Saturday, April 9, 2011

Happy 9 Year Anniversary To My Beautiful Wife Heather

Nine years ago today at 1:51 p.m. I became both the luckiest and happiest person alive when I asked Heather Benecke if she would go out with me. I never could have imagined just how amazing the next nine years of my life would be--the trips that we would go on, the fun that we would have, the memories that we would make.

More important than that, though, I never could have imagined how amazing it would be to start a family with Heather. Timmy is my favorite little man in the whole world but if it weren't for Heather, he wouldn't be here, which makes HER th...e most important person in my life. Almost a decade later I am still awed by her intelligence, her empathy, her creativity, and her complete lack of understanding of just how incredible a woman she is.

I would not be the person that I am today if it weren't for Heather. She has taught me how to live not just in a better way but in a more fulfilling one. Through her example I have learned not to worry and stress about things that are beyond my control, to forgive repeatedly and never to hold grudges, not to take myself--or anything in life--so seriously, and, most importantly of all, with her I have laughed and lived more in these past nine years than most people will in a lifetime.

Happy Anniversary Heather--you are my soulmate, the love of my life, and the mother of my child. I love you now and forever--I could not ask for more!!!

The Soundtrack of My Life

Music has been an ever-present part of my life for as long as I can remember.  Even now it is an integral part of my daily existence: I listen to music every day, I play guitar as often as I can, and, in one way or another, I am always thinking about music.  As such, I have accumulated a wealth of memories associated with various songs and I thought it would be interesting to examine which ones define me best.  It was an interesting exercise and is one that I am not sure I could ever truly complete.  It might be worth trying for yourself; nostalgia, whether wistful or joyous, is a worthwhile endeavor.  So as you read through my list of songs, see if you can compile your own list that defines you; I'd love to see what songs are most important to you.

I will be breaking up the list into three age-groups: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.  Any further significations will be listed after the song title.


1. Somewhere Out There (from "An American Tail")

This is the first song I really have a strong connection to.  I needed a radio on to fall asleep when I was really little and I remember this song coming on and calming me down.  I think this was the first movie I ever saw too so that might have something to do with it.

2. Richard Marx - Right Here Waiting

This is the first song that I remember having a really distinct memory of.  I mentioned it in one of my other blog entries but it made me think of a girl I had a crush on at the time as I was heading to Washington D.C. on a family road trip.  It's funny that an elementary school-age kid could be romantic but I guess I was; always had a soft-spot for this tune.

3. Mike & The Mechanics - Living Years
This is one of the few songs on the list that has a really negative association for me.  Ever since I was little, the song has freaked me out to the point of tears.  The whole song gets me worked up but it's the final verse that would make me hysterical as a kid.  I suppose that, at the time the song came out, I was just beginning to understand what death was and so one of the first associations that I made with death was this song (and, in particular, my father).  I was always hyper-afraid of my parents dying as a kid and I guess this song just brought that fear out into the foreground.

I just read through the lyrics now and they still have the same effect on me more than twenty years later.  In light of recent events, though, they have taken on a different, tragically poignant meaning.  Read through them if you know what's been going on and tell me they're not eerily prophetic words:

4. Billy Joel - We Didn't Start The Fire

If there are two popular figures that I associate with my Mom they are Billy Joel and Stephen King.  I grew up with all of the latter's books in the house and all of the former's music streaming through the airwaves around me.  I loved We Didn't Start The Fire as a kid because it was fun to sing and I loved the idea that he was able to pack historic moments into a song.  I remember seeing a video of him screwing up the lyrics as a kid...don't know why that stands out the way that it does in my mind.  I was fortunate to have him play it both times I saw him in concert--once at the Garden as part of his 12 Gardens Live tour in '06 and during the "Second to Last Play at Shea" back in '08.  Still one of my favorites.


This was the time that I really got into music (as, I would imagine, it is for most teenagers).  The songs below come from some of the most important or beloved moments of my adolescence rather than from an interest in the respective bands; each song had to have a particular memory attached to it.

5. Celine Dion - My Heart Will Go On

I know--a shocker to most that this would be on the list but, remember, it's not the song it's the moment attached to it.  The end of 1997/beginning of 1998 were the ineluctable modality of the Titanic: no matter how hard you tried you simply could not avoid that movie.  In January of 1998 I experienced my first romantic involvement with a girl.  We had been growing closer and one fateful day, while we were slow-dancing to this song (one of her favorites at the time), I had my first kiss.  It was an exhilarating moment and I was thrilled because I thought that I would finally have my first girlfriend.  There are four things that I associate with that moment:

1. Relief that I finally kissed a girl (I was convinced it would never happen at that point since I felt like I was the only one on the face of the planet who hadn't done it!)

2. The smell/taste of Wise Onion & Garlic chips (she had just finished eating them...yum

3. The Celine Dion song

4. Having my first broken heart the very next day when she told me that she decided to go out with another guy who had been vying for her attention. 

I was crushed...but still relieved to have that monkey off my back.  We had class together and it was torturous; I couldn't even look at her.  In junior and senior year, though, something great happened: the other guy (who, in turn, had been dumped for someone else) and I found that we had a lot in common (beyond our fickle female friend) and we wound up striking up a great friendship for the remainder of high school.

6. The Wallflowers - One Headlight

It's hard to select just one Wallflowers' song but I will go with One Headlight because it is still my favorite of theirs and, chronologically, I believe it is the actual song that is associated with this memory.  The beginning of high school was a really difficult time for me.  I had had a horrendous three years in junior high school from a social standpoint and, though I was nervous about starting in a new school with almost five thousand students, I was grateful for a fresh break and a clean slate.  Seeing such a diverse group of students when I had been used to the 90%+ Irish/Italian student body of my elementary and junior high school years was quite an adjustment...but one that I was excited about making. 

I was trying to get used to everything about high school when I was thrown a curveball: I was given team sports for gym and the first thing we would be doing would be swimming...which meant a) having to share a locker room (something I had never done before) and b) having to shower at school (ditto).  I was really, really nervous because my experience in junior high school had left me riddled with self-doubt and caused me to be incredibly self-conscious about my appearance. 

Before we the class was split up (half of us would take swim gym and the other would do something else; we would switch later in the semester), I remember eyeballing everyone in my vicinity, trying to figure out who I should talk to (despite my previous experiences I was still a social person by nature and it wasn't long before the friendship itch needed to be scratched).  Most of the kids looked intimidating--thuggish, even--and I was reticent to broach a conversation with anyone...

...until swim gym started.  Almost immediately, I found myself gravitating towards two other guys who seemed as uncomfortable as me with the whole situation we were in.  One I hadn't seen before but the other one I had recognized from before we made the split.  He was of a slightly darker complexion and wore what I thought was a Jewish charm on his chain.  I figured he was Sephardic but then I eventually saw that it wasn't the Israeli flag but some other country's.  I thought from the way that he dressed that he might be one of the "thug" kids that I had been conditioned to avoid and I was bummed out because he seemed like a nice guy.

When swim gym started, though, and I saw the aforementioned Jewish/non-Jew guy in class, I went with my gut and struck up a conversation.  Another guy who I thought was Russian had gravitated to us thus transforming us into the trio that we would remain for the rest of the semester.  As the weeks rolled onward, I enjoyed my time with my new friends and even looked forward to going to gym.  Still, our conversations remained relatively superficial until one (technically two) fateful day(s).

It was only a few days before we were going to be switching back to our regular gym class. We were enjoying our swim as usual but by the end of the class we noticed that we felt kinda crappy.  Our eyes were burning and we just felt somewhat sick.  The next day (the big day, if you will), we came down to the locker room only to find the pool completely cordoned off with caution tape.  It turned out that they had drastically over-chlorinated the pool the day before and had now deemed it unsafe for us to swim in.


Actually, that's not just a sarcastic "great" but a legitimate one as well.  It proved to be great because, for that period, we were told not to change and instead hung out along the pool's edge listening to some lecture from our teacher.  We were given ample time to shoot the shit and thus I was able to speak at length with the un-Sephardic friend of my group.  It turned out that the flag was El Salvador's, not Israel's (not that it made a huge difference).  It also turned out that we had something else in common: music.  I had figured (stereotypically) that he was into rap, which, at the time, I wasn't allowed to listen to and had been conditioned to dislike without ever having really given it a chance.  I was stunned and relieved to find out that my new friend enjoyed the same music that I did.  We discussed The Wallflowers and, in particular, One Headlight.  I had no idea just how important that day would ultimately prove to be...

That song opened up many, many future conversations about music, which, in turn, opened up other topics.  I found that I had a strong connection to this guy--he felt like a kindred spirit.  In a way--and in our own personal, respective ways--we were both lost in our lives and, as fate would have it, we found each other.  That day occurred almost fourteen years ago (it will be fourteen later this year) and my life has never been the same since.  That day I met one of the most loyal people I have ever known--perhaps the only one aside from my wife who truly understands me completely.  He was one of the best men at my wedding (and, truly, the rightful recipient of that title).  He helped me move out of my childhood home and into my first apartment a few weeks before I got married.  He is the godfather of my first-born son.  He is, simply, the best friend you could ever ask for.

One Headlight makes me think of this friendship and all of the incredible memories that it has given me.  Much love brother.

The "Karaoke" Songs

I couldn't select just one song but each of these has attached with it a very specific memory either of singing this song or singing and playing it on guitar with my friends Alpha Wolf and The Puppy.

(At the Puppy's house)

7. Wallflowers - 6th Avenue Heartache
8. Fuel - Hemorrhage
9. Third Eye Blind - Jumper

(In the van)

10. BBMak - Back Here
11. Westlife - Swear It Again
12. Sister Hazel - All For You
13. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Otherside
14. 3 Doors Down - Kryptonite

(The Kryptonite memory is especially awesome...we were heading out to Starbucks on Cross Bay Boulevard one night--four or five of us in total--singing this song.  The energy was flowing in that van incomparable experience!)

The Strangest Time of My Life

The six songs below relate to the most bizarre experiences that I have ever had--things that are at the genesis of my Kosmogonia series.  I won't go into specifics but each song was influential in its own way.

15. Blue Oyster Cult - Don't Fear The Reaper
16. Barry McGuire - Eve of Destruction
17. Crowded House - Don't Dream It's Over
18. Billy Joel - Two Thousand Years
19. The Who - I Can See For Miles
20. Elton John - Someone Saved My Life Tonight


Naturally, it is this age category that offers the most entries and, indeed, the most powerful associated memories.  I could probably create a substantial list but I chose instead to select only the most important songs.  I will do my best to follow some sort of sequence or chronology here beginning with the least important or influential songs and working my way up to the big ones.

21. Johnny Cash - I've Been Everywhere

I've developed a connection to this song only recently.  I was thinking about how many miles my wife Heather and I have covered in our sea foam blue Toyota Echo and I was amazed by how many places we had managed to drive to in only five years of road tripping.  We've been to all forty-eight contiguous states having driven as far south as Key West and as far northeast as Halifax, Nova Scotia.  We've driven to Fullerton, California from New York and San Francisco, Sacramento, and Lake Tahoe during our honeymoon.  We've driven to places many of our friends and family have never been: Mt. Rushmore, the Jack Daniel's Distillery, Four Corners State Park, Mt. Evans, and Mt. St. Helen's.  We've driven to places that many people have visited but few have actually driven to from New York: Las Vegas, Seattle, the Fargo region, as well as Winnipeg, Manitoba; Regina, Saskatchewan; Edmonton, Alberta; Dawson Creek, British Columbia; and the first 250 miles of the Alaska Highway.

We've road tripped across two Hawaiian islands and Puerto Rico, and have visited Ireland.  When Mr. Cash starts rattling off place names (many of which Heather and I have been to), I begin thinking of my own list.  I haven't been everywhere (I have a few friends who, since college, have visited more countries than I could ever hope to see in a lifetime) but we sure have driven to a lot of places!

22. NorthSound - Desert Guitar

It really is amazing how things work out sometimes in life.  Heather and I were in Colorado during our Cross Country Road Trip in 2006 and we were heading over to Mt. Evans (near Denver) when we saw a sign identifying Buffalo Bill's grave site.  We had time to kill so we decided to take the unplanned side trip to see the grave.  While we were there we visited the gift shop, which had a TON of amazing things.  Randomly, I found in a display of literally dozens of CDs, an album called "Desert Guitar."  The album featured steel-stringed acoustic and nylon-stringed classical guitar pieces mixed with nature sounds.  I had never heard anything like this and I decided to pick it up. 

The very first song on the album was called Desert Guitar and it blew me away.  We listened to the album between ten and twenty times from the time we got back into the car and the time we arrived home.  That song just resonated with me.  It's my goal to figure out how to play the song by ear (there are no tabs for it anywhere anyway!) so hopefully I can add it to my repertoire.  When we got home I added it to my writing playlist and it helped my mind to travel--to allow me to get lost in my writing each time I sat down to write both The Lion in the Desert and The Walking Ghosts.

23. David Allan Coe - Jack Daniels If You Please

This song, naturally, makes me think of my visit to the Jack Daniel's Distillery back in 2005 but I also feel a strong connection to it because of my relationship with the Tennessee whiskey.  If I were able to drink only two things for the rest of my life they would be Guinness and Jack Daniel's.  A Jack & Coke is my go-to mixed drink when I'm out and there is always a 1.75 L bottle of Jack in my home.  I've amassed (with the help of some awesome gifts from my wife Heather) a small collection of JD paraphernalia including a small statue of the man himself, classy bookends, stirrers, and Gentleman Jack rocks glasses that I use every time I drink something of value. 

I also associate Jack Daniels with my brother; it's part of the reason that I love it so much--it makes me think of him.  I will never be the world's # 1 drinker of Jack because that title will forever belong to my brother.  He's consumed more JD, in more places, and in more ways than anyone I know--hell, than all of my friends combined.  My first Jack and Coke was with him at my sister's apartment in Boston back in the day.  I'm looking forward to his safe return from his current trip so that we can enjoy a magnum of the world's greatest liquor together.

24. The Bollox - Pints Of Guinness

Back in 2004 I was fortunate enough to see a band called Lit perform at the Bowery Ballroom.  If you listened to z100 in the late '90s you would probably recognize two of their songs: My Own Worst Enemy and Miserable.  As a result of that performance, I came to respect the shit out of their music and they became one of my favorite bands. 

Some shitty pop punk band from Long Island opened up but in between their set and Lit's was a band called Authority Zero.  I had never heard of these guys before and was honestly really confused by their sound.  They didn't sound like the bubblegum bullshit that I had just heard and I knew they were nothing like Lit; the best approximation that I could make were that they were a punk/ska/surf rock band.  The lead singer was really charismatic and incredibly hyper.  The set was not going well and the jerkoff Long Island kids that had come out for the first band (but who wouldn't be allowed to stay up late enough to see Lit) were giving the guy a really hard time.  I felt really bad and wound up loving the last two songs of the set.

While I was waiting for Lit to come on, the singer from Authority Zero came over to the bar right next to where I was standing.  I really wanted to buy him a drink but I wussed out and wound up just asking him for his autograph and telling him that I really liked his band (which, by that point, I concluded that I did).  He was a really cool guy and when I got home I made sure to look up the band's music.  I wound up loving the album and I have followed them ever since.

On a fluke back in 2009 I happened across a notice that Jason DeVore (the singer from Authority Zero) had released an album of Celtic inspired punk rock.  By this point I was really into bands like Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys so I was stoked about the album.  I think I listened to a five second sample of one of the songs and then I saw the track listing.  The ninth song down was called "Pints of Guinness."  I didn't even care what it sounded like--I just knew it was going to be epic.  I bought the album on the spot and found what has become one of my top 25 favorite albums of all time.

The song epitomizes and dishes on three things that I love: pints of Guinness, shots of Whiskey, and Dublin, Ireland.  Every time I hear this song I think of the trip that I took to Dublin with my wife in 2009.  It was one of the greatest trips of my life and, not even forty-eight hours after we landed back in Newark, I found out that I was going to be a father.  I wanted to honor it somehow so in 2010 I decided that I wanted to learn the song...only no one else had tabbed it out.  I set out to do so myself and, in the process, learned my first entire song by ear--all of the chords, all of the guitar parts, the bass line, the lyrics, the melody line--everything.  Needless to say, this song has a lot packed into it for me. 

25. Foo Fighters - Everlong

Forget Stairway.  Toss aside Freebird.  Get rid of Hotel California.  Hands down, Everlong is the single greatest rock song ever written; it's perfect in every way.  It has the single most amazing drum riff ever, the perfect chord progression, amazing vocals, inimitable lyrics, and a mysterious bridge; you cannot top this song. 

Though there is no single, specific moment that I would identify with this song in terms of an event, I can pin down an epiphany: when I heard Everlong I realized that I wanted to be a musician.  I don't mean in the professional sense--I just knew that I had found something that I connected with in a way that I had theretofore never even imagined feeling.  It also started my man-crush on Dave Grohl, which has only deepened since I saw the Foo Fighters in '05 and twice '08.  He's the greatest guy in rock: down to earth, funny as shit, and one perfectionist of a motherfucker when it comes to his music.

Dave Grohl: greatest guy in rock.
Foo Fighters: best band in the world.
Everlong: greatest song ever written.

Believe it.

26. Maroon 5 - Makes Me Wonder

The night of June 30th, 2007 was, hands down, the greatest night of my life.  It was the night of my bachelor party--the only night that I ever partied like a rock star and managed to survive the process.  I will be delving into that night's events in an upcoming entry because, in a word, it was insane, but one memory that stands out came relatively early in the night.  The premise for the evening was something called Pub Golf (an idea that was gotten from the movie The Wedding Date) where we would be drinking at eighteen bars representing the eighteen holes of a standard golf course.

The fifth hole was a bar called Third and Long.  We were well on our way to being drunk by this point and were feeding off of thriving vibe of electric fun that was coursing through our group; we were a polarizing bunch that night.  I'm sure we pissed off a lot of people but we inspired many more to drink and be merry.  Nowhere was this more evident, perhaps, than at Third and Long.  We were sitting towards the back of the bar and had just finished our drinks when the Maroon 5 song came on.  For no reason in particular--and completely out of nowhere--we started to belt out the song karaoke style; we were singing like the world was ending and we couldn't give two shits about it. 

It was awesome and really summed up how much fun we had throughout the entire night.


I felt that these songs deserved their own subset as they played a critical role in my proudest creative accomplishments: the writing of my two novels.

27.  Anonymous - Kyrie IV

The recording of this version of the Kyrie came from a music textbook that I had gotten from a music professor of mine at Baruch.  This song had an ethereal quality to it and really set a somber and mystical atmosphere for me.

28. Johannes Sebastian Bach - Little Fugue In G Minor

This song also came from my music text book and for whatever reason it triggered something inside of me that got the creative juices flowing.

29. The Cars - Drive

This song had a similar quality to the Bach one--it triggered something inside of me and provided a great ambient background on which I would work.

30. Cheap Trick - The Flame

This tune is similar to Drive in its function but it also provided me with an image that I knew would be a critical juncture towards the end of my as-of-yet unwritten third novel--the coda to the story.  When that event happens, the reader should be listening to this song to really get the feel for what I will be going for.

31. Disturbed - Darkness

The only acoustic song ever recorded by Disturbed, Darkness just clicked immediately.  It is dark, haunting, melodic, tragic, and it evokes a powerful emotional response in me.  An entire section and one of the most important characters in my series of novels came about simply because I was listening to this song.  As I sat in my chair trying to think of what to write, I closed my eyes as this song came on and immediately I saw the opening scene of the section in The Lion in the Desert called "The Darkness."  If it weren't for this song, I never would have been able to complete my first book, write my second book, and, arguably, I wouldn't be able to finish my third one.

32. Howard Jones - No One Is To Blame

This song clicks with me on an emotional level and it is an integral piece of my music/writing synergy.

33. Keith Jarrett - Shenandoah

The final tune to come from my music textbook's CD, Jarrett's version of the traditional song Shenandoah is sparse but beautiful.  It calms me and helps me to keep my mind both clear and focused.

34. Loreena McKennitt - Dante's Prayer

One of the most important songs of my life--Dante's Prayer inspired numerous parts of my book and is just beyond description.  Loreena McKennitt's soaring vocals and the piano progression come together in a way that ignites my soul.

35. Loreena McKennitt - Prologue

This song's middle eastern feel helped me to, quite literally, be transported to a far away place.  I could smell the incense of some foreign marketplace...feel the warmth of the closeness of its alleys.  My experience meditating to this song is second only to the next song on my list.

36. Loreena McKennitt - Skellig

This song, in a way, is like my musical soul mate; it has unlocked things in me that I never knew existed.  My experiences meditating to this song transformed my life; my experiences writing to this song were even more powerful.

37. Loreena McKennitt - The Mummers' Dance

The only popular hit for Loreena McKennitt, The Mummers' Dance has that mystical, ethereal, magical feel to it that I ultimately needed to complete my novels; without this song, the engrossing nature of Tim's tarot reading and Kaitlyn's experience in the field as a young girl would have been dull and lifeless.  This song has breathed life into much of my two novels (much as the other songs on the album from which these four tunes come) and I am forever indebted to Ms. McKennitt for writing such life-changing music.

The following and concluding songs of my list are among the most recent but most influential and important to me because they connect to the three things that have meant more to me than anything else in my life: my wife, my son, and my wedding/honeymoon experiences.  I will go chronologically through these songs.

38. Edwin McCain - I Could Not Ask For More

This was the first "song" I ever had with anyone--one that connected me to someone on an intimate level and that described us as a collective instead of separately as individuals.  I had had it on my computer one night when Heather had come over and we wanted to practice slow dancing.  I think that we were daydreaming about what our wedding would be like if we ever got married.  We had never danced before that moment and I selected this song.  She loved it and I found that the lyrics took on new meaning for me after that night.  It was the first song that we ever danced to when we were dating and it was the first song that we danced to as husband and wife five years later.

39. Big & Rich - Lost In This Moment

I was home sick one morning in 2007 and was up early.  I popped on NBC and watched part of the Today Show.  I was stoked because Big & Rich were going to be performing.  I had fallen in love with their music after hearing "Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy" during the 2003 World Series of Poker commercials.  They were set up and ready to play...but I found out that I was wholly unprepared for what I was about to hear.  They played a new song from their then-latest album; it was "Lost In This Moment."  From the opening melody, my heart began racing.  As soon as John Rich began singing the opening lyrics, I felt the tears well up in my eyes.  By the time he reached the chorus I was bawling like a pregnant menopausal woman experiencing a hot flash while wanting something she couldn't have.


The words were perfect and described how I felt about marrying my bride-to-be more accurately than anything I had heard before or have heard since.  Heather loved it as soon as I played it for her and we decided that this would be our second song at our wedding.  Edwin McCain's tune, in a way, represented our dating life while the Big & Rich song would be representative of our married life together.

I still tear up every time I hear this song...only now I can think back to how beautiful Heather was on the day we got married and how I felt sitting up on the altar with her, placing the ring on her finger and having her place my ring on mine.  The best day of my life summed up in a single song.

By the way--who's got it better than me?  I'm typing this at around 1 a.m. on April 9th--my 9 year anniversary with Heather, listening to the Foo Fighters, having had two Jack and Cokes earlier in the evening.  I am a lucky fella, let me tell ya!

40. Plain White T's - Hey There Delilah

This song had just become a mega-smash hit right before our wedding and both Heather and I loved the hell out of it.  I found out that it was on a re-release of an earlier album and would be coming out while we were away in Hawaii.  I decided that I wanted to pick it up and so one day while on the Big Island of Hawai'i, we went to a Wal*Mart and I snagged this CD and the others that I will describe below.  The album was amazing and it was put on heavy rotation for the remainder of the trip.  I can still picture driving around Hawaii every time I hear this song.

41. Foo Fighters - Baker Street (Gerry Rafferty cover)

I loved the original version of this song mostly because of the opening sax solo but also because of the soft vocals and shifting dynamics from loud and heavy to quiet, particularly from the intro to the first verse.  When I found out that the Foo Fighters had covered this song (I think I had heard it online once) I almost shit my pants.  Dave Grohl transformed an already awesome song into something unforgettable and unimaginably cool.  Imagine my surprise, then, when I found out that the band would be re-releasing their 1997 album "The Colour and the Shape" as a ten year anniversary edition with--you guessed it--this song on it.  My favorite cover of all time AND the greatest song of all time (Everlong) on the same album?  Some things aren't too good to be true.

Picked it up at Wal*Mart in Hawai'i and had an aural orgasm every time I heard this song.

I still do...but I used to, too!

42. Israel Kamakawiwo'ole - Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World

Heather and I had first heard this song on the 50 First Dates soundtrack and fell in love with it.  IZ had such a sweet, angelic voice that you would never pair with his hulking frame.  In truth, we loved the entirety of the soundtrack but this song is our favorite  While we were in Hawai'i and were shopping at Wal*Mart I decided that I wanted to pick up all of his albums.  We were in his homeland...why not honor him by listening to his tunes while we were there? 

One of the most beautiful covers of all time.  If you haven't heard it, you're really missing out on something special.  Scope it out on Youtube.

43. Nickelback - If Everyone Cared

This song has a very specific experience attached to it--one that remains singular in my life.  We were on the Big Island of Hawai'i at the Fairmont Orchid resort and it was almost the end of our trip.  We decided to spend some time in the pool late one night since it was still in the 80s at around 10 p.m.  When the breeze got a little chillier, we headed over to the hot tub but ultimately returned to the pool.  Heather had been lying on her back looking up at the stars and she suggested that I do the same.  Even though we both got swimmer's ear as a was one of the best decisions we ever made.

As I turned myself horizontal towards the sky and dipped my ears into the water, I suddenly felt transported through time and space; it was almost like being in a sensory deprivation tank.  I couldn't hear anything but the gentle sloshing of the water, which, at that point, could have been the melodic, throbbing pulse of the universe itself.  I was floating on my back staring up at more stars than I have ever seen in my entire life.  Watching their milky glow, I couldn't believe just how clear the sky was, how black the expanse appeared, and just how many stars there were. 

Then, out of nowhere, I saw a light moving across the sky.  Immediately, I thought of the opening lyrics to the Nickelback song:

From underneath the trees, we watch the sky
Confusing stars for satellites
I never dreamed that you'd be mine
But here we are, we're here tonight

I realized that I was, indeed, watching a satellite move across the twilit tapestry.  I trailed it from one end of the sky to the other until it finally moved beyond my field of vision.  I thought of these lyrics and was awed by both the kismet nature of the moment and by the experience of watching something in space move across the sky. 

Definitely one of the most ethereal, ephemeral experiences of my honeymoon.
44. Kenny Loggins - Danny's Song

Chronologically, this is the first song that I ever associated with my son.  The irony, of course, is that this occurred almost five years before he was even a twinkle in my eye, let alone conceived or born.  Heather and I were on our first major road trip down to Florida back in 2005.  We had visited Disney World (my virgin voyage) in Orlando and I wanted to make it back to the timeshare that we were staying at so that we wouldn't be wasting money on another hotel.  I took major highways for the most part but at some point--I think it was on the Florida Turnpike--it just got desolate.  I mean--it was pitch ass black outside. 

I looked over and saw that Heather was asleep in the passenger seat.  At that moment, Danny's Song came onto the radio and, for the first time, I really listened to the lyrics.  I was driving, listening to each word being sung, and was stealing glances at my beautiful girlfriend.  We had spoken of the possibility of getting married numerous times before that point and, truthfully, within a month of us dating, in my gut, I knew that I would marry Heather someday...but while I was driving on that lonely stretch of Floridian highway, I really felt that we would be getting married, sooner than later.  She looked so beautiful, so innocent, and so delicate sleeping in the front seat and, for the first time, I really and truly pictured us not only as husband and wife but as father and mother as well.  I reached out and held her sleeping hand as the tears coursed down my face; I had tapped into the energy of what I would ultimately feel as a first-time parent somehow that night.  It was beautiful and overwhelming.

Somehow, through the streaming tears, and one-handed driving, I managed to get us safely back to the timeshare.  Heather could see that I had been crying when she woke up and asked me what was wrong.  I tried to explain to her what I had felt while looking at her and listening to that song...but my words couldn't do the emotions justice.  Truthfully, to this very day, I haven't quite been able to express it adequately...but now that she's a Mom, I think she knows in her heart of hearts, every time she looks at our baby boy sleeping soundly.  If it's anything like what I feel at those moments, then she can finally understand what it was like listening to Danny's Song that night.

45. John Lennon - Beautiful Boy

I will never forget my Mom telling me, "I have a song I think you would like."  She sent me this Lennon tune shortly after my son joined us and it changed my life.  It truly embodied everything that I was feeling as a father: the love, the pride, the excitement, the nervousness, the anticipation...everything.  I will count myself as lucky if I can write something for my son that has a tenth of the impact that this song has on me.  I hope that he can connect to the lullaby that I penned for him in such a way but only time will tell. 

46. Plain White T's - Rhythm of Love

The first time I heard this song I was blown away; I think I listened to it seven or eight times in succession.  There was just something about it that I connected with on an almost spiritual level.  I loved it and was thrilled that it would be on the T's new album (since the previous effort really didn't do it for me).  I knew Heather would love it and so I played it for her when she had come upstairs.  The combination of the music, the video, and watching her dance with my son in her arms just hit me so hard; the beauty of it and the love that I felt was crushing.

I tried to figure out what it was about the song that I connected to and I realized that it wasn't a song that made me think of Heather but rather it was Timmy who kept being conjured up.  I unconsciously adapted a few of the lines to suit my son instead of a romantic relationship as the original version depicts and I realized that, listening to it with him as my inspiration, the song epitomized what I was feeling at that time.  He was already a few months old by that point and I was both thrilled with his development and heartbroken by how quickly he was growing up.  I wanted him to stay small forever but knew that it wouldn't and shouldn't be that way.  This song, in a way, made me think of how fleeting and wonderful these moments would be with him--a time when he would be all mine and I wouldn't have to share him with the world.

Given the overall structure of the song (and the ukulele!), I think it also makes me think of Hawai'i and thus my honeymoon, wedding, and the aching desire that I had to keep those moments in a bottle--to somehow freeze time and never have to leave those amazing days in Hawai'i.  In a way, the song sums up the fact that the greatest moments of my life have been fleeting and are forever in the past--safely locked away in the annals of my memory but never to be experienced again.  It is a bittersweet feeling because I will always have them to carry with me wherever I will go...but the actual experience of those emotions is lost to me forever, just like those early months with Timmy and the magic of my honeymoon.

I would try to deconstruct the lyrics or explain which lines make me think of Timmy/Heather/Hawai'i...but I'm sure it's evident enough. 

I hope you enjoy both the lyrics and the song, as well as my list of songs.  I hope that it served as a brief glimpse into who I am and how I became the man that I am today.  Thanks for reading.

Plain White T's - Rhythm Of Love lyricsMy head is stuck in the clouds
She begs me to come down
Says "Boy quit foolin' around"
I told her "I love the view from up here
Warm sun and wind in my ear
We'll watch the world from above
As it turns to the rhythm of love"
We may only have tonight
But till the morning sun you're mine all mine
Play the Music low and sway to the rhythm of love
My heart beats like a drum
A guitar string to the strum
A beautiful song should be sung
She's got blue eyes deep like the sea
That roll back when she's laughing at me
She rises up like the tide
The moment her lips meet mine
We may only have tonight
But till the morning sun you're mine all mine
Play the Music low and sway to the rhythm of love
When the moon is low
We can dance in slow motion
And all your tears will subside
All your tears will dry
And long after I've gone
You'll still be humming along
And I will keep you in my mind
The way you make love so fine
We may only have tonight
But till the morning sun you're mine all mine
Play the music low and sway to the rhythm of love
Play the music low and sway to the rhythm of love

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What I Want For My Son

Lately I have been thinking a lot about my relationship with my son.  Right now--it's perfect: I give him everything that he needs and he gives me far more than I think he'll ever realize.  I can hope only that things will get even better.  Most boys idolize their fathers--the first male influence in their lives--but I am not presumptuous enough to assume that he will do that with me.  Still, though, I hope he will.

There is a long history of complicated father/son relationships in my family...something that I am both poignantly aware of and terrified to consider in relation to my son.  I am hopeful though because many of the characteristics that have ruined relationships' past are either inert or non-existent in me; I have my mother to thank for that.  I suppose that I am worried because history has a way of repeating itself...but at the same time, there are people who break the cycle; I need look no further than my wife to see the veracity of the latter.

Ultimately, I have no control over what will become of my relationship with my son down the road; I can instead focus only on the present and hope that my actions, decisions, and behavior will warrant a place in his life down the road.  In a weird way it's kind of like the NCAA Basketball Tournament: each stage of his life represents a round that can end in heartbreak or create a Cinderella story.  I suppose that his infancy represents the Round of 64.  With my position as the top seed (I hold all of the power in the relationship at this point), as long as I don't make any egregious errors, I should be good to go (and, in fact, I am).  The next Round of 32 would be his toddlerhood; this is where we currently stand.  This is the first round where a top seed really needs to worry, especially if there was an upset in the earlier round; you can never underestimate the power of burgeoning confidence that coincides with an unexpected victory.

As it stands now, I have my work cut out for me.  I need to balance being an authority figure and setting boundaries with being nurturing and affectionate.  My wife Heather would be the best one to assess my success here but I think she'd give me a passing grade.  I also have to continue to foster Timmy's development, helping to pilot him through new experiences as he leaves his infancy behind.  The fact that he is wearing sneakers, drinking from a straw, and, at times, feeding himself seems to indicate that, again, success is present (though I would credit most, if not all of that, to Heather's amazing abilities as a mother).  Still, though, he hasn't begun saying "NO!" and we haven't yet reached the so-called "Terrible Twos" we'll have to wait and see whether or not I make it through to the next round (I'm sure that I will).

The Sweet Sixteen comes next and this is arguably the most critical one; it will ultimately define the success achieved in all future rounds; this is his childhood.  One of the longest rounds, this is the one where memory begins to come into play.  I have to serve not only as parent but as teacher, as friend, as disciplinarian, as, well, everything.  Every single thing that I say during this round can come back to haunt me and so I have to be careful.  I need to choose my words wisely and my actions with even more precision.  It is during this round that I will plant the seeds of manhood in my son, both by my deeds and by my instruction.  This is the round where I will instill in him the moral code that can potentially guide him throughout the rest of his life.  He will develop his likes, his dislikes, and begin to create a worldview for himself completely independent from my own perspective or how I would like for him to see things.  He will either survive his childhood or enjoy it and look back upon it fondly in his later years; I can only pray that it will be the latter.

The Elite Eight would be his adolescence.  Clearly this is the most difficult round if for nothing other than we will finally be squaring off head-to-head.  He will begin to assert himself as an individual and begin to identify himself as a man.  Gone will be the days that he will view me as all-knowing and infallible; I will be removed from my pedestal and examined thoroughly; I hope that I will pass the test.  We will argue, we will butt heads, and we will disagree on some of the most inane things...but I just hope that he will know how much I love him and that I am always looking out for his best interests.  I suppose that is what every parent hopes for during this difficult phase (difficult both for the parent and the teenager) but I hope those things just a little bit more.

The Final Four represents his adulthood.  This is a scary time in the tournament because elimination can come at any moment.  Timmy will spread his wings and gain his first taste of freedom, independence, and responsibility; it will be his choice whether or not we have a relationship or what type of relationship we will have.  I will begin to know whether or not my work during his childhood was successful as he will slowly be demonstrating the qualities that will come to define him as a man; I hope he will be an honorable one who respects his mother and future wife and treats them like the treasures that they are.  Though adolescence has the reputation of being the most difficult round, I believe that the beginning of this round will truly be the hardest for me for it will be the final time that I will be letting go.  His first day of school will be tough enough but when he finally moves out and begins his own life, so to speak, then I will know that, to a large degree, my job as a parent will be done.  My prize, hopefully, will be a spot in the final round.

The Championship Game is a reward for successfully navigating your way through the previous five rounds; it represents, in my estimation, my son's own parenthood.  As with all championship celebrations, this time of our lives can arguably be the most rewarding.  It will be the time that I will graduate from parent to grandparent, experiencing most of the joys of parenthood all over again with few of the difficulties inherent therein.  In turn, my son will be able to experience the incredible array of unforgettable and life-changing experiences that I have had and will have being a parent.  He will finally understand many of the things that remained esoteric to him in previous rounds, particularly the moments where we argued over what was best for him; hopefully, he will understand that I really was only looking out for him.  With any luck, this, most special, time of the tournament will be savored until Old Man Time finally improves his flawless record by one more.

Regardless of what ultimate becomes of my relationship with my son, there are a number of things that I want to impart to him--things that I believe will help him to lead a fuller life.  Some of the things that I will enumerate below I can say that I was fortunate to have experienced or achieved...others, not so much.  Ultimately, though, it doesn't matter how or why these things became important to me; what is important is that I can instill in my son the wisdom of these things so that he can become not just a better man than me but a better father as well.

Things I Want For My Son

A childhood filled with laughter and levity; no child should spend most of his or her time worrying or being nervous.  I want him to be able to look back on his innocence and feel that it was never lost but rather that it simply faded away as he grew up.

To make him feel like he is the most important person in the world on his birthday and for him to look forward to this day more than any other.  I want the days leading up to this incredibly special day to be filled with excitement and anticipation, not dread and a desire simply for the day to pass by unnoticed; no child should view their birthday like that.

To make his birthday special not only for him but for his mother too; they shared an incomparable experience the day he came into this world and they should be able to have some kind of unique way of celebrating it together.  After all, it's as much a day for her to celebrate as it is him.

 to be afraid to ask questions; I want to impart knowledge to him whenever I can, not instill a fear of speaking up or seeking help.

To enjoy every holiday to the best of his ability. 

Not to be afraid to ask me for anything, whether it's a lift home or a few extra bucks in his pocket.
To understand that people will treat you how you treat them or how you allow yourself to be treated.  Treat yourself with respect and others will follow suit.

NOT to be a worrier.  I wasted twenty years of my life being nervous and desiring control over things I would never have any possible way of influencing.  I was so rigid in my thinking that I felt that I always needed to have a plan for every single situation; life simply does not work that way and, ultimately, it is an unnecessarily taxing way to live your life.  I hope to achieve this by leading by example.  The only thing that we can control is how we react to situations, not the situations themselves.  I hope my son will take these words to heart:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you... we are in charge of our Attitudes.” --Charles R. Swindoll

Serenity and the ability to create it for himself.

Patience, both with himself and others. 

A faith and belief in a higher power that he can turn to in both his moments of deepest need and highest exultation.

To understand and to respect the power of words.  I hope he can avoid saying hurtful things whenever possible; words, once written or spoken, cannot be taken back.  They can be like scars on the heart and soul.  They can ruin relationships or provide more satisfaction than anything else in the world. 

Not to be afraid of failure--sometimes you will learn more by falling short than you would have through your success.

Not to be afraid of disappointing people or to be preoccupied with it; more than likely you won't and, if you do, there's always redemption.

Never to be afraid of taking chances.  I hope he follows his heart even if it goes against what's practical.  Life is too short to play it safe.  I spent so much of my life trying to take the safe route that I ultimately lost sight of who I truly was; I wasn't living.  I am a creative person--a writer, a photographer, a musician, a teacher; these endeavors are what fulfill me.  I am only now realizing what I want to do with my life and that's because I did what others thought I should be doing instead of exploring what it was I wanted for myself.  I never even entertained the possibility of enjoying a creative career because it wouldn't provide me with a steady income.
Never to have to worry about money and NEVER to obsess about it.  Financial security is important but it shouldn't be the factor that drives what you want to do, at least in the long run.  You will need a steady fiscal foundation to provide you with the opportunity to do what you'd like but I would hope my son wouldn't feel that the need for such security should preclude him from following his heart or his dreams.  If you make the right decisions then you will be fine regardless of what you do. 

Always to have everything he needs and as much of what he wants as he has earned.

To experience hardships, setbacks, and failures for it is through our lowest moments that we can begin to understand the heights that we can reach.  I am only now overcoming some of the most difficult experiences of my life and it is this experience that is helping me to understand the world better.  It has given me a greater appreciation for the relationships that I have, for my perspective on life, and it is influencing my approach as a parent.  I wouldn't change the recent past, my distant past, or what I went through in 2006 for anything because ALL of those experiences have helped to shape me and, ultimately, have helped me to become the man and the person that I am today. 

Another choice quote by Charles Swindoll:

"We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.”

Instead of asking "Why?" or, worse, "Why me?" I hope that my son will choose to ask "How?"  How can I best make it through this situation?  How can I learn from my mistake/decision?  How can I help others with the knowledge that I have gained from this? 

To accept responsibility for his actions first and to understand the opposing perspective in any situation.  People who are quick to point the finger fail to realize that there are three fingers pointing right back at themselves.  If he makes a mistake, I hope he owns up to it, learns from it, and avoids making it again in the future. 

I hope that he is quick to apologize and even quicker to forgive.

I hope that he learns not to take things personally and to avoid pettiness at all costs; the world isn't out to get you and neither are most people. 

I hope that the only addiction that he develops in his life is to learning.

I want him to understand that people can judge him as a man by how he treats his wife and his mother.

Respect both for his body and a woman's; both are temples in their own right and are deserving of the utmost reverence.

What you do when no one is looking says more about you than what you do when you're being watched.  There is something to be said for sitting at a red light in the middle of the night when there is no traffic simply because it is the right thing to do.

I hope that he has the courage to stand up for himself when he is being mistreated and not to fear authority figures if they are the ones mistreating him.

A genuine appreciation for the aesthetic, whether it is musical, literary, or visually artistic in nature.

A clear view of who he is and what he wants from his life as well as the courage and confidence to explore the former and to pursue and to achieve the latter.

The knowledge that his parents love him more than anything in this world.  With any luck, he'll consider us both friends and will respect us as much as we respect him.

To be able to laugh at himself.  People who take themselves too seriously are ultimately unhappy.  Besides, if you laugh at yourself first you can often prevent others from beating you to the punch.

An appreciation for nature, for travel, and for adventure.

To be passionate about at least one thing, if not more, in his life.  Basketball, music, writing, and photography have provided me with immeasurable hours of pleasure--I hope that he will have his own cache of pursuits that afford him the same.

A love not just of eating good food but of cooking it as well.

A romantic heart.

More happy memories of me than distressing ones.

The knowledge that, aside from his mother, no one has loved him more than me.

And, most importantly of all, to have a sense of humor--it will help him through anything life throws at him.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Virgin Atlantic City Trip

This is my life.


I's not really my life.  Hell, it isn't even my picture!

Okay...let's start over: this picture epitomizes my life.  Though I am not in this picture and this moment captured forever in time did not happen to me, it does represent the archetype of what I experience on an almost-daily basis.

My life is crazy (clearly).  Sometimes I inject a healthy dose of insanity myself but many times--as implied by this photograph--the insanity finds me.  As psychically attuned as I am, though, and perhaps somewhat ironically, I can almost never tell when the craziness will strike...

...almost never.

Sometimes it hangs in the air like the dewy scent of freshly fallen rain after a spring storm--so palpable that you can taste it without even opening your mouth.  Sometimes, it is like the drop in pressure before a summer storm--that moment where everything suddenly feels quieter--the air itself almost charged electrically; these are the fateful, epic moments of crazy.  I find that these are the best because, like with most natural disasters, you can feel them as they approach but you are powerless to stop them.  They will eff your shit up but leave you with stories that you can tell for a lifetime.

I've been reflecting recently on these moments and realized that, for at least a few of them, they are indeed wild stories that I believe are worth telling.  Now, my brand of craziness tends to run pretty tame: there's no drugs, sex, or booze involved.  Okay...well, that's not entirely true.  There IS one hooker (no one slept with her), a LOT of booze, but no drugs.  While others can speak of wild Bacchanal orgies, drug-induced trips through outer space, and binge drinking-related hospital trips, I must confess that nothing illegal (mostly) and nothing truly depraved happened during any of these stories.  Instead, I will rely on my storytelling ability to titillate and to entertain.  My biggest hope is that, through my stories, you will feel like you were right there with us as we experienced what were, for me, the craziest nights or moments of my life...minus the hangover and/or guilt and/or shame felt upon waking the next day. 

So without further ado, I present to you...


The First Trip

Atlantic City is a place where dreams can come true and nightmares can follow in the blink of an eye.  I have friends who have gone down for a weekend and who have come back a few thousand dollars poorer; I know others who sat down at one table and walked away with an equal but opposite sum.  There are myriad types of entertainment available--both of the wholesome and seedier varieties, depending upon what whets your appetite for debauchery.

I was unsure of what to expect when I went down for my very first trip back in 2004.  We were celebrating my friend's 21st birthday and were staying at one of the casinos.  Someone she knew went down to Atlantic City on a regular basis and was thus able to get a number of things comped for us; with us were two guys we knew from school.  The plan was simple: experience the casino, hang out and drink in the room, and just shoot for an overall good time.

One of the guys who had come along had all but challenged me to try to get him drunk--a challenge I was more than willing to accept.  We had enjoyed playing a game called "Spoons" that, at its core, is a drinking game.  The premise is simple: everyone is dealt four cards and a number of spoons (or packets...really anything you want) equal to the number of people minus one are placed in the center of the playing area.  Play begins when the dealer takes a card.  The object of the game is to get four-of-a-kind in order to take a spoon and secure yourself a place in the next round.  Some strategy is involved though because once anyone gets four-of-a-kind it becomes a free-for-all for the remaining spoons.  It's a lot like musical chairs in a sense.  Anyway--you can have only four cards in your hand at a time so as soon as you take a card from the person next to you, you have to discard to the person on your other side.  Believe me--the cards can come mighty quick and it's quite possible to have someone get flustered easily and thus create a bottleneck of sorts for the cards.

Since I had brought liquor with us to enjoy in the hotel room, I decided that the easiest way to get the guy drunk would be to establish the rule that for every round you sit out because of elimination you must take a shot.  In other words, if you get bounced in the first round (which was the goal), you would have to take a shot for that round, the next round, and then the final round.  Since a round can end pretty quickly, it would be easy to get anyone drunk as a skunk with the quickness.  I figured that I had the odds with me (75% chance that any of the three of us would win that first round, only 25% chance that he would) and thus we began our play...

...and I lost in the very first round.  Motherfucker.  I enjoyed my apple pucker flavored comeuppance and vowed to play it safer with the next game.  This time I scouted out the spoons rather than try to procure four-of-a-kind for myself.  Worked like a charm.  He lost in the first round two or three games in a row and could barely stand--it was awesome! 

Unfortunately, in the process, we all had gotten hammered.  It got ugly pretty quick.  At one point I decided for some reason that it would be a great idea to run full-speed across the room, leave my feet, soar through the air, and spear one of the guys off of the bed when he wasn't looking.  Don't worry, folks--the corner of the nightstand broke his fall.  The sound of his head smashing on it had a sobering effect on me...but it also gave me the giggles in a bad way.  Tittering nervously, I felt relief course over me as I watched him get up, laughing, and walk across the room. 

I am proud of what happened next.  Even drunk, my survival instinct remained strong.  My primary concern was that he had a concussion and I knew that I couldn't allow him to fall asleep.  Unfortunately, keeping him awake wasn't my most difficult task.  Instead, it was deciding what to do as he stumbled drunkenly out of the hotel room mumbling, "Imagoforawalk."

"Oh shit," said I.

I asked the birthday girl if she would be okay to take care of the other guy.  She assured me that she was completely sober and that she would put him to bed (he was a mess at that point--he had passed the event horizon of drunkenness where you leave behind the mirthful gaiety of "everything's hysterical!!" drunk for the pitch black turgid waters of "why is the room spinning!!" vertigo drunk).  In my excited but drunken state I believed her, despite knowing that she, herself, had had a considerable amount to drink.  Not wanting to lose the other guy (who had already left the room) I grabbed my wallet (knowing I would need identification), threw on my sneakers, and dipped out.

I caught up to him over near the elevator.  He seemed fine and even somewhat sobered up.  I explained my concern about him not going to sleep and he concurred.  We decided simply to head out for a stroll along the boardwalk.  At first, everything was fine.  We passed by the Irish pub that we had visited earlier in the night where the really drunk guy had spilled an Irish Car Bomb on concussion guy, much to his chagrin.  As we walked, though, I realized a number of things.  The first was that the boardwalk was surprisingly devoid of people but those that were traversing its empty passageway seemed not to be the type that we would want to converse with.

Without thinking, we dipped down a side street and, not knowing how bad Atlantic City was in terms of its danger level, we began traversing the ill-lit thoroughfares that ran parallel to the boardwalk.  It didn't take long for us to realize that we had made a terrible error in judgement, which was confirmed when we began being harassed by a hooker somewhere near one of the casinos.  You see--one of the other things that I realized (thanks to the whore) was that neither I nor the other guy were really dressed appropriately for a) the weather and b) the time of night we were out.  He was wearing a well-worn undershirt and flannel pajamas while I was rocking basketball shorts and a white undershirt.  I should mention that it was October and, seeing as how we were in close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, it I can put this delicately...a bit...nipply out.

Fortunately for us the hooker had come up behind us and thus was unaware of our diamond-cutter embarrassment.  Fortunately for me, she seemed to key in on the other guy. 

"Heyyyyyy there...I see you in your wanna see me in mine?" 

I swear to God that's what she said.  I give her points for her observational skills and attention to detail...but....yeah.

Anyway, we muttered something and then began walking as quickly as our legs would carry us.  We probably looked like retarded penguins shuffling along through the darkness, trying to find our way back to the casino.  Fortunately, we popped out right in front of one of the main entrances of one of the larger hotels.  We sat right down beneath the lights figuring that the strumpet would refrain from accosting us further.  I suppose that demonstrates the depth of our naïveté: we were dealing with a prostitute, not a vampire.

By this point it was almost three o'clock in the morning but neither of us were interested in going back into the room.  We wound up sitting on a bench on the boardwalk directly across from our hotel's exit.  Sometime around four in the morning I received a phone call from the friend who had stayed behind.  I was amazed that I had my phone and was confused by the tone of her voice.  She asked where we were and I told her that we were on the bench outside.  She said okay and that she was coming down to meet us. 

As soon as she saw us she burst into tears.  I asked her what had happened and could tell that she was clearly inebriated.  It turned out that getting the other guy to go back to sleep was quite the challenge.  He had managed to survive the vertigo stage of drunkenness and had become remarkably garrulous.  She tried to get him to go to sleep but he just kept talking.  Finally, after an hour or so she finally succeeded in getting him to nod off.  She then decided that it would be a good idea to come out to find us...except for the fact that she left her key to the room on the desk.  The other guy had finally passed out so there would be no waking him and, apparently, neither of us were answering our phones...and so she wandered the casino, a drunken mess herself, until I finally picked up my phone.

We got back into the room around 5:30 and all attempted to go to sleep.  I had gotten a second wind (my third or fourth of the night) and was lying listlessly in the bed, watching the clock creep towards and ultimately surpass 6 o'clock.  I knew that the sun would be rising soon and I thought that watching the event on the beach would be an awesome way to end the night.  Sadly, I was the only one who wanted to go and thus I headed out with my disposable camera in hand.  I stood on the beach, watching as the night slowly released its grip as the first blush of dawn bloomed above the horizon.  It was at this point that I noticed someone walking along the deserted beach some distance away.  In my drunken, overly tired paranoia, I was convinced that he was some sort of creeper stalking me.  My attention vacillated between the rising sun and the approaching pervert.  I didn't want to miss my photo opportunity...but nor did I want to find myself suddenly diddled on the beach near the Sands casino.

Finally, as the sun passed beyond the horizon, so too did the beach-walker pass by me.  We exchanged a nod (as if being up that early/late was clearly a pedestrian affair) and I returned to my photo-taking, relieved that he was just out for a stroll.  When I had had my fill of the breathtaking panorama laid out before me--indeed finished contemplating the insignificance of my existence before the vast expanse of rose-kissed sea and sky--I returned to the hotel room to get some sleep.

Two or three hours later, we awoke and had to attend my friend's birthday breakfast.  We were going to IHOP on the dime of the woman who had covered our expenses.  Let me tell you--never in my life have the commingling aromas of bacon, eggs, pancakes, waffles, and french toast induced in me such a desire to vomit as they did at that moment.  I felt terrible because our peckishness would have made a Milanese model proud; between the four of us we barely consumed an eighth of what was laid out upon the table.

Later in the day we moved over to the then-brand new Borgata Hotel and Casino.  I found out that the casino had a paging system available in a community meeting area called "The Living Room."  You could use a courtesy phone to ask an operator to summon a member of your party by name over the casino's PA system to the Living Room.  Never one to miss out on an opportunity for mischief, I excused myself and quickly used the phone.  This is the conversation that ensued:

Operator: "Hello?  How may I help you?"
Me: "Yeah, hi, I would like someone paged to The Living Room pleased."
Operator: "Certainly!  May I have his or her name?"
Me: "You sure can.  His name is Samir Nagheenanajar."
Operator: (Silence)  "Umm...can you spell that for me, please?"
Me: "No problem--Ess-Ay-Em-Eye-Arr."
Operator: (Confused silence)  "Okay...Samir Nay-ee-nah..."
Me: "Nagheenanajar."
Operator: (Giggling)  "Na-na-nye-yah...oh God..."
Me: "Nagheenanajar."
Operator: " more time.  Nay-ee..."
Me: "Nay-ee-nah-nah-jah."
Operator: "Okay, got it!  I'll page him right away."
Me: "Thanks a lot--have a great night!"

I hung up the phone and headed back to meet up with the group.  Everyone was waiting patiently for me and, fortunately, did not press me for a reason for my absence.  They probably thought I had to use the restroom, which was fine by me.  I was worried as we exited the Living Room that the operator was not going to be true to her word or that I wouldn't be able to hear the name be called.  Music was pumping through the casino...and then, all of a sudden, it cut off and was replaced with the static crackle of a phone being picked up.

My breath caught in my throat.  One of the guys we were with turned to me with an eyebrow raised.

"Why do I feel like this is going to have something to do with you?"

The fact that I was clearly giddy and nearly jumping up and down in anticipation and excitement probably gave it away.

I listened like Moses at the burning bush for that woman to speak and, when I heard her clear her throat...I nearly wet my pants.  Somehow, I could just tell that she was hesitant before she even started!

Operator: (Over the casino's public address system)  Attention attention, will Mr. Samir...ugh (no joke!  She ughed away from the microphone before contiuing!)  Will, uh, Mr. Samir...Nay-ee...Nay-ee-nani...Nay-ee-nana...jah....please head to the Living Room, yourpartyiswaiting."

She rushed through her final words as she tried to stifle her laughter before flipping the switch and letting the music come back on.

The best part was that most of the activity in the casino had cessated for a moment as if everyone was listening to this message.  Since the casino was still relatively new, it was probably a novelty for everyone to hear people being paged as such.  Once the message was done, though, everyone returned to their previous activities.  No one had any idea what the reference was--except for one of the guys and the birthday girl.  They both looked at me with an "I-can't-believe-you-just-did-that" look on their faces as we headed towards our dinner and the anticlimactic conclusion of our weekend.

I'd like to think that, somewhere in that casino, someone was inspired by my handiwork to watch kung fu movies or a breast exam on television that night.