Blissful Moments With Just the Right Amount of Terror

A rare occasion: all seems well aboard the Barrel of Monkeys

A rare occasion: all seems well aboard the Barrel of Monkeys

My dad would have turned 60 this week. He exemplified all the phrases the French use to describe an excellent human being – joie de vivre, je ne sais quoi…OK, I’m out. Je ne parle pas Francais. (Thanks, Google Translate!) But you get what I mean. You really and truly cannot find a soul on God’s green earth that had met my dad and didn’t love him. Well, except for the people he cut off on the road and on the sea – not the world’s greatest driver of cars and certainly not of boats, as you’re about to find out. To honor this occasion, I solicited happy memories and hilarious stories of my father’s many mishaps. I was shooting for 60, but I should have known this request would far surpass my expectations.

Below are submissions from family and friends presented in no particular order and with minimal editing, save for some snarky insertions from yours truly. Because most people had several stories to share, I tried to keep these in bite-sized chunks. To me, the most astounding thing is that there were so few repeats of stories, except the broken wine jugs and the fruit flies. You’ll see common themes: lots of vacation follies and a lot of people sensing they were in danger while out on our old boat, the Barrel of Monkeys. Yet, we all kept taking trips and setting sail – not wanting to miss the adventure. I stole the title from AJ’s story, the last of the bunch. I promise it will make sense when you get to Uncle Anthony’s stories.  Continue reading

Some Angst, Some Thanks – the Usual

Last week, I had a few really vivid dreams. In one of them, I had a wiener dog. It was awesome. In the other, though, I walked around Boston with my dad. In some ways, it was also awesome. Let me explain…

Today marks five years since his death. This past September began my fourth year in Boston. Sometimes I forget that just about everything in my life has changed since then. Were he to come back for day, he would find my day-to-day completely unrecognizable. And so, in a weird way, I actually kind of enjoyed this dream I had. Its premise was that he didn’t actually die on Nov. 27, 2009, but for some reason had been in a coma since then and recently woke up, a little bit like a bizarre Encino Man sequel starring a middle-aged attorney. He and I strolled Boston, I pointed out various landmarks that figured into my new life and we stopped for beers are several pubs along the way. We talked all about beer and he seemed pretty impressed with my new fermentation-filled life. Even though it technically never happened, it almost felt like closure. Continue reading

After a Hurricane Comes a…Meh.

We're almost not homeless!

We’re almost not homeless!

I remember this same weekend last year like it was yesterday. I woke up early that Saturday morning with an ungodly hangover and suffered through a bus ride to New Jersey for my 10-year high school reunion. A few girls asked what I thought about the impending storm and I shrugged it off with an “Ehhhhh, Irene wasn’t toooooo bad.” The next day, I checked the MegaBus site compulsively for updates about my scheduled departure since it seemed that every other transit line was canceling trips, even though no rain had fallen yet. I met Lauren at the diner because she happened to be home from New Orleans the same weekend. More hurricane talk, more “I mean, it’ll be fiiiiine?”. She offered some encouraging information about the power of mold bombs immediately after flooding.

Despite secretly wishing for my bus to be canceled (I was hoping for an extra day or two at home), it took off, the last bus to make it out of New Jersey in advance of Sandy. Unbeknownst to me at the time was the fact that, had I not made it to that bus, I would have been stranded for weeks. In the dark, in the cold, with little access to the outside world or any perspective on the carnage up and down my beautiful, beloved Jersey Shore. All the mold bombs in the world couldn’t have helped our charming little bungalow, after the island was off-limits for three weeks.

It seems like this week, every media outlet is offering retrospective stories – about where we are, about what we’ve learned, about what progress there’s been, but mainly about the lack thereof. A majority of our neighborhood’s houses sit vacant and gutted. Whole tracts of land on the Barrier Island where houses once stood have become open space. I hope those cringe-inducing Stronger Than The Storm commercials are played in marketing classes for years to come to highlight glossed-over ineptitude and the woeful decline of jingle writing as an art.

My mom has fought tooth and nail to claw her way through a bureaucratic system whose goal seems to be keeping funding from the people who need it most. A year ago, it warmed your heart to see all the support pouring in as millions of dollars racked up; it seemed implausible that my widowed mother would have to pay out of pocket to fix our only home. In the months that have separated us from the most destructive storm I hope we’ll ever see, she’s gotten a loan and used it to pay for a brand new house, but that’s money that needs to be repaid. The state’s RREM program has yet to disburse any money from what I can tell and they keep moving the goal posts for homeowners who are still waiting a year later. Continue reading

Thank You, I Love You, I’m Sorry, Goodbye: When Hurricane Sandy Makes You Demolish Your Home

My little house in the snow.

My little house in the snow.

I knew it was coming, knew it had to happen and know that its occurrence is simply the first step in a string of good things to come. Recently, I found myself growing annoyed that it hadn’t happened yet. But once I found out it was scheduled, once it became real, it punched me in the gut and all but knocked the wind out of me.

Our lovely little house at 202 Joseph St. meets its demise Wednesday after sitting uninhabitable all winter and spring, gutted to its studs and stripped bare of all the wonders inside that made it our home. Like I said, I knew this was coming for months, but wasn’t anywhere near prepared to hear the news. I’ve powered through this whole process knowing that the demolition of the house would usher in a new house, a bigger, more storm-proof one with swankier amenities and enough space for everyone to get their own bedroom. A house just like that had been the plan for my parents’ retirement, except they were going to give our current structure a makeover because it was so important to keep the original structure, which my grandfather and great uncle built with their own hands.

I’m trying to think positive thoughts here, but it’s hard. I knew I’d be sad when it was finally time to tear the old girl down – I just didn’t think I’d be this sad. Continue reading

Happy Birthday Dad

Well, times certainly have changed.

Well, times certainly have changed.

 

Today, my dad would have turned 58. Since he’s no longer with us, I wanted to do something to mark the day (pun actually not intended) and yesterday had a stroke of slightly selfish genius. Whenever I would come up to Massachusetts to visit Ryan, Dad would always – without fail – ask if we went to Pizzeria Regina. We never did during the long distance days, but have split pies on several occasions since I moved.

He had probably visited Regina about three times in the preceding 15 years. I’d assume he first encountered the North End’s finest pizza (in my not-so-humble opinion) while visiting Aunt Celeste. He dragged a big group of us there to eat in 2004 during the DNC pretty late at night after a then-14-year-old AJ got us turned away from a 21-plus party. When a satellite opened in Paramus, he drove many miles out of his way to get it. This I don’t really understand, because everyone knows Regina’s just regular pizza outside the North End. You need the original oven to get the good stuff. And, besides, in New Jersey, Reservoir is just as good.

But I digress.

It would have felt wrong to let the day pass without acknowledging it and yet I’m entirely sure how I’ve spent it the past two years in Boston. Maybe I went home? I don’t know. Continue reading

Sandy, the 900-mile-wide Chip on my Shoulder

Looks like Sandy threw a pretty wild party. Unfortunately, that bitch didn’t invite us and isn’t planning on helping us clean up.

So, two weeks ago, we had a little weather event here on the East Coast. Maybe you’ve heard of it – Hurricane /Superstorm/ Frankenstorm Sandy? This beast pretty much took over my life, stole my attention span and routinely woke me up in the middle of the night.

My family’s dear, little lagoon-side (and only) home was battened down and evacuated to ride out the worst storm it’s ever faced alone. The day before the mandatory barrier island evac order, Mark taped up the windows, put a few valuables on top of beds and off the floor, and put some towels in the doorways. Last summer, Irene coaxed the rising bay water just two feet from our back door and no one thought we’d be as lucky this time.

But I never thought it would be as bad as it was. Our little house took on more than three feet of water, most likely courtesy of a storm surge rising from the end of the lagoon that normally brings us mallards to feed.

I only know the extent of the damage because last Friday, 12 whole days after Sandy absolutely ravaged the Jersey Shore, my mom and AJ were bused over to our island from the mainland and given an hour to collect our most important belongings. This trip only included primary residents of the island, i.e. people with no other home to speak of. (Most dwellings on this strip of sand are summer homes and it’s pretty lonely in the off-season. I don’t know how I survived three long winters, but sometimes, when the clatter outside my Boston apartment get so loud I can hear conversations and car horns from three blocks away, I really miss it.) Continue reading

When You Become a Sad Kid, You Will Develop a Highly Inappropriate Sense of Humor

This picture will all make sense when you get toward the bottom, I promise. Also, it’s just hilarious. Can you imagine Mitt Romney trying to celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day? Nope, neither can I. Vote Democrat.

I stay sane by finding comedy in everyday life. If I didn’t, I would be hugely bored all the time and that’s not really how you want to go through life. This strategy usually results in me cracking inappropriate jokes, saying all the wrong things and frequently alienating people. I don’t make a lot of friends easily this way, but, hey, at least I’m not bored. My father’s sudden, tragic death has only heightened this quirk. I’ve noticed, though, that fellow Sad Kids have developed this freakish trait as well.

Recently, I came across this McSweeney’s post, Six Pieces of Highly Autobiographical Bereavement Advice and nearly lost it trying not to laugh at my desk on my lunch break. Now, someone not accustomed to loss – say, someone who sadly had to bury their great-grandmother when they were 7 and then never dealt with death again – would read this and probably think to themselves rationally, “Oh dear me, this is not funny. No, no, this is horrible. What is wrong with this monstrous person laughing at the death of her mother like this?” I read this  and was like “OH MY GOD THIS IS SOME FUNNY SHIT.” I shared it with my brother, who agreed.  Continue reading

A Night of Ghost Stories at Giants Stadium with Mr. Springsteen

Jake picks up where the Big Man left off, supported by a tremendous horns section.

As previously discussed in this space, I partook in the customary ritualistic gathering of my peoples this past weekend and attended (for the twelfth time) a stadium performance by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. This marked my third such concert for 2012 on the band’s tour in support of their newest studio-recorded offering. Since the release of Wrecking Ball in March, Bruce seems to have whole-heartedly embraced the theme of ghosts – not scary specters, but simply the spirits of those gone before us; in his own words, “sweet souls departed.” For evidence, take a listen to “We Are Alive,” maybe my favorite track on the album.

For this first time ever, E Street had to step out on the road without Clarence Clemons this year, and in March, I took in my first Boss show since the month before my father died. Why does this matter? More than anyone else in my life, my dad imbued me with (in my humble opinion) an impeccable taste in music. And, more than anyone else, Bruce Springsteen has singularly provided my life with a rich, beautiful soundtrack. If you can imagine what might happen when I have a few too many beers and get a little sad…well, I kind of made a fool of myself. The Boston show was so early in the tour that no one really knew how Bruce would handle Clarence’s absence, other than hiring a horns section anchored by the Big Man’s nephew.

About three songs (and many more beers) into the night, Bruce asked the crowd “Is anybody missing?” and he obviously meant Clarence and I promptly devolved into loud sobs. It felt a little harsh to be so upfront with it, but the more I thought about both our scenarios, I realized the Boss and I had something in common beyond a shared home state. He had been dealing with Clarence’s death for a year. For him, it was horrible, but it was old news; he felt OK discussing the obvious. My family has mourned our loss going on three years now and I’ve reached a place in my grief where I feel comfortable talking about it. What’s really happened, though, is that I’ve gotten really good at making people who don’t know me well feel awkward. Same kind of thing. Anyway, Bruce then led the band into “My City of Ruins” from The Rising, which became a post 9/11 rallying ballad. Bruce himself has said he originally wrote the song with Asbury Park in mind. Clearly it’s taken on a new meaning for him. Continue reading

Sea Glass and Other Metaphors

Some of my personal collection

In 1998, my eighth-grade classmates deemed me “Most Creative” in our yearbook superlatives. To a 13-year-old, this held little meaning. I had never really thought about it until this summer when I took a creative thinking class as an elective in my graduate Integrated Marketing Communication program.

While a few assignments brought me back to my sorority crafting days (which my little will tell you were not very successful), I learned a great deal about the creative side of marketing and where I might fit in within the industry. Continue reading

Bachelor’s Degree in Life?

Mom, dad and me at my very favorite spot in college over graduation weekend. Fortunately, I no longer look like I recently devoured an entire person.

A couple summers ago, I needed a beach book for a week of staycation and was shamelessly drawn to the Tiffany blue cover of Commencement. It followed four friends through their years at Smith and the four years after they graduated. The title actually referred to the end of that second time period as each realized those first awkward four years of adulthood were the real-life education that college didn’t provide. May 13, 2011 marks that second commencement for me and I have undoubtedly very much changed since this day in 2007. Continue reading