Monday, November 23, 2015

The Power of the Smile

This is purely anecdotal; if you seek documentation on any of this, I will not — CAN not — provide it, however my word is gold and you had better believe it or poo on you.

I've spent most of my adult life rather self-conscious of my appearance; weak jawline, head — in my opinion — too small for my body, two eyebrows that would prefer to be one, and now, for the last nearly 20 years or so, male pattern baldness. I will admit that these drawbacks are, perhaps, perceptions that prevail from my days of low self-esteem as a teenager and young adult. There is one attribute, however, that bothers me more than the others here listed.

Dammit, I AM smiling.
It would appear that I tested the old wives' tale that recalls your mother yelling at your pouting former child self: "Wipe that frown off your face or it'll freeze like that!"

Now, I didn't have a particularly sad or troubled childhood. I didn't have a particularly happy or exciting childhood, either. Admittedly, I was a fairly mopey, moody, pouty child for no good reason. And I think those youthful days of rapid cell-division and lack of excitement and having to take no for an answer and resenting it really did freeze my face into somewhat of a sad pout. It bothered me often whenever a friend or acquaintance would see me engrossed in a task or absorbed in contemplation, and would say, "Hey, cheer up!" or "You should smile more."

It wasn't until about three or four years ago that the old wives' tale stated ringing in my ears. I felt beaten down by four rotten years of pain and loss (separation and divorce, father's death, job layoff, taxi "career," Jon & Kate Plus Eight canceled), and I could almost feel my face collapsing in on itself. The shit show tapered off to a lame revue in 2011, and through 2012 and '13 — despite growing debt while trying to defibrillate the taxi endeavor — things felt like they were turning around. But in photos I still looked sad. Was it true? Could my pain and sorrow of the prior years make me look pained and sorrowful? Always? Did my face indeed "freeze that way?"

I decided that it had. And I decided that if constant moping about the rotten things in my life, if frequent — perhaps perpetual — pouting could "freeze" my face in a permanent frown, then could I not reverse it by smiling? After all, I figured, is it not just muscle conditioning? Could smiling not retrain the muscles? Could the simple manipulation of the muscles of my lower face and jaw train them, strengthen them, to stay that way ...or at least train them not to draw my face downward into the visage of a bitter hermit? I decided that it could. I decided I would try it.

So, alone most of the time in the taxi, I started exercising the smile muscles. As often as I could remember to do it, I did it. At times I smiled constantly for as long as I could, until the muscles in my cheeks began to spasm and hurt. Then I would relax for a while, and then I would do it again. Day in and day out I practiced, alone and with customers in the car; they couldn't see my face, usually, or, if they could, I just looked like a happy guy. Or crazed, maybe. But mostly happy.


After several months I assessed in the mirror the progress of my little physical therapy project and determined that there either was no merit at all to my exercise theory, or it would take much longer for me to turn my frown upside down on my relaxed face. It had, after all, taken 45 years to bring it to that point.

But then I noticed something peculiar.

What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity.
--Joseph Addison

In my previous life — my video career — I spent quite a lot of time on audio/video crews for large business meetings and conventions. Many of the keynote speakers there weren't talking about number crunching or sales goals or building client lists, but rather they talked about the how paying attention to the basic elements of life affected numbers, goals and lists. Quite a few of them talked in varying detail about attitude, and how it affects not only you, but how it affects those around you. A positive attitude, you see, is essential for moving forward, they said. And they said that the first step toward having a positive attitude was to smile.

Wait. What? "Smile?" What a bunch of horse shit, I thought. How can you smile if you're feeling crappy? How can you smile if life just took a dump on your head? But quite a few well-paid keynote speakers delivered that same basic message. Their claim: the physical act of simply smiling releases dopamine in the brain; if you just smile, you instantly feel better; and if you feel better, you perform better; and if you perform better, you serve better; and if you serve better ...blahda yada yada....

Horse shit.

Some years later I found myself assessing my mug in that mirror, bending my face into what had become a most familiar position — a smile — in an attempt to not look so down in the dumps all the time, and, though not particularly happy about anything, I realized that at the moment, and throughout the exercise, I had experienced a peculiar sense of well-being. Even though smiling had begun as purely a physical exercise, the smiles triggered a sort of muscle-memory of happiness, and I experienced happiness that was anchored only in the smile. Doing this daily had truly improved my general mood. Though it seemed I still had a relaxed bitch face, smiles came more easily, more quickly, and they fit my face better than they ever had. My interactions with my taxi customers had become more relaxed; I more easily took the negatives in stride; and my bad moods cleared more quickly after setbacks.

Had smiling really enriched my life? Well, I can't say with any certainty that smiling had a direct impact, but shortly after I retired the taxi, I met Donna, and I've been smiling a lot more ever since.

The words of all those keynote speakers have since faded, but their message has stayed with me:

Smile. It may not make the world a better place, but it will make YOUR world a better place. And what better place to start?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Alimental Journey

I don't know... maybe I should just start a film review blog....

It seems that, ever since Big Night (1996), I've had a soft spot for cuisine films. I never saw public advertisement for The Hundred-Foot Journey; I only saw trailers prior to other films, but even then the film looked delectable. Set in southwest France, the film starts off in India, and tells the story of a family who run a restaurant until political change and unrest make them refugees. Through the eyes of Hassan we see the initial upheaval, the attack by political or religious opponents which kills his mother, and the family's arrival in Europe to begin life anew.

Hassan, the oldest son, is a gifted cook, carrying with him his beloved mother's culinary teachings, philosophies, and instincts, as well as her carry-case full of Indian spices. Nomads in Europe at first, the Kadam family are led around the countryside by their father, who claims to speak to and hear his deceased wife, and he follows her word faithfully. Fate in the form of failed brakes in their junker caravan and a generous stranger lead them to a small French village and an abandoned restaurant up for sale. Much to the disdain of Madame Mallory, the owner of the restaurant directly across the street (played by Helen Mirren), the available restaurant is sold to the family, and they begin to set up shop and make the restaurant and the town their home.

The Hundred-Foot Journey pits the Kadam family against Mme. Mallory's kitchen "family" on three tiers; the aspect of direct business competition first gives way to the arrogance of class, as the French matron d', her chef, and her sous chefs scoff at the Indian cuisine, which they pass off as merely curry. But, with the surprise popularity of Kadam's Maison Mumbai — thanks in part both to Papa Kadam's aggressive marketing technique and Hassan's culinary skill — Mme. Mallory finds herself in a petty "war" with Maison Mumbai. Her chef, however, allows his deeper racial hatred reveal itself in an act of violence. When Mme. Mallory learns that the chef's actions have resulted in damage to Maison Mumbai and injury to Hassan, and that he may have been motivated by her own words, her heart softens, and she offers an olive branch to Maison Mumbai, an olive branch that is a key in a door to new worlds.

This film can easily be described as a love story, but it is about many loves — people, food, culture, country — and how our differences can interfere with our growth or let it blossom. The love story between people is an easy given; we know who we want to be with whom, and the film, quite frankly, telegraphs that. The same can be said of the cuisines at odds; if you love to cook and/or experience cuisines, you can enjoy the journey on which this film has invited you with your mouth watering. The other issues are a bit unexpected and may make you feel a little squirmy, but what is a great film if it doesn't do that just a little?

The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014), directed by Lasse Hallström and starring Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, and Charlotte Le Bon. Numb Butt-Cheeks* rating of 8.0 out of 10. Delicious!

*The Numb Butt-Cheeks® scale of zero to ten: a Numb Butt-Cheeks rating of zero indicates such a disregard for the film that one could get up to go to the bathroom at any point without worry of missing anything exciting or important; a Numb Butt-Cheeks rating of ten indicates there is no way one would get up and leave, save for a distinct tearing of bladder tissue.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

A Redemption Most Wanted

A month or so back I watched The Muppets (2011), the first Muppets film produced after Disney company's acquisition of the Muppets franchise. I did not write a formal review of the film, but I was generally disappointed with the writing and with the humor, which in the past, under the helm of Jim Henson Productions, had always been wry and sometimes subtle, a trait which carried on even after Muppets creator Jim Henson's death, so I suggested that it was perhaps actually attributable to Frank Oz, who had been with the Muppets from the beginning, and had continued with Jim Henson Productions beyond Henson. Well, Frank Oz no longer appears to be involved with the Muppets film franchise, and to that I attributed the film's dull thud.

Had I not already long ago entered into my Netflix queue the next film in the franchise, Muppets Most Wanted (2014), I never would have put it there, thanks to my disappointment in the prior film. But there it was in my mailbox, so I figured I would let it kill two hours of my life.

Almost from the first frame it launches into a musical number, set up, actually, by the closing scene of the prior film. Amid the post-wrap let-down, the Muppets turn and notice the camera still on them, and the music rolls up for "We're Doin' a Sequel," which unexpectedly — considering my experience last time — delights with an immediately likable melody and wry, self-effacing lyrics:

We're doin' a sequel
That's what we do in Hollywood
And everybody knows that
The sequel's never quite as good...

And the catchy, clever chorus:

Until the credits roll
We've got another go to show
That we can do it all again!

The plot of the film takes flight from this number as, clueless about what to do next, the Muppets throw around ideas, to include Gonzo's brainstorm for a self-gratifying film starring him and lots of chickens (his personal fetish), a Muppets remake of a timeless classic, only renamed to Gonzo With the Wind!

When a film smacks me in the face and starts talking to me in my own language — pun — I take notice.

Led around the world by their new booking agent, Dominic Badguy — "it's pronounced 'bad-jee;' it's French" — portrayed by Ricky Gervais, their tour is paralleled by a string of art museum heists that Interpol and the CIA link to the Muppets. Meanwhile, "the world's most dangerous frog," the number one most wanted international criminal, Constantine — a perfect double for Kermit, save for a huge facial mole — has escaped from a Russian gulag and made his way to Berlin, where Kermit is duped into going for a lonely walk in the fog at the harbor. In Berlin. Landlocked Berlin. Constantine surprises Kermit, glues a fake mole onto his cheek, and then disappears. Kermit is mistaken for Constantine and captured, and sent "back" to the Russian gulag.

There is more subtle, wry humor here, as the Muppets see a marquee outside the theatre venue touting their upcoming performance. "Die Muppets" gives them uneasy pause until Dominic Badguy points out to them that it's German for "The Muppets." One doesn't have to understand German for that to be funny. When Kermit is captured, he is tossed — literally — into a Polizei van atop which, as if a bus, a destination marquee flips from destination PLOTPOINTBURG to RUSSIAN GULAG.

It was at this point in the film that I realized I had already seen and heard a great deal of subtle things, to include nods to old gags from earlier Muppets days and even "Sesame Street." At the point of Kermit's capture Constantine, looking on through the fog, says, "It's not easy being mean." Later, after he has fooled the rest of the Muppets — with the help of Dominic Badguy, who, it is revealed, is the number 2 most wanted criminal in the world, known as The Lemur — into believing that he is really Kermit, and that his Russian accent is only the result of a cold, Constantine says to Walter in his thick Russian accent, "Let us get on with the show and enjoy our family style adventure during which we shall bond and learn heart-warming lesson, perhaps about sharing, or waiting your turn, or the number three."

The second musical number is Constantine reminding the resentful Dominic Badguy that the latter is number 2. If anyone is surprised by Ricky Gervais singing in a musical, then that anyone does not realize that Mr. Gervais was once one half of a very obscure 1980s New Wave duo Seona Dancing that ...well, was very obscure. But the boy can sing.

It was after the "Sesame Street" dig, and a second cleverly sculpted song that I realized I was watching something special. The Muppets are back. More importantly the essence of the Muppets is back!

The film is chock full of cameo and guest starring appearances, with the likes of Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, Ray Liotta, Tina Fey, Sean (P. Diddy) Combs, Celine Dion, Danny Trejo, and Stanley Tucci, to name just a few, some with hilarious turns!

One of my favorite lines: after Walter and Fozzie Bear have escaped Constantine's clutches, having learned his nefarious plan, Constantine — again, still ignorant of who the Muppets even are, and in his thick Russian accent — tells the rest of the Muppets that "Walter and Fonzie have left the 'Mappets.'" Perhaps it was the Scotch leeching into my bloodstream by that point, but I was literally rolling on the couch from that one (no, literally rolling)!

Plotwise, it's typical Muppets family fare. Lots of funny sight gags and one-liners, and truly enjoyable, cleverly written songs. It's not a spoiler to say that it ends happily.

It wasn't until the credits rolled that I was able to identify one of the Russian gulag prisoners' face, a character that was featured in one non-original song ("Working In a Coal Mine"), played by Jemaine Clement. (More on that in a moment.)

I also learned in the credits that the original songs were written by Bret McKenzie, and I thought, "MAN! That guy is a good songwriter."

Then, in the Blu-Ray Extra Features section was a music video of one of the original songs, "I'll Give You Anything You Want," starring the songwriter himself, Bret McKenzie, and that's when it dawned on me: Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie together are the music and comedy duo The Flight of the Conchords! NO WONDER why the songs were so fun, funny and clever!!

Disney redeemed themselves and the reputation of the Muppets franchise with the production team they hired for Muppets Most Wanted. After 2011's The Muppets, which garnered a level of critical acclaim inexplicable to me, they retained director James Bobin and screenwriter Nicholas Stoller, both on hand for the prior film. The difference here is the absence of Jason Segel, who co-wrote and starred in The Muppets. In addition to directing, Bobin co-wrote this time around, which, in my humble opinion, makes Muppets Most Wanted the far superior film.

Muppets Most Wanted (2014). Numb Butt-Cheeks* rating of 7.8 out of 10 ...with a ±2-point Scotch Intoxication Factor.

*The Numb Butt-Cheeks® scale of zero to ten: a Numb Butt-Cheeks rating of zero indicates such a disregard for the film that one could get up to go to the bathroom at any point without worry of missing anything exciting or important; a Numb Butt-Cheeks rating of ten indicates there is no way one would get up and leave, save for a distinct tearing of bladder tissue.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015


It was last year, in between the deaths of my friend and former military comrade, Scott Aubuchon, and of my sister, Marie O'Donnell, when I had what I call an epiphany in which I decided that, approaching — at the time — age 50, I was no longer going to put off the things I've "always wanted to do," and just do them. On the horizon at that time was the third annual Wüschheim Air Station 38th Missile Security Squadron reunion in Las Vegas. Prior to my epiphany, I had decided I was not going to be able to make it to that, my second, reunion, but in the throes of the epiphany I decided that I would indeed make it to the reunion, credit card be damned ...and I would DRIVE there!

Also among the things I decided I would no longer wait to do were to get out of the taxi job that was taking up all my time and creative energy, and to find a "meaningless" job which I would not take home with me every evening, and which would allow me the time to pursue my passions, which are writing and acting.

Well, it has been more than a year since that epiphany, and I did accomplish a few of the things I vowed to: I did make a road trip to Las Vegas, and I did get out of the taxi job. The problem now is that the meaningless valet job that I wound up with coughed up a management opportunity, and now I'm stressing and taking it home and — worst of all — I'm not writing. I have been acting, though, but the pursuit of this particular passion requires that I climb out of the trench I seem to have dug myself at Northeastern Illinois University and find companies and venues that can lead to paid work.

It's time for another epiphany, one that tells me it's time to either shit or get off the pot, to put Facebook on a shelf for most of the day and use the free time I have to tackle those passions. Hopefully this desired epiphany won't involve the death of a loved one.

While I haven't been using any free time constructively in the area of writing, I have been successful in breaking away from the Northeastern rut a manner of speaking. At this writing, I am in the middle of a three-week run of "Lounging," a dark comedy in one act. Though it is produced in conjunction with Northeastern, it is at least at a venue other than Northeastern's Stage Center; it's at Raven Theater. Baby steps. And though it is still small theatre, I have received some incredibly encouraging words about my potential as an actor from someone — a theatre professional — whose opinion I regard very highly.

So maybe this is one of those slow-burn epiphanies, as epiphanies go, and I should just lean toward the acting thing for now, and the writing will come later? I have felt the inspiration and the urge to write lately, but it hasn't resulted in any actual writing, yet. ...well, except for this blog post.

HEEEY! Wait a minute!


Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Sister's Words

To say that losing a loved one — in my case, a sister — is an understatement is itself a gross understatement. There are not enough words to describe the pain and sadness and loss of someone you've known your entire life since even before you knew you knew her.

So, I hope understandably, I can be excused for trying to escape the pain at the time of her death by putting off something that I saw then as only prolonging the pain, exacerbating it. But now I find I have the resolve I lacked then, and I choose the first anniversary of Marie's passing to finally share.

At the funeral I passed out my extensive remembrance piece, a rambling, five-page(?) essay on my sister. But another of my sisters, Denise, stepped to the front of the room and delivered her own sweet remembrance that touched every heart within earshot. I was asked by several family members and friends of the family to transcribe her handwritten tribute, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Until now:

By Denise Gasbarro Snowdon

I work at a hospital and one of the days before deciding on hospice for Marie, I went into the chapel there to pray. I went up to the small altar and found the Bible open to this passage in the book of Ecclesiastes: Chapter 3, verses 1 to 8

A Time For Everything

For everything there is a season;
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant, and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to stop searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.

Life, with its many cycles, is a gift. Sometimes living life is unfair, over-burdened, and just plain hard.


We are all born, and we all must die, some sooner than others. What we do with that time between is up to us — our free will. Our main purpose in life is to love and respect God. Then to reflect that love to all those we come in contact with. And that is just what my sister did.

Looking around this room today, one can see all the lives she touched. She raised two outstanding young men that were her true treasures on this earth. I am sure, too, that she played a role in helping to shape the lives of their many "buddies" that entered her home through a door that was always open to whoever came over. AND ...those that did ...she made sure they never left hungry!

Every family has a favorite aunt, and Marie was that — Aunty Ree to all her nieces, nephews and their children, too, always greeting them with open arms and a warm heart. Even their friends called her "Aunty Ree," too.

She had many "families" outside of her blood-related family. Her childhood, lifelong friend, whom she cherished dearly, flew in from Florida the week before Marie went into hospice, spending several hours every day with Marie until she flew back home last Sunday. She flew back this week to be here with us. I hope you know, Glor, how much that meant to Marie and all of us. Thank you for giving her so much love and friendship for nearly 50 years!

She still had a very close relationship/friendship with our cousin, Jan, whom she graduated high school with. Every Sunday morning, up until Marie got sick, they would go out for breakfast, and shop at WalMart. They would even go on occasional day trips together to summer festivals and things like that. Thank you, Jan, for all the love you gave and time you spent with her.

She was a great neighbor, especially while living in South Chicago Heights. She was still friends with those neighbors, many of whom are here today and visited her while hospitalized. Even the now grown children of those neighbors are still friends with her and her sons. In fact, one of those young friends adopted Marie as "Grandma Ree" to his son a couple years ago. And for that, Justin and Violet, I thank you. That little guy brought her so much joy, she loved him so very much. Just seeing him, even on a cell phone screen, would make her face light up!

The many friends she made while riding on the train when she worked in Chicago became another family to her; they actually are a group of people who call themselves the South Shore Train Family. She enjoyed all the parties and gatherings they had. Several of them helped us out so much while Marie was hospitalized, hanging out with her there and keeping her spirits up. To them I say thank you, and I will be eternally grateful.

Those who knew Marie's life story know the many trying times she and her sons endured during their young life. But yet, she carried on, still with that beautiful smile and "infectious" laugh, as our brother Tony called it.

Her illness, I have to say, was the hardest of all, especially for her, but yet, she NEVER EVER complained. She would just look at me, shrug her shoulders, and say, "It is what it is." She fought it as much as she could, but the "demon" cancer took over. God came to her rescue, though, knowing her body could take no more, and He took her home, where she now has a new body, free of pain and suffering. And she met Him, I am sure he said to her:

"Well done, my good and faithful servant."

You will be missed, Marie, more than you will ever know.

--June 23, 2014

Monday, January 05, 2015

2014: Year In the Rear View

I don't usually write year-in-review messages or blog posts, but 2014 was a particular doozy — for reasons both happy and sad — and I feel compelled to share my thoughts about it.

I came out of 2013 a bit shaken, what with having received news of three friends' passing all within a week near the end of the year, specifically around Thanksgiving. As with all New Years, I hoped 2014 would be better. And so it goes....

The year took off to a white, wintry start. We all were assaulted not only with snow and bitter cold, but a new term: "Polar Vortex." No longer is it an "Arctic blast," or just plain "winter," but a "Polar Vortex" to make the weather forecasters sound cool, and the rest of us to sound like idiots.

Aside from the unusual temperatures, winter was business as usual for me in the taxi; the worse the weather (especially falling snow), the better the money, though the money was never actually good. Better than crap is better, not necessarily good. The month's take on the Polar Vortex did bring me at least one spectacular sight...

Parhelion, a.k.a. Sun Dog, February 9, 2014

Just more treading water. Nothing of note occurred that I can recall.

Early in the month I finally gave up on someone I had considered a friend for about a year prior. I realized that while I endeavored to be a friend to her, she put in no such effort and merely used me. Call it a hero complex, but I had convinced myself that I could coach her through the steps she needed to take to reverse the death spiral that her alcohol problem had set into motion. But, alas, the most important person who needed to believe in her chose instead to stay nestled in the dubious comfort of a bottle, and in the company of those who were happy to keep her drunk. I will confess a physical attraction in addition to the instinct to save, but that only served to make more difficult the decision to break away.

The end of the month was also a time of anxiety, as my sister, Marie, was diagnosed on the 29th with adenocarcinoma of the lung, stage 4. She was admitted to the hospital almost immediately and began her battery of chemotherapy. Her prognosis was not good, but there was a chance she could beat it. She wanted to to try.

In the following two or three weeks, Marie suffered a mild stroke. Doctors said it was due to a disorder that caused her blood to thicken.

Marie was in the supposedly capable hands of her doctors, and was being nurtured nearly 24/7 by her sons, so, at mid-month, I decided to go ahead with a long-desired road trip to North Carolina.

Seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway, somewhere in North Carolina, May 19, 2014.

Down through Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and the Appalachians into North Carolina, and then back up through Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains, and Kentucky, I took what felt like a thousand photos and spent way too few hours with friends whose hospitality seemed boundless. During the trip I received word that Marie had suffered a second stroke. Despite her doctors' words to the contrary, her strokes seemed to be direct results of her chemotherapy, as each had occurred shortly after a chemo treatment. Where the first seemed to have momentarily knocked her silly, the second one took a clearer toll, affecting her speech and her vision. An attending neurologist saw months of rehab in her future.

Not long home after the road trip, I received news on June 9 that an Air Force friend, Scott Aubuchon, had died suddenly in his home in Rogers, Arkansas. He had only four months prior celebrated his 50th birthday, and had only three months prior married his love, Jennifer. Plans were made hastily and, at the end of the week, I embarked on my second road trip in as many months, this time for the solemn occasion of Scott's funeral.

During the drive home I received a text from Ed, Marie's elder son, that Marie had opted out of any further treatments, out of any further attempt to save her life. She was going to be moved within a day or two to a hospice facility. She was going to die. I drove on through a blur of tears and decided that I was done planning for some day in the distant future when I would have all of my bills paid and enough money saved and my retirement planned. I accepted in those moments that I will never have all of those things. The last five years of my life have destroyed any serious hope I may have had about retirement. I will work pretty much until the day I die or — much like my father did — until the day my body finally gives out. Until that day, I am going to seize every opportunity I can to do the things I want to do and go see the places I want to see, because we are not promised tomorrow, and waiting to do or to go until the time is just right only postpones them indefinitely because the time is never right. Marie had a pleasant retirement planned, just a few years ahead of her. She was waiting until the time was right to sell her house and move into a quiet retirement community, and to make a trip to Italy, a place she had wanted to visit all of her life.

Marie died on June 18th. She was 59.

Her passing was, in retrospect, like a switch was flipped on my life. Of the many things I want to do, writing and acting are two of them, and the taxi job was sucking the time away from those and just about every other activity I was interested in. A change had to be made, but quitting the taxi — rather, firing myself from the taxi — and collecting unemployment for six months seemed foolish on the boundary of madness. But then I received an e-mail in response to a résumé I had sent — apparently — a month or so earlier. Long story short, I received and accepted a job offer at HR Imaging Partners to be a school portraits photographer.

But the job was only part-time, and they assured me that the fall semester rush would slow down by mid-October, and I would be hurting for work. I shut down the taxi on July 11 and started at HRI on the 14th.

On the 26th, after a surprise Facebook message — an invitation to a event — from a woman I had found interesting and with whom I had traded comments only a few times, I went to the Northwest Suburban Atheists meetup in Cary, Illinois. By night's end she and I had a date set for dinner later in the week! The Wednesday evening dinner at her apartment went well and before I knew it I had a girlfriend!

Just two days later I left for my third road trip of the year, to the Third Annual Wüschheim Air Station reunion, in Las Vegas. It was a trip I had all but decided I couldn't do, but, thanks to the epiphany I had on the road home from Arkansas, I did.

On the weekend of my birthday, September 5, Donna treated me to a very nice birthday weekend, with dinner at Bistrot Margot and a late night comedy show followed by drinks, all in Old Town. Niece Ashley and her hubby Steve joined us. Then we spent the night at the W hotel downtown, riding on niece Katie's employee discount, after which we spent Saturday afternoon sightseeing, and the evening at my monthly karaoke do! It was a fantastic weekend!

Later in the month I was cast in Northeastern Illinois University's production of Christopher Durang's Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them, without auditioning. It's good to be on a director's short list!

was a blur mainly of intensifying play rehearsals and weekends with Donna, with season 5 episodes of The Walking Dead sprinkled in there for variety.

As October tilted toward November, I saw the HRI gigs drying up. My option with HRI was to jump into sports and event candids, but that entailed weekends and evenings almost exclusively, and that was absolutely out of the question. One long evening of frantic Craigslist ad browsing and responding yielded an interview with HealthPark Hospitality for a job as a valet. The job paid shit, but they offered an agreeable schedule — day shift, 40 hours. It was the easiest interview I ever had in my life, almost as though they were looking just to see if I would show up! I turned in my notice at HRI to end on November 7, started training with HealthPark on November 10, and started full-time at Northwest Community Hospital, Entrance 2, on November 17. It is surprisingly a fun job, not difficult at all and, best of all, allows me the time once again to do the things I want to do! acting. Why Torture Is Wrong... opened its seven-performance run on the Thursday before Thanksgiving.

The last month of 2014 was another blur of work and play. THE play, to be specific; it closed on the first weekend of the month. Weekends were with Donna, in what has become the usual. She is a smart, sensitive, sensual, beautiful woman with a soft voice and a passion for wine and a love of cooking! We settled in to each other very quickly, and our time together is usually spent cuddling, laughing, and watching movies. I have never found easier talking to a woman, and her laugh is unrestrained and delicious.

So 2014 was indeed a doozy of a year! Despite the losses of people I loved, I think I got my brain turned around the right way, and my world turned upside down in the best way. I can only hope the trend continues into 2015.

But I ain't holding my breath.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Rapid Undoing

It was near the end of my day. A car pulled up to the doors to Entrance #2 amid a brief flurry of business and I went out to the driver's door with a valet ticket in my hand. "Do you want valet service today, sir?" He was an elderly man behind the wheel of the late model Honda.

"Yes," he replied. "You staying warm?"

"Yes, sir," I said. "This job keeps me moving; I stay pretty warm!"

"It's okay," he said as he gripped the interior handle of the open car door and slowly pulled himself to his feet, "you don't have to call me sir..."

"Oh, I call all men--"

"I was only a sergeant," he said, cutting me off; he hadn't heard my response. "I wasn't an officer." He offered up a handshake. I took his hand in mine.

"Thank you for your service, sir," I said. "Army?"

"Nineteen-forty-two to forty-five." He had read the next question in my mind.

"My dad was in from '42 to '46. Were you in the Pacific Theater or in the..."

"Europe!" His hearing was perfect, now. "I was with General Patton."

"Now, was he First Army or Third?" My father served in Europe during World War II, so I have the smidgen of European Theater of Operations knowledge I learned from him.

"First," he said.

"Ah," I smiled. "My father was in the Third Army." I couldn't think of the general's name who led my father's neck of the war. "Were you in the Battle of 'The Bulge?'" Another thing I had learned about my father's service. (Patton's First Army was in position to the north of the Belgian town of Bastogne, while General Omar Bradley's Third Army was about equally as far to the south of Bastogne. A thinly defended supply line was established between the two armies, and that supply line is where the German Army attacked in an effort to recapture the harbor of Antwerp, Belgium. The American forces along the line fell back westward in an effort to contain the German offensive, thus forming what the press of the time described as a "bulge" in the line.)

The gentleman smiled slightly and nodded.

I laughed. "You may have rubbed elbows with him!"

"How's your father?" he asked me.

I put my arm high up on his arm, near his shoulder, and said fairly matter-of-factly, "He passed away in 2008."

Then the man said, "I'm 91."

"NINETY-ONE?!" I blurted. The really quick part of my brain — the part that never shows itself for any practical purposes other than avoiding traffic collisions and recalling useless information — momentarily thought he was guessing my father's age, because, in that instant, without having to do any math, I knew 91 would have been my father's age this year. "You're doing good! You're doing GREAT!" I patted him on the arm in the same spot.

He hobbled past me toward the entry door to the medical building. "The good lord gave me a great life."

I walked ahead of him to open the door, and suddenly found myself struggling mightily to hold back tears. In that instant, I missed my dad terribly and I wanted desperately to sit down with this gentleman and ask him a million questions. What a tremendous obstacle placed before the men of his generation that they overcame! Most of them, anyway. And the sacrifice and the loss. The fear and the pain. What images must float up in his mind when he says things like, "I was only a sergeant, 1942 to '45!"

And now they're dying off to the tune of hundreds a day; maybe thousands.

I couldn't regain my composure quickly enough, and as he stepped through the doorway and away from me, my wish to him to "Have a good afternoon, now," came out as a wobbly, warbling croak, which I was grateful he couldn't hear.

Choking on the lump in my throat, I walked back through tear-blurred vision and quickly inspected his car for any prior damage, got in and headed to the valet stalls where I parked his car. And I let it happen. It was brief. I wiped my cheeks and my eyes with my hands, and I trotted back to Entrance #2, happy for the flurry of business that prevented me from dwelling on what had just transpired.