Somethings I Like: ‘Oh Sidebar, Why Do You Steal My Life Away?’

Somethings I Like, somethings I collect, little somethings I find, somethings I photograph and somethings I just need to share like
this music video.

‘Oh Sidebar, Why Do You Steal My Life Away?’
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If you’re a music junkie like I am and have spent hours down the rabbithole that is the Sidebar of music video suggestions on Youtube, you’ll understand the humor in that anonymous comment. I don’t find instant faves so often these days but this song, Who Knows Who Cares by the band Local Natives jumped to my playlist pronto.

The 5 part harmonies, the disarmingly simple video production and the bystander reaction at the very end is worth a few minutes of your time, in my very humble opinion. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

So I went to the secondhand store


My first painting class at Parsons School of Design in New York thirty years ago was in no uncertain terms utterly terrifying. I really had no idea what to expect, nightime class so many people easels a teacher who was a painter not good in groups less so with strangers, the introductions and the quasi interest in your goals mumbling through mine unintelligable, a blathering stream of ‘is that really what I said’ bad and a request to ‘say it again and louder please this time so we can all hear you’ would have sent me straight for the exit.

Thankfully that didn’t happen the teacher I noticed immediately was himself fidgeting, moving his head in fact everything seemed to be in rubbery motion all limbs and digits simultaneously. You might, if your little self speech was rehearsed for days crafted refined be a little offended because Paul seemed to want to move past and get this over with as soon as possible and let’s start to paint, as much as I did.

I’m not sure if anyone else saw this, I didn’t ask but I did take notice impossible for me not to a sympatico there with Paul, a resonance of familiar that eased my anxiety allowed me to breath again to settle in and feel maybe just maybe I could do this, after all.

He was the best teacher I ever had I grew to love him as only a drought thirsty student could love a teacher who offered so much so freely. His way was gentle, cautious always saying a lot less than others wanted that’s what I heard in whispers during breaks. Everything was a question they said, nothing concrete and how good a teacher could he be if he didn’t tell you exactly how to paint?

He told me everything in his questions.

The only rules the absolutes were these:

Sketch.. sketch.. sketch.. and look, always.

If you get stuck turn the canvass to the wall.

As we studied the masters he would point his dirty fingernail at strokes of paint and say furrowed brow emphatically over and over,

Nothing on that canvas is an accident!’

These rules these truths on painting The 3 Rules of Paul I carried with me cherished throughout my life, always watching observing absorbing, filing pictures in my head for recall later. Patience like painting is indeed a virtue a gift to yourself and others as you try negotiate communicate the trickiness of everyday relationships every word what we do and why is important.

Nothing is invaluable enough to waste.

And just in case you’re wondering I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention because it all sounds so perfect on paper, in retrospect it wasn’t and won’t be. Hardly. There’s human here flesh and bones and mistakes, far too many to list here. It’s just that I try hard, I’m persistent but when I inevitably fail fall short the harshest critic my own formidable enemy myself and it’s been a continuous voice over playing in my background for as long as I can remember.

And so it goes with writing now a new craft passion I didn’t know I had hadn’t even considered there was no forewarning that I could paint with words and sketch with letters because words were not my vocabulary. I’m just a picture person or I was just that person until fairly recently. It was all about images an impression pictures imprinted for recall at a later date but now words phrases and paragraphs are attaching themselves sticking to the pictures like Post It Notes on a magazine page. They glue meld and are inseperable now a new language an eye opening, what the hell is this discovery that I’m beginning to like.

So there’s a process now developing I’m recognizing the repeat as absolute as anything I’ve ever known, as familiar as my fingerprints.
I just had no idea whatsoever that the same rules would apply no clue that it would be this universal so easily applicable to sketching with letters and painting with words. Words…. I’m beginninng to wear them breaking them in getting acclimated and comfy. I let them resonate now color an otherwise gloomy outlook depressed.

Words, a self comfort I didn’t know I had.

I sketch now, write paragraphs fill up templates save and preview turn the canvas to the wall stuck and walk away, not all paragraphs are paintings they won’t be, they can’t be at least not for me, sketching always. Paintings are definitive a statement and over time they begin to take shape layers edit, reveal themselves and feel complete this essay. Sketching is an exploration an urgent attempt to mark a moment make mistakes ask questions and turn the page and ask some more.

Painting the process form follows function sketching has always been solitary singular done in private not shared everything quiet and still in the slow of the night. And as comfortable a process as this has become for me now something new has emerged sharing written words, I’m beginning to wear it well a little a day beginning to like it and am trusting the results.

If I sound wide eyed it’s because I am, there’s a revelation here and I might be in awe of what I’ve become so late in my day. I could try and explain its significance profound but I can’t so I’ll tell what I did today instead. It snowed heavy in Chicago an inch an hour grey sloppy roads unplowed unpassable.

So I went to the secondhand store to buy some clothes.

It’s a barn of a place a brick box bare bones flourescent lights aisles and rack after rack few mirrors. There are always people there I watch them observe as always they’re busy in their heads moving hangers and studying prices making calculations and compromises.

I didn’t head for the dark stuff today my worn out route memorized and I left with 2 giant shopping bags there’s a sale most everyday 10 shirts sheatshirts vest and some hoodies and less than $65 came out of my pocket. A bargain by any measure and maybe a statement too because none of these used new clothes as is my usual habit not a single one was black.

Written January 2012, edited.

The Farm: Silver Quarters

The Farm will be an ongoing and occasional series of stories, an attempt to journal the oral history of my wife’s rich family history. Since i’ve met and married into this family, stories have been told at every dinner, family gathering and vacation campfire and this is my small attempt and contribution to preserve these stories for next and future generations.

My wife, her brother and myself have been gifted this wonderful farm though the incredible generosity and committment of her parents. Of all the many siblings, only us three had very much interest in maintaining the farm or keeping it in the family, a family farming heritage that dates back almost a hundred years.

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There is a quiet and humble history on this property, in the trees that were climbed by the children who grew up on this farm, in the still visible foundation outline of the once huge barn, in every dented and gouged pine door casing, the ancestry of my wife’s family is explained in these details and always further illuminated in our post dinner conversations. Country folk love telling stories and with very little fanfare and a matter of fact manner that belies the profound humanity, the empathy like a ribbon that runs through this family, tales were told tonight too.

My wife and her younger brother spent their summers on this farm, it was a working farm then with a huge pasture for the steer that Pap butchered, chickens and horses, the crops were soybeans, corn, hay and peony plants. The multistory post and beam constructed barn was enormous by all accounts, the heart of any farm and this barn served as the center of activity and endless hours of discovery for the kids too. The horses and ponies were a favorite, my wife spent her time learning to care, feed, walk and eventually ride these horses so much so that Gram ordered Pap to build her a racetrack behind the barn.

This was no small affair, the size of this track would take out a significant portion of the pasture and there were ‘conversations’ between Gram and Pap about the wisdom of this idea but as so many of the stories are indicative of the strength and conviction of the women in this family, Gram prevailed.

She always did.

Gram and Pap grew up during the Great Depression and talked often about being ‘dirt poor’, their families barely survived, scratching out a living however they could in this farming town in southern Indiana just outside Evansville and it’s doubtful that they would have described this same piece of land as a slice of the universe then, as we do now. She learned to cook at a very early age, her scribbled recipes, a shaky penciled script written on stained and wrinkled, blue lined loose leaf pages are coveted by the women in this family, every family had but a few until my wife compiled them into a book and each family then received their own copy one Christmas.

Gram set aside her Avon side business in 1970, took her cooking talents and became the head lunchroom cook at the local elementary school, always adding an extra helping of whatever was on the menu that day to the plates of the very poor among the students. There were four kids in particular, 2 brothers and 2 sisters whose family was considered ‘dirt poor’ even then, lunch was their only nutritious meal of the day. Gram invited these children to the farm every day on the pretense of playing in the barn with my wife and her brother and play they did. The boys built an enclosed fort from the hay bales behind the barn and when they all felt very adventurous and were sure no adults were looking, climbed to the second story rafters of the barn and jumped, one by one into the huge 12’ high pile of shelled feed corn below.

Actually, this story was just revealed to my wife’s parents tonight, to their rolled eyes and ‘Oh, no you didn’ts!’, and we all had a great big laugh at the secrets kids can keep.

But the real reason Gram brought those 4 hungry kids to their farm after school was to feed them, they all shared dinner together and whenever she could, unbeknownst to Pap or anyone else, she would slip them each a silver quarter and send them back home.

Decades later when Gram died, the 4 grown adults who all still lived in the area, all successful now, came to Gram’s funeral and told the whole family this story, the story the they were all learning about as they listened, the tale of a woman quietly sharing what she had with those less fortunate. The 2 sisters and 2 brothers then asked if they could place a small suede pouch they had brought with them into Grams’ casket to honor her memory.

The small, hand stitched suede pouch cinched tight with thin leather roping the family learned, was filled with silver quarters.

the cruel reminder

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Sunless skies, endless grey clouded over grey
crusted snow creating havoc for crocus shoots
struggling to make their stand.
Winter, a slow death by a thousand windy cuts
an imperceptable emotional fade and they speak
so few words between them now.
Purple and orange in full bloom swathed across
front yard lawns stirring expectations, memories
of their languid summer days
that started warm and ended warmer. Teal skies
uninterrupted steady sun their sleeveless shirts
and moist sweaty skin, her
sweet whispers assured his often troubled heart.
So many purple and orange reasons to be hopeful
but March, the cruel reminder.

the love note left

Not a single detail of the apartment
renovation would Charlie leave unnoticed,
relaxed in her own skin so comfortably deliberate
in her decisions, aligning tradesman
one by one day after ten hour day.
Sharing space in the small one bedroom condo
close quarters for even one small person,
the work would continue without a hitch and at a pace
that would make a seasoned developer envious.
Making allies not enemies the path of least resistance
that easy way about her a trait developed early used often,
her familiarity never breeding contempt.

Her husky laugh was always a welcome distraction,
she was your friend despite knowing little about her.
The sienna brown eyed gaze and a belief in every word,
no pretense in her warm eyes her simple fashion as honest.
Every facet of her life so carefully considered
and if missteps were made, they never showed.
Dark brown hair, parted air dryed and tossed
framed glowing mediteranean skin, no makeup.

For years the neighbors saw her walking the coiffed Shitzu
her only constant companion, both of short stature in such
a big world sharing such a quiet confidence between them,
wherever it was they both belonged.
Not a single life detail would Charlie ever leave to chance,
simple smart styled furnishings had a purpose and reason
a reflection of a life lived unattached.

Quiet solitary rarely a sound heard, that only in
ocassional hallway passing did neighbors learn
that Charlie no longer lived alone.
Unannounced as was her habit, nonetheless a choice
and a chance taken that would change everything.
Her first love, Charlie was fearless.

As planned, the many details welcoming her partner
expanded closetspace, cozy double bathroom sinks
2 leather barstools the kitchen island
the surface a finely polished black granite custom ordered,
all perfectly executed and completed on time as expected.
Forever an early riser never a shared kitchen
Charlie slipped easily into her new morning ritual, disciplined
brewing extra coffee a place setting cut organic fruit, yogurt.
A favorite though, Charlie left scribbled
notes on linen cards handmade enclosed in its matching envelope.
Reminders, loving misivs handwritten in her steady penmanship,
leaving little doubt of her devotion.


Waking up later than usual that day Charlie already long gone,
staring at that drawer already overflowing a year full of notes,
the questions and doubts already answered
the backpack filled regrets set aside, the decision to leave made.
Closing the drawer and locking the door behind her, the love note left
exactly where she always found it.

written March 2013

That Day…A Poem

The inspiration for this diary was the perfect Sunday I spent with my 12 year old daughter. ( who will officially be named Little O. We talked about the new school she tested into and will begin 7th grade next semester, about her friends and the school she will be leaving, her piano recital and the math placement test she took the day before and thought she did well on both, about all the sports teams she’s on now, we swapped YouTube videos, she helped me choose a new 4g phone and we played catch in the local schoolyard. Later that night, she did drawings of Japanese anime while I wrote this poem, combining the two videos we shared earlier that day.

Little O and I have a long tradition of sharing YouTube videos and we normally trade one or two with each other on our visits, usually music, sometimes science related or funny animal videos. When she was younger she loved FailBlog and we used to laugh for hours as she played them over and over, but that day she sat me down to listen to a few songs by Birdy, a young singer/songwriter whose big break came just recently, when one of her recordings was chosen to be in the movie soundtrack for ‘The Hunger Games.’

Play the Birdy music video and just let it play while you
read the poem, then play the time lapse video with sound off.
If you give the poem a nice slow read, the music should end
just as the last frame appears in the time lapse video.
Little ‘O’, I have a video for you to watch.’


‘Daddy, listen to Birdy, she’s only fifteen, she’s from England.’

‘Wow, that’s an incredible voice for a fifteen year old,
how did you find her music?’

‘Her song was in ‘The Hunger Games.’

‘Did you like the movie, I know you loved the books?’

‘The books were much better.’

‘Yeah, you’ll find that will probably happen a lot.
Her songs all have a sadness to them,
I love sad songs though, I always have.’

‘I do too, daddy!’

‘This whole album is a melancholy mood piece,
I like it a lot. Do you know what melancholy means?’
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She arrives looseygoosey through the door, light on her toes
despite a few days of separation, for years the weekly ritual,
our grey to grey eyes meet and her skin color mine, though
reaching down to kiss her forehead seemed easier that day.

My hands could always, effortlessly wrap around,
fingertips meeting at her sometimes ponytail,
or mingling among those tangled golden curls.

And when did her head snug in at my chest when we hugged?
Like the kitchen door frame penciled ever higher in our old house,
maybe our bodies will mark those imperceptable passages now?

Time, it seems to move so slowly until that day, when it doesn’t.
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Playing Catch With Little O

In my world perfect days just happen, there is no particular plan, no timelines, appointments, tickets to an event or a rush to be anywhere at a specific time. These perfect days just seem to develop their own rhythm, have a spontaneous ebb and flow and seamless synchronicity with other people and things that happen to be in the right place at the right time.

My daughter and I had such a day recently and this story is a part of that day.

The ball field was empty that cloudless Sunday afternoon and surprisingly, we were the only two people in the entire park when we arrived. The baseball diamond is part of a huge grass field and playground that serves as the play area for an elementary school and recently completed community center and even on this perfect summer day, all of the neighborhood kids were inside, the entire park was ours. So we started warming up by soft tossing the electric yellow, kid size version of a Chicago style softball to each other in the empty outfield.

My old glove long gone, probably lost in one of the many moves made over the years so I went to my favorite second hand store and bought an old, black Wilson glove for $3.99. It was a little small but it was perfectly broken in for a softball, still soft and pliable and my favorite color too. Little ‘O’ ( big h/t to Glorificus ) has been using ex Ms.’O’s old softball glove, she was quite the player as a young girl.

Little O was chosen to be the pitcher for her all girl softball team at school this year, did really well and pitched the team to a few wins. The baseball team was one of four she played on, soccer, volleyball and basketball were the others and she excelled at them all, though she lists soccer as her favorite.

We started a throwing session the week before, I explained and we practiced all the steps, the process of catching the ball, the 2 step, foot in front of other foot, almost dance and overhand arm motion, that allows a ballplayer to throw further with accuracy and more velocity. As with most new players, her throw was a little flatfooted and she was using her arm and shoulder muscles to propel the ball. When all the ballet like steps are done well, the velocity of the ball should be powered by the lats, the largest muscle in the body. It’s a skill that needs to be learned with practice, very few kids, boys or girls can pick up a ball for the first time and know how to throw.

So I set myself up at home plate, Little O was on the grass just behind the shortstop position and I threw low, soft fly balls to her and she would throw home. I crouched down and pounded my glove, gave her a perfect low target as if I was a catcher waiting for an imaginary runner to slide into home plate and when her throw was aimed well, I would tag out the runner with an exaggerated swipe of the dirt, kicking up a cloud of dust and call them,


We did this over and over, all the while repeating,

‘Catch, 2 steps, focus on the target, plant your foot, aim.’

When executed well and with enough torque behind the throw, you can hear your arm whoosh past your head but we were concentrating now on the repetition, on developing the muscle memory to make this motion instinctive and fluid. Little O is an excellent student and she could self correct,

‘So, what happened there?’, when a throw would be off line,

‘Oh, I didn’t focus on the target,’ or ‘I didn’t plant and I threw with my shoulder,’

‘You got it!’

Meanwhile, on the sidewalk about 50 feet behind the backstop, a group of 5 brotha’s were standing there along the fence, enjoying the beautiful day and were beginning to take notice that Little ’O’s throws were tagging out the runner more often than not, I could hear them,

‘Uh Huh, yeah’,

‘You see that one?’,

‘Hey, she’s awright!’,

as I was barking ‘OUT!’ loudly and swiping runner after runner with my glove. Little O’s confidence was growing, so I suggested it was time to put some velocity behind her throws,

‘Remember the process though, catch, 2 steps, focus, plant, aim’,

and a small chorus of cheers would go up when her throws came zinging right into my glove.

‘Thwack!, Out!’

‘Thwack!, Out!’

‘Thwack!, Out!’

‘Yeah, that’s how it’s done,’

‘Uh huh!’,

‘Daddy, I heard my arm make that noise!’, beaming now.

And now the brotha’s were really getting caught up in this scene, I heard one call out,

‘Hey….hey… yo dad, these guys don’t think my throw can reach her, let me throw it to her. Throw me the ball?’

So I did, not really knowing what to expect. We all watched as he caught the ball, rubbed it hard rolling it around in his hands, stepped away from the fence and just like he remembered as a kid,

‘Bet you can’t reach her man, that’s like 250 feet away’,

‘You just watch how it’s done,’

He went into the two step routine and wound up and launched a towering fly, that I almost lost in the glare of the sun as I turned to follow the ball. Little O didn’t and moved to her right a few steps, everyone was silent as she raised her glove and squeezed it shut, just a second too early and the ball fell to the ground. There were quiet,


from the crowd and her shoulders slumped as she looked at the ball, nestled in the thick grass behind her.

‘Little ‘O’, don’t give up on that ball, you don’t want that runner to score!’,

and with that, she quickly reached down and without thinking went through the whole process as I pounded my glove hard in my crouched position and gave her a pefect low target. She gritted her teeth, her eyes got real intense and she reared back, wound up and threw that ball right at my glove, THWACK!, I put my knee down, swiped the runner, a huge cloud of dust erupted and all the brotha’s simultaneously yelled,


and started jumping and cheering, high fivin’ each other and thumbs uppin’ towards Little O! She jumped up and down with her glove in the air, giving the thumbs up back with a huge smile on her face, all by herself on the outfield grass.

A few months ago when conversations between ex Ms. O and I and Little O about where she should next go to school, not being academically challenged enough where she is, she expressed some fear about joining a new school and maybe falling behind that first year. We were in the car coming home from school and she had her anxious face on, I recognize it, she gets a little quiet as I do,

‘You know, I’m going to predict, now that you’re becoming a little more competitive with all the teams you’re on and all the sports you’re playing and so good at, that you’re not going to let yourself fall behind.’

She thought about it for a quick 2 seconds and looked at me with a little fire in her eyes, a fire I’ve only seen since she’s been involved in sports and excelled on the teams she plays for,

‘Yeaahh, I think you’re right!’, smiling.

Yeah, you go Little O.