I am always a little wistful for North Carolina, especially when it snows back home. As I tuned in to the wintry images on the Weather Channel and followed accumulation reports from Winston-Salem, some subconscious part of me was transported there, to my memories as a kid playing in the snow, to the thrill and strange freedom of being shut in by such an opulent act of God. There were moments when I had to remind myself where I actually was, palms rustling in the backyard and temps in the low 70s. “Oh Paul, it’s the prettiest snow we’ve ever had,” my mom told me over the phone. “I just wish you could see it.”
I’ve been obsessively tracking the delivery of a T-shirt I ordered last week. It says RAT on the front, the logo of a legendary distortion pedal, something we guitar players plug in and crank up to make a hellish racket. It’s a pedal I own and love and that has most likely damaged my hearing forever.
I thought wearing my cool new shirt would be fun and maybe make people wonder what kind of mystifying dude I am. Let’s just say I was pumped.
So imagine my distress when I opened the much-anticipated package after work today and pulled out a shirt that seemed ridiculously tiny with little girly sleeves. Nooooooo! My selection of a men’s size during a late-night shopping impulse was somehow muddled on the other end as a women’s.
Well, I may have the distortion box and the hearing impairment to go with it, but my wife now has a rockin’ new tee. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t care much for it. “If it makes you happy, I’ll wear it.” She’s a keeper.
The first one we saw was tall and dark and, well, handsome. "His name is Thunder," we were told.
Over the course of an hour we met a dozen more dogs, with names like Angel, Mazie, Lulu, Oliver, Lady, Odie. Each of them was a greyhound, by the way, capable of taking off like a bullet and hitting 40 miles an hour or faster.
Funny thing is, they simply don't do that, even though they are bred to race. They prefer doing nothing at all. Some sleep 18 hours a day. "You see how friendly he is now?" one owner said. "Well, he'll be asleep in the car on the way home, and we don't live very far from here."
Like other folks gathered today at Ivanhoe Park Brewing Company in support of Greyhounds in Motion ($1 from every pour went to the cause), my family has been thinking about adopting one of these amazing animals, especially now that greyhound racing in Florida is coming to an end and thousands of these dogs will need homes. "They're so cool, and they're so sweet," my wife said. And that's exactly right. They're gentle, loving creatures, striking and statuesque, with regal snouts and legs for days and not an ounce of fat anywhere.
Once the initial hubbub of today's event wore off, you could see the hounds relaxing, tuning out, some lying down, closing their eyes and drifting off. "Greyhounds are total couch potatoes," I heard someone say.
Around my house, unless a situation gets serious, I’m usually not called Dad. I am Papas Fritas. I’m not sure how I feel about this nickname but it doesn’t matter because it has stuck. And yes, I realize it means French fries. I know, ridiculous.
Why do nicknames dig in their heels and refuse to leave us alone? We are full of them around our place. My lovely wife is Frommy. Don’t ask how that happened. My son has a nickname, too, as does his sister, and they’d kill me if I told you what they are and the info leaked to their friends.
My extended family has been nickname-happy since the beginning of time. Sonny. Ziggy. BaBa. Rah Rah. I bet you’ve got a nickname yourself, like it or not. Doesn’t matter. Once it happens, it’s done. You might as well put it on your driver’s license.
So, as much as I’d like to be Dad, I have to be OK with the name I hear around the house. And I’d prefer it stay confined to that space.
It’s cool how something so simple can bring back such a flood of memories. The humble matchbook, pretty much extinct now, was the perfect keepsake from a restaurant, bar, hotel, shop. They’re small and colorful and creative. Some of them were quite beautifully designed. Little works of art. And I’ve got three big cigar boxes full of them. Not that I’ve been a collector. I just wanted to set them aside and be able to look back at them one day and remember the places, the people, the fun. Today seems like as good a day as any for that.
Good thing we learned the place was haunted after we returned home. “I knew something was creepy about that hotel,” my son says.
True, the kids had expressed mild concern over a closet door opening by itself in our room on the afternoon of our arrival at the Colony Hotel. “And I heard a sound in the middle of the night like somebody stepping really hard in the hallway,” my daughter remembers.
“Come on, that was just somebody walking back to their room,” her brother says, looking slightly less than convinced.
Built in 1926, the historic Colony Hotel in downtown Delray Beach, Florida, is a wonderful place to spend a long Labor Day weekend. Creaky hardwood floors and antique light fixtures and old photographs of the property and of long-gone guests lining the walls. Never once did it cross my mind that it might be haunted, nor have I ever believed in things being haunted in the first place. That’s ridiculous.
But now that we’ve read some online chatter about apparitions and unexplained sounds and sightings at the Colony, I’m not so sure. Maybe I just want to believe. Pondering the possibility quickens the pulse and seems to heighten the senses. It’s a strangely appealing buzz.
Not so for my daughter. “That’s the last time you make me stay in some scary old hotel,” she says.
The information desk near baggage claim is anything but informative. Definitely good for a few laughs, though. "Excuse me, which train do we take downtown, the Blue Line?” The impeccably dressed young man behind the desk isn’t so sure. “Uhhh, I don’t really know. Check Google. They’ll have a better answer.”
We had so many amazing experiences in Chicago these past few days, but I’m going to be straight up with you: Spending two hours at the Chicago Music Exchange was the FREAKIN’ BEST! Endless rows of guitars hanging on the walls floor to ceiling, in multiple rooms, many of them vintage instruments worth more than my car, a few more than my house. “Make yourself at home and let me know if you need us to get something down for you,” says Joel, one of the shop’s affable staffers and a prominent face on its popular YouTube channel. I grab a red ES-335 and blue Jazzmaster, head to one of the soundproof booths in the center of the shop and plug in. My ears are still ringing.
A jaded grandpa-looking guy seated next to me in section 515, wearing a Cubs cap and jersey and jotting game stats on Cubs stationery, seems annoyed. As usual I have some questions and he looks like just the right person to ask. After 90 minutes without a run for either team, I lean over and take a chance with, “Are most games this slow going?” It pains him to acknowledge me. “The Cubs are the highest scoring team in the National League. You'd think they'd be doing better tonight but they’re not.” He turns away. End of conversation. And then we start seeing some action. Too bad for the jam-packed crowd at Wrigley Field that the San Diego Padres are the ones making it happen, ultimately finishing off the home team 6-1 on this absolutely perfect summer evening.
The Trump International Hotel & Tower on the Chicago River is a sleek, soaring architectural marvel of 98 stories, bold and brash just like its namesake. The “Trump” sign on the building’s exterior is enormous, as you might imagine. “Seems like there’d be a zoning restriction that wouldn’t allow letters that big,” I ponder aloud. “Or letters in that order,” a family friend adds.
I share an elevator first thing in the morning with three peppy young women, all of them a bit too bright eyed for such an early hour. All I want is coffee. Like, immediately. Then I notice one of the women is wearing a blue T-shirt adorned with the outline of the Magic Kingdom castle and the word “Home” in white letters. I say, “I see your shirt. Do you live in Florida?” “Oh no, I’m just obsessed with Disney.” There’s no outrunning the Mouse, even at daybreak in a Hampton Inn on West Illinois Street.
Carol, the chummy security host who led my friend and me to our seats in the fifth row, said she didn’t care much for the Smashing Pumpkins. “Country’s my thing,” she said. But I totally saw her grooving to the band’s bouncier tunes during their three-hour set last night.
Yours truly was loving every wallop of the Pumpkins’ assault, much of it so loud I could actually feel the volume pushing against my face and arms.
“Hello Tampa ... Florida ... land of hurricanes and gators. I hear that everywhere there’s water, there’s a gator. Is that true?” asked guitarist James Iha, drawing affirmative yelps.
I’d almost forgotten to pull out my earplugs when we headed backstage after the show to meet with Jeff Schroeder, another Pumpkins guitar player and an acquaintance of my buddy Matt’s. Just so you know, Matt makes stomp boxes, really good ones, and the band uses his gear. Cool, right? We talked with Jeff about the merits of fuzz and gain and distortion and why you never want your guitar to sound too “fizzy.”
As architects of a fair chunk of the 90s rock soundtrack, the Pumpkins are big with us middle agers. So, naturally, there were lots of graying heads in Tampa’s Amalie Arena, but also way more young people than I expected, even shaggy kids in Iron Maiden and Rush and Zeppelin shirts. I must say I’m encouraged. Maybe there’s still hope for heavy rock.
It was fun to see the Pumpkins put their own fandom on display, playing covers of Space Oddity and Stairway to Heaven. During the latter, a cloud of questionable content wafted upward from the first few rows. “Soon as we start playing Stairway, somebody lights up some pot,” Iha told the crowd. “Things never change.”
Today our lovable little Lucy becomes a teenager. She's been looking forward to this milestone with great anticipation, though if you ask me, this sassy thing has been acting like a teen since the day she climbed out of her crib.
I often tell her, "My life would be a gazillion times less interesting without you in it," and that's a fact. She is smart, funny, talented, beautiful and tough. She fills our days with sunshine and, as you might suspect, a fair bit of drama. Sweetheart, we adore you more than you could ever imagine.
As is customary in late May in Orlando, the weather was sticky. It hit 91 degrees in fact, the midday sun moving in and out of the clouds and roasting the small contingent of family and friends fanning themselves on plastic chairs amid the flora of Leu Gardens.
But even though I was suited up in a tux, sweating and heart thumping, I really don’t remember the heat. I just see her face, radiant and beautiful, and hear her words … “I do.”
Now, precisely 20 years to the day after that exquisite moment, I have never felt more grateful or fortunate that she’s my wife. Happy Anniversary, honey. Tying the knot with you was the best move I ever made.
Rainy weekend ahead. This stack should do the trick. #williamfaulkner #hartcrane #williamsaroyan #tennesseewilliams #tomwolfe
How do you measure the love and influence and impact of a great mom?
You can go back decades and try to count the times she fed you and clothed you and got you to the bus stop with seconds to spare, or simply withstood your ear-splitting music, or talked you off the ledge when a girlfriend called it quits.
You can think of how many years have intervened now and how she's still at it, mothering like a pro, shining a spotlight on the future and giving a heave-ho to all the nonsense that holds us back.
I guess you measure a mom in smiles. And cozy feelings in your heart. And the way she insists on you and your own family always being happy and well.
Happy Mother's Day to my very special mom. Love you and talk to you soon.
"Excuse me, I have a question," says the woman with a foreign lilt I can't quite identify. "Where is ... canyon?"
Here we are, maybe 75 yards from an abyss in the earth a mile deep and up to 18 wide, and we still don't see any evidence of it. "Straight ahead, right down that path," I say.
Then, as you move closer, heart pumping a little faster, you catch a glimpse through the low-lying trees. And finally, there beyond the selfie-happy crowd at the overlook lies the main attraction, the Grand Canyon, in all its immensity and deafening stillness.
Photographs can't do justice to something so vast in scope and rich in detail. You just have to stand and stare. "It doesn't even look real," my son says.
Today I was lucky enough to cross paths with the inimitable Phyllis Dunning. As my English teacher at R.J. Reynolds High School, Mrs. Dunning singlehandedly imparted to my teenaged brain a deep appreciation of all things literary and poetic, a condition that continues to shape my work and personal pursuits and quite frankly my entire outlook. Not an exaggeration. So wonderful to see you, Mrs. Dunning, and to have the opportunity to thank you for a lifetime of inspiration!
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