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. I couldn’t believe we would have to open 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?

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!) https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAG3VrzHOmnNjrDeOpcZfFQ

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. 

Calculating And Marching For Babies

I’ve always hated math. I’m not really sure why. Maybe it’s just the way my brain is wired. I was never great at it. I wasn’t terrible, but it just didn’t come easy to me. Sometimes, it didn’t come at all. Honestly, I even dislike doing math homework with my kids. Dislike? Understatement. I hate it. My kids don’t get it. It’s confusing. It’s frustrating. It’s…math, but I do love numbers. I like watching sports scores and stats, and their effects throughout a game. I like counting money. I like speedometers and I like how temperature affects the weather. So, in conclusion, numbers- yes, math- no.

In a recent, fairly last minute decision, I spoke to my daughter and we decided to do the annual March of Dimes, March for Babies. If there’s one thing Maria loves, it’s babies. Honestly, she loves a lot of things- literally, almost everything, but babies are even a step above puppies- and she loves puppies. The March for Babies was being organized by my amazing friend, Lynne. She had experienced difficulties with the birth of all three of her children. All three were born prematurely and she had very difficult pregnancies. What makes things really hit home for me, is that Lynne lost her first child due to a premature birth. His name was Vincent. Vincent James. My younger son was born just several months before him. My son’s name is Vincent Joseph. They would both be fourteen today. We didn’t know each other way back then, but there was an extraordinary connection when we finally did meet.

Lynne is not the kind of person to sit around and complain. She likes to make a difference. She is the Community Outreach Director for not one, but two of the local chapters of the March of Dimes and she has headed up the March for Babies (along with many other events) for the past several years. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to attend, but when I talked to Maria about it, there was no way I would be allowed to miss it. Now, if I was going to go to this event, I wasn’t going to show up empty handed. I’ve organized, participated and volunteered in my share of charity fundraisers over the years. I know the importance of raising money and awareness for a cause. I also know how difficult it can be to get people to part with their hard earned cash, especially when there are so many worthy (and trendy) charities out there today. Maria and I made a decision that we were going to help, so we came up with a plan. We would post a sad, pouting picture of her, on Facebook every day until we reached our goal- Unfortunately, our plan was flawed, as were my calculations. I didn’t realize how generous my Facebook family and friends were going to be.

I created our online fundraising account on the March of Dimes website and set our goal. $500. I did the math- one, two, three, four, five, six days, $100 a day, and we’d beat our goal. That’s a pretty good amount to raise in less than a week. Maria made her best pouty face and I wrote up a caption explaining that she wants to help ‘save the babies’ and she will not smile until we reach our goal. I posted the picture with a few words explaining out diabolical plan. I added a link to our page and we were all set. Now I just hoped we would at least raise some money. Well, out first goal lasted for about two days. We quickly surpassed $500- plus we were in the top ten for all of the online fundraisers- a mathematical statistic that I did not even know they kept track of. I painstakingly did a little more math in my head and raised our online goal to $1,000. I thought that was pretty crazy. Like I said, I’ve done my share of fundraisers over the years, including a charity bike ride which I ran and organized for almost ten years, but I’ve never raised $1,000 myself, in personal pledges. I posted another picture and caption and in just two more days, we passed our new goal. By a bunch. Not only that, but we became the number one online fundraisers- in just three and a half days. My mathematical calculations had failed me. Not only was I humbled by the donations from friends who have little or no money to spare,  but I had no idea we’d get such generous individual donations of 50, 100, 150 and as much as 250 dollars! I figured I’d better set our new goal at something we couldn’t possibly reach: $2000. Yes, I did the math…again.


We had less than two days left. I posted another sad picture and a plea to my Facebook family and friends that would have made Sara McLachlan proud.

Checking the M of D website became an addiction. Watching us bounce from the number one spot, to number two, then three…then back to two. Now I had a new goal…We are going to finish at the the top spot. The number one online fundraiser. Not for my own ego, but to show my support for my friend and to give my daughter something to be proud of. OK…maybe a tiny bit of ego and competitiveness came into play, but Maria doesn’t participate in any sports. She doesn’t excel in school. She doesn’t have a lot of friends. She loves babies though, and she loves to help people. I gave her updates throughout the days. I made some phone calls and sent out some texts, along with a final Facebook post and picture. Finally, late on Saturday night, we were at the number one spot again with over $1600. Maria was more than thrilled. She was so excited about the March, she could barely sleep. Sunday morning came, and she was more than ready for the event. The first thing I did was check our webpage. Damn! We got knocked back down to second. I didn’t have the heart to tell her. We were almost 200 dollars behind first. Just 200 lousy dollars! We had about two and a half hours. My brain started cranking out numbers. That’s just $40 per half hour…or something like that. I think. I don’t know. I quickly put up one last Facebook plea, stating that we were shy of our goal and there was still time to donate. When Maria asked how much money we raised, I sadly replied, “about $1700, but we’re not in first place anymore.” That’s when my eleven year old special needs daughter straightened my ass out.

“Daddy, being in first place doesn’t matter. Helping save babies’ lives matters.”

After a few minutes of feeling like a horrible parent, as well as a lousy mathelete, we got our things together and headed to the Walkway Over The Hudson. The parking lot was packed and the streets were lined with cars, so I made the executive decision to start a new row of parking in the big lot. I scootched the Outback into a makeshift spot, behind a big SUV. Several cars started filing in next to me, so I figured we were OK. The event looked great. Tents everywhere. Music blasting. The place was buzzing with excitement.There were teams of people with matching t-shirts with names and dates. Dates of when they lost their “angel babies” to complications resulting to premature births. It was truly heartbreaking and motivating. We walked over to the registration tent and I gave my name to the guy at the table. He said, “Mike Berretta…. $760?”
I said “What?”

“760?” He replied, “your online donations?”

“Um…I don’t think so.”

I pulled out my iPhone (unsolicited endorsement?) and reloaded the website and handed it to him, and said “I think it should be 1790.”

He said, “Oh…..holy cow……holy cow! Oh, wow! That’s great!”

Yup… $1790. But still second place. My little girl was right. It wasn’t about ‘winning’ it was about helping people and saving babies. I was being a typical, over-competitive, mathematically challenged oaf and had to come to terms with second place and not reaching our goal.

At the start of the walk, Lynne introduced the guests of honor, including the Mayor of Poughkeepsie, our County Executive and our Senator. She then gave an emotional speech which made me glad I was wearing my dark aviator glasses, because at that same exact time, I believe the sun was in direct alignment with my corneas and caused some sort of eye watering reaction. As 2,000 of us began walking, I realized that my wonderful daughter had apparently taken off her sweatshirt and left it somewhere. Yes, the same sweatshirt that I told her to put on about 27 times throughout the day. It was a brisk morning, but her body is like a little oven and she toughed it out.

We talked along the way, enjoyed the sights and the people watching. Grabbed an iced tea on the other side of the Walkway and headed back.

Upon our return, we were greeted at the festival with music and entertainment…and food! Lots of food. As we stood in line for some delicious barbecued beef, I told Maria that I was proud of her and just for kicks, I grabbed my phone and went to my March of Dimes fundraising page one last time. As the page loaded, I couldn’t believe my eyes- which actually started to get a little bit misty.

We were at exactly $2,000 and we were the number one online fundraisers for the event.

Apparently my calculations were perfect.

Thank you to all who supported us and wished us well in our mission-and please “save the babies.”

Mother’s Day

After hitting fifty…well, more like 40…or even 35, I have had more and more difficulty remembering things. Some things. Definitely not all things. There are certain things that I couldn’t forget, even if I tried…and believe me, I’ve tried. It would be nice if we had a schematic of our brains so we could figure out how to selectively turn off the bad stuff and keep the good stuff. I guess what I’d really like is to be able to have that for my kids.  

They’ve had to go through some pretty crappy times. Some of it was my fault. Some of it was their mother’s fault. I suppose all of it was both our faults. People have always told me not to worry because kids are resilient. Resilient. Kids should not have to be resilient. Well, be that as it may, but kids remember. I remember most of the craziness when my parents split. Hell, I remember vowing to myself that I’d never get married because I didn’t want to put my own kids through that.      

Obviously, my thoughts on that changed at some point- well at a point that I know well, and will maybe share at another time. I never really cared what our custody agreement said. I was going to be with my kids as much as possibly and after the split with my ex, I had my kids with me a lot more than I was “supposed” to. Pretty much every single weekend and some weekdays. Soon after that, it was every Saturday to Wednesday. I’ll never forget the third year, I believe, when Mother’s Day rolled around. I heard through the pathetically dismal chain of communication from my ex, that she had plans for Mother’s Day and wouldn’t be taking the kids. I was floored. The kids- especially my daughter- love celebrating any holiday. I could see if maybe you were with your kids 24/7 and desperately needed a break. Then, yeah, Mother’s Day might call for a nice relaxing day, without the kids, but when your kids are not living with you for the majority of the time, it’s not even an option to pass them off. I gladly took them and we celebrated Mother’s Day with my mom. There have been other years when I’ve picked up and/or dropped off the kids for short visits. I guess it’s safe to say that I’ve never understood that woman and I’m quite certain I never will. 

Anybody who knows my daughter knows that she is the most loving little ball of spit and fire and emotion and stubbornness in existence. She absolutely loves holidays and loves any excuse for a party. She called me yesterday, as she always does every Saturday. “Daddy, what time are you picking me up?”

“Um…tomorrow’s Mother’s Day, honey. Aren’t you spending it with your mom?” 

“Oh! Hold on!”

She asks her mom if she’s staying home with her because it’s Mother’s Day…then I hear the response. 

“Mommy’s busy tomorrow. I have an appointment.”

“Please mom- it’s Mother’s Day.”

“No, honey.”

The conversation on the other end continued, but finally I interrupted and told her I’d be there at 4:30 to pick her up and we’d go out for dinner. I was crushed over what might be going through her head. Fortunately, she is not very analytical and due to her condition, her brain doesn’t function in such a way that would allow her to figure things like that out….which, I guess is sometimes a good thing. 

I almost forgot the best part- when I picked her up, she climbed into the car and immediately started giggling. The giggling turned into a belly laugh- which Maria is a pro at I kept asking what was so funny, but she couldn’t speak. She finally composed herself and said, “that looks like you!” Pointing to a box I had put in the back seat days ago. It was from a box of ‘Mr. Clean’ and had the big bald Guy’s mug plastered on the side. “Very funny,” I said. 

  She spent part of the day with my mom, visiting my stepsister’s family and all of her baby cousins who she absolutely adores. Then we played a little and made dinner on the grill. After that we took the dogs out for a short hike and stopped by Cold Stone for some of the most outrageously overpriced delicious ice cream in the universe. 

Now, I’m not putting this out there to make my ex look bad- contrary to what she believes, I don’t need to say a word. I’m pretty sure everybody who observes her daily actions, came to their own conclusions. I’m also not looking for accolades. I’m not a great dad. I have tons of shortcomings and I haven’t done the best job possible, but I’m still working on it. I just want people to know that despite being ‘resilient,’ kids are kids. They’re super impressionable un-molded little blobs of feelings and emotions and they are not all created equal. Hopefully, one day, mine will look back and remember the more of the good than the bad. 
God knows, if there was a poster child for resilient, it would be Maria. At the end of the night she said (as she says nearly every single day of her life), “Daddy- today was the best day of my life!”
This Sunday, May 15, Maria and I will be walking in the March of Dimes March for Babies. Please help us reach our goal. She LOVES babies and wants to help. Thank you! 

 
https://www.marchforbabies.org/Fundraising/Personal?personId=6513346&participantId=8130314&user=mberretta&bt=24