Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Terribly Sad Case of Tyler Clementi

It is very difficult to speak about the suicidal death of a young man, a child, really. Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge several days ago. He was 18 and a freshman at Rutgers University. He was, apparently, talented, friendly, kind-hearted, young, uncertain, confused and at the doorstep of his life. You were once at this point in your life. If you were not, you are not human.
From everything I can ascertain, this young man was drawn toward a homosexual lifestyle. So be it. (Label this in any manner you choose and then throw the first stone.) But the events and aftermath of this sad and sordid story are beyond the pale.
His roommate filmed his gay fling and immediately posted it on the Internet. Tyler, his family and the rest of the world were now privy to his conduct. Tyler’s response: he kills himself.
Oh how tragic; oh how ugly; oh how malicious; oh how this could have been so much better.
I didn’t know Tyler; I wish I had. Perhaps he would have called me in his despair and asked me for some advice. I would have been on his side. He could have slept in our home. He could have called his parents from our phone. He could be alive and adding his gifts to the glorious river of humanity. Instead, he jumped off a bridge in shame and humiliation.
My heart aches for his family. A beautiful life cut so short by the harsh antics of a couple of vacuous and humorless creeps. Prison will be nothing compared to a long life filled with the deep reality of guilt. At this moment I find it very hard to forgive the two individuals incriminated in this act of darkness. Lord, give me strength.
In the meantime, for what it’s worth, I trust that Tyler is resting in the arms of the One and Only God I love; the One Who sees and knows our utter despair; the One Who understands our frailties, desires and longings.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reasonably Grounded

Good fortune – and some hard work – has allowed me to brush the hem of modest wealth from time-to-time in my adult life. I’m surely not talking about big money. I’m simply saying that a few good years in the music business have rewarded me with occasional income that I would have never imagined during my childhood and teenage years. This inconsistent flow of cash has allowed my family to live in nice homes, take nice vacations and never want for anything. This is a huge blessing.
During these occasional good times it has been my tendency to acquire and enjoy some finer and fleeting things: private schools for our children, a new car, membership at a golf club, nicer restaurants and better wine. In leaner times I have real regrets about some of those choices; not so much that I made them but that the cash invested in them is gone and gone for good. In fact, I could use some of it right now.
Nonetheless, through all of the silly and shallow ‘experimenting’ with ‘the good life’ it has never been lost on me that I was not built to live or travel in the higher echelons of our culture. Every time my ego began whispering to me that ‘these are my people’ something would occur that slapped me back down to steelworker’s kid status. And it is then that I remember and embrace who I really am.
I have played no golf course on which I enjoyed myself any more than those 18 holes at the municipal course in my hometown. There is no bottle of wine I’ve ever purchased in any 5-star restaurant that tasted better than the cool water that arose from the marble fountain on my childhood playground. There is no vehicle I have ever driven that gave me more thrill than the 1963 Karman Ghia I bought for $495 in 1972. There is no wasabi-encrusted sushi grade tuna starter that I’ve ordered that tasted any better than my Aunt Martha’s deviled eggs. There is no Aspen chalet I’ve ever rented that held more memories than those 19-dollar-a-night apartments my family rented one block from the beach in Wildwood, NJ.
I am a working class boy – born and bred. I only wish there was somewhere to work.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Arm Your Enemies

And sell F-15 fighter jets to those who persecute you.
Yes, a purposeful re-stating of Christ’s eternal message to ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ You see, on many levels I am perplexed.
Anyone who chose to wake up and watch a television, read a newspaper, turn on a radio or surf The Internet this past weekend was reminded of the ruthless events visited upon our nation nine years ago. One fact about that shocking day - and the ensuing weeks and months that followed - seemed to be missing from the re-telling of the story: 15 of the 19 terrorists that hijacked those 3 planes were born and bred in Saudi Arabia. Keep that in mind.
I am an average Joe, a dipshit American slugging through the joys and challenges of life. I am no geopolitical talking head; I know little or nothing of the workings of international trade, military exchanges, Middle East power brokers, intelligence sharing, spy networks or world economies. So my assessment is small-minded, simplistic, fundamental and surely flawed. However, 15 of the 19 terrorists that acted out so viciously against my country and my way of life – and, in so doing – scarred this planet for decades to come, were born and bred in Saudi Arabia. Keep that in mind.
Our political leadership – in this case, emanating from The White House and authored, approved and sent to Congress by our President – is preparing to ship $60 billion worth of high-powered weaponry to the Saudi Arabian government over the next 10 years. The grounds for this idiocy, as I understand them, are twofold: jobs in America and a ‘friendly’ ally in The Middle East to dampen the threat of Iran.
I fear this is America getting desperate. Why this arms deal now – in the middle of September – in the crux of the ‘peace talks’ – on the heals of a withdraw from Iraq, an on-going presence in Afghanistan, a debilitating debt crisis, continued bank closings, accelerated mortgage foreclosures, devastating unemployment – and I repeat – in the middle of September. It has nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11. Here’s the reason: 11/2 – mid-term Election Day.
Don’t be fooled again. Keep this in mind.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Family Week at Booze Camp

The most prominent piece of not-so-authentic-art in my childhood home hung in our kitchen. It was an inexpensive copy of The Serenity Prayer. It stared at us and shone down upon us every day, during every meal and at any hour. ‘God grant me the Serenity to Accept the things I Cannot Change…’ My dad was a recovering alcoholic and this was his constant and powerful prayer. Our telephone often rang in the deep hours of the morning and I would then hear my father scurry about and leave the house. I never knew, nor did I ever ask, who had called, why dad had left at such an odd hour or where he had gone. Those unasked questions were answered at a very sad moment and in a very dramatic manner. At my father’s funeral there was a line of men stretching two blocks long. As they moved past his casket most had tears in their eyes. Many would then come over to my mother and say something like, ‘Your husband saved my life. God bless you.’
About nine years later, on the day after our wedding, Sarah and I took a rather long detour across the length of Pennsylvania en route to our modest honeymoon in The Great Smokey Mountains. It was her idea. We spent the afternoon visiting another one of my family members at an alcohol rehabilitation facility. This involved tears and laughter, heartache, shame and ‘The Courage to Change the things I Can…’
About a month ago someone that I love – another someone that shares my blood and my genes - someone for whom I would surely lay down my life – decided they had a debilitating drinking problem. Less than 24 hours later – and with the selfless and understanding assistance of a few friends and family members – this remarkable individual was admitted into a special facility that deals with matters of the heart, soul, body and mind. During the third week of the program we were asked to attend four days of family group therapy. Monday through Thursday – for about 8 hours each day – we met in concert with two counselors and family members of eight other residents at the facility. It was intense, moving, heartbreaking, exhausting, enlightening and revolutionary. I choose to share no more about it other than to proclaim that I thank God for that place and those people.
Things will be different now. Because I’ve lived around this disease my entire life I thought I knew everything there was to know. I was terribly wrong. Surely I can still be of value in certain future situations or crises. Surely I have learned that I must stay out of the way most of the time. ‘God grant me The Wisdom to know the Difference.’

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Last Roundup

A few summers ago my neighbor saw me, once again, wrestling with a healthy crop of Bermuda grass that was, once again, creeping into our shrub and flowerbeds. I grew up in Pennsylvania and seldom encountered Bermuda grass so I didn’t know how insidious it could be to control or impossible to obliterate. He walked across the lawn and handed me a plastic container with a thin hose and spray nozzle and said, ‘Thom, that’s never gonna work. Use this.’ He told me to spray it on the grass and weeds but cautioned me to keep it away from the plants and shrubs. This was my first Roundup.
Frankly, within two days I was amazed at the results. The unwanted and stubborn grass – along with other weeds – had turned brown and began to wither. Although the roots of the Bermuda grass remained difficult to extract it was easier to get the now-dead and exposed parts out of the ground. Needless to say, I had become a fan of that nasty white liquid inside that container.
Two weeks ago – following an absurdly hot and humid summer in which it was far too hot and dangerous to be doing yard work – my sweet wife dropped the hint that our beds were looking pretty rough. She was right. I noticed it, too. So, on a breezy Saturday morning I grabbed my faithful, plastic killing machine and took to the garden. Today I cut down three formerly healthy, tall and beautiful bushes that we planted around a very ugly telephone utility box that holds the switches for our little development. If I didn’t like my neighbor so much I would be in his yard right now spraying all his crepe myrtle and rosebushes.
This caused me, finally, to connect the dots between this Roundup product and a lot of very scary commentary I’ve been reading lately about genetically modified organisms. Voila! Monsanto! And, briefly stated, here is the mind-boggling riddle inside the paradox wrapped in the enigma: Monsanto created Roundup to kill things and then created genetically modified seeds that would withstand Roundup’s power! What a strange and destructive tightrope they walk!
In the next few weeks, as the beauty and relief of autumn returns to Tennessee, I shall purchase, plant and begin nurturing some new plants to replace those devastated by the combination of a harsh chemical and my stupidity. That may set me back a hundred bucks and some weekend hours. In the next few years - and for decades to come - a very high percentage of our planet’s population – especially our friends and neighbors in India, Africa and assorted Third World countries – will suffer starvation, poverty and death because of the cruel stranglehold Monsanto (and others) have on international agriculture in the form of their genetically modified seeds (sugar beets, wheat, corn, etc.) If you are interested in becoming more aware of this travesty please read this brief article:
Buy local, eat organic and make this your Last Roundup.

Notes From When We Changed

I was in Canada – a friendly neighbor but a foreign country, nonetheless. My bags were packed and I was checking out of my hotel room and headed for the airport. A traveling companion came up to the counter in his pajamas and said, ‘Thom, what are you doing? We’re not going anywhere.’ I asked why. He said, ‘Have you not seen the news this morning?’ ‘No. I woke up late, showered and packed. What’s going on?’
He walked me into the bar adjacent to the hotel lobby where 50 or more people were weeping, howling and staring at several TV screens. I arrived just minutes before the second plane hit.
Nothing has ever been the same; I’m sure of it.
I recoiled and determined to make it to the Calgary, Alberta Airport before all hell broke loose. But hell had already broken loose and more was yet to come. Nonetheless, I persevered; found a taxi and made it to the airport. Long lines. Panic. Fear. Hysteria. Out of control. Flights halted. Ran to the rental car agencies. Last person to get a car. Drove back to the hotel. Re-booked my room. Called my wife. Desperate. Cried. Went to the bar for companionship. 10 AM. Ordered a beer. Had another. Watched the screen. Surreal. Wandered through the day. Food, finally. More attempted calls – lines busy. Separation. Reality. Emptiness.
Dinner with Paul C – martinis and steaks and anger. Fumbled through the night with strangers and friends. Tears all over. Dive bar around the corner – pool and jukebox. Woke up late and hazy. Found some friends. How the hell are we going to get home? So far away. Found a bus that could leave Thursday night - $6,000. I said, ‘Book it. There are 11 of us. I’ll write you a check or put it on a card.’
Two drivers – straight through. 40+ hours to Nashville.
Crossed the border at 3:00 in the morning. Kissed the ground – all 11 of us. Next day in Omaha saw a plane in the sky – giant cheers from the passengers!!!
Diners all the way back – about every 5 hours. Booze, cards, music and jokes on the bus. Couldn’t sleep – anxious and scared: was the world coming to an end; will I kiss my sweet one again; will I hold my children at least one more time? Please get us home.
Nashville – pre-dawn. Dark. Wrote a check; collected large cash tip from fellow passengers for our drivers. Got my bags and hugged my companions. Drove home in a dreamscape. Hugged my beauties harder than ever. Collapsed.
I cannot speak for any other American so I will simply say this on my own behalf: life on this planet was forever changed on September 11, 2001. My heart, my soul and my mind went to another place on that day and I have never returned to the state I was in prior to 8:00 AM EST on that day. Lines were drawn; hostilities embedded; distrust magnified; anger heightened; marked differences manifested. No, I have never been the same since that day.
Because of those heartless, cowardly and defiant acts my family and I were separated, terrified and confused. As this was happening to my family and me Osama bin Laden was laughing in a cave – so proud of his accomplishments. What kind of religion is that?
Not mine.