All posts by Richard Rodriguez

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Note: This week we will explore the issue of sleep  — or lack thereof. Why do we not get enough sleep and what toll is it taking on us? We’ll have three installments, starting today with Richard Rodriguez.

About nine months ago I changed jobs.

It was not for advancement or more money but for a shorter commute and better health insurance.

I also changed my work hours from a regular day shift to a 3-11 a.m. shift, which I actively sought.

I knew it would be a tough transition but the very early hours would help me to help with the kids and transportation needs in the afternoons and early evenings.

The old job was during day hours but the long commute kept me away from home for 12-plus hours a day, I felt useless to my family and it stripped me of all energy to do anything when I got home.

So I landed a position that cut my commute from two hours to about 45 minutes each way.

I just needed to transition to those new working hours. Staying up late was my thing. My brain was most active at night and after the kids went to bed, I would watch my TV shows, write, surf the net, etc.

I was still able to get enough sleep to go to work the following day. Now I have an early bedtime that I almost never comply with, which leads me being sleep-deprived for most of the week.

By the end of the week I am so exhausted I usually pass out on the couch trying to stay up.

I had one very scary instance caused by this sleep deprivation.

Driving home one Saturday afternoon I had stopped for a red light and then I opened my eyes and saw the car in front of me coming closer really fast. I could not fathom why this was happening but my reflexes kicked in and I pushed hard on the brakes and literally stopped inches from the car in front of me.

Holy shit that was close!

I could not believe that I had drifted off to sleep so quickly, but was lucky that it was for only a second and I was able to recover before smashing into the car in front of me.

I hope for this never to happen again.

I have since then kept caffeine pills in my car and use them when I don’t stop for coffee and feel like I’m overly tired. I do have to say that the cup of coffee typically is more effective than the pills.

So nine months in, I continue to stay up too late and feel like I can never get everything done.

I sometimes take a nap in the afternoon when I get home but need to be careful as sometimes it just makes you more tired.

Overall I like these hours. I enjoy commuting during the off hours and not dealing with any traffic whatsoever. I also like the time in the afternoons I have to deal with family responsibilities.

My workweek also shifted to Tuesday-Saturday with Sunday/Monday off.

I miss my freewheeling Friday nights but having Monday off makes Sundays so much more relaxing.

It is what it is. I just keep plugging along.

French Fry Rage

I recently faced a dilemma of character and reprisal at a fast- food restaurant while traveling with my daughter to her college after a holiday.

I am typically an easy-going person who doesn’t look for conflict but this situation got under my skin and I had to really hold back and put my impulse aside.

We were traveling south and had made it through a very rough leg of our journey involving ice-covered roads.

Tired and hungry, we pulled into the burger place and placed our order. My daughter went to find a table as I waited for the food.

The cashier placed a tray for our order on the counter, and then another family came in behind us and placed their order.

A tray for their order was placed on the counter next to mine and then things got dicey.

The girl filling the order began to load our tray.

She placed our orders of French fries on our tray and the dad from the other family proceeded to pick a few fries from my order!

And before I could say anything, one of his kids followed suit!

I was flabbergasted!

I stepped forward and said, “Hey that’s my order.”

The dad was caught off guard and he kind of chuckled and half-heartedly apologized.

I am sure he was a bit uncomfortable but he blew it off like it was not a big deal.

The rest of my order was filled and I quickly picked it up and found my daughter.

I was sort of fuming inside and not happy with my low-key reaction and how I handled the situation.

I’m unsure if I relayed what happened to my daughter, but by this time the French fry-stealing family had gotten their food and were sitting at a table near us.

They owed me.

They owed me a few fries, and then some.

I sat there and wondered if I should do something. Say something else. Get the last word in.

I got up and walked over to their table and reached in and took some fries from their tray and stuck them in my mouth.

They all looked at me in shock, and then the dad got up and said, “What the hell is that about?! I said I was sorry. It was an honest mistake!”

I took few more fries for good measure. I waited for a blow to my face but nothing happened.

Actually none of it happened.

These were some thoughts and images running through my mind as I sat there letting my food get cold.

I looked over to their table and it was a nice family and if I did what I was thinking, it would only make everyone miserable and ruin our meals.

There were also more of them than just my daughter and I.

So I put a cork in my rage and let it go, and I ate my lunch.

I still had many hours of driving ahead and we didn’t want anything stupid like a fight over a few French fries to ruin our trip.

But maybe I should have taken one fry — just one — to make a point.

Celebrating a Christmas Tree Ritual

Waking up to a coating of fresh snow this morning has me thinking more of the upcoming holiday and everything I still need to get done by Dec. 25.

I am actually a little ahead of schedule this year, as I went out with some of the kids and cut down a fresh Christmas tree at a local farm that is donating some of the proceeds to our high school.  

Growing up in New York City and living in an apartment for many years, we always had an artificial tree that my parents took down from the closet and painstakingly put together, added lights and decorated.

I always loved placing the ornaments on the tree. I still do.  

Year after year we went through this ritual. A more realistic artificial tree replaced that original one, and we used this for years even when we moved into our own house.

We did eventually have some real trees to celebrate the season. It was more mess to clean up but it made the house smell festive.

After we were married and in a new place, our first Christmas together we did not have a lot to fill our house.  We had a bed and a few pieces of furniture.  

Our dining table consisted of a closet door propped up on paint cans.

Our dining room “table.”

 I had a small 13-inch TV, no cable, a VCR and some VHS tapes for entertainment, and some pillows to sit on, or a paint can if you preferred.

For our first Christmas, our new neighbors took us to a tree farm that seemed to be on the side of a mountain. Of course this was a new experience for us as we were both city people. We were way out of our element in the wilds of northern New Jersey.

It was snowing and cold, and being the perfectionist that I am, I had to choose the perfect tree.

My wife was ready to kill me as we trudged through the hundreds of trees, blowing snow, feet numb with the cold. Finally I settled on one after being threatened with divorce and death

I had to lay down on the snow and cut the trunk with a hand saw. There is a first time for everything; trust me, this was not as easy as it looked.

Then we dragged that heavy tree down the mountain and the tree farm helpers wrapped and loaded it into the trunk of our car. Note to self: A pick-up truck works better.

 So we set up our first tree in an empty living room with just a few ornaments and a new tradition was born.

Since then we have had many different trees, of various shapes and sizes, so many more ornaments and decorations than the first one, especially all the hand-made ones done by our kids over the years

We have also had some memorable trees.

One year we had a new dog in the house, Smokey. He had never experienced a Christmas tree before. The tree was up and Smokey went over to sniff it and up went his leg.  That year the tree spent most of its time behind a child fence to prevent another unauthorized watering.

The best one yet was after we brought home our fresh-cut tree and as we started to put lights and decorations on, one of the kids screamed that there was a mouse in the bathroom!

We were able to capture it alive and we let it go outside. 

When I put the lights on the tree, I found a nest in the middle of the tree near the trunk.  I just can’t imagine how scared this mouse was as I cut down this tree and dragged it to the truck, wrapped it up, drove it home, carried it into the house and mounted it on the stand.

This poor little guy stayed put, terrified in its nest and survived all the way into the house, only to get chased and trapped. I hope it found shelter and survived after that incredible journey.

Our journey continues now too as the most recent tree sits in the garage waiting for us to clear the living room and move the couch so we can set up and decorate this year’s Christmas tree.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

Making Some Progress in AMR Fitness Challenge

Richard Rodriguez offers this update on his progress in the About Men Radio Fitness Challenge:

I began tracking my meals, exercise and progress on July 1st and I’m using the Lose It app.

It has been an up and down battle.

I amazingly lost three to four pounds during the first week probably just due to the sudden change in diet and increase in exercise, but since then I’ve gained back and lost again.

Now over two months in, I’m happy to still be on the right track and the weight is coming off, although very slowly, and I’m five to six pounds down.

I feel better about myself physically and continue to make better food choices.

With the help of the app, you can see the breakdown of carbs, fats and protein, and see how grossly lopsided many of my food choices have been.

I’ve tried some healthy shakes and regularly make an unsweetened almond milk, peanut butter, banana, dark chocolate powder, cinnamon, honey and ice shake.

I definitely need to increase the proteins and severely cut back on the fats and carbs.

My exercise really only consisted of walking as my dogs love to walk, but I had a recent setback with an illness and my exercise ceased.

I’m better now and ready to resume walking and I need to add more exercise to my regimen.

Overall it’s nice to be able to tighten my belt a notch and know that the changes I have made are making a difference .

I need to continue and up the ante.

Weighing in on the AMR Fitness Challenge

Going Old School to Get Into Shape

 

 

Weighing in on the AMR Fitness Challenge

Note: About Men Radio member Richard Rodriguez wrote this a month ago as we prepared our AMR Fitness Challenge. We’re encouraging all men to do what they can to get themselves in better shape. Here is Rich’s first installment:

It is July 1st and I have determined this to be the start of my entry into the AMR Fitness Challenge:  Six months, lose 30 pounds and start regular exercise.

I am using the Lose It app to track my calories and exercise.

I ended my old job, which I had used as an excuse and crutch for my lack of exercise and healthy habits for the past two years.

When I had lost my job at the end of 2011, I used that time at home to be healthier and actually walked regularly and monitored my calories with the Lose It app.

I lost weight, felt better and even ran my first and only 5K.

Then I thankfully went back to work but my healthy ways went out the window.

I was driving four hours a day, gone all day, under stress at the job, and by the time I got home I was exhausted and defeated.

I didn’t want to do anything.

I probably gained 20-30 pounds and erased all the progress I made before.

I began a new job on July 5th with a shorter commute, and will have more time for my family and for taking care of myself and becoming more healthy.

I took a painful picture this morning and weighed in. I hope to begin a transformation and have a great improvement by the end of 2016.

Rich AMR

With the help and encouragement of the AMR crew, I hope all of us can reach our goals.

 

When I Drive, the Dead Are Always With Me

I am never alone when I drive.

I do a lot of chauffeuring of my kids, but I also spend a lot of time alone behind the wheel and I always have some unseen passengers.

In my front console I have a variety of items ranging from pens to Chapstick to an eyeglass cleaning cloth, but there is also a number of memorial cards for people whose funerals I attended.

I find myself deeply affected by them all.

I feel for the deceased and for their family, even if I don’t know them all that well.  I may have worked with them or known them through family or a friend, but I take their mourning to heart and I truly have empathy for them.

I know what it’s like to lose someone you love and it is devastating, and it will always be with you.

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So when I drive around with my carload full of people who I remember and feel this connection to,  I hope they are looking out for me in some way.

This does not stop at the cards in my console.

As I pass by roadside memorials of where people had fatal accidents, some of whom I have known, I think of these poor souls as well.

Many of them were young and taken before their time. They had many more years of life and family to take care of.

One memorial I am deeply affected by is of a woman who I do not even know but the circumstances were so unbelievable I just cannot stop thinking of it every time I pass by this spot.

It started one morning on my way to work when I was detoured around an area that was closed to traffic.

When I finally got to work, I checked the news reports and found that a woman had been killed by a gas tanker that took a curve too fast and overturned onto her car as she was driving the other way.

The timing of this accident could not have been more perfect.

If this woman had been a minute later or a minute earlier, she would have most likely missed the truck.

She was coming home from work and was killed by this person who went down this hill too fast to negotiate the turn.  The driver of the truck survived, but he left a child motherless.

I guess we never know when our ticket on earth is going to be punched and we will leave this place, but we should try to live and get as much done before we are taken prematurely.

I pass by this spot almost daily and watched as the area was cleaned up because the tanker spilled gas.

The work was completed but someone still has left a small arrangement of flowers at the spot that marks where this woman died.

I’m sure most people drive by and do not notice, but I see it and think about her every time.

For other ruminations about mortality and death, listen to this AMR podcast (“No One Gets Out of Here Alive”) and read these blogs posts about close calls on the road (“Remember: Thou Art Mortal”) and mourning (“Where Do You Put the Pepsi and the Pain?”)

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Why the Fuck Is “Fuck” So Overused Today?

WTF dudeI saw this cartoon shared on Facebook recently and it really made me laugh.

It is so the truth in how we as parents end up teaching our children curse words and phrases that in a perfect world we try to protect them from and set a better example.

Way before I was even married and had kids, I was instrumental in teaching my very young nephew the “s” word and exactly how to use it.

I remember that I was dressed for an interview and making some eggs for breakfast and I almost spilled everything in the frying pan on myself. My clothes escaped ruin but my reaction was quick and loud.

“OH SHIT!” I shouted and stomped my foot.

Of course, my 2-year-old nephew was right there and took it all in and immediately started stomping his foot around the kitchen and shouting “OH SHIT, OH SHIT, OH SHIT!”

All I wanted to do was laugh, which of course was not the right thing to do because it would only encourage him.

So began my start teaching children how to curse.

I have four children, and for most of their young lives my wife and I tried our best to keep our language curbed around them. But we all know that situations with kids can get heated and we lose our cool and words slip.

For the record, I do not take full responsibility for teaching my kids how to cuss, since they are exposed to it elsewhere, such as on the school bus and at school with their friends.

But anytime you use that language within their earshot, it gives them a permission to use it around you and at home. You hope that they also learn judgment about when not to use this colorful language.

Here is where I am at odds with the current generation and its use of the F bomb, compared with how I was raised.

Listening to the music of today and how my kids communicate with each other, I notice that the word “fuck” is used casually and often — much more so than when I was younger.

Back then, “fuck” was a powerful word. It demanded respect and was used selectively and sparingly.

I remember listening to songs just to hear that one utterance of the F bomb because it had so much power. The music of today uses it like any other word, which dilutes its impact.

I would really like to think that in exposing my kids to the F word I instilled in them that the power and responsibility of using it properly has been passed into their hands.

For related blogs on cursing and swearing, be sure to check out Chris Mele’s ode to his old man, a first-class swearing champion, and listen to the podcast of when Chris visited a haunted Halloween attraction and screamed a blue streak that would make a sailor blush.

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My Travel Travails With a Teenage Daughter

Traveling with a teenage daughter is an experience.

Traveling with me is no picnic either.

I am no world-class traveler by any measure, and I get so nervous and anxious going through TSA security at the airports that on a recent trip I was stressing over my belt, shoes, jacket and my quart bag of three ounces of liquids, that I forgot to remove my laptop from my backpack.

Consequently, my bag was placed to the side after being scanned and then it had to go through a complete bag check.

At least we were early for this flight.

But now I had to wait for security to empty my bag and swipe test the contents since I was obviously trying to hide something in my aging laptop.

This was all very embarrassing but the TSA agent was quick and did not judge.

I did not have to submit to a body search, although I did have clean underwear on.

My daughter handles this much better than me, but dealing with all the items and paraphernalia that she packs for her hair and hygiene is astounding. She avoids the carry-on 3 ounce rule by checking her suitcase with all that stuff in it.

Speaking of that, our hotel bathroom sink and shower was strewn with all of her stuff.

My black bag of personal bathroom items was neatly confined to one corner of the sink and I used the soap and shampoo provided by the hotel to save on what I needed to bring.

Maybe I should book my own room next time, even on a different floor maybe?

The rest of the room also belonged to her: suitcase open on the floor, clothes flopping out, desk covered with her stuff, etc.

I felt sorry for the maid service.

I, in turn, hung my shirts, and kept the rest of my clothes in drawers or in my closed suitcase on a table.

Catching our flight home was an adventure.

It was an early flight, but it took her so long to pack that I blame her for missing our flight by one minute.

She blames me.

Here’s how it went.

Drive to airport.

Dad misses drop-off sign and takes the car rental into the employee only area.

Daughter did point this out (to her credit) but you know how Dads are — don’t question us!

Had to turn around and head back to drop-off.

Five minutes lost.

Check her bag, then onto crowded security check, 15 minutes until last call for flight.

Get through that, run to the gate while holding my pants up, as I did not have time to put my damn belt back on.

I can see the plane through the windows.

My daughter literally got there a minute after the posted gate close time.  Door was closed and we were not allowed through.

Missed the flight.

At least her bag will get there on time.

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Jason Lives! Celebrating “Friday the 13th” in Its Hometown

What does Friday the 13th mean to you?

For many people I’m sure it represents some superstitious beliefs about the number 13, bad luck and ominous happenings on this day that can possibly occur three times a year.

For many people who are fans of a certain movie genre, it is a cause to celebrate one of the most successful horror movie franchises in history, “Friday the 13th,” and all of its sequels and recent reboot.

I just attended a “Friday the 13th” showing of the original 1980 movie in the town where much of the movie was filmed.

Blairstown, N.J., is the home of the Main Street and diner where many of the beginning scenes were filmed.

The nearby infamous Camp Crystal Lake where the story takes place is actually an active Boy Scout camp Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco that occasionally during times when no camping is taking place will hold tours for the movie’s fans.

They even have a display of memorabilia from the original filming on site.

Every year, Roy’s Hall, which was also known as the Historic Blairstown Theatre, screens the original film that gave birth to this franchise.

Roy's Hall

I finally was able to go this year and it was a great fun-filled experience.

Jason was in the lobby wearing his iconic hockey mask and wielding a bloody machete — perfect for a photo op.

Jason and Rich

He didn’t utter a word but was agreeable enough to pose but stay in character.

If you check out the Blairstown News Facebook page, it chronicles Jason’s tour through town and the diner “entertaining” and giving the local folks some scares and laughs on his way to the movie screening.

My daughter and her friend joined me, as they both love to watch horror movies.

They had seen the movie on video, but I had to laugh when they both jumped during a couple of jump scares, especially when Jason comes out of the lake and grabs Alice in the canoe. (Oops! Should I have prefaced that with a “Spoiler Alert”?)

Fridaythe13th

This is so the power and delight of watching a movie in the dark on a big screen that being at home on TV can never compare to.

It was a packed house and the start of the movie was met with cheers and applause.

Each name in the opening credits was shouted out with hoots and hollers.

Every killing was met with shouts and clapping –- a real hardcore slasher movie crowd.

When the character Annie first appeared on screen, the crowd went wild, as she was walking down Main Street in Blairstown and then right by the theater that we were all sitting in.

More cheers and claps as she goes into the Blairstown Diner, where she asks for directions to the camp and gets a ride from a local truck driver and is dropped off at the Moravian Cemetery in nearby Hope, N.J.

More cheers.

It was a great time had by all. I’m looking forward to next year and hanging with Jason.

Until then: Chi chi chi ah ah ah…

Jason Mask

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Remembering Prince in Concert in New York City

Young men coming of age in the 1980’s in New York City was an amazing time, with many stories to tell.

One of my favorites takes place at our go-to club, The Ritz, where many bands of the time were heard and good times were had.

1984: We show up at the club to see Sheila E, a protégé of an artist at the time known as Prince, knowing that he would be a shoe-in to show up to promote himself.

sheila24n-1-webShe puts on a great show, and even gives us a few thrills as she has wardrobe malfunctions and flashes us some flesh.

The night could only get better.

She plays her last song and leaves the stage but comes back out for an encore.

When she returns, the music strikes up for a song she has a duet with you-know-who.

When she introduces him, the crowd goes wild.

They finish and go off stage but now the crowd is stomping and cheering for him to come back out.

As he returns to the stage, holding a tambourine in each hand, he bows and tosses the instruments out to the audience exactly as he does in his hit movie.

Unfortunately we were nowhere near where they landed, so no souvenirs for us.

Prince performs a couple of his hits and brings down the house.

What a fantastic impromptu, intimate experience!

But the fun wasn’t over.

We worked our way down to the men’s room before leaving. What we found there has stayed in my mind.

Two lucky people left the club that night with tambourines touched by Prince himself.

The guy we saw in the bathroom didn’t get one but one had skimmed across the top of his head and slit open his scalp.

He was bleeding like a stuck pig, smiling his ass off since it was something “given” to him by that famous artist.

Lucky dude.

I guess every time he scratches his head and feels that scar where no hair grows he’ll remember that fantastic night at the Ritz.

Modern-Day Man and His Lack of Friends

Recently I read an article from the UK on how “2.5 million men have no close friends.”

Fifty percent of them have two or less friends, while 1 in 8 said they have no close friends they could to turn to in times of need.

This really piqued my interest, especially when thinking of my crew from About Men Radio.

We were all friends early in our lives — some of us from grade school and then through high school and college.

After that, many of us went off in different directions to pursue careers, marriages, family, kids, etc.

Twenty-plus years later, we have reunited as a group and have picked up our friendships just where we left off.

What makes this article about us men having few or no close friends really hit home is when I think about how many close male friends I’ve had in the interim.

The friendships are very few and not the lasting friendships like the ones fostered from when we were kids.

So, can I be considered to be part of this group of men that do not have close friends?

It seems that being married and raising a family definitely has limited the time and desire to make lasting friendships with other men.

Now that my kids are older, I have found that I allow myself to foster more male bonding with some work friends and some dads who have kids who are friends with my kids. (It makes it easier.)

Twenty-one years at the same place of employment also helped to allow me to build some good friendships of both men and women, but again nothing like the relationships that I have with the About Men group.

What is it that makes these older relationships stand the test of time while the newer friendships typically fade without much consequence and we can easily live without them?

I will be interested to know what others in my age bracket think and what experiences they’ve had with friendships over the years.

Email us at amr@aboutmenshow.com to share your experiences of friendship.

 

Get Up or Die: Surviving a Trampling at a Rock Concert

The next thing I knew I was knocked down to the dirt and panic filled me…

This is what I felt in 1992 at the Lollapalooza music festival in Waterloo Village in Byram, N.J., as the headlining band The Red Hot Chili Peppers began their set.

I had been at the traveling music festival all day drinking crap beer and enjoying the music, which featured popular and upcoming alternative, metal, punk, rap and hip-hop bands.

A friend and I had skipped out of work for the day and we were having a great time until the Chili Peppers finally came on stage sporting helmets that spouted flames out of the tops of them and I heard the beginning drum beats to their rousing anthem “Give It Away.”

From those first beats, the whole crowd surged  toward the stage.

This took me by surprise as I was enthralled watching the band members with their flaming helmets, and I was shoved forward and knocked off balance.

Ten to 12 seconds into the song, I was driven to the ground on the field, my glasses flew off and people were tripping over me as they rushed the stage.

I was about to be trampled and I knew if I didn’t get my ass up quick, I could get killed.

“Shit! Where the fuck are my glasses?!” I thought, and quickly swept the ground with my hands.

Miraculously, I put my hands on them and I tried to get to my feet.

People kept pushing and stepping on me.

This is how people die at these things: They get knocked down and trampled to death while no one in the crowd stops to help.

I couldn’t let this happen.

I had been married for less than a year and had loads of stuff yet to do in my life.

I don’t think Anthony Kiedis had gotten through singing the first verse of the song and I was finally able to get a hold of myself and pushed myself up.

Thank the Lord I was able to stand up and finally get my balance.

My glasses were a bit mangled but I put them back on and I could see the band again.

Shit!

Of course now with the forward surge of the crowd, the mosh pit had expanded and now I was actually in it.

Time to retreat, take cover and save myself from getting killed.

I survived Lollapalooza 1992.

Now, every time I hear “Give It Away” I think of this time my life flashed before my eyes and I knew that I needed to get up or die.

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Shoe Fight!

When my daughters were in grade school we had an incident at the bus stop one morning.

It seemed that one of them took it upon themselves to wear her sister’s shoes and when her sister saw them on her feet, a knock- down drag-out fight ensued at the bus stop.

They were screaming and rolling around on the ground before the bus got there.

My wife had to pull them apart and settle them down but we still talk about this epic fight over shoes to this day.

Was this just a preliminary round as to what we had to look forward to in the coming years as they became teenagers with fights over clothing, shoes, etc.?!

Much to our surprise, we haven’t had any more violent outbreaks between the sisters over their wardrobes.

But the oldest typically will take and use many items from her sister and does not face the wrath from her sibling that was unleashed that infamous day at the bus stop.

A Bronx Ghost Story

We have discussed horror movies and shows on About Men Radio but I have a real ghost story to tell that occurred right under my roof.

I was probably about 12 to 13 years old and living in The Bronx.

My parents had a two-family house that was shared with my grandparents.  The house had two owners before us, the first of which owned an Italian restaurant nearby.

The story goes like this:

My grandmother was sleeping and woke up in the middle of the night and it felt like someone was watching her.

She opened her eyes and in the darkness there was a figure of a man standing beside her bed.

This did not scare her since she was a believer in spirits and all that supernatural stuff.

If this happened to me, I would have ran out of the house screaming!

My grandma was cool though and felt this spirit was not threatening and she eventually fell back to sleep.

These nighttime visits continued to happen periodically.

She noticed it was a man in a dark suit and he wore a hat. He would just stand there and look down at her as she lay in bed.

She told my mom and my uncle about these visits.  She wasn’t scared but was getting tired of being awakened in the middle of the night.

My uncle had a friend who was a medium, actually a “Santero,” a priest of Santeria, a Caribbean spiritual religion.

He came to the house and felt a presence as soon as he walked in the house.

It wasn’t malevolent but possibly a lost spirit that had not moved on.

He went though the house and lit candles and said numerous prayers.

He spoke out loud to the spirit and comforted him and told him that his time on earth was over and he should move on and rest in peace.

It worked!

My grandmother stopped being disturbed by her nocturnal visitor, and she was able to get a full night’s sleep again.

Some years later, our neighbor’s daughter passed by with a friend who grew up in our house, family of the first owners, and they asked her about my grandparent’s apartment and if she knew if anyone had died there.

You know what her response was:  She said her uncle had died there and that was his bedroom.  Shit! The chills went through me when I heard this.

We asked about him wearing a hat and yes he typically wore one like most other men back in that time.

Crazy stuff, ghosts, Santeria, and I guess you can say an exorcism, right under my nose in The Bronx.

Boo!

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Dancing as Lunchtime Therapy in a Bronx School

This story is about a song, a New York City public school, an energy-releasing lunchtime activity, and a unique policy by school officials that kept the peace during some rough times.

Growing up in the Bronx during the 70s was a rough adventure for most city kids. Gangs, violence and an economic downturn made it a hotbed of insecurity for the people who were struggling to make ends meet.

During 1976-78 I attended JHS 125, Henry Hudson Junior High, in the Bronx.

The neighborhood was a racially mixed group of working-class families, and I witnessed many in-school and after-school fights and beat downs.

I had my share of conflicts myself, especially with my personal nemesis, a kid named Kevin, who constantly picked on me and caused me grief almost every day.

During one lunch period, my backpack disappeared and I found it in the trash with all the discarded food.

I was so mad. And who was standing right there laughing? Kevin, of course.

I lost my mind and went at him. We were wrestling on the floor when we were pulled apart by the teachers and sent to cool off.

No principal’s office, no suspensions — they just broke it up and told us to stop. This happened so often it’s all they could do.

Nowadays things are different and we would probably have been detained by a school resource officer.

What did administrators do to diffuse the volatile dispositions during lunch periods?

They let us dance!

I am unsure if this was suggested by students, but a phonograph and speaker were provided, and kids brought in their favorite records.

I personally did the “Robot” thing made popular by Michael Jackson and the song “Dancing Machine” to the “Theme from SWAT.”

Then there was the track that only the best dancers were allowed to take the floor and set the place on fire as we all watched and cheered them on.

“The Mexican” was a progressive rock anthem recorded at Abbey Roads Studio by the British Band “Babe Ruth” back in 1972.

It’s driving drumbeat and funky bass and rhythm were perfect for the freestyle dancing that was being born at this time, as it was on its way to be one of the most influential songs of what was to become hip-hop.

The energy that was released by kids dancing to this tune and all of the spectators cheering them on was amazing.

We forgot about our conflicts and struggles and enjoyed being together and free during this short time during our lunch period.

Little did we know that we were witnessing and participating in the birth of the musical and cultural revolution of hip-hop.

“The Mexican” was one of the songs that was covered multiple times and used in so many songs that influenced that generation and the next.

Along with Kraftwerk’s “Trans Europe Express” and The Incredible Bongo Band’s “Bongo Rock” and “Apache,” these songs influenced and shaped the hip-hop music and culture.

Of course older songs from years before influenced the breaks and the beats of these tunes, and I do not want to misrepresent or disrespect the original artists who came up with these riffs.

“The Mexican” and the other songs represent how some kids of the Bronx during the late 70s at a school on Pugsley Avenue honed their freestyle moves during lunch periods and blew off steam instead of fighting each other.

Looking back, I wonder if the administration that allowed this really understood or realized the importance this activity had for the sanity and sense of freedom for these kids.

I know I still listen to “The Mexican” today and think back to this time as the beginning of an exciting and influential period in music and dance that is still with me today.

 

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Summer Jobs: Give Me One With Everything

In honor of Labor Day and the unofficial end of summer, we are resurrecting an earlier post by AMR crew member Richard Rodriguez about a memorable summer job he had.

You may never look at hot dogs the same way. Read on:

It was the mid-1980’s and I was working at a summer job.

I was fortunate to have a neighbor who employed me, God rest his soul, who in his retirement started a small business selling hot dogs from a converted laundry truck that grew into a restaurant on wheels.

He would be up way before the sun, cooking bacon and making gallons of fresh coffee. I would meet him at his favorite spot near a major roadway and start my day serving egg sandwiches, buttered rolls and hot coffee to customers traveling to work.

After the morning rush, we would switch to hot dogs, chili dogs, meatballs, soda, and of course, more coffee, as it seemed that was the universal drink of the workingman.

The days consisted of mad rushes serving a line of people stretching down the block to wondering when the next customer would show up.

It was a long day.

You may wonder where we went to the bathroom, especially since we were also constant drinkers of the magical black elixir.

I typically ran up the street to a friendly furniture store that allowed us to use its facilities. The boss never left the truck, which had a sink and running hot water, as per code, but no bathroom accommodations.

One day during a lull, the boss had to relieve himself of some of that coffee he constantly consumed. (I don’t think I ever saw him without that coffee cup in hand.)

He did not think about hoofing it up to the store where I usually went. Instead, he had a special coffee can with a lid he kept under the counter.

We always wore aprons.

He cautiously looked up and down the street making sure no one was headed our way, and proceeded to take that special can, remove the lid and slid it under his apron.

This was a much-practiced action, as he quickly undid his fly and I heard the stream hitting the bottom of the empty can, all behind the veil of that apron.

Without warning, a group of hungry people appeared by the window and I jumped to start serving them.

The boss had been caught by surprise, but he stealthily removed and capped the can, washed his hands and began serving the customers without missing a beat.

I swear I could not figure out how he did this so quickly. I did not notice him go through the motions of putting it back in his pants or zipping up for that matter.

Yet there he was by my side, with a smile, sliding hot dogs into buns and asking if they wanted sauerkraut or onions.

If these people waiting for their lunch to be served only knew…

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Oh Baby! The Miracle in the Bathroom

On Aug. 25, 2002, one of my daughters, Emily, came into this world in a hurry, and she has been running nonstop ever since.

My wife and I were blessed with three children, a first-born son and two daughters, and then we had No. 4 on the way.

The pregnancy was going smoothly and as we approached the due date, my wife’s grandmother came from Puerto Rico to help Millie with the kids.

Let me say something about my wife’s labors: My son took two days while the third one was out an hour after we arrived at the hospital.

Each kid’s arrival got exponentially faster, which should’ve warned me about what we were in for with this fourth child.

It’s late August, the due date approaching and the kids are playing around the house.

Zach is 7, Rebecca not quite 5 and Audrey is barely 2.

Great-grandma is speaking Spanish to them, and then my wife comes out of the bedroom and informs me that her water broke.

I figure we have plenty of time since the hospital is only seven minutes away.

Bad move.

I’m finally ready to get to the car and my wife tells me we are not going anywhere: This baby is crowning!

What?! My head explodes.

My wife knows the mess this is going to be and she settles herself on the toilet in the hallway bathroom.

bathroom

I can actually see the head of the baby coming out! She is not going to wait.

Meanwhile, the kids and great-grandma are all looking in and my wife is telling me to call 911.

There is no way I have time to even talk to a 911 operator, so I call my neighbor across the street to make the call for me.

Logical, right?

My poor neighbor had just gotten out of the shower and had a house full of his own kids and his neighbor’s kids.

He came over with no shoes and had the 911 dispatcher on the phone.

By then, that baby was out. Her head came out easily but she got stuck at the shoulders.

The umbilical cord was up over one of her shoulders and I had to gently move it and then the rest of her came out quickly.

She was beautiful, with thick dark hair but not making a sound. I opened her mouth and swept the mucus out with my finger and she began to stir and breathe.

Thank God!

We laid mom and baby down on the bathroom floor on some towels.

We wrapped up the baby and mom held her tight.

Audrey came back with her own baby doll and stayed with mom and her new sister until the ambulance arrived.

I was finally able to call the doctor and let him in on the delivery. He would meet us at the hospital where they would cut the cord and finish up.

I actually had to sign the birth certificate since I delivered the baby. That was cool.

Some days later, after all that excitement at home, we busted my son charging neighborhood kids money to see the bathroom where the baby was born. (He’s going to be a successful person someday.)

I am thankful that there were no complications and it all went well. It was an amazing experience that we will always remember, especially for Emily and I, and that bathroom.

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“The Warriors” Hit Close to Home Growing Up in the Bronx

Clink, clink, clink, clink. “Warriors come out and playyyyy.”

This iconic line I will never forget from the 1979 movie “The Warriors.”

I was 15 years old when it hit theaters.

I was not able to see it during its original run as it was rated R and my parents would not take me, especially after the crazy events surrounding the screening of the movie were reported.

The local news was full of reports of violence and people being harassed by groups of youths that had seen the movie and left the theater all riled up and getting themselves into trouble.

What the hell was going on in this film? What was it all about?

The plot in a nutshell was that a prominent gang leader brings all the gangs in New York City together for a meeting in the Bronx to rally them to work together to take over the city.

During his rousing speech he is shot dead, and the Warriors are falsely blamed. The Warriors are a gang from Coney Island in Brooklyn, and now they must fight their way to their home turf as all the gangs are now out to get them.

It was not until 1980 that I finally watched the film in my living room on WHT, a rinky-dink pay-TV service that broadcast movies over UHF, a poor-man’s HBO that we had prior to our Bronx neighborhood being wired for cable.

My good friend and future AMR brother Silvio La Frossia watched the movie with me, and wow! What an impression it made on both of us! You can read his own recollections of the film over at The Mass Invasion.

The Warriors ruled. These guys were likeable, had great chemistry, were ethnically mixed, and of course, had cool leather vests as their uniform.

They were wrongfully accused of shooting Cyrus, the leader of the Gramercy Riffs, and they were the underdogs, having to fight their way through all the other gangs.

Who could ask for more to identify with these characters?

Although the movie played out like a comic book and seemed so much like fantasy, it probably was not far from the truth.

There were hundreds of gangs portrayed in this film, and at that time there were probably similar numbers of real gangs in New York City.

gang8b-2-web

I personally remember the Savage Skulls and the Black Spades in the neighborhoods I grew up in.

The gangs were real and caused a great deal of trouble and violence all around the city during the 1970s. My older brother was at that ripe age and he admitted to being actively recruited. Thankfully, he avoided making that commitment.

If being in a gang didn’t kill him, my Mom surely would have if he got involved in one.

The turf wars were real, but a lot of it had to do with protecting what was theirs.

The economic downturn of the ’70s had a lot to do with this. The police were non-existent and did not protect many of these neighborhoods, or maybe they were afraid to go into these areas.

The police in the movie had minimal impact on the outcome of the movie; they were faceless and ultimately inconsequential as the gangs took justice into their own hands at the end of the movie as the Warriors were exonerated and the Rogues paid for their misdeeds.

“The Warriors” was so much more than a movie; it was a history lesson that showed us what was really going on around us.

Silvio and I recognized that and to this day still hold that movie at a higher level than most movies we have seen. That movie rang true with us and continues to influence us in how we viewed the era when that movie was released.

The Warriors. The Cyclone. The Wonder Wheel. New York City icons forever.

My Brother Always Had Your Back

Note: Today marks the birthday of AMR contributor Richard Rodriguez’s late brother, Ralph. To commemorate the day, we are reposting this blog entry.

My oldest brother passed away a few years ago and I think of him often. I miss him a lot.

He was a unique person and was always there when you needed him no matter what the circumstance: car breakdowns, accidents, moving, fixing things. You name the situation, he was there for you.

The story I’m about to tell is true. Some of the names have been changed to protect the guilty, and the facts may be twisted as my memory has seen better days.

One night my friends (most of the AMR crew) were headed out to the movies when my brother got a phone call and he asked us if we could help him with a friend whose car was stuck.

We declined since we knew my brother would be able to handle it.

When we got back, my brother was still out, and my other brother was out there too.

This was serious! So off we went to help.

He was at Ferry Point Park on the Bronx side by the Whitestone Bridge. At night, it was big “make out” spot.

Our friend was not stuck in the parking lot, but had squeezed his car through the pilings and into the dark recesses of the place, and was stuck in mud.

My brother had maneuvered his vehicle back there too, and in trying to get the other car out, also got stuck.

What a situation: Our friend was there with a girl who was not his girlfriend so this demanded our utmost discretion.

This poor girl was sitting in the back of my brother’s van as we all tried to get the vehicles unstuck.

We called a tow truck.

Problem was that when it got there, it was too big to get through the barriers.

We convinced the driver to pull one of the pilings out of the ground with his wench so he could get through.

This was going to be an expensive night.

Then the cops showed up.

They couldn’t believe what we were doing, but at least they were cool about it when our friend said, hey I’m a cop.

But when they asked to see his badge he couldn’t find it. He probably dropped it in the mud trying to get his car out.

Shit. Big trouble.

The officers warned us to move the cars and get the hell out of there and be sure to put the piling back.

They didn’t want to see us there when they swung back around later.

We hopped to it.

The tow truck got the cars out, we put everything back the way it was and we made tracks.

Still no badge (he actually found it the next day), but at least everyone got to go home and none of us ended up in jail.

I guess we should have gone out to help my brother from the start since that’s what he would’ve done for us without thinking twice, ‘cause he always had your back.

Ralph bro 2

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“Jaws” 40 Years Later Is Just as Spectacular

On June 20, 1975, movie entertainment changed forever.

I was 11 years old when “Jaws” was released, and my mom, a faithful moviegoer, took my friend and I to the Capri Theater on Fordham Road in the Bronx to see the movie everyone was talking about.

The theater was packed and it was like riding a rollercoaster, with the crowd screaming and shouting as we watched the masterpiece of cinema that Spielberg had created.

The one scene that to this day has still freaked me out was when Ben Gardener’s head popped out of the hole in the boat and surely made Hooper crap his wet suit. (Oops! Spoiler alert!)

We left the theater energized and spread the word that this was the movie to see.

Little did I know that 40 years later I would be sitting in a theater and watching this movie, now my personal all-time favorite film, with two of my kids and another packed theater of enthusiastic fans, enjoying every memorable line, the great performances, and of course, Bruce the shark.

This was not the first time my kids watched “Jaws.”

I made the mistake of showing them the movie on DVD when they were much too young and surely traumatized them. They all slept in my bed that night. Luckily we are not frequent beach goers.

I wonder why?

Over the years I drove everyone in my house crazy, watching “Jaws” every time it was on TV, during Shark Week and “Jaws” marathons. Always hated when I missed the original and got stuck watching “Jaws 2” or the even worse, “Jaws 3.”  I don’t think I ever saw “Jaws: The Revenge.”

One night I drove my daughter out of the room because I kept rewinding the movie playing the “That’s some bad hat Harry” scene, and laughing each time.

The movie is filled with classic quotable lines like this.

My favorite scene and line is when Brody is complaining about chumming and the shark rises up out of the water and shows itself for the first time, totally shocking him, and he goes to Quint and says “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

So many gems like Ellen Brody’s “Wanna get drunk and fool around?” and, of course, Brody’s “Smile, you son of a bitch!”

During this 40th anniversary screening, the theater was packed again and we had to sit in the second row.

Some ladies next to me also saw the movie in 1975, and we were shocked during the scene when the two kids were pretending to be a shark in the water with the cardboard fin.

The lifeguard was standing blowing his whistle and the camera angle was from below and you could see right up his shorts. I had to turn my face away, but boy those ladies next to me got a big kick out of it.

They exclaimed “I didn’t see that in 1975!” I had to laugh out loud!

The crowd had a fun time, laughed at the classic lines and cheered at the end.

We all clapped during the credits,which my kids thought was strange.

A great nostalgic evening was had by all, and maybe some newbies discovered something special.

I am looking forward to the 50th anniversary and reserving my tickets now.

 

Camping in the Catskills: A Trip to Remember

By AMR contributor Richard Rodriguez 

RichRodriguez

I came across some photos of the About Men Radio crew back in the day when we were young and crazy and camping in the Catskills in New York.

Of course we were just a bunch of New York City boys spending a weekend in the mountains, so out of place and not ready to take on nature and the elements.

It was July 1986. I am not sure how many of us had actually been camping before, but we were ready to have a male bonding weekend in the woods.

We loaded up two vehicles with a tent, gear, food, drinks, and surely stuff we didn’t need. Our destination was Woodland Valley Campground.

Campsite secured, we went about trying to set-up camp.

We hadn’t even gotten the tent up and John had already dipped into the beer stash.

So much for his help.

Finally the tent was up, and we cooked up some BBQ. Good times ensued.

Got through the first night fine, and in the morning we took to the trails and headed up the mountain.

Then the rain hit, and it didn’t stop. We tried to find shelter under rock overhangs but we couldn’t go on and we headed back to camp.

It started to rain hard and steady. The other campers were leaving in droves, but we refused to give up, and the people leaving actually gave us all their firewood!

We were stacked and actually had enough to keep a fire burning for practically the whole weekend non-stop.

Unsure of what to do as the rain continued to fall, some of the crew ventured to the nearest town and convenience store and returned with some much needed supplies: porno magazines of almost every variety.

This collection of adult entertainment became a legendary stash that survived our camping excursion and was passed around to each of us at one point or another for a number of years.

Not sure where this collection is today…

The rain did finally stop, and we continued to enjoy the outdoors.

The highlight of our shenanigans was a belching contest between Chris and Gary.

camping 12
Chris and Gary engage in a belch-off while Pedro keeps score. Gary was reaching so far into his gut that his stomach hurt, as depicted here. And Chris was rocking that camo cap! WTF?!

It was an epic battle between two belchers extraordinaire, and I can’t remember the final outcome, but it was a roaring good time that capped our crazy weekend that made a great impression on our friendship for years to come.

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Let’s Go Mets! Recalling the 1986 Ticker-Tape Parade

In October 1986, baseball history had been made and Chris Mele and I were ready to experience a ticker-tape parade in the Canyon of Heroes in Lower Manhattan for the World Series Champion New York Mets.

We were men with a plan:

Chris was going to meet me on Park Row by City Hall, where the parade would climax. I had jury duty in the Bronx and I planned to jump on the No. 4 train, which would bring me right to City Hall.

Of course, 2.2 million other people had the same idea.

I caught the train, and the crowds poured in.

I had to stand all the way but I didn’t even need to hold on as we were packed in and couldn’t move.

Then the “LET’S GO METS!” chants started. We were all screaming at the top of our lungs.

The energy was unreal.

These chants turned into “Who Do You Love? Bill Buckner!!!” OMG! Poor Bill Buckner, the weight of Boston’s loss on his shoulders.

(Cheer up, Bill. Even if you would have fielded that ball, you never had a chance beating Mookie to the bag.)

I finally arrive at City Hall. I figured my chances of finding Chris were slim, but we connected on Park Row — all without cellphones — imagine that?!

We try to get a good spot to watch the parade wind down Broadway.

People were standing on cars, light posts, mailboxes and we could hear the cheers and the “LET’S GO METS!” chants as the vehicles carrying the champs got closer.

Paper rained down from the buildings, even some toilet paper.

We are able to catch a glimpse of Gary Carter, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling as they worked their way to the front of City Hall where Mayor Ed Koch, Gov. Mario Cuomo, and Sen. Alfonse D’Amato waited to give speeches and share in the victory.

Chris and I tried to make our way over to City Hall, but there were so many people, we could hardly move.

The police corralled a large crowd of us down one of the side streets and blocked both ends. We were jammed in and the mob was getting rowdy and ugly.

The police were holding us back while the crowd pushed and shoved.

There was a couple of mounted police in there with us and the next thing I know I was face to face – no, face to rear — with the backside of a very large police horse.

I thought that’s it: Either the horse is going to kick me into oblivion or the officer on the horse was going to club me down for bumping into him.

Finally, the police opened up the end of the street and we broke out of there.

We caught some of the presentation from the City Hall stage, and Koch and Cuomo had to cut their words short as the crowd drowned them out with chants and cheers for the champs.

I think at that point we decided we had enough life-threatening experiences for one day and we parted to safer grounds. We escaped the area before the throngs started heading out.

The sanitation crews were already out cleaning up the paper and debris on Broadway, as life in the city never stops and doesn’t miss a beat.

Food As a Substitute for Love

The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

Proof of that came many years ago during a Valentine’s Day with the guys, future members of the About Men Radio crew.

Unfortunately, none of us had female companions on this amorous holiday so we drowned our frustrations with food.

We ended up at an Italian pizzeria/restaurant, a nice family place.

And then the horror began. It was a Valentine’s Day massacre.

Multiple appetizers, drinks and more appetizers were ordered.

Mozzarella sticks. Bruschetta. Ribs. Wings. Antipasto. Calamari. House salad. French fries… You name it, we ordered it.

Then came our entrees:

Chicken parmigiana. Lasagna. Fettuccini alfredo. Eggplant rolentine. Italian sausage. Ziti. And of course, pizza.

The table was covered with dishes of food; no tablecloth was visible.

Our poor waitress came over and cheerfully offered to take some of the plates away that she thought we were finished with.

With mouths stuffed with food, we all looked up — hunched over the table devouring our meals — and grunted “no.”

Her smile disappeared and it was replaced with fear.

This food orgy went on for some time.

The sounds that emanated from our table were epic.

We shared it all. No dish was left untouched, and no doggy bags went home with us.

I don’t remember if we had dessert, but I’m sure John had coffee, so Gary must have had chocolate cake.

We probably ruined some Valentine’s Day dates and scared some young children, but our stomachs were all satisfied after this gastronomic bacchanalia that took our minds off our lack of female company.

I’m not sure if we ever went back to this place.

They probably had our pictures on the wall with red crossed-out circles through them.

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The Night I Nearly Died

Us men, we are invincible, right?

Maybe it’s “machismo” or just stupidity.

I don’t have time for my own well-being, right?

Some years ago, I discovered the answer to that question and in the process, faced my mortality.

It’s ironic that the night this started, I was attending the funeral of a family man who had died before his time.

It began with a bad stomachache that I attributed to lunch but when I got home it just got worse.

I was up all night puking. I was on the bathroom floor, delirious from pain but never did I once say to my wife that maybe – just maybe – I should go to the ER.

Finally I was able to sleep and when I woke up, I felt a little better. I saw my wife off to work and got the kids off to school.

Meanwhile, the pain had settled into my lower abdomen, on the right side.

Damnit! This was probably appendicitis. I called in sick to work and called my wife and told her that I would drive myself to the hospital.

No problem. I got this.

Why should I bother anyone and inconvenience them? I was feeling better and the hospital was only a few minutes away.

The doctor checked and he agreed with my diagnosis and sent me for a CT scan for confirmation.

I eventually got wheeled into the OR and when I woke up in recovery, the nurse told me that my appendix had actually burst.

With much difficulty, I made my way into the bathroom. I leaned on the sink and looked in the mirror and saw someone I hardly recognized.

Who the hell was this guy with the pale face, sunken eyes and look of death?

This was me and this was serious.

With a burst appendix, I could’ve died. It probably burst right on the floor of the bathroom that night, which is why I felt better.

But all that time that I wasted refusing to admit I needed help, those toxins were leaking into my gut and setting me up for an internal infection that could have done me in no matter what the doctor did.

I spent the next two-plus weeks in the hospital, always with a fever and constant IV antibiotics.

I don’t think I ever realized how grave my situation was.

To this day I have downplayed the whole thing.

Maybe I’m still lying to myself because it scares the shit outta me that I flirted with death.

I missed my kids performing in the school talent show and I missed some of my son’s baseball games. In truth, though, I came close to not seeing them grow up at all.

At the hospital, I convinced the doctor that I could go home and take my own temp every day, take my meds and come back if I was not feeling well.

I just wanted to go home.

I should have stayed in the hospital.

Better yet, they should’ve just shot me.

Two weeks later, I felt a weight in my lower abdomen, so I went back for another CT scan.

The doctor said he would need to drain the abscesses from the infection caused by the burst appendix. He explained he was going to go in through my anus — using both hands and a syringe — to drain the fluid.

Nice. I should have at least gotten dinner and a movie first.

Still, the procedure was successful.

After all of this, I was not the same person. It took most of a year to really get back to normal.

I still don’t think I realized how close a brush with death this was.

Thank goodness for antibiotics and for my doctor for violating me with that syringe.

I’m glad I’m still here to talk about it.

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Snow Foolin’: The April 1st Blizzard of 1997

As Winter Storm Juno 2015 is hitting the Northeast, I remember back to 1997 to a most improbable storm, the April Fool’s Day Blizzard.

Both my wife and I went to work, dropped my son off at daycare, and there was snow in the forecast.  Of course, we were thinking spring at this time and it was actually warm out.

The temperature dropped and the snow fell all day.

Conditions deteriorated quickly. I worked close to home and picked up my son early and came home.

My wife, unfortunately, had an hour commute on a good day and surely had a long night ahead of her.

The snow piled up fast, and four hours went by and she still had not gotten home.

She finally called me from the car and was only a few miles away but was stuck.

Damn. So close.

I called my neighbor and he came over and watched my sleeping son while I went out to get her.

I had a 4×4 pick-up and was confident that I would have no problem getting to her and bringing her home.

She was also pregnant with our second child and I was worried about her and the stressful night she was having.

I pulled off the road right past her car, and to my shock, the truck slid off the side of the road and down to a wood fence.

Shit! Fuck!

I tried going back and forth and just dug myself deeper into the deep snow.

Now we were both stuck.

I checked on my wife. She was fine, just tired.

I went to work on my truck. I tried to dig out a path to get some traction, but nothing I did helped, just brought me closer to that fence.

Finally someone came down from the house and I thought we were saved.

NOT!

This freakin’ guy was all nice and asked me my name and where I was from and then: “Do you have insurance? You’re tearing up my lawn and if you hit my fence…”

That’s when I cut him off and let him have it with a torrent of profanities that I didn’t know I was capable of.

He turned tail and said he was going to call the cops, and I screamed back at him to go ahead maybe they’ll actually help me!

I was fuming, but then someone in a truck stopped by and offered to help.

He had a towrope and proceeded to pull both of our vehicles out.

I thanked him and he promised that his friends would take the guy’s mailbox out for us.

Nice. I’ll have to drop a case of beer off for this kid.

We drove carefully home, and I think about that night every time I pass by that house.

Liquor is Quicker…At Making You Sicker

I am sure you’ve heard the saying “Beer then liquor, never been sicker. Liquor then beer, have no fear.” But have you ever put that slogan to the test?

I did one night in my youth, not realizing the consequences of my actions but I did come away with some lifelong lessons.

It was a typical Saturday night in the city, hanging out with my friends in the Village and planning to go to one of our favorite clubs, The Peppermint Lounge.

John, Pedro and I met some other people who brought a bottle of blackberry brandy. I don’t think I ever had tried it before, but after a couple of sips, I was hooked.

This kept us warm and primed us for the evening at the club. I had more than I should have but what the hell — I was feeling good.

“The Pep” was a multi-floored club with dancing to DJ beats on the ground level, live bands upstairs and then a “video lounge” tier where you could sit around tables and socialize.

The night was just starting, so we went straight up to the lounge and grabbed some beers and smokes.

Mind you, I was the one person at the time that didn’t smoke but drinking and smoking go all too well together, so I indulged.

That nice cold fizzy beer hit my blackberry brandy-laden stomach along with the smoke and nicotine that I was not used to and you can only guess what the result was.

I tried to hold it back, but oh!

All this purple barf came up and I grabbed for cups and glasses on the table and filled them up, but it just kept coming.

The table cleared out as I spewed that blackberry brandy on the table.

Pedro wanted no part of this so John got me up and moving and tried to get me to the bathroom, which of course, was down a flight of stairs.

As he was leading me, a couple of attractive girls were coming up and of course we tried to make ourselves appealing to them but all I could do was york some more purple chum at their feet.

So much for first impressions.

John finally got me to the bathroom but by then I was done. I had nothing left in me.

I was surprised at this point the management didn’t toss me out on the street for wrecking the place, but when we got back upstairs, the table was cleaned off and another group of people was sitting there like nothing had happened.

I vaguely remember the rest of the night.

I think I napped under a pinball machine at some point and the sun was coming up when I finally arrived back home.

I got a little sleep before my family woke me up, and wouldn’t you know it, I had a party to go to that day that I smartly resigned from partaking in any drinking.

Guess that was a good thing.

Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / iqoncept

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A Grandfather’s Blessing

Christmas is here, and I remember when I was a young kid and celebrating this joyous holiday with my family, having a ball hanging with so many cousins, aunts and uncles, and my grandparents.

Christmas Eve was the night when all of my Mom’s family would gather to celebrate.

She was one of seven children, five sisters and two brothers, and with their respective kids, other relatives, friends and my grandparents, they filled my grandparents’ apartment with two to three dozen people.

It was loud and hot, and the smell of all the food was great, but the most important thing to the kids back then was the mountain of gifts that was stacked up all over the place, divided by family.

My grandfather would then get everyone’s attention and give his blessing to the family, giving thanks for our health and for being together as one family.  I’ll always remember his deep and powerful voice that exclaimed his love and pride for everyone there.

Then he would hand over the ceremonies to one of the uncles or older cousins to announce and distribute the gifts to one family at a time.  They would read the tags and we would cheer and carry on with love and good humor.  The best, of course, was that the young kids would always be first and receive a gift that was a toy.

Oh the joy of Christmas!

Thanksgiving Travel: It’s In the Bag

Thanksgiving Day, the whole family is together.

My son is home from college, my daughter is making cookies and we just finished preparing the candied yams to bring to the family feast at my brother’s house.

Running late as usual, I think we can finally start heading to the van.

Wait. My oldest daughter is still not dressed after running the hair dryer for what seems like the past hour in the bathroom.

“C’mon! Let’s go!” I can’t believe this. We have a two-hour drive and we needed to leave an hour ago.

Van packed and ready: yams, cookies, and a bottle of Fireball to share with my bro’.

Finally on the road, the two youngest girls in the back, college boy and oldest daughter in the middle row, all with their respective devices and ear-buds, and the lovely wife riding shotgun.

Running late and moving along quickly, my son scarfs down a couple of snack bags of chips since he didn’t have any breakfast.

That’s when things started to leave the rails.

I am not sure how the chips hit his stomach — maybe with the bouncing of the van — but I hear a cough behind me, a wet gurgling cough that erupts with a force of expulsion (can you just hear that?) that prompts me to ask if he is OK.

He says he is OK. He caught the up-chuck into the empty bag of chips.

Ugghh!! Oh! And then the smell!

His sister next to him starts dry heaving and we need to crack the windows open.

Before we can find a place to dump the puke, my youngest in the back starts to heave.

Here I am, driving and looking in the rear view. I see her cover her mouth with her hands, and as everyone knows, that never works.

The next thing I hear is “blarghhh!” and my other daughter screaming and, oh, that smell again!

Oh my God! Open the windows!

Now I’m seriously looking for a place to stop. Luckily, we find a convenience store and pull in. Everyone jumped out, except for the puker.

I didn’t even check the damage and went right into the store and bought lemon-scented cleaner, wipes, air freshener, garbage bags and a roll of paper towels.

Got back to the van and opened the door. I wanted to scream.

Actually, I did scream.

I didn’t know where to start: The back seat, the floor, her pants, her jacket, even her ear-buds! I started spraying, wiping and tossing it all into a garbage bag.

Repeat, repeat, repeat, and repeat some more.

Finally made it to my brother’s house just in time for the Thanksgiving meal. I can’t believe what I just went through but I am thankful for surviving it and still being able to spend time with my family.

And yes, I think I’ll need to trade that van in a lot sooner than I first thought.

 

About Food: The Place to be Was Always The Kitchen

Growing up in a household and family where so much revolved around the kitchen stays with you forever, and I owe my cooking chops and style to the women in my family, especially my mother and her sisters.

When asked to talk about how I learned to cook and who influenced me most, it took me back to my childhood and how social it was when my mom and aunts prepared meals for the family. The kitchen was the best place to be, not only for food but to catch up on family, history, and gossip.

I try to continue this with my own kids and encourage them to make meals, experiment and be together as a family at as many meals as possible. I am happy to share these experiences and memories with Fi2W and my fellow hosts of About Men Radio.

What is your story?

This multimedia piece was produced for the “Coming to the Table” series from Feet In Two Worlds.

Strangest Summer Jobs: Part One

It is hard to imagine a world today without our cellphones. For many of us, they have become a permanent attachment to our hand or hip.

Does anyone memorize phone numbers anymore?  I know I don’t, but I can remember phone numbers to places where I lived more than 20 years ago yet I can’t remember my own children’s cell numbers.

During one summer when I was in college, I got a job with New York Telephone, after the monopoly break-up but prior to the industry proliferation of wireless devices in the marketplace.

How did we communicate when on the streets back in the pre-historic, pre-cellular days?

Pay phones were the way of the world. They were prominently positioned on the streets, at airports, bus stations, businesses and gas stations.

Today’s generation wouldn’t recognize a phone booth or understand having to dig change out of their pockets to call their BFF.

That summer I worked in a warehouse on the west side of Manhattan counting coins collected from all of the pay phones from the Bronx and Manhattan.

Each week this facility filled up a room with bags of nickels, dimes and quarters totaling over $100,000 —   not a bad take but I’m sure nothing compared to how much the cellphone industry rakes in today.

The counting room had a security guard who ran a metal detector over you when you left the room, so all your own coins, keys, and any metal objects needed to stay outside in your locker.

Cameras were also placed throughout the facility and at each counting station.

I was told that some employees in the past had developed a system of dropping coins down into their boots while they were counting, thus prompting the video surveillance.

I noticed that security rarely wanded you all the way down to your shoes.

On my first day, I was trained by a man who on one hand had a thumb and no other full fingers. He was the fastest counter in the place.

The counting machines were along a complex conveyor belt where the upper level brought you full banks of coins to be counted, and the lower level belt took away the full bags of counted coins.

The counting machines were pretty cool.

Each pay phone bank had a tag with info that you entered into a computer, and then you dumped out the change into a large tray and sifted through it to remove foreign coins and slugs.

Next, you lifted the tray and dumped the coins into the machine, which had a large spinning platter that pushed all the coins to the edge where they were lifted off the tray according to thickness and flew through an electric eye that counted them and off they went into a bag.

When a bag was full, the machine beeped and you would tie it up and throw it on the conveyor belt.

Attach a new bag and the counting continued.

That’s how the day went: pretty repetitive and mindless.

The place had a Musak system that we would commandeer and play our own mix tapes, yes tapes. So we would boogie to counting thousands of coins.

I remember that one of the favorite tunes that summer was the theme from “Beverly Hills Cop.”

One afternoon everyone was leisurely counting and we saw some people leaving early! We found out later that they had counted a certain number of banks and were allowed to go home. Damn!

The next day, we were all flying through the counting, knocking out those banks in record time and yeah, I got to go home early but this only lasted a week.

All the regular employees were brought into the boss’ office one at a time and got chewed out for not counting fast enough and the going home early thing was only to get production up.

Now that the coin counting was going great, us summer guys were expendable and we were transferred to escorting, but that’s another story…

 

A Very Good Dog

For anyone who has grown up with pets, the family dog has always been a true member of the family.

Recently I experienced the death of an extra-special pet, one that was the first I raised as an adult with my young children.

We inquired about Chow Chow puppies from a breeder who we had dealt with in the past and found she had a litter in the same bloodline as a dog we had before.

She sent us a puppy.

I picked this little guy up at the airport after he had traveled on two flights over a long day.

My son was about 2 years old. When they saw each other, the puppy barked and growled at him (playfully) and then my son cried and wouldn’t stop.

My wife was away on business so it was just my son, the puppy and me.

That first night was full of cleaning up pee and poop. And my son crying.

What a way to start a relationship.

The puppy was a fluffy hairball of red, black, gray and white and my neighbor thought he looked like a puff of smoke, so he was named Smokey.

Eventually things settled down and we were getting along fine, and then two days later mom came home.

She came in the door and that little dog barked at her like she had no business being there. Smokey had determined that his new family was my son and I, and this new person just didn’t belong.

Chows are known to be a one- or two-person dog as they attach themselves to one family member and basically looks to this person as the pack leader. Everyone else in the family may end up beneath them if they do not assert themselves.

Properly trained and socialized, Chows are naturally protective of their family, and when treated with love and respect, will return that love.

With this knowledge, I attended puppy obedience classes with Smokey, which proved to be very effective and rewarding for both of us.

His strong-willed personality almost got the better of him during one class when he was determined to take a toy from a much larger Akita puppy.

Dog owner and instructor intervention saved my determined puppy from some well-deserved whoop-ass that he was about to take from the other dog.

He was good with the kids, and they loved him dearly. Smokey was there for my son and through the births and childhoods of my three girls.

He was a good dog, a very good dog.

Early one morning in his 14th year, before the kids got up for school, he woke up my wife and me.

He had gone to the bathroom in the house. I didn’t think too much about it at first as he was getting old, having trouble getting up the stairs and needing more frequent trips out to go.

I let him outside and cleaned up the mess.

When I went to check on him, we looked each other in the eye and right then I knew this was it.

He knew it as well.

I covered him with a blanket and sat on the floor with him.

Stroking his head and speaking softly to him, I listened to his rough breathing and wished for his passing to come quickly and, I hoped, with little pain.

He never complained about any pain or discomfort before and wasn’t now. As his final breath passed through his nose I whispered to him how much I loved him and that he should go now and rest.

Rest in peace, Smokey. Good dog.

Gimme One With Everything

It was the mid-1980’s and I was working at a summer job.

I was fortunate to have a neighbor who employed me, God rest his soul, who in his retirement started a small business selling hot dogs from a converted laundry truck that grew into a restaurant on wheels.

He would be up way before the sun, cooking bacon and making gallons of fresh coffee. I would meet him at his favorite spot near a major roadway and start my day serving egg sandwiches, buttered rolls and hot coffee to customers traveling to work.

After the morning rush, we would switch to hot dogs, chili dogs, meatballs, soda, and of course, more coffee, as it seemed that was the universal drink of the workingman.

The days consisted of mad rushes serving a line of people stretching down the block to wondering when the next customer would show up.

It was a long day.

You may wonder where we went to the bathroom, especially since we were also constant drinkers of the magical black elixir.

I typically ran up the street to a friendly furniture store that allowed us to use its facilities. The boss never left the truck, which had a sink and running hot water, as per code, but no bathroom accommodations.

One day during a lull, the boss had to relieve himself of some of that coffee he constantly consumed. (I don’t think I ever saw him without that coffee cup in hand.)

He did not think about hoofing it up to the store where I usually went. Instead, he had a special coffee can with a lid he kept under the counter.

We always wore aprons.

He cautiously looked up and down the street making sure no one was headed our way, and proceeded to take that special can, remove the lid and slid it under his apron.

This was a much-practiced action, as he quickly undid his fly and I heard the stream hitting the bottom of the empty can, all behind the veil of that apron.

Without warning, a group of hungry people appeared by the window and I jumped to start serving them.

The boss had been caught by surprise, but he stealthily removed and capped the can, washed his hands and began serving the customers without missing a beat.

I swear I could not figure out how he did this so quickly. I did not notice him go through the motions of putting it back in his pants or zipping up for that matter.

Yet there he was by my side, with a smile, sliding hot dogs into buns and asking if they wanted sauerkraut or onions.

If these people waiting for their lunch to be served only knew…

Extraordinary Circumstances

Every day we come face to face with issues and problems, deal with our kids, family, friends and co-workers and we bitch and moan but at the end of the day we regroup and get ready for tomorrow.

Rarely do we really look at ourselves and say how lucky we are to be able to do all these things and survive to see the next day with little more than some passing stress. No big deal, nothing life changing.

Recently, at the library looking at movies to borrow, I picked up a documentary called “When I Walk” and I was apprehensive about it and wasn’t sure if I should bring it home.

The story chronicles the young filmmaker and his battle with multiple sclerosis. My wife of 23 years has battled this disease for 21 of those years and counting, and although she is one of the bravest people I know and has never given into this disease, I was not sure how she would view this film that would force her to look at her disease and realize how truly devastating it can be.

I brought the movie home.

She was a bit apprehensive when she looked at the box, but we watched it, cried with it, felt deeply close to Mr. DaSilva and his journey and how he continued to move forward through his adversity.

I did not regret bringing this home and I believe we were all the better for sharing it together.

We all have heroes that we look up to: sports figures, world leaders, teachers, movie and TV stars, but sometimes we overlook the people closest to us.

My wife has continued to live life, raise children and push her limits even though she knows she will pay consequences afterwards.

Her disease has not stopped her from living day-to-day and dealing with those everyday stresses. We have all learned to help a little more, go a little slower, appreciate the little things and celebrate small victories.

I know my kids and I have learned some important lessons on life and how to deal with true adversity, as their mom continues to inspire us every day.

Unemployment and Fatherhood

Just when you think you have things figured out, life throws you an off-speed pitch that takes you by surprise and changes the way you look at the world.

I’m about to run out of my second stint of unemployment in the past two-and-a-half years and I’m not sure what direction I’m headed.

Money is tight, I have yet to dip into retirement funds, yet my kids are all clamoring for iPhones and I have a new driver on the horizon who will surely want a car (actually, she wants a Jeep).

“Everything is on hold” I tell them until I find some steady work.

Never thought I would ever be in this sort of situation, as I have a graduate degree and many years of industrial science experience, but I find myself in a situation that many people my age and similar background are suffering through.

I worked successfully for a company for over 20 years but after a merger I find myself unemployed and wondering what to do next.

At first I thought this shouldn’t be too bad. I got a decent severance and I should be able to find something rather quickly. I’m even kinda burned out and could use a little break after working non-stop from way back in high school, through college and after.

Boy, was I wrong. And here I am, trying to show my kids that college, hard work and loyalty will do you right in the world.

If nothing else, I have used this time to really be a participant parent, which I would have otherwise not have been as I would have been working and away from home most of my awake time during the day. I’m not sure if my kids really appreciate me being home, but I would not have been able to experience the field hockey and baseball games, swim meets, dance classes, field trips, Halloween parades, class parties, marching band performances, football games, cheerleading events, everyday shuttling kids from place to place, and the list goes on and on, if I had not had this opportunity to be home.

I’m actually not sure if I really want to go back to the life I had before, but with four kids to put through school and beyond, I will have to do some full-time work at some point to afford them the chance to go beyond what I have done with my life as I know they are capable of doing.

They are so much smarter and more prepared for the future than I was at their age, and I want them to succeed and pass that to their own children at some point.

Growing up, my dad typically worked two jobs to support his family and I hardly saw him during the week, and I have probably spent more time with him now as an adult then back when I was a kid. All in all, I am very happy to have been able to spend this time with my kids at these important times in their young lives, and I
hope I have made some impact.

No, wait.

I am sure I have made a lasting impression that hopefully some day they will appreciate the time that dad was around.

Daddy Detective: The Case of the Missing Media Player

My eleven-year-old daughter misplaced her beloved iPod today.  After FaceTiming with her friends, she had some ice cream and then lost track of it.  We searched the house in all the places she remembered she’d been to but no luck. Stump city! She even claimed that she had a blackout from some point on and couldn’t remember what happened.  Unbelievable!

Our spirits soared when she remembered that the “Find My iPod” app was set-up, so we tried to locate it with that. Unfortunately the handheld computer was not responding, most likely powered off or the battery was drained.  I took her aside and asked if she’d broken it, dropped it in the toilet, etc. and was doing this just to make it look like an accident but she assured me this was all legit

After much crying and consternation my daughter reluctantly went to bed but I was still going crazy trying to figure out where the heck the darn iPod had disappeared to.  As a last ditch effort I tried the find app one more time and miraculously it shows the device’s location from  an hour ago.  IT’S STILL IN THE HOUSE!

I grab a flashlight and my iPad and start searching every nook and cranny. Not sure if I’m on a wild goose chase or what but I’m determined to find the iPod even if I have to stay up all night. It’s a point of pride now.

I send the command from the “Find My iPod” app to make a sound and BINGO, a low, muffled ping!  I check the living room but the sound grows faint.  I head back towards the kitchen, and yes I hear it, it is here somewhere.

Yep, you guessed it. The freakin’ iPod was buried at the very bottom of our trash can, under the dinner scraps, coffee grounds and the rest of the trash. Nice.

I really should make my forgetful daughter clean up the mess I had to make retrieving it but the thought of how happy she’d be in the morning made it all worthwhile.

Daddy Detective saves the day!

Again…

…for like, the millionth time.