The Pickwick Pub

During my post high school, Community College days, I was fairly active, playing the drums, going to school, heading up the college radio, station, coaching my high school crew team and working whatever jobs I could find to keep my 1969 Mustang and my motorcycle going and put some spending money in my pocket. I always loved seeing live music. Being a musician of sorts and a bit of an aficionado and being friends with many local musicians, I loved going out to see bands play. Other than that, I didn’t have much use for bars. Some of my friends would drag me out once in a while, to a dance club, to attempt to pick up women, but I hated that whole scene and vibe. Too phony. Not real. Not for me. 

The only non-music bar I ever loved was a little dive called The Pickwick Pub.  

One of my favorite things to do on a weeknight, was meet one of my best friends in life, Lee, at her job, and wait for her to get out of work so we could go hang out at this old, dingy little bar on Main Street in Poughkeepsie- our own personal “Cheers” for two – The Pickwick. 

There we would sit alone at the dark, mostly quiet bar, with the usual exception of a few older men at the other end. We would sit and talk and watch David Letterman on their little tv- this was long before every bar in the world had a half dozen 64 inch flat screens. We would watch this tiny tv on the back wall of the dimly lit bar, and we’d drink. Jack and Coke. Never, ever anything else. I’m pretty sure we killed our share of bottles back then. I’m also pretty sure neither one of us were of the legal drinking age, which incidentally was constantly being raised just before I reached it. At 17 it was 18. At 18 it turned to 19. At 19 it turned to 21. Always just before I made the cut. Those were different times, though. I had been going to bars since I was 15 (Sorry mom), when my brother’s friends took me to see Twisted Sister at a small local club. That story is for another day. I never really drank a lot. It was mostly to see bands, but at that time, The Pickwick was my drinking bar. 

Normally, with my other friends, a night out always culminated with a trip to the now defunct Pleasant Valley Diner, but on Pickwick nights, when Letterman was finally over, we would pay our tab and make the short drive to Lee’s house, where I would cook us up some eggs or omelettes, depending on what we could pillage from her parents fridge. I still don’t know if her dad knows who I am- other than ‘that guy who used to make breakfast in his house at two in the morning.’

Fast forward some thirty years or so- after the crazy series of events in my life, I’m working at a 128 year old family owned hardware/contractor supply store, Davies Hardware, just a few blocks from The Pickwick. One day, this attractive, vivacious woman comes into the store. Now, we mainly deal with contractors and rental owners and older folks who have been shopping there for years. When a pretty lady enters the store, there aren’t any fist fights to get to her, but there can be some competition. Fortunately, I made my way over to her first. She asked if we had any pallets that we were getting rid of. We got to talking and she told me her name was Jackie and she was making furniture out of the pallets. I knew that pallet projects were all the rage lately, but as we spoke, I discovered that she’s one of the recent owners of the Pickwick Pub and the furniture was for the outdoor area. The Pickwick Pub?   My Pickwick Pub? I hadn’t heard that name in years. I told her how I had spent many nights there, with my friend, consuming Jack Daniels and watching Letterman. I helped her load up some pallets and she told me to stop by sometime and she’d buy me a drink.


I still don’t really do bars all that often anymore, except for live music, which I didn’t even realize happened at the Pickwick. I didn’t collect on my free drink, but I did see Jackie several more times at work. Every time she’d stop in for various items for the bar. It always brightened my day- and I was certain she had the same effect on her customers. She was always smiling- even when I was sure she was a bit stressed. We spoke briefly a few times, via electronic technology- like the time I had to ask her if she thought my 30 year old bottle of Jack Daniels was still drinkable.
Finally, one night before Christmas, I would make a visit to my old friend, the Pickwick. Jackie was in earlier that day, looking for some stick-on Christmas light clips to decorate the bar. She bought all we had and I told her I’d bring her some more when we got them in. After checking our inventory, I sent her a message saying that we may have some in the back room and I’d bring them by. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find them. Later that night, I felt bad, so I went out and bought a few packs and brought them to the Pub.

Walking in the place, it took a minute, but the memories rushed in. It had changed, but it hadn’t changed. Still familiar. Different, but still the same. I gave Jackie the clips and she ‘made me’ do a shot with her. Then, I sat at the bar with my usual drink for a little while, before taking a stroll around the place and returning home.

It must have been about two months later when somebody told me  the horrible news. The Pickwick was being torn down to make room for a pharmacy drive through. A pharmacy drive through? They’re going to tear down an historic building because we need another drugstore in Poughkeepsie? Another drive through? The very definition of the thing states the fact that the consumer has a freaking car. Can’t they drive a quarter of a mile in either direction to the next drug store? I immediately sent Jackie a four word message- “Are the rumors true?”

“Yup.” Was all she said.

I saw her shortly after that and got the details. April 23, 2016 would be the final day for the Pickwick Pub. I knew I had to get there soon. I sent a text to Lee that night and we made plans to return. It wasn’t long, before we were sitting side by side again, at the same bar we used to frequent 32 years ago, drinking Jack and Coke. It was always Jack and Coke. Our last drinks killed what I was sure was the last bottle of Jack Daniels I would ever finish off there. To continue the tradition, afterwards, rather than invading her parents house, we drove to a diner for some breakfast.

If the story ended here, it would have been perfect enough, but somehow, it was going to get even better…

Shortly after my last visit to the Pub, a Facebook post appeared listing the Pickwick’s final band schedule. The final show was SATO- a band that usually headlines much, much larger venues, and whose members I’ve known for many years. I knew I had to be there. I also knew it was going to be chaotic.

The fateful night finally came and my plans were falling through. Suddenly, I had nobody to go with. I didn’t want to go alone, but I was not going to miss it. In a last minute effort, I texted my old friend, Ray, and asked if he wanted to go. I caught him just before he got started on a painting project and thankfully, he welcomed the distraction. When we walked into the bar, it was fairly crowded. We got a couple of drinks- yes, Jack and Coke- and went outside to the backyard area, to get away from the crowd. The back was pretty packed and it was early yet. I knew this was going to be a crazy night. I quickly spotted Frankie, the band’s bass player and we went down the steps to say hello. Frank is a great bass player and a pretty amusing character. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him have a bad time. Ever. He was pretty psyched to play. Soon after, I said hi to Jimmi, the drummer, and back inside, Paul, the guitar player was setting up. I talked to him for a few minutes and then Ray and I parked ourselves in a great spot and enjoyed the show.

Surprisingly, for such a small venue, the band sounded pretty damn good. They were crammed into ‘the music room’ with the bare essentials.

  The crowd was completely into it. I had never seen a band at The Pickwick before, but I found myself wishing I had. We proceeded to have a great time and even made some new friends. In between sets, there were a couple of emotional speeches and Jackie’s friends presented her with some gifts, but the highlight of the evening for me, was when I went to the bar for one last drink. My last drink ever at The Pickwick. The bar was still slammed. The bartenders were all running around like crazy. I waited patiently…for Jackie. I gazed one last time at my surroundings, taking a picture with my mind. Jackie was greatly supported by her friends and her Pickwick family that night. I finally got her attention and told her I wanted her to make my last drink at The Pickwick for me. For one final time I said, “Jack and Coke please.” She reached for the big bottle of Jack Daniels and emptied it into my glass. She put the cap back on, looked me in the eyes and reached out and with her usual great big, warm smile said,”Here. Take it home. Souvenir.”


I wasn’t a part of Jackie’s Pickwick family of regulars, but all of us there that night were connected by a common bond- by a building…an inanimate object that was full of life and provided a place for people to escape from the world. A place for friends to gather. A place for strangers to meet. A place for life to begin again while the daily struggles were put on hold. The Pickwick people will find a new place. Jackie will surely bring her smiling face and bubbly personality back to the world and The Pickwick Pub will live on in the hearts and minds of all who entered her doors, long after the walls come down…and I will have a great big empty bottle of Jack Daniels on my shelf, forever reminding me that time goes by and life goes on and memories really do last a lifetime.

 

Maria

Today is the third anniversary of the passing of my cousin Maria. I’m not ashamed to say that she was my favorite cousin when I was growing up. She was pretty, fun and always, always smiling. That’s how I knew her and that’s how I remember her.  

 

Granted, we were kids and my family lived in Poughkeepsie and they lived in Staten Island. Times were different back then. Both my mom’s side and my dad’s side got together, separately, for every holiday. Every holiday. Every major holiday, minor holiday, many birthdays and anniversaries, parties, weddings- even my Aunt Loretta’s (yes, Loretta Berretta, but that’s a whole different story) dog’s annual birthday party were all held in Brooklyn, and we were all there. 

I’m pretty sure I spent enough time in Brooklyn to be considered an honorary resident. I had a lot of cousins and we were all very close. We always gathered at our grandparents house and we all spent many nights scattered on living room couches, floors and pull out beds- laughing, fighting, pranking. There were nine of us on my dad’s side and I was right in the middle. 

  

Yes…times were different then. 
My memory is not my greatest asset, but there are a few things I do remember about my cousin. Mostly her smile and her loud, contagious laugh. I’m pretty sure that anybody who was around her, always felt good or at least better. Sadly, she went through some tough times. Like many people who appear to be perfect on the outside, she struggled for a long time, on the inside. Eventually, she got herself back on track. She started reaching out to her family and we were able to reconnect. It was almost like she knew what was going to happen. One of the last things she said to me was how she couldn’t believe our kids don’t know us as cousins. The bonds we had. How close we all were. Like many other families nowadays, we’re all scattered now. My kids rarely see their cousins in Arizona. They’ll never know what our childhood was like.

Thankfully, I did get to tell my cousin Maria about my daughter Maria and that she was a big part of why I chose the name for her. She got very sick shortly after that. She came down with double pneumonia and just couldn’t fight her way out of it. Unfortunately, they never met, but my Maria knows who she is and always talks about her. 

 
So yes, my cousin is gone three years today. She made me realize that people are not always as they appear and tomorrow is not promised to anyone and most importantly, life is short. I’ll never understand why people make big issues out of small problems. 

 Maybe not so coincidently, today is also the one year anniversary of my blog, so this one is for my cousin, who I miss- and for all of my cousins, who made growing up in a big, crazy, Italian family so fun and memorable. 

A New Year’s Eve To Remember

So, today you’re going to learn a little more about what it’s like to be me and the insanity that encompasses nearly every single facet of my crazy existence.

It’s New Year’s Eve, 2015. I always like to go for a nice hike on New Year’s Day, but it was fairly warm out and I was on “vacation” all week. I also had my daughter for the better part of two weeks, so I figured we’d take advantage of the nice weather and hit the trails a day early. Let me introduce the players- here’s where some ‘splainin’ will be necessary. Bear with me.

I contacted my doggie momma- the amazing woman who has custody of an eight year old rescue puppy that she took during the earlier portion of our time as a couple. I met Laura about six months after my split with my…ummm…my lovely ex-wife, and we were together for over three years. She helped me through some of the most difficult periods of my life and I will always be indebted to her and we will forever be friends…and that’s quite possibly all you will ever hear about that story. My kids were pretty young when we met, and my middle child had a little bit of a speech issue with his r’s at the time, so Laura became “Lola,” a name that has stuck for nearly nine years. I love our dog, Pike. He was just a few months old when we got him and I am granted ample visitation opportunities, which usually also includes Lola’s 11 month old Bernese Mountain Dog, Hudson. Hudson is a 90 pound puppy with about 60 more pounds to go. If you look up the phrase ‘bull in a china shop,’ his picture should be there. Pike and Hudson are pretty much polar opposites. Pike is very reserved and usually uninterested in most people. Hudson on the other hand is, well…Hudson. It’s not always easy, but it’s a great way to get my daughter, who loves animals, to go on the many hikes and walks I try to take her on to keep her healthy…

My daughter…the love of my life. It’s always a little hard to share this, but for those who don’t know, my daughter Maria, has a chromosomal disorder called Turner Syndrome. The disease has several serious issues attached to it, but is not nearly as bad as what many kids are burdened with, so I try to treat her like any “normal” child. She does have some mental, social and physical problems and she’s technically on the autism spectrum, but to me, she’s just the most loving little girl in the world- with one major problem. She has my stubbornness. I try to help her stay healthy, so we are always on the go. Lots of hiking. Often with the dogs. Many times, we go to the Wappingers Creek Greenway. A local trail alongside the creek, a little over a mile each way. A trail that Maria has grown bored of and tries to avoid as much as possible. She might complain a little, but she does try as best as she knows how, to be a good kid and she loves being with me. No matter how wacky the rest of my world may happen to be, she always has a smile and she always greets me with a loud, cheerful, “Daaaaaddddyyyy!!!”

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That’s my girl.

So, I send Lola a text, and we’re re off to get the puppies. I set up my Outback, which is not nearly as big as it should be, for doggie transport which involves shuffling random articles of clothing, sneakers, hats, empty cups, bottles, crayons, food wrappers, and about 127 hair ties into the foot space of the empty rear passenger seat so we can fold it down and lay down a blanket for the pups. They are super excited to see us because it’s been about an entire day since our last visit. Honestly, it could be a half hour and their reaction would be exactly the same. Well, for Hudson, it could be two minutes… I take them up the hill in the backyard for a quick walk because I was thinking about taking a bit of a drive to go someplace Maria had never been. It’s about 11:45. We load up and hit the road. Maria struggles to eat her bagel, with Hudson trying to nose in on the action. Little did I know it was going to be her last bit of food for the day. While she’s eating, I get the usual 47 verses of ‘Where are we going, daddy?’ To which I reply forty seven times, “It’s a surprise honey.” I was taking her to the Cornish Estate in Cold Spring, NY, a 200 year old mansion that burned down in the 1950’s. I love exploring old ruins and I knew she would get a kick out of it. The 40 minute drive took about an hour because somebody forgot where the entrance to the trail was…not a good premonition for the day. We finally get to the tiny dirt parking lot and drive through a small pond of a puddle that took up about half of the lot, and we park. As I get the leashes in order and get ready to exit the car, I notice an attractive, young woman staring in my direction and smiling, in the car next to us. As I glance over and give a wave, it’s obvious that she’s only interested in the dogs who are smothering my daughter behind me, trying to escape the confines of my vehicle. I get out of the car and am surprised at the how warm it is. I toss my Carhartt jacket back to it’s storage spot on the front seat and I grab the pups. Maria had a pretty heavy Cabela’s hoody on, so I chose not to participate in the usual twenty minute game I like to call “put your jacket on” and we are on our way.
‘A chorus of ‘watch the puddle, Maria!’ was followed up with the grabbing of the hood, to swing her away from a mud bath. The first thing we get to is the trail kiosk. I open up the map holder and it’s empty- except for two maps stuffed down inside it, out of reach, below the slotted plastic cover. Oh well. It’s a pretty straight forward up and back trip. We’ll be fine….or so I thought.

Timeline- 1:00pm. The trail up is more of a very old winding road, with a pretty constant view of the Hudson River- one of my favorite sights in our area. I am forced to keep the dogs on their leashes because of the fairly large number of people heading back down the trail…I mean, because that’s the law. It takes us about an hour to get up to our destination, as we greet several other dog owners along the way. We reach the old mansion at about 2:15. If you’ve never been there, I highly recommend a visit. It’s an amazing, large stone structure, with two huge fireplace stacks that are still standing. One is five stories tall!IMG_6305 (1) We explore and take pictures and have a chat with a couple of guys visiting from NYC. Then we continued on to check out the other buildings on the grounds. We stepped into the old greenhouse, with it’s checkered, glassless frame still in tact, and vines growing through the naked squares. We walked to the nearby overlook. Maria wanted to go to the smaller buildings down below, requiring a stream crossing which resulted in the full submersion of my left foot, while assisting her across the surprisingly fast flowing, chilly water. Oh well. “At least it’s not freezing out,” I saidto myself. When we we started to head back, I figured it would be more fun to take the longer, looping trail instead of doing an out and back trip. We had plenty of time…or so I thought.

As we headed up the trail- and I do mean up, I talked to a couple of other people headed in the opposite direction. The first one said it was about an hour to the parking lot. The second said an hour and a half. OK, I thought, we can do this before dark, as I encourage Maria to keep moving. Now, I almost always try to follow my instinct, which is almost always right. I had a weird feeling all day. Hell, at one point, I even texted Lola and jokingly asked if she was worried I wasn’t going to bring the dogs back. Which got me thinking. I always scan my environment to see what options I have if there was some bizarre sort of emergency situation. I am pretty adventurous, but aware- and like most parents, I always have one eye on my children, but my Spidey sense was tingling and something felt a little bit “off.”

As we pushed onward with our adventure, I became more and more concerned with the time. An hour and a half until sunset quickly became an hour, then just a half. At this point, I am regularly checking my phone GPS map, and the trail starts to turn around, away from the mighty Hudson River, where our car is waiting. Ugh. “Come on Maria, you’re doing great!” I shout, and I tell her for the fifth or sixth time, “I think this is the last hill!” Thank goodness for the Berner, who happily pulls Maria along when she gets tired- and for Pike, who is leading the way, sniffing out the trail for us, as we finally reach the high point and the trail turns into more of a crazy unmarked rock scramble. I take what would be the last picture of the night- Pike overlooking the river.IMG_6358

It’s still a long way down, I think to myself. We’re going to get home in the dark. This is definitely the turning point of our trip. As we push on through the rockiness, the trail becomes less obvious and suddenly, it becomes invisible. We’re scrambling over and between rocks, going downhill. I’m looking for the next trail marker, but finding nothing. It’s OK. I glance at my phone and conclude that as long as we head south and down, we will eventually intersect the trail, hit the parking lot, or at least come out on Route 9d, the road we started from. My thoughts were correct, but the terrain was getting pretty difficult and the time was getting closer to sunset. I knew official sunset was at 4:34. We didn’t have any time to waste. I was leading the dogs and helping Maria along, and occasion running up ahead, trying to find the trail. As the descent got steeper, I had no choice but to allow Maria to slide on her butt, over the wet leaves and damp ground. Not at all what I wanted, but it was the only way to keep her moving. I was concerned, but not panicked when I realized we may have a problem. A serious problem. I look around and find a safe, flat portion of ground and tie the pups to a tree. I tell Maria to ‘sit tight‘ for a minute- a phrase I will soon grow to despise and will hear several times throughout the night. I scoot down the steep, very rocky mountainside a short distance to discover a bit of a cliff below us. I look up and see a very tall cliff above us. I look to the north and to the south and i have no idea how we got here- or how to get out. I run back up to Maria- a trip I will make at least 25 more times during the night. I explain to her that we are going to need some help getting out. She gets a little scared, but handles the news pretty well, as I dial….9…1…1.

Time line- 4:25. Seriously??? Me? Lost in the woods? We’re not even lost! We’re stuck. On Mount Taurus- just south of Breakneck  Mountain. I chose a ‘camp’ for us on the only patch of level ground I could find- in plain view of Route 9d. I could see the small, trendy town of Cold Spring, where I knew city folk and locals were flooding the bars and restaurants preparing to say goodbye to another terrible or amazing or ordinary year and getting ready to welcome in a brand new one of hope or despair. As I dial, I am full of embarrassment, but I’m confident that this happens fairly often, and we’ll be home in time to grab some dinner and prepare for our usual New Year’s Eve hors d’oeuvres celebration at home. “911, what’s your emergency?” “Well, it’s not really an emergency,” I explain and give the short version of what has transpired. “OK, well, you’ve reached Dutchess County 911. I’m going to have to transfer you to Putnam County 911.” This is the precise moment I come to the realization that this is happening to me. Not that I’m really worried- just the fact that this is my life. Nothing- and I truly mean nothing- is easy. Ever. I call 911 for the first time ever in my fifty years, and it’s the wrong number!  Now here it comes…”Sit tight sir, while I transfer you.” I hear a dial tone, some beeping noises and then, several minutes later, the two 911 operators are talking. “Do we have his coordinates?” one operator says to the other. “Yes.” was the reply. I feel a little relieved, knowing that through the magic of modern technology, they have pinpointed our exact location on this huge mountainside via my fairly old, yet technologically amazing cellphone. Now I’m on the line with the Putnam County 911 operator. “Ok sir, I’m going to have the Park Ranger call you back…sit tight.” Ummm…ok. Sitting tight. Keeping Maria calm. Making sure the pups are happy. Try to text Laura and let her know we are in a bit of a jam. Twenty minutes later, my phone rings. Yes! It’s the park police. “Yessir, this kind of thing happens all the time. We have a crew on the way and you’ll be down in no time!” were the words I expected to hear. Instead I heard, “yes, well uhhh…unfortunately, I’m in Washington, D.C. I can’t help you.” Ummm…exqueeze me? I’m thinking… Seriously? Then he asks me to download an app on my phone. Dude, I tell him. My phone is five years old. I’m at 40% power. “If you download this app, he says, it will give you’re exact location.” Didn’t they already have that? Ok. I’ll try. “I’m going to call the fire department” he says. “They’ll call you back shortly- and then, yes, you guessed it- “sit tight.” The fire department, I thought?? Am I a cat stuck up in a tree?? Don’t get me wrong- I have 110% respect for firemen and know several, but isn’t there supposed to be a crew of Swiss mountain climbers with climbing axes and coils of rope on their arms with their trusty Saint Bernards by their sides with whiskey barrels on their necks, on call, eager to jump at such an opportunity?? So, we sit. And we sit. I scramble up and down the steep, rocky mountainside. Up and down..up and down. I start to set up our little camp, sheltered from the wind. I’ve got this. I was a boy scout. I camp. I’ve seen all the crazy survival shows. Twenty more minutes go by. I call 911 again. Ugh. Dutchess County… Really? I get transferred again. They review my coordinates again. At least they know exactly where we are. Again. Yes sir. The fire department is on the way. Keep your phone clear and…yeah, yeah, I know. “Sit tight.”

Finally we see a fire truck go by with lights blazing. The phone rings. “Yes, yes, I saw you drive by. I can see the road. If you turn around, I can tell you when you are directly below me.” He does. I do. He stops the truck. I tell him you are directly below us. I flash the bright, tiny light on my trusty old iPhone 4. I see you, he says. I see where you are. Ok. “They’re on their way up. It won’t be long now,” I tell Maria. One hour, maybe two hours later, I see their flashlights getting closer, waving randomly, to and fro. I’ve been calling out to them for a while. Shouting. Yelling. “Helloooo!!! Heyyyyy!!!” A light finally shines up, in our direction. “We are right above you!” I shout. Shine your light to the north! To the north! To your left! Shine it to your left!! I call on my phone. ‘We are directly under the tree your light is on right now. Ok sir. We have your location. Unfortunately, we can’t get to you from the bottom. We have to go up and come down. OK. No problem. It won’t be long now. We’ll sit tight!

What felt like hours had passed. I heard no more shouting. I saw no more flashlights. The emergency vehicles below had dimmed their lights- and best of all- my nearly ancient iPhone 4 has decided to take a well deserved, but poorly timed siesta. The battery power indicator said 24%, but it decided to retire for the night. After several failed attempts to restart it, I quietly slid it back into my pocket. Maria asked if it was dead. I told her I was just conserving the battery. I then gathered up as many dry leaves as I could find to rebuild our slightly damp resting spot. I re-positioned Maria up against Pike and focused on keeping her warm, while I explained our new plan. We are going to camp out and make our way down in the morning light. “OK daddy,” she said, “But we’re gonna miss the ball drop.” “I know. Try to get some sleep honey,” I told her. It’s going to be a long night, I thought to myself. As I laid there, feeling helpless and stupid, knowing I could work my way down the rocky cliff alone, but not wanting to leave my family, I talked to Maria, making sure she was alright, when all of a sudden, I heard a faint, but distinct sound in the distance. Shhhhh…quiet honey. Then the only three words that came to mind- and I hope I didn’t say then out loud, was ‘no f’ing way.’

“What’s that daddy?”

“Ummm… It’s…a…ummm…it’s a helicopter, honey.”IMG_6480

A helicopter. They sent a rescue chopper? They know where we are. Why would they send a helicopter? We watched as the lone light in the sky proceeded to float up the west bank of the river, shining it’s bright spotlight down into the mountains. The mountains on the west side of the river. Unfortunately, we were on the east side. It circled around, shining it’s light on the mountains across from us and then in the river itself. Maria said, “What’s wrong daddy? Is somebody lost?” I laughed and said, “I think they may be looking for us.” ‘Well, they’re not very smart,’ she replied. The helicopter made a few more passes, nowhere near us, and vanished off into the distance. What the hell was that all about?, I wondered, as I got Maria and the dogs settled again, preparing to stay the night. Shortly after that, I heard another sound in the distance. It was moving faster. Suddenly a bigger, louder rescue chopper busted over the tree line, lighting up the ground in front of it. This was crazy. Half of me felt horrible that all of these people were out here because of me. All of this money was being spent. Half of me was nearly hysterical laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation, and whatever was leftover was thinking…we’re getting airlifted and riding in a rescue chopper for New Years! This chopper searched the correct side of the river! It even had the right mountain- but it was nowhere near our location. I could not shout over the roar of the engine. I could only shake my head in disbelief. We’re right above the fire truck. You guys know where we are. At some point the fire truck turned its emergency lights back on. Finally! Maybe they told the pilot to search straight up from the truck…but no such luck. After four or five passes, he headed back down the river to wherever he came from. Now my throat was sore from yelling, my arms tired from waving my dead phone at the copter. I get everybody settled down again. Shortly after calming my daughter and the dogs, the helicopter returned. After four more unsuccessful passes, it flew overhead. I’m talking close enough that in my near delirious state, I could picture the rescue lines pulling us up into the big side doors. Then it happened- the nearly blinding spotlight shone down directly on us. I’m talking directly. I continue to wave my phone at them, trying to reflect the light off of the glass. “Daddy, he sees us!” My daughter shouts. “I think he does,” I replied. And then, after studying our position and after my arms are nearly ready to fall off, he positions the nose of the chopper to the south, ever so slowly…and…and he disappears. Gone. Buh-bye.

Timeline- I have no idea. “Alright, honey. Let’s get some sleep.” All I could do was wonder why they weren’t searching the area straight up the mountain from the fire truck. They had our coordinates. What happened? Oh well. I gather up some more leaves and we once again hunker down for the night. The helicopter returns again, this time no spotlight. He sits at the base of the mountain and apparently waits for me to build a giant reflector to magnify the weak dead battery display on my spent cell phone. He is mocking me. All I can do is continue to wave my phone, occasionally with the dull white iPhone plug light that appears when your battery needs charging. I’m not sure what he was doing, but he was done and he was leaving. Looks like we’re camping out. Maria has been amazingly calm and quite happy throughout most of the day and night. She complained about being cold a few times, as I constantly rubbed her legs and back. At one point, she started to shiver a bit and Hudson seemingly instinctively, shimmied up from behind me and laid across her legs. I joked that she now had a puppy blanket and I rubbed his belly in appreciation. Soon after her Bernise comforter was in place, she fell asleep.

As I lay there, looking at the lit up town, slightly envious of the lucky folks getting ready to ring in the new year, I also had the opposite feeling. Sympathy. Sympathy for all of the people who will never be stranded on a mountain on New Year’s Eve with their daughter. Silly thought? Maybe, but as long as we were safe, I was loving almost every minute of it. While looking down to the town I was also checking to see if the emergency vehicles were still there. Suddenly, Pike’s head jolts up. He scans the cliffs alcove us. Several seconds later, Hudson bolts up on all four. They’re both staring in the same direction. Now, I had thought about the possibility of wild animals, but other than gather up a few large sticks to keep nearby, there wasn’t much I could do about it. OK. Here we go. I grab a stick and stand up next to the dogs, watching quietly in the direction of their stare. Their leashes clutched in my hand, as they had been for most of the night. After several intense minutes, that felt like an hour, I see a flash of light below us. And then above us. A light. A flashlight. I wake up Maria, to warn her that I’m about to yell for the millionth time. “Hey! Hello! Down here!” Again. And again. Now there were two lights. Waving back and forth from above. “Down lower!” I yell. “Mike?” They shout back. “Daddy, they said your name!” “Yes honey, they did.” Suddenly a light locks in on our position. As soon as it does, Hudson, a normally quiet dog, lets out a huge, bellowing bark that would have woken the neighborhood if there was one. One after another. Woof, woof, woof, woof! Nonstop, until the two Newburgh Fire Fighter rescue team members were standing by our side.
They asked if we were ok and one of them went straight to Maria and said, “Hi. I’m Tommy.” He quickly gave Maria his sweatshirt, gloves, socks and even his thermal long johns. She was thrilled- not to be warm, but to be wearing real live fireman gear. As they unpacked some equipment, he said to Maria, “What are you doing up so late do you know what time it is?” I thought to myself, what time is it? Will we get to see the ball drop, like Maria had been asking all night? He said, “it’s two o’clock in the morning!” Ummm…it’s what?

As we waited for the rest of the search party to get to us- the rest of the Newburgh crew and the other group, from the West Point rescue squad, the first two guys explored the area below us and a few guys and a woman climbed up as close as they could below us. It was about a half hour until they decided on a route down. They put harnesses on Maria and me. Tom hooked up to one end of the rope, Maria and I were on the other. Two men took the dogs and I turned to them and said, “If anything happens to these dogs, you may as well leave me on this mountain.” They looked at me and laughed. “No. I’m completely serious,” I responded. They assured me they would be ok. After much coaxing and joking and even one fire fighter offering to sing Maria a song, she was finally ready to go. We slowly rappelled down the rocks and drop offs, stopping three times to reset the rope to a new anchor. Eventually, we reached a point where the crew at the bottom said we could walk the rest of the way. I was relieved- until I saw what we were climbing through. More huge rocks and lots of prickers. At that point, the dogs were returned to me and I once again clutched their leads tightly as we worked our way down to the bottom of the mountain. I would hand Maria off to Tom, and then he would walk her to me. We were moving at a pretty good pace when I heard Tom say, “OK Maria, come to me, I’ve got you.” To which my extremely stubborn and brave eleven year old replied, “No..it’s OK. I got this.” And she hopped down a series of boulders like a billy goat. I laughed out loud, half amazed that she was even awake at this point. “My daddy taught me how to hike.” She told him. Due to her disabilities, she has never been able to participate in any organized sports, but that single moment was better than if she had scored the winning goal in a championship game. That’s my girl, I thought to myself. That’s my girl.

We finally got to the actual trail where we started. When we stepped out of the woods, I could not believe the number of emergency vehicles and personnel on the scene. Fire trucks, police cars, ambulances, flashing lights everywhere. Holy crap. Lola’s parents greeted us with hugs and her dad reached for the dog’s leashes which I was later told, I would not let go of. I thanked them and I thanked the puppies. We were led into an ambulance where Maria was offered warm blankets and she said, “No. I’m good. Can we go home?” They filled out forms, the police officer filled out a report. Finally, the state trooper who initially greeted us at the trail, offered a ride down the street to our car. Maria was thrilled to ride in a police car. As we get out, he says watch the puddle! As I instinctively grab Maria’s sweatshirt swinging her body away, with her boot skimming the huge puddle in front of her. We walk to the car and the trooper says, I just need to see your license. “Sure thing” I reply, grabbing it from my car. A few minutes later he returns, handing it back, along with a piece of paper. “I had to issue you a ticket.” He says. I burst out laughing. “A ticket? Really?” “Yes. Sorry. I have to do it. It’s for leaving the marked trail.” “Okay, thanks for your help,” I say and we hit the road.

I think that’s when the exhaustion and hunger finally hit me. As we start the forty minute drive home Maria says, “Daddy can we walk the dogs tomorrow- but not on that trail- let’s go to the Greenway Trail.” “Sure honey. Whatever you want,” I reply.

A few minutes later, I hear in a tired voice, “Daddy…can we do that hike again next year for New Year’s Eve?”

Yes, indeed. That’s my girl.

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Today, I made an old man cry. 

So, today I made an old man cry. I don’t think I started out my day with that intention. Actually, I’m quite certain that the thought has never, ever crossed my mind. My day started out a bit earlier than usual. I had a parent-teacher conference for my daughter, so I decided to go to the gym early in the morning. Too early. After that, I went to the meeting, which went surprisingly well. It’s good to know that there are teachers out there who are genuinely concerned for their students. I guess special education teachers are even more aware of their student’s needs. Anyway, I am grateful that my daughter has an excellent teacher. I’m also glad that I had my own conference with her to avoid the potential…or inevitable drama that occurs when my ex is present.
Today was off to a good start. Gym- check. School meeting- check. Off to work. It was a pretty typical Thursday for retail/commercial sales. We were fairly busy, so the day was going by pretty quickly- plus, I had a late lunch break, so closing time was coming fast. It was right around 4:00 when the old man walked through the door. I was standing behind the counter, so I saw him come in. I’d guess he was in his 80’s. He was wearing an old man’s suit. Not that it was a bad suit. It was a suit that had seen many years of use. I’d bet he had a few suits like it and he still wore one every day.

 You probably know somebody like him. A man from another time, trying to make sense of the craziness of modern times. Adjusting and readjusting to the world. Working at a store that has been around for 128 years, we get our share of older customers, so it wasn’t all that unusual. I watched him walk to the counter where a coworker was also standing. He presented a small, wooden, oval box in his old, bruised, shaking hands. He gently placed it on the counter. Don said, “so, what do we have here?” The old man took off the top of the box. Then, he carefully removed a tiny, metal replica of an old sewing machine and presented it to Don. I walked around the big counter and moved in closer, next to the old man. He then reached into the box again and took out another piece. It was a small clock, about the size of a ladies watch. He explained that he had been attempting to repair the tiny keepsake, but the parts were so small, he couldn’t do it. He said the tiny screws may be stripped and he could not reattach the clock. I asked to see it and after examining it, I  suggested that maybe it wasn’t the screws that were stripped, but the holes in the time piece. This brought a new sadness to his face, as he asked if we had any suggestions of who might be able to repair it for him. He said he would be happy to pay anybody to fix it. He needed to get it repaired. Don told him he didn’t know of anybody. The old man frowned. I took a closer look. I told him we might be able to use a longer screw and try to catch some of the deeper threads that were still intact. I took the clock to the section of the store where the very tiny metric screws are kept and then returned to the counter with two long 2mm screws and a 2mm nut.


When I got back to the counter, the old man was telling Don the story of the sewing machine clock. He had bought it for his wife over twenty years ago and she had loved it. The sewing machine was one of her favorite things, but she had recently been moved to a nursing home and it was misplaced in the shuffle.  He paused and looked up at me and asked if I could fix it. I gave him a not so reassuring “maybe.”  He continued on with his story, and I got to work on the piece, shortening the long, tiny screws with some cutting pliers and re-threading them with the nut. It took a while, but the old man’s story was playing in the background. He said his wife was on a waiting list for a local nursing home, but was lucky to get into a temporary spot in a disgustingly expensive home in Connecticut, which was about an hour away for him. A long way to travel daily for anybody, let alone a man of his age. He told us how she remembers some things, but not others and recognizes most people, but if you walk away and come back, you have to start all over again. He told us how much she loved the little sewing machine gift and how important it was to bring it to her. All the while, I was trying to hold the tiny little screws in my fat fingers, cutting and threading and re-cutting to get them to the proper length and attempting to fit them into their place, while the small crowd at the counter watched.

Finally, I got the little screws snugged up in place and the clock was securely mounted where it belonged. I took a towel and wiped the whole thing down, polishing the glass, as if it were a Rolex. Then I showed it to the old man, placed it in the box and said, “You’re all set, sir.”


He said “It’s fixed???” and reached into his pocket with his shaking hands and pulled out his wallet asking how much he owed us. I said, “No charge, sir. Merry Christmas.”  Don told him his money is no good here and wished him luck with everything.

I was a bit choked up and I could tell everyone was a little emotional, but as the man left, Don said, “You know you just made that old man cry?  There were tears in his eyes when he left.”

So, yes. I made an old man cry today. It’s funny how life goes.  Everybody has a story. Everybody has their own problems and challenges. Normally, most of us walk through each day focused solely on our own issues-not even considering what is going on in the lives of the dozens of people we come into contact with. No matter how bad things are for you- and trust me, sometimes, they’re gonna be pretty bad- there is always going to be somebody going through something worse. When you see it that way, the big problems seem to get just a little smaller. Maybe we’re all joined by a common bond of wanting things to be just a little bit better…for everybody.

Now, do me a favor and go make somebody cry.

Merry Christmas to all.

The Bridge

Wow. That hit me hard.

I hadn’t purchased anything in a big box hardware store in a long time. I needed two 4 x 8 sheets of plain wall panel. I’m not a big fan of the super jumbo mega-stores, but I didn’t really have a choice.

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When I actually owned my own home, before the ‘big d,” I was there all the time- one of the stupid-big warehouse stores where unmanned cash registers are plentiful, but assistance is scarce. I would always have my son with me- my oldest. By the time he was two, he could spot a Home Depot half a mile away. He grew to love Nascar. Especially Tony Stewart and the Home Depot car. He had the clothes, the toy cars, the hats, posters in his room. If it said Home Depot, you name it, he had it.

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I remember one of my biggest projects that he helped me with. My former backyard was level for about sixty feet or so, then it sloped down a bit. After the drop off, it leveled again, and turned to woods. Beyond the woods, was a creek. Whenever it rained hard, we would get a little stream running at the base of the hill, at the bottom of the yard, before the woods. This was really not a problem- until we got our dog, Angel. Rainy nights would mean sloshing through the muddy stream, into the woods to walk the dog. Now this presented the small problem of wet feet or having to pull on my big pair of rain boots. Unfortunately, it also presented the larger problem if a very wet, muddy dog. I decided to do the only logical thing- build a bridge.
Now, I’ve done a little construction in my life. I knew guys who did construction. I watched the handyman shows and read the magazines. I could do this. After all, I was a homeowner. A testosterone driven man, with a two car garage, half full of tools, but being a member of the male species, I wanted this done and finished as soon as possible. Now, I don’t like math, so I figured if I made the bridge four feet wide, I’d only have to cut the  8 foot 2 x 4’s in half. The bridge was going to be 24 feet long- so I could use three 2 x 6 x 8 foot boards as the base- with no cutting. That meant we needed about 40 2 x 4’s and about a dozen 2 x 6’s.
I took some measurements, drew some sketches and my son and I were off to the super-mega hardware store with the big orange sign- in the family {ugh} minivan-a story for a other day.
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Off we went. My little helper and I. He went everywhere with me. I mean everywhere. Literally, since he came home from the hospital. If I wasn’t at work, my son was by my side. I remember taking him to the grocery store when he was about three weeks old- his mother had some issues about being alone with him. I think he was about five years old at the point of the bridge building project. We picked out the wood- which is not an easy task. Most of it is of pretty poor quality at these stores. You have to go through ten to twenty pieces of lumber to find one good, straight one. It took quite a while and there were a lot of boards to buy. We finally got everything together. Wood, screws, spikes, bolts, and off we went. We navigated the clumsy blue cart (with at least one malfunctioning wheel) through the store and out to the parking lot, where I proceeded to fill the vehicle I would never in a million years be caught dead in, with our payload.

Back home, we unloaded together and off to work we went. I would let him help me measure, bang nails, drill holes and occasionally assist in cutting a board. It took a good solid week of sweaty hard work, but when we finished, we had a 24 foot long, pressure treated, bad-ass mother of a bridge that was pretty much bomb proof. He loved it. He helped build it and he loved it. He loved to play on it. He loved just sitting on it. But most of all, he loved to ride his bike over it…

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Fast forward twelve years. I’m waiting on the only line that is open, even though there are thirteen cash registers, with my big sheets of paneling, when I feel a pair of eyes staring me down. You know that feeling. I look up to see a small boy, standing in a shopping cart with a ladder and some other items in it. He’s eying me up. He’s got a plaid shirt and a bass pro shop hat. I give him a wave and he starts talking to me about building stuff. He was so excited. He was going to help his dad do some work. His dad pays their bill, gives me a nod and off they go.

As I head out to wrestle with these two big 4×8 sheets of whatever the hell hardboard wood paneling is, a tear comes to my eye as I think of my son. He’ll be 17 in five days. I haven’t seen him in about eight months. The kid who wouldn’t leave my side. He doesn’t talk to me anymore. Divorce is an ugly, nasty, crazy animal that can suck the life right out of you. Everybody says ‘give it time, he’ll come around.’

I hope they’re right.

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In the mean time, I can’t help but envy that dad who’s son thinks he’s the greatest man on the planet.

God,  I miss those days.

Maybe someday there will be another bridge.

My ocean in a drop.

According to Wikipedia- an extremely ‘reliable’ source, there are over 152,000,000 blogs on the internet and a new blog is created every half second. That’s 172,800 a day. Over 63,000,000 per year.
63 million…
Really?
Really???Who is ever going to find my tiny little blog in this ginormous ocean of blogfish?
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…and if it is found, or noticed, or stumbled upon, why would anyone choose to follow- nay, even read what I have to say? I have pondered long and hard on this and I have come up with a profound, educated and enlightened answer to this unnerving question- who cares? Seriously, who cares? Perhaps that should be a statement, not a question:

Who cares.

Not that I don’t (or won’t) appreciate anyone and/or everyone who may read my odd, unsolicited ramblings. I do…or I will. I know one or two people, maybe, just maybe three, who will read me and possibly understand what I am trying to convey. Maybe.

Maybe not.

I am not doing this for recognition. Or fame. Or money (ha). Or popularity. I was never really one for seeking the approval of the masses. I am doing it, selfishly, for me. Hopefully somebody else will enjoy it, but really- who cares.

The crazy thing is…well, it’s all crazy, but I’ve always said I am better on paper. Electronic or papyrus. Snail mail or email. I’ve always been a crappy oral communicator. Seriously shitty. I’ve heard it time and time again. I’ve been told by family, friends, teachers, girlfriends and one ex-wife. Everybody. I am well aware of it and I’ve been working on it…forever. On and off. Off and on.

Communicating is…not my strong suit.

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For some inexplicable reason, I can express my thoughts, my needs and my (ugh- sorry guys)- my ‘feelings’ on paper way better than in a verbal format. I know that most guys are crappy communicators, but I really suck at it. It’s a gift I was born with and I have perfected it. It’s not that I don’t want to communicate, it’s just that…well, I don’t want to. And the right words are usually not available when I search for them. Maybe if I had more time to organize my thoughts and come up with a response to specific situations. Give me a pen or a keyboard and I can spew out pages of pretty much anything. I can jot down notes and read them to a crowd of thousands, but just talking…face to face or on the phone..not so much. Maybe if I could have some time to get myself together and study the circumstances. Perhaps jot down a few notes. Discuss with friends and then get back to the conversation at hand.

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Maybe I was just not built for it. Oh, I can do the initial friendly banter like a champ. I’ve talked to total strangers every work day for the past 20 plus years. It’s the other stuff I suck at. The ‘important’ stuff.    Who knows. Maybe this blogging thing will help.

Maybe I will become skilled at answering questions such as:

How are you feeling?

Where do you see this relationship going?

And the biggie- What’s really bothering you?

Maybe it will make it worse. We shall see.

In the mean time, while trying to figure out where to begin, I guess I have already have…

Sort Of Blogging

How many of these things start out with “I never thought I’d be writing a blog” or “I’m not really sure what I’m doing, but here goes nothing.” Well, not this one. I know exactly what I am doing…sort of. I am attempting to save my life.

Let’s start with the basics, although there are no basics. I am a {gulp} 50 year old man… That’s the first time I’ve ever said that. I am fifty. Pretty new at it.

Wait a second. How is that possible? How did I get to be 50? 17 seems like just yesterday. I distinctly remember being in high school. Rowing on the crew team for four years. Playing the drums since elementary school and in a heavy metal band from 7th grade to post-college. Christ. My oldest son is in 11th grade now. Where did those thirty plus years go? Anyway, I am newly 50. I am divorced. Eight years now. I’ve been ass-rammed by ‘the system’ for most of those eight years. I have three kids who live with me part time…sort of. Not nearly as much as they used to. I work in the wonderful world of retail. I currently live in my mother’s house. I have been in family and support court more times than I can count and I’ll be back again soon. That topic alone could be pages of blog material in and of itself. I went from living in a brand new house with a huge master bedroom, in a nice neighborhood, to residing in a basement and sleeping on a couch.

I am not a complicated person. I thrive on simplicity, but oddly, most of my relationships have been disastrously complicated. Go figure. Several years after a failed marriage and then a couple of fun and interesting relationships, I wound up with an amazing woman…sort of. Then, in a case of my own mistaken reality, I had once again found myself alone- which is not a terrible thing, it’s just not what one would have expected by age 50. Well, it’s not what I expected. Actually- correction- honestly, I did initially expect to be alone. My feelings on the institution of marriage have fluctuated greatly over the years.

But, now I’m fifty. I’m overweight. I’m tired. I’m sore. I’m a little angry and I’m a little bit broken. Here, I will share my oddness, my music and drums, my random encounters with birds and heart-shaped rocks, my obsession with abandoned ruins and cemeteries and water and trees, my love/hate relationship with exercise and bicycles, and my many other unusual and slightly bizarre tendencies, experiences and thoughts.

This is the journal of my journey. My journey to regain my self, my health, my heart and my life..sort of.