an open letter to a stranger

now playing: mary chapin-carpenter, “what you didn’t say”

the internet, and blogging specifically, has transformed me into an oxymoron…the benevolent stalker.

i write about my own life, but i also read about others here – their successes and failures, their trials and tribulations, their dashed expectations and their dreams. to be certain, i usually spend more time reading than writing – i am but one, after all, and you are so many.

this, after all, is how i found out about the recent passing of your father, right before christmas.

i initially thought about sending you a passage from john steinbeck’s tortilla flat that i have a vivid memory of finding comfort from…but then i reminded myself that i don’t really know you, save for a few phrases entered into comments windows here and there, and i thought better of it…it would’ve been an awkward email, at best….

the age of the internet has both brought humanity closer together, and pushed us further apart at the same time. if not for the ‘net, i wouldn’t know who you are to begin with…but the nature of the beast also has made us all instant freaks or weirdoes if we cross too eagerly into territory that isn’t normally traversed. we’re instantly suspicious of those who go out of their way to offer more than basic cordiality.

so i kept my mouth shut.

but, as time passed, and i read more of what you were willing to share about your relationship with your father, and about your brother (whom you’d suspected for some time to have been blood)…and about how he handled the transition from his marriage to his subsequent relationship with your stepmother, parts of your story struck a chord with me.

i’ll tell you why…not because i want to compare my path with your fathers’, or for any reason, really…save to perhaps shed some light on why i found your story moving.

i’d been married to the mother of my children for seven years when we finally split up. to this day, i couldn’t tell you why we married in the first place – i didn’t really foresee anything better coming my way, perhaps…maybe i thought that something more akin to what i really wanted wasn’t realistic? either way, i knew the day of our wedding that it was to be temporary, somehow. i know this because i remember thinking, when i woke up to the rain that morning, that the next time i wouldn’t have an outdoor wedding because it was too risky. i remember that thought very vividly.

at any rate, a bland beginning gave way to a mediocre existence, and as i doggedly pursued a career in music, our differences and the huge gap in our expectations became glaringly obvious, but although we fought constantly and seldom agreed on anything, we stayed put. we had two children rather quickly, and leaving never really presented itself as an option for me. i wasn’t a runner, i reasoned, and i wasn’t about to desert my children, whom i loved deeply. if anyone was gonna go, i figured, it’d be her.

when i think about my life at the time, it’s pretty plain to me why circumstances made it easy to stay. i was constantly on the road – i was playing twenty nights a month most of the year, and held a series of day jobs during that time as well. why move out if i was never home? for a couple living under duress, you really couldn’t ask for a better arrangement. she stayed home with the children while i went out and earned a living, and i seldom saw her, so the opportunities for our differences to arise didn’t present themselves as often as they would, had i been the traditional nine-to-fiver.

as with all relationships, there becomes a moment when it becomes obvious beyond any denial that you can offer up that things are really pretty much finished. i came home from the supermarket and unloaded the van, and walked up the front porch steps with my arms draped with the tight plastic handles of the grocery bags – easily six or seven to each forearm – and couldn’t open the screen door. it was locked so the children couldn’t get out of the living room and escape her perimeter of supervision (she was in the kitchen, washing dishes). i gently kicked the bottom of the door (knock, knock) and asked her to come let me in.

“it’s open, come on in”, she said.

“no, it’s not…” i replied. “if it was, i wouldn’t have bothered you. can you come open it?” i asked again.

“it’s open, i told you,” she repeated, and the same exchange happened several times until i finally put the groceries down on the porch and ripped the locked screen door off its hinges and threw it onto the porch. i was furious. afterward, though, looking back on my behavior, i knew that this wasn’t me at all, and that if this was the kind of person that i was becoming, then perhaps i really should think about moving on. but i lacked the courage of my convictions.

i had taken on a day job, driving a forklift for a printing company – it was grunt work, and that’s exactly what i wanted at the time. i was gigging my ass off, and working on my first record, and i just knew it was temporary…something to pull in some extra cash until the record was done, and i could start taking on more of the kind of work that i couldn’t really get until i had a legitimate record. but that’s where i met christina.

to quote campbell scott’s character in singles, “if i had a personal conversation with God, i would ask him to create this woman.” that’s how i felt. she was everything that i had wanted my partner to be, and then some…where my wife was judgemental and belittling, chris was supportive and encouraging. she knew the words to every song i wrote, she believed in me more than i did, and she was exactly what i needed.

she was also ultimately the motivation i needed to leave a bad situation behind.

it’s always easy for people outside a situation to pick out the “bad guy” and to label someone as being at fault when a relationship fails. in a situation like this, we’re primed to single out the “other woman” as being the evil element and to castigate her for her role in the events as they unfold. but every situation is different, and every party has a side to the story, and in some cases, there really is no bad guy, just a bad situation, and bad situations breed bad decisions sometimes. in my case, i had already started to plot my escape long before i ever thought there was a snowflakes’ proverbial chance that there could’ve been a future that involved “chris and tom”, but there was a chris and tom before i’d made the leap and gotten out of the house…so as far as the general public was concerned, chris and tom were to blame for the fact that there was no more tom and jill.

this particular plot twist makes it easy to ignore the fact that there was never much of a tom and jill to begin with.

chris and tom, though, ultimately fell through as well – not even a year later. but although my heart was broken and i couldn’t understand or come to terms with why there should be no chris and tom, i never once regretted that there was no more tom and jill.

and i came to accept and believe in the concept of everything happening for a reason.

when i left their mom, jayda was freshly seven years old and dylan had just turned five (they were born exactly two years and eleven hours apart, incidentally), and didn’t really understand what was going on, except that daddy lived somewhere else now. i took a third floor apartment in the city that i loved – we still talk about it, in fact – and i resolved to remain close to them. i could’ve easily taken this as an opportunity to load the van and go wherever i wanted – boston, nashville, new york city, austin, san francisco – certainly, i thought about that all the time. but i couldn’t. it just wasn’t in me.

because i knew that if i left, i’d never come back. and while i certainly wouldn’t mourn the change, the distance would have taken too much of a toll.

the silver lining, for me, came in the months and years that came to pass after jill and after chris – when it was me and my children. we had opportunities that we wouldn’t have had in any other situation but for how the cards ultimately fell – just the three of us. we went to new york city together, we did “mallwork” (which was our invention – we’d take their homework from school and go do it at a table in the food court and have dinner and watch the ever-evolving cavalcade of berks countians waddle toward the escalator) together, we’d make “daddy soup” for dinner (campbells’ creamy chicken mushroom soup and bowtie pasta or elbow macaroni, whichever was on sale), we took any number of trips that we’d never have taken, had we been the traditional family unit, and we learned to rely on each other and function as a family…just the three of us. and i have a relationship with my children now that i know, in my heart of hearts, i’d never have had were i allowed to continue to chase money around while their mother raised them without me.

the time that i spend with my children now is ours – no one can take that away from us. even as they grow older and start down the trepidatious path that is teenagerdom, we remain close. i keep waiting for the shoe to drop and for the generation gap to rear its ugly head, and i know it shall in due time. my daughter has always been an old soul, and is growing up a lot faster than i’d personally like for her to, but that’s beyond the realm of my control. my son is ever the goofball, and has his own social circle that requires his attention. and i know that they’ll grow up and older and that my role in their lives will diminish over time, but i will be eternally grateful to chris for showing me that there was something in life better than what i had, even if it turned out to be something other than what i’d hoped for at the time. i think that if it hadn’t been for her, i’d still be under the same roof as their mother, eternally deadlocked in an emotional standoff that would’ve had awful repercussions for my children.

staying together for the kids is bullshit, i found. my children have managed to thrive as a result of our separation, and they have a safe place under my roof where they can go when they need shelter from the other side. i’d never have been able to offer that to them if i was still there, still part of the problem and not the solution.

i honestly don’t know why i’m telling you this, save for the fact that reading your reflections about your father have given me cause to do some reflecting of my own – and learning what i’ve learned about your father this past week or so has given me cause to relate to him, on a personal level. when i read what you wrote about your feelings about him, about what he taught you, and what you learned from his example, it’s obvious to me that you already know the one thing i could’ve said to you about your father that i feel as though i know – the man who showed up in court was your father alright, but it wasn’t your father…in the same sense that it was me who ripped the screen door off the front of my house, but that’s not that person who raises my children.

i get the sense that you’ve got unresolved anger as a result of some of your history with your father, and i know this to be the case with my children as well…they’ve told me about it on a few occasions. but it seems to be more as a result of ill-advised choices i’ve made that have affected their lives than about the fact that their mother and i aren’t husband and wife. God knows, i’ve done some stupid shit in my day, and i deserve to bear the burden of accountability for it. i’ve done what i can to try to amend for as much as i can, but i don’t think any of us, as parents, ever succeed completely on that level. i’ll always begrudge my mother, for instance, the fact that i never had braces as a child, even though i understand as completely as it’s possible to understand why i didn’t – we simply couldn’t afford it. i know and understand this, but something in my psyche will always lay that at her feet…because, after all, who else do you hold responsible for something like that? i know she didn’t have the money. i know this. but my anger at the result of not having braces as a child and the subsequent result is directed at her nonetheless. illogical? you bet. but that’s how it’s evolved.

and so it will be with me, as time goes by – as a parent, i’ve failed at times. but i keep dusting myself off and getting back up, because winning the war is sufficiently important to dictate that i survive the battles that i’ve lost, i think.

and someday, nic, like your father, i’ll be gone. it may be thirty years from now, but it could be later tonight, for all anyone knows. my children will have to go forth from whatever day that is and find their own path.

it’s my hope that, when that day comes, that i’ve left them with a semblance of the foundation that you were fortunate enough to have in your father. should any of us have the gift of awareness of this plane of existence after we pass on, i feel safe in assuming that he’s immensely proud of you…as i am of my own.

the words that you wrote for his eulogy warmed my heart…and i hope that despite what may happen in the aftermath of your fathers’ passing, that you’ll continue to take shelter and comfort in your family, in your siblings.

i don’t know you from adam….but you’re in my prayers.

the eve of new years eve

now playing: marty higgins, “california”


i, for one, am actually relieved that stone road isn’t playing this new year’s eve, as originally planned – i’m looking forward to the downtime. i have a couple (well, more than a couple, actually) of things that are clamoring for my attention at home, and am looking forward to dealing with it all over the next few days. i’ll miss the cash that would’ve come with the gig, to be certain, but i’ve already lined up a couple of ‘computer gigs’ to atone for the loss of income (one of which could be rather lucrative, looking forward to hearing all about that one, should the opportunity present itself).

my kids have been at my house since christmas day, and i’ve been absolutely loving having them around for a stretch like this.

i could absolutely be accused of bringing dylan into the world for my own entertainment, and wouldn’t have a leg to stand on to defend myself. he’s the clown prince of my family, hands down. i have a couple of dylan stories to relate, with hopes that you’ll forgive my lack of disciplinary demeanor…after all, it’s hard to condemn someone’s actions when you’re hyperventilating as a result.

*****dinner table, chestnut street west reading: dylan hands me the crust from his pizza, and announces he’s full. he continues to hang with jayda and i as we exchange small talk for a few minutes, after which point he grabs a clementine from the bowl on the dinner table and gets up to leave.

i stop him and ask of him, “hey….i thought you were full?”

he looks over his shoulder at me, flashes the patented Dylan Grin, raises his eyebrow Belushi-style, and says….

“….fulla shit.”

*****wyomissing family restaurant, wyomissing: dylan, jayda and i sit down for lunch and order. in timely fashion for a busy day, the food comes out with steam rising from the plates. dylan’s western omelet with cheese (which he ordered by singing the word “cheee-eee-ee-sse”) was the hottest of the lot, and the waitress cautioned him – “be careful, that plate is really hot.”

dylan replies, “yeah, just like me.”

a story from a few days before:

dylan and wendy are watching “the blues brothers” (a christmas present for young dylan, on DVD) and the scene in which elwood picks jake up at the pen is on. elwood utters the famous line to jake, “i wasn’t lyin’, man…i was just bullshittin’ ya.”

dylan looks at wendy and utters, “see? he knows the difference!”

we went for a walk last night to retrieve rocks for a school project that dylan has to complete before he returns from vacation, and ended up stopping for chinese food at our new favorite place on penn avenue in west reading – seems like we’ve done nothing but eat out the last few nights, but tonight i think i’m cooking in. not sure yet what i’m makin’, but i’ll think of something.

it’s gonna be almost too noticeable when they go back to mom’s to ride out their vacation from school.

my little town, pt. 2

now playing: detroit lions 30, st louis rams 20

more great news for this wonderful city where i live.

i’ve often walked into queen city and made a mental note of the security guard posted at the entrance, strolling gingerly up and down the aisle – i guess the next step is to have the guy give everyone the wand as they walk into the place.

might have to put on bowling for columbine before bed tonight and start re-evaluating my move elsewhere again…

on a totally unrelated subject, henceforth from this day forward, all anonymous comments will be deleted. if you wanna stop in and be an asshole, go right ahead…but identify yourself or you’ll be whacked.

whether i have a strong hunch of who you are or not.

football at the chaos house

now playing: john gorka, “january floor”

‘nother fifteen minutes and it’ll be 4 in the morning.

usually, cause for me being up this late would be a gig somewhere in the nether regions of the planet and maybe decided to head for queen city diner afterward, but tonight it’s because i waited until the kids were either in bed or headed that way and came to work.

i think i let the holidays impart some serious laziness on my ass, here. and tonight is do or die, catchup night for yours truly. i have two machines that have to be finished before tomorrow, and so i’m making sure they’re both up to snuff right now, before tomorrow gets here.

so we can kiss off sleeping in either day this weekend…ah, well.

the money’s been accepted, the checks have been deposited, and now the work must be done.

it’s not a huge deal, really…it’s just my complacency kickin’ my ass again. but i’m gonna make up for it in the days and weeks to come.

today has been declared “clean in” day in my house. this means that everyone who wishes to continue to live there conflict-free is going to join me in squaring the house away. that means unnecessary shit needs to find a place somewhere in the house that isn’t obtrusive.

“clean in” day has been a long time coming. and it’s overdue.

i did get to take jayda shopping today, and i hooked up her phone in her room for her. a certain individual had agreed to do that for her months (years?) ago, and it never happened. odd that this particular individual was always willing to ask for and accept my generosity without hesitation but could never get around to taking the half hour it would take to hook that up and stop over and do it…

he shall remain unnamed, however. there’s enough bad blood on that circuit right now as it is. besides, he still has a ton of my stuff that he’s never returned, and i hold out just a faint glimmer of hope that i may someday have at least some of it back.

anyway, “clean in” day, for me, will probably consist of trying to eke out room for another fifty pounds of shit in our ten pound basement, and filing away a ton of stuff that’s compiled on my desk over the last year or so…in addition to helping the kids box stuff up and get it ready to take that long trip down the basement stairs or the walkway in the back yard…

sports…the eagles and the patriots both won today – the pats clinched a first round bye, and the road to the super bowl, for the AFC, goes through foxboro now. in the NFC, it will likely go through st. louis, since st. louis plays the hapless detroit lions tomorrow. at this point, it’s pretty easy for me to forget that the lions beat up on the packers reeeeall nice on thanksgiving day…but hell, that was a long time ago.

i think it’ll be a rematch of the 2001 super bowl (minus, unfortunately, the goosebump-inducing halftime show courtesy of u2), with the same result as that historic super bowl – a heavily favored st. louis team gettin’ their asses spanked by brady and co.

you heard it here first.

ok, hard drive image has finished, and the defragmenter on the other machine is halfway done…i should go.

see you in front of the screen tomorrow.

yuletide hangover

now playing: gin blossoms, “hold me down”

it’s all over but the shopping trip.

dylan, jayda and company are going shopping on saturday with their christmas booty – it’s on its way to becoming an annual event…as they’ve gotten older, they’ve gravitated away from gifts somewhat to wanting money to go buy themselves their own gifts.

i’d have a hard time faulting them for that, considering that i usually buy my own present and put everyones’ name on it myself…i figure that way, i’ll be happy with what i get and no one has to sweat it. it’s the most stress-free method i’m aware of, to be sure. last birthday, they got me a ’56 reissue gold top les paul. wasn’t that nice of them?

wendy did get me the new john gorka album, called “old futures gone”. i listened to it yesterday while doing dishes, which is certainly not the best atmosphere in which to listen to a record you’ve never heard before, and i think it might’ve suffered as a result, in terms of my perception. on first listen, the record has something of a “sameness” to it…it sounds as if the whole record was recorded in one sitting, with the same band, playing the same instruments, with their equipment set up the same way. not that this has to be a bad thing – i can certainly think of some albums where that could be said, but to great effect (john hiatt’s “bring the family” album is an excellent example)…this one, though, at first blush, isn’t one of them. of course, i may listen to it again and totally rescind everything i’m saying here…and i hope that’s the case, but i didn’t hear any songs on this album that echoed the quality of his prior work (up to and including his last album, which had some great songs on it…”oh abraham” and “morningside” and “when you walk in”, among others)

i dunno…i’ll get back to you.

mitch came over for christmas, and we made the Magic Ham for dinner…afterwards we all watched movies until 2 in the morning. mitch and i were the last men standing, dylan coming in a somewhat distant second, having fallen asleep in the middle of “the two towers” at around 1 in the morning. he was coming to, somewhat, when i left for work this morning – he moaned a weak “…bye” as i was putting on my coat to walk out.

there’s something innately peaceful about sitting in a room with a group like ours last night and watching tv…enjoying each others’ company. especially after a great meal and some homemade apple pie.

to echo ice cube, “it was a good day.”


now playing: eastmountainsouth, “too soon”

hey, guys…

first of all, merry christmas – it’s upon us and bearing down fast. hope you all manage to find some kindness to hang onto during the holiday. i think it’s easier for some than others…this year will surely be no different in that respect.

secondly, the comments here seem to be only partly functional right now – the proper authorities have been notified, but i don’t really know when to expect them back (what with it being christmas and all), so you may want to stop by the forum and drop me a note in the meantime, if you wish…as soon as i hear from haloscan, i’ll post a followup. this should not be determined as a form of censorship.


talk to you soon….

hooooo, boy….

em>now playing: joseph parsons, “can’t keep her gone”

from the “civilians go to jail for shit like this” department:

gotta hand it to those republicans, man…the ink isn’t even dry on McCain-Feingold yet, and those crafty bastards are already coming up with shit like this.

my hat’s off, man. seriously.

(if this pisses you off, stop by and read all about it…)


now playing: eddie money, “trinidad”

there was a post that I’d made some time back regarding the occupation of iraq that someone had commented on…for those who don’t drill down through the comments, i’ll reprint here for your convienence:

x ( wrote the following:

you sadi:
“think about it – if you were sitting at your
kitchen table, minding your own business, and a
horde of camoflauge-clad rifle toters came
stompin’ in and proceeded to tell you how you were
going to conduct yourself from that point
forward…now, let’s just say that you’re not the
timid type, and you decide that you’re not gonna
go along – would you consider yourself an
“insurgent”? if, after your entire world as you
knew it were being rearranged for you, and you
took a couple of shots at the people responsible,
would you consider yourself the aggressor, or
would you consider the aforementioned camoflauged
individual the aggressor?”

Moot point. If up to Michael Moore types, we won’t
have firearms to take shots back at them. But you
know this.


well, i did post a retort, but i also want to pass this along, reprinted from an interview with mr. moore himself:

May I just review, Michael, here are gun deaths in a year. We hear this all the time, but it just — Germany, 381, France, 255 — this is one year. Canada, 165 deaths, United Kingdom, 68, Australia, 65, Japan, 39. The United States of America, 11,127.

I mean, what will shame us? Yet you’re saying that this is not, as you would say, not a gun control movie. Is that so?

Right. Because honestly, I don’t think, ultimately, getting rid of the guns will be the answer. I think if we got rid of all our guns in the U.S., we would still have the psyche problem — the problem that says we have a right to resolve our disputes through violence. That’s what separates us from these other countries.

personally, i’m still not sure what michael moore or gun control has to do with invading a country based on a pretext of lies, but anyway….

“what did they know, and when did they know it?”

now playing: dan fogelberg and tim weissberg, “hurtwood alley”

since i operate on the assumption that not everyone who visits my site bothers to click on all the links over to the right, i’m reprinting this for your perusal:

9/11 Chair: Attack Was Preventable

NEW YORK, Dec. 17, 2003

(CBS) For the first time, the chairman of the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks is saying publicly that 9/11 could have and should have been prevented by the Bush Administration, reports CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston.

“This is a very, very important part of history and we’ve got to tell it right,” said Thomas Kean.

“As you read the report, you’re going to have a pretty clear idea what wasn’t done and what should have been done,” he said. “This was not something that had to happen.”

Appointed by the Bush administration, Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, is now pointing fingers inside the administration and laying blame.

To find out who failed and why, the commission has navigated a political landmine, threatening a subpoena to gain access to the president’s top-secret daily briefs. Those documents may shed light on one of the most controversial assertions of the Bush administration – that there was never any thought given to the idea that terrorists might fly an airplane into a building.

“I don’t think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile,” said national security adviser Condoleeza Rice on May 16, 2002.

“How is it possible we have a national security advisor coming out and saying we had no idea they could use planes as weapons when we had FBI records from 1991 stating that this is a possibility,” said Kristen Breitweiser, one of four New Jersey widows who lobbied Congress and the president to appoint the commission.

The widows want to know why various government agencies didn’t connect the dots before Sept. 11, such as warnings from FBI offices in Minnesota and Arizona about suspicious student pilots.

“If you were to tell me that two years after the murder of my husband that we wouldn’t have one question answered, I wouldn’t believe it,” Breitweiser said.

Kean admits the commission also has more questions than answers.

Asked whether we should at least know if people sitting in the decision-making spots on that critical day are still in those positions, Kean said, “Yes, the answer is yes. And we will.”


now playing: matt sevier, “the hills above wilshire”

last night, a little past midnight – after watching the broncos upend the colts and being subjected to the whinefest that is peyton manning not getting his way, i was standing on penn avenue, waiting for the tow truck to come and retrieve my ailing van from the parking space we’d managed to glide it into at the point it decided it had had enough late saturday night.

i live in west reading, pennsylvania…across the schuylkill river from reading, a city i have decidedly mixed feelings about. i’ve lived there before, lived there for a big chunk of the six years that have elapsed since my first marriage dissolved. not long after i moved into my first apartment there, i bought a bicycle and used to take a lot of joy in riding around reading late at night, when the city was largely quiet. for a city with such an urban persona, reading was largely subdued in the wee hours when you’d expect to see the symptoms of unrest. there were the occasional clusters of ominous-looking characters here and there, but usually nothing more menacing than that.

granted, my van and my apartment were broken into, and someday i’ll tell that story in its entirety here…but for the most part, i never experienced any serious hostility during the time i lived there.

reading is a city that seems to be falling down around itself with a whimper.

those in position to create the illusion of trying to salvage the city are doing just that – creating an illusion. the new civic center project spent a lot of the city’s money and hasn’t made much back, and most of the projects of that nature seem to have been conceived to put money into people’s pockets, as opposed to contributing to the community. the community itself is largely apathetic about its fate, almost resigned to it in ways. reading has a huge welfare roll, and exacts a serious tax toll on anyone foolhardy enough to invest in property there.

as was pointed out in an alternet article that i posted here before, reading is on track to become the first latino majority city in pennsylvania, with numbers that already total forty percent of the total population. many of the people who decry reading’s apparent fate cite this as the reason. i think that’s bullshit. an easy answer, an easy target, but a smokescreen.

during the depression era and the period after, reading was a town of collected neighborhoods – the polish section of town, the italian section of town, and so forth. at that time, it was all understood and accepted that this was the way it was. the “wops” lived here and the “pollocks” lived there and that was the reality of it. so maybe it’s not entirely surprising that the separatism that existed then has endured and manifested itself into a general mistrust of the latino community. not entirely surprising, maybe…but sad, nonetheless.

what’s happened in reading is happening in cities across the nation – fear is driving affluence from the cities and leaving dilapidated buildings and demoralizing fates in its wake. someone on NPR referred to it recently as ‘white flight’…i’d never heard that term before, and it’s chillingly fitting.

west reading, where i ended up after looking for a house big enough to hold my stuff (at that particular point in time), is a few and a million miles away from reading. as i stood there on the sidewalk last night, it was so quiet that i could hear the sound of the television from one of the upstairs apartments across the street from where i stood. i’m not sure what reminded me of it, but i thought back to my later teenage years at home in savannah, tennessee, and how quiet it used to be there when i’d go for walks through town.

the truck came eventually, and we strapped the van to the back and he made his way off into the distance, and i began the short walk home…

…it was so quiet you could hear the buzz of the traffic lights.