What’s In A Name?

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You want to know a secret?

Too bad.  I’m telling you anyways.

I hated my name growing up.  I mean I really, really hated my name.  Who names their kid, “Mr”, anyways?  Well, by now you must know my first name is not really, “Mr.”, “dear sir” or any other salutation.

While I was growing up, “Wayne” was a name reserved for cowboys, hockey players and Englishmen (it does make sense as the name does have English origins).

Somewhat surprisingly, I didn’t get made fun of my name.  That is, with the exception of a troubled older teacher who got her kicks calling me “Wayne The Pain” (not that I hold a grudge or anything) and a pig-tailed spectacled girl who used to call me, “Waaaaaayyyyynnnneeee.” I still get shivers when I think of her.  Mike Meyers had nothing on her.

Kids thrive on targeting other kids for anything that is unusual.  I was always the only kid in my class, and, later, in high school, with the name and kids love to target other children for being different.  The interesting thing is I never heard any jokes about my name until high school when someone noticed it was such a “country name”.  Thank you?  But, I found a way around that too.

Everyone knows the remedy to ridicule is humor.  The fact I made my bones being the class clown and a general malcontent helped me become accepted.  In fact, I earned the nickname, “Killer” (no, that’s not a typo).  We all knew one growing up I suppose.  This became my moniker and a facade for me to hide behind.  Fear not, I was about as much of a “killer” as “Doctor Dre” is a physician.

“Brian”, “Scott”, “Stephen”, “Dave”, why couldn’t my parents have picked a common, accepted name like that?  It made me even more incredulous when I learned I was almost named, “Kevin” or “Sean”.  You know a “normal name.”  The answer is I am a “jr”.  So it was a family name.  Why do we do that?  Have we become that unoriginal?  I love my dad and I’m glad to share his name (now).  But, I’d love him just as much if he named me, “Melvin” or “Mark” or any other name for that matter.  It’s just a name and that is when I finally had my “aha moment.”  A name is just a name.

My name would actually become “cool” or mainstream as I got older in large part due to the popularity of “Wayne’s World”, Wayne Gretzky and, of course how could I forget, Lil’ Wayne.

It’s funny how we assign descriptions to names.  “Heather” or “Olga” are considered pretty by many people.  OK, I was joking.  No one likes the name “Heather.”  This, I suspect, is based on how a name sounds and who we think of when we hear a name.  It’s why you don’t see a lot of Voldemorts running around.  Oops.

I think it’s fairly common for children to dislike certain things about themselves, many things which they had no control over to begin with.   Hair color, freckles, height (or lack thereof).  These are all things kids can do little, if anything, to change.  At least you can change your name.  Or, hope you get a cool nickname.

Eves

Maybe it’s the anticipation.  The not knowing what will happen.  Perhaps it’s the pulse boosting curiosity of what will happen next.  Whatever the reason, I’ve always been a fan of eves.

Sometimes the eve is better than the actual day.  There is so much promise and unknowns during an eve of a big event.  Will you get that prized gift you want on Christmas or your birthday?  Will you be in the same classes as your best friend or secret crush?  Yes, many of our eves revolve around our crushes when we’re young.  On the eve of the big dance will your favorite girl let you slow dance with her?  When you get older, will that same girl say yes?  Eves can also be soul crushing.  They can create hopes and dreams in our feeble minds that are dashed as quickly as we conjured them up.  It’s natures way of letting us know who’s the boss.

Our anticipation of the soon to be or soon to happen changes throughout the years.  As a child, you can barely keep your eyes closed and your mind shut off long enough to fall asleep on Christmas Eve.  The angst is palapable.  And let’s not even touch the eve before the first day of the school year.  Alas, that eve seems to go much too quickly.  As we age these anticipations and the worries about these eves for these days change.

Thanksgiving Eve is notorious for being the event of the year for any 20 or 30 year old back home.  Even if you don’t drink, you do that night.  New Year’s Eve has nothing on Thanksgiving Eve in the sleepy suburbs of Boston.  From far and wide, people seem to creep out from every nook and cranny of the South Shore (south of Boston for those of you from out of town).  It’s not uncommon to see your ex girlfriend from high school trotting out her wealthy banker husband or some other schmuck you know you could beat in an arm wrestling match.  It’s actually worse when you don’t run into an ex flame or other acquaintance.

For some unnerving reason, on Thanksgiving Eve the goal seems to be to go to as many bars as possible as though you are in some advanced state of  alcoholic fueled A.D.D.  Or, maybe you just can’t stand to look at the bartender even one more second.  It is just short of bizarre how people feel the desire to switch locations while drinking, as though the beer will surely taste better at the pub down the street.  Usually, it has more to do with the lack of “opportunities” at one location.  But, I digress.

Of course, the quintessential eve has to be Christmas Eve. You know, the nights that seem to take about a week and a half to pass by when you’re 10.  The excited, unadulterated joy and maybe a little fear assault your senses.  Were you good enough this year?  I remember lying in bed, about as tired as a drugged out meth addict on a sugar high.  Of course, your worries about whether you’ll get the new G.I. Joe (hey I’m a child of the 80s), pale in comparison to the thoughts of anticipation that keep us wired in our older years.

I still miss the nervous, naive hopes and dreams of those eves of long ago.

15 Years Of Change

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Who would ever think 15 years could go by in a blur?

Birthdays, anniversaries, memorials all fly by with barely a memory.  Contrary to some opinions, the future isn’t something we contemplate.  All that seems to matter is now.  Tragedy and sorrow only tends to re-enforces how important the present is.

If the events of that day a decade and a half ago won’t change you nothing will.  Yet, we really haven’t changed.  Despite all the changes that happened in my life over the years, little has really changed.  In fact, it’s chilling how things mirror those days 15 years ago.  Conflicts around the world keep flaring, our leaders are feckless (or worse) and yet we still keep voting for them.

Tragedies overwhelm us.  We don’t remember the events in their entirety.  We remember moments and feelings.  Yet, some things do stand out.

There are certain memories that stand out as though you could touch them and feel them and, possibly relive them.  Some things remain crystal clear.  The cloudless blue sky.  The feeling of helplessness.  The sinking feeling in my stomach when I found out Tom was working.

In little more than an instant, our families changed forever.  His children became fatherless, his wife a widow.  And everyone vowed to “never forget” (on anniversaries and whenever it is convenient).

Still, it’s foolhardy to think everything changes at once.  There’s a common misconception people make a 180 after a life changing experience.  Changes don’t come easily nor do they come wholesale.  They come incrementally.  Sometimes it’s as simple as making sure you have as few regrets as possible like taking that little known detour to see or photograph an obscure attraction.  It’s as simple as making sure you take that one last chance and don’t give up so quickly.  The changes are usually small in comparison to what one might expect.   And, of course, not all the changes are positive.  Life, after all, always has a way of bringing us back to reality.

It’s not all bad, though.  We shouldn’t be consumed by these dreadful memories and emotions, although some can’t help to.  We should be able to rebound and go back to watching stupid movies and reality television shows.  Normalcy, which seemed impossible  those dark days is, in its own way, a change.

 

 

 

Girl Friends

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We should all have a girlfriend.  Maybe even two or three.   No, not two or three girlfriends.  Two or three girl friends.  In fact, the more the better.

My female friends have been there through the best and worst. They’ve given sage advice in dark moments. There’s a misconception among many, mostly males I would propose, that women are all cuddles and tears. That they will always be there with a hug and a soothing platitude. Besides being sexist, it’s simply wrong. I’ve received my hardest doses of wisdom and candor from my women friends, especially advice about relationships and how men are wired. Most women have more experience with the male mind than they could ever hope for. Trust me, guys, they’ve got us figured out.

It’s hard finding someone who gets you. Someone who knows what you’re going to say before it’s said. I can count on one hand people who have. Twins are believed to have a psychic connection. Or, as a friend of mine would say, “we share a brain.” Other times, this could not be more wrong.  But, that is good also.  A woman’s perspective can be priceless.

The changing times have shifted how men and women or girls and boys interact.  There was a time not very long ago when people would unapologetically inquire why I didn’t date one of my female friends.  It would make sense on some levels.  You get along, you might even have the same sense of humor and maybe you even have the same quirks.  The truth is we don’t want to date someone too much like ourselves and, frankly, it would seem almost foolhardy to risk something as special as a dear friend over a dalliance that both of you probably don’t feel in the first place.

Now, friendships, regardless of the principals’ genders, are not looked upon as simplistically.  Score one for equality.  Think about it.  It tends to trivialize our relations into if someone is “dateable” rather than if they’re a good friend.  The only honest reason for suggesting two people (or more for that matter) should date is because they were of the opposite/same gender (whichever your preference) and that trivializes both friendships and dating partners.  The only reason someone might have suggested a romantic connection is because your friends and happen to be of a gender that you usually date.  Surely, there’s got to be more, though.  Call it kismet, a “spark”, attraction, whatever you choose.  Something beyond mere convenience is usually at play for someone to find love.

Finding a true friend is much harder than finding a suitable mate. All that can take is a cute smile, or other various body part, and chemistry. You might trust them with your more intimate moments but not your most intimate secrets.  Some of my friends, both male and female, know things about me that previous girlfriends or people I knew intimately never did.  The reason for this is not because I kept secrets intentionally.  I just never got to know some of the women I have dated well enough to share or discuss such deep intimate thoughts.

I don’t second guess what my friends will think when I open up, be it a male or female friend. But I might with a new girlfriend. I shouldn’t but it’s bound to happen at least initially.  After all, we are trying to impress them or at least we want them to be able to stomach being in the same vicinity as us.  There’s always a threat they may reject us or feel less about us if they find out something private or even embarrassing about us.  Our friends won’t care.  In fact, if they’re anything like my friends they will gladly remind you in an affectionate way.

It’s hard enough finding someone who “gets you” and you can trust.  Guys, don’t lose those girl friends you got.  You’ll regret it if you do.

The Girl Across The Street

 

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It didn’t sink in, really sink in, until I read her 4 line obituary.  A whole life, cut short, encapsulated into four neatly typed lines.  That is how they summed up her life.  That is all she was granted.

Name, age and who she is “survived by” is all they told about her.  “Survived by”.  I’ve never liked that phrase.  “Survived by” seems like a lazy and off handed way to describe what is left of her legacy.  They survived and she didn’t.

Obituaries are a cruel thing.  Having some experience writing them in the past I know.  The goal is to cram as much information into as little space as possible, even in an online “obit” as we would call them.  But, how much can you fit into a few lines?  How do you include her energy and dreams?  How do you include her adversities and the bad hand she was dealt?  You can’t even fit a lot into some of the more verbose obituaries. They never seem to accurately depict the loved one who has passed.   You often have to rely on others to describe someone they often didn’t know very well.  At the most you may get a random bit of information about someone.  “Joel liked stamp collecting” or “Debbie was an avid reader” does not really say much about someone.  You’ll never read a hard truth in them like, “she deserved more.”

This particular obituary didn’t say much either.  It didn’t tell of the times she would stay on the phone with close friends when they were down, urging them to carry on or the times she made her friends laugh until they cried.  It didn’t tell about how beautiful she was and how so many boys craved her attention.  She was short changed even in death.

The details are murky.  But, enough is known to make the most stoic person teary eyed.  Found in her car.  Kicked out of her home.  By her own mom.

So much happens in so little time.  Dreams are dashed.  Hopes vanish in an instant.  The young woman with so much ahead of her now gone.  If only someone tried.

It’s beyond surreal to consider the girl who grew up across the street from me is gone at all of 53 years of age.  The fact we were once so close, at least geographically, yet went so far away is overwhelming.

Older than me by nearly a decade, I was never more than the “little boy” who lived across the way.  But, I still remember.

 

 

Dad’s Music

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A stubby Lucky Strike dangling from his lips, clothes seemingly always grimy from working on a car (even if it wasn’t his) or some other machine or gizmo, my father was a “man’s man” indeed.  Yet, he also had a deep empathy for others, a very genuine sensitive side and an appreciation for the finer things.  He was a “blue collar”through and through with an affinity for classical music, love songs and a keen intellectual side.  I think this was common with men of his era.  They could not often express their thoughts and feelings openly so they escaped in other things such as sports, cars and music.

Fathers had their own way of letting off steam from the work day.  Some dads had a belt of whiskey after work.  Some dads read the afternoon newspaper.  For my dad it was music.  Music does indeed sooth the soul.

While he did use his “me time” to unwind with his 45’s and lp’s, he would never shoo me away, tell me he was busy or use any other excuse to get rid of me.  He enjoyed sharing his music with me and I always had a partiality to the early days of rock ‘n roll.  In fact, I would often make him mix tapes of our favorites for long vacation drives, at times to my older sister’s chagrin.

The music enveloped me with a sense of comfort, safety and happiness.  At the time, I never really had an interest in the musical chops of Olivia Newton John, Linda Ronstadt, Cher or Stevie Nicks.  I’d rather look at their album covers anyways.  But, their music brought a special kind of comfort to me.  Familiarity will do that.  It still does.

However, I would enthusiastically play his Jerry Lee Lewis, Rolling Stones and Tommy James and the Shondells records.  That is what I loved the most.  Being a bit of a rebel myself in my childhood, I reveled in the knowledge that my dad, “Mr 9 to 5”, teetotaling dad listened to “bad boys” like the Stones and Jerry Lee Lewis.  He was no milquetoast dad.  Yet, his favorites were always the more unassuming, thoughtful, “aw shucks”, almost nerdy types.

Roy Orbison, with his angelic voice, no frills look and heart wrenching lyrics perfectly embodied what kind of man my dad was; deep yet not flashy.  Neil Diamond, Buddy Holly, Sam Cooke and, perhaps best of all, Tony Williams (one of the original lead singers of the Platters) were also at the top of his favorite singers list.  It was one connection we could have in a world that always seems to divide parents and children.

Dad’s music opened windows for me.  Someone could sing about their broken heart, pretending to be someone you’re not and the various ups and downs of life that every pre-teenage boy feels that were bursting inside of me unable to be expressed.  As I listened to his music I realized, “Sam Cooke got it”.  He knew just how I felt.  “Tears of a Clown” sent me reeling the way it hit home.  These singers, while being vulnerable and hurt, were still cool, maybe even cooler, for it. It was possible to be cool and lost at the same time.  I’m still working on that.

As I grew up and my musical tastes changed, I began to listen to rap, hip hop and top 40 music.  My musical tastes was always changing and eventually I discovered Black Flag, Metallica and classic rock.  I still do remember vividly hiding my Elton John cd’s in my closet so my friends wouldn’t see them.  Imagine, hiding Elton John cd’s.  Shaking my head indeed.

My dad never chastised or said anything about my changing tastes because, as he once told me, he remembered how he and his generation was chastised by the older generation about early “rock and roll” music.

Like most past times of our youth, there is only a certain window of time for these moments.  Of course, you only realize the special times when they’re gone.

And it would delight him to no end when I could tell him who sang each song from his records, tapes and eventually cd’s.  He would look at me incredulously as I ticked off the names of the bands or artists in the first few seconds of the song, as though it was my own version of “Name That Tune”.   He especially  liked it when I named some of the lesser known bands and artists such as;  “The Left Banke”, The Del-Vikings”, “The Shangri-Las” (he especially liked the ladies of Motown),”The Diamonds”, Ray Peterson and even Jimmy Clanton.

I still listen to the same artists when I get a nostalgic twinge.  I can still feel the plush carpeting, the up and down motion of the needle on his turntable, his strong arms around me as he hummed to the beat of a crooner singing about his “darling”.  It’s not the same, though.

Heroin: Cape Cod, USA

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The name of the documentary says a lot for so few words.  “Heroin: Cape Cod, USA.”  Translation: heroin “has come” to the richies.  Now it’s a problem.

The plight of heroin addiction in the “rural” communities, as one article described them, such as the peacefully sounding Greenfield, Turner Falls and Holyoke has been well known for some time.  Even in many of our own backyards in Massachusetts people have known about it.  But, it was always swept under the rug or went conveniently unnoticed, like the drunk relative at the Christmas party nobody talks about.  Nothing to see here.  It’s very much akin to the “not in my backyard” philosophy.  As long as your family, friends and community are not touched by it then it’s really not a problem.

As is the case with many of the problems we face, it was sparked by a “lesser evil”.   Medically prescribed painkillers such as Oxycodone, Percocet and Vicodin led people to try other synthetic drugs such as heroin, largely because they are cheaper and often times easier to acquire.

The shots of the beautiful cape Cod landscapes, many taken during the winter or “dead season” of the Cape, juxtaposed against the kids (and they really are all just little kids) shows the sharp contrast to what people think of the Cape Cod area and what really lies beneath.

The Cape has always been something of a play land for hedonists and pleasure seekers (Whitey Bulger was known to vacation in Provincetown).  Beneath the family friendly image people have of city living tourists invading the peninsula for swimming, boating and indulging in the various seafood joints, there has always been an underbelly of drugs, sex and drinking, especially for the well to do’s.  Before it was easier to hide.  It was contained to coke filled weekends and alcohol saturated vacations.   Now, heroin has taken hold.

My only gripe with the sudden interest in the drug problem is it should have happened sooner.  A quick Google search found stories from 5 years and more addressing the epidemic.  Being from New England, I know this is not a something new.  But, those were poor kids from Western MA and the poorer communities south of Boston.  We all knew about it, too.  We all knew the kid in school who had to get into a program or the cousin no one talked about who was on the skids.  They’re your co-worker, your friend, your cousin, your kid.

Only when it hit the upper scale communities, particularly Cape Cod, did it become an “epidemic”.  I cringe whenever I see and hear the decade long crisis labeled only now an “epidemic”, especially when it is uttered by a politician who only addresses it every 4 years when they campaign and couldn’t care less otherwise unless it happens to their let’s say nephew.

The divide over what constitutes an epidemic in this case has little to do with race as many of our divisions lie.  This is more of a division over socioeconomic classes as many of our divisions lay.  It’s ok, or not an epidemic when it’s poor kids from Western Mass or the cities and towns that lie south of Boston.  But, now that it’s hit the shores of the hedge fund managers and trust fund babies it is an epidemic.  Besides, a horde of stoners could scare away vacationers faster than saying “Jaws”.

I don’t care who you are.  You can’t help but be touched by the stories of the drug addled, lost souls of this documentary.  No matter what their misdeeds might be.  You wonder what they could have become.

The subject’s stories rang so true.  They are wiser then they are given credit for, at least when they’re not using.  I found myself nodding in agreement, wryly grinning during their moments of clarity because I was thinking the very same thing and tearing up when they gave into their demons.  That is the truly head scratching moment for many viewers.  The addicts know what they’re doing wrong.  They know they’re weak.  They know they shouldn’t get that next fix.  They hate their lives.  Yet they continue.   It really isn’t head scratching or complex.  It can all be summed in one word.  Addiction.  When you risk everything – your safety, your family’s well being – for that next fix then something more powerful than us is at work.

And for those that think it won’t happen to you, so did the addicts using now.  In fact, many people in the health field consider drug addiction, or at least the proclivity to addiction, as a disease.  Bake in peer pressure, an addictive personality, abusive background and the escapism drugs provide with the sheer accessibility of the drugs and the epidemic could easily touch a community near you.  Maybe then you’ll consider it an “epidemic”.

If you haven’t seen the documentary, you can watch it below (before HBO takes it down)