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Chasing The American Dream

March 30, 2006


I was in no mood to remove my shoes. I mean, they DID say “recommend” removing your shoes, but they didn’t say it was a requirement. I watched all the people in line before me and with only one exception, everyone took of their shoes. I noticed an airline pilot didn’t. That was good enough for me. His shoes made it through and they were black dress shoes. I had on sneakers and a bad attitude from leaving Andy.

After the TSA agent once again announced the ‘recommended’ shoe removal, I told the guy in front of me that I was bucking the system and wasn’t taking off my shoes. Yeah, you know where this story is headed.

The TSA agent waved me up to the metal detector area and stopped me. “Let me see the sides of your shoes,” she said. I showed her. She told me to remove them so I asked her why. “The soles are too thick. It will require a manual search.” Well, of course that steamed me. I asked her, “Why recommend shoe removal? Why not just require it?”

I angrily put the sneakers on the conveyer belt and passed through the metal detector. No problem. I went over to get my shoes, laptop, and bag. I got the shoes and the laptop but no bag. Then I saw a TSA agent holding a black bag that looked like mine. He was asking another passenger about it. The passenger seemed befuddled and with good reason. It was my bag. I told the agent so. He told me the bag required further review and told me not to touch anything. This is what’s called getting even for the shoe incident.

Now get this. This is the fourth time the bag has gone through TSA security in the past two weeks with all my back-and-forth trips to Phoenix. It had never been searched and I told the agent about it. He basically ignored me and asked me if I was aware of any sharp objects that were in the bag. Without even thinking, I naturally said no. So he searched each compartment, showing the entire airport my worldly possessions. iPod, cell phone, sweet n lo packets, ear plugs, nasal spray, Eggo cereal, Werther’s candy, bottle of water. All the essentials.

To me, I was thinking they had already x-rayed the bag so the agent must know where the trouble was. Yet he kept up the dramatic show until he finally whipped out my key chain. Uh-oh. My short-term memory forgot about the mini Swiss Army pocket knife tool. Busted. The agent told me he had to confiscate the illegal carry-on item unless I knew someone at the terminal who could have taken it or unless I mailed it to myself for $2 while filling out a mountain of paperwork.

Then another agent showed up. I complained to both of them that I thought the rules had changed and that the little pocket knives were now acceptable. The new lady agent sternly told me that the rules HAD changed, but the knife was still prohibited. My disposition got worse. “Take it,” I said. “Take the biiiig imposing weapon!” Goodbye pocket knife. Yep, I asked for it and I got it. It just goes to show you, you still can’t fight city hall.

March 28, 2006


(see all photos via Flickr photobox in right margin)

Time flies when you’re having fun.
Time marches on.
Time waits for no one.
Time heals all wounds.
Time is of the essence.
A stitch in time saves nine.

OK. Can you tell I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of time? Like most things I dwell on, it makes no sense to me. Yeah I know that 60 seconds = 1 minute, 60 minutes = 1 hour, 24 hours = 1 day etc. etc. Logically and factually, I know these measurements don’t change. Or do they?

They sure seem to. I mean, I just spent 13 days with my son Andy, and it seemed as if I just picked him up three days ago. Today, our last day together, we spent nine hours traveling from Florida to Arizona that seemed to take an hour at most. In contrast, a nine-hour day at work can seem like an eternity. It’s peculiar to me how vastly different these two scenarios can be when they’re actually the same, time wise. And it always seems to me that time is working against us. We want the work day to speed up and we want the vacation day to slow down yet they’re traveling at the same speed.

And so in the blink of an eye, my precious vacation with Andy has come and gone. So many wonderful thoughts and memories. I wonder which ones he’ll remember years and years from now? It’s weird, but I remember the oddest of moments when my dad came to visit me. My sister and I talk about this a lot. A simple sentence our dad told us, or the smell of his apartment or room, or the dessert from a now defunct restaurant. And I remember two weeks flying by and WHAM, it was over and tears were shed.

Some things never change. I still cry at goodbye. I don’t’ want to release Andy from my hug. I don’t want to give him back to his mother. I’m supposed to be the strong one, yet there we are, the two of us on the plane and dear old dad is crying and his son is consoling him saying, “It’s gonna be OK, daddy.” Moments like that I won’t soon forget.

I also won’t forget his fits of laughter, our father-son chats, his expression upon seeing a thong bathing suit at the beach, his ability to eat a piece of chocolate cake bigger than he is, his answering math problems that I didn’t learn until I was 15. Oh heck, I could go on and on. Perhaps the 9 ½-year-old genius summed it all up by answering my question, “Andy, how’s your vacation going?” “Daddy, this is the best vacation I’ve ever had.” Yes, time marches on. But no matter how many days, weeks, and years go by, I’ll always have THAT as a priceless memory.

March 24, 2006


After eight consecutive perfect weather days, it finally rained. Not only did it rain, it absolutely poured for three straight hours. Andy and I got soaked but still had fun at the Miami Seaquarium. I thought the worst was over, but at night a real storm hit.

It’s been a great vacation thus far. I mean, what’s not to love? Spending time bonding with your son playing sports, going to sporting events, museums, attractions, etc. How could I possibly screw that up? Well, perhaps I have. If you ask his mother, I definitely have, as usual.

I don’t get much time with my boy. Two weeks twice a year. She reminds me it was my choice to move so far away and that, “most people can’t fathom that.” Ouch. I’m learning it’s hard to build a confident relationship with Andy four weeks out of the year. Sure I talk to him almost daily on the phone but it’s not the same. These days I spend with him, I look forward to being a father most. I look forward to teaching him things and being able to talk about anything. We talked about this during the last vacation. I, more than anything, wish that he will be able to talk to me about anything that’s on his mind without repercussions from me. Small progress has been made but the last time I saw him was eight months ago.

And so tonight, I found out a lot of what was on his mind. But unfortunately, I found out from his mother. And then came a litany of criticisms. I’ve made a choice not to get into it with her or point out or criticize things I think she does wrong. I tried to point this out to her in a responding email which was then met with even more criticism. I remember a conversation we had when we were trying to work things out. I gave her credit for being a great mother to him, but faulted her for not being a good wife. She faulted me for not being a good husband and not being a good father. I give her the husband part but the father line will always hurt me. Her criticisms hurt me. I suppose some are valid perhaps but to me, they are her opinions. I suppose she’s the expert because she lives with him and I certainly can’t refute that. But I think even if I were at home, our ideas of parenting are different and I’m not even sure we’d agree on things if I were home with him.

I’m definitely not perfect and I’m not going to say everything correctly as she would want me to. Say it this way, say it that way. Whatever. I say things the way I see them. I’m honest and I guess that’s not so good for kids his age. I mention that I can’t be with him on family vacations because her family really doesn’t want me around. I’ve not heard from any of them since October 2003. I told Andy that people make choices. I had a brother-in-law who was like my real brother. I loved that guy. Yet I haven’t heard a word from him since. I’ve wronged his sister, and I suppose that’s difficult for him to accept. That hurts but it’s his choice not to call. Sure it was my choice to leave and ultimately my fault, I suppose. I tried to explain to Andy that this situation is not likely to change. His mother and I are not getting back together and I’m not going to be joining him on family vacations. That’s a tough concept for a nearly 10-year-old boy to grasp. I should know, I lived through the very same thing. I never mentioned the word “hate” but I guess that’s his takeaway as she communicated back to me. I know her family is most important to him, but I just felt the need to explain that. My family hasn’t seen him since the divorce believe it or not. I wish I could change and arrange everything for everybody but I can’t.

I’m just tired of getting read the riot act. I’m tired of the nagging. I’m tired of accusations. I think the divorce decree speaks for itself in the fact that her accusations were frivolous and quite frankly, ridiculous. I wish things were different. I had hoped that things would improve between us. I had hoped I’d gain a little respect and confidence but tonight’s episode has left me with little hope and that’s sad. I mean, I dread when I get an email from her or I see the phone ring because I know it’s something wrong that I did or money she needs for something. It’s nights like these that make me glad I’m on medication.

I’m going to continue to strive and hope that Andy and I will some day be able to talk to each other freely. That’s my biggest wish. I suppose that’ll come about with age. Until then, I’ll hope for baby steps. A story here or there where he tells me he did something wrong or he asks me for advice. And I’m sure I’ll make more mistakes along the way. I also wish that some day, I gain some respect and confidence from his mother that I’m a capable father. Again, baby steps. Sure this post will be a setback because she reads the blog. Why? I don’t really know.

Tomorrow’s another day. I hope it’s sunny out. I’m waterlogged and need to dry out from all this literal and figurative rain. He’s sleeping comfortably now. I just checked on him. So peaceful. I’ll do my best to make sure these last two days are peaceful and relaxing. We’ll laugh, we’ll eat, we’ll play, and hopefully and most importantly, we’ll talk.

March 16, 2006


1 People who stand in the middle of those people walker moving conveyer built thingies. PEOPLE, the signs say, “Stand on the right, Walk on the left.” It’s kinda like slow drivers in the left lane which is my #1 pet peeve.
2 Pilots who are in a hurry to land from 40,000 feet and, as a result, blow out my eardrums.
3 People who put their chairback all the way back and wind up literally in your lap.
4 Peanuts
5 Paying $12 a day for long-term covered parking. Is there any easier way to make money???
6 Paying movie/cinema prices for candy and/or water.
7 $19.99/day rent-a-cars and yet the bill always comes to $65. What the heck are those zillions of extra charges anyway?
8 People who cause a huge back-up while boarding. What the heck takes them so long? Seems like a simple process. Put your carry-on in the overhead bin and have a seat. I’m tired of waiting and having to converse with people in first-class.
9 People sitting in your row that have an aisle seat and refuse to get up after the plane is at the gate. I mean, all the other aisle-seaters are standing up luggage in hand. What’s the problem here?
10 No hot chocolate available on the plane? Why is that so hard? Hot water and a packet. Yeah, real difficult.

Vacationing with my son. Pix and stories to come…

March 09, 2006


He’s one of my all-time favorite artists. For 35 years now, I’ve been listening to his sweet folk melodies. I remember seeing this one PBS special, usually seen during pledge drives, where he sang acoustically in front of a small audience in a cozy theater-type auditorium. Every time I see that special I think to myself, “Man, I wish I could see him in that type of venue.” Last night I got my wish.

The tour is being billed as James Taylor - One Man Band because it’s just JT and keyboardist Larry Goldings. My expectations were really high and I must admit they weren’t quite met. Don’t get me wrong, it was a really good show. But the format was unique and not quite what neither the audience nor myself quite anticipated.

I think I can best explain it this way. When I saw Billy Joel, he mentioned that the concert was the second of two shows he played in Ft. Lauderdale. He said first one, he played many non-hits that had the audience dumbfounded and a little lost so he decided to play mainly hits for us so we could rock out. That’s about how I felt during a lot of JT’s show. Dumbfounded and a little lost. I mean, I’m a huge music fan and a big JT fan, but I didn’t recognize a song until his fifth number. This was the trend of the night and so I didn’t get to hear every classic JT song. But I did get to learn a lot about the origin and meaning of several songs that I might not have learned about had JT just sang hit after hit. Well before I go there, let’s back up to the beginning.

The stage and lighting were simple. A shiny black Steinway piano, several guitars leaning on stands, a microphone, and a stool. Out he came to a chorus of cheers from a mostly plus-40 aged crowd. He came out sharply dressed in a blue button-down oxford, a dark blaze, with a pair of pleated army-green slacks. He didn’t have much hair left. Long gone was the guy dressed in a peace T-Shirt, jeans, a mustache, and scraggly hair down to his shoulders. But thankfully, and amazingly, those unmistakable vocals hadn’t changed a bit in all those years.

Although the opening songs weren’t familiar, his light, mellow, soft-spoken vocals were. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized his opening song was “Something in the Way She Moves” (no, not the Beatles song) from his first aptly-named album James Taylor which was released in 1968. JT spoke to us afterward and told us “never die young.” He jokingly said he didn’t have to worry about that any more as he began to sing the song of that very same title.

After that song he told us of his idea of showing slides and telling stories that related to the songs he would sing. And that was really the theme of the night. Storytelling. I think it was more storytelling was more the focus and the songs sung reflected James’ choices. He told us the tale of “The Frozen Man” who supposedly was photographed by National Geographic after he was pulled out alive from a block of ice. It sounded more like a National Enquirer story. After the song was over, he said the real Frozen Man and motivation for the song was actually his father, a lover of tundra expedition. He showed us slides of his father from North Carolina and his mother from Massachusetts. And so we got to learn about JT’s life and insight on the songs he wrote.

As I said, it took until the fifth song until I recognized a tune. He sang "Country Road" not in the familiar tempo of the original, but more like a song that was sung like he was reading out loud, telling a story. We all new song eight. James showed us slides of the Troubadour Club in L.A. along with some very hairy band members back in the late 60s. He explained that he met Carole King there who insisted James sing a song she had written. The song was “You’ve Got a Friend.” JT ended the first 45-minute set with an electric guitar version of the bluesy "Steamrolller Blues."

I figured the second set would perhaps focus more on his popular hits but I was wrong. Once again, it took five songs for me to recognize one. Before the popular "Shower the People," James showed us slides and told stories of Richard Nixon, Reverend Sun Moon, Al Capone, and some obscure Hot Dog stand in L.A. called Pink’s that was known for its chili dogs. The lyrics of the songs he sang, of course, fit the slides.

He closed the second set with arguably the most interesting two stories of the night. For 35 years, I’ve thought the song “Sweet Baby James” was naturally about JT himself. But no. Check this out. JT explained that he was in England in 1968 and had just bought his first car and had it shipped back to the States to his home in New Jersey. He’d been gone from the States for a long time and missed his family. His brother’s wife just had a baby boy and they named him after James. Baby James. So James decided to drive down to North Carolina to visit his new nephew and decided to write a song for him. His first thought was sort of a western/cowboy ditty from the age of Roy Rogers or Gene Autry. Well, the melody didn’t quite turn out that way as we now know, but remember the lyrics? “There is a young cowboy, who lives on a range. His horse and his cattle are his only companions…” See? Interesting, huh?

Then he told us a similar story while he was over in England. He had taken a break and visited the small island of Formentera. While there, he met a girl named Karen whom he shared his family stories with. And although he had a great time with Karen, family stories made him homesick. That night, he wrote “Carolina in My Mind.” And so JT sang us the song. Again, not in the familiar refrain we were used to hearing, but more slowly more like the telling of the story. And honestly, I’m glad I learned the behind the scenes about those two songs. Different. Unique. Insightful. Kinda sums of the entire concert.

JT came back for an encore and sang us the long-awaited "Fire and Rain." No slides, no stories. And although the crowed tried to sing along, it was difficult because of the slow tempo in which he sang the song. That was supposed to be it but the cheers coaxed him into two one-song encores. An old Hoagy Charmichael tune called “The Newness of You” and finally, he closed with the familiar “Close Your Eyes.”

I don’t think there’s a more modest, soft-spoken, and mellow entertainer living today. He’s such a regular guy. There were times that I had to strain just to hear him speak over the laughter of the crowd as he told another of his dry sarcastic stories. And I guess that’s what the evening was all about. This night wasn’t about hits. It was about an artist’s wish to share a little insight into his life and music. So see? It was a good concert. It just wasn’t what I expected. In retrospect, I guess I could trade not hearing Up on the Roof, Handy Man, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight, Mexico, How Sweet It Is, or Copperline for the chance at learning some really cool and fascinating stories about JT’s life and songs. I may not have been the best concert I’ve ever seen, but it just may have been the most interesting.

March 05, 2006


For the second time, in the last seven months, I've been told I look like a celebrity. Last time, it was Dana Carvey. This time, it's Anthony Edwards. I think they're getting closer. What do you think???