Thursday, June 27, 2013

Popdose Rewind: Patty Griffin, "Be Careful"

On Tuesday night I attended the Patty Griffin concert at the Wiltern Theater. One of the songs she performed that night was "Be Careful," a song that I featured in the Basement Songs column back in 2009. I love this song and it always reminds me of Sophie. 

When I wrote this piece Sophie was still a little girl. Now she's entering high school and I couldn't be prouder. It's a bittersweet feeling, though. She's growing up, and soon, oh so very soon, she won't need her dad any more. 

Since the day we moved into our house, I have regularly snuggled my daughter Sophie for about 10 1000 kissesminutes before she goes to sleep at night. When she was younger, it was to help ease her fears over the creaks and rattles of her room when the lights were off. As she got older, this routine turned into an opportunity for the two of us to catch up on our days. I found out about how school was for her, and Sophie asked me questions about my job.  For the past year I have tried to end this nightly routine.  Whenever I expressed this to Julie, my great wife admonished me by saying, "There's going to come a time when she wants nothing to do with you. Enjoy this while you can.  Generally I pooh pooh this comment; I can't imagine my daughter not wanting her dad around.

I vividly recall dropping her off for the first time at daycare when she was just two months old. It happened to coincide with my first day at a new job, so I was already a bundle of raw nerves. Letting her go and placing her into the care of people I barely knew was one of the worst things I ever had to do, and after I left the daycare, I had a meltdown in my car before finding the strength to start the car. I felt like she was already moving on.

In 2002, my son Jacob was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. While Julie stayed with him down at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles, I took Sophie to preschool and went to work, then would pick up Sophie from preschool and we would drive all the way into the city to see them. It was a long, stressful week and I leaned on Sophie's tiny shoulders (she was three at the time) to support me. She cried, missing her mommy, while I tried to put on a brave face so as to not scare her. I'm ashamed to admit that I lost my cool with my three-year-old. Amazingly, when I would hug her, apologizing for raising my voice, Sophie would pat my back and say, "It's okay, Daddy."

We got through that time together, though I was lucky to have the music of Badly Drawn Boy's About a Boy and Patty Griffin's 1,000 Kisses to free my mind from dwelling on things. If there is a moment when I felt like I made a unique connection with my daughter, it was during that time.

The end of the baseball season is my favorite time of the year. Sophie and I huddle on the couch to watch our favorite teams battle for a spot in the World Series. As I pace the room, anxiously waiting the result of every pitch, she'll ask a hundred questions about the rules of the game, the players, the players' numbers, the lingo, what an umpire does, strategies and the team colors. When I throw my arms up in frustration from her bombardment of inquiries, I quickly apologize and she responds, "It's okay, Daddy."

Last week, most of her classmates went on a weeklong camping trip, and Sophie didn't want to go. She's always had trouble sleeping over at friends' houses, so a week in a strange cabin was too much for her. Still, she felt left out, and decided that come next year, she wanted to go on the school trip. Julie felt that in order for her to do this, she first had to conquer her fears of having a sleepover with one of her friends. What this means is getting accustomed to going to sleep alone and putting an end to our nightly snuggles.

I didn't expect the pangs of sadness that filled me when she told me her plan. I thought I'd be happy that I didn't have to help her settle and that we could have a normal conversation each night while sitting on the couch rather than lying in her bed. This was my first dose of separation anxiety: My little girl is starting to grow up.

Puberty looms on the horizon. I'll be honest; I'm scared to death about the changes she's going to go through as she grows into a teenager. It may be a couple of years away, but soon she's going to start liking boys, and they'll pass her notes and maybe (gasp) she'll hold hands. I don't even want to talk about what comes after that. I know how guys can be; I'm one of them. I broke hearts, and made rude comments, and wasn't always the nicest guy. I wish I could protect her from all the bad things, but the best I can do is tell her I love her, comfort her in her low times, raise her up during her triumphs and always -- always -- tell her how much I love her. And maybe I'll continue slipping songs onto her iPod when she isn't looking, like this gem from 1,000 Kisses. Sophie may never realize that I think of her when I hear this song, but that's fine.

Will we maintain the bond we've had since the day she came home from the hospital? Will she still want to hang out and watch baseball? Will I someday get to take her to a Springsteen show so she can finally scream out "Big Man" during "Dancing in the Dark?" Will she still draw me wonderful pictures that I can hang above my desk at work? Will she still ask me to snuggle her on occasion when the creaks and rattles of the house have stirred up some old fears?

I can only hope.

Originally published October 22, 2009 on POPDOSE

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A new column at Popdose...

As I continue trying to sell copies of Basement Songs (have you bought your copy, yet), I've begun a new column over at Popdose. It's called "Goin' Country," which, as you may surmise, is about country music.

I've written off country music a majority of my life, even though many of the artists I like record music that would fit into some form of the genre. Country may be the one music, besides opera, that I've never given much consideration to. I've spent the past couple of months immersing myself in country and some of the culture and now I'm ready to share my journey with anyone who wants to read.

I've always loved history and this venture is giving me a chance to dig a little deeper into American culture and the music that has been a part of our country from its very beginning.

Interested? Here's a link to check out the first column.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

I love it, but I do mind that they're gone!

This morning at 4:20 AM, I dropped off Julie and the kids at LAX. They flew back to Cleveland to visit Julie's family for three weeks. I've been awake since 3:10 and I feel pretty good. I'm still waiting for the wall to hit me.


It gets harder and harder to say goodbye to the family when hey go on trips like this one. For this vacation we'll be apart longer than ever before. I wonder if their leaving added to the emotions I felt when Jake and I went to see Man of Steel over the weekend? Could be.

This time around I have some projects to do in the house, little tasks to keep my mind occupied and fill in the void left in the house when they aren't around. I can't talk about them on the Internet because Julie reads this blog.

I plan on writing, too. I need to dive back in and get the pen back on the page. I'm not talking about writing reveiws, either. I want to start another book and I have a new column for Popdose that I hope to begin publishing this week. These three weeks alone would seem ike the ideal time to really dig in and get some work done.

At this very moment I don't feel as if anything I'm writing is making a lick of sense. I suppose that wall has hit me. Or perhaps I've been away from you too long.

Maybe a little of both.

Well, here's song for you, my favorite pop summer song of '13, so far. Reminds me of riding in the car with the family.


Friday, June 7, 2013

"Sir, Now You've Upset Me." Happy BDay, Vladika

Last weekend my friend, Brett, turned 43. I've known him since high school, where we began our association with each other as enemies. I can't tell you why we didn't like each other. I was the band director's kid, so maybe that had something to do with it. I recall an incident with an Eagles LP, which could've been the source of my anger. It was the hastily compiled "Greatest Hits, Vol. 2" which I received from the Columbia Record Club. In other words, cheap vinyl that I got for a penny. Hardly a reason to get pissed at a guy. Then again, I was 14/15 at the time, so I wasn't very logical.

The strange thing about the animosity between the two of us was that we had the same mutual friends: Alex, Tom, John, Phil, Sally, Kathy and Kerry. We all hung out together. At some point Brett and I buried the hatchet (probably over a couple of North Olmsted Coolers, a primitive version of a Shandy) and became good buddies.

During my high school senior year emotional void, when I thought the world would end because my heart was broken, I took a memorable camping trip with my friends Tom, James and Brett. We drove out into the middle of nowhere, parked our car and hiked down the side of a forest hill to pitch a tent. It was a fun adventure until the rain began. We wound up crashing at Brett's house the next morning, laughing about the complete failure of the trip. From that point on, Brett and I hung out more frequently.

After high school and into college, the same group of us saw each other during winter and summer breaks. There were never any "plans" to do stuff. Someone would show up at another person's house and we'd just hang out. At this point, Matt was a part of the gang. Man, Matt and Brett together were a pair. One particular night, Brett was over to the house and I began expounding on the brilliance of "My Sharona." Brett laughed as I went on and on about the musicality of the song; I even jammed it on the drums for him.

Later in the night, while the two of us were in the Malchus family room, shooting the shit over a couple of beers, my father entered the room. At that moment, Brett set his beer on the wood arm rest of the couch, or maybe it was an end table, I'm unclear. Wood was involved.

My father flipped.

"Sir, now you've upset me," he snarled at Brett. It was the most irrationally response I'd ever heard my dad direct at one of my friends. He spoke to Brett as if the guy was one of those punks that get under his skin during each school year.  But he liked Brett (still does, as far as I know). The look on Brett's face was priceless. Utter shock. Once my dad left the room, we both shared a WTF look and went about our business.

After Julie and I got married and moved to California, I never thought I'd see Brett again. Through mutual friends I learned that he was married and living in Colorado. The, sometime in the early 2000s, Brett contacted me to say he was going to be in LA for a couple of days. We had dinner, got caught up on each others lives, and suddenly the friendship was renewed. He's been to LA a few more times, and he happened to be in Ohio a couple of summer's ago while we were also visiting Julie's family. In a period of five years, I believe I've seen him more that any of the old gang. Pretty funny considering we used to hate each other.

This past December I finally met his lovely wife, Leah. At the fundrasier held in the memory of Seann, Brett and Leah showed up, along with the Koziols. Although we all only got to spend about an hour together, it was one of the best parts of an emotional evening.

Throughout the years, Brett and his family have supported Great Strides and my marathon fundraisers, which makes them extra special in my book. This year I was shocked to learn that Brett is battling Leukemia. He's been in chemo throughout the spring and I can only imagine the emotional toll it is taking on Leah and their two beautiful children. If anyone I know can kick this disease's ass, it's Brett. He's always been one of the fiercest people I know, a quality I truly admire.

There's not much I can do for my old friend except send my prayers and support his way. Oh, and I can remind him how fucking awesome "My Sharona" is and why it should always be cranked up on the radio.

Happy Birthday, Brett.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Bates Motel and CF

It's taken me a long time, but I've finally started watching Bates Motel, A&E's sort of prequel series to Psycho. I say sort of because the series takes place in modern day and not the 1960s. The show is well written and has the look and feel of Twin Peaks. I believe that's what the producers were trying to achieve.

Toward the end of the pilot a young girl named Emma introduces herself to a teenage Norma Bates. She's walking around with an oxygen tank and tells him that she has CF. That's it, just 'CF.' It's not until the second episode that Emma explains that CF means cystic fibrosis and how it is destroying her lungs.

Needless to say I was immediately intrigued. Emma is one of the main characters on the show and I was curious to find out why the writers chose to include a character with cystic fibrosis in their show.A little research and I discovered that one of the show's writers, Bill Balas, actually has CF. According to Wikipedia (the only place I can find a bio), Balas received a double lung transplant when he was in his late teens or early 20s.He's originally from Cleveland (go figure) and moved to LA to pursue a career in film and television. Congratulations, Bill.

As a CF parent, I'm always aware about how accurate the portrayal of CF is done in films and television. If there's one thing I want, it's that CF gets wider known and that more people will help support the foundation. However, I also hope that writers including CF in the films and TV episodes don't just uses it as a disease of the week and that the depiction is accurate.

Now I know, when you're dealing with TV some liberties are taken in order to make things a little more dramatic. Still, I'm very excited to see the rest of this first season of Bates Motel to see where they take this character and how close the portrayal of someone having CF resembles the life I know. With a writer on staff able to tap into his own experiences for the character, I have faith that this will be realistic look at CF... as much as a show about a crazy mom and the effect she has on her off balance son can be realitic.