Patience, Perseverance and Politics

It was an hour and a half drive to The College Of Saint Rose in Albany. I was dropping Maria off for a trial run day of classes. This is the second step of the process to get into their “College Experience” program, which will teach her life skills and give her real world work experiences Needless to say, she is very excited about the opportunity to go to a real college and live in a dorm. I, on the other hand, am not as excited at the prospect of her living an hour and a half away. On the drive up to Albany, I explained to her that they are looking for students who pay attention AND participate. I told her to stay off her phone (a nearly impossible task) and answer questions. She promised me she would and when we arrived, I walked her up to the young woman in charge of the program, who remembered her by name from the last time we were there. She greeted Maria with a big smile and a warm welcome. Maria was a little bit nervous, but much more excited and took off up the stairs, following the line of other prospective students who were already on their way.

I watched her walk away before turning around and heading back to my car. As I stood there, I thought about the ramifications of all of this. The person who has been pretty much attached to my hip for most of her 18 years of life, may soon be living an hour and a half away from me…full time. Every day. I suppose I should be happy it’s not across the country and I am very grateful that she has the opportunity, but it will be a big change- for both of us. We shall see. There’s one more step to go before they decide which six students they will accept into the program. If she does get accepted, everything will hinge upon her being approved for SSI benefits, which is what the program uses for payment. I most definitely do not want my daughter to rely on the government to pay her way through life. I want her to have the opportunity to make it on her own, but without SSI, it costs over $60,000 per year, plus other expenses. Sadly, Social Security is run by the government and well…let me just say that when it comes to getting things done in a timely manner, their track record is less than impeccable- which leads me to my story.

I pulled away from the Saint Rose parking lot and watched the campus slowly disappear in my rear-view mirror as I wiped what could have been mistaken for a tear from my eye. I am leaving my daughter behind with strangers, seventy miles from home. Unsure of what to do with myself for the next six hours, before leaving, I quickly looked up “diners” on my phone and found a quaint- and by “quaint,” I mean dumpy, little place in nearby Troy- and by “dumpy,” I mean it almost looked abandoned- and by “abandoned ,” I mean I drove past it three times and sat in the small, unpaved, dirt parking lot for a good five minutes, looking for another option, before mustering up the courage to go inside. It was one of those places where the front door was actually in the back of the building. As I approached the old, somewhat rickety steps, a well dressed elderly couple was walking out. They seemed happy and friendly, as I waited for them to work their way down the narrow, old wooden stairs. The woman thanked me, and I walked to the back-front door, feeling a little bit better about my decision. It was clean inside with plenty of booths and tables and a large countertop with a row of stools. I looked around and to my surprise, there was a crowd…of one. Me. Just me. Yay. I was quickly greeted by a friendly, older woman who seemed happy to have a customer. She looked like a waitress in a small-town diner and was very nice. She walked me to a booth and within seconds, I had a hot cup of coffee sitting in front of me. Not just a hot cup of coffee, but coffee served in one of those old fashioned, heavy coffee mugs. Not a big, huge one- the normal size, but the kind you need two hands to hold. A real diner coffee cup. The coffee was average, but the mug made up for it. I scoured the menu and they had all your standard diner dishes. The waitress came back to take my order and I just happened to glance at the wall behind me and noticed one of the specials…Italian omelet. I’m in. I couldn’t quite make out the smaller writing describing what was in it, but as I thought of all the possibilities, I knew it would be great. Well, apparently, you make an Italian omelette by making a western omelette and adding mozzarella cheese. Delicioso. Now what shall I do for the next five hours??

This is an old picture from the web. It really doesn’t look this nice!

Let’s turn the clock back forty or fifty years. I never really loved school, but I am grateful that I had some very memorable teachers in my elementary years and one big influence in my love of American history- my dad. This love would not show itself for a long, long time. Growing up, we were not a wealthy family who vacationed all over the world, but we had fun. My dad would plan camping trips all over the east coast, visiting historic landmarks. Not the world’s biggest ball of twine, but battlefields, colonial villages and places with significant ties to the establishment of our great country. Places that I may not have fully appreciated then but do now. We would travel in a huge four door American made sedan with a gas guzzling eight cylinder engine, pulling a pop-up camper. I didn’t think I even knew fancy hotels existed. We went to places like Gettysburg, Valley Forge, Jamestown, Salem, Williamsburg. We drove for hours. My brother Joe and I sang songs, played games and we argued. We rarely wore seatbelts, sometimes took turns lying on the massive upper deck, below the rear window and occasionally got the, “Dont make me pull over” talk, but all in all, we had fun and grew to appreciate the effort our parents put into these outings. So, what should I do in Albany? Naturally, I will tour the Capitol building!

I looked on the New York State website and signed up online. Quick and easy and I was guest number three for my tour. I drove back to Albany and parked a couple of blocks away and walked to the massive, old building. On the way there, I passed a black car with New York Assembly license plates which was parked in the middle of two clearly marked spots. Two men in suits were standing next to the car, laughing. Shaking my head, I refrained from commenting and continued towards the Capitol. I walked into the building and chatted with the guards while going through security. After a few minutes of male bonding, they encouraged me to go to the state website to apply for a job, as they were hiring. I checked in at the tour booth and had a few minutes to wait, so I walked around a bit. The first thing I saw was a huge painting of George Washington. The father of our country and my birthday twin. The building was absolutely awesome, but what was truly amazing was that the first ten minutes of my guided tour would teach me all I need to know about the American political system. The construction of the building was originally bid out to Canadian architect, Thomas Fuller in 1867. His offer said he could do the job for four million dollars and it would take four years. It actually ended up costing 25 million- over 700 million in today’s dollars and it took 32 years. It went from one designer, to three, to five and has five different architectural styles. Best of all- it was never actually completed. Roosevelt finally pulled the plug on the project and proclaimed it complete, even though it was not. It has remained unfinished since 1899.

The building is absolutely amazing and the tour renewed my interest in American history. All of the carvings were created on site- and there were too many to count! The many faces of US founders and politicians and the many random, unknown faces that the carvers added. The designers did not want any duplications, so the carvers were free to put family members and random people in their work. They worked ten-hour days, carving faces and designs through the building. It is rumored that one of the carvers put the face of the devil in the trim on a wall after being fired. His objective was to curse the building. Our tour was running late and the volunteer tour guide said she wouldn’t have time to show us, but after a little persuading, she agreed to walk me to the spot after the tour ended and yes, he is there. He is camouflaged in some foliage in the brownstone trim, hidden in an elaborate piece that was above eye level and is only about the size of a nickel. I’m sure it was unnoticed for quite some time. Is he the reason why that building went many years over the deadline and many millions over the budget? Is he why New York still can’t balance a budget or reign in spending or do just about anything in a timely manner? Perhaps.

The Devil in the Capitol.

After the tour, I walked backed to my car, past the NY Assembly car still parked over two spots, to my legally parked car and left to retrieve my daughter. She couldn’t wait to tell me how proud she was of herself for not using her phone and for winning their game of Jeopardy. We got in the car and searched for a good sushi (her favorite) restaurant. We talked about our day and after asking how I liked my meal, she proclaimed it was her favorite sushi restaurant. The following week, I received an email from the college, inviting Maria to participate in the next step of the selection process- an overnight visit. This will involve me driving her back to Albany, dropping her off and driving home alone and leaving her in Albany for 24 hours. Sadly, it all hinges on the expediency of the government. Much like the building of New York’s capital, I don’t know if they’ll make the deadline, but much like the carvers, we’ll keep working at it. Calling, visiting, filling out forms and waiting, waiting, waiting.

Missed By An Inch….

In my younger days…my twenties and thirties, I did a lot of bicycle riding. Much of it, with some pretty crazy and talented cyclists. I was a rookie compared to most of them. They all raced.- some at a professional level. They trained- thousands of miles a year. They had skills and talent. I was more of a recreational cyclist, almost always struggling to keep up on our group rides. Every once in a while, we would do a “fun” ride through the city of Poughkeepsie- where we would often get yelled at, chased, have bottles thrown at us and just generally have a good time. After our adventures in Po-town, on our way back home, we would always stop at an old parking garage to play a game we called “Missed By An Inch.” I’m not sure who made up the name, but it fit perfectly. The object was to ride your bike in a confined area and come as close to the other cyclists as possible- without hitting them, although running into each other eventually became the standard offensive move. If you had to put your foot on the ground to save yourself, you were out of the game. The last person on his bike, was crowned the winner and the reward was bragging rights all the way home. Long after those crazy nights have become distant memories, I have continued to utter that phrase many times-“missed by an inch,” with a special meaning only known to a handful of guys.
Back to the somewhat unrelated present: for some inexplicable reason, my daughter is completely convinced that whenever I work a concert, I will be hanging out and bonding with the performers. While, yes- there are a ton of musicians that I have been fortunate to meet and a bunch that I’ve gotten to chat with and a handful that I can say are friends, that is most often not the case. When I told her I was going to be working a Billy Joel concert, she immediately bursted out with, “Are you going to meet him??” “No honey” I replied, “It’s Billy Joel. It’s a BIG concert.” Maria, ever the optimist quipped, “I bet you meet him!” This turned into a five minute back and forth until I finally realized who I was arguing with and gave up. “We’ll see.” I muttered. She exclaimed, “I knew it!” as she walked away feeling successful in presenting her case.
I, like millions of others, grew up listening to Billy Joel.

My family’s long drives to my grandparents homes in Brooklyn and even longer drives to Long Island or any of our miscellaneous camping destinations were always filled with music. Oldies and top forty radio would commonly be heard on the AM station of choice- WANC or WNBC, being the family favorites. This of course, was pre-iPod, portable CD players or even Walkman days. Billy Joel’s songs have filled the airwaves since I was in the first grade, so yes, I literally grew up listening to Billy’s 33 top 40 hits as well as many of his other, lesser known songs.
When the opportunity presented itself, to work a music festival with Billy Joel headlining, I could not say no. Oddly enough, I was told about the job at an Iron Maiden’s concert in Norwalk, Connecticut. No, not Iron Maiden. The Iron Maidens. The all female tribute band that until then, my daughter had only seen during their sound checks when I worked their shows at The Chance. On a side note- special thanks to amazing guitarist, Courtney Cox for always being so kind to Maria! Anyway, one of the security guards noticed my usual inability to enjoy a show without keeping a constant eye on the crowd and told me about the job. I contacted the security company and was told: where to go and when to be there.
When the day finally came to work at the Greenwich Town Party, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I woke up much, much too early in the morning and made the drive to Connecticut. I found the security employee parking lot and then made the trek to the park where the event was taking place. The first thing I noticed was that there were a lot of security guards. A lot. 115 to be exact, as I later found out. I was given an assignment and told to wait. I was going to be stationed at the gate to the secondary stage. Not very exciting, but at least I had a great view of the main stage where Billy would be performing…in twelve hours. I was just happy to be working, seeing live music and getting to see Billy Joel perform in a fairly intimate setting of about 9,000 fans.
When we were about four or five bands in, a huge storm was brewing. After some calm and some slightly panicked radio calls, the venue was getting shut down, in fear of the lightning that was expected.

Dark clouds approaching the huge portable stage.

The crowd was sent to their cars in the parking lot, the gates were closed. The security crew was given the shelter of a huge, open VIP tent with very, very tall lightning rod style metal poles supporting it. We waited patiently as the wind picked up and the rain poured down. I was worried that my opportunity to see Billy up close was gone, but after about an hour, the storm blew past us, the venue was reopened and the live music resumed. Soon after, while I was back at my post, two large white SUV’s led by four police motorcycles, pulled in and parked right next to me. Billy’s band members were in one. Billy, his wife and his young daughter were in the other. He was about thirty feet from me. He got out, joked around a bit and then went to his trailer…so close. A short time later, he would come out to chat with the motorcycle cops parked by my gate…so close.

Billy Joel (in the baseball hat) having fun with the local police department.

and after that, he came out yet again, to see his daughter off, as he jumped in front of the car she was in so he could say goodbye…so close…. Soon, the last band to play my stage came out. It was a group of seasoned looking musicians. I chatted with the guitar player and bass player on and off for a while before they went on. It didn’t really strike me as odd at first, but Billy’s tour manager came over to me and asked if he could come in and talk to one of the guys in the band. Sure. No problem. A few minutes later, Billy’s drummer asked if he could go say a quick hello to the guys. Shortly after that, Billy’s business manager stopped by and then his saxophone player. So now I’ve met his managers and half of his band and I started to wonder who these guys were. They sounded great- the best band of the day, by far. The guitar player was a quirky looking guy. He was extremely nice and he looked awfully familiar, but I couldn’t place him- until the singer introduced the members of the band. The drummer from the Saturday Night Live band. The bass player has played with a long list of famous artists and that familiar looking guitarist was in fact, jazz/fusion legend, Oz Noy who has played with many amazing musicians and whom I had seen perform at The Iridium in NYC, pre covid. After his set, I walked over to him and apologized. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why, but I didn’t realize that you are Oz f*cking Noy!” To which he calmly replied, “Yes I am.”

Guitar great, Oz Noy.

Eventually and/or finally, after working for about eleven hours, it was time for Mr. Joel to perform. I’d been keeping an eye on his trailer and once again, he walked out. At this point, I’ve met most of his band and his management. I’ve been within very short walking distance to him and once again, he passes my post…so close. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the end of the story. No. I did not get to meet Billy Joel. Not this time. I hung out with some state troopers as we kept an eye on the governor of Connecticut, and I did get to see an amazing, somewhat intimate performance by a musical legend- who I have yet to meet. Missed him by a little more than an inch, but all in all, it was a pretty cool day.

The Music

It was a crazy, music filled week/weekend last week. This past Sunday night, Eric Gales played Daryl’s house with his band. If you’re not familiar with him, Eric is an amazing blues-rock guitarist who is naturally right handed, but plays lefty on a righty guitar, upside down- but unlike Jimi Hendrix, it is strung for a right handed player. If that is not crazy and difficult enough, he is also a recovering addict with an wild past, and he shares his story at every show. He plays from the heart and really puts it all out there.

After the show, he met with everyone at the club who wanted to speak to him, get a picture or buy some merch. Nearly everybody in attendance lined up to see him and thank him. I was hoping to get to get a chance to say hi, but by the time I finished working, he was gone. The venue was empty, except for a handful of employees getting ready for the next show. Disappointed, I walked out back to say goodbye to Bailey (the house dog) and when I opened the door, Eric was standing there, all alone, enjoying a cigarette. We chatted for a few minutes and I said, I have to tell you something- I worked at and saw live music all weekend, starting with John 5 on Wednesday, my friend’s band on Friday- along with Maria Brink (one of my fave female screamer/singers) and In This Moment for sound check and then worked their load out. I then saw KISS on Saturday, but tonight was the highlight of my weekend. His mouth dropped and he said, “THE KISS?? With Gene Simmons?? Is Gene still doing it??“ I said yes, That KISS. His face lit up and he gave me a fist bump and thanked me several times. We talked some more and said goodbye.

I went back inside to finish up a few things and then poppedout back again to say goodbye to Peter- the master of sound at Daryl’s. At this point, the entire band was there, relaxing before their drive home. Eric sees me and yells, “Hey man- remember we was just talkin’ before??” I’m thinking, do I remember??? Hell yeah I remember!! Honestly, I also thought about Chris Farley’s SNL character interviewing Paul McCartney, saying “You remember when you were in the Beatles? That was awesome.” I casually responded in the affirmative. “Yes. I remember.” He said, “tell them that story that you told me! Tell them just like you told me.” I repeated the story of my live music extravaganza as Eric yelled out THE KISS… with Gene Simmons!

The band was happy to hear my respect for them and their performance. They smiled, laughed and they thanked me. We said our goodbyes again and I hit the road. My thirty minute drive home was filled with an appreciation of my night time jobs at two of the most iconic, running music venues in New York- and occasionally some other great stages- that allow me the privilege to witness some amazing live music and a continued appreciation of the fate of timing. I don’t really consider myself a “fanboy” but I do enjoy getting the opportunity to talk to some of the artists I see…getting a glimpse at the world that I (and millions of others) one time dreamt to be a part of…and of course, the music I get to hear. The music- one of the few things that helps me keep my sanity in this crazy, crazy world. Especially during these unpredictable, unstable times. So much in life is uncertain and everything can change in the blink of an eye, but there’s always the music- and for that, I am forever grateful.

I yelled at my boss…again.

Last night, I think Frank Pallett pulled a prank on me. I went to the cemetery after work with Lynne because it was the second anniversary of her father’s passing. We then went to the next section of the cemetery, literally just down the dirt road, to visit Frank and Carolyn. It was just a few days past Frank’s birthday and my first time there since the funeral. My mind was flooded with so many memories- including my first night working at The Chance for Frank.

Tired and drained, I drove home from the cemetery to rest for a half an hour before heading to work…again- this time, at Daryl’s House, where I do security and drive a shuttle bus for overflow parking. Daryl’s House is a fantastic restaurant/music venue that is a byproduct of Daryl Hall’s (of Hall and Oates fame) acclaimed television show of the same name. Without a doubt, the number one question I get asked nearly every night, “Is Daryl coming tonight?”

Of course, I didn’t actually rest and I was still tired from the Plush record release concert in Albany the night before. The restaurant was filling up quick for a sold out show and I was working in the parking lot, which was now full, when a Jeep rolled in. I waved the driver down with my flashlight, as he nonchalantly waved back at me and proceded to drove right on by. He then unsuccessfully attempted to pull down the narrow space between the building and some parked cars, to the employee lot and then backed out when he realized there was no room to park. I waved my flashlight and threw up my arms, muttering to a customer at the door, “what the heck is this guy doing?” He then turned around and drove towards me in front of the building and rolled his window down and I sarcastically shouted, “So now you want to talk to me?” I asked him if he was here for the show and he very casually said, “No. I’m just picking up food. I’m Daryl.” Skeptical and concerned and a little in shock, I said, “Could you pull over to the window?” He said, “No. I’ll stay here.” That’s when I realized….ummm…this is Daryl. Hall. Daryl Hall. Not my boss, but THE boss. Sure, I’ve met him a few times, but tonight he was kind of incognito. Floppy hat. Scruffy beard. Glasses. Slightly worried that I may not have a job anymore, I started up a conversation. We chatted for a while about Covid, venturing out into the world again and his recent and future tours and then I went inside to check on his food. It was still being prepared, so I went back and told him the kitchen was very busy and it would be a few minutes and we talked some more.

As I walked back to the shuttle bus, I saw some people taking pictures with the big wooden Daryl statue, as they often do. Laughing, I jogged back to the Jeep and Daryl rolled down his window. I said, “Sorry man, I just had to tell you how ironic it is that people are taking pictures with wooden Daryl, while you’re sitting here forty feet away. He let out a big laugh and said, “I’m good with that. They can have wooden Daryl tonight.”

As I made my way back to the door again, I remembered that I saw Frank today, and thought about my first night at the Chance, when I yelled at him for opening the emergency exit door, without realizing who I was yelling at. I can’t help but think he had a little something to do with me yelling at my boss again.
Soon after, Daryl’s food was ready, I helped one of the girls bring the bags out and load up his Jeep and he headed home. On my way back to the front door, I approached a group taking pictures with wooden Daryl. “You want me to take one for you?” I asked, As they handed me their phone, I was debating on delivering the news… of course my evil side won. ”By the way, do you know who just left in that Jeep??”

A true end of an era.

My Facebook feed is full of pictures, tributes and condolences to the man who kept music alive for twenty years in one of the few surviving, long standing music venues in the country. It’s not fair that he owned the two worst possible businesses you could own during the pandemic- a gym and the historic Chance Theater. it’s not fair that he got The Chance all fixed up and never got to see a show afterwards. It’s not fair that he has to leave his family, wife and two daughters far too soon and it’s not fair that his life ended without getting to perform on that stage one last time.

I am forever grateful that I had the opportunity to work for him at the legendary club that I’ve been going to since I was 16. He always had great stories, a hearty laugh and and a pretty positive attitude- especially for a guy with so much responsibility.

I’ll never forget my first night working there. Lynne told me they needed help for a show and spoke to Nikki (the manager) to get me in. There was no training and little instruction. It was about 110 degrees upstairs in the balcony where I was watching the VIP section of a very sold out Michael Franti show.

The air conditioners were struggling to fight the heat and the crowd, and people kept opening the emergency exit door. I was told (in no uncertain terms) to keep that door closed, so each time it was opened, I had to leave my post, fight the packed room of sweaty drunk patrons and go close it. After several frustrating trips pushing through the crowd to get to the door to close it, I looked across the room and saw it wide open yet again. Angry, I stormed across the balcony floor once more, reached behind the big, muscular guy standing in front of the exit and yelled, “this door needs to stay closed!” He replied, “says who?” I said, “says the Chance!” His four word response made feel certain that it was my first and last day working in the club I loved so much. “I own The Chance.” That’s when I looked up and said… “oh…hey…sorry Frank.”

After the show, we cleaned up and I walked over to the corner of the bar where he was drinking a Disaronno or two and I apologized again. He just looked at me and laughed his hearty laugh and said, “don’t worry about it. You were doing your job. That’s a good thing.” I breathed a big sigh of relief and looked forward to working every show I could since that night.

I was happy to help out during the shut down with some of the renovations of the hundred year old building and anxious to get the club reopened. I had to constantly remind Frank that I’m not a carpenter and he would always say, just do the best you can. July 22 was the last day I talked to Frank. I was doing some fanal paint touch ups in preparation for the reopening. He had gone into the hospital emergency room with extremely bad stomach pain and he never left. We lost Frank on August 11, 2021. I couldn’t believe we would have to reopen the club without him. It was so surreal on opening night. No Frank. No Bob. Danny retired. It just didn’t feel the same and it never will.

As many have stated, Frank did so much for the Hudson valley music community. He not only kept the legendary club alive, he gave local musicians- young and not so young, an opportunity to perform there- even through the desolate years and near death of live music in the area. In addition to running two large businesses, raising two young daughters with his wife, Michelle, making the club available for many charity events and fundraisers, keeping the dreams of a multitude of aspiring musicians alive and being extremely passionate about our country, he also headed up two bands of his own and was a very respectable guitar player and singer.

Thank you Frank, for the opportunity to work in one of my favorite places in the world, to meet so many legends and musical heroes and for letting me be part of the ever changing, never ending Chance family. You will be missed by so many and never forgotten.

The “Other” Day The Music Died

January and February of 2020 were pretty great months for live music. Live music? You remember live music, right? February was crazy busy and March of last year started out like every other March. Lots going on. The local bar live music scene was booming. Nearly every bar had bands playing on the weekends- not quite like the 80’s, but much better than nearly the past two decades. The Chance Theater was cruising along and Daryl’s House was selling out pretty regularly. Indoor and outdoor concert venues were hosting some great tours and I was lucky enough to see several during the past summer and fall. I also have the distinct honor, privilege and occasional challenge of working at two amazing, historic music venues- The Chance Theater and Daryl’s House.

Two very, very different clubs that have two things in common- packed crowds and great live music When March 12th came along, it was like many other Thursday’s. I got out of work, ran home quickly and then headed out for my thirty minute drive to Daryl’s. There was a show at The Chance as well, but I was working Daryl’s that night. They had a packed show with an Eagles tribute band. They are a very good band with several nights booked. I believe they were scheduled for three sold out evenings. We were all aware of the crazy new virus to come out of China, but little did we know the effect it was to have on the music and entertainment industries. At the end of their show, they made the announcement that the remainder of their appearances were canceled.

My last photo of a live band.

Canceled due to a virus. Soon to be a pandemic. After the show, we were told that the club had to close temporarily. Everyone thought it would pass quickly and we’d be back at it in a couple of weeks. Fourteen days to stop the spread, right? There were full schedules of shows booked for both of my clubs and hundreds of others. There were large, full production concerts and festivals booked all over the world- hell- I had (have) tickets for three of them! That was one year ago tonight. One year. One year of no clubs, no theaters, no arena shows. One year without a genuine, full band, real live show.

Don”t get me wrong- this is not about me. I had two amazing part time gigs, but I have a full time job and was about to be deemed “essential.” I have friends who make their livings working in the live entertainment industries. I have friends and many acquaintances who are musicians with no other means of income and friends who strongly supplement their income with music. I’m not sure who or what is going to be left when this is over, but I miss it. I miss it as a fan and as an employee. I miss the two very different types of excitement from both perspectives. I miss the late nights and being tired for a good reason. I miss the ritual of rushing around to either club and doing my regular pre-show routines. I miss the fans, as quiet or as crazy as it can get. I miss meeting the performers- sometimes legends, sometimes ordinary people, sometimes a little bit of both. I miss being a part of the show- whether being at the door greeting the crowd, in the pit keeping order, or on the side of the stage witnessing history.

A few weeks prior to shut down.

I can’t believe it’s been a year. I miss my friends. I miss my work families. Most of all, I miss the music…I think I even miss the bad music. Thank God there is now a glimmer of light at the end of this very long tunnel and the faint, but distinct roar of a real live crowd in the distance.


Thanksgiving was first celebrated by the Pilgrims as a time to give thanks for the first harvest in the New World in 1621. It transformed over the years into a time to appreciate all we have in our lives. The one day for Americans to be thankful for who and what we have.

Lately, it has turned into the day before Black Friday- the day that retail stores put a few items on deep discount sales to lure in customers so they can fight over the limited supply. It’s not just a stereotype. I’ve seen it firsthand. I have gone out on a few Black Fridays- not to purchase anything- just to witness the craziness for myself. I’ve seen people literally fight over flatscreen TVs, grabbing opposite sides of the box, having a tug of war. I’ve seen angry people march out of stores, upset that the deal they wanted was sold out. I’ve seen people dragging young children around at ungodly hours, in their pajamas- the day after the holiday that asks us to give thanks for all of the blessings we have.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t hold it against anyone for partaking- heck, my own brother has been taking his kids Black Friday shopping just about every year of their lives. I just don’t appreciate the watering down of our holidays. I remember as a child, traveling to Brooklyn each and every holiday to be with family. Both sets of grandparents lived there, as did most of my Aunts, Uncles and cousins. We ate a lot, joked a lot and of course, there were arguments, but we were family and we were together.

I remember when it was difficult to find a gas station that was open on a holiday. I used to feel bad for the few people who were stuck pumping gas and Now it’s hard to find a store that is closed. I don’t like the watering down of our holidays and traditions. Nothing is sacred anymore and each year brings us further apart. Families are much more spread out and the cost of living forces many to work on days that they should be enjoying at home. I’ve always appreciated those who had to work- law enforcement, emergency workers, hospital staff and the military, but they are a necessity.

Just my two cents. Hopefully everyone will enjoy a nice, hot meal with family and friends. Eat a lot. Drink a little. Watch a Christmas movie and take a nap, but don’t go shopping.

One more “first day of school” photo…

I know I have more than a few social media friends who quickly grew tired of another round of first day of school pics, but to them I say, too bad! Here’s one more-

I was debating on whether or not to tell this story and well…I won. Maria and I had a great summer vacation in Tennessee this year, visiting my Aunt and Uncle and our new baby cousin, Lincoln. Upon our return home, we were informed by her mother, that she closed on the sale of her house and had moved. That was all the information we were given. After a few days, we were told that she would be picking up Maria in two weeks. That day came and went and never happened. Yesterday, Maria’s mother called her for the first time in over a month. She said Maria can come visit her during winter break. In one fell swoop, my daughter’s mother, brothers, dog, cats, school and home were taken from her. We still do not know where she is, but I believe she is in Nevada, with her long lost birth father, who presumably has some money.

When I realized she wasn’t coming back, I had to scramble to get Maria enrolled in school. I  set up a meeting at Spackenkill, which is the district I now live in. Unfortunately they did not have a program for her at the high school level- yes…she is a freshman! (Ugh!) They quickly got the ball rolling to get her back into Arlington. After several days, a couple dozen phone calls and a few emails, everything but transportation was set up and yesterday was Maria’s first day of ninth grade…ninth grade! I drove her in and walked her to her class. It’s still shocking how huge that school has become- and how big high school kids have become! We found the room, met her teacher and she had a fantastic first day. She was so happy to see her old friends and she loves her new teachers. 

Special thanks to my good friends, the Collucci’s and their amazing daughter, Brooke, who offered to take an hour of her time after her second day of school to walk Maria through the ginormous Arlington High School the day before she began classes! Maria was thrilled to have a “rock and roll star YouTuber” give her a personal tour! (Check out Brooke C on YouTube!)

Transportation is still not settled…well, apparently I am transportation for now…on a side note, Total Transportation Corp is so far, totally unreliable. It’s going to be a long and interesting year, but that girl is very resilient and has the best attitude of literally anyone I know. After school today, I gave her money to buy some school supplies with her respite worker, Emily- who by the way, is great. She came back with her supplies and a bouquet of artificial sunflowers for my mom to replace the old, shriveled, real bouquet she had just disposed of. Maria told her the artificial ones are better because they would never die and she’d have them forever…

That’s my kid.

15 already…

My daughter Maria is always excited to do just about anything. Literally. Just about anything can be turned into the most exciting adventure through her mind and eyes. Whether I pick her up early or if I ask if she wants to run to the store with me, whatever the scenario, she has the magical ability to turn it into the possible event of a lifetime and usually, without disappointment. It has gotten to the point that I rarely give her specific information about our plans because when I do, the result is a never ending barrage of questions. When are we leaving? Where are we going? What time will we get home? The list goes on…and on…and on.

She has only lived with me for three or four days of the week for the past 12 of her now 15 years, but for the most part, when she is with me, she is with me. We do stuff. We may spend some tired hours on the couch watching a movie here and there, but we do stuff. Together. I guess that’s a little unusual for most 15 year olds, but Maria is not like most girls her age. She doesn’t have a lot of friends to hang out with and go places with. Her disabilities affect her capacity to make friends, so we hike, we go on adventures, we play with animals, we shop distant and local stores, we see live music. We do normal and not so normal things, but I always try to keep her moving and learning and having fun. While we make our way to and from our escapes, we are always listening to music- usually my music, which she has grown to accept and in many cases, embrace. I’ll never forget the morning I was driving her to school when she was very young. Twisted Sister was cranking from the car speakers and while stopped at a light, I heard a little voice squeaking out the words, “…we’re not gonna take it!” A proud parent moment, indeed.

Maria loves living in the country, but she also loves visiting the city..well, she loves everything. When I saw the ad for the ten year anniversary production of Rock Of Ages, I knew it would be a great birthday surprise, so I booked the tickets. Great seats. Right up front. During her six month, daily birthday countdown, she would give constant hints of what she wanted to do on the big day- one of those things was to go to the city. My response, as usual was, “we’ll see,” which to Maria means, yes, of course. In her mind, “maybe” and “we’ll see” are affirmative answers. This in turn led to a non stop, high speed train of the never ending questions- When are we going? What are we doing? Will we get home late?

Thankfully, the day finally arrived and with some clever planning and assistance, Maria was convinced she was going out to dinner on that fateful evening- until I got home from work and she read a card which told her today was the day for her birthday trip to the city!

On our way to NYC, I contacted my cousin Betsy, who lives there and she graciously offered to go to the restaurant we were having dinner at so we could meet our newest cousin, six month old Lincoln. Maria was absolutely thrilled, as she has been asking steadily for months…six months…to see him. They arrived at the restaurant and Maria was all smiles! She loves babies and she loves her family and this little guy was both. The evening would have been complete enough for her right then and there, but there was more to come.

After dinner, we rushed to get to the theater on time- and just made it, thanks to Betsy and Jon. That’s where the next surprise was unveiled- we are going to see Rock Of Ages! The play that is comprised of 80’s hair metal music and memories. Once again, her face was erupting with happiness. We walked to our seats, right at the edge of the stage. Any closer and we’d have to be on the cast payroll! The show was great- the band was awesome and Maria was singing along to several of the songs. At the end of the first act, she turned to me with a huge grin on her face and said, “Daddy, she smiled at me!” She, being one of the cast members who was onstage directly in front of us for most of the show. I was worried that Maria was going to lose interest as the show went on, but with the attention from one of the actresses, she was instantly reengaged. She watched, clapped and sang through the rest of the show right up to the end. After a standing ovation of applause, the cast returned for a curtain call. The young lady, who I now know is Zoe Birkett, was directly in front of us again. With a big smile, she bowed and looked down to see my daughter’s big brown eyes fixated on her. She then gave Maria a little wave. This simple gesture nearly brought me to tears, as I watched the smile on my daughter’s face grow even larger than before. Then, as if Zoe knew Maria was someone special, she knelt down on the stage, while the rest of the cast was basking in the adulation and she extended her hand to my little girl and gave her a high five. For a moment, it was as if there was no one else in the theater. Then, as she turned to walk into the wings, she reached down and grabbed a prop hundred dollar bill from the play and handed it to Maria. At this point, my allergies must have been kicking in, as I had to wipe my eyes, watching my little girl smiling a smile so big that I thought she was going to burst.

We grabbed a few pieces of sparkly chrome confetti from the stage steps and made our way out to the lobby- as we did, Maria turned to me with the biggest smile possible and exclaimed, “This is the best day of my life!”

Reflecting on the night’s events and the extraordinary kindness of a talented actress/singer, I felt the need to express my gratitude to Ms. Birkett. I shot her an email thanking her for having the ability to find the special person in the crowd who needed to be reached out to. She was kind enough to promptly reply:

“Wow Mike , thank you so much for your lovely email , it made me cry !! I’m so happy your daughter enjoyed the show and felt a connection with me as a performer , I remember her face , she was so happy!

As a mother myself to a little toddler age 2, I know how it feels to see such joy in their eyes, I’m touched at your email. Please send her my love and I’m pleased you both enjoyed the show!“

Kind regards

Zoe Birkett

Thank you Zoe- for restoring my faith in the world for a few more moments. There are still good people out there who appreciate what they are blessed with and can give a child the thrill of a lifetime through a simple gesture- and thank you Maria, my daughter who doesn’t care about having a disability or being different. She only cares about other people, all animals and enjoying every best moment of her life- the present one, and especially the next one.

The Last “Holiday” Concert

So, for those of you who haven’t noticed, I’m probably not the best parent in the world, although I do try. I suppose we all try. Sometimes, everyday life causes us to lose focus on the simple, more important things- like your children’s once in a lifetime school events…

In my defense, I’ve been going to the gym again. First time in over two years. I’ve been doing pretty good. No set schedule of course, but two, three or four times a week. Whenever I can. In the morning, before work. In the evening, after work. Last night, I was planning on going after work, but damn- I left my sneakers at home. No problem, though. I’ll swing by the house and grab them- which I did, at lunchtime. I was all set, until a little later, when my phone rang. 

“Hi daddy! You’re coming to my concert tonight, right??”
“Um…Of course I am, honey.” 
“Good,” she said. “Can you take me home after? Mommy is just dropping me off and has to go.”

“Of course I can, honey. I’ll see you there.” (No further comments, your honor.)
Now, I don’t know how many of you have been to an Elementary school ‘holiday’ concert as an adult…’Holiday’ concert. Don’t even get me going on that. We’ll save that rant for another day… 

Anyway, school concerts are long events in crowded rooms with little oxygen. This old school is definitely not equipped for the number of kids participating in activities nowadays. Not in this growing area, so of course I start chatting with the guy next to me about the lack of parking, inadequate seating, potential fire hazards and rude parents with three kids taking up seats when there are older folks standing. Then the guy says, “Thank God this is my last one of these.” His words seemed to stop time in a moment when it was already dragging like a dog on a leash on his way to the vet. It was then that I realized this is the last elementary school ‘winter’ concert I will ever attend for my own kids. Wow. With three kids, spread out three years apart, I’ve been to my share. The first few were pretty cool. My kid…on stage…just like I was, many, many years ago- but let’s face it, watching all of the different groups of kids (not just yours) year after year, after a long day at work, kind of wears you out sometimes. But these times don’t last forever, and when they end, you don’t get to go back. So, you sit in your flexi little plastic folding chair and grin through all of the other performances and wait for your child’s appearance. Ok. Here we go…

First up, the fourth grade orchestra. Well, they are cute, but wait- what the hell are they playing??? I mean really- what is this? These aren’t Christmas songs! When I was a kid, the Christmas…I mean the ‘holiday’ concert was about Christmas…and maybe a draidel song. But that’s not what this story is about. Ok. One, two, three, four songs. Not too bad. And one of them was and actual Christmas type song. 

Then the fourth grade chorus. That’s where the show really began for me. Three rows of kids lined the portable risers. Three rows of twelve kids. All dressed in their appropriate school event clothing, but one child stood out from the rest. A ‘husky’ boy with a bright yellow button down shirt.  He had a big, round face, with his big round eyes wide open and an even bigger smile plastered on it for the entire performance. He stood all the way on the end of the top row, on the right side. Just a few steps away from his group. Kind of all alone… Alone in a group of 36 kids. When the chorus began, the boy was beaming. Most of the other kids had that stoic, intense look of concentration, watching the conductor, hoping to be the next American idol. Not the boy in the yellow shirt. He was twisting from side to side, smiling widely. Singing loudly. I couldn’t stop watching him. He would take his two pointer fingers and place them on the corners of his mouth and push them up- clearly a reminder from his mother to make sure he smiled- which he did. Profoundly well. 

The boy in the yellow shirt clearly has some form of autism. I could spot some of the signs immediately. One of my best friend’s son has Asbergers Syndrome. If you know what to look for, you can usually recognize some of the signs. 
Now that this kid has my attention, I start scanning the audience for two things. First is to see if anyone is staring at the boy. I hate when people stare at kids with disabilities. Me? I wasn’t staring. I was studying.
Second, I was looking for his parents. I wanted to see their reaction. Were they embarrassed? Were they proud? Were they indifferent? As I scanned the crowd, one woman also stood out. She too, was beaming. Staring intently- in the direction of the boy. I wondered how she felt inside. Was she embarrassed? Was she worried he would do something inappropriate? Was she afraid people would laugh at him? My questions were quickly answered because all I could see in her face was pride and love. Unconditional love for her child, who was up there, doing his best to fit into a world that was not made for him. I’m not sure how many other people made the connection between the boy in the yellow shirt and his mom, but to me, it was difficult to ignore and hard to miss. His eyes were fixed on his mom, at some points, while he now just pointed to the corners of his mouth, smiling proudly.  
Fifth grade orchestra- hmmm…actually, not bad for a bunch of ten and eleven year olds- and they even did an actual Christmas song. Shhhh…don’t tell anybody. There’d likely be a protest of public outrage. Possibly even riots. 
Finally. Fifth grade chorus. I made it. Still awake. Here they come. Fifty plus kids. I keep looking. And looking, as they file into the auditorium. Waiting to see my little girl. As the kids March by, I think crap…maybe her mother didn’t even bring her. That would not be the first time I raced to an event, only to find that my child wasn’t even there, when they were supposed to be. The kids kept flowing in. nope, nope, nope, nope. Finally! There she was. The last child in line…on the bottom row…at the end…just a step or two apart from her peers, all alone, in a group of over fifty kids. In an instant, I am transformed. I am that parent. 

My beautiful daughter stood on the very end of the row, with a nervous smile on her face. I believe, to most people, she appears to be a pretty normal fifth grader. Most don’t believe she has a genetic disorder called Turner Syndrome, which puts her on the autism spectrum. One of the challenges with that is the fact that she doesn’t really look different, so she is not expected to act differently from any other fifth grader.  As she stood up there on stage, she starts scanning the crowd. When she spots me, she gives a smile of relief and a little wave. When she was younger, she would wave to me intermittently throughout the entire performance. This time, she seemed to be concentrating harder. Really trying to be attentive. 
When her group started singing, she did her best to follow along. At times, right on cue. Other times, slightly behind, repeating the words as she hears them. I could tell when she was singing and when she was just mouthing the words- some of which she knew., some she did not- but she was up there on the stage. Proud to be part of a group that I don’t even think she knows she is different from- and I am proud of her for being up there, smiling and singing, and for a second, I looked around to see if anyone was staring at her- the kid who is different, or at me- the parent. I wanted to see if anyone made the father-daughter connection as I made the mother son connection, earlier. I sure hope they can. 
The one thing I walked away with that night was this reminder- no matter how bad things get- or seem to get, as long as we have two fingers, we can push up the corners of our mouths.

 Maybe if we do that enough, it will become a natural action. Just like it was for the boy in the yellow shirt.