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“Well the first days are the hardest days, don’t you worry any more
‘Cause when life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door
Think this through with me, let me know your mind
Wo, oh, what I want to know, is are you kind.” – Uncle John’s Band, The Grateful Dead

I didn’t think it was going to be this hard.

When Jesse was a young lad one day he proclaimed with a sigh, “I love these lands,” the Kentlands that is. Sue, Jeremy and I are leaving the Kentlands, moving to Wilmington, NC. We’ve lived here for nearly 21 years.

There are all sorts of sound reasons why this is something we should do. Sue and I will both be retired, so we need to live somewhere with a lower cost of living. Our financial advisers tell us now is the time to take the equity out of our house to improve our retirement savings. Wilmington is a smaller place, with a vibrant arts community, two colleges, a great music scene and our new house is only 15 minutes from the beach.

Still, I didn’t think it would be this hard.

We chose the Kentlands in part because we would build our own house. It would be splendid; we would pick the layout and all the special things that would become our dream house. God we were naïve.

But mainly we hoped for walkable neighborhoods and a strong sense of community. Designer Andres Duany calls it the “New Urbanism,” replacing typical suburban sprawl with high density, no cul de sacs, all through streets. You get to know your neighbors. Our boys could walk to school. And our oldest, Jeremy, could walk and meet people and meet people and walk. Jeremy has Williams Syndrome, a genetic condition that comes with a gift for music; he is a brilliant drummer, and he has a relentless desire to make new friends, with a beaming smile and a catchy phrase. “You don’t really know who your parents are until you’re born.”

This has been a special place to live. Our family has experienced nothing like it. We’ve had our share of sad times, but even then, especially then, our friends and neighbors held us up and got us through.

I knew we were living in the right place when I drove up the alley after work one day and there were a few women hanging out with Sue standing by the side of the house drinking wine. I was hoping to see them later on that winter with a barrel fire to keep them warm.

And then there were the alley rats, Jeremy and Jesse and the other neighbor boys hurtling their big wheels from the top of the alley to the street, as nervous mothers stood at the bottom to keep them out of traffic. Of course they would go faster and faster and pretend to blast through the mom barricade. But it was just boys doing what they do, pissing off their moms.

Saturday morning swim meets and Clyde’s booming voice of encouragement spurring them on, fast or slow until they crossed the finished line. Interminable Wednesday night B meets, as we would secretly pray for lightning along the horizon so we could finally go home.

I remember the great community super soaker fight and its prize a simple red flag. We all wore targets and when you got shot you were out of the game. We were the Hill people determined to defeat the flat landers. Jesse got the flag, he and his pals, Will and Derrick, and the Boeckl boys. They were so proud.

Halloween when other neighborhoods miles away would bring their kids to the Kentlands because the homes were so close together. Jeremy would get his candy and eat it as fast as he could. Jesse used a pillow case and made multiple forays, and then he would hoard his bounty until Easter.

“It’s the same story the crow told me; it’s the only one he knows
Like the morning sun you come and like the wind you go
Ain’t no time to hate, barely time to wait
Wo, oh, what I want to know, where does the time go.”

The alley rats became teenagers and then young men on their way to college and futures unknown. Some became lost boys who struggled, but eventually made it back home, save for Jesse.

There are times when I walk Dusty a large black crow lands on a house across the street and calls out. I imagine it to be Jesse’s spirit laughing out loud because now he knows all the answers and abides in peace evermore.

But the one constant through it all has been Jeremy. He’s no longer that “severely unusual,” boy in constant motion. Well, he is always still in constant motion, but in a more mature way. Jeremy has thrived here. Most people think of him as the unofficial mayor. This place was made for him. He has more friends than I can count or know. I remember how we would always admonish him not to wander around so much when we were eating out at a restaurant. Turns out, he was just training as a host.

It was here in the Kentlands that he met Wes Crawford, his dear friend and drumming mentor, who wisely guided his development to the amazing skills he has today. Soon he will crash the music scene in Wilmington. And although our new neighborhood is nothing like the Kentlands, I have no doubt that he will soon have more than enough friends.

It’s going to be hard to take him away from here, hard for Sue and me too.

Harder than I thought it would be.

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Rockin’ Chair

I turned 70 this year. All of a sudden Jack Bauer’s incessant warning of: “We’re running out of time,” has new meaning for me.

My sister Jeffra died this year. We were the first two kids in our family. Marty & L. E. got married. He went off to war and I was born shortly afterward. He came home and Jeffra joined us pretty much right away. Her body failed her after a prolonged illness, but her spirit remained indomitable until the end. Her spirit is still out there somewhere.

Jeffra saved my life several years ago. She was with me in San Francisco when I had to bring Jesse home and attend to the numbing details of death.

We spent a week together and it was the first time I realized how spiritual she was. At one point she referred to herself as a “White Witch.” I wondered if she had ever informed dad of this aspect of her character. But then, he would have been a lot more upset that she was a Democrat.

I’m sure anyone who has read my blog before can’t help but think; why is he always writing about death. Well, if people I know and love will stop dying I’ll stop writing about it.

Now that I’m in my 7th  decade I notice age a lot more in other people and in my surroundings. There is this old guy who lives in my neighborhood. He is fastidious about his lawn and garden.

Recently, I was walking my dog and saw him mowing his lawn. Well he had his lawn mower running, and he was standing there with his hands on the handle, but he was gazing into the garden to his right. It was as if he had wandered into a room and couldn’t remember why or what he was looking for. I’ve done that. Sometimes it gives me the chills.

I don’t dwell on the things I’ll never be able to do. Gave that up a long time ago. I don’t believe in bucket lists. Lists in general bore me. Besides the things I might wish I had done were never really in my grasp, like be Dan Rather, or take over when he got shoved aside. Does anyone else really hate Scott Pelley? Uh-Oh that was random.

I’m content. Sue and Jeremy keep me comfortably outside the lines and on my toes. I love to write and don’t really care if I make sense. I recently read a book review which reported that all writing will eventually be taken over by computers and robots. It’s a good thing my goal isn’t to be widely read. I just like to find the right words, solve the puzzle of decent prose.

It’s sort of like the woman in “It’s a Wonderful Life” who gives all her savings to George Bailey saying, “I was going to spend this money on a divorce if I ever found me a husband.” Yeah I don’t get it either.

I used to work for AARP. The group’s major endeavor, other than making money, is to find new ways for people to believe they aren’t really growing old. I guess it works if you try hard enough.

But I’m already planning my escape. No rocking chair* for me. When the time comes for them to try to put me in the home, I’m headed straight for the Gulf of Mexico, and a comfortable shack with a thatched roof as near as possible to an endless field of peyote.

*Two versions of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Rockin’ Chair:” Mildred Bailey & the Mills Brothers.

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Bulls Eye

I saw an American Sniper yesterday and was going to write a review in case I decided to become a critic someday and needed some samples. But my fan base has remained stubbornly largely invisible and I don’t really have the energy these days.

I thought it was a powerful film. It is not a sinister pro-war agitprop designed to inspire and lure innocent American youth to saddle up and head to the Mid-East to bag some Arab scalps. (Maybe if I use words like agitprop more my dream of becoming a critic will come true).

In fact, anyone considering a future in the military won’t come within 50 miles of a recruiting office after they see this movie. It is bloody and brutal, out-rivaled only by Brad Pitt’s Fury. Now that would be a bang up double feature.

Sniper is about the impossible moral choices in war, and the broken soldiers who come home lost and less human.

Whatever else you might believe about American Sniper it does not make war attractive, as if such a thing were possible.

And by the way if you haven’t seen the movie keep your trap shut, your opinion is of no value.

All I can say is that Clint Eastwood may be an idiot when it comes to political satire, but he is a brilliant film director.

He can defend himself and people much smarter than I am are at his side.

So I’ll leave you with a story about art. When I was a TV reporter in Washington, DC, an artist from New York City was given a grant to create an outdoor sculpture.

The city gave her a location on a grassy spot towards the end of the Whitehurst Freeway as it turns into K Street.  It was mainly seen by drivers, but was also visible from the Watergate, where rich white people live.

The artist chose to make a statement about our disposable society. She created a structure out of wire and pipe that swirled and twisted upward from a large base to a small peak some 40 feet high. She then attached all manner of appliances, personal electronic items and dozens of things that were once vital to our lives but had been cast aside. It came to be known as the “Tornado of Trash.”

I got as many interviews as I could from motorists driving by. Most were indifferent, some thought it was cool, others hated it. Watergate residents hated it, really hated it.

When I interviewed the artist she had a precise and curt response to her critics. “Ah fuck ‘em. My job is to create art. Their job is to see it and think about it and react. I don’t give a shit what’s inside their tiny brains.”

Clint has offered a more eloquent defense of his work. But he’s welcome to use the Tornado lady’s point of view if he wants.

 

 

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Second, Second Chance

I’ve lost count of how many stents have been inserted in my body over the years, 7 or 8? I still get chest pains, even when I’m following the rules, exercising and eating right. I figure I must have slipped up somewhere, the brownies and ice cream, or a little too much red wine. Oh well, back to angiogram land and the yearly photo essay of my arteries, and to decide whether to go with another stent or something else.

I’ve always said; just keep me out of the clutches of the Doctor with the hand-saw.

My first stents were inserted in 2004 when I had my heart attack. Over the next ten years I had chest pain several times, my doctors called it stable angina. Angina is due to poor blood flow through the blood vessels in the heart. It’s discomfort that most often occurs with activity or stress.

When I had chest pain my doctors chose to perform an angiogram; an X-ray test that uses a camera to take pictures of the blood flow in an artery or a vein. An angiogram can be used to look at the arteries or veins in the head, arms, legs, chest, back, or belly.

When a serious blockage is discovered either the plaque causing the blockage will be blown out by a balloon: or a stent is inserted. I’ve had so many doctors poking around my inner bosom that I’ve thought of a new TV reality series called “Inside Joe Don Barnes– no really — inside Joe Don Barnes.”

There are two ways to get the camera where it needs to be: insert the camera up the femoral artery.  It leaves a potentially dangerous wound in the Femoral artery on the upper thigh that requires a high level of attention. I remember once after a procedure a nurse came in around 2am, lifted my gown and exclaimed, “That’s a beautiful groin.” I said, “Thank you no one has ever said that to me before.

The other and more widely used procedure is to insert the camera in your right arm.

Over the last few months I began to have chest pains again. Even though I was run-walking two miles a day and working out with weights three times a week. We were still on a Mediterranean diet as recommended by my cardiologist. The doc and I decided to have another angiogram.

So I’m in the cath lab already to go. I feel a needle prick on my right arm. They are numbing the bottom of my wrist where they will insert the camera. I receive drugs to make me comfortable but not put under complexly.

Having been through this many times before this time it seemed different, something I sensed but can’t explain.  I didn’t feel the effects of the happy juice. I could hear the doctors muffled talking throughout the procedure but couldn’t understand what they were saying. But I could tell they weren’t preparing for a stent or an angioplasty. They were moving pretty fast.

Suddenly, the doctor appears at my right side inches from my face, jerks up his mask and says, “You need a triple bypass.”

Great, and just in time for Christmas.

Actually it turned out to be a quadruple bypass, but who’s counting. Or in other words:

Coronary Bypass & graft X 4; Lima to Lad; SVG to Ramus; SVG to OM1; Right leg Endoscopic Saphenous Vein Harvest 0803-0853-0915; Transesophageal Echo Cardiogram.

Ladies and gentlemen allow me to introduce the fabulous Dr. Kathleen Petro, the heart surgeon who performed the above procedure.

Sue and I met with her two days before the surgery. Dr. Petro inspired immediate confidence, with her demeanor and knowledge. Dr. Petro was never in a hurry, answered all of our questions and went over the surgery in great detail. I learned a number of things, like your heart receives a nice cold bath in potassium, while you’re on the heart pump. The surgery itself is only an hour. But they will work on me for several hours more before and after.

Her hand shake was firm and assured. I couldn’t help staring at her fingers. They were long and delicate, and to my eye amazing, wise and fast.

On the day of the procedure the anesthesiologist talked me through his role, and said he was going to give me several drugs. Then he said he was injecting something to help me relax. Soon I was unconscious, in a soundless formless black abyss.

The next thing I knew I was in the ICU and they were calling my name and asking for my help to remove the breathing tube.

– – –

HOLY MOTHER OF GOD my chest hurts like a bitch!

Recovery.

Sue will be in charge of getting me back to normal.  She assures me there will be no coddling. We’ve been together a long time; she has a keen bullshit meter. I’m not going to be doing much the next five to six weeks. I’m already walking around the house, and doing other small things, and movements. And taking drugs, when I don’t get the timing down, I get a brief visit from Mr. Chest Twister.

I was home in time to spend Christmas with Sue and Jeremy. My sister Jeffra, her daughter Jaime and boyfriend Matt were here, our first family Christmas in a long time. Feels good, feeling good as Robert Earl puts it.

I’m looking forward to being able to exercise aggressively, an end to angina, and feeling normal again. When I had my heart attack ten years ago I felt better immediately, and was given a long list of what I had to do stay healthy.

This will sound odd but from the beginning I didn’t fully understand that cardiac artery disease is incurable. All you can do is manage the pain and deal with artery blockages as they arise, with stents or a bypass. I had gotten through so many events over the years that only required a stent, being an optimist I figured; OK this is the way it goes. I can do that standing on my head.

This is my second, second chance. Ten years ago the doctor told that my heart problems were to be expected: “50 + years of greasing the pipes take its toll, that and your genetics. Now you start clean.

Before the surgery Doctor Petro said I could make lifestyle changes if I want, but must take the right medicines, have a proper heart diet and continue to exercise. However she told me to prepare for future stents and even by-pass surgery.  She reminded me we all have to accept the power of genetics.

Sober advice indeed. I will keep exercising, and stick with our sound diet.  I’ve been told alcohol is not a problem if consumed in the right amounts. OK maybe I do need to work on that “consumed in the right amounts deal.”

But the first doctor gave me the best advice of all. She said I need more humor in my life,” Go home and watch a Marx Brother’s movie.”

That’s the best heart healthy advice I’ve ever received. So I’m going to laugh every day. You should too.

A horse walks into a bar. The bartender says why the long face.

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The Man In The Mirror

“You never want to be down to your last nut.”

This bit of wisdom was expressed to me by Bob the electrician. He was installing a new light fixture for us and was on his second attempt with some of the hardware. On his way back up the ladder he realized he was missing one of the lock nuts to keep the fixture in place.

Bob has the bearing of a master electrician. He is a craftsman, steady and level on the level. You see him with his small canvas tool bag and LED light apparatus and you know he’s a pro.

I’ve been thinking about identity lately. It began when a neighbor I often see on walks with Dusty started calling me Richard. I wasn’t paying attention and said hello back to him. It’s now been at least two years and I don’t think I can set him straight. It would be awkward. I’m sure he’d say, “But Richard you never said anything.”

Besides, I was inspired to consider a measure of freedom about my identity that I had never contemplated. As Richard I could be anyone; a concert pianist, an actor for a mid-size regional theater company in the Twin Cities, a smooth European, David Niven like jewel thief, a fire breathing bible beating Baptist revival preacher.

I think our identity changes over time. The person we have been since we were born, our core, remains constant. But life changes us as we pass through many phases; when we were single, students, getting married, that first job, the last one; being retired.

That’s me and I recently saw an example of how my retirement identity looks to others. I had to pick up two items at the grocery store for dinner. As I came down an aisle there were two old codgers bitching because there are so many Goddamn choices in the grocery store. “When did they stop just selling the one thing I like? And why hell did they do it?” I feel the same way and regret having argued years ago that people over fifty are not set in their ways and are receptive to new advertising and marketing techniques. Oh well.

If you care, Howard Moskowitz is to blame as explained in great detail by Malcom Gladwell at a Ted conference.

Your identity can be forged early in life and you may have nothing to do with it. My younger brother is named Robert Frank Vest. But he’s been known as Robin for most of his life, by family, friends and business associates. My sister Jeffra and I helped that along.

My brother was born and a wee lad when the 50s song “Poor Little Robin, Walking to Missouri,” was popular.

The song was all over the radio and we used to laugh and kid Robin about being poor and having to walk so far. Our parents never told us to knock it off. We were just kids and kept at it and before long the name Robin just stuck.

Robin has no regrets, “I love my name and always have – glad that by a chance of fate I was christened with this name, In fact , it is a great help when pesky telemarketers call the office asking to speak to Robert, Bob, the Bobster, Bobbie,” and so on.

Robin has his own views on identity. “Socrates said ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ What is our purpose, where does our passion take us? What is that one thing that sets our hair on fire every day? We all have that One Thing – where our soul and heart meet – that we are supposed to do.  I wish more people took time out to explore this; fewer “Selfies” more self-examination.”

Maybe it was meant to be and Jeffra and I can take that off our blame ledger. Still, he finds that he has to spend a fair amount of time explaining it all to friends and business associates. And for that I’m sorry Bob.

There are also people in this world who know you as only one thing, or for one event. I’ll spare you the grizzly details, but back when I was a lot more careless and impatient I accidently killed a puppy. I was visiting Austin at the time and eventually moved there almost ten years later. One night we went to the Austin Opry house to hear some music. I was getting a beer from the bar when I noticed a guy next to me who had that did we go to high school look on his face when he suddenly blurted out, “You killed my dog.”

All in all I’m happy with my identity. There were times in my life when it felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. Years later I realized it was my fault; just like Groucho, “I didn’t want to belong to a club that would have me as a member.”

The toughest change for me was leaving the TV news business. Being, “Ken Vest Action News Tonight,” was so ingrained, so much a part of my identity that once it was over, I felt like I used to be Ken Vest.

I was lost for a time in the 60s, but who wasn’t. So I think of the song, “I used to be somebody, now I’m somebody else. Who I’ll be tomorrow is anybody’s guess.”

Perhaps the problem is to even pose the question: “who am I?

It’s better to just be.

And if I have a guiding principle a purpose, you’ll find it in “Uncle John’s Band”

“Think this through with me let me know your mind

Uh Oh what I want to know is are you kind?”

 

 

 

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The Crankies

I am become cliché, destroyer of originality.  OK that may be a bit of an overstatement but in my later years I can feel myself slipping into the crankies – sometimes even the hollering kind.

Fair warning; don’t come around my house with a clipboard making notes.

I live in one of those communities with a Home Owners Association (HOA) and rules. Yes, yes, I knew going in but I had the naïve notion that these were the only rules we were going to have; the ones I agreed to when we first built a house here. Silly man.

Every two years the management company that polices and enforces the rules sends clip board wielding goons around the neighborhood looking for things we need to fix on or near our houses and property. Most recently they came upon two downspouts on our garage that were “faded,” and needed painting. They missed the entrance to the casino in our basement, but they aren’t really that astute. Anyhow, I wanted to take the spouts down to their office and drop the offending drainpipes on one of the bosses desk and yell out; are these the ones bitches!

Shortly after that, the HOA tried to change the rules on enforcement and litigation. Board members wanted to give themselves the right to cut off litigation home owners might bring to fight over zealous enforcement.  That’s when I saw one of the rule Nazis cruising our neighborhood looking for problems. I asked him about the rule and he lied, saying the language has been there all along and they just wanted to “tweak it.” (After a contentious meeting they put the rule change on hold).

Then one day I saw this young man with a shirt and tie walking down my block with a clipboard and I yelled out at him demanding to know what the hell he was up to. To my chagrin he was an earnest fella running for local office looking for support.  He had gone to high school with my son Jeremy. There were some frowns around the neighborhood and in my house as I continued to point out that he shouldn’t have been using a clipboard.

I love my son Jeremy. But like most everyone else in the world he has become an I-Zombie. He always has a mobile device or tablet  in his hand. He stares and scrolls and sends texts or posts on FB seeking and sending the usual folderol.

Someday, I would really like to find the busiest sidewalk in the world with dozens, hundreds of I-Zombies, the digital undead keeping current and absolutely unaware of what’s happening right in front of them. I’m walking along with a boom box strapped to my shoulder. And just when the crowd is the thickest I lift the boom box high, just like John Cusack did in that movie. Only instead of music it blasts three extremely loud gunshots. Bam-Bam-Bam!

I quickly lower the radio under my arm again and keep walking calmly, waiting for the reaction and hoping someone, anyone has dropped their device and run for cover. I’m betting the entire mob would flicker a brief moment of recognition and go right back to the inter-webs.

While I’ve got gunfire on my mind, when someone runs a stop sign I would really like to shoot their tires out. Everyone does it all the time, so it would be a full time occupation, depending on how long I stay out of jail.  A city expert once told me the average speed at a stop sign is 5 miles an hour. How can that be I exclaimed! You get the drift no one stops. So I’ll just have to continue shouting epithets and as many curse words as I can until they drive too far away to hear me. Although, I do have a loud voice so I know they hear me.

There are many splendid acts of kindness that reduce my level of crankiness; like the high school prom queen who shared her crown with a class mate who was mocked by other kids in the school.

Or the pee-wee football teams that let the disabled kid score a touchdown in the last game of the year –his team pretended to block, their opponents went along with the gesture, gladly.

That gives me hope. And then just as the world seems a bit better; I’m sitting on my front porch swing when an idiot drives by reading from a clip board, and runs the stop sign.

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Shedding

Downsizing is a lousy word. It is totally inadequate to explain what you actually must do. A better phrase would be shedding the layers of your life.

Some of it is easy, things you should have tossed a long time ago.

Do I really need two mini-posters with the name Hance? Yes the only political campaign I worked on was Kent Hance’s 1983 Senate race in Texas. But one will do. It will always remind me of a quote that was attributed to “Hance’s Vest.”

Yet, there is so much more that really needs to go. Like flatware from the 80s and 90s boxed and forgotten, dozens of glass and metal containers jammed with just the perfect screw, nut, or bolt for that troublesome home repair project, New Year’s and Halloween party hats, lamp covers and empty frames, Nintendo and PS 2 games that nobody plays, the third VCR, twelve tall orange plastic beer cups and a worn seat cushion from Orioles park, a half dozen gimme caps including one with the words “El Jefe,” (whatever made me think I was?), a crib blanket that was never used, one of those tall black fans that looks cool but never does, “old Smokey,” the best barbeque machine I’ve ever owned.

And there are some things very hard to part with.

I was once positive that I would never let go of any of my books. But I never finished Manchester’s “An American Caesar,” a bio on MacArthur and I never will. I don’t know how I came by Rudy Giuliani’s “Leadership” – he’s the last person I would expect to have any useful ideas. Scott Turow’s “Presumed Innocent,” is fabulous but I’m not going to read it three times. “The Illustrated Texas Dictionary of the English Language.” Really? Texas is so twenty minutes ago.

The JBL cabinet speakers I swore I would take to the home. I bought them because the late Paul A. Rompala, an old friend from Chicago, told me listening to music with anything else was a crime against nature. He was right.

I had to choose between the 1939 wooden antique GE A-64 radio that still receives and plays an AM signal, and the early 1900s Underwood manual typewriter. Sweet Sue gave me both. The typewriter wins.

There is a school of thought that one should never grow attached to objects. It’s a Buddhist concept that we can never be free harboring an extreme desire for objects and things. A neighbor who is a designer says you should take a picture of the thing you’re going to release and it will always be with you.

I’m not sure a picture will do for Millie’s chairs, pure Louis XIV, needing total overhaul. Millie was Sue’s mom and the memories are there from when they were new, and the kids and Lucky the dog weren’t allowed near them.  So Sue can’t put them out on the curb, but doesn’t want to spend the money on French provincial furniture that she doesn’t love as much as her memories. What to do? They’ll probably go someday but not in this round.

The toughest thing for me so far has been Jesse’s little league baseball bag. A ball still in the pocket of the glove, the rubber cleats dusty from the last game he played, the bat he used to swing fast and true.

Although she has never played Sue has agreed to take his golf clubs. She can’t possibly be any worse than I am. Better yet, I can use the red tees pretending to give her lessons.

We go through many stages in life. Unless we’re filthy rich, one most of us never escape is the shrinking of the space we own and occupy, although ultimately we wind up in the smallest space of all.

As we go through this shedding, my mind wanders and I think of scenes from years gone by, and ponder what’s yet to come.

And then I remember the end of Jimmy Buffet’s “He went to Paris,”

Jimmy, some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic; but I had a good life all the way.

 

 

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Breathe

We used to love him. Just a few years ago he won our hearts and wowed us with his intelligence. Now we wonder what we saw in Barack Obama. How could we have been so wrong?

He emerged after nearly a decade of turbulence when politicians, thinkers, the news media and talking heads had been flailing about demanding action after 9/11. Action at all costs, action regardless of the costs.

That brought us a war that failed, one that should never have been waged. You know all the reasons why: no weapons of mass destruction, powerful megalomaniac Saddam Hussein was nothing more than a new age wizard of Oz hiding behind a curtain of bluster and empty threats.

Once we took over there were some amazingly stupid actions, such as disbanding the army and “de-bathification”; Hey Paul Bremer, father of ISIS, how’s it going these days?

All the predictions were dead wrong too; my favorite was that we would be welcomed as liberators. Let’s send a peace delegation to begin talks with ISIS and see how that works out.

So here we are again demanding action. Everybody insisting on an immediate response blaming it all on the guy we used to love.

It’s like the bad guys tossed a lit stick of dynamite into the bunk house, and all the ranch hands have torn through the doors and windows with their six guns blazing.

There’s Lindsay Graham, arms flapping running breathless from TV camera to TV camera exclaiming.  “My Lord we must act swiftly and decisively, I swear I’m about to have the vapors.”

Aides to John McCain are on a 24 hour watch to prevent him from jumping behind the joy stick of his old fighter jet and blasting off to bomb something or somewhere, anywhere, as long as it’s in the mid-east.

Meanwhile we snipe and sneer at No Drama Obama wondering what we ever saw in this gutless wonder. Thank God for Joe “Chase them to the Gates of Hell” Biden. Someone in the Administration has balls. Although he doesn’t really explain where the gates of hell are and what we do to get them there. He doesn’t even really give us a good idea of who they are, ISIS sure, but aren’t there a few other terrorists we have to worry about. I don’t know Al Qaeda?

For my money I’d rather all the screaming experts and politicians calm down and get over their heebie-jeebies.  I’d rather they be more like Obama, than he be more like them.

The rapid growth of ISIS is frightening. And the beheading of our journalists is appalling and grotesque. The remorseless public viewing over the Internet is a cold blooded and unspeakable crime against the families.

But we have managed to screw up that part of the world and make it worse by decisions we’ve made in the past. I feel better knowing Obama is in charge. Especially because I’m confident he’s moving in a thoughtful and methodical manner and ignoring the urgent demands that he become someone he is not and do things that will worsen the situation not improve it.

Everybody else: Untuck. Exhale.

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Spirits; Seen and Unseen.

“It’s the same story the crow told me; it’s the only one he knows. Like the morning sun you come and like the wind you go. Ain’t no time to hate, barely time to wait, Woh-oh, what I want to know is where does the time go.”-Jerry Garcia

We used to live in Maryland. There was a basketball court in our community lined on the street side with tall spruce trees partially obscuring those who play ball there.

Once I was walking our dog Dusty and saw a young toddler wearing only a diaper and tee shirt trying to bounce a basketball. A smiling woman followed and three boys sat patiently on a bench waiting to take the court.

I couldn’t tell whether it was a boy or girl, but as the wee sprite ran after the ball his smile was radiant.  Her arms were not long enough to wrap around the ball, but she kept chasing it. Peering through the trees I could catch only glimpses. It reminded me of those early animations and films that were essentially still images running across the screen as they were flipped, the picture halting and jumpy. I hope the kid will remember that day and the joy of chasing that ball.

It was a sweet scene magical and fleeting through the open spaces of the green spruce trees on a summer’s day. There was a time when such an image would have been painful for me.

AppleMark

Our son Jesse Aaron Vest would have been 27-years old today.

He died of a heroin overdose while studying at the University of San Francisco. Shortly after he died Sue and I traveled to New York. We wanted to get away see some friends, take in a show, get some good Italian.

A friend let us stay in her parent’s upper west side apartment. On Sunday we decided to walk through the park. A few feet down the path I saw a father playing catch with his son I started to cry and had to turn away.

We lost him five years ago. I don’t think he would be too much different today. He’d be out of college, and most likely still searching for his purpose in life. He would still be sporting that lovable smirk and his sharp smart ass sense of humor.

I think he would have been even better at playing his guitar, maybe he’d have some band mates to play with (*You can hear some of his tracks below).

We’re different since he died; me, his mom Sue and brother Jeremy. When you lose someone suddenly who was that large a part of your life, there is a new balance to the family. We’re not as shaky in that balance anymore. But sometimes I still notice his loss in a conversation or a family event.

I had a dream soon after he died. Thankfully I don’t have it much anymore. He wasn’t dead. I could see his face, pale as a winter cloud. He had an anxious look as he wandered around the Tenderloin in San Francisco. He was lost and cold. People walked by trying to ignore him, they thought he was begging. Every once in a while he would stop someone and ask them to help him get home. He kept saying, “I don’t want any money I just want to go home. Can you help me? I can’t find the way. Please help me call. I need to go home.”

Jesse is home now. A gentle spirit escaped from my dream and the broken souls of the Tenderloin. He’s home forever in our hearts and the tender embrace of our loving memories.

 Jesse’s Guitar tracks

*I recommend tracks 2 -3 -or 4 –the first is for head bangers.

 

 

 

 

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In the Bunker with Bang-Bang Shrimp

Yesterday, my son Jeremy was laid off from his job as host at Largent’s Bar & Grill. The new manager, gave us the news. It’s summer, business is slow so he’s had to lay off a lot of people. Is it permanent? He said things would pick up in September. Jeremy and I both asked when he should call back. Both times he said, “Don’t call me, I’ll call you.” You don’t have to be in show business to know what that means.

As we were about to leave I asked the manager if he knew Jeremy.  “Not at all,” was his response. So I handed him a bio and at that moment realized I hadn’t included Jeremy’s hosting experience at 44 the restaurant that preceded Largent’s. He became quite agitated, saying along the lines of “I don’t want to hear about 44-everybody comes in and says 44 this and 44 that. We’re not 44!”

Chill dude. I was just trying to point out Jeremy’s earlier experience as a host. But his reaction was instructive and the entire exchange tells me several things; the lay-offs weren’t very strategic; and feeling the pressure, Largent’s management is deep in the bunker sticking to their business plan come hell or high water.

I don’t know what that is, but it likely involves tinkering with the menu and no doubt a smart strategy, with a sophisticated marketing plan. Now, I have to admit I have never been a business man and I know nothing about the restaurant game. Tweaking the menu must be a regular function; you want to surprise and delight your customers. I hear “Bang-Bang” shrimp is about to become a new feature. Must be popular you can also order it across the street at Bonefish. Hmmm?

So I’m not a businessman but I do know something about engaging and communicating to audiences large and small and motivating them to take action. Whatever else you say about Tony Massenburg and 44, he knew how to reach out to the Kentlands community, to become a part of it. I know because Jeremy played a role. His job was to be a host, but he was really a PR person, spreading the word and urging people to dine at 44.

Tony didn’t make it. There are some in our community who call the location a curse. It is not. It may be too large to sustain a restaurant, and it might make sense to split part of it off to another enterprise to earn money. That’s an idea that’s been kicked around. Maybe the building code won’t allow it. Don’t know. But that’s for the pros to figure out.

No matter what Largent’s marketing plan is if it doesn’t include a sustained and meaningful effort to become part of the Kentlands community it’s not going to make it. As I mentioned I do know something about such communications efforts. It’s not enough to cater and host a symposium on the Kentlands ideal of “New Urbanism.” Success will grow from creating ambassadors and advocates for the restaurant over the long haul. There are many fields of marketing and communications that create informal networks throughout an organization tasked with connecting with key audiences and keeping them engaged. The idea is to create a foundation of local fans and build on that as you move out to a broader community. Something tells me such tactics and strategies do not conform to Largent’s business plan.

Actually it wasn’t much of a job really. Although the owner and original manager approved a five day twenty hour schedule, Jeremy never worked that much. He was given two shifts a week, four hours total.

We suspect they didn’t want Jeremy to work the host table alone. That meant an extra person, and an extra expense. We like to say Jeremy is severely unusual. Anyone who knows him, and tries to get him also knows what that means. He has Williams Syndrome, a genetic condition that has weaknesses and strengths. He’s not too good with money, time and abstract thought can be a challenge. But he is also the most social and good natured person I’ve ever known, except for other folks who have Williams of course. Jeremy has more than 4,000 FB friends.

As I noted he played more of a PR role than hosting at 44. I don’t think Largent’s gets Jeremy and realizes the asset he can be. If management did worry about his disability, they didn’t need to.

According to a Virginia Commonwealth University study, “employees with disabilities have the same absentee and sick rates as non-disabled employees. Industry reports consistently rate workers with disabilities as average or above average in performance, quality and quantity of work, flexibility to demands, attendance and safety. Myth: Persons with disabilities are unable to meet performance standards, thus making them a bad employment risk.”

I use the word corporate to describe what I perceive to be Largent’s operating philosophy. There are rules and they must be obeyed no matter what, no exceptions. We offered to provide job coaching so he would be able to fit their mold. They never took us up on it.

Tony Massenburg has a big heart. He got Jeremy right away. And he immediately saw the best way to use him. Largent’s may make it and I really do wish them success. That corner needs to work eventually. It might help, just a little, if they gave Tony a call and asked to borrow a piece of his heart awhile. Like I said it’s big. He’s got some to spare.

Jeremy's birthday

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