Archive for the 'April' Category


Guinea pig is not as delicious as it sounds / Peru part 2

 Uncertainty filled my teenage years. I had fallen so far from the straight path that my family, especially my mom, didn’t know where to turn. At home I was toxic. The smile I wore in school was replaced by a war mask as I entered my house each night. My mom had two other kids to consider and she needed to cut her loses.

I began to fear the phone. In her search for help or a place to put me, from the Church Farm school to Valley Forge Military Academy, my mom was in constant contact with potential abductors. I would hear the phone ring and crawl to the top of my basement steps to listen. Sometimes, stricken with fear or overcome with anger, I picked up the phone and blared Metallica into it, forcing both parties to immediately end their call and hang up. Can you imagine how embarrassed my mom must of been. Now as I look back, (or watch Dead Poets Society,) I wonder what my path would have been had I gone to one of those schools. Would there still have been the trouble, the waves of my youth, the fights and nights of young love out under the East Coast moon?  Who knows where I would of landed or ended up. Maybe here. Maybe still in these mountains where I now stood. This is how I began day three, the hardest day of trekking on our itinerary.

Headed up

We had been warned of this day: 14 kilometers, 7 to 8 hours, most of it up, switchbacks that peak at 15,100 feet. That morning the sky cleared, a good sign. We set off after a hearty breakfast. At each lodge, several staff members would come out to the front door and wish us goodbye and good luck as we were leaving. It was a nice touch, creating an intimacy with the lodge. We started off as a group. Ian pointed up to the snowcaps: “that is where we pass.” Holy shit, I thought, where’s my horse?  As the first hour waned our group split. Kevin and his wife Sandra went ahead; their kids Callan and Conner, along with Craig, Katherine and I stayed in the middle and the Canadians dropped to the back. The morning grew hot and the landscape was green and muddy.  We began ascending a ridge and the group stopped for pictures. I decided to run ahead around a curve to take a leak.  Sandra who was about 100 meters ahead could see me running but could not see her kids around the corner. I stopped and unzipped and the next thing I know I have this mom {who is hot} running at me. WTF I thought. When she realized what was going on, she froze and swiveled around. Later that day we all had a laugh as she tried to explain how she thought one of her kids was hurt. I let it go but I couldn’t help thinking, Has the Crowley legend even landed in the Andes? My mojo rocking at 12,ooo feet +?

As the day wore on, the once energetic group quieted. Shadows of the huge Andean condor overhead were our only relief from a unforgiving sun and steep switchbacks.

The king of the Andes, Andean condor

Peruvians on the trail, there out of necessity, had to be saying, “Look at these assholes.” Katherine and I found a nice pace in the middle and Corinne, one of the Canadians, joined us. As we closed in on the Salkantay Pass the clouds covered us and the temperature dropped. We kept going up into the stoney gray. Warmer gear was put on, chapstick applied. The last half mile to the pass was brutal for me. Katherine, of course, scampered up it like a chestnut eyed gazelle.

Our first real mountain top, April 2012

Approaching the summit










We reached the top but it was cold. Pictures and congratulations went around the group. The family of four and Craig had already been waiting twenty minutes.Katherine and I held each other and looked down. Like July on the Masai Mara, here too I felt as though we were connected to the universe. That we were part of the sweat and sands that makes up the human history. We looked down from where we had just come, our past, to where we stood here. I wanted to tell Katherine how happy I was, how long the road had been. I wanted to tell her how much I appreciate her picking me up from my self pity and making me want to be a better person. I wanted to tell her many things but all I could do was smile and breathe it in.

We made it to our lodge that afternoon tired but accomplished. Pilar, the head of this lodge greeted us and quickly sent us off to get showers. Fresh popcorn cooked on the stove and a fire combated the storm that picked up outside. In a land of soft green, reminiscent of the Scottish highlands, a storm hit just after our arrival, delayed by the gods. I watched Walter and Alejandro wrestle with the horses through the window as the rain drops raced down the panes.
That night after dinner, Craig, Conner and I played Risk as the girls feel asleep next to the fire. Craig and I drank two and a half bottles of Argentine Malbec. I stumbled to bed and my last thought was “Please do let me be hung over for the hike tomorrow.” 
I awoke and quickly checked for any signs of a hangover. I went out to the dining area and was greeted by Kevin and Craig. Our cook had set out some meats and fresh fruit; I quickly scooped a pile of watermelon onto my plate in an attempt to replenish and hydrate. Peruvian watermelon was sweeter than any I’ve ever tasted.
As we packed up to get on the road again I went through my day pack, preparing for the hours ahead. I had brought my grandfather’s ashes again with me as I’d done in Africa and in Oxford, England. It makes me feel good to take him with me and leave a little bit of him at the places I love, the places that he helped get me to. I carry him in a crude cream cylinder which I put duct tape to avoid any accidents. It is a comfort having him with me in my pack, exploring the road, the people. Corinne asked if my grandfather had loved Peru or traveling. I got a little teary because I didn’t know. As a selfish child you don’t dig deep enough into your hidden heroes until it is too late and they are gone. I knew he loved me.  When I caught my emotions, I said, “He would have liked to travel but had to waste all his money on my lawyers and my trouble. This is the only way I can pay him back.” It is true, for all the thanks that were never spoken he lives now in my energy and is given immortality on my pages.

This picture still makes me crack up, and miss him

Our trail for the day went down and we quickly dropped in altitude. You could feel the jungle air from the Amazon basin pushing up at us.  As we descended the vegetation grew thick. We took it easy, slowly walking and enjoying the world, the butterflies.

Our lodge that night was my favorite, set on a hill it overlooked the surrounding cloud forest and river below. Our cook had arrived before us and was preparing a Peruvian style BBQ by cooking our food in the ground with hot rocks. It was at this meal that the national food, guinea pig, was offered. Corinne dug right into to the BBQ’d pet that sat on her plate. I, on the other hand, let it sit too long on my plate and in my mind. When I finally took a bite I started dry heaving and my face twisted and turned like the transformation of Jekyll to Hyde. I think Katherine thought I was hamming it up for the table but I was about to throw up on Callan sitting across from me. I pretty much ate rat. Nasty little guinea pig.

Going for the guinea!

Lunch mountain style










That afternoon the rain came again after we finished lunch. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed these afternoons.  A hike through the Andes completed, we would sit nestled in these cozy lodges, fireplaces burning, alone but with each other.  Our feet warmed as we read the day away entranced by a slow symphony of periodic rain.  Tomorrow would be the last day with Walter and the horses that carried our food and gear. Walter had become a good friend in a quick five days. Again, we couldn’t really communicate with words but through his eyes I saw we were the same. He was always smiling and I liked that. I could see he was alive. He pointed things out to me, hidden treasures in the Andes that most might walk right by. He was always patient with the group, always happy to stop for a photo. I wanted so much for Walter, hoped that his life was extraordinary . I wanted to give him the advantages I had in America without the pollution of our society, but wondered if my advantages were really disadvantages covered in cynicism.  His job is to walk a horse through the Andes, he had a wife, someone who loved him. He was eighteen and expecting his first baby, a boy. His satisfaction with life was found in his smile.  In one of the best decisions I’ve ever made I offered Walter one of the soccer balls I had brought. Ruben had told me how much Walter loved soccer.  The happiness that shone through my friend’s face as I handed him the ball will forever be emblazoned in my heart.  Two boys, from different continents, traveling on the same train of life, sharing a smile and a lust to live.

Walter came in and gave me a bear hug

pumping the soccer ball up, Ruben translating

Enjoying a joke

That evening, when the light began to fail, Walter, Alejandro and a few of the other guys kicked the ball back and forth as Katherine and I relaxed in the hot tub. “Miguel!” They asked me to play and I immediately thought of myself kicking their new possession off the cliff by accident. I declined. Surrounded by the warm water and cool air I closed my eyes and let their voices echo off of the surrounding hills. It took me back to Valleybrook, my childhood neighborhood,  and the echo of our young voices as we palled around playing basketball or street hockey in the third court. Trying to do whatever we could to make a stand against the dusk and street lamps, against time, against our fears and our future, against the dying of the light.

Rage against the dying of the light

Game on


tonight… we are young / Peru part 1

It is a little past 11 p.m. on Easter Sunday in Peru, and Katherine and I are heading home via Houston.  As if pushed from a dream into reality, I watch the full moon guide us back. She and I are both in agreement that this has been the best trip of our lives. Maybe we say this after every trip, maybe the freshness of the adventure makes me claim false truths. But, I’ll tell you this: if you really want to get a raw view of a land, walk straight down its belly and taste it. Forty-two miles through the untamed Andes, at times over 15,000 feet in the air. Six days of rain and sleet and a baking jungle sun. Savoring every step. Tonight, as we take off from a country that has become a intimate friend in a short ten days, we are young. Our memories of this trek will stay frozen in time, warmed by our recollection of laughter and preserverance, of freedom that cut through the Andean nights, forever young like the Winay Wayna orchid.

Forever young

I want to tell everyone and tell no one about this trip. Peru is not yet soiled by the outside world. Due to internal troubles in the 1980’s and 90’s, tourism is still new to the country. The feel was rustic and as I get deeper into our tale I will tell you about our horses and porters and cooks that traveled each day by foot with us. It was a expedition that harkened trips of long ago, of explorers of the past. There were a few points, a few steep inclines and early morning scenes, tea in hand as I overlooked the upcoming days terrain that I could feel old Hemingway looking down (0r up) at me, cheering me on, jealous and eager to get back into the action.

Early morning meditation

Peru was Katherine’s pick as she and I go back and forth when choosing our next destinations. As we headed for Peru and struck up conversation with our fellow passengers, I realized our recent excursions, Africa and now trekking through Peru, included us in a new sect of travelers. The hot blonde girl sitting beside me (I know, like Achilles I always seem to be graced by the Gods) was heading to Bolivia and Venezuela. The lady to her left was heading to South America for a month and Nepal in late August. Discussing our upcoming and past adventures, we dripped with excitement about life’s future possibilities. It was in this way, that I sat, on the edge of my seat, approaching Peru.

We arrived in Lima and spent the night there before heading to Cusco. This is where we were to begin our trip. I know I’m emotionally unbalanced because as we landed in those beautiful mountains and disembarked the plane, a single tear of excitement dripped down my cheek. How the fuck had I made it this far?  The mountains were beautiful and the sky and clouds matched perfectly with the plane we arrived on. It is on these occasions, when we arrive at a new frontier, that I fall madly in love with Katherine all over again. Without her, would this life be reality?

Our arrival in Cusco

We checked in to our hotel in Cusco and I found out, shit, I know some Spanish. I’ll have to thank all my Mexican friends back home. I quickly made friends with a bell boy named Roselvel and traded him a pack of gum for a bag of coca leaves. He taught me how to chew them and showed me how to make them into tea. “They help with the altitude,” he told me and I was happy to oblige as at a little under 12,000 feet, my breathing was suddenly labored. With a cheek full of coca leaves, Katherine and I headed out to explore this old city, high up in the clouds.
We walked down the old cobblestone streets, found the squares and marveled at the huge cathedrals. Peddlers and local girls in traditional garb tried to sell us handicrafts and posed for pictures.

Nap break


making new friends

A cathedral in Cusco





















We had lunch and enjoyed some wine. We walked through the markets and gave out candy to the little kids on the street. The day was hot and the air thin. We wanted to head up to the artist district of San Blais. Below is an excerpt from my notebook that day that I wanted to share. This is rough, with no corrections and are just my notes from the afternoon.

San Blais Square

The afternoon sun spotlights us, making us feel warm in our new surroundings.
Dark brown eyes set in dark brown skin stare at us from underneath colorful cottons and wool.
The square is set up with merchants, biding their time and selling their goods. One plays a flute in the shade of the church.
Little children drip ice cream down their tanned faces, their reward for sitting patiently with their mother at her table.
Dogs lie about, unowned, uncared for as the artists with their greasy hair drip sweat into their canvas work.
At the end of the square sits a fountain with steps curling up either side. Katherine and I climb and look down onto the market. A hippie and his girlfriend ask me if I want to buy weed in Spanish. They think I am from Argentina. The sky is bright blue and the suns feels so close you could touch it.
A pink flowers sways in the shade as someone tries to sell me a ring.

Yeah for me

San Blais square










We were to meet our group that night at 7 p.m. in a local restaurant for a briefing before we depart the next morning. Katherine had set this all up through a company called Mountain Lodges of Peru or MLP. We had looked at our different options and decided against hiking the classic Inca Trail for a few reasons. First, we heard it was crowded and commercialized; second, it was only a four-day trek, and third you couldn’t shower that whole time. Now I know some of you may think less of us for wanting to shower every night, but oh well. MLP offers a six-day lodge to lodge trek, covering 42 miles and reaching the Salkantay peak of 15,500 which is 1600 feet higher than the highest point on the classic Inca Trail. Each lodge only held our group; besides our own porters and horsemen carrying our luggage, food and supplies, we only came across native Peruvians using the trail for their everyday life. We were one of the first expeditions of the year as the rainy season was just ending. At our group meeting, we met who were to become our partners, friends and teammates in the following days. There was a family of four from Arlington, VA, two Canadians from Edmonton and a solo guy named Craig who also was from Arlington. Together, with our two guides, Ian and Ruben, we were to set out on the road less traveled.

We departed the next morning at 7 a.m. and after picking up everyone at their respective hotels, we headed out of Cusco by bus towards Moyobata. I felt bad for seventeen-year-old Callan who was stomach sick; I can assure you the road was neither flat nor straight. About two hours in we stopped at Moyobata for a restroom, to tour the small village and to purchase some of the local products. It is in situations like this that I would like to remind my fellow 99 percenters that to a lot of the rest of the world you are the one percent. The things many of us Americans take for granted would be cherished items in these villages. It upsets me to think of the arrogance and self-entitlement I see in my own country from all levels of the social scale. Get a grip and try to do some good in the world or at least do us all a favor and shut up. But I digress.

After such a positive experience in Africa with the items we brought to give out, Katherine and I loaded up again on candy, Marvel comics and Disney princess pens and some more soccer balls. In Moyobata as the girls shopped and the guys took pictures I strolled around and tried to breath it all in. Despite what we would consider absolute poverty, I could hear laughter and feel the warmth throughout the neighborhoods. There was a balcony over one shop and a little girl played there. I got her attention and handed up a Starburst and pen with Cinderella on it. She smiled and stared at me with these big brown eyes: “Gracias”. Minutes later I felt a tugging at my pants, I looked down to see the little girl starring up at me holding up a pear. “Mucho Gracias senorita,” I said as I smiled at her. She forced the pear into my hand, giggled and ran away. Her mother smiled down on me from the balcony. I smiled and quickly turned as my face swells up with emotion. To have so little and to offer me a pear, a big delicious pear. It was here that my love for this country started.

From there we traveled to Sayllapta at 11,500 feet. We had a packed lunch overlooking the Andes and our whole group sat in awe of where we were and what we were about to do.

Our first lunch

We said goodbye to the bus that Sunday–the next time motorized transportation would be available to us would be the following Saturday. We started our hike, the family of four pulling ahead which would be a reoccuring theme for the trip. They were about 200 meters in front of us, then Katherine and I, Craig and Ian about 100 meters behind us, with the Canadian women, Corrine and Margaret pulling up the rear with Ruben. We hiked for about 3 1/2 hours, excited, inspired, in love.  We were really going to do this? Around 4 p.m. we came upon our first lodge, Soraypampa at 12,700 feet. We were greeted by an awaiting staff, relieved of our boots and gear and shown to our warm room. A jacuzzi was available outside and although exhausted we felt we deserved it. The moon was beginning to rise above the surrounding peaks and I just couldn’t have felt happier.

Our first lodge, well deserved

We feasted that night on roasted chicken and potatoes started off with a hot corn soup. Katherine and I had some wine and the days exertion sent us to bed after dinner. This would be the only lodge we stayed at for two nights and tomorrow we would go on a short yet difficult four mile acclimation hike to Humantay peak and its glacial lake. Most just sit on the shore at the top; I knew I had to dive in this icy water.

The next day we got to sleep in until 8 a.m. We didn’t. The group was up and ready, excited to begin. We set out from the lodge on a small path that led over the Rio Blanco. From there we headed up at a pretty decent incline. A light shower would fall every once in a while as we made our way up the hillside which was peppered with yellow mountain daisies and only shared with grazing horses. Our group was acclamating slowly, to the altitude and each other. Walter and his horse Pizzaro followed close behind but always pulling up the rear. He was in charge of following us with our needs for the day’s hike, water, our rain gear and extra tools.

Walter and his trusty steed Pizarro

I liked Walter from the first time I saw him. He and I could not communicate but he always smiled and that made me smile. When he would arrive at a stop or a break, close behind whomever was last in our group, I would yell out “Walter!” and hold up my hands. He would give me that big smile and a thumbs up. Over the next six days he would become one a my favorite new friends in Peru. We will come back to him and trusty Pizzaro.

Some friends, the thumbs up, and some snow capped Andes

We made the lake at about 11:30 a.m. and it was absolutely beautiful. Serene, pure, quiet, the lake sat beneath a huge glacier.A cold rain began to fall as Katherine and I, along with Callan, her mom Sandra and her dad Kevin, stripped down to our bathing suits to prepare for the plunge. Katherine had to go behind a rock to get into her suit and was actually standing in snow while changing. We were the first ones in and our bodies were in shock. I swam out a few yards and convinced Katherine to follow. We posed for a few shots, then quickly swam back in. My whole upper chest was numb. We dried off and got back into warmer clothes. The rain was still falling as we ate our snack in the company of the lake. As the adrenaline wore off, we all ate in silence, spending time with ourselves, with our spirits. We headed back to the lodge and arrived at 1:30 to a delicious hot lunch.

A mid mountain dip

Glacial lake










For an extra $60 per person we were offered horseback riding at the lodge for two hours. Uh, let me think about that, $120.00 for two hours of riding horses through the Peruvian Andes? Sign me the fuck up! Victor, a local rancher, showed up despite the forest rain at 2:30 p.m. with three horses. We were tired and wet but as soon as we saw those horses approaching youth came in for a night cap. Victor could not speak one word of English. We saddled up and smiled as consent.
Victor lead us up a mountain pass, turning around frequently to make sure we were following. He would point out things and speak in Quechua. Katherine and I tried our best to communicate. My horse’s name was Amida, Katherine’s was Deba and Victor’s Lemochello. The mountain side was beautiful and as the rain had let up different parts of the earth were steaming. We were surrounded by snow cap peaks on all sides and Cara Cara falcons flew overhead. The day was gray but our bodies were warm against the horse. Victor led us through some tight paths and across a few streams at which our horses drank. I asked Victor if we could go “mas rapido” and he smiled and led us back down to the dirt road that just the day before we had walked in to the lodge. We trotted and then galloped away from the lodge, Victor pulling up every half mile or so to make sure we all stayed in control. At last we turned around to go back to the lodge. It was here that my real ride began. It turns out Amida, like her rider, always likes seeing the end of her workday. This horse was a bullet and I rode her hard.  We flew down the road, into a meadow, over a stone wall.  Katherine said I held one hand in the air and was just yelling “Yah, yah, yah.”  The mountain peaks surrounded me as I flew across the terrain.  I had never ridden a horse like this and the whole ride seemed surreal.  It was my horse and me alone in the universe. Again, I felt that some of my dead heroes were smiling down on the scene.I gave Victor a few soles for a tip and an LED flashlight. He gave me a hug and the best horseback riding experience of my life.

Amida and I

Katherine and Victor


Day 120, Injury alert

Here I am, sitting at Katherine’s cousins’ house on a sunny morning of the 120th day of my journey.  This time tomorrow morning, I will have completed the swimming section of my triathlon and will be halfway through the biking portion, hopefully.  As of this morning I weigh 158 and when Trent and I checked my body fat on Thursday I was at 13%.  It is pretty crazy to think about these past four months and how much I have changed and grown as a person.  I have proven to myself that if I set some lofty goals (and tell a bunch of people about them through Facebook and this blog), I will accomplish them.  The triathlon tomorrow is not the finale but the reward.  Admittedly, I am a little stressed about it because two weeks ago, when we went to Disneyland, I, in the name of vanity, wore sandals for the eight-hour day. My ankles have been killing me since and I have not been able to train.

Z chaperone, before my feet felt the fury of the happiest place on earth

Now, do not fret my faithful friends.  I have bought stock in epsom salt and have been icing my ankles every night for the last 14 days.  I have tried all types of suggestions: even recruiting a Thai woman with a moustache and missing teeth to slap and pull some WWF moves on my feet.  They are still sore and my ankles a little weak, but in less than 24 hours they will be called to task.

I have an off-topic question, does anyone else think that it is a little strange that,  1) I am a Leo, 2) Disney’s African Cats opened last Friday and 3) I am going to Africa in less than eight weeks?  Now some would say this is just a coincidence, but I know that, once again, the stars have aligned for yours truly.

One more off-topic item.  Last week when I was doing my research for the Father of Mine post I found out that Faster Pussycat was playing at a small bar in Redondo Beach where I live.  The only problem was that it was the same night we were in San Diego watching the world-famous Philadelphia Phillies.

Phillies win in 11

Of course the game went into extra innings, but because my soul never sleeps, my car is fast, and I have an easy-going wife, we flew through the California night up the coast and got back to Redondo by 11 p.m.  We called the venue, No, Faster Pussycat hadn’t gone on yet.  We arrived at the bar with about 30 other people.  Katherine was the only girl without a tattoo on her face and I almost got sucker-punched when I ordered a white wine and a soda water.  We were tired, already emotionally drained from the Phillies extra inning win.  The band came out 20 feet from us.  To hear my childhood song, in person, after just posting about it made the night unforgettable.  The only thing missing was my little brother.

Redondo Beach yeah yeah

Faster Pussycat

So tomorrow is the big race.  I do not know what to expect but trusting myself, having the thoughts of all of you, and having the sexiest cheerleader standing on the side make me feel pretty confident.  I am doing this race in the name of all of us.  From my neighborhood boys of VB, to my family and all my friends, tomorrow I set out to compete and accomplish.  Wish me luck and trust me, you will hear all about it as I write tomorrow night over a cold beer.


Father of mine

Ironically, Megadeath’s Peace Sells playing today on XM made me think of my grandfather.  God, he hated my music.  Of course, when I moved in with him in 1991, I was ascending the peak of my pain-in-the-ass stage.  In fact, that is why I went to live with him, my mother having tried for a few years but ultimately unable to handle my angry rebellion.  That, and trouble stood by in the shadows, with a covetous grin.

I think the pain of growing up without a father is greatly underestimated.  You’ve seen it before: the sad story, an after school special. But for me it was bleakly real. Sitting lonely out on my front steps as a summer wind ushered in the sounds of night, watching the lightning bugs as they sprinkled the dusk, wondering with a gnawing emptiness what I did wrong for him to leave me.  For him to forget us.

I knew I was in trouble a few months after we moved into Valleybrook.  My brother and I had only one friend, our neighbor Brad, and the three of us would explore together.  One day we were caught by some boys at the playground, which was located about a hundred yards from my house.  I don’t how it started or why–I was probably seven or so and the oldest of our group when the boys confronted us. I had never been in a fight before, but my first instinct was to protect my younger brother.  I stood my ground for about a minute, then I was on the ground.  I had been punched in my stomach and the air was gone and the world silent.  A few wood chips stuck to the side of my face where the drool ran and searched for air.  I had never felt this type of pain and didn’t know what to do next.  My aggressor did though.  In an attempt to impress his friends, he had run across the street and retrieved a branch of a pricker bush that was in a nearby shrub.  He came back and, to the tears of my brother, whipped me repeatedly with it.  The walk home is lost in my memory, but the feeling I had sitting there in my upstairs bathroom as my mom removed the thorns from my arms and neck, that anger, burns in me even now as I write these lines.  I was not angry at the boy but more at my father.  Where was he?  Why didn’t he tell me there would be times like this, warn me, teach me to stand up for myself?  I hadn’t been in this world, this neighborhood, that long, yet I knew I had already missed a valuable lesson.  I am not trying to feel sorry for myself but there are just things you need a father for.  This was one of them.

I think it was especially hard for me as I was the oldest and had the most memories of us as a “real” family.  I remember the early baseball catches or the time in Media, PA when he let me sit on his lap and steer the car.  Ha, that all seems like a made up world to me now.  Many songs have been my anthems throughout my life but there are a special few that recall the raw sting of my childhood.  I found comfort in them, still do, knowing that someone else out there hurt like me. I will always be weird inside/ I will always be lame.

Songs like these by bands like these began to help me navigate my way through my fatherless youth.  My brother and I used to sit on our couch listening to these words, both teary-eyed and brimming with a rage we couldn’t explain. I started acting out, looking for the attention my father took away.  School became a stage for me to be noticed.  I didn’t care whether the attention was bad or good as long as I got it.  This is when my grandfather stepped in.  A man who always felt as though his son had failed as a father and who in turn protected me as his own, until his body literally could not anymore.  He was there always, baseball, football, practices, games, school plays, dentist appointments, holidays… From the day my father stepped out, my grandfather stepped up.

I always knew I had my Pop pop at my back

My grandfather was my protector throughout my youth.  As a lonely kid who felt like he had nothing, having him in my corner made a difference.  Of course,  I was not smart enough to realize how lucky I was to have him then, especially the years I lived with him and my grandmother.  I’d give up a lot to get back one of those teenage summer twilights.  The cicada’s in the trees, the hot smell of a freshly mowed lawn creeping down Beechwood Avenue.  I was so quick to rush out after dinner.  Come sit with me Michael, he would say from his reading chair on the front porch. Why don’t you stay in and watch the game with me tonight?   I didn’t have time for him, I had to rush off to an arcade and smoke cigarettes with a bunch of kids I don’t even talk to anymore.  Now, all I want is one game, one inning, one phone call.

My grandfather was in the Marines, and as a boy I would love to hear his stories of Parris Island and WWII.  He was respected around his town and had held public office for years before I was born.  He was also the city’s baseball manager for years and everyone would love to talk to him and his little grandson.  When I was with him, even in the height of my asshole stage, I was proud of him.  He was always put together, sharp, neat, on time, and taught me the importance of loyalty.  I still use Aqua Velva as my aftershave because that’s what he used.  When I put it on, I think of him and his morning routine that I watched many times in youthful awe.  With my grandfather I always felt safe.  Even in the worst of times, I knew that he was always working in the background to help me.  The lowest point of my youth was being led into a court room in handcuffs and seeing my grandfather there, sitting behind my lawyer in the front row.  I could see the pain in his face, as if he would give up his freedom, to get me out of those cuffs.  Out of all that was going on, all the trouble I was in, his face is what really got through to me.

My grandfather’s patience for me was almost monk-like.  From the times of girls’ parents bringing me home in the middle of the night after they had found me sleeping next to their daughters’ beds, to my tattoo at a young, young age, my grandfather stood by attempting to guide, never losing the thought that I was worth it.  As the storm began to clear and college was on the horizon, he kept us focused.  When Alison died, days before I left for school, he knew I was lost and broken and he held the ship.  He pressed on as I tried to understand.  What this one man has done not only for me, but for my future children and grandchildren is boundless.  He taught me to hope and dream and work hard for what you want.  I had been given another chance, another chance at life to make something of myself.  I brought him home Dean’s List my first six semesters in college and though very pleased, he was not surprised.

I still remember where I was when my aunt called to tell me he had died.  In an obscure parking lot in Santa Ana, CA, I was in my car doing some paperwork as Bruce Springsteen’s Atlantic City played.  I’ve gone back there since. Pulling up and parking underneath the tree with my windows rolled down.  He had been dying for years and, selfishly, I had lived so far way that I didn’t have to watch it.  In fact, my memories of him are not tainted with the last eight years of his life; they remain those of his days when he was strong, confident and my only friend.

The last time I saw my grandfather was for the holidays before he died in March 2009.  Over the last ten years of his life three strokes had taken their toll.  He was confined to his house and most of that time to his chair or bedroom.  Katherine had met him before and we had come home to show him her engagement ring.  When she put forth her hand, his eyes lit up and he attempted to make an O with his mouth.  He smiled at me through his eyes and again looked at me with his fatherly assurance.  We had done alright.  His boy, although a rocky beginning, had moved West and returned with the riches of a brilliant bride.  When I said goodbye to him that day, I knew it would be the last time.  His body was so small and fragile, his hands bony and cold.  I softly cried the whole way to the airport, bitter tears of lost time, wasted time.  Time for him and I that would never come back.

Now you would think that this story ends here, sad and somber, but you would be wrong.  First, my brother has had two boys already, beginning the continuance of the my grandfather’s name, and I haven’t even gotten started yet.  Though, at night, when we’re relaxing, I’ll rub K’s little belly, and I know that there are four boys in there, simply, an infield.

The new breed of heart breakers

Also, there is a movie we used to watch over and over again at my aunt’s house growing up. My siblings and cousins would all gather around in that big, cold house for this film.  I never knew why we loved it so much, maybe because our blood just flows with Romanticism, but we did.  I rented it about three hours after learning of my Pop pop’s death and watched it twice while drinking heavily.  It is called Rocket Gibraltar and it is about family, young and old.  The patriarch is the grandfather and he captures the grandkids with his beautiful stories of the viking funerals.  The kids take the body of their deceased grandfather and send him off into the ocean, giving him the ocean burial he always described.  When my grandfather was cremated, my aunt offered to bring me some of the ashes.  I knew immediately what to do.  My father-in-law built me this viking ship and now I will wait until my sister and brother can be out here with me to send him off.  It doesn’t matter if it is in one year or five; in fact, the thought of having some of my own children on the beach to watch their great grandfather’s departure makes the circle seem more complete.  In all honesty, and not to sound morbid, I like having his ashes in the house.  They are in a drawer in my writing desk, and he is always in my heart.

My grandfather's Rocket Gibraltar, we will send his ashes out in this at sunset and light it on fire.

I guess in the end the man who became my father was the best anyway.  During the few times I have seen my biological dad over the past 20 years, he seems foreign, strange, an acquaintance.  I don’t see me in him.  For a long time, I couldn’t get over that, but I am working on some type of forgiveness for his sorry ass . Now though, all roads have led me here, and the lessons and love I received due to one’s absence and the other’s dedication seem to have worked out alright.  As I continue to grow and build and make myself a better person, I do it in the honor of my Pop pop, and I know he is proud.


Compete in the global market? shit, we can’t even return shopping carts back to the store

First off, spring is here and I got my mojo back.  Also, I ran into my priest the other day and although he said he was very proud and enjoyed reading my blog, he said there was too much cursing.  Father, you might want to skip this post.

Me Mojo

Today is day 110 of not drinking and I am a cranky bugger.  I have two weeks left until the big triathlon and my freedom to drink is restored.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not really frothing at the mouth to get shit bagged, but this was a tough weekend.

As a loving husband who supports his wife, I was happy to oblige when she asked me to chaperone with her this weekend on a trip to Disneyland.  To chaperone these days, you need to get fingerprinted and a TB test.  A TB test? Really, who the hell am I, Doc Holliday?  I have mentioned several times how much I hate needles.  With Africa, my March cavities and now this damn TB test, I am over getting shot with shit.  And these nurses, Oh, this won’t hurt, literally giggle while they stab my body.  It’s gross, and a sadistic profession.

Needles, needles, everywhere.

In support of my wife, I found myself getting stuck again.

Katherine has been a little annoyed with me.  Because of my recent “clarity” of mind, and maybe a little exhaustion, I have been short-tempered with my fellow American’s.  It started the weekend before when I was suckered into going to Costco.  I deal with people all week, and am not really a big fan of crowds on the weekend,  but Katherine has these brown eyes that I would follow to the edge of the world, so I found myself at Costco.

Costco is a mess.  We arrive to literally a gladiator battle for parking spots.  People, the 17 pounds of laundry detergent for 17 bucks is not going anywhere.  I will try not to lecture here and I will be on my best behavior when being judgemental, but Jeez.  You want to lose confidence in your country, spend 30 minutes at Costco.  First, what is up with the people wearing the fucking medical masks?  Is this a new trend?  Is there something I don’t know about?  If you are sick, get out of here.  If you are worried I am sick and would rather look like an idiot with that mask on to save yourself from a little flu, then fine, I will just mock you.  Second, I am not a dietitian, but buying 200 diet Cokes’ is probably not going to help you lose that extra weight.  Stop lying to yourself — just buy a Coke.

Costco pisses me off too.  They are selling a baby grand piano there for 3000.00.  Really? Who the fuck do they think they are, Harrods of London?  A piano next to the trash bag aisle. I mean shit, talk about taking the romance out of life.  Do we really need the convenience of buying our diapers and our coffins in the same shop? The long aisles over-stuffed with products meant to overstuff Americans.  I was half expecting a little man of the Orient to jump out and sell me a Mogwai.  This place was hell and I was brimming over with American-Psycho-like disgust as we left.  As we walked to our car, I tried to put the experience behind me.  We were even joking pulling out of our parking spot, but then I stopped.  I watched this lady for about 90 seconds as she tried to stuff her shopping cart into the bushes that separated a line of parked cars.  I couldn’t believe this moron.  The cart return was about 30 yards away and she would have been finished by now if she would have just walked it back.  Instead, this matron of America’s future was using all her energy to be lazy.   I pulled the car slowly beside her in preparation for a verbal drive by and rolled down the passenger window.  Excuse me, I said.  She looked back.  That cart doesn’t go in the bushes.  What?  She looked surprised.  The carts go up there, Lazy, I said and was forced to pull away for fear of Katherine decapitating me with her nail file.  There was silence the whole ride home, with a salty comment or two about me throwing my gum on the ground like a year ago or some shit.  I kept thinking about other countries and how in some parts of the world women carry water miles on their head to survive.  My countrymen, and women, have become so self-involved that I look around society and am scared.  How can we compete in the global market, when we can’t even muster up the energy and discipline to return our shopping carts?  When did we all become so self-entitled, so unconcerned for everyone else, so lazy and dependent? Guess what my friends, look at some other countries, Korea, China, Brazil.  These countries our quickly approaching global influence just by doing what we used to do.  Hard work.

Now I am not trying to sound like an elitist, sexist, marxist or any “ist,” but come on America, get off your cell phones, slow down your cars, and take some damn pride in yourself and your country.  Despite what is fed into your head every night on the nightly news you are better than that.


All you need is love

Originally the title for this post was going to be “there’s been so many/girls that I’ve known” in reference to a Rolling Stones song, but I didn’t want to begin with a disrespectful or bragging tone.  That is not the meaning of this post.
Girls have always played a major role in my life and, naturally, so has love.  While this brief post does not mention nearly enough of those females it is meant as a general thank you to all of them.

One of my earliest memories is when my parents and I were moving from our first neighborhood in Upper Darby, PA. I was only four or so, but I remember the neighborhood kids, most of them girls at least twice my age, coming out to say farewell. Some even laid a last gentle kiss on my tiny cheek as I was placed securely in my car seat. “Mrs. Crowley, please bring him back to see us.” I remember us pulling away and my mother commenting on “all my little girlfriends.”  From then on I related a feeling, a pride and happiness, a security, towards girls.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not plan on sitting here and telling you what an angel I’ve been to the fairer sex over the past years. That would not work. First, my wife is also my editor and she will call bullshit on it; and, I have some ex-girlfriends who read this blog and surely would have a “day of rage” in my comment box. No, I, like all, have not always had proper regard for others’ feelings. That said, I’ve always felt a special kinship to the female species and find a great reward in their companionship both as friends and, in the past, as pillow mates.

There have been so many girls that I’ve known, and, collectively, they have made me who I am. From my first kiss in third grade behind Kelly Tyne’s house with Dawn Amey, to my partners in crime in college and the cocktail beauties of the coast, these girls have influenced me to feel a wide spectrum of emotions.

My mom was a Philadelphia public school teacher, single mother of three, and was diagnosed in the early 80’s with multiple sclerosis. As a child, I spent a lot of time watching her sacrifice herself, her needs, and her life for us children.  We were left with little after my father abandoned us. Now that I am grown, I can only begin to realize how scared she must have been, how with few places to turn she realized that the raising of three kids was left completely to her, alone. My father, in the beginning, had a good knack for manipulating the reality of the situation.  He turned many against her and did what he could to make it hard.  I think he paid something crazy like $60.00 a month per child in child support.  Plus, my mother had to continuously take him back to court for this money.  All the while, I was turning into the biggest pain in the ass.  Still, my mom pushed forward. With work,  sport practices, court dates, groceries, she was without support.  The thing about her that I love the most is that she kept smiling.  She took her lot, knowing that her adult life, at least the next fifteen years, were going to be completely dedicated to her children, and still she smiled.  She talked to everyone, which used to embarrass me.  No matter where we went she would leave with five new friends.  Now, when I catch myself talking to the lady in front of me at Quiznos about how the new bread is delicious, I have to smile. My heart warms knowing my mom’s influence is in me.

Times were very tough though, and I used to find her crying in the kitchen at night.  When I would ask her why she was crying, she would tell me she just wanted an adult to talk to every once in a while, someone to share the pain and triumphs of life with.  I did not understand at that age, but as I write this, my heart breaks for her.

Beginning to sail my ship

Aristotle and Alexander

Money was tight, so my mom decided to get her masters degree at night.  We needed baby sitters and asked some neighborhood girls. There were three sisters, the Worrells, who would come regularly. These girls were in high school and were already beginning to get into trouble. They were tough, sexy, the heavy metal type, but in my neighborhood the picking was slim. I was in love with them all and they doted on me. After my younger brother and sister were sent to bed, they would let me stay up and here began my training of how to be a gentleman.  Always hold a door for a girl, they would say, and never get zits on your back. As Aristotle tutored Alexander the Great, these girls tutored me and began to build my confidence.

As the girls got older they started to have people over to the house while they babysat. They had a cute blond friend named Bonnie who was one of my first crushes. I loved her as much as a eight year old could. She would brush my growing hair as they all sat and talked and she made me one of those “freindship” bracelets, which I wore until I was about 15.

I learned how to be funny to impress her, learned how to be daring, again to impress her. I was learning charm. In my little mind, we would be married in no time. One summer night, after I had been forced to go to bed, I went to see if I could listen at the top of the stairs to the girls below. No sound. I timidly crept down to the first floor. Still nothing. After looking around I realized the girls were out front on the street talking to some boys. I remember sitting there with my cat Ringo and watching as these unknowing thespians created my first tragedy. The windows were open and I sat close to the screens.  I could hear the faint giggles pushing towards me through the heavy summer night. An unknown tempest struck up inside me. I petted Ringo soothingly while my heart raged. Some guy was leaning against a car and Bonnie was leaning against him. There was some flirting and then…There was a French kiss! (I could tell there was tongue due the length of the kiss and the movement in their cheeks.) I was broken.  All the wind sucked out of me and I couldn’t breathe. Tiny tears dropped onto Ringo who had become hot under my sweaty hands. I had learned heartache.

A year or so later another great lesson was learned. I was in sixth grade and I gave my babysitter, who was in eighth, a hickey. The next day, her dad showed up at my house with a baseball bat. He was pretty pissed that I was kissing his daughter’s neck and he scared the living shit out of me! Connie, if you are reading this, I still am scared of your dad.

(Yes, I just realized both girls’ names thus far in my story rhyme.)

The beauty of girls is what first attracts me, but the sincerity, compassion and selflessness is what always keeps me. My wife always says that the way I can find beauty in every girl has always attracted her to me. All sexuality aside, I think most would agree that there is just more beauty in females, from the smell of their hair as they walk by, to the thinness of their fingers and the fragrance in their laughter.  I also think that due to my father leaving, my subconscious just trusts girls more.

As I have said before, I am both a sentimentalist and a romantic. I was dubbed the “Pony Boy” of my neighborhood group and always relished in the fact that I had many female friends and was not a “typical” guy. I always felt like I’ve been extremely lucky to have such beautiful girls in my life both as friends and kissing partners.  Many of them meant so much to me and still do.  The thing about love, whether romantic or friendly, is that it never completely goes away.  This is okay, and should be kept somewhere safe in your heart. I feel like my closeness with girls taught me to feel things more intensely. This was both good and bad. My childhood friends have joked that I would fall in love weekly and I have been scolded by an angry girlfriend or two that I am in love with being in love.  If you are going to love, love passionately. What is the world without passion? To be able to see, feel the world, live the world like this makes it so much more rewarding for me.  The girlfriends and friends who are girls that I have been lucky enough to have had through my life, have all been essential to the passionate person, the loving person, that I am. Each one has made me appreciate the whole gender more.

People ask me when I knew Katherine was the one, and once again, due to my hyper sense of emotional awareness, I actually remember exactly. We had been dating a year and were now traveling around Italy for five weeks in the summer of 2006. We were coming over the Apennines Mountains on our way from the tiny village of Ravenna. We had misjudged the distance of our day’s drive and now found ourselves slowly climbing through the mountains and on some pretty scary roads. Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” started to play and it was the only “American” music we had heard for hours.

I had never heard the song before. The day was hot and as we crawled higher up the mountain you could smell an earlier rain coming off the black top. The words soon fit with curves of the road and the trees that covered the earth were moist with dew.  By the time we reached the top, we were covered in a cloud and all there was in the world was us, our rented Alfa Romeo and Lou Reed’s voice.  Katherine had a little jean skirt on with a tank top. I don’t know if it was her, Italy, or the top of that mountain but I felt like I had made it.  I was safe. All of my “training,” all of my trials and errors, happiness and tears, all of the insecurity and uncertainty was behind me.  All of my past loves, past pain, led to this mountain, this girl. I looked at her and she smiled.
She held my hand softly as we started to descend. I knew then that I would love her.

you just keep me hanging on


Shark bait

With the return of the Spring and the world-famous Philadelphia Phillies I am on my final stretch of not drinking.  This also means that my mini triathlon is only a few weeks away and I really have to ramp up my training.  Unfortunately, I have been sick all weekend so my final push has been delayed.  I have started training outside, and last Sunday a few of the guys and I went for a 14 mile bike ride and then attempted our first ocean swim off of Redondo Beach. It was cold and cloudy and wasn’t that fun.  I’ve never become a surfer simply because I feel like it takes away from my time in the ocean.  I love to swim and float and body surf but I’ve always felt the extra accessories of surfing are kind of a drag.  Plus, my biggest fears in life are needles and sharks and I always feel like wetsuits are pretty much seal costumes.

A winter swim

We were only in for a short time last weekend but as we prepared for another go this Sunday I had mentioned our troubles and adjustments to a friend.  You didn’t hear about the Great White sighting? he asked.  I laughed and told him to stop joking.  No, no, he said, Some surfers saw it last Sunday and then on Thursday a half eaten dolphin washed up. What the fuck! I don’t play around with that craziness.  Shit, get sheriff Brody on the line and that pirate guy!

Crowley, we got a problem

Let's kill this thing and get me a California girl

I rushed home to look up to see if this was all true.  I care a lot about doing a good job in this triathlon but I seem to have a true affection for my limbs.  Now sure, the story of a shark attack might be cool for a minute.  But, my arms and legs are cool too and I have plenty of other stories.

The shark attack in Redondo Beach turned out to be true and I’m not really excited about it.  I always feel safe where we swim because we have so many dolphins but the numbers didn’t do this guy any good.

This shit hurts

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