Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Things We Don't Say. In memory of Alex.

I didn’t know him very well but I knew him well enough to remember him.  He was a well-known personality at HHS during our years there.  Pretty much everyone knew who he was.

Only during our production of HARVEY in November of 1989, where Lawrence brought him in from one of his classes to play “Duane Wilson” in grand fashion, did I get to know him at all.  I learned, of course, that he was Sal’s son, and a great deal more.  He was a natural on the stage and we all lamented that he had waited until his senior year to perform.  I was glad he did and remember a lot of very engaging and entertaining conversations during the months leading up to the show.

We were friendly after the show closed, in which he was very good.  We’d nod at one another in the hallway, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say we were ever close friends.  There was no reason why not-just different people in different circles that coincided at times. 

For the remainder of his senior year, I saw him at Sal’s periodically and at a few Class of ’90 graduation parties.  After graduation we chatted once or twice, again at Sal’s, which if you are from anywhere near exit 8 off the NJT, should have been your pizza of record.  They’ve put Little Caesars, Dominos, and that dumb place with the white broccoli pizza out of business over the years.  They are working on Papa John’s now.  John stands zero chance.  My children still equate Sal’s pizza as the greatest ever, and they only get it on special occasions after moving to Virginia by way of Hawaii.  They most recently enjoyed it after I brought one home from Jersey in the trunk of their Aunt’s car.  It couldn’t ride in the car with us as I am a recovering fat guy, and that thing woulda been straight gone before we reached Delaware.

So, we’ve gone to Sal’s, my family and I for years and years.  Every time I went there after ’89, I thought to ask about Alex-how he was doing, etc.  As I mentioned above, I saw him there a few times and we said hello.  I remember getting a “he’s doing well” one time I went in and he wasn’t there.   I was glad to hear it, but over the years as I moved in and out of Jersey a few times, my visits were less frequent, but I always meant to ask about him when I went in.  I always meant to ask again.

I was in Sal’s about a little over a month ago and I felt very much the same way-I was there with my mother and sister and it was my first in store visit in about two years.  Even though I left Jersey in 2007, Sal’s remains the Pizza of record, so we always make an effort.  Again, I felt compelled to ask about how he was doing. 

But I didn’t.  I hadn’t seen him in well over ten years, was sure he wouldn’t remember me, felt silly asking-I don’t know what put me off it, really.  I don’t know why I didn’t ask when I was clearly thinking about him, in his restaurant.  Shouldn’t have been that much of a stretch…but I didn’t ask.  Maybe I’ve been out of Jersey too long, but I just talked myself out of asking.

But I wish that I had.

In the end, I know it doesn’t make much difference in either the unfortunate and tragic loss of life to the Alex’s family and their many well-deserved friends and admirers, but I wish that I had asked about him one more time, I imagine I would have received the same sort of reply that I got in the past.  I wasn’t a close friend, just a casual acquaintance who did a play with him back in 1989.  I certainly wouldn’t have warranted any other reply.

But I wish that I had asked because I genuinely wanted to know how he was doing.  I liked Alex and thought of him every time we even drove by Sal’s, much less walked in for a slice.  I talked myself out of it last month figuring, maybe I’ll catch him in there next time.

And I’m again faced with the harsh learning of a lesson that I should know by now having already buried my father, among others: allowing things to be left unsaid is rarely a solid policy.  The ledger of things we allow to remain unsaid to the people in our lives, especially as they leave it, either through dying, simply leaving, or otherwise, grows only because we are afraid, or insecure, or just don’t choose to take the chance to say.

Although I won’t say I knew him well, I’ll say this: Alex never struck me as a man who left many things unsaid. 

“I was at HHS with Alex back in the day-how’s he doing these days?”

I didn’t say it last month when I was in his store.  I regret it.  I wish I had.

And so my own ledger grows.  Hopefully my wisdom will join it.

God Speed, Alex.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

I like being that guy. Or: why I have given up on being upwardly mobile--also including a John Lennon quote!

I like being that guy. 
Or; why I have given up on being upwardly mobile—including a nearly pointless John Lennon reference!

Aloha once again from Northern Virginia.  Seems it was only yesterday I was writing my last column, but it’s been nearly two months.  Again, it’s not that I’ve had nothing to say, but that there has not been time in which to say it well.  Hope I can remedy that in the future.

The end of the school year approaches once again like a freight train and I find myself facing it with equal measures of excitement and trepidation.  While it’s the summer, and we’ve got some fun things planned, it’s the summer, and the structure of school has been valuable for all of us both on and off the spectrum.

Things have generally begun to mellow at home a bit as we have learned more about Asperger’s and have made adjustments in our life and home.  When things have been good of late, they have been really, unusually good.  When they have been challenging, they have been somewhat briefer than the more difficult times in the recent past.  So, we have felt like we are making progress.  We have good doctors and they have helped a lot.

As an aside, I received a ton of email regarding the last column, “I am a recovering Fat Guy” and I am very thankful for that.  Apparently, everyone wanted to call me funny fat names, but not everyone was willing to post them directly to the site in comments.  “Lord Fatty McLardington” remains my favorite.  I am currently down over 70 and doing well, though I overtrained and “winged my scapula” recently.  I’m working through it, and in better shape now than when I got married in 1999, though I think I had better hair then.  I really did mean what I said last column though-if you have read this far and ever see me plumping up again, you’d better ridicule me into compliance…

Moving right along, things have been good here the last few months and it’s led me to a realization that I’ve been pondering for some time.  When I think about my life as it is now, which is something I have done quite a bit lately, especially with the Bear heading to full day Kindergarten next year, I find that for the first time in a long time, I’m actually kind of satisfied with my station in life.  That’s not something I’ve ever genuinely felt I could say at an alarming rate in my life to date.  In the old days it was, “well, I’m the Assistant, but I could be the Head” or “I’m a Vice Principal-I could be a Principal” or, “I’m a waiter-I could be a bartender.”  It always seemed like no matter where I was or what I was doing it mattered more what I was working towards.  Never was there time, not even in Hawaii, to be satisfied with where I was presently.

That’s kind of a big thing for me.  This is not to suggest that I am not working on things and trying to improve as a father, a husband, a friend, a writer, a family relation; those things are very much a part of what I try to do on a daily basis.  I think my dedication to living healthier is nothing if not a capital example of my dedication to self-improvement.  There’s a lot to improve on.

But in the past, everything I did seemed to be an attempt to get to something else.  What’s scary is that when I think about it now, I don’t really want to be any of those things that I so earnestly worked genuinely hard for.  I wanted to teach and so I did.  I wanted to coach and so I did.  And then, for a variety of reasons, I decided I had to head the department.  Then I had to move into administration.  Then I had to move up in administration.  Then I had to get a Master’s.  So I got one.  Then I moved into public school administration.  And then I wanted to move up, and up, and up.  And we all know how that worked out. 

Even living on Oahu, an experience that in some ways I feel like I am only now just beginning to really understand, I found myself at times lost in the same cycle of dissatisfaction.  I was a stay-at-home dad, clearly just figuring out how to do it all, but I remember still feeling that pull to do more.  Even when I worked at Chili’s there, I remember doing very well as a server and was blessed with a very flexible schedule, but I started studying to take the bar test and a few other upwardly-mobile programs within the store.  I kept going with it until a friend there asked me “why are you doing all that?”   She wasn’t rude or out of line-we were friends.  She was just genuinely curious.  I waffled for a minute and then she asked, “No really, how come?”  I found I didn’t have an answer.  With my schedule and my life as it was there was no benefit to me doing any of those other measures.  And once I realized I had no real answer I saw that I had no real reason to continue, and I donated my flash cards to a young go-getter.  She did pretty well for herself as memory serves, which sometimes it doesn’t as I get older.

Honestly, I only realized the importance of that conversation just now as I wrote about it.  For those of you who’ve asked me: that right there is why I write.  I just never know what I just might teach my dumb ass down the line. 

Now, on the eve of the anniversary of our departure from Oahu, I find myself looking at this coming September and all three of my being in school full days coupled with the fact that most of the people I both know and have never met before seem to be wondering about my plans with a newly minted sense of Aloha.  I’m feeling pretty good just as I am.

I just took my oldest daughter to her first dance.  I wore my old tux (it’s big now-but it fits again!) and we had an amazing time, although my “Cha-cha slide” is rusty from having not had to chaperone the last five years-worth of Proms.    I’ve put my kids on the bus and been there when they got off of it every single day for the last two years.  I’ve volunteered at the library during the twins weekly time there twice a week, and I tell you there is nothing greater than the smile and wave when they see me walk in to check out books.  It’s better than any professional accolade I ever earned, and they weren’t many, I assure you.  I’ve hosted playgroup.  I’ve cooked for other families in need.  I’ve made up games and played them (and lost thoroughly) with the Bear in the time I have with her before the twins get home. 

And I get to take that same Bear to her Spring Tea tomorrow.  She’s insisted that I wear the same Tuxedo that I wore for her sister’s dance, and I will do so happily. 

I don’t mention these things as a way to put myself over.  Most of you who read this will understand that I live most of my days with a healthy sense of self-loathing and deprecation.  I mention them only because they were awesome and I would never have had the chance to do any of them if I were still wrapped up in being the next something else.  Instead, at least for now, I think I’ll just try to be the best damn Kugs I can be. 

It’s kind of refreshing, and I don’t want to think about there being a day when they won’t want me to help out in school.  Don’t want to even think that such a thing could happen.  Tonight I read books with my kids on the couch under a blanket.  Among others we are re-reading “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” right now.  We get our other school work done and then go down to the couch and put on the Phillies or Flyers game with the sound off, and we read. 

And they love it.  And so do I.

And there is no other job in the world I want than this one, as long as they’ll have me.  I like being the Dad that helps at school and other stuff.  And quite frankly, I can’t think of anything else I want to do than be better at the life I have.

John Lennon, who was a great artist but is not my favorite Beatle once wrote that “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  I think there is some truth to that, but I think that life is also what occurs to you when you slow down and let it happen.  Far  be it from me to argue with the Walrus but, I think you get my point.  At least I hope you do as if you’ve read this far, you’re likely looking for one.

So, I will continue to, as they say on Oahu, if they speak Hawaiian: “Kulia i ka Nu‘u.”  It means strive for the summit.  I like it.  And I like being this guy too.  And if being upwardly mobile means I have to stop doing what I’m doing, then feel free to call me anything you like to the contrary.