Sunday, July 05, 2015

After Twenty Years

I had a horrible time at the beginning of high school. My family had moved from the city to the suburbs and I could not get used to life there. In the city, I'd had friends from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds. I'd had friends, period-- I just couldn't seem to mesh with people who seemed obsessed with possessions and status, had known one another since birth-- and were 100% white.

My sophomore year, I decided to make some changes. I lost weight, started running and lifting weights, and I finally started making friends. One of the ones I'm most fond of looking back was Pete V.

Pete and I met in English class. I think he sat in front of me. He was a gregarious and kind Italian-American guy who participated in all kinds of music-related activities. I looked forward to my English class when I could chat with Pete. After a few years of real hell, I was happy to have a guy who I could talk and laugh with.

Over the course of my sophomore year, I started making other friends. But Pete and I made a promise. We had read the O Henry short story "After Twenty Years" in class. The story was about two friends who make a pact to meet 20 years from that day in a spot in a city. We made a deal that we'd do that; I even had the date written down and kept in a safe place, which I continued to do for years.

In the next couple of years, he and I made other friends and saw less of one another, since we never had another class together again. We always said hello in the halls whenever we saw one another in our high school of 5,000 students.

We graduated and moved on in life. I went to a small school for a year, left college and worked for a year, then went to a state school. In the late nineties, I went back to school and got a teaching certification. And in 1999, I went to my 20th high school reunion. He was there. I stopped and chatted with him, and wondered if he remembered our pact. It wasn't the exact date, but I'd hoped to run into him there, and was very happy I did. He seemed to be doing well.

A couple of years ago, another high school friend "friended" me on a very popular social media site. Pete must have seen me through that and friended me. Within a couple of days, though, I saw that he had a lot of very conservative political stuff on there. It's no secret that my politics are pretty liberal. I quietly unfriended him; I didn't wish to start anything up with him.

A few weeks ago, through the same friend we'd originally reacquainted ourselves with, he and I started chatting on the social media site. He remembered that he had connected with me, and I explained why. He assured me that even though our politics were very different, he would always respect me and my views. And then he told me some things that stunned me.

His father had been a horrible, raging alcoholic. His household had always been in tumult. School, the activities-- and our friendship-- had been what had carried him through that time. I had no idea; he had needed me as much as I had needed him.

I refriended Pete, and will never again be out of touch with him. Like the characters in "After Twenty Years," our lives took very different paths. In the end, we met up again, not in front of a shuttered store, like the characters in the story, but on the internet. And happily, neither of us were career criminals...

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Little Miracles

Recently, my son started his junior year of college. In March, he'll turn 21. My days these days are filled with working overtime in order to pay for that college. A few weeks ago, though, I took a day off to rummage through my attic storage space to thin out stuff that didn't get thinned out during our move to a bigger apartment a few years ago. I came across a reminder of another time and place.

In 1998, I had just finished two things: my elementary education teaching certificate and an ugly custody fight with an ex-girlfriend over my son. Neither were cheap.

My ex and I had fought to a bitter standstill. We shared custody, but as is the custom in the state I live in, I ended up paying child support.

Those days, in early 1998, were some lean times, to put it mildly. I remember having to take a jar full of coins I had from emptying my pockets of change from one of my past jobs, as a server. I took it to one of those coin counters in my grocery store in order to buy groceries for he and I one week. It was all the money I had.

As I searched for a teacher job, I scraped by working as a substitute teacher in the meantime. I also heard from an old friend whom I'd worked in the past. He needed a solid server at his restaurant, which I'd worked at before. Business was booming-- would I be interested?

Hell yeah. I was getting evicted from the apartment my son and I lived in. It wasn't necessarily the worst thing. I'd picked the apartment in a hurry after the woman I was married to asked for a divorce at the worst possible time-- as I was fighting another woman over my kid and getting ready for to  student teach, the final step in my journey to become a teacher.

He and I had toughed it out there. Because of all the one-way streets in the neighborhood, in order to get to our home we had to drive by an open drug market, with gang members out in front of the building hawking their wares. I was glad he was 4 and too young to realize what was going on. At night, there was gunfire. I kept music or the television on so that he wouldn't hear it.

We made the best of our poverty. At the time, you could ride the CTA, Chicago's mass transit system, for $1.50. For twenty five cents more, you could get a transfer, which was good for 3 hours and could also be used for a round-trip. Kids rode free. On some Saturdays, we would board the el at the station about a block from our home, and ride it to the end of the line, O'Hare Airport,  and hang out for an hour or so. This was pre-9/11, so we could go right into the terminal where the planes were. There was a playground in it, which he loved. He also enjoyed going up to the windows and waving to the pilots who were waiting for passengers to embark or disembark. They would unfailingly wave cheerfully back to him. It's funny now because he cites this as one of the funnest things he did as a child. I did it because I knew he loved airplanes and no matter how broke I was, I could always scrounge up $1.75, even if it was by rummaging through my apartment.

One day, right before I started my second job, as a server, we were in the grocery store near our apartment and he suddenly got very excited; "Dad! It's Tommy! Can I get Tommy?"

I knew that it was a character from a children's show-- "Rugrats." It was in a close-out bin for maybe 4 bucks. I had just enough to buy us 8 or 10 dollars worth of groceries, which I could stretch out for a week, and not enough for this inexpensive toy.  He rarely asked for specific toys. Trying to hide my embarrassment, I told him that we couldn't get it. When he asked why, I could not figure out a way to explain it to him. He was upset. I told him that maybe we could get it later. I knew this was unlikely; it was the only one in the bin, in a very busy grocery store. It would undoubtedly be gone by the end of the day. I hoped he would just forget about it.

A day or two later, I started working again for my old friend. I'd worked for years at the restaurant before I went back to school. Old regulars and I were delighted to see one another. People knew that I'd just finished teacher school, and some knew about my custody fight. They were generous with their tips.

I worked as a sub the next day, and after work went to buy groceries. It was a huge relief to have, for the first time in months, money to buy plenty of groceries, and even a couple of little treats for my son and I.

As I walked into the grocery store, I happened to walk by the sale bin. I was in disbelief. There was Tommy. I quickly grabbed him and threw him in my basket, thankful for this unlikely turn of events.

My son was, of course, later surprised and delighted to see Tommy.

As my son got older, he started asking questions about that time and our circumstances. He ultimately began to understand what had happened, and how my poverty was the price I paid in order to keep him in my life. For his part, he remembers this as one of the happiest parts of his childhood. He still remembers those trips to the airport with delight.

Over time, Tommy, toy cars and Lincoln Logs gave way to baseball, Monopoly and video games, but he always had Tommy on a shelf in his room, even after other things of his childhood had gone to younger neighbors or Goodwill. I think that it was a reminder of that time that was improbably happy for him. With our move right after I finished with one more career change,  nursing school, and right before he started college, Tommy finally went into storage.

These days, I'm happy with decisions I made. One was the decision, over 20 years ago, to stay in my son's life, no matter the cost. The other was the decision a few years ago to go to nursing school . I chuckle sometimes thinking that as a consequence, I'm able to spend more annually on his education than I made in a couple of those harsh years.

Pretty soon, Tommy will be going into the Goodwill bin, where he will eventually hopefully help some other young, struggling parent make their kid happy for a couple of bucks. But before that, I had to stop one more time and remember those times, and be thankful for timely little miracles. 

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

A Boy's Dream

"Yeah, I was in the show. I was in the show for 21 days once - the 21 greatest days of my life. You know, you never handle your luggage in the show, somebody else carries your bags. It was great. You hit white balls for batting practice, the ballparks are like cathedrals, the hotels all have room service, and the women all have long legs and brains."-- "Crash" Davis, "Bull Durham"

When I was about 7 or 8 years old, around 1968-1969, the baseball bug bit me. My family lived in Albany Park, a very ethnically mixed neighborhood on Chicago's north side. My friends in the neighborhood were a grab bag of ethnicities, nationalities and religions. Until just a few years before, Albany Park was populated mostly by Jewish people, mostly of Russian heritage. As they began the move to the suburbs-- a pattern that has remained to this day in this neighborhood no matter the ethnic groups-- new groups were moving in: baptists from Appalachia, Maronites from Lebanon, Irish, Hungarians, Polish and the first few Hispanic people. You name it, we had it

The one thing we all had in common was baseball. Our own little form of baseball. We played in the alley with a deflated playground ball-- it was the great leveler. The difference between the greatest hitter and the worst was pretty narrow. And speaking of narrow, we played in an alley. Our bases were utility poles, cracks in the concrete and by-the-way, watch out for the dogshit!

By 1971, my family had followed the Great American pattern that was emerging, and had moved to the suburbs for a split-level ranch and better schools. But I still loved baseball. In September of 1971-- specifically, September 11, 1971, I finally went to my first baseball game. It was my beloved Cubs versus the St. Louis Cardinals. 

I remember, to this day, nearly 43 years later, so much about the game. Juan Pizzaro pitched for the Cubs. Joe Torre, who was usually a catcher, was playing third base. Lou Brock, whom the Cubs had traded in 1964 to the Cardinal for pitcher Ernie Broglio, in what is considered to one of the worst and most lopsided trades in baseball history, was playing for the Cardinals. In all, I saw four future Hall of Famers play that day-- Billy Williams and Ron Santo for the Cubs, and Lou Brock and Joe Torre for the Cards. To my lasting regret, another future Hall of Famer, "Mr. Cub," Ernie Banks, was not playing that day; he retired about two weeks later. 

But my most memorable moment came with a player who I greatly admired-- a guy who was never going to make it into the Hall of Fame: Paul Popovich. 

Popovich had been one of the few bright spots in the infamous and heartbreaking end of the 1969 Cubs season. He was nicknamed "Supersub" for his ability to fill in ably at any infield position. He was only a lifetime .233 hitter, but he seemed to have a knack for getting the "clutch" hits-- hits right when they were badly needed. 

Popovich hit 14 home runs over his entire career (mostly with the Cubs) from 1964 to 1975. One of those home runs was that day, in the course of the Cubs' 7-0 victory: it was the one and only grand slam that Popovich hit in his career.

I never got to play little league ball, though I dreamed, as a little boy, of playing in the Bigs and hitting a grand slam. Instead, I grew up, went to college, moved back into the city and became a teacher, and then a nurse, and raised a son who is a baseball fan. We saw many games at Wrigley and he played six years of little league, something I hadn't gotten to do. He even pitched in his league championship his last year. He's 20 now, and in college. He told me a couple of days ago that he considers that pitching in the little league championship when he was in eighth grade to be the greatest memory of his childhood. 

A couple of weeks ago, the great pitcher Greg Maddux was inaugurated into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I saw him pitch many times, and during Maddux' second stint with the Cubs, my son saw him pitch. But for every Greg Maddux, there are hundreds of Paul Popoviches-- journeyman players who are talented and hard-working enough to make it to the major leagues, but who will never make it to the Hall. And for every Paul Popovich, there are 1000 little boys who can only dream of making it to "the show." To me, to see Paul Popovich living his dream-- and mine-- that afternoon in 1971, that will always be my favorite moment I ever witnessed in baseball. Except, of course, seeing my boy pitch in a little league championship.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lean In

This weekend, my wife, my son and I went up to a reunion that my wife's family has every three years. At some point during the drive back, my son asked me about this blog, pointing out I hadn't written in it in a while.

Truth is that I had been planning for the last couple of weeks to resume posting. I missed it.

One of the big reasons I had slowed to a near stop in the writing was exhaustion. A career change, a move, getting a kid off to college, and then a couple of years of working as much overtime as I could stand-- I was fried most days, and still am. Still, I miss blogging more than I miss the rest.

So, anybody who reads this blog regularly knows, I changed careers. After getting laid off a teaching job that I just loved, I decided to go where the work was-- the healthcare profession. After flirting with the idea of becoming a pharmacist, a friend who was studying to be a nurse (and whom I took prereq classes with) pointed out that even if I went through with the plans to go to pharmacy school-- an unlikely event as it turned out, since there's only one in Chicago-- I'd be done with it around the time my younger child was done with college. The whole point was to be in a position to pay for the lion's share of my kids' college.

I was fortunate to get into the RN program of one of the Chicago City Colleges. Not only did it have a great reputation, it was relatively cheap.

Even so, the Recession started not long after I began the process. And then my wife was laid off her job the month I started nursing school.

She and I had a long discussion over a few glasses of wine one night about what we were going to do. We decided to tough it out and for me to stay in the program.

She worked a series of jobs, after a stint on unemployment, and I continued to work full time at a waitering job. I had to buck up, lean in, and know that I could sleep when I was done with nursing school.

I finished nursing school on my 50th birthday. My wife and kids threw a marvelous party. Most of my closest friends were there, including a surprise guest-- my old friend Viktor Zeitgeist, who flew in from Seattle on a redeye to be there. My mother came in for it as well.

I was fortunate to get a job ridiculously quickly. It was with the biggest dialysis company in the world. I knew next to nothing about dialysis; we'd talked about it probably all of ten minutes of nursing school.

I started training in early August of 2011. I bonded quickly with two guys in the class, Neal and Brent, who, like me, were middle-aged guys who were changing careers.

Brent had a kid in college, and I had one who was going to be there soon. I had a bunch of debts to take care of-- in order for me to finish nursing school, we'd done a lot of robbing Peter to pay Paul. I had to take care of that.

In August of 2012, Brent, Neal and I sent one another texts caustically congratulating one another on our one-year anniversary with the company. We'd already grown a little weary of the job. It was a company in chaos. Still, the chaos resulted in a lot of overtime for Brent and I, so we dealt with it.

The next day I got a text from a co-worker about Brent; he was in the hospital. He'd collapsed-- a possible heart attack. I was a little incredulous. He was only 42.

I got ahold of his girlfriend's number. She told me he had collapsed at home. As it turned out, he'd had a brain aneurysm. At her request, Neal and I drove to the hospital to see Brent. We checked him for pupillary response-- we shone a light in his eyes to see if the pupils responded. None. He was intubated, breathing artificially, and his heart was beating, but he was dead.

We went to his funeral a couple of days later. His girlfriend and I have become close friends since then. Shared grief has a way of doing that. Neal eventually took a job at a hospital, but we've stayed in touch as well.

Nearly two years later, I'm still with that company. I've grown wearier of the job. Four managers in 3 years. Still lots of chaos, but still lots of overtime.

So now my son is half way done with college. My daughter will be a senior in high school this year. There will be a year where we have two kids in college. My daughter's birth father will apparently help some, but it's still going to be a strain.

But we've dealt with a lot tougher situations. As I look back at going to nursing school, and how it's worked out, I'm satisfied; the plan worked.

I look forward to the day I can move on to my next nursing job. Most of the people I treat should really not be alive. I'd like to be working with people who are going to recover. But for now, this is what's best for my family. I'll continue to lean in, and finish what I started. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Loose Ends

A couple of days ago, someone on my Facebook feed posted that it had been 35 years since Devo made their first appearance on Saturday Night Live, playing a great cover of the Rolling Stones song "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." I smiled, remembering that I had seen that performance; I was watching it with my high school best friend Cindy. We were floored by it, and were inspired. With the help of her mother, we made approximations of the Devo anti-radiation suits in time for Halloween a couple of weeks later.

This was made even happier that Cindy and I had reconnected after ten years. It turned out that she and her partner had moved. My friend has a fairly common name, so my efforts to track her down were hampered by that. It occurred to me to pair the search with the name of her life partner, which gave me success, though I didn't realize it. I had left them a message, then missed when they called me, thanks to my insane work schedule. A couple of months ago, she finally reached me. Happily, it turns out that she's moving back to the area where we grew up in (I never left) with her partner and their baby daughter. We all got together, going to the zoo. I was amused that she is so much the same; she still overschedules, still overplans and is still a delight as a person.

I am, obviously, a person who doesn't like loose ends. I am one who keeps friendships up over years, decades. My three closest friends are people I met over 30 years ago. I used to write a lot of letters. Now Facebook and cheap long distance helps make up for the fact that I don't have as much time and energy to write letters.

My unease with loose ends does have its downside. Namely, loose ends.

In my mid-twenties, I roomed with a guy I worked with who with whom I had become good friends with. Chris and I could probably not have been more opposite. I'm straight, he was gay. He grew up in the same neighborhood on the south side that the President lived in when he was still here in Chicago; I grew up on the north side. He was racially mixed-- his dad was black, mom white (I'm white). Yet, after that stuff, we were still close friends. We loved to talk politics. We both loved to get out and party (until he stopped drinking). We kept in touch for a long time, and got together often, even after we weren't rooming together. When my son was born, it became harder for me to keep in touch. I was busy raising a kid and working, and eventually school, when I went back to school to become a teacher.

Over the last 7 or 8 years, I've tried to contact him. His sister is married to a pretty well-known political writer, and I've messaged both him and his sister trying to get in touch with him. My fear is that the news is bad; he was treated for depression at times-- he'd been the victim of a gay-bashing when he was in college that was horrific. He was pistol-whipped; the gun went off and grazed the back of his head. He was almost certainly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. I fear for the worst, but keep hoping that like my searches for my friend Cindy, I'll get good news.

Another guy is Yomi Martin. I met him in the early nineties when he was dating a co-worker. He and her split up, but he was the one I stayed friends with. He was one of the most intelligent and interesting people I've had the pleasure to meet. He was only 21 or 22 when we met, but he and a couple of friends had already published an issue of a comic book. I always enjoyed talking to him about art, life, women, comic books, science fiction, and whatever else concerned us.

Searching for him is complicated by the fact that he shares a name with a popular clothing designer. I still search a few times a year, crossing his name with comic books and graphic novels, assuming that he's maintained an interest in that field. Still, I have fears with him too; Chicago is a dangerous place for a young African-American male. I choose to think that he just ended up in another geographic location and that I just haven't cracked the code for finding him.

I haven't given up on Chris and Yomi. At times, I considered giving up on Cindy, and another friend, Jamie, but finally connected with both of them. Because, you see, not only am I a person that doesn't like loose ends: I'm a person who values the people I've shared this life with and someone who's stubborn as hell.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Snows of Kilamanjaro

When I was a freshman in college, in 1979, I had to read Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilamanjaro" for an English class. To be honest, the book made no impact with me. The random flow of the narrator's memories as he dies didn't register with me.

A few months ago, I was revisiting the story in my head, and realized that I now get, at the age of 52, what I didn't get when I was 18.

Twenty years ago this summer, I got the news that I was going to become a parent. It was not expected-- I had broken off a relationship with the woman a few weeks before-- nor particularly desired. I felt like I would be a shitty parent, and I had other plans. In fact, I had planned to spent that summer, the summer of 1993, working only one job (I usually worked 2) and try to figure out the next couple of steps in my life.

Back in my younger days, I used to hang out at the Gingerman Tavern here in Chicago with a guy named Michael. He was one of the nicest and most interesting people I've met in my life. He used to have a tagline on his email, one that's been attributed to a number of people, "Do you want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans." Truer words were never spoken. The following spring, in 1994, my son was born. I took to parenthood like a fish to water. I just fell in love with parenting, and in particular, this little pip of a guy who was now my responsibility for at least 18 years.

I ended up splitting with his mother, but shared custody of him. I was married and divorced twice, and finally tried marriage a third time, this time with a woman who already had a child. My stepdaughter and I hit it off pretty quickly, partly because her birth father doesn't seem to quite get the hang of parenting.

My son is home for his summer break from college for a few more days. My daughter is on a college tour today with my wife. It really hit me this morning-- our journey raising children is nearly done.

I had the realization recently that I now get Hemingway's book. There are a million little memories from a lifetime that come flooding back with a moment's reflection.

The picture to the right, of my kids riding bicycles together is one of them. I've done a lot of things in my life, good and bad. I've gotten four college degrees, loved some wonderful women, made some great friendships-- but one of the most important things I think I've ever done is taught two kids how to ride a bicycle.

I'll never forget seeing my son take his first steps. It was at a party we had for his first birthday. I was still living with his mother; both families were at the party. For a couple of weeks, he'd been walking holding onto furniture. He was sitting in the middle of the living room, when he suddenly stood up and walked over to one of his grandmothers (I cannot, for the life of me, remember if it was her mother or mine).

I got my stepdaughter when she was 8, so I missed the first words, first steps, etc. Our first moment, when we realized that we were going to get on just fine, was, ironically, when I was dropping her off for a visit with her birth father. I had my Ipod plugged into the car stereo, and the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated" came on. She waited a minute before she went into her father's house in order to sing the song along with me; it was one of her favorites, and mine. Another time, when I was picking her up from school, Jim Carroll's song "People Who Died" came up on the shuffle. We sang along to it then, and always do when it comes up on either of our Ipods or on satellite radio. We're just sentimental that way...

Other moments from a couple of childhoods that are stored in my memory: my son walking around with an enormous stuffed "Jimmy Neutron."  My daughter asking about the possibility bats flying out of a lighting fixture in her bedroom. My son spending the better part of an afternoon looking for secret passageways in our home. Taking both of them to see Ursula Bielski, who writes about Chicago ghost stories. My son's Little League games. Every play I've seen my daughter perform in. Dozens of Monopoly and Settlers of Catan games.

But beyond the big stuff, there are a thousand little memories with each of them. As I've watched them grow into intelligent, capable and interesting adults, I've come to realize that they'll remember bits and pieces of their childhoods, but a lot of it will be locked up solely in the recesses of my memory. And when I take my leave, those memories will go away with me. Like with Hemingway's adventurer in the book, those memories will pass like ghosts before me until they and I fade. Such is the ephemeral, sad and beautiful truth of our existence. 

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Picky Ones At the Buffet

Back in April, my wife and I had a chance to take a weekend trip. Even after selling back a bunch of PTO time, I still had a lot of vacation time left (we accumulate it very quickly in my job). Since starting my nursing job, I have regularly worked 50, 60, even 70 hour weeks. The overtime has been great, helping us retire debts left over from when I was in school, and my wife was unexpectedly unemployed. It has allowed me to pay for my son's college, and to do some nice things for my family. But my wife realized that four years of school while maintaining a full time job, then two years of crazy hours at work had left our relationship fraying at the edges. We needed some time together.

My daughter went off to New York that weekend to spend some time with her birth father, who normally doesn't spend much time with her, and my son was away at college. My wife had been looking at our options. We both love wine (specifically red wine) and thought of a weekend at one of a number of B and B's in the midwest that are in vineyards. After considering a number of options, she came up with a very cool one: the South Pier Inn, in Duluth, Minnesota. It's a hotel that's right on the canal that leads from Lake Superior to the Duluth harbor.

The canal is traversed by a bridge that is one of only a few "lift" bridges still operating in the country; when one of the thousand-foot ore carriers or other ships enters the harbor, the bridges entire span goes up. It was all amazing-- a huge iron bridge going up in the air as a huge ship passed almost silently by our room-- close enough that I could have thrown a baseball to someone on the ship. I was surprised at how quiet the ships were.

We spent some time in the hotel room drinking wine, chatting and getting to know one another again. We got out, too. We walked over to the little maritime museum nearby, where we saw, among other things, an exhibit on the Edmund Fitzgerald, of the Gordon Lightfoot song fame; it was a frequently docked in the Duluth harbor. We went downtown and visited the Electric Fetus record store, and went to the Minnesota Wine Exchange (yes, even Minnesota has some wonderful wines!)

Later, I thought about how funny it was that we'd have such a good time in a hotel room watching ships and a bridge. I thought about our marriage, relationships in general and remembered an experience I had a couple of lifetimes ago.

Back in the late nineties, I was working at a restaurant owned by Larry T., a longtime friend whom I've worked for a few times over the years. He's a big black bear of a guy-- he grew up on the south side of Chicago, and has been involved in the restaurant business about 40 years. I've worked at three of the places he's owned or co-owned over a period of about 25 years. In this case, I was working at a barbecue place he owned. He had asked me to manage a catering gig. It was an event sponsored by the "Matches" section of the Chicago Reader-- the section for people to meet people. For a set amount, the participants got a "Match" ad, got to ride in a bike ride, then there was a buffet, our part of it, at the end, where folks could meet and greet.

I took Larry's van, with the food and a couple of other employees, out to a lakefront park, where we set up and awaited the riders. Soon, they arrived, and I watched a really interesting thing unfold.

The people dismounted their bicycles, then walked up to the buffet. They began to look over the buffet we were serving. Larry, a brilliant chef, had whipped up a nice assortment of food, mindful to his target crowd; he'd even taken care to make sure there were vegan options.

I'll never forget the fussy looks on the faces of the people as they picked at the food in the chafing dishes. A couple even said "Is this all you have?" I was dumbstruck.

Then, most of them, having found something they could stomach, walked over and sat alone. They made no attempt to talk to any other person at the event. They ate their meal, and wheeled off... alone.

Nearly a decade and a half later, I still think of that day.

Around that time, I married Cynthia, my second wife. We split a few years later over children issues; she wanted kids. I, being seven years older than she, didn't want any more (I had a son from a former girlfriend). I loved her, and sometimes miss her-- we were friends before we dated and married. She was a lovely and unique person. Our circumstances just weren't going to work.

I married again, my current marriage, a few years after that. Ironically, I met her through the Matches in the Chicago Reader. While we had enough things in common to meet-- we're both extroverts, our politics are liberal, we both love red wine, music, etc.-- in the end, we also have some serious differences.  For example, she's somebody who sweats the small stuff. I don't. She frets constantly about what other people think. I don't.

In the relationships I had when I was single, I there was no "type" I dated. The women I was involved with were all over the place-- ethnicity, career, personality. And they all fascinated me. In the end, I realized that there is no "perfect person" or "type" for you; it's all about learning to appreciate the uniqueness of the person you're with and working on the day to day details of making a marriage or relationship work.

Thinking back to the delightful time I had with my wife in Duluth, and looking forward to more good times with her, I also think about those people at that buffet so long ago. They had all that wonderful food, prepared by a genius chef, laid out for them, and it still wasn't good enough. They were surrounded by other people who were expressly looking for a relationship, yet nobody was good enough. I wonder how many of them are still out there, wondering when their custom-made lover is going to magically appear, when there are so many lovely and interesting people all around them.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Johnny Yen's One-Hit Wonders: "Master Jack," By Four Jacks and a Jill

Four Jacks and a Jill were a South African folk group who had had a hit in their native land. They hit the US Top Forty with their song "Master Jack" in 1968, reaching #18 on the Billboard Hot 100, and number 3 on the Adult Contemporary chart. It was an international 
smash, hitting the charts in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and hit #1 in South Africa.

Their next song, "Mr. Nico," cracked the US Top 100, but they never charted in the U.S. They have continued to have hits in South Africa and have produced a number of educational and charity records there.