Saturday, December 27, 2008

Feelin' Like a Hoopty ...

From the urban dictionary:

1. hoopty -- Basically, a piece of crap car. Usually cheap and/or broken down. Can be any size, make or model, but must (or should) be embarrassing to drive

With the new year about to roll in I have been thinking about resolutions … well … no, actually that’s not quite true … “thinking” is too strong a word. I have been entertaining an occasional fleeting thought about resolutions … now, that’s more like it. Truth is I’m a little jaded about the whole process. “Why,” I say to myself. “What possible good can come from resolving to be a new and improved version of myself on January 1st only to roll out of bed on, say the 15th, look in the mirror and realize that all I did was spray a fresh coat of cheap paint over the same old high-mileage hoopty I was last year.” Yes, the check-engine light on the dashboard of my weary soul is flashing … and I’m afraid that the price of a tune-up might be higher than the blue-book value on this old clunker.

Okay … so I wrote that on December 26th and I am marveling at how swiftly the post holiday blues sets in … “check engine light on the dash board of my weary soul”… Geez, sorry about that one. I leave it here only because it reminds me and gives you a glimpse into my melancholy, overly dramatic mind. Feeling better today … but still cognizant of the fact that most of my days are pretty mundane and that the same old same-old, though comforting in its predictability also threatens to undo whatever is left of hope and optimism in me. And aren't those the qualities that make you believe there is still good work to do in this life, positive change to initiate and effect? Iguess I just need to remember that everything in my life that I feel is “mundane” and “the same old same-old” was once wonderful and highly desirable to me. The problem is NOT that these things are any less wonderful or desirable, it is that I have gotten used to them and that I do not wonder at or desire them like I used to when they seemed to be just beyond my reach. My family, my friends, my job, my home, even the relative health of my aging mind and body … wonders of my world for which I am today (and ought to be every day) deeply grateful.

And so now, sufficiently tuned-up, I prepare for another year. It’s all a matter of perspective, isn't it? I’m still a ’64 … but rather than thinking of my life as a busted old hoopty I’ll think of it as a classic. Vintage … Yeah!

Think I’ll put the top down and take her out for a spin!

Friday, November 28, 2008


So …

The other night I got up in the middle to make one of my infrequent raids on the old fridge …okay, so their fairly frequent but I usually just window shop these days. HONESTLY ... I get up, open the door look around for goodies and then end up getting a glass of water and going back to bed. But on this particular night I had more sinister intentions – you see, Shemetra had brought home a nice 2 liter bottle of orange soda … it was for Jared (DaddyO gets diet Coke ONLY). It’s 2:30 in the morning – not a creature stirring. I make my move. My side of the bed is against the wall so getting out requires some agility (so as not to disturb Mrs. O) and some fortitude (just in case I do). Success … and from there it is a short tip-toe to the fridge and the frothy orange deliciousness. But, alas, I open the door and there … where it should be … is the two liter bottle. But it is nearly completely EMPTY … I’m sayin’ the thing has about half a thimbleful of orange soda in the very bottom of it. “Who the … what the … why would anybody …”

Rage, despair, bewilderment …

... and then a shudder of realization. My son is no longer my little boy, no longer the kid he used to be. He is now a DUDE … a fledging, a young-blood but a dude nonetheless. Only a DUDE would drink all except the last fifth of an ounce of soda so he wouldn’t have to dispose of the bottle.

Well, it’s been a long time since I co-habited with another DUDE so I thought it might be worth my while to remind myself what that was like so I can prepare myself for what’s in store. DUDE just turned fourteen so, the way I see it, I have four more years before I kick him out … I mean, send him out … into the world. Couple of DUDE stories for those of you who haven’t had the privilege of encountering one in its natural habitat.

When Shemetra and I were dating, she made me this gorgeous chocolate birthday cake. It was the most amazing cake I had ever seen … chocolate with shaved pieces of Hershey bar and little silver sugar candies on top. It was divine – when she gave it to me I just knew THAT girl loved her some ME. Next day, one of my roommates stayed home from work because he had a cold. Later that day, he called me at work, “Uh, VanO, I was wondering if I could have some of your cake.” I should have known better – I mean, this was a DUDE. I knew that the only consumables in the house were a half a box of four month old Grape Nuts, a can of tuna and my cake. But I gave in. “Sure, buddy. Have a piece.” Well, I got home that evening looking forward to my dinner of grape nut tuna casserole and chocolate cake for desert. When I lifted the bowl that had been covering my cake I witnessed a veritable miracle. Before that moment I would never have believed that a sliver of cake that thin could have remained upright. There it was, quivering on the plate, a piece of cake so thin you could see through it. I gasped, and the slight stir of air it caused knocked the piece of cake over and it disintegrated.

Rage, despair, bewilderment. “DUDE … seriously!?!”

Then there was the time (same apartment) when the other DUDES and I decided to have a bunch of fellas over to watch a football game. They all came in. At first I had them take of their shoes so as not to dirty the carpet, but when I realized that the room smelled of corn chips and there were no corn chips on the premises I had them all put their shoes back on. Someone had the grand idea of ordering pizza, which we would all throw in for. I ordered it … but as we were going around asking people to contribute, one DUDE had forty five cents; another had a bus token and a ticket stub, a third had an expired coupon for a different pizza shop … some had no money at all. Out of twenty DUDES I collected about six dollars … and the pizza was already ordered.

Rage, despair, bewilderment …

... but wait, that’s not the worst part. I coughed up the thirty five bucks needed to cover the balance of the meal and, just as the pizza was arriving, the phone rang. It was Shemetra … so I had to take that call, I mean the girl LOVED her some ME and I LOVED me some her. We talked for a few minutes. When I got off the phone – maybe twenty minutes later – every box of pizza, I mean EVERY SINGLE BOX was empty!!! All that was left were the grease spots on the bottom. “DUDES … seriously!!???!!!” I watched the football game while eating tuna and grape nuts.

There are many such stories, most of them ending with me hungry – ALL ending in rage, despair and bewilderment. And now that Jared is fourteen, I fear that the cycle may repeat itself. But, look on the bright side … I am older and wiser now. And yesterday I took three Devil-Dogs out of the box and hid them in strategic places throughout the house. So, if you will excuse me, I am going to have a snack. .........................

………………Well …no Devil Dogs!!! The DUDE strikes again …

.... rage … despair …bewilderment. “Jared … DUDE …seriously!!!???!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sister Baby & Baby Sister

I LOVE this picture ... two of my best girls.

If you loyally follow my blog ... and you should ;) ... then you are already well-acquainted with Sister Baby. Now I'm introducing you to Baby Sister ... Carol Lynn Washington.

During the worst of my bad days ... and I've had some BAD ones in recent years -- when horrible circumstances or just my own chronically low self-esteem threatened to undo me, I knew that there was at least one other person (besides Shemetra) who thought I was good man. Sister Washington has always had my back!

When we were kids, we used to call her Mommy ... because that's how she has always acted toward Darryl and me. Now I ain't gonna lie and say that we didn't resent it at times while we were growing up -- I mean, chick IS my BABY sister, after all. But now that I am older it is very comforting for me to have her as a second mother. Carol is simply one of the most encouraging and supportive (and, yes, protective) friends that I have. I confidently call my sister my friend ... and how cool is that. It is also very cool that my daughter, besides looking like her Auntie Carol, has some of those same matronly characteristics. She is convinced that her brother Jared ... though 8 years older than her ... is in near constant need of her guidance and insight. I guess it's in the genes.

Carol is about the sweetest person on the planet ... but don't mistake it for weakness. Mess too much with her or one of hers and there will be, as my grandmother used to say, "hell to tell the captain!" The earrings and shoes will come off and somebody will get hurt. What an amazing woman she is. One day she can wrestle down a grown man (as she used to have to at times when she worked as a correctional officer in one of Boston's notorious lock-ups) and the next day she can be in tears because my son and hers have had an argument. That's my sister y'all. Ain't she somethin'!

The Original Brother-Man ...

...Is, of course, my brother Darryl. He is, as we are both fond of saying, my favorite living dude on the planet. And we do rib and tease each other a lot ... so much so that every once in a while it's necessary for me to remind myself how much he really means to me. So, a story from those "thrilling days of yester-year..."

For some Christmas during the '70's ... I wanna say it was 1973 ... Darryl and I got exactly what we had asked for: Lone Ranger and Tonto action figures -- they looked like this:

We had the horses (Silver and Scout) and everything ... and we LOVED those toys! Played with 'em almost non-stop. Well, one day, during one of their many wild adventures, Tonto fell off a cliff (it was actually the dish cabinet in the dining room). He landed funny and one of his legs snapped right off. The injury did not at first seem too serious. But after hours of surgery involving Scotch Tape and Elmer's Glue the grim reality began to settle in upon us. Tonto was dead. Now Tonto was Darryl's toy and he was, as you might imagine, devastated. I suggested that maybe Tonto could be one-legged ... you know, like a pirate. No, Darryl insisted, he's gone. "So what do we do now," I asked. "What you're supposed to do when somebody dies," he replied. "Have a funeral."

Darryl began preparations for the interment the next morning. Meanwhile, the Lone Ranger attempted to venture off on his own which theoretically should have worked out okay ... I mean dude was the LONE Ranger, right? But it wasn't quite right, not at all right actually.

So, the next morning we had a funeral -- attended by Darryl and me along with the Lone Ranger and the two horses. I don't need to tell you, it was a terribly sad affair. The Lone Ranger couldn't take it ... he swooned and dropped dead right there in the back yard. "What happened," Darryl asked. "He's dead," I replied. He then tried to convince me otherwise ... nothing was wrong with the Lone Ranger ... he looked as good as new. "I know, but the Lone Ranger's no good without Tonto!" And so we had a double funeral that day.

And now, here we are 35 years later ... grown men with families and careers and schedules that keep us from hanging out as often as we would like. And when we do spend time together our camaraderie is punctuated with a sort of mutual -- though laconic -- respect, admiration and love. I can honestly say that we have never fought ... I can't think of many times when we were even angry at each other. He's still may BOY -- and I'm still his! That, and the two plastic dolls lying side by side under about 8 inches of soil in the backyard of number 51 Hiawatha Road are testimonies to the fact that, even to this day ... the Lone Ranger ain't much good without Tonto.
My brother is a good man ... the saying goes that you can't chose your family only your friends. I am glad ... I am proud to say that Darryl Owens is both to me.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Good (in more ways than one) Book ...

So ...

I haven't written anything in what seems like a very long time. It hasn't been for lack of trying. Wrote a couple of potential entries that I ended up scrapping because they came out all contrived ... like I was trying to hard to entertain my "fans" {all 2 of you!!!}.

The other day I was in a particularly dismal funk ... wanting to write and not being able to put more than three or four coherent words together. I felt sort of like the old adage about the tree falling in the forest ... if nobody hears it, does it really make a sound. "Well, VanO, what good is a blog if nobody reads it." I'm such a melancholy cat ... I'll get over it. As soon as Sister Baby interrupts my brooding with one of her jubilant pronouncements about something mundane to everybody else on the planet but her.

So, I was thinking about my books ... the ones that "perished in the flood." I had some good ones, y'all ... and I do miss them all, but one in particular. It was a King James Bible with a Masonic seal on the front. It looked like this one:

It was my fathers. Sometime shortly after he died in 1974, my mother had given the bible to my older cousin who was a member with my father of the same masonic lodge. Some years later, he happened to open the book and found this written in my father's hand on the inside cover:

"To my oldest son, Van
--Willie Joe Owens"

So he gave it back to me ... I guess I was like 12 or 13 when the book found its way back into my possession. From that time up until it got destroyed I would, from time to time, pick it up. Occasionally I would try to read the contents ... hard to do, couldn't ever get with all the "thee's" and "thou's" ... but mostly, I would just read that inscription on the inside cover. Read it and run my finger across it hoping that maybe by some kind of cosmic phenomenon I could come in contact with that man. Nothin' ever happened but I wasn't done trying. And now the old book is as gone as he is ... and that sucks. It sucks out loud.

But the thought re-energized me when it comes to writing in general and writing this here blog in particular. I'm going to keep it up ... whether I have something entertaining or funny or profound to say or not. It will be a good thing if, some disease or accident should suddenly shuffle me off this mortal coil, my kids have their own inscription ... to know a little about ol' Daddy-O

Was that depressing? Hope not ... Next time I'll say something funny ... I'll try to.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

True Colors ...

So ...
I wrote this on my FaceBook page last night:

Okay ... I KNOW it's not all about race. I also understand that it is not all like "pie-in-the-sky, racism is dead, the dream has been completely realized." There is still a LOT of work to do ... a lot of inequality ... a lot of hatred and misunderstanding ... but just a little perspective ...

By the time I was 13 years old I had been called the "n-word" more times than I could count. It was written on the walls of every bus ... on the benches of every subway station ...

"N's Suck" ... "N's Go Home" ... "Kill all N's"

We had stones thrown at our school bus because we were black. We were chased out of Hyde Park by a mob of baseball bat weilding kids because we were black ... and we had it ten times easier than the generation that came before us ...

And now my son, who is 13 years old tells me he has NEVER heard that ugly epithet hurled NOT ONCE.

My 6 year old doesn't have black friends or white friends or hispanic or asian friends ... just friends. And now we have elected the first African-American President ... a Good Man, a Strong Man who happens to be a Black Man ... My hope for a better day has never been more VIBRANT!

"Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?"

Most of my friends responded well to it -- they shared or at least acknowledged the utter elation I was feeling when I heard that Barack Obama had won. But a couple of friends railed at me ... impugned my faith and my patriotism. It was ugly beyond belief. And these were not mere "virtual" friends ... these are people I really knew (or thought I did) and spent time with ... their kids and my kids were friends. We attended the same church and called each other brother and sister.

What I said had nothing to do with politics and religion and they made it completely about that. It saddened me ... very nearly disheartened me ... I love thes people and they completely misunderstood what I said. They really "kicked me to the curb" as we used to say back in the day. A man of color was elected and "true colors" were shown.

I guess for a brighter day to ensue a sad sunset has to come to pass ... and this was a bitterly sad one.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Brother-Man / Sister-Baby Comedy Hour ...

Two jokes my kids recently told me:

From Bro'-Man:
Three men arrive at the Pearly Gates and are standing before St. Peter. "I am afraid that heaven is beginning to get very crowded," Peter said to the three. "We are now restricting entrance through these gates to those who died the worst possible deaths. The first man steps forward. "I suspected my girlfriend of seeing another man, so one day I paid her a surprise visit to her twenty-fifth floor apartment. Much to my dismay, I find a man hanging from her balcony. I was so filled with rage and despair that I took a hammer and began to beat on the fellows fingers until he loosed his grip. He fell to the ground but landed in a bush and was relatively unhurt. Well, I was still seeing red. I went back into the apartment grabbed the refrigerator and as the cad was brushing himself off I dropped the fridge on him crushing him to death. The stress of the whole thing was too much for me and I had a massive heart attack and died."

"That's pretty horrible," Peter said, "I guess you can come in."

The second man stepped forward. "I am a health conscious man, Peter," he began. "I was exercising on the balcony of my 26th floor apartment. I got a little carried away and before I new it, I had flipped over the rail. Somehow I managed to grab onto the rail of the balcony below mine but then all of a sudden this raging maniac hits me with a hammer. I fell, my life flashing before my eyes. Then another spot of luck -- I landed in this particularly soft shrub. Because of the bush and my fantastic physical condition I survived the fall with only minimal injuries. I was dusting myself off, looking up, counting my lucky stars when suddenly a refrigerator fell from the sky and that was the end of me!"

"Now that is the worse on I've heard all day," Peter said. "Dude, you are totally in!" Then, turning to the third fellow, Peter said, "I hope you have a good story."

"I do," said the third man. "You see, I was hiding in this refrigerator ...."

And this one is from Sister Baby:

"Why did the chicken cross the playground .. get to the other slide!!


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

...apologies to Dan Fogelberg ...

So ...

When I was in high school -- junior year -- I sat next to this beautiful girl in two of my classes. She was smart and sweet and pretty ... and unlike every other girl I had known up to that point who matched that description, she noticed me. She would occasionally even speak to me. I thought, "one day I'll summon enough courage to 'throw some g' her way { that is hopelessly out-dated slang for 'ask her out on a date' ... I think}. Actually I should have said 'if' not 'when' because back in those days I was so shy that it was literally painful ... I'm sayin' -- it was pathological!

Well, junior prom time rolled around and I really wanted to ask her, even attempted to do it a couple of times {imagine an '80's inner-city version of George McFly ... "hey girl, with yo' fine self, you just might be my density -- uh -- I mean, destiny"}. I just couldn't keep my head out of my shell long enough to get the words out, so I never asked her.

Now, for some reason, the prom was held on a Thursday night and the people who attended had a blanket excuse from morning classes the next day. So that Friday it was just me and a few scattered members of the chess team and the physics club wandering the halls telling ourselves that the really cool kids were too cool to go to a prom. But when I walked into my second period computer class who was there but HER! "You didn't go to the prom either," she asked me. Don't think I managed to say anything in response ... but I must have managed to shake my head or something. "Well we should have gone together, then." So after I regained consciousness {kidding, I only almost passed out} something strange began to happen. We began to talk, or I should say she did. During the course of that 45 minutes I felt my shyness begin to release its grip on me. We had the wonderful conversation about I don't know what --apparently she really liked to talk and I sure liked listening to her. I left that class thinking that we might just become friends and if we became friends then we might become something more than that and then ... well you know the stops on that train of thought -- senior prom, marriage, house in the suburbs, etc. etc. But after lunch the prom goers arrived and I began to recede again. For the rest of that year and the next Sheila continued to be very nice to me but my overwhelming shyness and her immense popularity put an end to all my pipe dreams.

So, yesterday, I was in the second-hand store {to which I have become shamefully addicted} and who do I run into but Sheila! The makings of a tacky love song were all there -- to quote one, "just for a moment I was back at school and felt that old familiar pain," the pathological shyness I mean. For a few minutes I was that skinny, goggle-eyed 17 year-old McFly doppelganger. When I told Shemetra about it later that evening she said, "Please tell me you didn't punk out and walk away without saying anything" {not a shred of jealousy -- Mammacita is the COOLEST}. I was proud to say that I had NOT. "Excuse me," I had said, "are you Sheila?" Of course, I knew she was ... she hadn't changed a bit {and I'm not exaggerating ... sister still has it goin' on}. I don't think she really remembered me, but that's okay. We had a nice conversation about spouses and jobs and how we had both somehow managed to miss all the reunions { "just like we missed the prom" ... should have said it but I didn't. Snap!}.

Now, I'd be lying if I tried to say that the thought didn't cross my mind ... you know the thought ... "what would have happened back then if I had only ..." And, hard on the heels of that thought came the next one ... "what would happen now if I ..." But it was easy to dismiss the whole notion as ridiculous -- I love my wife {who's got it goin' on and on} and I respect my old friend Sheila {also happily married} so our nice conversation stayed nice and cordial and brief. No tacky love song theme music playing in the background -- just a "so nice to see you" and a "you too" and that was that.

Besides, what would a brother look like "throwin' G" in Morgie's with a wedding ring on his finger and an armful of second-hand sweaters and shirts?!

Friday, October 17, 2008

AM Radio Soul ...

Just My Imagination …

Love this song … do yourself a favor and check this classic link:

When I was younger, and my brother and I would go to the barber shop, when this song would come on the radio, Leon used to turn up the volume and turn the clippers off. "Listen to this," he would say to us youngbloods in the room. "Y'all don't know nothin' 'bout this here, do you?" He was right -- we didn't. But now I do, and since I am now older than Leon was then I guess I qualify as one of the ol’ folks, and I find myself drawn more and more to the classic soul that’s was more a part of my parents generation than it was of mine. So allow me to illuminate you youngbloods out there ...

This song right here … let me tell you something… you can’t get any smoother than Sweet Eddie Kendricks’ singing lead. These cats were the definition of COOL.

And I relate – or I should say related – to these lyrics:

Each day through my window I watch her as she passes by.
I say to myself, “You’re such a lucky guy.
To have a girl like her is truly a dream come true.
Out of all the fellas in the world SHE belongs to YOU …”
But it was just my imagination running away with me,
Just my imagination running away with me.

I remember how that felt. As they say in New Orleans it "wasn't nothin' nice." As a very young man I dreamed about being in love -- longed for it just like the "lucky guy" in the song. As a slightly older (but still quite young and naive) man I thought I was in love probably 42 times before I met the Mammacita who made my imagination reality.

To have a girl like HER ... truly a dream come true!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


So ...

There's this commercial that comes on, usually during the evening news -- an advertisement for hair-restoral for balding men. Every time that commercial would come on Abby would look at the TV then look at me then look at the TV and then at me again and say, "Daddy you need that, huh?" Whereupon I would patiently explain the fact that Daddy is not bald, he just keeps his hair cut very close because that's the way that he likes it. It took weeks for her to get it -- every time we would see the commercial we would have the same conversation.

An then, a couple of nights ago, the commercial came on and Abby looked at the TV then looked at me and ... didn't say anything. Victory! But a few minutes later a commercial advertising hair dye for men came on. "Daddy, you would need that if you had some hair."

Yeah ... okay ... you got me, kid.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mammacita, Brother-Man, Sister-Baby & Daddy-O

Nothing to say about this -- except that I love the picture. It is soooo US!

A Gender-Role Call ...

So ...

Mammacita and I have gotten into a Saturday morning groove. She and Sister-Baby get up and get out ... doing dance class, shopping etc. Brother-Man and I stay home and clean-up the house. And I am completely cool with it ... seriously. This is the 21st century and a dude is no less and dude if he does housework. Besides, it makes Mammacita happy and that's the number one rule of this house:
Happy Mammacita = Happy Hacienda!!

But today there was a disturbance to the normal copacetic flow of things, caused by a momentary surge of old-school chauvinism on my part. As Mammacita was leaving today, I said "Honey, are you going to Target today?"


"Would you mind picking me up a new pad for my dishwashing sponge -- I've worn the old one out."

I don't know how she replied because at that moment I thought to myself, "Dude ... what's going on here? You should be the one going out ... to the golf course or the bowling alley or the pool hall or something ... and she should be staying here cleaning the house! Oh, how the mighty have fallen!! What a world, what a world!!! DUDE ... Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot!!!"

For a few minutes I was reeling ... asking myself who wears the apron and who wears the pants in Daddy-O's household? Then my brother called me ... just to relay some necessary logistical information which is why one dude calls another. In the midst of the conversation I felt it necessary to fess up and admit to my shameful lapse in machismo. I told him the whole sad story. I was hoping for some word of wisdom to get me through my current crisis.

"Dude," said my brother (who is a black-belt martial arts instructing city COP), "I spent the morning reorganizing the kitchen cabinets and I'm on my way to the girls' ballet practice. Here's what you need to do: Take your shirt off and go stand in front of your house. Burp, spit, fart, scratch your crotch and get it all out of your system. Then go back in and finish folding the laundry."

Wise man, my brother ... I could go on and on about him but I gotta run now. The pot roast is almost ready!

Sail On, Silver Girl ...

So ...
Flashing back 39 years...

I was five years old and it was the first day of school--kindergarten. Now, I had been pretty excited about starting school but the excitement was based more on the idea of school than it was on the reality of it. Somewhere around the time that the parents were leaving for the day I realized that this was definitely not what I had imagined. They were leaving me there! I didn't know this place ... I didn't know these people. I started crying and boy did I cry ... soaked my shirt, got my tie all snotty and had all the other kids wondering what my deal was (You see, they had all been through a year of kindergarten ... in Boston there was K-1 and K-2. This was the first day of the second year for all of them but it was my first first day). Okay, that's just an excuse, but you understand ... I was five and mommy and daddy had left me in a strange place with strange people.

As the day progressed I calmed down a little but I was still quite inconsolable. Wouldn't respond to any of the sincere attempts my teacher and a few of my fellow kindergarteners made to ease my anxiety. At nap time, it got bad again. I figured that if I laid down on one of those mats and fell asleep then I would just die from shear heartache. So I just laid there, sobbing, eye's wide open, tears running down the sides of my head and pooling in my ears.

"Van Owens," I heard my teacher whisper, "come with me." She led me into her office -- a tiny room adjacent to the classroom. Well, I thought, now I've gone and done it. Who knew what manner of unspeakable punishment lay beyond that previously concealed door?

"Now," she said, "normally snack time doesn't happen until after nap time, but since you're having such a hard time going to sleep ..." She poured me a cup of milk and gave me three oreo cookies. By the time I finished the first cookie, I had stopped crying for the first time that day. We talked, or rather, she did -- comforting, calming words. After she taught me how to hold the cookie in the milk till it got soft she pulled out an album with two geekie-looking white guys on the cover. "Do you like music," she said. "I just bought this new record. Maybe we can listen to it together." She pulled the vinyl LP from it's sleeve and placed it on the record player ... it was one of those ancient turntables, looked like an over-sized shoe box with speakers in the side and a rubber frisbee on top. The first song she played was "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Follow this link to hear the song:

You can imagine how comforting these lyrics were to me at that time:

When you’re weary, feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes,
I will dry them all;I’m on your side.
When times get rough
And friends just can’t be found,
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.

I don't know if she played me that song intentionally or if it just happened to be the first one on the album but either way, it did the trick. I was good for the rest of that day ... for the rest of that school year as a matter of fact. And Miss Guilfoyle, my first teacher -- because of that simple gesture -- became and remains my favorite teacher.

Like so many songs, this one has that one inscrutable lyric:

Sail on, silver girl,
Sail on by,
Your time has come to shine.
All your dreams are on their way.
See how they shine.

Don't know what it means ... heard someone say once that it was symbolic of drug use, the "silver girl" being a hypodermic needle full of heroin. I don't know about that -- I doubt it. To me, the "silver girl" will always be Miss Guilfoyle. As for the "dreams on their way," well, maybe those were her students into whom she poured so much of herself. I'm sure that's not what Simon and Garfunkel meant but that's what the song means to me.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

the saddest minute ...

So ...

Last night something happened to me that happens about two or three times a year -- I dreamed about my late father.

In this dream he was at my Uncle Henry's house, playing pool. Uncle Henry has this grand old antique pool table ... mahogany with a gold felt surface ... makes you feel like you ought to be wearing tweed and smoking a Cuban cigar in it's presence. Anyway, Joe (my father) was there and he challenged me to a game of pool and we played. And while we played we talked about my work and who I should vote for in the coming election and how I was treating my wife and what were the prospects for the Red sox and Patriots this year and all kinds of other things ... things that I imagine grown men talk to their fathers about.

Well, I woke up ... and for that first minute of fuzzy consciousness I thought the dream was real. I could still feel the smooth wood of the cue in my hand and hear the sound of the balls clacking together after each shot. And I could also hear the comforting sound of my father's voice. In that minute, the great incongruity of my existence seems to have been rectified -- all is right with the world and with me. Then, in the next minute, I realize that it was all just a dream and that Joe is still as dead as he has been for 34 years ... in that instant I completely forget what his voice sounded like though I had heard it so clearly just a little while earlier. Then comes the third minute and I'm mourning all over again -- it is the saddest minute (seconded only by the five or six minutes it's taking me to write about it here).

After a while I'll be over it. sometimes it takes a whole day, but I'll get over it. Then I'll be grateful for this and the other sporadic dreams ... they maybe the closest Joe and I will ever get to a "great reunion on the other side."

In the meantime, do me a favor: If your Pops is still around, maybe give him a call or something. Better yet, if he's close by, go pick him up and take him to the pool hall and shoot a little stick. Listen to him. Let him win. Buy him a beer ... and when you clink your bottles together propose a silent toast to Joe and me. Now that would be very cool.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Embracing his corpulence ...

So ...

I was in the second-hand store today, looking for a pair of grey wool pants to replace the ones that I ripped on the sharp corner of a file cabinet. I was approached by a gentleman who looked a good deal more like this photo than I do (though, to be honest, I have to admit that I ain't but a few cheeseburgers and chicken wings away from bearing a remarkably similar appearance).

"Excuse me, sir," the porcine little fellow said to me, "would you let me know if you come across any larger sizes that you don't like? I'm having a hard time finding something that will fit."

I said, "Okay. Sure." But I thought ... dude, seriously? Do I really look as fat as you? Couldn't you fit two of me (okay, one and a half) in your pants?

After getting over being offended, I was self-conscious and wondering how fat I must be for this fellow to think of approaching me with such a request. Then, sometime later, after I got over being insecure, I thought about how this guy had no shame about how he looked. There was no insecurity or shame in him. He knew he was fat and he was okay with it.

So ... three conclusions ...

  1. Feel good about yourself (who else will if you don't).

  2. Shop thrift stores (I got a brand new pair of $60 pants for less than $10).

  3. #1 and #2 are not good excuses ... I still need to get my fat butt to the gym!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground ...

I'm going to put my religious thoughts under this heading ... just because that's the way I feel about my faith these days. I haven't given up on trying to put the thing back together but it is a far sight from reassembled!

The title is from the James Taylor song Fire and Rain which has a better spiritual lyric than a lot of spiritual music I've heard. Well, maybe not better but certainly very indicative of my current state of mind ... and it sets a tone for these postings:

Won't you look down upon me, Jesus,
You gotta help me make a stand.
You just got to see me through another day.
My body's achin' and my time is at hand --
I won't make it any other way.

It communicates so well the kind of poverty of spirit I think is so essential {and sadly so lacking} in the religious parlance of the day. I know it's been lacking in mine. I used to think that believers and non-believers stood on the same ground ... that we were all spiritual beggars and the only difference was that I, as a believer, knew where the bread was. Wouldn't even go that far now ... I'm searching -- frequently hopeful, occasionally ardent, open-minded most of the time and jaded at others-- but, still, searching.

So ... after twenty-four years of church-attending, Bible-reading Christianity I am still a beggar. And the bread ain't where I thought it was so the search continues.

{So, can a brother get a few crumbs, Lord?}

Monday, September 22, 2008

First day of fall ...

...and the weather is damp and drizzly. The Patriots lost to Miami yesterday and half the office is out sick. There's an unmistakable something in the air{not really a chill, but something} that says winter is coming. I love the autumn --that famous briskness that allows you to wear your wool and your tweed and your sunglasses -- but would really rather do without winter.

Shemetra says she wants to take a trip somewhere warm this winter, to a place ...

where the sun keeps shining through the pouring rain,
...where the weather suits my clothes,
....banking off of the northeast wind
.....sailing on summer breeze
......skipping over the ocean like a stone ...

Yeah ... I think I might have to take her up on that one!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Brother Man: On the MOVE, Yo ...

Gotta give both bambinos equal time and Brother Man is down two entries to none ...

I am so proud of Jared and the way he has really come on academically ... He is really embracing the challenges I gave him as school started this year and I honestly believe he is doing his best. He is a remarkable boy ... quiet, deep-thinking and very intelligent (takes after his mother in that way). I am sometimes too hard on him but evne then his attitude seems to be, "C'mon ... bring it ... need more of this."

Dude is getting big too -- but he is a gentle giant. Once I was teasing him in his room, trying to start a play-fight with him ... you know, popping him in his head a stuff. "C'mon, chump. Whatcha got, whatcha got?" "I can't hit you, Dad -- you're old."

Well, I shoulda listened but didn't and persisted in my teasing. "I give you permission to do your best. C'mon chump, whatcha got, whatcha ---"

Thus released from any liability, Brother Man pushed his old dad ... not as hard as he could but hard enough to send me hurtling shoulder first against the hallway wall. Hurt so bad I wanted to cry. "Good one, Homes," I said holding my shoulder. "Now ... uh, clean up this room." Whereupon I retreated to the bathroom to wince and cry and find the Ibuprofen and the Ben Gay.

Strong Boy. Smart Boy. My Boy!!!

The US Government’s Economic Bail-Out Plan – Stooge Lending Practices …

Curly, Larry and Moe are walking down the street and Curly finds a brand new, crisp five dollar bill.

Curly [Holding up the bill]: Hey, must be my lucky day! Five smackeroos!

Moe [to Curly]: And what about that ten bucks you owe me?

Curly [to Moe]: O, right. [Hands the bill to Moe] Here’s five and I’ll owe you five.

Larry [to Moe]: Wait a minute; don’t you owe me ten bucks?

Moe [to Larry]: You’re right. [Hands the bill to Larry] Here’s five and I’ll owe you five.

Curly [to Larry]: Not so fast, pal. Remember that ten buck I lent you?

Larry [to Curly]: Right. [Hands the Bill to Curly] Here’s five and I’ll owe you five.

Curly [to Moe, handing him the bill]: Here’s the five I owe you.

Moe [to Larry, handing him the bill]: And here’s the five I owe you.

Larry [to Curly, handing him the bill]: And here is the five I owe you.

The all proceed on their merry way.

Now, re-read the dialogue above and replace Moe with Bear Stearns, Larry with AIG and Curly with the American Tax Payers and there you have it – the government’s financial bail-out plan!!! Works ... sort of ...right?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Original Daddy-O ...

Today was the 34th anniversary of my father’s death … a dubious thing to commemorate. I was ten when he died so I don’t have an abundance of memories of him, and some of the ones I do have are not very positive. But I do have a couple of very pleasant memories so I think I’ll choose those for today.

There was a summer in the early seventies when my mother took us away from Boston to spend the summer in Little Rock, Arkansas with her family … my father never went with us on those trips. We spent a long time there and I remember being very excited about getting back home. When we pulled up in front of the house I was the first one out of the cab and up the front steps, the first to ring the doorbell. Joe (we always called our parents by their first names) looked out of the window in the front door and his face lit up when he saw me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more beautiful smile … and it was all for me.

I used to be one of those guys whose inner child was always whining about how his father never told him he loved him. This memory dispels that myth. He didn’t say the words, but he couldn’t have delivered the message any louder or clearer.

Another great memory … I was in the first grade and Joe was walking me to school. It had snowed a day or so before and the trampled down snow had now frozen into a sheet of ice. I had lost my gloves and we were a little bit late so I was trotting along on the ice with my hands shoved in my pockets. “Van, don’t run with your hands in your pockets,” Joe said to me. “Why not?” Almost before I could get the words out I lost my footing and started to fall. With no hands to catch myself, I landed face first on the ice. Joe helped me up. “That’s why.” Object lesson to all you kiddies out there (Brother Man and Sister Baby take note!!!) when Dad says chill you better just chill first and ask questions later.

Anyway, I’m a little sad today. I barely knew the man even in the limited way a boy knows his Dad … sure would be nice if he was still around for me to know man to man. Dude was, after all, the original Daddy-O!

Our House (in the middle of our street)

Here's a recent picture of the Miles Street gang (my beautiful family). There's:

Abigail Alexia Owens -as- Sister Baby

Shemetra Epps-Owens -as- Mammacita

Jared Nathaniel Owens -as- Brother Man


Your's Truly -as- DaddyO {the sunglasses are no mere affectation ... I need 'em for the sun!}

Now you have faces to attach to the names and aliases. Don't we just look so Huxtable-ish!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Lyrics (fortunately) MisHeard ...

So ...

Shemetra, Sister-Baby and me are channel surfing and we come across the 2008 VMA Awards and Katy Perry comes one singing Madonna's "Like a Virgin." Well, before we could switch the channel ... and much to Dad's consternation ... Abby picks up the chorus and starts singing along.

Thank goodness she misheard ...

"Like a surgeon --- Woooo! --- Cuts for the very first time. Like a sur-ur-ur-ur geon ..."

So, if one day Chica becomes a world-renown cardiologist and wins the Nobel prize for curing heart-disease, in her acceptance speech she'll have to give a shout-out to MADONNA!

Abby's Letters

That's Abigail Alexia Owens ... my five year old daughter.

When we moved into the condo, one of the very first things we did was put magnetic letters on the refrigerator. We figured that it would help Abby to start recognizing letters and encourage her to start reading ... and it has. But there's also been an unexpected development.

Abby has constructed a whole world for these letters. They have each become (or are in the process of becoming) individual characters, and with them she acts out all kinds of extravagant adventures. They sometimes act out things that go on in her own life -- like the episode where the character Sweetie -- who is portrayed by the lower case "k" -- had to confront her dad about throwing away her important things (earlier that day I had thrown away some old, and I thought, unimportant magazines she had stored in the corner of her bedroom). Sometimes the stories are pretty wild and adventurous ... I've often found on the floor letters who have perished in the pursuit of some wild adventure or another.

When I ask Abby to let me in on what transpires in letter world she usually takes exception. Apparently she doesn't know what they're going to do or say until they say it. I've thought about sneaking up on her and recording the whole thing, but it just seemed like an untoward invasion of her privacy (and theirs!). Sweetie and company made an exception to their strict confidentiality policy and allowed me to take this here photograph.

The saga continues even as I type ... and from the sound of things, there will be some dead letters on the kitchen floor this afternoon.
Who knows ... maybe this is how Harper Lee or JK Rowling got started!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

who i am ...

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us — don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog! --Emily Dickenson

I thought about creating a section that would be just about me so everybody will know ... what? How awesome I am? How ordinary or cool or smart?

So maybe I won't say that much. Emily didn't leave me much choice did she? I'm either a nobody or a frog ... I think I'll hold out for a third option.

Here's an interesting exercise ... take the last word in the last line of the last verse of the poem and slide an "L" into it. Kinda makes you wonder ...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Old Friends ...

THOUGH you are in your shining days,
Voices among the crowd
And new friends busy with your praise,
Be not unkind or proud,
But think about old friends the most:
Time’s bitter flood will rise,
Your beauty perish and be lost
For all eyes but these eyes.

--WB Yeats

I recently reconnected with a couple of old friends. By "old" I don't mean their ages ... they're the same age as me and I ain't OLD ... (right?). The friendships are old -- and in a time when friendship doesn't seem to have much longevity, it is cool to find an old friend.

We're not near each other, my old friends and I ... one is in Italy and the other in Taiwan. Yet, I've had some very heartening (virtual) chats through e-mail, blogs and the like. I guess it's a pretty sad commentary on modern life that I feel a closer connection to these distant friends than I do to many of the people close by ... a little sad, but comforting nonetheless.

Thanks Seamus and Sue for being Old Friends with me!

The Glory of the Mundane ...

Woke up this morning after having slept a full eight hours (which almost never happens) still feeling tired and unmotivated ... unprepared to dive into the morning routine.

Then I remembered something I once heard a preacher say. Now I had heard this preacher a number of times before and I've heard him a couple of times since and he's hardly ever said anything I thought worth remembering or repeating except this one time. He said that miracles happen all the time ... tiny ones that are virtually imperceptible unless you have tuned your soul to revel in the little things, to recognize that there is glory in the mundane.

That's a good thought for me this morning ... The sun rose as it always does. I get to see my children off to school, my wife off to work. We're all healthy and happy -- sheltered clothed and safe in a world where most people are none of the above.

Miraculous. Glorious. I'm grateful

Read a quote from David Frost this morning ... talking about a particular individual he said:

"He's turned his life around. He used to be miserable and depressed, now he's depressed and miserable."

Well, I know that guy ... shamefully, I often AM that guy. But not today!

Thursday, September 11, 2008


So I've had this novel (or it maybe a screenplay or a collection of short stories or a mere aimless diversion) swimming around in my mind for about 14 years. It has thus far defied all my efforts to put pen to paper so I thought maybe I'd just try putting some thoughts here. Could be the makings of the next great American Novel ... or a highly acclaimed TV mini-series ... but even if it's just a way to pass time and shoot the breeze, it's probably worth a go.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Too Much Nickelodeon!

So ...I had two dreams last night/this morning. In the first, I was in my high school caferteria waiting in line with my tray. It was fish sticks day ... I LOVE fishsticks. Only the line was extra long mainly because the caf was staffed by all the characters from my daughter's favorite tv shows -- Dora the Explorer, Blue, Spongebob etc. Just as I got to the front of the line, Dora came in and took the last 9 fishsticks. Now, girfriend probably deserved them ... it's difficult to bus tables in a crowded caferteria when you're two and a half feet tall and one-dimensional ... but I was LIVID. I took a cup of luke warm gravy which had suddenly appeared in my hand and threw it in her face.I woke up horrified at my behavior... but not too horrified to go back to sleep ...Whereupon I had another dream. This time, I was in a hotel, screaming at a housekeeper who was taking to long to make my bed and pick-up my used towels ... and did I mention that she didn't have any HANDS!!!
Now, I don't usually take dreams too seriously, but there seems to be a theme developing here. It might just have been the teaspoon a chocolate cake frosting I snuck out of the fridge at 3:00AM, but I must entertain the distinct possibility that someone we know needs to renew his Chill Pill perscription!

From my ol' pals Paul and Art ...

I am just a poor boy and my story's seldom told
I have squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises.
All lies and jest, still the man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest ...

Not sure exactly what it means, but it feels like ... well ... how I feel. I guess this is as good a place as any to empty my pockets and see if I can make some sense out of it all.
In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders of ever glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out in his anger and his pain,
"I am leaving, I am leaving," but the fighter still remains.