You Granmatha, She Crazy!

Saturday morning.  It’s about 7 AM.  The sun is out and I have no school.  Awesome.  I run into the kitchen in our New Jersey apartment, which is right next to my bedroom.  Mami is there, making breakfast.

“Be quiet!  Papi is sleeping.  Don’t wake him up if you know what’s good for you.”

I don’t listen.  I run across the living room, passing my two younger brothers, already awake and running around in their playpen.  I run into my parents bedroom.  Sure enough, Papi is sleeping.  I think twice about waking him up on a weekend, remembering what happened last time I did that.  Nope, there will be no grounding this weekend.

I run back to the kitchen, where my special spot is waiting for me.  My older brother is still in our room sleeping.  I can tell because he is the only 8 year old I know that snores.  I sit on one of the dining room chairs that has been set in the corner of the kitchen.  Our tiny black and white TV sits on the washing machine in front of the chair.  I turn it on.  Time to watch Saturday morning cartoons – “los munequitos”.

After breakfast, Abo and Alla come over, my grandparents. That is our nicknames for them. Saturday is my favorite day of the week.  Every Saturday, our grandparents take my older brother and I out, giving Mami a break from having to take care of four boys.  If we had been born later, we probably all would have been diagnosed with ADHD and put on Ritalin.  But this is the 70’s and everybody knows that boys will be boys.

So off we go.  We are driving to Roy Rogers now.  If you are not familiar with them, they were a chain of fast food restaurants back in the day.  With us it was either Roy Rogers, or the Burger King across the highway from the Meadowlands.  As we drive, I can hear my grandfather whistling to the radio.  He loved country music.  He loved it because of the stories they would tell through their music.  He would sing and whistle, his wedding ring tapping to the beat on the steering wheel.  He was a fantastic guitarist, performing with a trio of musicians in Cuba before they migrated to the United States after the Cuban revolution.  I owe my interest in music to him.

I can see my grandmother pulling out our Roy Rogers cards.  These were the honorary deputy cards they give out to kids at Roy Rogers.  They entitled us to a discount of some kind.  My grandmother would keep them, as we would surely lose them.  Sometime during the ride, Abo and Alla would get into some type of argument.  I don’t remember what they were about, and they would not last long.  They had been married so long, and couldn’t live without each other, so it is weird that they would argue like that.  This particular day, after a few minutes of arguing, my grandfather turns around to us, moving his finger in a circular motion around the side of his head and says in his broken English:

“You granmatha, she crazy….”

My brother and I erupt in laughter.  Of course, that angers my grandmother even more, which is also kind of funny.  But she soon is infected with laughter as well.  My grandfather had a way of diffusing a situation like that.  No one could ever be mad at him for very long.  He had a way of introducing humor – sometimes on purpose and sometimes just by his nature – that would immediately put people at ease.  He had been a professor in Cuba and in the United States, and from what they tell me, a great one.

So after Roy Rogers, we usually went to a department store.  Our grandparents were very much like other grandparents, and as such they spoiled us on occasion.  But they were not frivolous with their money.  Of course, being kids, we always wanted them to buy us a toy.  So to keep us calm and not crying all the way home, they had a rule.  One week was for looking, and one was for buying.  We were ok with that.  So one week we would look at all of the toys that we wanted to buy the following week.  Then the next week we could buy a toy.  Truth is, we always wanted the most expensive toy, but usually as long as we got something we were happy.  Those grandparents were sneaky that way.

This day we end up at Two Guys, a department store similar to a Kmart.  My brother and I have to be held back like wild monkeys as we walk through the doors.  Abo and Alla each hold one of our hands until we get to the toy section.  We are in our own personal heaven.  This is a “looking” week, so we can play with anything we want, but no buying.  I see some rubber animals, snakes and lizards.  I love those, so I pick them up and move the snake along Abo’s arm.  He smiles, and takes the snake, moving it along my arm.  It tickles.  My grandfather has now transformed into a child.  He is no longer an authority figure.  He is my best buddy, playing with me as we pick up each rubber animal and take turns playing with them.

Then his face changes.  It is as if he has been snapped into reality.  His smile goes away, and he tells me in a very serious face:

“Don’t show dat to you granmatha.  She very scared of that!”

Oh boy.  Guess I am not getting one of those next week.  Alla was born in a different era and grew up in a different world.  She had many phobias, and snakes was one of them.  When Abo tells me that, the gears in my head start turning, the mischievous side comes out.  I began to devise a plan of scaring my grandmother with a rubber snake.  I picture how funny it would be.

I never did, and I am glad I didn’t

My grandmother is 101 years old today.  I know she will not be here for a long time.  Even though she is remarkably healthy for her age, and her mind is as sharp as ever, time waits for no one.  But one of the saddest days of my life was when my grandfather died.  The day God calls Alla will be one of my saddest days as an adult.  I was 14 when Abo died.  I remember the funeral parlor being so packed with people, it was standing room only.  But with all those family and friends around, I was so alone.  My buddy was gone.  I still miss him today, all the times he would tickle me for no apparent reason, the times he would transform into a child to play with us.  He showed me how to ride a bicycle.  He gave me my love for music and the guitar.  He taught me what love was.  Abo and Alla are a big reason I am who I am.

I miss you Abo.

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Coffee Anyone?

If you are like me, you drink coffee. I drink a lot of coffee. I drink at least two cups of coffee a day. It is an addiction? I don’t know. I do know that I go to the doctor regularly, and most doctors tell me two cups of coffee a day is ok. So I am going to run with that. Anyway, I would be really interested in what your coffee drinking preferences are. So how about it? Answer the poll below and let’s get our coffee habits out in the open shall we?

 

 

Baseball Snapshot

It’s funny how as an adult, you remember some aspects of your childhood, and yet others are just a blur. For example, most of my years in catholic school were a blur. I remember a couple of the teachers, but most of them are just distant images in my mind. I remember specific moments very clearly, but very few.

There is one night of my childhood that remains clear in my brain. I was not just a baseball fan as a child, I was raving baseball lunatic. I remember more than one night sleeping with my glove and baseball. I could recite the entire Yankees lineup. I could tell you their current batting averages, who was leading the league in home runs, RBI’s, you name it. From the ages of about 7 to 15, I was the resident baseball guru in my house.

I will never forget the night my dad took my older brother and I to Shea stadium to see the Yankees play the Twins. The Yankees he says? At Shea? Yeah this was the mid 70’s and they were renovating Yankee stadium, so they were playing at Shea. At some point during the trip over the Hudson River to New York, my dad revealed that we were going to meet Tony Oliva from the Minnesota Twins. Apparently my dad went to school with him in Cuba, and was going to meet him after the game. Now, you might think I knew exactly who Tony Oliva was. I didn’t. Unfortunately, Tony was in the later stages of his career and had had several injuries, so he was not playing everyday anymore. I believe this was probably his last year as a player. I didn’t really care though. I was gonna get to meet an actual big leaguer. Wow!

So we got to the game late. My dad got three tickets at the ticket booth, and we went in. I still remember the smell of the stadium. You could smell hot dogs and popcorn all around you. When we got to our seats, I saw it. A real big league stadium. It was beautiful. The field was a perfect green. We were far away, but I could see the players and was pretty amazed at how big the field was. It was much bigger than the fields I played on. It was the last inning, and we only got to see the last couple of outs. I remember the last out was a grounder to the shortstop. I don’t remember the score but I know the Yankees won.

So we are walking out, and as we get outside, my dad leads us to where the players come out so we can wait for Tony to meet us. Soon I see in the distance one of the Twins, but it isn’t Tony Oliva. I can’t see who it is because of all of the kids around him, asking for autographs. My dad notices the crowd, and tells me to give him the ball I brought with me. He goes over and gets in the crowd, holding the ball up for the player to sign. It seemed like it took forever for him to see my dad, but he finally took my ball and signed it. My dad hands me the ball, a huge smile on his face as I take the ball back and look at the autograph.

Rod Carew!

Wow! Rod Carew – the great batting champ throughout the 70’s. He was one of the greatest Twins ever, and I had his autograph. The moment I saw that ball in my hands is one of those snapshots of my childhood I can never erase. The smile on my dad’s face as he hands me the ball, knowing the moment he just created for his son, is imprinted in me forever.

But this night wasn’t over. Out comes Tony Oliva. After he and my dad give each other a big hug, Tony says hi to us. I was always very shy, so I say nothing. But inside I am awestruck. What a night. Tony sees the ball and my dad shows Tony the autograph. Tony smiles approvingly, and signs the ball on the opposite side. I felt like the kid in the coke commercial when Mean Joe Green tossed him the sweaty t-shirt.

“Wow! Thanks Mean Joe!”

So Tony tells my dad he is hungry and we all go out to a diner in New York. We spend the rest of the night listening to my Dad and Tony talk about old times. Both my brother and I were falling asleep, but I just couldn’t let sleep take over. I didn’t want the night to end. So I remember the rest of the night as a battle to stay awake, hearing bits and pieces of their conversations, like Tony telling my dad that Nolan Ryan was the only pitcher Rod Carew was afraid of. Priceless!

Today I don’t have the ball anymore, nor do I have any pictures. All I have is my memories. Every once in awhile my brother, dad and I will talk about that night. Seems like that night was one of those snapshot memories for all three of us.

Funny how that works huh?

A Senior Moment

crossI am at Kohl’s. I got two shirts, both off of the clearance section. 10 bucks for one, 13 bucks for the other. Awesome! And they are not the ones with weird colors or patterns that nobody wants, or the irregular sized ones with one sleeve longer than the other. This is too good to be true. I grabbed them and headed to the register, as if to get them paid for and out of the store before anyone realized the mistake they had made in pricing them so low.

Great, only one person in front me. This shouldn’t take long.

Uh oh – senior citizen.

She puts her clothes on the counter. She asks for the price to an item. Oh boy. She says the price is wrong. It is supposed to be on clearance. The cashier explains they probably put it in the wrong place. I am getting a little frustrated. She finally starts scanning. I will be out of here soon.

“Do you take checks?”

Wonderful! Of all the Kohl’s and all of the registers, she had to come into mine. I was almost out, almost home free. I was picturing myself with my new shirt on. My plans are hopelessly destroyed by someone technology has obviously left behind.

“Do you have a pen? Who do I make it out to?”

“Oh, my driver’s license? One second, I don’t drive anymore but I should have something…”

No no no no no no!!!!!

There has got to be a way out of here! I need an exit strategy. Maybe I can tell the cashier my wife is having a baby, and I need to get out of here. Maybe I can get really mad and demand they open another register. Maybe I can stuff the shirts in my pants and make a break for it. Anything but sitting here and watching this woman write a check in the year 2010.

Must find a way….must stay…focused…..

There he is again. Right above the lady’s head. Jesus! No really, Jesus – in my head at least, but I swear I can see him, floating right above the lady’s head. C’mon Jesus, can’t you overlook this one? I mean she is writing a check for goodness sake! Ok, look I will serve at the Thanksgiving food drive like you have been telling me about. He is not going away. He is looking at me with those eyes, the thorny crown. Stop looking at me like that!

Oh great. Now my grandfather is there next to him. Yes I know, I remember how kind you were to everyone. Yes I remember what you taught me about respecting my elders, but honestly…

Turn away John….focus….

“Sir, your next?”

23 bucks plus tax. Cool….

Does Bono Fart?

December, 1987.

The Orange Bowl in Miami.

U2 is on stage.  I am deathly afraid of heights and of falling, and the seats in the old Orange Bowl were those rickety old bleacher seats with no backs. Shortly after the band goes on stage, everyone stands on those bleacher seats to see better.

Darn it!  I can’t see a thing, and my favorite band of all time is on stage.  I am missing everything! Ok fine.  I stand on my seat, and there he is.  He is wearing that leather vest, no shirt.  He’s leaning towards his side.  He likes to do that.  It is so cool.  He has that guitar slung on his back as he sings.

“With or without you….”

It’s Bono.  He is perfect.  He has the best voice, the best hair.  He is so cool.  Every guy wants to be him.  Every woman wants to be with him.  I am in awe.  My lighter is lit and in the air, swaying to the music in unison with 60,000 plus other fans.  We didn’t have iPhone apps back then so we had to use actual lighters.  For that one moment, we are no longer individuals, all of life’s problems are on hold.  We are all one voice, one soul, one…

Does Bono fart?

I mean really, does he ever sit around, maybe when the band is in the studio, and they are laying down some tracks,working on their latest CD. Does he ever just…well, you know… squirt one out?

“Sorry, mate, that was some serious chili.”

Stay with me here.  There is a point.  Bono is my all time favorite celebrity.  Everybody has one.  Mine is Bono.  Yours may be Tom Cruise, or Jeniffer Lopez or Justin Beiber.  No wait. Please don’t let it be Justin Beiber.  Anyway, why do we in America put celebrities on a pedestal that way?  What is it about our society that we think that Bono can’t fart?  I mean, Bono is not just a singer, he is a humanitarian, involved in the fight against poverty, and other causes.  That is pretty cool.

But just recently, we learned that Bono’s ONE organization took in 15 million but only distributed about $200,000 of those funds to the people that need them.  You can read an article about this here.  So does that make him evil?  Does that mean he is stealing the rest of the money?  Well, no.  That means he is human.  He is just a man.  He is like all of us, fallen men and women in a fallen world.

Over the years, we have been disappointed by our favorite celebs.  It seems that every week there is a DUI or an intervention taking place somewhere involving one of our previously honored celebrities.  So why exactly do we continue to fawn over and give attention to them, as if they are something other than imperfect children of God, susceptible to all of the temptations we all are in this world?

I would love to tell you I have this great answer to that.  I don’t. But I do want to share an alternate story, another, alternate hero of mine..

It’s 1981.  A child comes home from school.  His mom is sitting at the kitchen table, and there are some papers on the table, legal papers.  She is crying.  It is the first time he can remember her crying like that.  He asks what is wrong.

“Nothing.  Don’t worry, just go to your room.”

Later that day, he wanders into her room and realizes that Dad’s clothes are gone.  He left.  He has three brothers.  What now? How will they survive?

She went to work.  She never worked when she was married, but now as a divorced woman with few skills, she had to find a way to support 4 boys.  She had some help from family, but it wasn’t enough.  She started her own business.  She worked hard. But no matter how hard she worked, she was always home when her sons needed her.  She even found a way for one or more of them to go see a rock concert every once in a while.

There is more to this story. She also never bad mouthed their father. As a matter of fact, even though she was extremely hurt, she made it a point to encourage her sons to be with their father. As a result, those boys were never without a father figure in their lives. Both mother and father never lost sight of the most important thing in their lives.

Today all four of those boys are men.  None of them are in jail. None of them have had a DUI, or are hooked on drugs.  Funny thing is, she never got famous. No one ever interviewed her for Rolling Stone magazine.  She was never in the paper.  Yet the impact that she had on four lives is remarkable.

Yeah I get it.  Not exactly the same thing as a rock star turned humanitarian, and this article probably won’t change our society.  People will still idolize fallen men in a fallen world.  It is what it is.  But I find it just a little sad that while Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan are constantly in the news for destroying their lives, the moms, dads, teachers, and pastors that help make us the people we are sometimes never even get a blog article written about them.

Well that is going to change.

Now.

Thanks, mom!

My Faith…

I am a Christian.  What does that mean?

Well, that means I believe in God, a Christian God.  The only God.  That means I believe in the trinity.  I believe in God in the form of the father, the son, and the holy spirit.  I believe what is written in the Bible, and I believe that the Bible was inspired by God himself.

Today we have so many flavors of Christianity.  The Bible has been interpreted in so many ways, and frankly, some take so much liberty with what is written that Christianity warps into something other than what I believe to be Christianity.  So here is what I believe.

God created heaven and earth, and everything on earth.

Christ is God, in the form of man, that God sent down to earth to save us from our sin.  He lived among us, lived a sinless life, died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins, rose again in three days and now sits in heaven.  God’s love for us is so great, he gives us a way out of our sinful lives.  The way out is through his son Jesus Christ.  If we believe in him, and we follow his two commandments, we will be saved.  His two commandments:

  1. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
  2. And you must love your neighbour as yourself.

I constantly try to keep those two commandments.  Yet because I am a fallen creature in a fallen world, I can never achieve perfection.  God knows this and loves me regardless of my shortcomings.  If I believe and I repent from my sins, I am saved.

Christianity is not a religion.  Religion is how man explains God.  Christianity is how God reveals himself to man.

I believe it is important in this world of constant media and technology for us to recognize the difference between scripture and religious doctrine.  Man is not perfect and that goes for the church, which is run by men.  I go to church every Sunday, and I have a wonderful group of Pastors.  But they are men, and as men suffer from the same imperfections as I.  So I constantly try to keep my eyes, ears, and heart upward towards God.

That is my faith.