There' has been a ton of chatter this past week (maybe a lot longer) about the lists that rank the Scranton metro area as "unhappy"… not mention unemployed, hung over and massively corrupt, so it might seem awkward for me of all people to write a blog about a happy place here in NEPA,
but I will,
because I own it.
I was padding through the back lawn of my family's home in Dalton when it hit me… I felt at peace. It was strange feeling these days, seeing as how I haven't felt peaceful at all for a time frame that I can only describe as: "as long as I can remember".
It was warm, very warm in fact, and the swarming bugs were intense, but that didn't detract a thing from the peaceful calm that settled over me in that moment. The breeze blew through the trees that hung heavy over me, and the sky pushed a series of foreboding clouds around that gave you the sense of a pending storm at any given moment, but the world seemed strangely right somehow as I toured the grounds.
In my eyes, during the last ten to fifteen years, NEPA has become a place that sadly lacks an abundance of true beauty. I know there will be people who sharply disagree with me but I have traveled enough to know how we live surrounded by a landscape of mediocre architecture and landscape design. The detail work of creating true beauty is lost here for the most part… it's like we take no pride in our area or the things that we create here any longer.
Many formerly magnificent places in NEPA suffer from anything from basic neglect, to the problem of having been abandoned years ago and never fixed. Trees grow over clum dumps (drive the Casey Hwy), beautiful city buildings that represent our former glory are allowed to deteriorate to a level where razing them is the only option (The Sterling Hotel), it's become routine to pass rotting cars in the front yard of a see through house and soon pass a development of estate style homes… sad, sickening, not to mention downright depressing.
I know that you're saying that "of course your family home is your favorite, it's a place where your memories are and of course you'll have a prejudice to it" but I'm not alone in feeling it's soothing effects… Erika feels it too (and not because she drank any Kool Aid either).
Maybe I just love what I have; maybe I've gained a deeper appreciation for the property itself, or maybe it really is as awesome as I think it is, but in all honesty, the combination of location and convenience plus the somewhat uppity neighbors that surround it make it a safe, quiet, and sort of "Eden-istic" type of place. It's pretty place, and honestly there's not too many of those left here… trust me I've looked.
As I was humming along on the lawn mower the other evening a realization suddenly occurred to me… I love cutting the grass.
As a teenager I used the family mower as my primary means of income, and as a supplement to it for several years after that as well. When I circle the lawn these days that old familiar vibration from the whirling blades is like a sort of time machine, and in my mind (for a brief moment) I'm back in high school on my summer break working for gas money, or home from college putting a fresh cut on the grass for some extra beer bucks, or maybe just doing what my mom no longer could in her later years... it's amazing what places that mower can take me in my imagination.
Maybe it's the accumulation of hours spent making laps in most of the neighborhood lawns, or the familiar and welcome smell of fresh cut grass combined with the exhaust of a Tecumseh engine, or possibly it's the gentle roll of the mowers tires upon a well fertilized field of green that is so inspiring to me… who knows, who cares, whatever it is I love it!
Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't choose it as a career change, but I do completely enjoy the simple pleasure of making the lawn look like a golf course every week… almost as much as I enjoy the beer that awaits me when I've returned the mower to its spot between our cars in the garage.
It's an amazing thing: when you have extra time you have no money, and when you have no time you have extra money! Oh boy, is that me!
I guess I shouldn't complain… I have a successful business, I love what I do, I make enough money to afford an amazing lifestyle, and I am grateful for all of those things, but I just wish that I could slow it all down a bit these days.
I look forward to the summer months with an adoration bordering on idol worship, yet in my line of work, when they arrive I begin a schedule that allows me nearly no time to enjoy the warm NEPA summer weather at all. My grueling 6 to 7 day work weeks come at a heavy price too: I rarely rest, when I do it's abbreviated, and I miss my family terribly.
Yeah, I make a sizable amount of money (that's usually spent by the following April) but the world spins another direction from where my attention is focused during the 5-6 month time frame that I'm talking about.
I usually begin to lighten up with commitments around the beginning of November, which as you know, begins the slow decent into winter, and thus the ugly side of the cycle begins again.
Sadly, we need the money I'm making to do the things we've planned for our future more than I need an extra nap, and that requires work, so I suppose that I have to come to terms with the fact that I will wake up at the end of this glorious summer span and once again realize that I have worked my way through all of it.
I need to make a confession… I never wanted to be involved with a woman who had kids (or one kid) at all.
There I said it. It's not that I didn't try a few times to date a mother of one (or two+) but it always ended badly, or maybe never started at all. I lived most of my life like a member of the Seinfeld cast… too picky, and if there were even the slightest reason to abandon a relationship (or even begin one at all) I would take full advantage of that exit sign and bolt.
I remember being 3 minutes into a first date when a woman asked "So, do you like kids"… then confessed that she had five. Ladies a word of advice: Don't do this! Let us decide if we like you (and you decide if you like us) then drop the bomb and we all can decide on taking the next step together, okay? Okay.
I also remember the girl that insisted that I meet her son for the first time at the mall (why, I'm not sure) and he showed up with a kiddie police helmet that had a flashing light and siren on it. As we walked the mall, for the next thirty minutes I wasn't sure if I were on a date or under arrest!
Then was the closest call of them all… I'd met a very beautiful friend of a friend, who had a young son, and was moving to Vegas. She knew I was intimidated by even the thought of kids, and told me that if I wanted to her to stay in PA., and if I wanted to have a relationship with her, I'd have to be equally involved with her son (good move). When I turned her request to meet him down, I instantly realized that I wasn't ready for that big of a step, and apparently I was not wanting her in my life enough to take it.
That all changed (not at once mind you) when I met Erika and she introduced me to Piper. I started learning a new life and a new way to look at life as well. Yeah, I fought hard at first to avoid the idea that I was falling for a 2 year old, but like it or not it was happening, and there was little I could do about it.
Now, let's be honest, kids are a full- time commitment and bring with them a HUGE change in the way that a single guy with no kids has to live his life.
Your schedule and freedom are compromised.
Your patience and ego are tested.
Your budget and sleep schedule are busted, completely…
and somehow it all makes sense, when you have the love a child.
I have found my soul mate in Erika, but I have also met the love of my life at the same time… she is five years old, a fussy eater, and can throw a wicked tantrum without a word of warning, but she has taught me how to be a person I never knew I could be, and she makes me better just by being in my life, every day.
I truly believe that life’s toughest duty is to be as thankful as you should be for the great things in your daily existence.
Let’s face it, there is constantly another annoyance that will derail your ability to accurately see the amazing gifts that God has given you, or in short to be happy.
How about a small list of distractions:
The bills, weather, cold, heat, rain, grass, snow, car payment, car trouble, gas prices, lack of sleep, lack of money, lack of vacation, low pay, long hours, extra weight, old clothes, small closets, too small of a house, too dirty of a house, no friends, bad friends, no date, boring date, too many dates, cell won’t work, nothing to do, too much to do, no time, too much time on my hands… etc.
You get the point.
The reality of the situation is that we can choose to be unhappy, every day in every situation… yes, I said choose. Happiness is a choice!
It may seem a little hokey but it’s a proven fact that your attitude governs how well you feel, and that it’s not what happens to you that matters but how we react to that event that controls our happiness. When you’re happy you walk through the door at the end of the day (even a day loaded with hard work) and think: that was a great day! It is your perception of it that makes it so.
Don’t believe me?... then take a second right now and try a little experiment.
Think of a situation you may be unhappy about and ask if it’s you and not the situation that’s making you unhappy. Could you simply change your mind about it and in the process change the problem? The answer is a resounding: YES!
When you choose happiness you render any and all obstacles to it powerless to your attitude. If you wake up and say: “I choose to be happy today” you are setting the tone for the next 16 hours of your life, a great tone, and if you at least try to carry on your day that way, it’ll change the way to perceive all the events that happen to you that day. Every single one.
I am grateful for TONS of things and people in my life, entirely too many to list here, but none more that Erika and Pipe and I think that my choice to be happy, at least partially, brought them into my life. I had to “fake it till I could make it” at first, and it wasn’t easy to keep myself on the upbeat track at first, but the results don’t lie. I am happier, have more respect and more quality people in my life than ever before. … and I choose happiness today and always, will you?
Strange things happen between you and your father when you grow up a momma’s boy like I did. My dad and I locked horns on virtually everything; our fights were epic. If it weren’t what to watch on TV, it was his choice of clothes we’d bicker over; if not his driving speed, it was his penchant to put ketchup on the perfectly grilled steak I’d made for him… in one way or another we battled daily; years later I would live to regret that.
I remember as I was growing up frequently thinking to myself that I hoped “never to be anything like him”, and I stuck with that theme in my life for most of his. But as the winter of his years began closing in, I started to see an amazing wisdom in the words, and actions of my father, and as I continued floundering through my late thirties it was increasingly clear that my dad wasn’t so dumb after all.
My father was what I now often refer to as the gentle-est man that ever lived… he never spoke a word of disappointment to anyone about my decisions or life choices, and supported every move I made weather he understood my motives or not. He put up with foolish spending and terrible girlfriends, insane career pursuits and irresponsible behavior, all the while knowing full well that I needed to learn my own lessons as a result of making those choices, so he just made sure I was safe and watched in silent wisdom. His love for my mother and I was as unconditional as it was unwavering, and I never remember a moment that I didn’t believe that.
He relentlessly worked in is upholstery shop in the backyard of our Dalton home for my entire life, only settling into a semi-retired existence some five years prior to his death at 90. In his usual understated fashion he skimped and saved, planned and acted, and lived his entire life to insure that mine was safe and healthy… and he succeeded, perfectly.
My father was my age (48) when I was born, and when he was questioned as to why he’d had a son so late in life and his only answer was that he needed to find the love of his life (my mom) to be a dad, and the "audition process" had taken longer than he’d expected... and his love for my mother can only be described as a sort of poetry in motion… we should all have an emotional example like that to grow up surrounded by.
My mom told me of the day that she found him sobbing in my room while putting be in my crib, and when she asked what was wrong he looked at her, tears streaming down his face and said: “I never thought I’d be a daddy”…
You got your greatest wish Victor, and you were magnificent at it.
Do you like to stay up late and sleep late? Well then you probably don't like to exercise.
New research from Northwestern University in Chicago has found that night owls get less physical activity than early-risers and have a harder time sticking to an exercise schedule. The late-nighters were found to sit more during the day and made up excuses for why they couldn't work out.
"We found that even among healthy, active individuals, sleep timing and circadian preference are related to activity patterns and attitudes toward physical activity," said study leader Kelly Glazer Baron, associate professor of neurology and director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern.
"Waking up late and being an evening person were related to more time spent sitting, particularly on weekends, and with difficulty making time to exercise," Baron said
Well, that's all fine and dandy (and possibly accurate), but I am an EXTREMELY early riser and I'm not burning up the fitness track in any way shape or form. In fact it's been a very big battle to ramp up my activity level at all because of my crazy sleep schedule!
Do I have a valid excuse here or am I just lazy? Be gentle.
As a curious (more like snoopy) child my parents found it impossible to hide anything from me, and my father’s Air Force uniform was one of those things. I remember discovering his hat in their room, strategically placed on top of a large bookshelf easily 5 feet above my reach. It didn’t stop me.
I pulled the hat down and plunked it onto my head. As I remember it, the brim instantly slid down over my eyes and the band covered my ears too. It was the coolest! I liked it because it looked like a policeman’s cap, and it was “real”, but moreover it was my dad’s! I wore it constantly.
I remember that my dad, in his usual way, very gradually and methodically explained to me why I needed to take good care of his head wear. He told the story of how he had worn that hat on his WWII tour in Italy, and in Africa, and when he arrived home (at what was then the platform of the Lackawanna Station in Scranton) how he had to take it off to kiss his incredibly relieved mother and sisters.
He told me how he packed parachutes, slept in tents, dealt with unbearable heat and driving rain, and peeled potatoes all night long on a few KP duty assignments! He spoke of the grueling trip aboard an overstuffed ship, to a destination he’d never been, with a bunch of equally young men who he’d never met, and the collective fear of the unknown they all felt.
Eventually I stopped wearing the hat and instead put it on another shelf, this time in my room, and looked at it every day. It had come to represent a time I would never know, and a bravery I’d never have to muster, but above all else a time in my father’s history that made him greater than I could ever imagine being. That hat and that man had traveled the world and served a great purpose, and to me it needed to be protected as a result.
Every year on Memorial Day, without fail, my parents and I would go to the Dalton park after the parade and listen to the local Vets fire off a 21 gun salute, then the LTHS band played taps and the National Anthem, and then we’d listen in silence to the names of the town’s past vets read aloud… my father’s name is now among them and we too are carrying on that tradition as a family.
I still have that hat, and someday I’ll have to explain to my step-daughter how it came to mean so much to me… I don’t expect her to understand at first, but she’ll get eventually, in the same way I did.
This Memorial Day, try to imagine the fear, sadness, and the loss that so many have endured to allow you to have a peaceful cookout at your house. Try, if you can, to imagine you lived in the place of the names that you see on the tombstones with American flags attached to them; the time when they shipped out, or learned the process of honorable service, the time when they fought our enemies while seeing and doing the unthinkable with a hardened resolve, or the day that they came home from war their lives changed as a result forever… and then take a moment to pause, and respect the remarkable history of peace that those men and women have created for us.
My mother was the type of women that most men dreamed of meeting.
That realization came to me when I found myself taking care of her in the final years of her life and I began seeing the strength, determination, and resolve that she had in herself… not mention the mountains of pictures that had been amassed throughout the years (like this one) of her mowing grass, or shoveling snow, helping my father move furniture or carrying shingles for the major home remodel they did in the seventies. Women of those days simply didn’t do “men’s work”, but she did, and didn’t think twice about it.
Growing up I was only totally sure of a few things: Grandmas cooking was the best on earth, The Fonz was the coolest guy on earth, and that my mom loved my father and I totally, completely, and without question more than anyone else on earth.
She wasn’t like the women I was meeting; in fact she stood out against MOST of the women that I would be in the company of not only then but for all of my life, no matter the age or demographic category.
As time went on I found it amazingly difficult to find a girl that I could have a lasting relationship with. I dated a lot of girls from a variety of different backgrounds and places, usually only to find that something wasn’t quite right. I always asked myself why it was that I wasn’t able to find happiness… the answer came when I began to realize that (sadly) we men all subliminally look for the same qualities that our first love, our mom, instilled in our minds were quintessentially important, and my mom had set the bar very high!
My mother was strong and beautiful, stubborn and humble, patient and loving, as well as loyal and respectful. Her skills as a mother are the very things that shaped me into the person I am today. She passed away on a Sunday morning three years ago this coming Thursday and I only hope that she knew how much I appreciated the sacrifice and passion she put forth to raise me in this life.
This Mother’s Day take a moment to tell your mom how much she means to you… if you are able to do so, I suggest that you say it to her every day. It may seem a little uncomfortable at first (especially if it’s been a while since you told her that) but someday you will feel better as a result of your actions, trust me.
There is a picture in our bathroom of Erika holding Piper as an infant and the inscription reads: “Mom, when you thought I wasn’t listening I heard every word, and when you thoughy I wasn’t looking I saw every move… you have made me who I am. Thank you”
45 years ago massive anti-Vietnam War demonstrations occurred in U.S. cities, the Milwaukee Bucks signed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor), and Paul McCartney said there is no truth to rumors he was dead… at the same time I was on the verge of celebrating my third birthday… and a guy named Eugene “Bud” Brown was about to start at his first job in the broadcasting business.
I grew up in an era when radio was still the “King” of the entertainment world. I remember my father telling me stories of listening to Arthur Godfrey and Milton Berle, not to mention the famous Orson Well’s broadcast “War of the Worlds” on his radio (since there was no such thing as TV yet) on the farm he’d grown up on. As a result, I held the profession of disc jockey in extremely high esteem.
Years past and I found myself a huge fan of DJs like Casey Kasem, and Rick Dees, and of course NEPA’s own Harry West… but I also revered the names in news radio like Ray McGuire and Joe Martin, Phil Cummings and of course Bud Brown.
I went nowhere without a radio (I had one on the handlebars of my bike). I sang along with all the songs and I often found myself repeating the intros that they said back as a sort of DJ practice exercise, and only hoped that one day I too could be behind the microphone and have as great and respected of a job as they had. But I never thought I could ever be a newsman… that was reserved for only the best in the business.
Many years later I was hired for my first job in the broadcast business here at Entercom. As formal introductions were being made, I was walked into the WILK newsroom. Seated in the corner, facing his computer monitor was a slight man, with a driving cap that he would seldom remove from year to year named Bud. As I shook his hand it wasn’t his face that I recognized but his booming and commanding voice that drew my awe… I then realized I was now working with a legend.
My dad had listened to talk radio in his shop for as long as he was employed, and as is the format in such a station, the news is delivered every thirty minutes. If I were to spend any amount time at my fathers shop, I would hear the voice of Bud surging through the room!
I’ll never forget the story of the attempt on then President Ronald Reagan’s life, or when Dale Earnhardt was killed in a race in Daytona, or the chilling updates of September 11th… but I’ll also always know it was Bud Brown who delivered them to me. I also will always remember that an iconic man with more broadcast hours than I will ever be able to attain, who should’ve laughed at me as a rookie, always viewed me as a peer, thus setting yet another bar decidedly out of reach!
Some people are meant to be funny, some informative and some entertaining but Bud Brown was all of those things. He would make you laugh without trying and inadvertently make you think deeper by simply speaking. It’s not too many people that can say that they got to work with a man they’d grown up idolizing, I am now amongst them… Thanks Bud!