75 Years Young.

Lantern2

It seems lately that death has come knocking far too often. It wears me down and fills my anxiety prone heart with too many thoughts. Over the past year I have witnessed family, friends, relatives of friends, and friends of soul mates leave with still so much left to give. The latest being my Aunt Mary. She died last Tuesday morning from complications from a stroke. She was a nurse, wife, mother, grandmother, sister and Aunt. For me she was pizza night, an artist, and a car siren on her LeBaron. The beach. Lake Huron. Sun, sand, and extremely cold water. She was a Frisbee from Hershey Pennsylvania, Marvel Comics, and our link to Grosse Pointe. She was also my Mother’s partner in crime.

She was one of the few family that made the trip to see us when Julie and I lived in Atlanta. One of the handful that have visited us here in New York. One of the few that really understood our family, and when we told our children of her passing… there was pause. Remembrance. Loss. My heart breaks for my cousins and their children.

Every summer, as a child, we’d go to her cottage in Lexington, Michigan, and between lake swims we’d take long walks on dirt road streets that usually led to the corner store. There, my brother’s and I used our paper route money to buy penny candy and Faygo Creme Soda, or played the arcade video game Joust. Summer vacations were defined by rummy, crickets, tree frogs and the sounds of the Lake Huron surf.

Yesterday we went back to my Aunt Mary’s cottage in Lexington, on the shores of Lake Huron where I spent so much time as a kid. (The above photo is my view from the beach) We went presumably for the last time to pay our respects. There was a small funeral early Friday morning which Julie the kids and I were not able to attend. However, later that day we were able to join up with my extended family, and reminisce. Some cried, some laughed, we marveled at how much our children have grown.

My mother brought dozens of paper lanterns for us to light and release. (Similar to the ones in the animated film Tangled) We all wrote notes to Aunt Mary, lit the candles and watched them lift upward over the dark evening skies of Lake Huron. It was a final scene straight out of a summer movie. And it was both a heartbreaking and wonderful moment. My Aunt Mary was a good soul. To my three children, a Great Aunt.

Well, even to me she was a: Great. Aunt. And she will be missed.

Lantern5

Lantern3

Lantern4

Lantern6

Advertisements

The Reward Outweighs the Risk

MartiniSometimes, without even realizing it, your in the middle of a once in a lifetime experience.

Case in point: On the first night of our Carnival cruise, my Brother-In-Law Steve and I sang karaoke. My first song choice was one they didn’t have, Barenaked Ladies The Old Apartment. So instead I went to a staple: Billy Vera and the Beaters, At This Moment. As a result, I caught the attention of three larger black women in the front row. My third choice was a constant crowd pleaser, Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline. Mary, one the three women, was the most outspoken and when they got up and sang R. Kelly’s I Beleive I Can Fly, they dedicated the song to me, and afterward they reitertated… “This ones for you Joe! We love you Joe!” So I did what any reasonable person would do. To show appreciation for their outpouring of affection, I ran from the back of the bar, up onto the stage and gave Mary a big hug. I then promptlty retreated back to my seat and took a swig of my dirty martini. Kinda wish my kids were there to see it live since the embarrassment factor for them would have been a 15 on a 1 – 10 scale. #almosttotalwin

Steve and I soon realized, that after 11pm, karaoke changed over from the traditional dj set up to singing with a live band. Um… a full band backing us up at karaoke? YES PLEASE. Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville seemed appropriate. Afterward, Michael the karaoke DJ told me I should try out for the Legends show and specifically for Elton John. Not really knowing what that was at first I dismissed it. But after further cohersion of Michael and another passenger John C. (who is a veteran of the show) I decided to try out. So the next night I at karaoke I auditioned for Legends. The show that features passengers as the main attraction for entertainment. They held open try outs for lucky hopefuls who wanted to sing as Brittany Spears, Elton John, Elvis, James Brown and more.

I thought what’s the harm? The only risk of auduitioning is that I don’t make. Then I’m out nothing. But If I do make it the reward is big. There’s the chance to take part in something extraordinary. A once in a lifetime opportunity to let go. To kick the rust off of a stressed out mind, body and soul. To do something so outrageous that even I had to really think twice about it. And all without really understanding the ask. I was placing full faith in the vacation, and eternal memories was the potential reward for my faith.

This cruise was more than a vacation. It was a decompression of the everyday. An encyclopedia book shot to the noggin that forced me to stop, rub my head and think about what is really important in my life.

Elton1So I auditioned.

And sang the song Croccodile Rock.

And scored the part of Elton John, and was one of ten who preformed at the Legends show in front of a packed theater of fellow passengers, and my family on the Friday night of the cruise.

(A 15 on a 1 – 10 scale.)

#totalwin #jazzhands

Elton2

Cheese Peezah

PezzahEach night my brother-in-law Steve and I would pay a visit to the 24-hour pizza station at the aft portion of the Carnival Liberty cruise ship we left last week. It was a nice bookend to a long day. We’d close the Karaoke bar, then the Piano bar and then head on over to the pizza station at around 1:30 am. We’d eat our pizza, talk at one of the tables about the days exploits and looked ahead to the next day.

At the pizza station, Ariana from Indonesia, was there to serve the slices. As he’d hand out the slices to passengers he’d say “Cheese Peezah? Cheese Peezah?” (Since the pepperoni went fast he always had cheese pizza left. I myself always got the pepperoni. Thus the above photo.) At night, this guy was always there. Making, slicing and serving. He was a well-oiled machine and always smiled. Each time I’d walk by I’d say “Cheeze Peezah!” and when he heard me he’d give me the nod. Ariana said he makes over 1000 4-slice thin crust pizzas in a 12-hour day. The quick math says that’s 83 every hour. More than one a minute. And he always served each person with a smile. Carnival has some really good employees working the ship. Ariana is one of them. I will miss these late night pizza stops.

My stomach however will not.

That Time I Almost Died on Vacation

StThomas2That time I thought I was going to die on vacation. That’s the theme of this post, and the fact that you are reading his implies that I in fact… have not died. Which is good.

Allow me to explain: Our second stop on our cruise was to the island of St. Thomas. It’s a cool place. Well, not literally, it was actually very hot there, but what makes it cool is the clear blue water in the harbor, the quaint downtown and the beautiful homes and buildings built into the side of the hills. Everywhere you look it’s a postcard worthy to send Mom. In St. Thomas there’s plenty to see and do, but I really wanted to explore, and the 2-mile jog around the harbor didn’t seem to be enough. I really wanted to see/do a non-touristy thing. The shops are littered with trinkets and shirts that are commonplace with every resort gift shop. But what I wanted to experience was something different. Something local. I decided a hike up the side of the mountain was the thing to do.

StThomas3I got off the ship and started to walk. Past the gift shops, bars, and tattoo parlors. Past the business, restaurants and outdoor eateries. I broke the plane that separates the touristy section and local section. That imaginary line that most people don’t come near. I started to walk along the side of the road up the hill that eventually led up to the lookout at the top. I knew I was not going to make it that far but I figured I walk for as long as I could. I brought my sketchbook in the off-chance I would get to sketch the boat from a high vantage.

It became pretty clear as the road narrowed to no shoulder on either side that my decision may not have been the best one but I forged on anyway hoping that my walk would wield a hidden treasure that would outlast any t-shirt of trinket sold at the gift shops.

Up I went. Cars flying by me, and it was hot.

StThomasI walked for about 20 minutes up the hill admiring the architecture of the buildings the slopes of the driveways, the vegetation. And came across a clearing that opened up into a driveway of a local home. Coming down the street about 200 feet away I spotted a man walking toward me. A local. I would actually bet he was homeless. He wore dirty loose fitting clothes. He was talking to himself. Had a single bag draped over his right shoulder. Dreadlocks. And a large machete in his left hand.

Let me restate that: And a large machete in his left hand.

At that moment I realized I should not be where I was.

I was on his turf.

It’s hot.

I don’t have water.

I’m by myself.

Nobody else other than Machete man is around.

Cars are speeding me by on a shoulderless road.

The boat ships off on 45 minutes. I am a good 20 minutes away.

IguanaI quickly turned up the gravel driveway of the home and figured I would circle back down the other way to stay clear of the Machete Man, but I was greeted by a very large iguana in the middle of the driveway. He had other plans. Those plans did not involve letting me pass. If looks could talk this iguana was saying “Me move? Fuck you city boy this is my driveway.”

By now the machete man stopped at the base of the driveway I was on and placed his bag on the ledge of the stone barrier at thus cutting off my ability to return the way I came. So I was trapped. Iguana on one side. Machete Man on the other. The only option I had was to go further up the hill, further away from the one place I needed to be. The boat. My family. My future. I thought this is how it’s going down for me. Hacked by a machete and fed to an iguana while the man runs off with my good running shoes and sketch book. While trying to process my options and impending doom Machete Man calls for me. I try my hardest to pretend that I didn’t hear him and that I am actually interested in what the iguana is doing. Hoping the iguana moves out of the way or that it buys me enough time to have the Machete Man move on. I’m taking the Iguana’s picture, while trying to process my next move to try to get back to the boat. Machete Man takes out a coconut from his bag and proceeds to use his machete to hack the coconut on the stone barrier at the base of the driveway. He calls for me again. Now I know I shouldn’t jump to conclusions. He may have been a very nice fellow. He maybe was going to share his coconut. Maybe offer me water or directions, but I couldn’t risk it. Not now, not here.

He continues to hack away at the coconut and I figure that’s my cue. I decided to walk further up the hill about 100 feet. I then crossed the street and came down the other side. While Machete Man was turned he other way eating his coconut I slipped by. I walked about 300 feet, recrossed the street and jogged back to the touristy area of St. Thomas. Past the gift shops, bars, and tattoo parlors. Past the business, restaurants and outdoor eateries. Back on the correct side of the unwritten line of the touristy and local section of St. Thomas. I am fairly certain the sweat I had accumulated was a direct result of fear and not running in the St. Thomas sun and heat.

In the end it turned out okay, but really it was a “don’t think, and do something really stupid moment” for me. I was very glad to be back on the boat in one piece.

The Tale of Lime Sherbet

The Lime SherbetThe year is 1997, and Julie and I are on our honeymoon. A cruise in the gulf of Mexico that took us to Cozumel, Playa Del Carmen, The Ruins of Tulum, and finished in New Orleans. It was Julie’s second cruise, and my first and I really didn’t know what to expect. One thing I marveled was the food selection. Great fish, steak, and chicken from servers that were always eager to get you to try more. Desserts were the one area that I really didn’t care for. I’m on record as not being a dessert guy. Never have been, I like simplicity. I call myself a “Two name or less dessert guy” (patent pending).

As in words like oatmeal cookie, chocolate cake, or fruit. Anything with more than 2 words used to describe the dessert is too excessive and screams “I’m to rich”. As in chocolate melting cake topped with French vanilla ice cream, or double raspberry fudge cake with a creamy blah blah blah…

So on my honeymoon I went simple. I went with Lime Sherbet.

Every night.

And each night I got weird looks from everybody. The waitstaff, the others at the table and even Julie herself. To this day our children know of the legend of the Lime Sherbet and it’s taken on a lore of its own reminisced at holidays, family dinners and fireside camp sites. But what remains true to the story is that in the vast array of extravagance, I went simple. And enjoyed it.

Fast-forward to 2013 and our family cruise to the Caribbean with the Quayhackx’s which ended today. All eyes (read my children) were anxiously awaiting what I was going to do when it came to order the dessert the first night at dinner. And yes I ordered Lime Sherbet. Everybody laughed. The waiter looked at me with “A you’re f-ing crazy look”. But I held strong and ate my Lime Sherbet like I was eating a dessert flavored from the ground up wings of Pegasus herself.

Now there were many desserts with multiple names ordered that night which included titles like molten chocolate cakes, fresh fruit platters, ice creams paired with apple cinnamon crumbles. At the end of dessert, my son Aaron decided to try the lime sherbet. “Just to taste what all the fuss was about”. This is the kicker… when asked what his favorite dessert was of the things he tried that first night he said… “I hate to admit it but it was the lime sherbet. That was really good.” “I might actually get that tomorrow.”

#hellyeah #attaboy