and another man across from him were talking about it – and there was a LOT of love coming my way this morning on the subway… People were smiling at me and nodding their heads in approval.

I just felt shaken. I still feel shaken – out of breath and a little sick to my stomach.

I’m not sure I believe in Karma or rewards anymore. That wasn’t why I did it. I fully expected nobody would say a thing to me. I did it because I was angry. I did it because somebody needed to say SOMETHING.

Nobody has a right to sit in judgment. Nobody knew what John’s situation was. Maybe he’s an addict, maybe not. Maybe he is schizophrenic and lives on a substinance income from the government. Maybe this is just his way of getting a little extra coin – for whatever he needs it for. Maybe he can’t work. Maybe he really is homeless.

If you don’t want to give people money in the subway, don’t. That is a perfectly acceptable choice. In fact, the MTA asks that you do not.

Just don’t make judgments against people. You don’t have the right.

Variable Change: The Monty Hall Question and the Movie 21

My wife Kristin and I recently enjoyed watching the movie, 21. In the movie, loosely based on a true story, a professor recruits his brightest math students into a card counting scheme. They win millions of dollars playing blackjack.

In one scene, the professor poses the following question to his class – the classic “Monty Hall” question: There are three doors. Behind one door is a new car. Behind the other two, goats.

He asks the bright young student (whom he is about to recruit into the blackjack group) to pick a door. The student picks door number one.

The professor then opens door number three to reveal a goat. At this point, he gives the student a choice: to stay with his original choice, or to switch to door number two.

The student chooses to switch to door number two.

The professor then poses the question of why. Many people would stay with their first choice, but why?

The  young student then explains that by switching, he has a 66% probability of choosing the car.

I couldn’t figure this out. It seemed to me that it would be a 50% chance… I mean now he has to make a choice and either it is the goat or the car…

Here is the solution – it is really quite simple, but not immediately obvious.

1. When he makes his first choice he has ONE chance in THREE of making the correct choice (although it isn’t immediately revealed to him).

2. After Monty opens the first goat door (we know Monty knows where the car is) we are left with a choice of two doors.

3. The correct choice now depends on whether we were right, or wrong with our first choice. If we were RIGHT on our first choice, switching doors will LOSE. If we were WRONG on our first choice, switching doors will WIN. Since we only had one chance in three of being RIGHT the first time, and TWO chances of being wrong, the odds are that we are WRONG and therefore switching gives us a TWO in THREE chance of being correct if we SWITCH.

Bombay Crematorium and Graveyard

In 1996 I worked as a musician aboard a cruise ship. One of our exotic ports of call was Bombay, India.

We stayed in Bombay (Mumbai) for a few days, which gave us time to get of the ship and get around. Usually, we would find a local taxi or guide who would escort us around to see all the sights.

My friend went out on the first day and made the aquaintence of a local driver who called himself Billy. Billy took us off one morning to show us around. We weren’t really interested in the typical sightseeing so much – so Billy gave us the alternate tour.

The most memorable stop on our tour was a crematory and grave yard. We walked in not knowing where we were being led – and the first thing I noticed was a feeling of great stillness. I don’t know how else to describe the feeling except as if time stopped for a bit. There were piles of firewood, a large scale, and large metal things that looked like outstretched chaise-lounges many feet up off the ground. After being asked to leave a small donation, we were told the extra large chaise-lounges held dead bodies for cremation, and the scales were to weigh the body to determine how much firewood was required to burn it. There were birds I recognized to be some kind of vulture or buzzard perched on the walls of the open air facility.

We spent a while taking all of this in until Billy motioned we should follow him. We walked out of the crematory area through an opening into a very lush and old looking cemetary. Billy explained this was where Muslim people were buried becuase their religion does not allow cremation.

Billy took a drink from a bucket of water set on a table nearby, and looked at us with a smirk, inquiring if we’d like some too. He knew we wouldn’t drink out of that bucket, so it was all a big joke for him and we laughed.

Next we went around a corner and sat down on a bench where the caretaker’s shed must have been. Several very polite Indian gentlemen came out and sat down with us. One of them pulled out a chillum, which is a cone shaped pipe used to smoke hashish. Another produced a strip of gauze. Billy borrowed a cigarette from my friend and took it apart, cupping the tobaco in his hand. He then broke off a chunk of hashish from a much larger piece, and using his hands as a blender mixed it all together with the tobacco. This went into the pipe, the gauze was placed over the other end and each person had a drag, each moving the gauze down a few inches before they passed it on. The effect was rather instantaneous and quite profound.

So there we were, sitting with a bunch of Indian guys, in Bombay, at a crematorium, in the graveyard, smoking hash. There wasn’t anything negative about it. It was a cultural experience to be quite honest. These guys definitely had a different outlook on life, death, work, and most everything else we thought we knew so much about.

After parting company with our new friends, we went to an Indian restaurant. In India. Where I had Indian food for the very first time. Stoned.

I’ve been sober for over five years now, motivated by a variety of reasons. But let me tell you… smoking never got any better than that.

Stardust

Religion is dangerous topic. For me, I like the book of Genesis and I like science. We are all comprised of the same atoms that existed at the beginning of time. We are made of stardust. In this sense quite literally we are a chip off the same block. Whatever was before the Big Bang, whatever existed prior to that primordial soup – whatever made that – wherever the energy that makes light and mass and space and time – that is God to me. I’m part of that. You are part of that. Even Hitler was part of that. Mother Theresa was part of that. We all came from the same place. So forgiveness for me is simply remembering that. My personal suffering doesn’t mean anything. Coming to fully understand the fellowship I share with All the Is – does.

When Life Just Isn’t Fair

We’ve had our share of trials lately. The latest one, just today, my wife lost her job.

It seems the company lost a big fat client, or what they thought was a big fat client, and slashed twelve percent of the their staff.

This is in addition to her being in a bus accident recently (while traveling between clients).

In addition to all of this, our family was recently struck with a tragedy I can not fully mention. Suffice to say, it was a big one.

In the midst of all of this I’ve found myself bitter and angry. Life must go on, and we are going on. We put on our happy faces and try to dull the razor’s edge of our anger for the day. Mostly we’ve been successful but for a few unfortunate instances before we got control—if you can call it control.

It comes out of us in other ways. I can’t sleep for shit without drugs. I have chronic aches and pains. Kristin has been hanging on pretty well and her job has been a real island of sanity and purpose. Now that’s gone and she’ll have to find another.

I had a teacher in kindergarten of all places who said to me something I never forgot,

“Life isn’t fair.”

Boy, she had that one right.

We keep on moving—looking forward to brighter days.

Photographing the Staff

Have you ever volunteered yourself for something?

I had the opportunity when the topic of photographing the staff for our company intranet  came up. I volunteered to shoot portraits of as many as 300 people at our New York office.

I spent three days last week hopping between my desk and a small portrait studio I created out of three feet of wall space, a high stool, and a stand mounted strobe with a large diffuser umbrella on it.

People came in and I took their picture.

I’m in charge of things like network infrastructure, and servers, and so on… so I don’t interact much with people at the company. In fact, I’m not a big people person in the sense of small talk, or making aquaintances. I shy away from parties.

I do love photography, so this opportunity seemed like a great chance to exercise some photography skills and some people skills – and also get outside my self in a new way.

Each person was unique. Some were easy – photogenic, attractive, poised. Others were very nervous or self conscious. Some weren’t sure they want their photograph taken at all.

I was able to make that small talk. I made people relax. I was able make almost every single person lose that rigidity in front of the camera; and the result really showed it. Most people seemed very surprised when I showed them the digital preview on my camera. They’d never seen a flattering photo of themselves! I’m really proud of the results.

I don’t really feel it would be ethical to post them – but perhaps after the dust settles I’ll ask a few people if they wouldn’t mind me posting their portraits online.

It was an exhausting, but wonderful experience.

Numbers

I’ve been thinking a lot about numbers lately…

(distances and speeds change depending on various condidtions. These are averages.)

Speed of Light = 186,282 miles a second

Speed of Sound = about .2 miles per second

Distance to the Sun = 93 million miles

One way trip for a bit of sunlight to the planet Earth = 8 minutes, 20 seconds

Sound can’t travel in space, but if it could it would take 13.8 YEARS to go that distance in an Earth-like environment

Distance to the moon = 239,000 miles

One way trip for a bit of moonlight to twinkle in your eye = a little bit over 1 and 1/4 seconds.

If sound could travel from the moon it would take about 13 DAYS to travel the same distance in a Earth-like environment.

Time it takes two computers on the Internet to say ‘hello’ – (tcp/ip, speed of light minus latencies caused by physical hardware):

New York to London – about .08 seconds

New York to California – about .08 seconds

New York to Hong Kong – about .240seconds

Speed of nerve impulses in your body:

The speed of nerve impulses is highly variable – between 2 feet to 400 feet per second. Note that electrical signals on a piece of wire travel at near light speed, or 982 MILLION feet per second.

Happy New Year

Good grief Charlie Brown… the holidays are finally over. Thank God. Here we are at the top of another year.

This last one was not so bad. Kristin and I closed on our new pad, moving into a spacious two bedroom from our ultra cramped studio. I still find myself sometimes pacing from one end to the other, still in disbelief that we have this much room now.

We finally got to take our family vacation in August—out to Wisconsin to see Kristin’s parents and spend time with family. It was a great time. Critical issues and scheduling threatened; but it all worked out—and in the words of somebody, somewhere, a long time ago; a great time was had by all.

Work changed radically for both of us. Kristin left an increasingly miserable job behind for a new job she is really happy with, working with other happy people, learning new things and getting a chance to spread her wings a bit more.

Things where I work changed radically this past year. It began with the departure of our old CTO, and the entrance of a new CTO. Soon afterward a steam pipe exploded in the street outside our building. Then, we lost cooling in our data room necessitating the shut down of all our servers. There was no access to the  building for nearly two weeks, as many shattered windows spew glass, mud, and unknown substances into the exterior offices. With a new CTO and my boss on vacation, I really had a lot on my plate putting contingency options and plans in place, utilizing off-site tape and the services of a data center in New Jersey. My boss was on vacation at the time; but tensions between him and the new CTO had been mounting prior to all of this. To make a long story short, I have a new boss and a new CTO. I’m very happy at my job. I truly like everyone I work with. I enjoy what I do. This, is a true blessing.

My son entered high school (the same one I graduated from), and my daughter entered junior high. It was a year of change to be sure. Norma is consistently on the high honor role, and Alex has gained a great deal of confidence in himself and has established a sound start down the winding road and over jagged peaks of adolescence. I’m so wonderfully proud of both my children.

Personally, winter is a rough time of year for me. Having fought the great demons of depression and mood volatility since my own adolescence, winter and the holidays always bring a special challenge. I’ve learned to ignore them by and large—but this to the dismay of those near and dear who enjoy being, ‘in the spirit’. I’m not sure exactly what it is—the dark days, the cold, the expectations… but it can be a challenging time to keep my head above water. I’m older. I’m more mature. I’ve learned the meaning of the phrase, ‘get over yourself’. But, there are those times when black turns white, up turns down, and everything is inside out. This darkness begets more darkness and it tumbles; accelerating out of control. Fortunately I’ve been spared the full onslaught so far and I’m holding on. Life is good—and everything is going to be all right.